Just Another (mis)Adventure Log: Kendall Katwalk

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I can’t tell you what Kendall Katwalk looks like, because after some 17 miles of a 12-mile hike, and 9-1/2 hours on the trail, I didn’t get to it. But I’m ahead of myself.

It’s not my usual start to a hike, nor my usual region. I spend the night in Seattle with the family so I can get an early start for a hike in the Mt. Baker/Snoqualmie National Forest. The Littles get up early, so it isn’t difficult to be on the road at 5:15. Missing my lovely coffee kiosk in Centralia, I have to settle for Starbucks, the only thing open.

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The adventure begins with two interstates rather than SW Washington back roads. The trailhead is just 2/10ths of a mile from I-90; and now I know one of the upsides of the miles of potholed, washboard forest service road routes to trailheads: the trails are miles from the madding crowd. The roar of traffic accompanies me for much of the hike, and the stupendous views of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness include the interstate and the Alpental ski resort at Snoqualmie Pass.

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I ignore the signage. I’m here, I’m doing it.

I’m on the trail (part of the Pacific Crest) before 7am, while the temperature is still refreshing. It’s going to be another hot one before I’m done, but I plan to miss the worst of it. It’s a 12-mile hike with 2600 feet elevation gain, both of which are at my limit. Though not super steep, the trail is relentlessly up, for a long time. It’s not the most beautiful forest I’ve been in, and other than a couple of stream crossings, it’s monotonous. The other advantage of FS road approaches: a lot of the upshit is in the car and the trailhead is closer to the payoff point.

It gives me plenty of time for reflection. Of course my thoughts turn to my mother, a relationship that is now frozen in time for the rest of my life. I can’t change it, but I can  better understand it. I continue to speculate on her shame at not caring well for her mother (her belief), and her obsession with “helping” me not have the same regrets.

First of all, while of course I have regrets, I know I could not have done better. I can re-story the past—cast it in a different light—but I can’t change it. She was who she was and I am who I am. That doesn’t change because she’s gone. My mother, however, had re-storyed her relationship with her own ancient mother into some falsehood she spent the next 30 years being mired in guilt over. “Someday you will understand what it’s like to be old,” she told me, wanting me to understand right then.

As I walk, one foot in front of the other, the road noise a constant companion, my thoughts return again to how easily I forgot the challenges after she died. What I understood, because I educated myself, was that she could not (or would not) comprehend my attempts to reason with her. (Mostly I was never sure if that was a brain thing or a control thing.) And her brain could not assimilate multiple pieces of information thrown at her at once, i.e. normal conversation. What I also understood was that understanding that did not make it any less frustrating. Probably there are more patient people than I; I was and am, at least outwardly, more patient with people who are not my mother. You can’t ever leave your ancient history with your mother behind. I forgave myself in advance for any sorrow at not being able to do it better that might linger after she was gone.

I’m sure she had the same issues in caring for her mother. Her mother was maddening, and no amount of understanding that she was old could make my mother less frustrated and hurt. Difference was, she turned the re-storying after death into failure and shame at not doing it better.

My mother worked out her shame by telling her mother’s story for the rest of her life: on paper, on cassette tapes, and verbally to anyone who would listen. I suppose I am doing the same, seeking to reconcile any hurt between us, forgiving myself, forgiving her, hoping she forgives me.

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Yes, that is the trail.

Surprisingly, the two young women in the parking lot when I left don’t catch up to me until two miles in. By the end of the day I will see several pairs of women hiking together—college students, I surmise. I think of my mother hiking with her girlfriends in the Smokies, until they met men and probably never hiked without them again. It makes me kind of sad.

At one hour, the trail finally gets more interesting as it breaks out of the trees to cross a talus slope with a jaw-dropping view. A solitary pica scurries from rock to rock, but doesn’t let me take its picture. If I squint my ears, I can imagine the highway noise to be a rushing river. I build a cairn to help my mother find her way.

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One of the trickiest cairn balances I’ve done, and in the photo it kind of looks like a pile of rocks. When I try to add one more, it topples. No second photo opportunity.

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I plunge back into trees after resetting my mother’s pedometer that I finally remembered to bring, forgetting to press start at the trailhead. When I get back to the car I’ll add two miles.

