Mother Nature Always Wins

When not tasting wine in Willamette Valley, I was inhaling nature. As I mentioned in yesterday's post, the natural scenery brought an instant calm to this urban jungle girl. The fields, although parched and eagerly awaiting fall rain, were magnificent and vast, providing a stark color contrast to the emerald fir trees, immense and proud.

The inn where we bunked for a few nights offered front-row seats to the historic Champoeg State Park (where Oregon's first provisional government was formed by settlers, in 1843), so it seemed the most obvious choice for a hearty walk through the woods. However, innkeeper Paterese Livaudais had other plans for us. Born and raised in Champoeg, Paterese lived on a sprawling farm that has been in her family for hundreds of years.

At her urging, we hopped in her pickup. She drove us down the road to the family homestead, where her brother now lives, and continued down a dirt path that took us to the foot of the woods. Someone had recently tractor-paved a path in the woods, she said, making an otherwise unnavigable hike now possible for forest neophytes such as ourselves.

Our destination would be a "mint field," said Paterese, and the reason I use quotes here is because we had no idea what a mint field was or would look like. Before leaving us to our own devices, Paterese offered to come look for us if we didn't turn up at the inn within two hours. (Isn't that reassuring?)

With that vote of confidence, off we went, into the densely wooded forest, cool and dreamily green. Up and down hills we trekked, exploring plant life and taking in glimpses of the nearby creek. After 30 minutes or so, we began to notice signs of a clearing, thinking that perhaps, yes, we were getting close to our destination.

We walked single file, my co-Eagle Scout taking the lead. Deep in walking bliss, I was not entirely aware of my immediate surroundings. And then, like lightning, he shouted "WAH!" Within a split second, a deer whooshed past me, at a speed and sound that was almost unfathomable. I screamed, too, in utter amazement, and we stared at each other in disbelief, then began laughing hysterically. Mother Nature, in case we weren't paying attention, was running this show.

After catching our collective breath, we continued up the hill, and sure enough, we began to smell mint. We pushed our way through some brushes and came upon our "X" on the treasure hunt."Mint field" is an understatement -- this was more like a valley. I kept thinking of "The Sound of Music" and I began to sing "The hills are alive with the smell of peppermint."

The rows of herbaceous greenery seemed neverending, like a magic carpet airport runway, transporting passengers to the land of peppermint tea extract or a mojito bar. How I wish I could have bottled the perfume!

In case you're wondering, we found our way back to the inn, in less than two hours, with snack stops along the way at a seemingly ancient apple tree and a blackberry bramble. Mother Nature is indeed full of surprises, and we mere mortals should never forget that.

By Kim ODonnel |  August 30, 2006; 3:22 PM ET Travel
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