Adventure Log: Wallace Falls

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It wasn’t my usual hike. First, it wasn’t in Southwest Washington. Generally I stay close to home, exploring the South Cascades and the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, straying no farther north than Mt. Rainier National Park. But the trails my heart and feet itch for are still under snow. I have a list of hikes I’m watching trip reports on for wildflower emergence when the snow melts. I think it might be a year of favorites rather than new explores.

But this week, I decided to head for the Central Cascades and return to Seattle for the night, followed by my the day with my grandkids. It shortened the day not to have to repeat the three or four hour drive to return home.

My first pick was Lake Serene and Bridal Veil Falls, but I was scared off by WTA reports of “it was harder than expected.” Maybe another day. Or not. I don’t usually think to choose state park hikes, but at bedtime the night before my intended outing, I was ready to give up finding any place appealing and stay home, so I latched on to Wallace Falls. I am a sucker for waterfalls, and this hike has three major ones!

Wallace Falls derives its name from Kwayaylsh, the surname of the first homesteaders in the area. If that had been its name, I probably would have been attracted to it sooner.

I was up early, my driving route planned, hopefully, to avoid traffic by staying off I-5. (It’s also, like most hikes in the Central Cascades, popular; and I prefer to hike alone. I-5 and popular are two more reasons I don’t go north to hike.) I was at the espresso kiosk at 5:30; and soon after, road latte in hand, winding east through Tenino and Yelm. An early start from home, though, even staying off the interstate, put me at the one high traffic stretch of road (WA-167) squarely at rush hour. No matter where you go that is basically north, you have to go near Seattle.

There weren’t many cars in the parking lot at 9:30, thankfully. I used the flush toilet and hot and cold running water (nope, not my usual hike) and headed out the wide trail under the power lines.

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The trail did cut off then, eventually narrowing; and, sans alpine scent and wildflowers, was more like a wilderness trail, winding beside Wallace River. The babble, sometimes escalating to a roar, of the river and the crashing of water plunging off the mountain— dropping a total of 1000 feet—as the trail approaches the three falls, followed me as I hiked.

I was met at the trailhead by a quote from William Wordsworth, part of which was a favorite of my mother’s, though she didn’t remember who said it first. My hiking day was between the anniversary of her Celebration of Life and what would have been her 103rd birthday. She met me at the trail and I carried her with me.

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The trail has many steps, several bridges, a picnic shelter, signage, and multiple fences. I wondered if all that treated lumber gave the trail its somewhat funky odor. The signs warning that falling off the edge and plummeting hundreds of feet “could cause death,” amused me. But when, on my return to the parking lot, I met people in sandals and carrying purses, it became a little more clear.

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The middle falls and the valley overlook (I like open places) would turn out to be the highlights of the 5.5 mile round trip trail, but I didn’t know that, so I pressed on up the “more difficult” section with its switchbacks, roots, and large rocks, which certainly earned it its difficulty status.

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Many dogs and people accompanied me, particularly on the way down after lunch when the trail became kind of like WA-167. I imagine the weekends are like I-5 through the Tacoma curve. I think I’ll stick to the southern trails, and hopefully one day get back to the far north, staying clear of the middle. I’m a country girl, not a city girl.

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As I wrapped up the hike, I met a couple a bit younger than I. (Why is it that somewhat younger people make me feel my age more than much younger ones?) “How far did you go?” he asked. “All the way,” I said, not without a bit of pride—though it was far from the most difficult hikes I’ve done—maybe sensing he thought I looked old enough that if I had done it, he would have no excuse. “How far did she say?” she asked him after they passed me. “All the way,” he replied. It was some 17,000 steps—according to the app on my phone—on 66-year-old legs. I throw that age in because I have only a few more days before I have to advance it. But I have many more hikes.

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Before I left home, I took time for my daily card draw from my new tarot deck—The Herbcrafter’s Tarot—to see how it might inform my day. I drew the Adelita of Water, I’m not kidding. The Adelitas (or warriors) correspond to the explorers cards in the Gaian tarot (my other deck). The Adelita of Water is “committed to nurturing her spirit. She knows that time alone allows for the discovery of her innermost desires.” It was affirmation that I chose the right hike.

I’ve been drawing warrior, mother, and healer (explorer, guardian, and elder) cards ever since this deck arrived in the mail several days ago. As I work on my memoir of my mother’s last years and, simultaneously, work to restore this property my family loves, I’m reminded that I am doing good work; that I am where I am meant to be at this time of my life. I am walking through the second half of my sixth decade with one palm face down, grounded in this property; and the other face up, hiking into the unknown, open to mystery.

