A Benediction of Owls: Winter on the Baker River

We drove up the Baker Lake Road, each in our own car, past the gated campgrounds and shuttered ranger station. Above us the Mountain Gods —Kulshan and Shuksan—gleamed in the luminous winter sun, fresh snow dazzling against a cobalt-blue sky.

I was sorely in need of a few days off the grid, and the weather window—a few consecutive days of winter sunshine—was too good to pass up. The pandemic was at its peak, and I hadn’t seen my old friend Joe in months. Although we had to keep our distance from each other, I looked forward to being able to spend some quality time together enthralled by beauty, something the two of us had been doing for more than 30 years, everywhere from Arizona to the Yukon. A lifetime of shared grandeur;  it made for a deep connection.

Photo by John D’Onofrio

Continuing up the unpaved road, we negotiated numerous downed trees and potholes big enough to get lost in. At the end of the road, we pulled into the empty Baker River Trailhead parking lot and pitched separate tents at the edge of the mossy forest along the riverbank.

A river of mist, mirroring the river itself, drifted through the bare trees on the opposite shore. We sat on the rocky beach for an hour, watching the afternoon unfold and listening to the music of the river, a tone poem of gurgling water, restless wind in the trees, and the croaking of philosophical ravens.

Photo by John D’Onofrio

The sun moved across the sky, riding the ridgeline, before dropping from view, casting the scene in indigo shadows, the surface of the water burnished with a metallic luster. A water ouzel danced among the rocks in the river, impervious to the chill that had descended with the onset of day’s end, just another day on the job here in the north woods.

Dinner by the fireside beneath a cavalcade of glittering stars. How many nights have Joe and I sat beside the fire? Too many to count. The comfort of an evening beneath the night sky shared with an old friend cannot be adequately expressed in words.

In the morning, we indulged ourselves with a small campfire to warm our bones, drinking coffee and admiring the early light on the river before heading up the Baker River Trail, past moss gardens and ferns glossed with a patina of ice. Tendrils of mist snaked downstream above the river, but the sky overhead was crystal clear.

Photo by John D’Onofrio


Hanging old man’s beard, backlit by the incandescent winter sun, adorned the Tolkienesque forest. Shadowy grottos invited exploration. From the the middle of the suspension bridge spanning the Baker River, the ice and water below us swirled in an elegant and poetic way. The water was so clear; it was as if it didn’t exist except as movement highlighted by rich winter light reflected on the surface in undulating oranges and blues.

Photo by John D’Onofrio

We walked back to camp through a decoupage of pressed leaves, the forest floor a botanical mosaic. Is there anything more beautiful than the filagree of frosted lichen?

Beside a small fire kindled as the last light faded, we talked late into the night under a canopy of stars. Eventually, the gaps of silence grew longer, broken only by the incantations of owls somewhere in the darkness. The moon rose, and the river whispered a reflection.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.