Over Memorial Day weekend, with a few days to myself, I did something for the first time in years: I went on a birding adventure. Weighing my time and money carefully, I had chosen the Columbia Gorge & Mount Hood area of Oregon. I wanted to see mountain birds and a pretty little mountain town, without too long a trip from L.A. By setting up shop in Hood River, an hour east of Portland, I pretty much nailed it.
For any birders reading this, I’ll spare you the suspense: No rarities were found; no impressive trip list was amassed; I didn’t even get one good photo of a sexy mountain-y bird. I’d had no time to plan my stops in advance, and, as anyone with access to the internet probably could have foreseen, a lot of roads on Mount Hood are still closed in late May. Like, the roads that go to the cool birding spots. Oops.
But hey, this trip wasn’t about fulfilling my wildest birding dreams. It was about… well… reconnecting with myself, I guess. Living life, doing the things I like to do. Come to think of it, that’s also why I'm writing this. And I won’t lose any more sleep over the lack of bird sightings than I have over the self-indulgent nature of this post. Which is to say: not more than about four or five hours of sleep.
On with it, then.
My first impression of Hood River was of its air: It smelled like trees. Not having left L.A. in a while, it was striking. I got out of my rental car, breathed in deep, and lo, it was good. I felt I had chosen well.
I eased back into the birding-adventure life with a hearty, almost leisurely hotel breakfast. The floppy scrambled-egg pucks paired well enough with the reconstituted orange juice, and I enjoyed my view of the Hood River sliding into the great Columbia. The morning sun shone gently; swallows swirled about. The hotel staff was eerily friendly. I soon fled.
At the Historic Highway Trail just outside Hood River, I saw a bunch of pretty birds that I also could’ve seen in L.A., plus a Chestnut-backed Chickadee. I love those little guys. The Nashville Warblers were loud and bright. Several pairs of sixty-somethings pedaled their bikes steadily up the hill. I smiled broadly: “Nice day for a ride!” As if I would ever subject my own cubicle-bound body to such torture. But they seemed pleased. I congratulated myself for connecting with the locals. I was a regular Anthony Bourdain.
At Lost Lake I saw basically zero birds, but I did manage to take the photo that every single person who goes to Lost Lake takes:
This was my day to explore The Mountain. My little rental car and I set out early and sped up to the Hood River Meadows area, where we got our first of many unpleasant surprises. The road out to the good birding area was closed. Maybe I would take one of the hiking trails instead – but within a few steps I found each one covered with deep snow or meltwater. I eyed my city-boy New Balances, the only footwear I’d brought to Oregon. “Not today,” they said, in their usual, creepy unison.
Besides impassable roads and trails, the other theme of the day was crowds. People were everywhere. Ah yes – Memorial Day weekend. Portland just an hour away. It all added up. Having worked my way all too quickly through my morning birding sites (since I couldn’t get to most of them), I thought I’d drive up and see the Timberline Lodge of The Shining fame, and look for birds around it. That road was clear of snow – but as packed with cars as the drive-thru lane at In-N-Out. Helllllllllll no.
For a moment, I was disgusted. Had this been a frenzied birding mission like those of the past, I would’ve cursed myself to no end. But this was different. I took a few deep breaths, enjoyed a surprisingly tasty schnitzel sandwich in Government Camp, and stayed positive. I was a regular Dalai Lama.
I eventually did get up to Timberline Lodge, where I eventually did see a Clark's Nutcracker – a small taste of triumph. Then I hurried back to the relative calm of Hood River. There the weather was great, the beer was great (and cheap!) and the river was gorgeous. I took a few panoramic shots with my phone.
I was, if you will, a regular me.
P.S. Next time there will be birds.