Observations from the light rail to SeaTac
Observation: Of the 12 souls I can see from my seat at one point, 9 are engrossed in their cell phone.
Wondering: What are the ramifications of losing connectivity with those around us? Of not exchanging a smile with a stranger? Of not taking time to observe humanity?
Observation: Not only do young men not offer their seat to (also young) women, they drop into them themselves just because they were they first.
Wondering : If we are teaching our children that men and women are equals, which (rightly, I believe) includes the non-necessity of deferring—all things being equal—to women (formerly known as the “weaker sex”), are we also teaching them when it is kind and/or courteous to defer to a pregnant woman, a parent with a child, an elderly man?
Observation: An exuberant young man with Down Syndrome boards jiving to whatever happy music is playing through his headphones. He’s smiling from ear to ear, eyes lively. A woman sitting near where he is standing by the door catches his joy, seat dancing to unheard music. Other passengers smile. Most refuse to look at him.
Wondering: Are we afraid to be joyful in public? Are we embarrassed by non-conformity? Are we afraid of catching joy? or Down Syndrome? What are the differences between those who accept—even embrace—the differently-abled and those who pretend they aren’t in the room?
Story from American Airlines flight whatever
The middle seat in my row was supposed to be empty, was when I checked last night. The passenger sits down to headphones and phone, texting as we taxi toward the runway. While we wait in a long line of departing aircraft, my seat mate confesses he’s been reading over my shoulder the notes I’ve been hand writing for this post. He’s intrigued. I’m not sure if because of what I noticed on the light rail or that I was being observant in the first place. Or maybe that I was writing it down.
We strike up a conversation. Those who know me know this would not be a common occurrence for me.
He moved to Seattle a month ago from Charlotte, NC—our destination. He flies every week. I ask what he does that he travels so much. Sales rep for Hershey. Is that even a real thing?! His territory includes Alaska and Hawaii. Sweet. He frequently travels between Seattle and Portland. I think he flies, but I give him a card for my Airbnb anyway, along with one for my blog. Look at me, networking!
I confess it did occur to me that he might hand me a chocolate kiss, but it wouldn’t occur to me to ask. Then he says that most people ask if he has samples. (Sometimes I think I’m differently-abled.) Usually, he says, he doesn’t; but today he does. He hands me a new bar on the market (Reece’s Outrageous) and one that is not yet on the shelf (Milk Chocolate and Reece’s Pieces).
I give them to the Bigs after dinner one night (my 12 and 6 year old grandsons). But first they have to listen to the story from row 15. Sweetness happens when we break out of our zone; maybe even do a little chair dance.
(Postscript: I decided not to bring my computer on this trip. I’m typing on the Bigs’ mini iPad, or whatever this is. Tedious. Please excuse errors. And I don’t know how to add a photo from my library.)
Not really flora or fauna, just this gentle two-minute sunrise this morning that slipped silently in and back out, giving way to a rainy day. I blinked and it was gone; but for the photo evidence, maybe it wasn’t really there but in my imagination.
I can’t even say how much I wanted it to be raining today when I got home from yoga. I’m about to be gone for the better part of three weeks, and, after mostly putting off yard work for the past month (or three), there are things that need to be done. I don’t want to do them.
Like my garden. It’s a train wreck. And it will stay that way for now.
Like putting away the hoses that I did at least gather up a week or three ago and left semi-coiled in the wheelbarrow that I need to clean out aforementioned train wreck. I needed a new place for the hoses because I need to clean out the shed where they sprawl on the floor all winter like so many vipers in takeover mode. I despise hoses. Can they not make one that ordinary humans can wind into a factory coil?And then there are the two I can’t get apart.
And maybe someday I will finish getting the 55-year-old junk out from under the shed. Though to be fair to myself, there is far less driftwood, beach rocks, and sea shells than there once was.
But what about the pot of Mt. St. Helens’ ash? Why oh why oh?
Like clean the skylights that the yet-to-be-finished house renovation has opened up. Whoa! That’s an improvement. I can see clearly now.
But once on the roof, of course, I noticed it needed to be cleaned off. Again. There are seven downspouts that get blocked. A couple of weeks ago—or three—it was maple tree debris; now the shedding fir trees. The fallout lines nearly the entire perimeter of the roof, leaving standing water along same when it rains. And surely it will. Rain. Again. Someday.
The good news is between the monthly roof cleaning and frequent hiking in high places, I have conquered my aeroachrophobia.
Like turn off the sprinkler system for winter. I found one of the shutoff valves buried under eight inches of dirt that had to be dug out, thanks to the friggin’ mole. There’s a hole in the side at the bottom. I put in some plastic mesh in hopes that next spring it won’t be filled up again.
