Turquoise tulle rises and falls, rises and falls, a confection in motion and a dream among the hills. The girls dart down the narrow path, stopping occasionally to play in the dirt. Their fingers painting shapes on shapes, a triangle becomes a square becomes a rectangle becomes. Clearly they don’t care about maintaining their dresses appearance for the inevitable pictures, which the bride and groom are posing for a few yards away, while the violinists play a song that gets lost somewhere in the sky.
We’re in Central Northern Oregon and the closest town is Mitchell, whose population came in at a whopping 130 in the last census. Just an hour ago we drove through a very burned down Ochoco National Forest, and an hour before that that we bought our coffee next to middle schoolers studying the Bible. At 8:00am. On a Saturday. And oh yeah, we camped under a big rock (Smith Rock) the night before, so it’s already been a very weird day. Imagine our surprise then when we stumbled upon a wedding taking place at the Painted Hills, called one of Oregon’s “Seven Wonders.”
The vivid sweeps of corals and dashes of black seem too perfectly placed to have been formed by nature, but the creation of the hues began 30 million years ago. An erupting volcano spread ash throughout the area which fused with various minerals. Over time (we’re talking millions of years) a lake formed in the hills, then the lake dried, the earth pushed the lake bed up, the minerals and ash oxidized, and blamo, the brilliantly colored Painted Hills came to be. But how exactly all this is doesn’t interest me in this moment, only that it is.
It’s a 90 degree day and the humidity makes me believe that what I’m seeing is a trick of the heavy air. Colors appear to bleed and sweat and spatter. Everything feels so fragile, like a single rainstorm will erase all this beauty and return the hills to their original state. And indeed it is fragile. Footprints can be seen up close, and as tempting as it is to tread all over this landscape, man’s undoing takes far less time than nature takes to do.
No matter though. Nothing is eternal. There’s no telling what these hills will look like like in time. But somewhere out there on someone else’s wall, is a photo celebrating this moment, with two pert little fluffy turquoise balls, in a wondrous land.
The writer and her boyfriend traveled to the Painted Hills in July of 2014.