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Yes, that is the trail.

I’m more than ready when I finally leave the woods behind for the rest of the ascent. Kendall Gardens, at 5000 feet elevation, is full of heather, bunch berry, penstemon, phlox, columbine, paintbrush, spirea (I’m trying to learn the flowers). Mt. Rainier graces the horizon behind me whenever I look back.

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Yes, that is the trail.

Some time later, in a snow patch, I take an overgrown path a few feet off the trail to a sweet overlook. Back to the snow patch, I continue.

I come to what I assume is Kendall Katwalk at what, according to the pedometer, is about the right mileage: maybe a bit over 6 miles. I had no intention of crossing what was described by its name and by the WTA as a narrow path blasted out of the side of a rock face. Though trip reports said it wasn’t really scary, I figured I had no need to prove to myself I could do it.

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However, Mt. Rainier is peaking around the curve at the end, and I have that gosh darn curiosity about what’s around corners. It really isn’t bad at all and my aeroacrophobia doesn’t kick in. Or maybe I’ve just learned to channel my inner mountain goat; which reminds me, I really need to clean the roof.

I walk a few yards beyond, until the trail starts down, then turn around. When I get to the beginning side of the Katwalk, I reset my pedometer again, noting that it says four miles, plus the two I missed at the beginning, of course. This should be exactly half way, giving me a more accurate reading than adding on approximate mileage at the end. I pass the snow patch and stop beyond to eat my lunch. The bugs attack when I stop and I apply Vick’s Vapo-rub, which put the insects off but does nothing for the taste of my lunch.

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As I walk again, a moth lands on the orange bear whistle that hangs from my pack. And stays and stays, slowly lifting its wings up and down. I begin moving again with it riding along, until a gnat flies into my mouth and I blow it out, blowing the moth off too. It reminds me of the time Mama said she had a stomach ache and told the hospice nurse she might have swallowed a fly, or maybe a lady bug. (She was serious. Read the story here.) Right after that, I see a ladybug on a flower stretching out into the trail. A true deep red ladybug, not those pale Asian intruders that fill my living room windows. Crazy. I think the moth (the first four letters of mother) is Mama’s spirit letting me know she forgives me, and sending the ladybug just in case I don’t get it.

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That’s when I begin to sense trouble. It steals in as silently as the beating wings of the moth. Was the moth(er) warning me or reassuring me in advance that all would be well?

The trail doesn’t seem familiar, there weren’t this many snow patches on the way up, were there? I meet two young men who passed me on the way up and I’m more confused. I puzzle over it for the next mile. How could I have gotten to the destination ahead of them? I convince myself that they stopped somewhere or took a detour, otherwise I will think myself mad. But really, was there this much snow?

Then I spot a lake. There was no lake on the way up.

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And a wide expanse of snow, which I cross, knowing there was absolutely nothing like this before. And it’s scary. The snow is getting soft and there are melted out holes that go way down to rocks below. It’s an invisible talus field, and the foot tracks across it are not over the solid path that will be obvious in coming weeks.

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On the other side I meet another pair of young women.

“Is this the way to Summit West parking lot?” I ask them. They tell me it is. The way they are going. Not the way I am going.

“Kendall Katwalk isn’t that way?” I ask, pointing in the direction from which I’ve come.

“No,” they say, “it’s across there,” pointing the way they’ve come from, across a divide to another slope.

What the fuck? How did I mess up? Surely there were no other trails. They kindly tell me they got a little confused too. They ask if I crossed a narrow place. Yes. With a big lake below? No. I tell them I’m going just around the curve where they tell me there are two lakes; and that I’m not looking forward to crossing the snow field again.

I glance at the lakes and scurry back the way they were going, realizing I don’t want to lose them and spending not a second’s regret that I won’t see the Katwalk and I won’t be back. They’re going where I’m going and I suddenly wonder if I’m having a dementia event. My mother thought I suffered it. They finish crossing the field and feign a need to stop and rest. I think they are waiting to make sure the dotty old woman makes it. I’m not sorry they’re waiting. When they see that I’ll be fine, they leave. I hike fast to keep a visual on them, but eventually they are too fast for me.

