Monday, August 27, 2012

The Ancient of My Familiar

There is a beach on the Olympic Peninsula on Hwy 101 at the mid-section of the Olympic National Park and Forest coast, just before the road cuts to the east again to go around the rugged shoreline and the Hoh Indian Nation land. There is a viewpoint above the beach where one can stand and look down on the fresh water stream that tumbles down from the mountains before slowing to a languid flow through the haphazardly tossed drift logs, joining the Pacific Ocean through the haystack gateway. The Ruby Beach is covered with stones, chiseled round and worn smooth by their trauma in the wild ocean before being spit onto the sand, only to be washed back for another round.

Driftwood is sometimes, in years following a quiet winter, absent from the beach; and  other times in great abundance- making it possible to walk, perhaps for miles, on logs without touching the ground. Simple forts are built by children, and more structurally sound ones elaborately engineered by grownup children: the ONP version of beach cabanas built to shield one from the wind rather than from the sun. Some are merely functional, some boast decorative embellishment. Some are freestanding, some are built between the logs. Evidence of beach fires for keeping warm or roasting hotdogs and marshmallows dot the beach, tucked among the logs to protect the fickle flame from the elements.

At low tide, one can walk out onto the rocks at the base of the haystacks and find sea anemone, starfish, mussels, and other sea life showing off their brilliance as they grasp tightly for life onto the rocks as the sea washes over them and off. On the cliffs above the sea, ancient trees stubbornly grip life as the harsh winds of winter do their best to batter them into oblivion.

Ruby Beach, and others along Hwy 101, are the stuff of my familiar. After a hard week of wondering what in the world I have done uprooting my smooth flowing life, I decide I need another reminder. Sunday morning, early, I pack a sandwich, pear, dark chocolate, and water into my backpack; along with my camera and my rain jacket (which I almost, but not quite, needed), gas up CuRVy, and head for the ocean for a day of remembering. I drive west through the speed trap small towns along Hwy 12 turning north onto US 101 at Aberdeen/Hoquiam. I turn up my snob as I whiz past the closer boring fishing and clamming beaches of Ocean Shores and continue my trek through Humptulips. Just the difference in place names tells a story. The road stays inland around the Quinault Indian tribal lands, putting off the first ocean view.

As the road finally turns back west and rolls on through the tall second-growth, now protected trees, I stop at Lake Quinault Lodge, built in 1926, where Franklin Roosevelt stayed and got the idea over lunch to establish the Olympic National Park. The lodge is a familiar icon of my family history, along with the rain forest walk behind the 
Merchantile I take before continuing my journey. Now the road passes through private timber company replanted clearcuts. I can hear my father's proud voice giving our visitors a history of forestry as we drive to what they really came to see. Just as the road is about to run off the edge of the continent it turns north at Queets. I pass up Kalaloch (the first "a" is sort of silent), the only lodging on the coast; the beach that, because of the cabins perhaps, became a favorite of my parents after we children left home. I arrive, finally, at my own beloved beach.

I take the obligatory overlook photos, to add to my collection, then hike down to the water from the parking lot, stack a centerpiece of rocks, and sit on a log to eat my lunch. A father with four children enters from behind me, and the children clamber over the logs and bend to pick up rocks and throw them into the stream, chattering with delight at the pleasing plops. The father walks ahead, turning and admonishing them repeatedly to "Come on! Let's go to the beach." I don't get it. I watch them go, now and then throwing another rebellious rock into the creek. I don't suppose it would occur to them to ride logs in the river as we did, and as our own children did.

I am walking on a driftwood log when a couple about my age stops and comments on the chill in the air. "Yep," I respond, "It's not a fun-in-the sun kind of beach." I tell them about 
my love affair with Ruby Beach, and my return here from the east coast. Fires, walking on driftlogs, my father-sponsored contests to find the most perfectly round stone. I tell them about low-tide walking out to the haystacks, and the sea anemone in the pools in the rocks. I answer their questions about the origin of the driftwood, and the legality of fires and camping on the beach. "But," says the woman, after revealing that they are from Arkansas and were driving south on 101 and decided they might as well stop, "can you swim here?" "Nope," I say brightly, "too cold and there is a dangerous riptide." I think they are disappointed in this beach.

As I sit in my easy chair this morning-late with this blog due to my Sunday escape-as the sky clears above the fog in the valley floor, I reflect on the lessons of the Olympic Peninsula gardens. Some of the world's oldest trees live in the lush rain forest of the OP. The tree children spring from the mother and wrap their roots and branches protectively around her rich loamy trunk; holding her together in love as she moves into her ancientness. Someday the children, too, will be the ancients, in this national park where nature is allowed to take its own course. And their children will wrap their arms around them, as the grandparent finally becomes the soil, mingling with the spirits of those that came before, nourishing the generations to come. And a whole lot of rain makes it possible.