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The day after my hike, I spent my last weekly day of the year with my youngest grandson. It was bittersweet. There are many more days with these little guys, but the three years I spent time with them each week as part of their care team, will forever hold space in my heart. (You can read a bit of that journey here.) As a friend said, who followed a similar journey of caregiving for both a parent and grandchildren, now I get to watch them grow up. And who knows, maybe they will hike with me one day.

And That’s a Wrap: Caring for Grandchildren

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For three of last five school years, I have traveled to Seattle weekly to spend time with my younger grandsons. During Elliot’s first year, then—after a one year break—for Adrian’s first year, I spent two full days a week of their infancy with them. It was to save money on the expensive infant care. Maybe I should have paid them. After another one year break, this past year I have spent one day a week with Adrian, who turned three last month. Because the visits all involved an overnight, I feel like I really know this beautiful family, the joys and the challenges. I’ve been part of their family.

My year with Elliot 2014-15

My year with Adrian 2016-17

Yesterday was my last day with AJ. I’m taking a break before the epic 12-day Camp Gigi begins at the end of the month. I didn’t even go to Girl Scout camp for that long until I was a good bit older than five-year-old Elliot! It will be fine. Yes. It will. We will get through the expected heartbreak when the moms leave for the other side of the pond and we will have time that is irreplaceable. They might even remember it 20 years from now; if not in their memory banks, in their hearts.

I spent this year with Adrian to provide more stimulation than he gets at daycare for his delayed language development. In these ten months, with weekly speech therapy and his moms’ love and attentiveness, and Elliot’s high verbal example—okay, and me—he has gone from pretty much no speech to constant conversation. His moms and Elliot and I even know what he is saying most of the time.

He is a delightful, hilarious, fearless little guy. I am so lucky to have had this time with him; and with the spirited and brilliant Elliot before and after school. Yes, before all you kind people write the words, they are lucky to have me too. Grandparent and grandchild is the most beautiful relationship the Universe has to offer. In my opinion.

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In the fall, Adrian will attend the younger level class of the excellent pre-K program Elliot has been in this year at the school where their Mama teaches kindergarten. If he needs it, he will have an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) and access to the speech therapist. I am honored to have been part of the bridge these months. He is ready to move on.

As I drove home down I-5 last night, I felt bereft. While I was also caring for my mother, the time with them was respite. This past year, my mother gone, it has felt like a chunk of time out of my week. I know, I still have five days a week to do whatever I want, and I’m not complaining. Mostly it was the 4-6 hours in the car, depending on traffic. I listened to a lot of audio books!

But now what? The summers and the years between the gigs, I felt a little out of touch. Leaving visits to chance, schedules get busy and it never seems to happen as often as planned. I loved that I have been part of the weekly schedule; part of the family, not just a visiting relative. It is going to take some work to make sure they continue to expect me to be part of their lives, looking forward to my arrival. I don’t want my presence to be an aberration in their lives like one of my grandmothers was in mine, like my children’s grandparents were in theirs. I think it’s important to all of them that I continue to be integral in the family too. We will make it happen.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for Camp Gigi.

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Notes from Three of Earth Farm: Courage & Vulnerability

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Seven years ago last week, I signed the papers turning over my Raleigh home and restored gardens to new owners. I wasn’t thinking about the anniversary, but a couple days before the date, I dreamed I drove by the house. The gateway my son and I built had been removed (which is fact, I did a drive-by last autumn on a Raleigh visit; I will never go back), but in my dream the view past the house through where it had been was a vast garbage dump wasteland.

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Nicholas (and his family) helped me start my current garden in the meadow too. Building the first three raised bed boxes and setting the first fence posts. A couple years later, my daughter Emma and her family helped me moved the back fence to expand the space.

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The garden in the meadow, when it was newborn.

My father’s garden here returned to natural vegetation years ago, after he returned to dust. This garden is vulnerable too, sitting in the meadow occupied by deer, rabbits, and a bear, along with opossums, raccoons, and coyotes. And moles, the only critters the fence doesn’t stop. Nothing can stop the weeds either. When our horse lived here, it was grass and daisies, but those days are long gone.

Over two or three springs, I laid a brick sidewalk. Last summer moles destroyed a section of it, and over the winter weeds obliterated the entirety of it. After my dream, I got up early and headed out to start restoring it. Reluctantly, I might add. It’s hard work. I’m still not doing what I should do: line it with black plastic. I just want the path back.

I don’t know why I’m doing it. No one sees it but me. Though Airbnb guests are welcome to visit it, I don’t think more than a couple have. I know the moles will push the bricks up again. I know the weeds will come back. It’s wild land; perhaps not meant to be tended or tamed. Maybe it’s my bid to let my work be vulnerable: vulnerable to failure, vulnerable to someday letting the weeds win, even as today I’m going for this happiness.