Four jobs done. Not even a rain drop in the proverbial bucket. It’s too much. I want someone else to do it. I miss my dad. I don’t know how he did it all.
In more interesting news, the women’s legacy writing series I am facilitating started this week. It was great! This is what I want to be doing at Three of Earth Farm. I want it to be a retreat center. But if someone doesn’t prune trees and rebuild rotting steps and take care of the gardens and clean out 58 years worth of s*** , it’s not going to happen. And right now that someone is me. And I’m too old.
My adventure season is officially over for 2018, which in no way means adventuring is over! But it’s time to differently prioritize. And really, it’s all adventure. I have returned to weekly 24-hour visits to my second home in Seattle for a one-on-one day with the littlest Little. This week’s day was so much fun.
My women’s writing circle begins on Wednesday (legacy writing) and I’m going to a writing workshop on Lummi Island next weekend (legacy writing). When the rain begins (and it had better), I will return in earnest to slashing 50,000 words from my memoir as well as begin my next project: reading and transcribing three 3-inch binders of letters my aunt wrote to her folks during her years as an overseas nurse during WWII. Then figure out what to do with them and the hundreds of letters from my father. When my sister finishes transcribing my mother’s taped life stories, I will finish her book too. All of this is legacy work, the task of the phase of life I am in. Putting it all together, honoring my ancestors, may be mine.
Meanwhile, oh my, the outdoor work that needs to happen to get ready for winter. So, you see, adventure of the traveling variety must play second fiddle for a few months. But not before I go to North Carolina in a week and a half to visit the Bigs and travel some familiar byways to see old friends.
It was an epic adventure season. In the past 26 weeks, I took 24 explores of my vast little corner of the country, including 13 hikes—11 of them new to me. I am pretty pleased with the achievement. Thank you for traveling with me; it wouldn’t have been the same without you. Next year, with a freedom I hadn’t been expecting this summer, I plan to begin expanding into a larger corner. Another winter project…making lists! Camping in the Redwoods is already on it.
I took a last unplanned hike after my trip with Mama to Paradise this week: I drove out the Stevens Canyon Road to Reflection Lakes and hiked the Lakes and High Lakes trail. I was only going to the Louise Lake overlook (it was my second hike of the day, after all), but when I got to that high spot, I realized I had done the hard part of the trail, and—what with my 4:30am start—the day was young. What the hey, I did the whole loop.
It wasn’t a top ten trail, but it was lovely, with Herself peeking in and out, small meadows and ponds. I startled a doe and two babes. I watched them a bit then moved on. One little one cut solo through the woods and met me around the corner. Like the chipmunk at Paradise, we stood silently heart-to-heart for several moments. The spirits of our loved ones are everywhere, when we are paying attention.
Au revoir extrovert summer, welcome introvert winter.
autumn at Mt. Rainier, autumn color, death of a parent, goodbye to a loved one, hiking at Mt. Rainier, inukshuk, marmots, Mt. Rainier National Park, Paradise, scattering ashes, Skyline Trail, Sunrise, wild huckleberries
I traveled to Paradise yesterday to release some of my mother’s ashes into the vastness at my favorite spot in my favorite place on the planet.
I leave the house at o’dark thirty under the light of the waning but still nearly full harvest moon. I’m determined, on this last planned hike of the season, to stand in the alpine glow. I arrive at US 12 a half hour later as the coffee kiosk open light clicks on. Thick fog in Mossyrock presses me against the white line to stay on the road in the dark; I lose the line briefly—and the edge of the road—at an intersection, swerving back on track when the line returns and breathing again when I pop out of the shroud.
I’m on track for sunrise when I pass through the Park’s closed entrance gate in the dark. As I maneuver the 40 minutes of tree-lined winding road, the sky lightens; by the time I approach the top, the mountain is beginning to glow.
Arriving to a nearly empty parking lot, but for a few other hearty souls there for the same reason I am, I put my leggings on under my hiking pants—knowing at noon it will be hot here so close to the sun, but right now it’s frigid—lace on my boots, put the pouch of Mama’s ashes in my pocket, and head toward Edith Creek.
I’m going up the Golden Gate trail, but I don’t think I can get to the top before the sun slides above the ridge. Both it and the mountain will be hidden much of the way up, so I settle in to wait. For the next 25 minutes I watch the moon fade in the increasing light, the glow on Herself, the throng of old man on the mountain waiting expectantly as their silver heads become luminous in the growing light, reminding me of my mother’s hair, silver, like mine, as long as I can remember.