Like the river that delivers the winter snowmelt to the ocean, the path of our lives travels peacefully and unhindered some of the time, and tumbles over rocks and falls off cliffs at other points. Some days it moves through sunlight, and other days rain and fog dim what lies ahead. It is all inescapably part of the journey; and no one promised it would be easy.

Monday, August 20, 2012


I used to know the woods adjacent to my childhood home like I knew the rooms in the house. My neighbor, Barbara, and I pretended we were horses and galloped through the trees. Later, when we had real horses, we rode on its trails. We made crude junior high quality maps of the network of trails with pencil and notebook paper; and even blazed a couple of new ones. That was before a good bit of the hill was clearcut; before my parents instrumentally formed the Friends of Seminary Hill Natural Area and the City bought a large chunk of the area to preserve it. It was before that group more professionally mapped the trails that they maintain, and began to lure the town-dwellers up the hill for guided nature walks. It was before a member of the Board who owns the monument company made granite trail markers so you always know where you are. Almost.

I finally got myself into the forest last week. As I looped the loops, sans map, I found myself thinking that everything connects to something else﹣and that that would make a good blog theme: “There Are No Dead-Ends.” As I took yet another fork in the trail, I did note that there was no granite marker, but the trail appeared to be maintained. And no matter if I didn’t know where I was, it will connect to something eventually.

The trail narrowed as unchecked vegetation crowded in. Hmm. But then it was fine again. Then there was a tree down; and farther on, branches across the path. Now I’m thinking, maybe this is not an official trail. I was still hopeful that it would loop back up the hill, so I bushwhacked my way on along the faint path. Until I reached the valley road. Okay, it wasn’t a recognized trail. I did search for another way back up, as I am loathe to retrace my steps. The only choices were to sacrifice the woodsy walk and hit the pavement through town and go back up a “real” trail, or turn around and go back. At least the spider webs had been cleared for the return.

Life seems like that: you think you're on the map and following the established path, and whammo, suddenly you're blazing your own trail through a wilderness. I could have grabbed one of the maps before I left the house, but sometimes bushwhacking is more fun. And it can even be enlightening and empowering to find your own way.

This weekend I continued my quest to revisit the forgotten places of my childhood. Exploring this incredibly beautiful state is such a privilege. I hope I never forget to appreciate that. I hope I never forget to get out into it as often as possible. Emma, Wynne, and I were planning to go camping in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area-a place I don't think I have ever been near Cle Elum, on the eastern side of the Cascade mountains. But a 23,000 acre fire (that is still burning) put an end to that plan, as well as interrupted a lot of lives in far more serious ways. On a recommendation, we decided on Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park.

I disembark the Seattle-Bainbridge Island ferry, after crossing Puget Sound- a few hours ahead of the girls, who had obligations- and drive up the hill from the harbor, and I can't help it: I shout through the open windows at the top of my lungs, "I CAN'T BELIEVE I GET TO LIVE HERE!" I continue up US 101 (the country's most beautiful highway, I opine with some authority) toward Port Angeles at the top of the Olympic Peninsula, and turn toward the ONP to Heart o' the Hills campground; my assignment: to secure an unreservable campsite for our two tents. I miss the campground sign, however, and end up driving the additional 12 snaking miles up the mountain to the Ridge.

As I approach the top, I marvel at the beauty of the Olympic mountain range. And then, at the second to last curve before the parking lot and visitor center I don't know is coming, my breath leaves my body. It's a damn good thing I am on the inside lane and not the outside next to the sheer dropoff; it's a little hard to drive when you aren't breathing. If I ever wondered where the term "breathtaking beauty" came from, I wonder no more. I am on the top of the world.

"I think I could stop here myself and do miracles"
(Walt Whitman).

I do not tarry on the top of the world, directly under the clear blue sky, where you can see with just a bit of imagination, the curve of the earth. I am shirking my responsibility to find a campsite. Later I am sorry I didn't seize more of the moment. (Is there ever a time it is not a good idea to seize the moment?) The descent back down the mountain in the outside lane is so sweaty-palms terrifying, I know I will not be able to go up again. Just please God, don't let the brakes, the clutch, the steering go out now.

