Adventure Log: Mount Zion

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It was a long week. My mother’s memorial service was Saturday and there were guests in the house for a week. When everyone left, I knew I would have to turn my attention to the abandoned house and garden projects. I needed a break, so I took a friend up on her offer of the family vacation spot on Hood Canal, offered when my mother died six weeks ago.

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The weather wasn’t great so I just did what my body told me it needed: three naps in one day. But before I left for home, I went to Mount Zion.

The hike in the Olympic National Forest just north of Quilcene has been on My Backpack list on the Washington Trails Association site for a long time. It’s claim to fame is rhododendrons and I’ve been waiting for them to be in bloom. There hasn’t been a WTA trip report since mid-May, when they were not blooming yet.

It was an overcast day, and I’m a fair weather hiker, but I was halfway there from home, so I decided to go for it. It was the rhodies that was the draw after all, not views.

The trail head is 10.5 upward miles of Forest Service road from Hwy 101. The potholes weren’t too bad; Flutterby took them with ease. I saw no other cars as I climbed into the clouds. I did start seeing rhododendrons along the road though, a good sign. But I was feeling increasingly isolated, and I had forgotten to tell my sister where I was going. “Maybe,” I thought, “I’ll just go to the end of the road, eat my lunch, and head back down.”

But when I arrived, there was a car in the lot! It never occurred to me that the sole party on the trail might be an ax murderer, because I don’t think that way. I just knew I wouldn’t be alone. The long-abandoned pickup truck hanging off the edge of the parking area was a little ominous, I admit.

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I suited up: boots (I’d forgotten my boot socks, only had shorties and wasn’t sure how that would work), knee straps, poles, driver’s license in case my comatose body needed to be ID’d, and camel pack and headed across the road to the trail head. It was chilly. I have never taken my jacket on a hike, but I left it on. As it turned out, I never took it off.

Of course the trailhead signage included the cougar warning and what to do in a rare sighting. Tell that to the hiker who was killed by one a few weeks ago, a story I chose not to read. I took my newly acquired can of bear spray out of my pack and put it in my pocket.

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There were rhodies right away! And, true to the WTA report, the trail headed “up” right away. It’s a short hike, just 2.3 miles to summit—another half mile if you go beyond to a vista overlooking Puget Sound, the Olympic mountains, Mt. Baker—with a 1300 foot elevation gain. People use it for quick workout, the WTA says. People are nuts.

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Did I mention it was chilly and damp? Mist hanging about in the dripping-lichen trees. And quiet; very, very quiet. “Maybe,” I thought,” I’ll just go for a little ways, then turn around.” But the rhodies were oh so pretty next to the trail and through the trees, just short of prime with some still-closed buds. My feet kept walking. “I’ll turn around a half hour in,” I thought.

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I came upon a view point over the valley, but low hanging clouds obscured the horizon. Maybe it was the damp—I’m used to sunny hikes—that gave it a creepy vibe. I started thinking about cougars, forgetting the part about how rare it is to see one. And where was that other hiking party? I started thinking about ax murderers.

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I checked my watch. The half hour had passed. It really wasn’t as steep a trail as I’d anticipated; I’ve been on far more strenuous. The socks were good, my knees were good (they’ve been bothering me a bit lately). And it really was pretty. Lots of rhododendrons. “Okay, I’ll turn around at the one hour mark,” I promised myself. I’m not a quitter when it comes to hiking. And I was feeling a little less uneasy.

Then I heard them. Voices. I rounded a corner, hoping not to startle them. My bear bell was tinkling, but it’s not very loud.

Two young women. Not ax murderers! We chatted. I asked them if it was much farther to the summit, said I had never been anxious hiking alone, but was a bit today, thinking about turning back. They said I was brave, and agreed that the weather cast a bit of a creep factor. “It’s not much farther at all!” they said. “The rhodies are beautiful. There’s not much view, but the shifting clouds are pretty. Maybe it will clear for you.”

Their “not much farther” and my “not much farther” are different. But I arrived. I did not use the outhouse. I walked most of the way out the point, beyond the summit. The rhodies at the top were short of prime, another week maybe, but beautiful in the mist.

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There was going to be no view though, so I finally turned back. I’ll have to come again in the sun for the view. But this time, there were rhododendrons.

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IMG-0083.JPGThe parking lot was empty when I got back to Flutterby. And I met no one on the road going down. I was very glad not to have to worry about my car breaking down. When I got to the highway I started breathing again. I think I’ll stick to sunny day hiking.

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A Life Well Lived

There’s a new post on Daughter on Duty: my mother’s memorial service.

If my mother’s celebration of a life well lived was any indication, she was beloved on the earth. Scores of people filled the sanctuary last Saturday: family, friends of my mother, friends of mine and my sisters, Girl Scouts who earned badges under her leadership in the 1960s, my father’s work colleagues or children of those who were, neighbors, church friends, friends of Seminary Hill, her caregivers and property helpers over the years.

Adventure Log: Lummi Island

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I took a  break from memorial service planning and preparation to return to Lummi Island and my friend Joanna Powell Colbert’s straw bale house. Lummi Island hangs out in Puget Sound just off the coast from Bellingham—up there near Canada—in the San Juan archipelago. It’s just over 9 square miles in size with a permanent population of about 800.

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Last time I went just for island and writing time with my friend, taking a personal retreat from caregiving. This time I attended one of Joanna’s workshops, Tarot and Talismans. When I registered for this workshop, I was aware of the possibility I would have to cancel if my mother was in crisis. To hold my space in the circle with her gone now, was both freeing and bittersweet.