I chose too perfect a day for a gloriously colorful sunrise, there are no clouds to turn pink or gold. When the sun finally slips up, it is not a spectacle; still I am glad to be here to greet it with the mountain and these grey-headed adorers. Later I realize if I had gotten to the top, there might have been some color; but that was an hour up and with an earlier rising, both for the sun and for me.
I unexpectedly encounter multiple risings as I climb and the sun comes up over closer dark ridges, the anemone and spider webs lighting up as the beams reach them.
The color over the valley I’m leaving behind as I climb higher and higher up the switchbacking trail is glorious. Mama would have loved this. I pick up a heart rock.
I pop over the top onto the ridge and there it all is, this special place. Red and orange, gold and green. The Tatoosh, Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, the multitude of “lesser” peaks. Rainier behind me. God, I love this place. However I search—and fall in love with—other trails, the lesser-hiked side of Paradise Skyline will always be my one true love.
I know right where I want to send Mama’s ashes into the beyond, but I hike a little farther down the trail to be sure, then back up where I sit on a rock to eat a granola bar. I save a bit of dark chocolate for Mama and peanuts for my father to send with the ashes. Tears fill my eyes as a sit, waiting for completeness, and my mind drifts to the past.
My family came often to Paradise when I was a child, and I have vivid memories of lying on my stomach to drink of the clear ice cold creeks (back when that was considered safe), hiking up the Alta Vista, the other end of Skyline, or one of the other trails above the Inn; skiing one year; the iconic photo of my father and his three daughters; picnic lunches with the “camp robber” grey jays that land on the table at the Paradise Picnic Area; the ice caves that once existed. But I wonder, not for the first time, if Mama was ever here, on this side of Paradise. Did I ask her? I’m not sure. If I did, she didn’t remember, and now I will never know.
She’s here now, and I stand to send her off. Pouring the handful of ashes into my palm, adding the crumbled chocolate and peanuts, I tell her I love her and miss her. With an arcing wave of my arm, I open my palm and release her. Some of the ash settles into the heather at my feet, around the heart rock; and a cloud of sun-sparkled silver floats into the air. I stand, mesmerized. I’m not prepared for how long it holds together, stretching out as it drifts past the trees and over the valley, and my tears roll again.
When I can no longer see the cloud, I sink back onto the rock and sob.
Rising finally, I take a last look. A chipmunk is sitting silently in the heather a few yards away, watching me. I move closer, it doesn’t move. We watch each other for five minutes, a yard apart, until it sits up on it haunches then dives into the bush and disappears, “Goodbye,” I whisper, and head down the trail.
I saw no one as I sat on the rock, but now I meet several hikers coming up. I hike down to the creek, crossing the expanse on rocks, and up the other side. I’m watching for marmots, disappointed that I haven’t seen any when this is the time of year they are actively preparing for the long winter. It’s then I realize I didn’t build an inukshuk and I’m devastated. I convince myself there weren’t any rocks where I left the ashes, and besides, Mama was already there. Back at the top of the next ridge, at the intersection of the Paradise Glacier trail, I find a field of rocks and build my cairn. It tumbles after I snap a few photos.
I’m rebuilding it when a volunteer park worker comes upon me and tells me it’s against regulations to build cairns in the Park. I had no idea. People think it’s the trail, they fall on hikers (he has seen them with huge rocks and ten feet tall), builders go too close to precipices to build them and one person died when he fell off. And besides I’m in a no-step zone. I’m mortified by the latter. I never walk on the meadows, but this is nothing but rock and sand; though I did step over the rock border.
He is kind enough to keep chatting, helping the exchange not ruin my day. He asks me if I’ve ever hiked the Paradise Glacier trail. I tell him I have, pointing up to the hill where I turned around last year, not telling him I climbed to the top on a “social” trail that may or may not have been off limits. He tells me that trail leads to where the ice caves used to be.
I’m speechless. My mother has been here. I had let myself be embarrassed by him; now I want to hug him.
We walk back up to the Stevens-Van Trump memorial bench where he’s left the flagged stakes he’s been collecting, that he put out when the snow melted to keep people out of no-walk zones, that he says don’t do any good. A marmot scurries up. The volunteer tells me he’s been watching this group all summer. He points out the massive pile of dirt in front of their den entrance near the trail and we watch them for several minutes as they arrive with mouthfuls of vegetation, pose for photos, scurry into the den and pop back out, nearly running over our feet as they lumber across the trail for more gathering.
If I hadn’t built that illegal inukshuk…
I finish my hike. Now that the sun is high overhead the huckleberry bushes set the slopes on fire amid the golden grasses as the mountain ash glows orange.
Back in the overflowing parking lot, I shed some layers of clothes and drive to the picnic area to eat my lunch with the grey jays.