I find a campsite, and it is not easy-there are not many large enough for our needs. But I only need one, and with only a few options left in the five loops A-E beginning with B, A-13 is a beauty. I set up my tent. Much of my life, as I have said many times in this blog, is off the map I thought I would be using for a lifetime. Bushwhacking has become the pretty-happy norm for me. But I am grateful for those places that have order and routine. Setting up my tent is a familiar sequence that brings peace:

1. Find spot and lay down groundcloth.
2. Unroll tent, remove poles from center.
3. Spread out tent.
4. Drive stakes through loops.
5. Put poles together and fit longer ones through tubes in top of tent.
6. Tie poles at cross-point.
7. Fit ends into corner posts at stakes.
8. Snap tent to poles.
9. Put short poles into canopy and put latter on tent.
10. Hook canopy corners to tent stakes and stake out centers.

The girls arrive and, thinking the weather might be different the next day, I urge them to put off relaxing and go to the Ridge. As I sit at the campsite under the beautiful tall trees in the lush, mossy greenness, I realize that I cannot let my fear hold me hostage. I am aware that it is my fear of the road, not the road itself, that is paralyzing me. I determine that if Emma's drive down doesn't scare her, I will go back with them the next day. She is not afraid, and we return. Saturday is overcast, and it is beautiful in another way. I'm glad I missed the turn-off on Friday and saw the view under both skies.

All too soon the weekend of exploring, playing games, cooking over the fire, swaying in the hammock comes to an end. The girls have to leave early for a babysitting gig. I enjoy the last of our morning fire in the foggy damp solitude before I take down my tent, reversing the ten steps. I stop to check out two trailheads just outside the park gate. I explore a little ways down each. 100% upshit, and too far to go to the destinations this time anyway. I will come back. I can. Because I live here.

I am not returning via ferry to Seattle, but continuing on 101 to Olympia. I stop in Sequim (the "e" is silent) to visit my bucket-listed lavender farm. The purple goodness permeates the air, and as many varieties of bees as of lavender provide sound effects.

Among the oh-so-many things I love about the OP are the place names. On this particular route I pass Jimmy-come-lately Creek, Quilcene, Dosewallips, Duckabush, Hamma Hamma, Skokomish, Lilliwaup, Potlatch, Squaxin Island, Kamilche. Somewhere in there the road crests a mountain ridge and the fog and clouds give way to blue skies as I drop down to the sparkling waters of Hood Canal.

Day by day, I am finding my way through my life. As I walked a little ways into the woods toward Lake Angeles yesterday morning, over a foot bridge across the creek that also babbled unseen below our campsite on its way to the Pacific Ocean, named Wisdom #1 (perhaps there will be more) formed in my heart: If it is your first time, even if you are following a trail others have blazed ahead you for their own use, it is bushwhacking.

(The road to Hurricane Ridge; Puget Sound in the fog at top of photo.)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Planting Dream Seeds

The very sweet man who lives in a tent on the edge of our former horse pasture waters my mom’s gardens every morning. I don’t much like to water; I’m glad it’s not part of my “duties” here. But he was out of town for a few days a couple of weeks ago. I haven’t spent much-okay, any-time in the garden here; but I wandered about near my apartment door for a few minutes one evening, and decide it wouldn’t hurt to water the grape tomatoes my mom had planted before I arrived, at my request. The plants were very tall, with a fair number of blossoms, but no tomatoes. Summer comes late in the Pacific Northwest-I’m sure the ones I planted in my North Carolina garden in April are long gone, done in by the relentless heat. It was a simple thing, but it felt good to connect with the earth.

I forget the connection to simplicity. I feel overwhelmed with the enormity of the space ahead of me in the coming months. There are many things I want to do with my Year of Happiness (a book that is next on my list): write, explore my new home, learn, discover an expanding me; along with re-experiencing caregiving and living in relationship with family. But where to start? The caregiving is easy to jump into; it needs to happen everyday regardless of whatever else might be calling to me. And four other people help pull me into relationship. The calling to me part, though, is easily ignored because it is entirely up to me to make it happen; and, it seems to me, requires objectives and goals and a plan for reaching them. Or does it? Perhaps all it really requires is intention and the planting of a few seeds. The garden needn’t be planted all at once.

In my North Carolina garden I planted seeds and seedlings according to the time of year. Some require cold weather sewing and some need warmth. Some are fall bloomers, and some are spring. My Washington garden needs nothing so heroic (and untenable) as single-season planting. To try to accomplish such ridiculousness is a sure-fire way to experience dream-death.