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As I scrape the half inch of dirt off the tops of the bricks, pry them out and dig out the buttercups and other tenacious weeds, I remember finding the flagstones buried deep in the dirt of my Raleigh garden. It was like an archaeological dig. I thought, back then, of the young couple who made something of that side yard. I wonder when they gave up trying to keep their creation visible over the nearly six decades they lived there. And now, I expect, my reclamation has been reclaimed by grass once again.

The night of my dream, I had gone to bed feeling bad about myself. In early March, I sent off my memoir manuscript about caring for my mother for an “assessment.” I wanted to know if it was worthy of my time, energy, money to hire an editor and pursue possible publication. I got the assessment back recently. It was, satisfyingly, very complimentary of my writing and about hitting all the benchmarks that make a good memoir. About the story, however, she had concerns. She didn’t much like the characters; she said that neither my mother nor I bring our best selves to the page.

Neither of us brought our best selves to the life we spent together either, but I do think we were doing the best we could. Or were we? Was I? I spent a sleepless night thinking I failed horribly as a caregiver, and as a daughter. And there are no do-overs. It is what it was, for all time. I want the memoir to authentically reflect how hard it is to be a family caregiver, because otherwise why write it? It would be like all the others, and I figure those authors were sugarcoating the experience: at best letting what came after death inform what to bring to the page and at worst, flat out lying, perhaps to assuage guilt. Why couldn’t I feel about my mother then the way I feel about her now? Because I couldn’t, it’s just that simple. And that complex.

I watched Brené Brown’s Netflix special, A Call to Courage, a few days ago. She speaks of  having the courage to be vulnerable, because vulnerability is the only path to courage. Moving across the country and back into my childhood home with my mother is not the only courageous thing I’ve ever done—or continue to do—but it’s right there vying for top place.

I think I can fix the manuscript without compromising the story I want to tell. I bucked up and started scraping away the dirt and the weeds. I have reread the entire thing—at nearly 400 pages, officially too long—seeing on the page the redeeming moments. Reminding myself of why it was so difficult. Forgiving myself for not being a saint. Brené Brown’s specialty, by education and career, is shame and guilt. I refuse to go there. I’m sleeping okay now.

Do we get just one chance to get a thing right? Can one season wipe out the previous one? Is our work on this planet for naught? It certainly seems that way politically right now. What happened to building blocks of progress? Should my memoir be about what I wish had happened? Do I have the courage to be vulnerable on the page and in the garden?

I was back in the garden yesterday, restoring another section of the path. I’ve spent three mornings on it, sticking to my mantra that I don’t have to do it all at once, and I don’t have to do it all day. I have one small section left. I can’t bring my Raleigh garden back to its best self, but I can keep this one with me for now.

Yesterday I received my copy of my beautiful friend Joanna Powell Colbert’s new tarot deck, The Herbcrafter’s Tarot. Her art is stunning, and the words of co-author Latisha Guthrie, inspiring. I drew a card this morning, as guidance for wisdom to carry into the day. It was one of the “curandera” cards, the healers: “plants that have medicine particularly valuable for elder women.” Latisha writes that they represent faith in the mysterious, calling us to a time of trust. The Curandera of Earth (Sweetgrass), the card I drew, knows that when we share the sweetness of life with another, all may thrive.

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My mother has returned to the earth. Life was not always sweet those last six years, but we shared it the best we could. I have no regrets about that; I trust that it was enough. Someday I will leave this place, and another owner will either keep up my garden or let it return from whence it came…buttercup, dandelions, maybe even trees or a daisy-filled horse pasture. Neither the meadow nor the house will be mine then, and I will move on with only occasional glances in the rear view mirror to all I have to leave behind, beyond my control. We can’t go back, only forward. I hope I have the courage to continue to be vulnerable until I return to the earth myself.

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Adventure Log: Green Lake & Ranger Falls

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I spent two hours Monday night trying to find a hike that 1) appealed to me (e.g. has a vista view), 2) isn’t snowed in, and 3) isn’t two to three weeks out from wildflowers I want to wait for. This is not an easy time of year for a semi-casual hiker around here. I had nearly given up when I found Green Lake on my Washington Trails Association wanna list. It doesn’t have a vista view, but I was desperate. And I’m a sucker for waterfalls.

I hit the coffee kiosk at 5:45 and head east on the Thurston County back roads, cruising past Rainier, Yelm, and McKenna, and on to almost ghost-town Wilkeson and nearly non-existent Carbonado. It’s between McKenna and Wilkeson I have lost my way every time I take this route to the west side of Mt. Rainier National Park. It changes highway numbers several times, making turns with confusing signage. I’m determined not to mess up this time and arm myself with handwritten, detailed instructions. Success!

