We arrived at Crater Lake in the middle of a smoke billow and paid a $25 fee in order to protect the national park from the evils that surround it. The ranger informed us that we may not, in fact, be able to see the lake through the smoke. The drive from Ashland to Crater Lake was a game of peek-a-boo with a few colliding clouds of smoke produced by a large fire by Tiller, Oregon and at least one coming up from the South. Indeed, the lake was barely visible. And we had driven a full two hours to reach it. There was nothing below us but a singeing smoke. There is something menacing imperceptible in the distance.
The West coast is arid and primeval; fragile and crisp as old skin. Teetering between combustion and ancient, serene silence. Preserved cars are parked in lots of pine wood houses with tie-dyed chameleon insignias on doors. Branches long dead from thunder or disease are not rotted, but bare white skeletal structures jutting out from the ground. The grass is dry; the flowers are dry; the dirt is dry; the air is dry and moving. The only thing that keeps the heat are the changing clouds of opaque smoke during fire season, then the temperature rises and remains close to 100 degrees.
Crater Lake is an inverted Mount Manzana that stood 12,000 feet tall. It erupted 7,700 years ago. When it erupted it caved into itself and became a bowl of only for rain and melted snow. Beside the observation deck overlooking the conspicuous Wizard Island is an exhibition room with facts and literary quotes on the wall. Writers have revered Crater Lake. A man shows a woman from across the room a quote that reads: "Born of chaos, fire and smoke, Turbulent nature did'st invoke Mazama's fall-- that thou should'st be, Silent, mysterious, sapphire sea," Words that were written by the poet Poet Belle Menefee Meyer in 1932 whose life is a mystery besides that fact that she may have been from Portland and may or many not have written for a newspaper in San Francisco.
Ground squirrels developed a taste for fabric so two bore down on my shirt as I swam in the perfect blue. They scrambled up to people with little hands outstretched. If you didn't know better, you might think they loved you. Cougars are crepescular and stalk in between the day. Never very far out of people's minds. There was a story in the paper of a couple of people biking, and they were stalked and eaten by a cougar. The large cats pee in the street, they stand on the edges of our vision.
The lake itself, plunges 1,949 feet. The legend of the lake told by the Native Americans of the region, saw Mount Mazama belonging to the spirit of the underworld and Shasta of the sky world. The spirit of the underworld fell in love with a chief’s daughter and when she would not come with him to his home in the underworld he rained fire over the land. When two men gave their lives to the fire, the angry god was touched and created a lake. But a powerful significance remains associated with this spot for once local Native American tribes.
We fascinate over great depths of water, where sea monsters live, or great, strange fish swim. Indeed, the volcano is not extinct, only temporarily dormant.
Crater Lake is an emblem of this oldness, of this chaos. Rarely do we get to experience a majesty of this magnitude. The way the torn rocks stand tall, the way their faces blush with Douglas Firs, and the land exposes itself, revealing broken insides, the place of rupture we know so well in metaphor, at some time in our lives, or some place in our bodies. The sun glides through the smoke at the summit of the highest rock like giant shafts of stage lighting. Thousands of years ago a mountain was violently destroyed by rains of fire. Now it remains still and sapphiric, with a kind of ringing in the air, the volcano, a sleeping monster beneath.