When I arrived here last month, my first task was to build my garden bed. I unpacked boxes, retrieving familiar and beloved items of my living and designed a comfortable place to give birth to my year. Next came self-care: find a yoga class, prepare the soil to make it fertile. On the second try I found a yoga studio that I love. Its upper floor loftiness, dark wood floors, open rafters wrapped with strings of light, and sixteen windows looking into the sky and treetops and through which the afternoon light slants, brings me peace just to be in the space. I am still exploring the right class for me, but I am glad I didn’t give up after two classes in a depressing studio that threatened to sink me when I walked in the door.

I found a place to write my blog, Santa Lucia Coffee Roasters, a charming atmosphere and hangout of others that may someday be familiar faces (and where Alma knew my order when I walked in the door today!). But I want to write more than my blog, and it feels impractical and probably unproductive to go to a coffee shop. I have not been able in the past to write at home. I need a place without distractions; one that says, “When you are here, write.” It comes to me all of a sudden that it is here right under my nose. Or right over my head.

A lot of years ago, in barn-raising fashion, my dad enlisted three generations of his family, along with friends, to build his dream workshop over the carport. He had too few years to enjoy it. Ten years ago, ready to return to her roots, sister Rebecca moved to this home to help my mother and to pursue her own artistic heart. She converted the workshop into a studio to paint old furniture. She cleaned out, I assume, a lot of the workshop detritus, but left a lot: tools large and small; my dad’s collections of wood for projects, screws, and paint-evidence of his organizational skills. His collectibles from life on the farm and a career as a forester still hang on the walls.

Rebecca uses the space rarely, if ever, since she started HUBBUB six years ago. So now it also contains collected unpainted furniture, pieces in abandoned process of being painted, and more paint. Her collectibles and items of inspiration still hang on the walls. All that, along with stuff that has been thrown up there over the years in lieu of discard. (The three American Girl magazines from 1958, 1959, and 1963 are fascinating.)

One afternoon this week I tackle the daunting task of rebirthing the tree- house-like space into a writing studio. I cannot actually throw anything out because it isn’t my stuff. But I am pretty successful at moving things around and out of the middle of the floor in the front space, and make room to move stuff out of the back room. So now it is an organized disaster. And I have enough room for me. And the WiFi works! I get my red leather chair out of my storage unit, and scavenge a couple other things that I could get at to accessorize. I also appropriate some things I find stored in the workshop turned art studio turned writing loft. A motivational notebook from my dad’s employer finds a visible home on a shelf next to one of Rebecca’s painted bowls. Just as Daddy made his dream workshop happen, Rebecca made her dream happen. Now it’s my turn. I planted a seed and that energizes me! I look forward to Smudge joining me in my loft. I think I will get an electric fireplace for winter. Oh yes, it is unheated.

The local community college catalog arrives in the mail this week, and I eagerly turn to the community classes, for which I am eligible for the half price senior discount. Perks. I am disappointed that there are no writing courses offered fall semester. But I sign up for Drawing for People Who Think They Can't Draw.

Last week I explored Mt. Rainier; this week my mom and I take a drive down the road that crosses the valley below the house, just to see exactly where it goes; next week Emma and Wynne and I are camping in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, where even my mom says we have never been. I set a goal to write something everyday, however small, and accomplish it this week. Seeds beginning to bloom.

I mentioned in a previous blog that there are no birds at my new home on the hill. I miss the birds. Soon after my arrival I put up two feeders, hoping to lure feathered friends. Every few days I check the seeds. Still no diners. Last evening, as my mother and I eat dinner, an evening grosbeak flutters up to the feeder. I hold my breath. It doesn’t stay for dinner, but it is a beginning.

Two quotes resonate this week:

“You aim for what you want and if you don’t get it, you don’t get it, but if you don’t aim, you don’t get anything” (Francine Prose).

“Dreams become reality when we start to treat them as if they are real. When we stop postponing and evading them, and when we can answer, ‘Today, I worked on my dream’ with a grounded specific” (Walking in This World, Julia Cameron).

This week there are tiny green tomatoes on the vines. One step at a time. The tomatoes come after the blossoms. And way before the blossoms are the seeds that are watered and fertilized a bit at a time. I am planting the seeds for my Year of Happiness dreams.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Morning Fog, Gradual Clearing

The sky is cloudless all afternoon on Thursday, except for the cloud border at the west end of the valley, hiding Mt. St. Helens. And then, as the day begins to fade, the mountain top (what is now the top) becomes visible. It would have been easy to miss. I was feeling the same way early in the week. I am here where I want to be-I am clear about that; but what I am doing here is foggy. Just as I am despairing, my clouds lift just a bit and improve my vision. It would have been easy to miss.