I come to the first familiar snow patch again. There has been no trail I might have missed. But there must have been. I’m tired now and it’s hot. I’m scared. I don’t know what’s more terrifying: I’ve lost my mind or I’ve lost the trail. There are plenty of people up here, I know I’ll get back, so I just concentrate on where I left my mind.

I turn back the way I came again. I meet a trail runner (he’s not the first one, and they make me think I’m not the only crazy person up here), and ask him which direction the parking lot is. He tells me that’s where he’s headed and assures me I can’t miss it.

I turn around once more, cross the narrow trail I thought was the Katwalk for what I think is the third time, but is obviously the fourth.

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I work out what must have happened. At that first snow patch when I briefly left the trail, I wasn’t paying attention and instead of continuing toward the Katwalk, I turned the way I had come from. The narrow chiseled portion of the trail must have looked different going the opposite direction and I didn’t recognize that I had been there.

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I think I will never get back to the markers I know are coming: the shade, the stream crossing, the first talus slope, the picnic table just in from the trailhead. I’m exhausted. My feet hurt. Though I’m not aware until I empty the water bladder in my pack at home, I’ve consumed most of my water. It’s a couple hours after I get back to Seattle, that I realize the insects were biters and I itch from neck to ankles. The pedometer says 11 miles, I add the six I figured I hiked before the last resetting. No wonder I’m tired. (I’m not sure of the pedometer’s accuracy, since the length of a stride up mountains and over rocks, roots, and rivers are not the consistent length of those on a track.)

I let the family know I won’t be there for dinner and stop for a salmon burger and beer at the ski resort village. I need to relax before I hit rush hour traffic in Seattle. It’s not Basecamp Grill at Rainier, and Snoqualmie is not the Gifford Pinchot. It’s good to get out, but there’s no place like home, Dorothy.

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Tales from Three of Earth Farm: Beating the Bear to the Berries

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Mama would be so pleased. For the first time in my six summers here, I didn’t miss the trailing blackberry season. Every year she would ask me if I’d been berry picking, and I would roll my eyes and tell her no. She never asked in time, and I never thought about it. They come in mid-summer, unlike the later-bearing Himalayan, and—also unlike their wicked stepsisters—are hard to find.

The gigantic Himalayan grows along the road, in urban Seattle, in my rhododendrons, up into the trees next to the driveway. The canes with bear-claw-size thorns that reach out and grab at everything that passes anywhere close can grow a freakish 20 feet a year. And you can’t kill them.

The trailing sweetheart, though, meanders determinedly along at ground level, snaking across the trails I cleared and cleared again and cleared again. They tangle up at the edge of the meadow with their hairlike briars that unaggressively scratch skin, but not in the garden, they know their place. They only bear fruit where there is light. They love clearings, sprouting up after a logging operation; but when the trees grow back, the vines annoyingly keep growing, they just don’t bear. So finding a good patch of vines doesn’t mean there will be berries, the tricksters.

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They don’t grow in clusters, hanging like bunches of grapes as the Himalayan do. With them, you reach for one and your bucket is half full without moving. They are the ones I picked when I was 14 and sold by the pound to a restaurant to make money for a ticket on the Coast Starlight to visit my aunt and uncle in California. The lazy man’s berry. The native variety requires you to take five steps into the middle of a thicket because you spotted one berry from the trail under a leaf. If you are lucky there might be one more you didn’t see hiding near it and maybe a couple more if you really stretch.

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The native Western trailing blackberry is known for its intense flavor and kind of blackberry-meets-raspberry color. Well, not really that known. They are not so prolific as the invasive introduced Himalayan, which connoisseurs—such as my mother—say are crap, not even worth eating with their bland non-flavor and giant teeth-sticking-in seeds. Bigger may fill up your bucket faster, but it doesn’t equal better. But it fills up your bucket faster, you see my point.

My mother was a picky picker zealot, every year intrepidly finding the elusive berries for her killer blackberry cobbler that might have been the reason her daughters traveled back home from across the country every summer. She disdained the Himalayan and refused to eat the jelly I made, even though I strained out every seed for her. She had her caregiver buy blackberry jelly at Safeway while my half pints languished on the pantry shelf.

