Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Everyone needs a day off now and then. Everyone needs a break from their routine, and a chance to regroup. Ked and I have very few traditions, but one of them is our annual autumn day in the country. It is a refreshing pilgrimage, a sip from the cup of God's creation, a respite from the demands of daily life. Even when daily life isn't demanding much, our attitude can occasionally benefit from a step back to gain some fresh perspective, and in busy years like this one, where stress has been a frequent companion, that stepping back and taking a day to seek a little extra peace in the rush of life is all the more necessary. Leaving the city behind for a little while, we breathe in God's grace, full of gratitude that He has allowed us to live in a place so full of beauty that merely driving out into that world can rejuvenate our souls. We taste His favor.

Here in Portland, we are surrounded on all sides by some of the most glorious scenic wonders you can imagine. Rivers and mountains, hills and valleys, and rich, fertile farmland. If you head west for an hour and a half or so, you'll pass through the forested coastal mountain range, on your way to find long sweeping sandy beaches and rugged rocky shores. If you choose southeast for your direction, you will once again find your passage through dense forested foothills, which swell to become the majesty that is Mount Hood. Continuing on this path, past the beckoning ski slopes, will take you on to the open high desert, so different from the lush Willamette Valley, but equally beautiful in a stark and deceptively barren sort of way, with ever more volcanic mountains thrusting high above the desert plain to remind you that God's methods of creation are often turbulent.

This Sunday after church the road called us to once again experience some of the joy that is an autumn day in Oregon. Our journey was east into the Columbia Gorge, where just the view on the drive alone is worth the effort and time. The powerful Columbia River surged with the fresh fall rains, pushing stout white arms against the resisting wind. The towering Oregon cliffs, heavy with timber, danced their mountain dance, kissing their cloud companions with passionate abandon. The hills of Washington swelling from the opposite shore, peering out from the thickening mist, prepared to weather the gathering storm. All the red-gold colors of fall bravely shouted their defiance to the greyness of the rain, as if to say their splendor could be dimmed, but not extinguished, for their brief annual reign of glory. My soul takes refuge in such scenes as these. I need them. As much as I need food, air, or love, I need this kind of beauty, that man cannot create; he can only enjoy and try to emulate.

So, each year we go seeking this moment. Once every autumn we take the drive through the Gorge to Hood River, sometimes alone, usually with a very good friend. This year my sister joined us as well, for a day that has taken, over the years, a familiar and comfortable pattern. Hood River is a picturesque and charming village, with shops and restaurants suiting such a setting. Once there, we eat at a local bistro, and then we drive past the town itself to wander among the orchards, stop to pet the horses, and snap photographs that attempt to capture the artistic beauty of the multi-colored autumnal hills. We buy boxes of pears and apples at our favorite local fruit stands, and always look for a cheerful diversion in "Pumpkin Funland." We immerse ourselves in seasonal colors and smells and flavors. This is a day we spoil ourselves and waste time, and buy homemade caramels and eat them all before we get home. We savor their sweetness as we once again pass through God's natural art, on our soul-satisfied way back to Portland, tired from a long day, but content with our tradition.

This day is made more wonderful because it's only once a year, but also because it's every year. We will travel the same road again through different seasons. We will come this way in the winter to ski. We will come this way in the spring and summer to hike. We will pass through again at various times for work or play, but this one day each year is special. It is our pilgrimage and respite. It is our time to breathe. It is tradition.