Sunday, May 15, 2016

Hiking, Listening and Leeks

I went on a hike the other day.

I do that now and then, but usually I don't crow about it, because I'm not a vigorous hiker. I like level trails, cool weather, interesting scenery along the way, and not a lot of sweat. If the destination is pretty, that's a bonus, but as with so much of life, it's the journey, not the destination, that matters. After all, I might hike an hour or two, but I'm not usually going to spend that much time admiring the view at the destination, because I've either got to retrace my steps, or go nearly as far as I've come to get back to the starting point.

My hike the other day was not level (800-odd feet in less than a mile, up and then back down those 800 feet on the return--that's about 250 meters in a bit over a kilometer up and down). It got pretty warm before I made it back to my car, and I was damp with sweat. The scenery along the way was interesting, though. Plants. A waterfall. A Stellar's Jay, several bugs, a snake, and an unidentifiable, quickly moving critter that was bigger than a chipmunk but smaller than a squirrel. My kids called them "run-runs" because they usually scurried too fast to be identified.

The Columbia Gorge, just east of Portland, is a great place to hike, to see waterfalls, and to observe nature. It was carved through basalt and other hard stuff by a series of immense floods at the end of the last ice age that left souvenirs all along their route, like those rocks I talked about last month. They carved right through mountains, leaving steep cliffs. On the Oregon side of the Columbia River, more than ninety streams descend abruptly in often spectacular waterfalls. If you are interested, there are some lovely photos here.

The trails in the Gorge are not exactly level, and some of them are really challenging. The one I took is considered a moderate hike. Short, not impossibly steep, and with a waterfall to enjoy about halfway to the viewpoint at the top. There are around a dozen switchbacks, places where one can rest a moment while pretending to admire the scenery, and even a couple of benches on which to be honest about resting.

What I liked best, next to the flowers, of course, was the sound. Most of the time I could hear the waterfall splashing its way down the cliffs, the intermittent breeze rustling the leaves, and an occasional jay venting his irritation at someone. Since I-84 runs along the river, there was always the background roar of traffic, but somehow it was easy to ignore because the sounds of nature were right there, in my face (and my ears). When I did meet people, they were friendly, exchanging a word or two in passing (mostly they passed me), and going on their way. As I did, because we were all there to enjoy our hikes, not to socialize.

Perhaps I'll try a longer, or steeper trail next time. Or not. There are lots of choices in the Gorge, ranging from really easy to difficult (for the young and fit, but impossible for me, I think), and a bunch of them lead to or by waterfalls. In the meantime, I'm going to be working on building up some uphill muscles in my legs. It was embarrassing how often I had to stop and rest.

But remember, rests are as much part of the journey as walking.

This whole thing began as my "Now-and-Again, Low-Calorie newsletter." So yes, I have a recipe for you. Since my leeks are about ready to harvest, I've been looking for new ways to fix them. But first, here's my old standby, a recipe that's easy to tailor to however many will be there for dinner.

Caramelized Leeks

Remove the dark green tops and the root end of however many leeks you want to cook (1 or 2 per person, depending on what else is for dinner). Split lengthwise and rinse to get out any soil that's lurking between layers. Slice crosswise into finger-width pieces. Melt butter or heat good olive oil in a skillet, add the leek pieces and sprinkle them with a little salt (it helps with the caramelization). Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until they are brown and caramelized. That takes 20 to 30 minutes, but it'll be worth the wait.

I've served these alone because I really like the taste, but this morning I ran across a recipe where you serve them with pasta. Gonna try that one soon.

On 4 June I'll be appearing as a guest on Samantha Ann King's blog. My topic is "Deleted Scenes" and I'll be talking about why I sometimes take a perfectly good scene out of a book. Drop by on 4 June and say hello.

I'm on Facebook too. Love to see you there.


Mary Thornburg said...

Jude, your post today, and the photos you linked to, reminded me of one of my truly great visual memories: in early April, 1961, a group of us students drove from Bozeman to Eugene for a Model U.N. gathering. We left in typical Montana April weather, cold and snowy, drove all night and got to Portland the next afternoon. I think that was before the Interstate went in. I'd never seen the Columbia before and have never seen it again, but I'll never forget the overwhelming sight of that river and the springtime country around it, green and gray. I sometimes dream of it still. Thank you!

Marilyn Levinson said...

Your hike sounds lovely. Just the right level for me. And thanks for the leek recipe. I'm going to try it. Leeks are popular veggies among good chefs in restaurants here on Long Island.