Anyway, I digress. I went out this morning ahead of the heat, hoping I was also ahead of the bear. “Our” bear, which I haven’t seen for two years, but I have seen evidence of in the meadow many times, was spotted in the woods on the Fourth of July, eating berries along the trail. I went out hunting a few days later—after Camp Gigi—but didn’t find any. But this week my neighbor said she’s been picking in her lower 40, so I determined to get out there again.

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I grabbed my spare bear whistle and stuck it in my pocket and headed out at 7am. I covered the bottom of the coffee can berry bucket—one of those my dad made back in the day for blackberries in the woods and huckleberries at Mt. St. Helens—which is cause for a small happy dance celebration, before I even left my property. I had to pull out the sticky “bed straw” weed to even get at the vines.

The whistle must have fallen out there because I didn’t have it when I got onto the trails, after nearly tripping over scat in the meadow. Knowing bears have sensitive hearing and because I can’t whistle—more’s the shame—I sang. “I love to go a-wandering, along the mountain trail, and as I go I love to sing, my knapsack on my back. Valderie…” well, you get the idea.

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I waded into the stickery patches, stretching for the elusive fruit, turning over leaves, gingerly pulling aside vines. I decided not to walk several feet out the vine-covered log over a small ravine to get the one ripe berry I could see, though I have done so in the past. I’m going hiking tomorrow, I have my limits to what I am willing to risk injury for. Today one berry was not it.

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I walked a mile and a half for an hour and a half to get a quarter of a bucket of black gold. I did not see the bear. I cleaned my treasure, spread them on a pan for freezing. Hopefully when I return from a visit to the Littles and a hike in the Snoqualmie region closer to them than to me, I will find more to add to it so I can make a cobbler. I hope Mama would approve.

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Adventure Log: Silver Star Mt./Ed’s Trail

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Dateline: July 11, 2018

Help. Thanks. Wow!

The prayer that is sufficient for everything is applicable for this hike in all its essential bits. The impassible road; the belated arrival at the parking area; the soul-expanding, eye-popping majesty of Creation.

The day starts at 5:30 at the espresso kiosk where my favorite barista is on duty. She hasn’t been there the past couple of times and I’ve had to tell the replacement my order. As she whizzes up my 16 oz. extra-hot latte without asking what I want, she asks me about the hike I had been off on last time she saw me, remembering it had been my birthday. (That was three weeks ago.) I tell her about the unexpected adventure and we chat about where I’m off to this time. She asks me if I’ve been to Goat Creek (yes). I give her my blogger card so she can read about this adventure, and I’m off, off to a great beginning.

It is, again, my favorite kind of morning to drive south on I-5: the sun’s promise glowing just above the horizon through the fog, blue sky above as it clears. I’m going three-quarters of the way to Portland, so I settle into Flutterby’s comfy seats (made by NASA, I’ve heard), with my latte and recorded book.

I should have used the exit instructions on the WTA website, but Google Maps had a different idea so I have two sets of directions. It’s probably a short-cut from the north, so I take it, later wishing I had consulted an actual physical map first instead of waiting until I get lost. I have a pretty good sense of direction and a compass on my dash, and I like depending on them. With not much help from Siri, I get back on track eventually. Part of the adventure.

I heard about this trail in the Lewis River Region for the first time from a friend of my sister’s who was there over the weekend. “The road is the worst I’ve ever been on,” she told me. “Worse than Goat Creek?” I wondered. Now that was a bad road. WTA warned of the road to Silver Star too. “Must have a high clearance vehicle and 4-wheel drive.” Check and check.

First you drive 6.6 miles up a bumpy DNR road creatively named L1100, then you turn off onto Road 4109 “a road to the right going uphill.” It’s unmarked, as are several roads going uphill to the right before it. I watch for the clues offered by the WTA and hope for the best.

The “best” cannot be attributed to Road 4109. It’s not just potholes, but abysses. I go .4 of the 2.7 miles to the trailhead and stop at the grand canyon of ruts.

Help!

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This is a road?

In spite of all-wheel-drive, Flutterby’s rear wheels are spinning without purchase. She’s digging in her heels, screaming “hell no!” The ravine on the right as I scrape vegetation on the left will swallow half the car if I fall in. Maybe, I think, CuRVy’s wheels—my 20-year-old Honda CRV that is no longer mine—could have hugged the edges, but Flutterby’s wider body is not going to flit by; there will be no return from a missed calculation. Plus I don’t know what’s coming up.

