Writing Wild with Pepper Trail

"Not water alone does flow, but land
All its coverings and its inhabitants
The deer walking from valley to ridge
The birds and the every living thing
Find here, in a world of change, their place."

-- from Ecotone by Pepper Trail

Ornithologist and Poet Pepper trail (r)

Ornithologist and Poet Pepper trail (r)

A dozen eager hikers and literary folk gather at the Hobart Bluff gravel parking lot, power lines crackling in the balmy, cheerful Saturday morning breeze. Our leader for the day, Pepper Trail, is an ornithologist for the Fish and Wildlife Service, but also an accomplished writer. His book, Cascade-Siskiyou poems was a finalist for the 2016 Oregon Book Award for poetry. Pepper has come prepared for our hike today with a backpack filled with poetry and binoculars around his neck, a perfect representation of his dual identity as a scientist and artist. 

Not a moment to be wasted of the beautiful day, we jump onto the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) South. Not 100 yards up the trail, we are taken by the sight of elderberry trees weighed down by dusty blue-gray berries. Cedar waxwings descend on the trees in delight, their high pitched, tinkly calls echoing in the still air. A Lewis’s woodpecker flaps overhead, as juncos dart about in the bushes. And thus our adventure begins, an education in both birds and writing.

At the first rocky outcrop, we stop for some poetry writing and view-watching, taking in the gentle whisper of the wind in the trees and the amazing feeling of our homes so far below. Pilot Rocks stands sentry across the valley, a reminder of this area’s fiery geologic past. We contemplate Pepper’s poem Ecotone, which speaks of the diversity of the Monument’s landscapes. Already, only a quarter mile into our hike, we have brushed shoulders with lush incense cedars and felt the expanse of a rocky landscape dotted with wind-swept juniper trees.  Many hikers “dip their toes in the ocean of poetry,” at Pepper’s suggestion, starting with the simplicity of haiku writing. We start to put words together, inspired by the view and the company.

We enjoy our sack lunches in an aspen grove, fluttering leaves showing the first golden blush of fall as migrating hawks float overhead. After lunch, we hike back to the trailhead, where some of our party departs for the afternoon. However, those who want more poems and more views and more birds to lighten our souls, decide to hike the PCT North to the top of Hobart Bluff. Perched above Hobart Lake and the Bear Creek Valley, we take in our fill of the beauty of where we live. We are surrounded by stooped juniper trees, “old and young, green and gray / [teaching] that life and time are one” (from Juniper Years by Pepper Trail). Sadly, the afternoon must come to an end as the sun lowers itself closer to the horizon. As we return to our cars, our minds and legs are tired after a day filled with the poetic beauty of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.  

Story and photos by
Katie Boehnlein, Hike & Learn Coordinator

Haiku on Our Monument

Forms an ecotone
Cascade-Siskiyou Monument
Brimming with treasures.
           -- Barbara Settles, H&L participant