Friday promises to be a spectacular day, and I am off for Mt. Rainier. I leave later than planned because of dense fog. Then, heading downtown to wait it out at Santa Lucia, I realize that visibility at road level is fine. I kick myself for the loss of nearly an hour. I want to get to Paradise before the masses ascend and the parking lot is full. I grab my low-fat, double-shot latte and head up the interstate.

The interstate is not my recreational route of choice to anywhere. In fact, I spend the evening before searching Mapquest and old-fashioned paper maps, trying to determine if the road that crosses the valley below the house and disappears into the hills on the other side, hooks up to the road I need through the map dot labeled Cinebar. It is not clear; I decide to save that exploration for another day and stick to the known non-interstate road through Chehalis and Mary's Corner to US 12. However, due to my tardiness, I roar down I-5 out of town.

But a funny thing happens on the way to the mountain, I exit too soon-State Route 508, rather than Highway 12. I don't realize my mistake until I am a good way in. I check the map to see if I need to go back or can cut across somewhere. I discover I am headed for Cinebar. Which intersects with State Route 7 at Morton. Right where I need to be. Apparently I am meant to check out Cinebar-though I confess the dot is so small, I don't see any sign of increased civilization. As I approach the dot, I stomp the brakes and pull off the road after I cross the "Caution, Narrow Bridge," rounding a curve to the fog-filtered sun slanting through the trees. Grabbing my camera, I walk back to the bridge and only then hear the gentle whooshing of un-visible water tumbling past rocks in the Tilton River, hidden in undergrowth. I can't get a good picture of the sun, but I enjoy the attempt and am overcome by the beauty. A few curves on down the road, the fog clears over the barns of a farm at the foothills of the Cascades. I stop again to visually walk down the lane to the house. A chance discovery-my route of choice for future trips to Rainier.

The speed limit signs are in place for a reason: in a speeding car one could miss the first nano-second view of the mountain peeking around a hill in the foreground; or even the 30-second full view a few miles later. I pass through the park entrance gate, for the first time purchase the annual pass rather than the day pass, and wend my way through the old growth forest for the 45 minute climb. I arrive at Paradise to cloudless skies-and a few empty parking spaces. And that smell; oh my God, the smell. I wish I could photograph it and post it in this blog.

I start out on my favorite trail, counter-clockwise on the Skyline loop. I observe an older couple on the trail below me, she carrying a purse. Why, I wonder, do we unnecessarily burden ourselves? A bit later our paved trails merge and he asks me if the way I have come is fairly level. Behind me comes a multi-child family: three on the hoof, one papoose. On the return I meet a woman in flip-flops. I move on to the unpaved trail, the descent followed by the ascent that is not for the disabled. I love this trail because the mountain is visible only occasionally; which makes it, for one thing, a more solitary trail. The dominate view of the Tatoosh range and the in-and-out-mountain-view makes it more interesting to me than the constantly clear view of the breath-taking Rainier.

I continue until the trail disappears under late-season snow pack. I am not adequately equipped with crampons and poles to traverse snow. And one fall per year is all I allow myself. I will return (I got the annual pass, after all) when conditions are different or I am better equipped. Then I will continue the lung-burning climb above timberline to the incredible view of three mountains. For today, there are plenty of other paths beckoning. On the way back to the Alta
Vista trail, I have a shoe malfunction-the elastic lace breaks at the top of the tongue of my right shoe. I make a successful emergency repair and continue until the next trail, and the next and the next, morph into snow. There are more children going happily up one steep trail than I have ever seen. And then I see why-there is a huge snowfield halfway up. Eighty degrees and all the snow one could wish for.

Streams and waterfalls trip over themselves down from the glaciers, the volume ranging from trickle to roar, making their swift trip to reservoir lakes and on to the Pacific Ocean. Back in the day, we would lie down on our bellies and drink face fulls of icy water. Before we knew about giardia and the fragility of the Paradise meadow gardens of avalanche lilies, marsh marigolds, western pasque flower, old-man-on-the mountain, subalpine buttercups, Indian paintbrush, lupine. And the old-as-God trees that reach for the sky-and in the thin high-altitude air, get nowhere near. They all persevere.

I leave Paradise and head down the back side of the park to Reflection Lakes. No reflection is visible, but I lift my camera lens for a shot anyway. And through virtual viewfinder of my digital camera, the reflection is as clear as the cloudless day.

In the cool of this early Sunday morning, I sit on my patio as the sun sweeps the low fog from the valley floor and illuminates the "lesser" Mt. St. Helens. The week has illuminated my vision of the future. There may be fog now, but the clearing will come. Meanwhile, I will enjoy the limited view.