Photo by Eric Muhr

How to heal my heart, my head and my body all at the same time. And it's free!

As long as you love rain, and I do, the Pacific Northwest is the place to be this time of year. I moved here last August for the rain, the moss, the low-hanging green, the dense ground cover of fast-moving ivy.

I signed up for this after fifty years in Denver, a place many Oregonians head to (or Bend, if the gas runs out) to get away from the above.  There are hikes, and hikes and more hikes, especially if you don't mind the warmish wetter air, the dense smell of rich earth as you hike, and the spray of droplets into your face by the mossy branches.

For me, heaven, a respite from the insanity of news headlines, trollers, anti-maskers.

Nature doesn't care, she couldn't give a rat's patootie about the doings of us humans, but for what damage we do Her. We do plenty, but at least on these local hikes, and for miles in all directions, there is peace to be found only a short piece of driving from town.

Before I moved to this smallish city of 171,000 people West of the Cascades, I had spent several years looking at towns and cities as far north as Great Falls, Montana, midway around Boise, the Puget Sound area and down around Sante Fe. For months I pored over houses and land, seaside or mountainside, unsure of what my house might sell for, which would determine what I could afford.

At the urging of my social media guy, I investigated Oregon. In no time I dropped all the other searches and concentrated on Eugene. Never looked back.

Last May, I had my house up for sale when I drove the lovely long 1200 mile route through Boise to Eugene. Before the fires, the gorgeous greenery along Highway 126 captured my soul. As I dropped down from the high, dry desert around Bend towards the Pacific shores, I fell in love. Settled into the Eugene Hostel, a serious throwback to the hippie days of Jimi Hendrix and Cream, and went to work seeking a home.

Meanwhile, weeks of quarantine-imposed sitting had gotten me itchy. Up here, lots and lots of folks are dedicated cyclists and hiking enthusiasts. As summer began to warm up, the air dried out and I went exploring. I didn't have to go far to find what swiftly became an easy training hike to start prepping for tougher excursions.

My favorite, Spencer Butte, is a very easy one-mile hike to the top of a pretty rock top, where you can see the peaks of Oregon in all directions. Mt. Hood, the Sisters. On a clear day, and this summer there were many, I would hit the parking lot very early in the morning. A few of us intrepids would hike, many with their dogs, to the summit and sip water or chew granola bars to watch the sun rise above the morning mists.

The reason I moved up here, while many of those forests did indeed burn shortly after Labor Day this past year, is still this:

by Eric Muhr

I spent years hiking and training for adventure travel in Colorado. As my adopted home state got more crowded, it was harder to fine any kind of solitude. As a writer, I need that quiet, although I genuinely miss social interaction.

The enforced loneliness isn't healthy for any of us, which is why the easy hike of Spencer Butte is perfect. Lots and lots of folks bring their dogs. As someone who does animal massage (from horses to elephants to camels to tigers, yes, tigers), heading uphill, masked, with folks taking their tots and their four-leggers out for a breather is perfect. Lots of folks up here appreciate people who ask permission first, and spend time helping to socialize their animals.

Like in Colorado, Oregonians love their animals, and tons of people adopted after quarantine. Most are happy to have you take a few moments to work with their fur babies. While you do that, you get doggy love, meet people, enjoy a lively conversation, and on occasion, make friends. That's very hard to beat. I've yet to have an owner say no, although a rescue pupper can sometimes back away from strangers. That's precisely why we do this. Everyone wins.

By Kayla on Unsplash

I am in a brand new city, relocated after fifty years with Colorado as my primary base. All my closest friends are 1200 miles away. Right now, we can't gather in my adopted state, gyms are closed, so it's very hard to make new friends in the ways I've always been able to socialize. These hikes allow me not only to air out my heart and head after too many hours of writing.

They also allow me to fully engage with people who share my passion for puppers and a good laugh in the great outdoors, no matter how wet it might get. Being around people who have invested in rescuing animals who deserve a shot at a better life is life-affirming for me. Those people remind me that when you and I care about creatures who depend on us, and who give back a hundred fold for our affection and love, life takes on so much more meaning.

But that's hardly all. My commitment to heading to the hills isn't just a whim, nor is it because my elliptical doesn't cut it for me. It's based in solid science. This article goes into detail as to how.

From the article:

One of the most intriguing areas of current research is the impact of nature on general wellbeing. In one study in Mind,  95% of those interviewed said their mood improved after spending time  outside, changing from depressed, stressed, and anxious to more calm and  balanced. Other studies by Ulrich, Kim, and Cervinka show that time in nature or scenes of nature are associated with a positive mood, and psychological wellbeing, meaningfulness, and vitality.

Furthermore, time in nature or viewing nature scenes increases our  ability to pay attention. Because humans find nature inherently  interesting, we can naturally focus on what we are experiencing out in  nature. This also provides a respite for our overactive minds,  refreshing us for new tasks.

My new home, as modest as it is, is set in the Oregon rain forest. I have neighbors, but they are softly shrouded by dense trees. I am slowly meeting them as they too, walk their dogs, and we find ourselves at arm's length while I administer the butt-scrub to a panting pup. I miss knowing who lives close by. And I am looking forward to finding out.

In the meantime, trails beckon. They wind and twist and explore, each one offering the promise of a vista or meeting up with another family with a blue-eyed Husky or a sweet, wriggly rescue pittie eager to lick your nose.

There is much to do here. Just bring your Goretex, your layers, and skip the umbrella. Locals can always tell someone who wasn't born here. Rain is what makes the PNW what it is: heaven.

Deposit photos