It was a very surreal day. We were in a place we hadn’t planned to be. Even if the weather hadn’t been strange, if it had been sunny and clear rather than dampened down with a thick blanket of fog which rendered everything mysterious and quiet and slightly creepy, it would still have been a surreal day, because we were wandering through a surreal landscape. I kept expecting Dug, the talking dog from the movie Up, to burst from the shadows to tell us he loved us. And on top of that, my sister was wearing a hooded grey coat that made her look like the ghost of Christmas yet to come. Shiver.
The Lava Cast Forest just south of Bend Oregon is a land trapped in time, just as Pompeii is, in Italy. And for much the same reason. About 6000 years ago, one of the many volcanoes in the area erupted, for the last time to date, leaving a gigantic badland of lava rock and cinder cones in its wake.
In its destruction, it left behind a very interesting feature: casts of the trunks of trees. You can even see the pattern of the bark in the lava. Some of these casts are upright, showing where these ancient trees once stood, and some of them are long and horizontal, showing where the tree was knocked over, or perhaps already lying on the ground at the time of the eruption. It’s really fascinating, because you’re standing in the midst of quite obvious devastation, but you see proof positive that there was once a thriving forest here. It really makes you reflect on how impermanent everything is.
So here I was, enshrouded in fog, trying really hard not to reveal how desperately sick I was with the sinus infection from hell, and I was picturing a forest primeval, wondering if all of this was a fever dream. There were also strange twisted living trees, here and there, that have adapted to the minimal soil by twisting so that the water and nutrients distributed by the trunk would be shared equally by all its sides.
And to top it off, I learned a new word from one of the informational signs that were scattered along the excellently maintained loop road. The sign said that mosses and lichens had recently appeared, and that “they started a chemical process which caused rock to break down and organic soil to form where native grasses, forbs and a future forest will grow.”
“What’s a forb?” I asked my companions, in my croaky, sinus infected voice. None of us knew. And, as if by magic, two very friendly park rangers appeared from the mist to answer my question. I nearly jumped out of my skin.
A forb, it seems, is an herbaceous flowering plant. (Your homework assignment is to throw that into a sentence today and see if anyone notices, and then give me a full report in the comments below.) So I learned something new, but the whole experience made me even more convinced that I might be delirious.
And so I leave you with photos from a surreal land. At least my head is no longer in a fog. Check out the Lava Cast Forest if you’re ever in the area. It will be waiting for you, frozen in time… if the forbs don’t take over.