Back to the woods and rivers

Posted on June 1, 2012 in Blog, Books, Lane County/Oregon, Life in general, PCT, Speaking, Travel | 5 comments

Back to the woods and rivers

On August 20, 1905, Oregon wilderness wanderer John Waldo wrote a journal entry from the east slope of Mount Jefferson. In it, he quoted one of his two favorite authors, Ralph Waldo Emerson (the other being Thoreau): “In the woods, too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth.”

After last summer’s hike of the Oregon’s Pacific Crest Trail — my book on it, Hiking Home, is due out in October — someone asked me what surprised me about the trail. Two things, I said. First, that it’s dominated by non-Oregonians, including lots of people from other countries. Second, that it’s dominated by youth.

I expected the latter, but not in such a one-sided ratio. Beyond my brother-in-law, Glenn, and I — both nearly 60 — we hiked with a California couple our age and ran into a 75-year-old guy named Turtle Dan above Highway 20 near Big Lake. Beyond that, hardly anyone on the trail was more than 30.

That said, I seldom felt my age, 57. That’s because Emerson is right: the woods bring out the child in us. Having gone on two elk-hunting trips — as journalist, not hunter — I noted the same thing. The trip wasn’t so much about killing or meat. (OK, some of it was.) It was really about grown men getting to play cowboys again. And good for them for doing so.

A few weeks back, I did some fly-fishing with my brother-in-law, Greg Scandrett, on the McKenzie River and on the north fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River. From the minute I slipped into the booth at the Vida Cafe for my traditional pre-trip three-eggs-over-easy-and-hash-browns breakfast to the minute I returned, I felt like a kid again.

In fact, on Sunday evening, after Greg headed back to Hillsboro, I was driving to Eugene with Greg Hatten, a friend, excellent fly fisher and guide who’d taken us down the McKenzie. Earlier, he had lamented, as we pulled out at Helfrich Landing, that we didn’t have time to continue on and do the much-ballyhooed Marten’s Rapids. Greg Scandrett needed to get back home, so we’d pulled out.

We zipped up to Blue River for gas and were headed back to Eugene when it occurred to me that neither of us had — and this is rare for me — any deadlines. No place we needed to be. As if, well, we were kids again. “I’m game if you are,” I said.

“You serious?”

“Yep. Let’s do it.”

And so we put the boat back in and, a little like the two brothers in A River Runs Through It, “shot the chutes.”

It was the perfect ending to a perfect weekend of returning to Emerson’s “perpetual youth.”


  1. Another inspirational piece, Bob, and I’m really looking forward to reading ‘Hiking Home’.

  2. As long as we have our health, age really is a state of mind. I think It’s important not to psyche ourselves out about what we can and cannot do at any age. Meanwhile, returning to “kid-hood” keeps us healthy, I believe. Thanks again, Bob, for the reminder. Onward!

  3. Bob,
    Thank you for reminding us of why we like to get out in the woods. I know it is because of the beauty, (there are not too many places more beautiful than around
    Mt. Jefferson & Three Finger Jack ~ ~ Jack Lake & the McKenzie!! ) Nature also remindes us of what is really important in life. It is about shedding all the negative, & loving the earth, & God, who made it all possible. & Appreciating His gifts. ~ I think our Spirit is cleansed when we are out breathing it all in, walking with God !
    Thank you,
    I look forward to your new book!!

    Patty Roland OFS

  4. This inspires me to be diligent about my physical therapy (post toe surgery) so I, too, can don my hiking boots and hit the trail. And I don’t fit in with the 30 Something crowd, but yes, the woods do work their magic and you strip your years like a layer of unnecessary clothing!
    Lynn Leissler

  5. Little sea food, squid, crabs, clams, where ever you look, along with they’ll try to eat the idea. The higher the halibut develop, the larger their menu receives. I’ve drawn several a yelloweye (full-grown) away from a substantial halibut’s paunch. Total trout, king crab, scaled-down halibut, we’ve observed all of it.

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