I briefly wonder what other trail I can find in the area, foiled again by a road as I was on my birthday. But, no! The road may defeat me, but the goal will not! There just happens to be room not only to turn around, but to park out of the way right there before the chasm. I will walk.

I lace up my boots, unfold my trekking poles, and take off.

I know I walk uphill at about 2 miles an hour, and I figure this will be all up. But there won’t be any photo ops, so I project an hour for the 2.3 miles. I’m already behind the time I thought I would be at the trailhead, what with chatting with the barista, getting lost en route, and the surety that Google Maps didn’t take the condition of L1100 and Road 4109 into account in their projections. Still, it’s only 8:45 and the hike itself is just 5 miles RT. I can for sure add 4.6 miles, albeit boring ones.

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As I walk, my mind strays to my years as Daughter on Duty. I lived with my mother for almost five years before the road defeated me; but the goal did not. There was not a good option then for staying on the road I started off on, there is no option for this road but to choose another mode of transportation. I tried through those 5 years at home with Mama to take the high road, but often found myself on the edge of the rut I kept falling into, never learning that you can’t fight dementia with reason. You just can’t. Moving her to assisted living was not defeat, nor is this, they are just different roads to the same end.

At exactly the one-hour mark, I round a curve and there ahead the road ends in a giant keyhole, and the horizon opens up.

Thanks!

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I would have felt the road hike worth it even if I went no farther than the parking lot. There is Mt. St. Helens and the vista that stretches to the silhouetted Olympic Mountains. The Pacific Ocean is out there somewhere beyond the towns on the valley floor and the patchwork of forest and selective clear cuts and reforesting. My father would be proud that I’m seeing the view not as travesty as I once did as a cocky youth, but as using and replenishing for another generation our renewable natural resources.

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Someday the bare spots will be spring green with a new generation of trees.

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The WTA’s trail instructions are unclear. There are many options here as the two trails wind up the mountain, one on the west side overlooking the valley, the other on the east overlooking the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. But the WTA gave a cautionary tale about a stretch in which a slipping foot would be disastrous on Ed’s Trail, on the east side; so when I arrive at the junction, I will stay on the wide rocky Silver Star trail to the west.

At the diversion of the trails, my heart expands right out of my chest, my eyes open wide.

WOW!

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Mt. St. Helens has company: Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams; the three white queens laid out in a row. And, turning 90º, there is Mt. Hood. Snowy mountains against cerulean sky beyond verdant forests. I’m a little disoriented at first, viewing the girls not from the angle I’m accustomed to; but eventually I figure it out and name them.

I take a long drink of it all, then start up the trail not marked “Ed’s Trail.” Signage will remain sketchy (i.e. non-existent) as the trails enter and leave the one I’m on and crisscross the mountain between the two trails. I expect they all go up, though, to the pointed peak I can see above me. If I hit the scary place, I can always retrace my steps and take another route.

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l to r: St. Helens, Rainier, Adams…

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…and Hood.

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(Mt. Baker could be seen in silhouette.)

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“How many stars could you see from here?” I wonder, when I come upon a fire pit on a wide windy spit of meadow.

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As I hike, the sound waves are full of the hum of nectar-seeking bees in the profusion of paintbrush, Queen Anne’s lace, tiger lily, columbine, pasque flower, penstemon, Oregon iris, gentian, bear grass, elephant’s head, valerian, and on and on. Butterflies silently flit from bloom to bloom with the same goal. Is this even real?

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I turn around when the trail begins to descend into the forest on the other end, backpacking country. After lunch on a rock at the top of world, I head back down the rocky trail until I get to a cross path I saw on the way up and take it. I reach the top and look down on the Gifford Pinchot, across to Mt. Hood. The trail continues both up and down. I wonder if it’s Ed’s Trail, and decide to give it a try for the return to the parking area. I can always return to the familiar safe trail, I tell myself again.