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I fell in love with Joanna’s earth-honoring Gaian Tarot deck some years ago when I met her at my first Whidbey Island writing retreat, when I was at the front end of this longer-than-expected caregiving journey. I had never been a tarot user, but it was so easy to relate to Joanna’s natural world colored pencil interpretation of the traditional archetypes, that I have become a believer in their usefulness in helping me examine my life and consider my future.

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The workshop was held at REC Retreats (Recharge, Enrich, Create) on the island, a one- and two-day weekend retreat center in the home of owner Kjerstin Secord looking into the face of Koma Kulshan (Mt. Baker). It’s something I hope for the future of my home, and Kjerstin generously spent a richness of time on her sun-drenched deck the day before the workshop to sit with me and talk about her experiences. So watch for that to join my Airbnb at Three of Earth Farm!

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I didn’t sleep well that night, terrified of what I am proposing to do. Who do I think I am that I can pull something like this off? No, I can’t do it. I’m not good enough, smart enough, committed enough, young enough, connected enough.

Morning came and we seventeen women began in circle and intuitively introduced ourselves not by what we do, but by who we are: our wounds, our healing, our griefs, our joys. (Stunningly, there was another Gretchen in the circle. I have never in my almost 66 years had to put my initial after my name to distinguish between two people of the same first name.)

Our morning activity was to draw one card from our deck and, after examination of the details, symbols, and qualities it suggested, give the figure in the image a title and write a blessing. Later, in partnership with another participant, we wrote a blessing for each other. It was a powerful moment to bless a stranger and receive blessing in return.

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We were given the choice of choosing a card randomly or looking at them face up and choosing one that spoke to us in that moment. I started to spread them on the table to draw from face down, then changed my mind. I put the cards back in a stack and turned it over to begin looking at each card for one calling my name. The top card was the three of earth. Tears gathered in the corners of my eyes and my heart opened. Of course that card chose me. In the death of my mother and my conversation the day before with Kjerstin about my future, this was exactly the one I needed. Maybe I can do this. The Universe will help me.

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I chose Three of Earth for the name of this property—and my future here—because in the tarot something begins in the aces (my parents’ purchase of this property in 1960), is challenged in the twos (the death of my father in 1995 and my mother’s determination to take care of the family home as best she could), and is manifested in the threes (the next generation accepting, for now, the mantle). The threes also express the energies of abundance, harmony, community, pleasure, and manifestation—my dream of sharing this land with others and creating something of lasting value. Three is a mystical, magical number, as is this piece of earth.

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In the afternoon, we made blessing beads and talismans. My mother’s celebration was on my mind, but I turned my focus to the farther future and found the Three of Earth card again in the box of tarot cards Joanna provided for us to tear up, asking for blessings on this path.

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My friend Melissa and I boarded the tiny ferry in the spitting rain on Sunday and headed back down I-5 from our magical island time.

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I’m back home now, watching my own mountain appear and disappear in the clouds, readying myself for the week ahead. Family will begin arriving today with my sister, my children on Thursday, Jo Ann’s on Friday. Some extended family and many friends will come together to celebrate my mother’s long life, lovingly planned by my sisters and me, on Saturday. And then it will be over. Or maybe it’s never really over.

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Notes from Three of Earth Farm

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It was on my list; has been for a year at least. Just not for today. Today was trail clean out day. But all of sudden, there it was, calling to be done. I dropped my sickle and loppers and got the ladder and the wire cutter.

We didn’t have a television until I was in junior high. Well, for a while in fourth grade we had my grandmother’s black and white, I don’t know why. Then we got our own TV when I was in seventh grade and went back to watching Lawrence Welk and the Lennon Sisters when we visited our granny.

I suppose we had rabbit ears back then. I don’t think the antennae showed up until I had left home and my parents went high tech. It was mounted on a tower at the highest place on the property, some distance from the house, in what was then the edge of the horse pasture. Now it’s a grove of trees and there is a satellite dish below the house, but mostly I watch Netflix.

Pieces of the aluminum antennae blew down over the years, bits every winter I suppose. I collected them a couple years ago, from where they’d lain dormant in the underbrush, spray painted them, and put them in the garden. They are practically buried now because I haven’t cleaned out the bed this year. Yeah, it’s on my list too. The sweet peas are in takeover mode.

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When I had 40 dead trees cut in the grove that used to be a pasture a few years back, I had the woodsmen take down the precipitously leaning tower too. But the cable remained tacked, disconnected and useless, onto the side of house, stretched across the yard, up over the trail to the meadow, threaded through trees, tacked high on a pole midway through (it’s still tacked to the pole; I didn’t want to drag the ladder up there). Yards more lay on the ground after the antennae was removed.

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Today I hauled out the ladder, leaned it up, and cut ‘er down. Another vestige of my past, gone. How is it that the removal of such a slender thread seems to have opened up the sky?

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Meanwhile, the rhodies continue their best of show performance. I cleaned out the gravel path by the front door—another task not on the list—after deciding not to prune the ancient rhododendron overgrowth, the blooms are too pretty and still coming. I hope they last until my mother’s service in two weeks.

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The bathroom floor got redone last week—it’s beautiful—and the 1960 chrome towel rods have been replaced with polished nickel. Best of all, when I took out the horrid towel tree by the tub in preparation for the work, I realized I didn’t have to put it back! Now there’s a nice nickel rod in its place.

And this week the sagging corner of the deck got a new beam and an additional post, replacing the rotten beam. I can have a dance party on the deck now. And have added painting to my to do list.

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I’m following in my mother’s footsteps, getting stuff done; but only one path got cleared today, the one that goes through the woods that didn’t used to be woods. Only one of my mother’s beloved wild tiger lilies lost its life in the process. I’m mourning that one though.

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I did finish up the service guide for my mother’s memorial service, and cut a few words from my eulogy. So there’s that. As my sisters and I plan for the last hurrah, life goes on here on the hill. This blog post wasn’t on my list either.

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