Chair #9 (Olallie)


It had taken the better part of a month to walk the three hundred or so miles between White Pass and Olallie Lake, where my next support package would be waiting. But when I finally showed up at the little bait and tackle shop—way up in the Cascades of central Oregon—I was told it hadn’t yet arrived. It would be another week before the next batch of mail was brought up, possibly longer. 

I sat in the shade of the bait shop’s covered porch and looked out across the lake toward the toothy peak of Mount Jefferson. Mountain to mountain, like a signal-fire being passed along the spine of the Cascades. That’s how you made it. You’d get to one mountain, cast a glance back at the mountain you’d just come from, and then set off toward the mountain rising up in the distance. Each one seemed impossibly far away, yet you learned over the weeks and months how close together they really were and of how small the world could be if you just made the time to walk it. 

But here I was in a kind of limbo. I could have restocked in the bait shop. Junk food mostly. There was a box at the back set aside for through-hikers. Stuff other hikers had packed too much of or decided against at the last moment. Fuel cannisters, socks, freeze dried pancakes, bags of nuts. Stuff like that. I’d have to go it without that part of the guide book I’d torn out though, which meant not having any topographical maps or foreknowledge of hidden springs. That wouldn’t necessarily have been a problem. It wasn’t that far to the next resupply. I could have chanced it. 

My! It was a pretty lake though. And quiet too. Not very big, or deep as it turned out. 

No power boats allowed.

No swimming.

People came there to fish the big rainbow trout, of which there were some real monsters—judging by the billboard in the bait shop, where you could get a Polaroid of you and your catch pinned up if it was over a certain weight.

I strolled down to the dock where there were still a couple of rowboats left for hire. It was nearing the height of the season—mid-July and hot. Plenty of people out on the water, though it didn’t feel too busy, and the silence never seemed to be broken. Not once. 

No kidding, there were some big fish to be had in that lake. A single glance into the shady places beneath the boats was proof enough. Real monsters. No idea how much they might have weighed, but any one of them would have secured a place at the top of the board. My heart nearly stopped when, all of a sudden, one of the boats shifted and the massive fish hovering beneath it was caught by the sun. Its scales exploded into color, the full spectrum of the rainbow rippling all the way down its silvery flank, shimmering turquoise and pink and purple, its head emerald green and gold. I’d never seen anything like it before, nor have I since. And it wasn’t just that one. There were dozens of them beneath the dock, all hovering motionlessly, save for those little flicks of a fin to keep them suspended and in the shade.  

No fishing from the dock.

Made sense, though doubtless people were tempted from time to time. Hell, one could have reached in with his hands and lifted them out, if only he’d been quick enough. Incredible. I’d always enjoyed—and found great comfort in—discoveries like these. Finding places where the extraordinary was still allowed to happen. 

It felt good to be back on the water, to feel it shifting uncertainly beneath my feet. I’d been walking for so long, every waking hour of every day. Trying to maintain a certain pace. A month in already and somehow this was the first time I’d paused long enough to be in awe of my surroundings. I’d gotten so caught up in covering the miles. Sure, there had been plenty of moments along the way where I’d lingered—Alpine meadows filled with lupine, pools so blue that I just couldn’t resist stripping down and plunging in, cold as they were. But there had always been a momentum which needed maintaining, a flow from north to south that I’d gotten swept up in. But there, on that dock, with all those impossibly beautiful fish sheltering beneath my feet, I felt truly still. I smelled the resin of the pines and the good stale smell of lake water and, before long, caught a whiff of someone’s campfire. Yet not a single sound save the gentle lapping of the water. 


My package arrived two weeks later. Meanwhile, I’d taken a full time job at the campground. I worked in the bait shop, cleaned the cabins, cut firewood, pumped out the boats. In exchange, I got to sleep in a little room off the boat house, three meals a day and a modest paycheck at the end of every month. More than that, I got the quiet of the lake and the exceptional company of the fish. 

One of the jobs had been to build a bench out of some old logs that had been wasting away beneath the covered porch of the bait shop. I hauled them out one morning to see what could be done with them. The biggest was about fifteen inches in diameter and about six feet long. It had been sawn down the middle and was in good enough condition, though maybe a little spongy at the edges. The other logs were between three and six inches in diameter and upwards of ten feet long. I had some idea of what I was doing, but this was well before I’d taken up woodworking as a profession. Best to keep it simple. Besides, there was no woodshop or fancy tools available. I got a rusty saw, a hatchet, a hand drill, some chisels and a mallet. There were screws and bolts and things if I needed. 

The design presented itself quickly enough. Clearly, the big split log would serve as the bench’s seat and back. The other logs would make a frame of some kind. Seemed a pair of crosses on their sides might do the trick. I could half-lap a four-foot section onto an eight-foot length and secure them with a bolt. Do this twice. Then I could chisel out the backs of the big split log where I wanted it to sit in the crook of the crosses. Then bolt those into place. It worked in my head well enough, even though I kept thinking it seemed too simple. I was sure it had to be harder.

Turned out it wasn’t, coming together just as easily as it had done in my head. It was sturdy too, and beastly heavy. It took three of us to wrangle it into its place at the edge of the bluff. The seat might have been a little high, but the angle of the back felt just right. Ninety degrees had seemed a little steep and so I’d altered my original design and raked it back so that one could recline a little. Yes. It was a good bench and looked just right in that place, like it had always been there. 

I packed up the tools and swept the area clean of wood chips, then sat in the shade of the bait shop and looked out across the lake toward mount Jefferson, same as I’d done when I first arrived there three months ago, only now the view had a bench in it. My bench. Soon the snow would start to fall, and we’d haul out the boats, screw the shutters closed and lock up the cabins. But that was a couple of weeks off yet. People were still coming to fish, though the skies were no longer so clear and the lake had become grey and choppy. A few boats were out. Smelled like rain. 

A man came up from the dock carrying a rod and tackle box, and nothing else. Maybe he’d wait a while and try his luck again at dusk. Maybe the rain would improve his chances. I watched him reach the top of the slope and set down his kit. He stood slump-shouldered for a moment before catching sight of the bench. My heart made a little jump at the thought of him being the first to sit in it. Go on, man. Take a load off. So you didn’t catch anything. That’s a shame, but you’ve still got the view, and the quiet. Have a seat. I made it just for you. 

The man stood up straight, gathered up his stuff, and continued on his way. I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed. Still, there was time yet. Someone else would be along. I didn’t mind waiting.

~ by calebnrogers on March 10, 2021.

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