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I meet two guys coming up. They confirm it is indeed Ed’s Trail; the best side, they say. They tell me the place “with a bit of a scramble” is on up, beyond where I came from. Yay! They have been here many times, they say, and have never seen the road like it is. They came in a jeep,. They tell me there are two 4×4 pickups in the parking area and more cars down where mine is. I’m not a chicken shit, just wise.

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I get back to my car, meeting another rugged pick-up truck, and find Flutterby’s had company, and another car has just arrived. The driver directs me out of my tight parking spot without scraping bottom on the drop off between car and road. He tells me this is his favorite hiking spot. “Two years ago the road was not like this,” he says. If the road gets improved (which seems unlikely), I will go back. If not, I’ll move on to other trails. I have weekly summer hikes all laid out until mid-September with two weeks free for make-up dates or additions. Only two are trails I’ve hiked before. God, I love where I live.

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What a day, what a way to forget the horrors of the world for a few hours and bask in the beauty of the way it was intended to be. Thank you, thank you to all that was, is, and will be that my legs can carry me to places like this for now. I think of my parents, who surely never came here, but would have loved it. I carry them with me always.

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When I get home and showered, I sit on the deck with an Alaskan amber and the western tanager makes a return. A young one this time, it’s the second I’ve seen since my mother died, and only the third time I’ve seen one in the six years (I missed my anniversary last week, BTW) since my return to the PNW. It sits on the railing post, head cocked, observing me; like it’s looking right into me. Hopping two posts closer to the feeder, it turns toward me again. “Hi, Mama,” I say. It looks a moment longer then flies off, passing the feeder that clearly wasn’t its interest.

Thank you.

Camp Gigi: Home Again

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Heading home.

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Passed right by his moms to greet his “ADRIAN!”

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Showing Elliot his contribution to the welcome home sign.

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He got stickers at the fire department and gave the dog one to his brother who loves “woofs.”

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He got a surprise ball at HUBBUB and saved it all week for his baby brother.

And then I got to spend some hours with the littlest Little while the moms took Elliot out for lunch and fun.

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Bee lover.

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Fearless.

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Looking for the perfect ball. Or train cars. Or something.

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Scooter master at 2 years, 2 months.

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Camp Gigi: Day 6, last day

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Going to miss this irrepressible little guy. Fortunately, he lives close by! We’ve had a great time.

Me: “I love you so much, Elliot Hill!”
E: “I love you more, Gigi!”
Me: “I love you more than the stars in the sky!”
E: “I was just going to say that!”
E: “But I love my baby brother more than I love you, Gigi.”
Me: “That is as it should be.”

We checked almost everything off our list, and had some surprises to boot.

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Looking for the perfect screw.

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Building project with bling.

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We installed our art work.

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The stick is for spider webs, not bears; though our resident bear was spotted this week eating berries along the trail.

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Staebler Point.

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Picking peas to take Auntie Squirrel, also carrots and lettuce.

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We were going to a movie at the Olympic Club, but they changed it on Friday. We settled for a game of pool. I was more disappointed than he was.

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Surprise treat! Aunt Becca asked her friends the firefighters for a tour!

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The jump seat where our new friend Alex rides.

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Flowers and vegetables to Auntie Squirrel.

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Final night.

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Camp Gigi: Day 5

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The penultimate day of Camp Gigi; “already.” Somehow I wasn’t so tired today; and we aren’t ending tomorrow after all. Elliot is relentlessly happy. Everything we do is “so fun.” Except for the later rescinded “No laughing, or Camp Gigi is over!” when he thought I was laughing at him, and a couple of “I don’t like you, Gigi,” quickly followed by a heart felt apology, he has been cheerful to a fault.

Another busy day, beginning with making donuts and eating them in the garden before picking another carrot or two, peas and lettuce that we took to the neighbor because we share our bounty when it’s more than we can use, and digging a few more potatoes. And, the first tomato was finally ready! (My neglected garden is a disaster! Next week some attention.)

We made muffins and cleaned the AirBnb in preparation for next week’s full house. (The cleaning might have gone more quickly had he not been following me around so closely he stepped on my heels.)

We returned to the library, and of course to HUBBUB and Aunt Becca. And FINALLY it was warm enough for the splash park.

Tacos for dinner, including the first tomato. In the middle of ice cream, he said, “I’m tired, Gigi.”

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