A Repentant Return

This essay is part of an occasional series highlighting Phil Decker’s journeys hiking through what he calls the Salem National Forest. Follow all of his adventures on his blog.

OK, my sweet Salem National Forest — I have a confession to make. I’ve been seeing other forests. I know, I know. I feel terrible and I’m begging for your forgiveness. I just couldn’t help myself. With all the stress and demands of everyday life, I sought an escape from my familiar trails and travails.

Who is it, you ask? Please don’t get mad. Don’t take away my free pass that never expires. Throughout the summer and fall, I am ashamed to admit, I flirted with some classic beauties, far from home.

I went out with the pretty Puget Sound …

1, photo by Phil Decker


… the gorgeous Columbia Gorge (my talented daughter, Antonia Decker, took this shot — all of the rest are mine) …

2, photo by Antonia Decker


… and the sublime Summer Lake.

3, photo by Phil Decker


I apologize.  I have been ignoring you, taking you for granted. Yet the more I cheated with other exotic landscapes, the more I longed for you, the forest next door.

Desperately hoping that you’d take me back, I set out early one morning to meander along your State Street Trail, just west of Cordon Road, right before sunrise.

4, photo by Phil Decker


Once again, your simple majesty mesmerized me as the sun burst over the corner fence post, illuminating the boundary of Four Corners Rod and Gun Club.

5, photo by Phil Decker


I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon one of your hidden treasures, a moody lake tucked behind grass fields off 70th Avenue. I stopped to watch the mist rise.

6, photo by Phil Decker


I felt overwhelmed with emotion — joyous to reconnect with you, yet wracked with guilt for having been away for so long. I felt as though I was going to drown in bittersweet tears.

7, photo by Phil Decker


In the STATE that I was in, I knew I needed to just STOP. This was my defining moment. I had to choose the path I would follow.

8, photo by Phil Decker


Should I take the straight and narrow, and commit to my cherished local forest?

9, photo by Phil Decker


Or would I continue to imagine that the grass is greener on another side?

10, photo by Phil Decker


Will I come out from behind the shadows …

11, photo by Phil Decker, photo by Phil Decker


… and surrender to the comfort and beauty of my true love?

12, photo by Phil Decker


I sat down to ponder, gazing toward the horizon, beyond the field of a repurposed schoolhouse and tree farm.

13, photo by Phil Decker


My swirling thoughts and feelings fell neatly into place.

14, photo by Phil Decker


I realized that I need to keep my eye on the prize …

15, photo by Phil Decker


… even through thick and thin …

16, photo by Phil Decker


… until I earn the trust and affection, once again, of my true love: the dependable, wide open, rock solid, well-travelled roads of my dear Salem National Forest.

17, photo by Phil Decker


All joking aside, we often make day trips or vacation pilgrimages to seek nature’s beauty in pristine landscapes located in far-flung places. Yet we always live tucked within a landscape, even if significantly altered. These transformed places have their own special charm. You might have to look closely for inspiration, but it’s definitely there, and all the sweeter for the challenge of finding it.

Documentary photographer Phil Decker is a facilitator of the Salem Photo League.  You can see more photos at his blog, “Hiking Salem National Forest,” or at his website. In case his urban landscape photos don’t grow into a cash cow, Decker keeps his day job as an elementary school principal.