I wind along the curving road up the mountain after Carbonado. I glance down at the map screen on my dashboard, wondering if I should have paid attention to the detour sign and look back up in time to realize I had narrowly missed hitting a deer, seeing only the blur of white spots. I breathe the second of the three great prayers: thank you. I don’t know nor care to whom or what I express thanks for beauty and bare misses, maybe a greater being, maybe even my parents in the beyond. I only know I am not alone.

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I drive past the Carbon River ranger station to the end of the road. My boots are on the trail at 8:15. I’m not sure what happened to the sun that was supposed to break through the clouds right about now. I’m glad it’s not a vista trail, or I would be disappointed. At least it’s not raining, and I’m confident there will be sun at some point.

I’m five minutes behind two hikers leaving the parking lot, but I won’t see them again—or anyone else—until I get to the lake, which they are leaving as I arrive.

The first three miles are on a decommissioned road, official vehicles only. Generally I don’t much like walking on roadbeds, but this one—a soft bed of hemlock, fir, and cedar mulch—is easy on the feet, and flat. It extends through a rainforest I had no idea was here. The WTA says this about it:

[It] is considered the only inland temperate rain forest of its kind, being well beyond marine areas. But just like the valleys of the wet Olympic coast, the Carbon catches showers in its trajectory, holding them longer, and making its own fog when it needs to. In other words, this valley lives and breathes differently from its neighbors.

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It is beautifully full of mother logs dripping with moss and licorice fern, the fallen giants embracing the next generation in loving nurture whether lying on the ground with trees growing on their backs, or still-standing hollowed out trunks with new trees growing through their core, or being the core. Others, newly felled by more recent storms, wait to be the umbilicus for new life.

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Sword fern and devils club blanket the forest floor in rich green. The Carbon River flows in the distance changing the landscape at will, sometimes near enough to hear it tumbling along to the sea, while Ranger Creek babbles alongside the trail. Otherwise it is so quiet. The mist hanging over the tops of the hills on the other side of the river and down into the trees makes the primordial forest even more eerie. It really does breathe differently, and so do I.

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Corydalis

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I reach the trailhead and start up. A map of the area greets me with the usual cautionary tales, including “Don’t hike alone.” Why doesn’t it say, “Be aware of the risks of hiking alone”? Like anyone who drives 2-1/2 hours then walks three miles on a road bed to the trailhead is going to turn around and go home because the sign says don’t hike alone. I feel like a scofflaw. Anyway, I rarely feel truly alone on a trail, even when I see no one. Still, I put my bear spray in my jacket pocket instead of buried in my knapsack.

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It’s a moderately steep ascent of human-made natural steps as well as some formed by tree roots, linked by easier going trail sections past uprooted old growth trees with beautiful and stunningly huge root systems that I can’t even get in a photo frame without using panorama.

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A mile in I hear the roar of Ranger Falls before I see it. “Holy crap!” I exclaim—the third great prayer—when I spot it through the trees. As I stand at the viewpoint, awestruck by its enormity and power, I think for how many eons snowmelt plummeted 172 feet down through this narrow rock slot choked with these same boulders along with felled giants before anything that walked on two legs knew it existed. I am humbled to be standing before it.

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I tear myself away from the falls and continue up the trail through long, lazy switchbacks, past last stage trillium, and over a demure section of Ranger Creek that is oblivious to the coming trauma.

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I arrive at the small, very green mountain lake just as the sky clears to blue. Tolmie Peak, which boasts a lookout I have hiked to from Mowich Lake, peaks through a crotch at the other end. I am enchanted. I love hidden mountain lakes. I walk out onto the long jam—a little gingerly, aware of my age—and sit down to eat my apple slices and homemade trail bar while fish jump in the lake. The camp robber shows up too late to share my lunch.

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Shortly after I leave the lake, I meet another couple, older than I, which always gives me hope that I will be able to do this for a few more years. They and the couple I met on my arrival at the lake are all I will see on the trail (along with a few on the road bed). My favorite happenstance on an in and out trail: knowing there is someone ahead of me and someone behind, but not sharing the trail.

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Back down at the road, there are two bikes chained to a structure. I wonder if they belong to the older couple. I wish I had a bike; this hike is almost ten miles and I’m ready to be back at the car. I don’t stop to gawk at mother logs, shaving a little time off the road walk. I’m back home before 4:30, managing not to end up in Puyallup and on I-5 as I have in the past, and wondering where I can go next week.

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