Adventure Log: Hamilton Mountain


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Where the heck is Hamilton Mountain, you may be asking. Even if you live in Washington, you are probably wondering. It’s high above the Columbia River Gorge, that’s where. It was my first hike in the area. Though not my usual wildflower meadow, far from the madding crowd fare, it is pretty darn spectacular.

I spent way too much time on the Washington Trails Association website ( over the weekend trying to find an adventure that wasn’t still under snow pack or too far away. I can’t bring myself to drive north on I-5  for a day trip to the Central Cascades. Those treks need to be planned with an overnight with the Littles. And I do need to schedule another camping trip for more exploration of the North Cascades. Anyhoo, trails I haven’t been on that I think my almost 67-year-old body can manage are getting scarce down in the South Cascades, and it’s too early for those I want to return to. I’ve got one in the Olympics waiting in the wings for when the rhododendrons are in bloom there. Maybe next week.

I just haven’t been interested in the Gorge, but I was down to the wire Sunday night: I needed a destination. What the heck, I decided to go for it.

I headed out in the fog after a 5:30 latte stop. I love the early pre-sun fog that is often present for a few miles north and south of Centralia. On Tuesday the beautiful and mysterious mist drifted above the ground while the sun sneaked up through it; the diffused light taking my breath away.


I was feeling pretty virtuous about my early departure, aiming to do this hike that has a 2000 foot elevation gain in under 4 miles before the heat reached the predicted 80 something degrees. I overlooked the fact that the 5:30 departure would put me in Vancouver at 7:15 in heavy traffic. I was on the trail a bit after 8, though, so all good.


The trail begins at Beacon Rock State Park and ascends quickly through a conifer forest.


The WTA’s first suggestion is to skip Hardy Falls—have to climb back up from the spur and vegetation mostly hides it anyway—and go on to the upper and middle Rodney Falls and Pool of the Winds. The middle falls are magnificent with their own switchback path down the precipice! But I missed the upper falls and the pool on the way up, not quite understanding the trail configuration, so you will have to wait for that.



At the intersection of the loop, the WTA suggests doing it counter clockwise, going up the Hamilton Mt. trail (“more difficult”) and returning on the Hardy Creek trail (“difficult”). Great. The up is shorter and steeper, but the longer Hardy Creek stretch is easier on the knees coming down. I am a direction follower when it comes to suggestions from the WTA. Turns out there are also many views of the mighty Columbia, the frothing Bonneville Dam (and all the buildings and roads associated with a major power plant and Interstate 85 on the other side of the river), and the tip of Mt. Hood on the Hamilton side to distract you from the switchbacking climb. Smart, that WTA.

It was odd to be high in the wilderness and in view of so much civilization. That’s probably why the Gorge has never risen to the top of my list of places to hike.




One scary rock outcropping almost sent me home; but I shoved my poles up onto the trail above and held onto rocks, watching and testing every spot I put my feet, trying to keep breathing. As usual, I forgot to take a photo, so busy taming my panic. At the top of the mountain, when Rainier joined the choir and (I think) St. Helens was hiding behind a cloud, a couple about my age from Lake Tahoe commented on the beauty of the trail, “but there was that one scary part,” the woman said. It’s not just me. I suppose those millennials who passed me running, both up and down—who clearly have a death wish—just jumped up it.



I carried my mother with me, imagining her asking me what flowers were blooming. Lots, as it turns out. I don’t know all their names, but I tried to name them for her as we walked: paintbrush, chocolate lily, asters, twin flower, spring beauty, Solomon seal (real, not false), coreopsis, columbine, thimble berry, bleeding heart. And several I don’t know the names of, but I want to.



And shadow-casting water striders in Hardy Creek where I sat on a rock and ate my late lunch.


The highlight of the hike was a return to the falls on the descent when I decided at the last second, however tired and ready to be done I was, to climb up and see what the unsigned spur above the falls went to.

It was jaw-dropping, as the mist from the thundering drop of upper Rodney Falls, even slowed by a log in the funnel through the rock, sprayed my hot face as it hit the all-but-secret pool. I wondered how many hikers miss it altogether.



(My camera—and limited skills—couldn’t capture it; here’s a video, though even it doesn’t do justice.)

The heat caught up to me the last mile or so. The people just starting out at 2:00 were a little bit nuts, in my opinion.

The thing about traveling south, there is a fresh fruit smoothie reward at Burgerville in Camus. And the last treat of the day? Ibuprofen.



Flora & Fauna Friday


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Not a particularly F&FF-worthy photo, but this tree! Weeping Scotch Laburnum/alpine laburnum/alpine golden chain or rain (I like that last). Is it possible it has bloomed like this every year, and I never noticed it? It hums with unseen, but hard working bees. Spring this year is extraordinary. So much I wish I could tell my mom. So I do. Maybe she hears.



Adventure Log: Carkeek Park, Seattle


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“Stellajoe!” my father used to say, “How would you like to live in a place like this on a day like this?”


It’s become my mantra. I would like to live in a place like this, especially when the sky is blue, the trees are bursting into green and pink and red, the rhodies are stuffed with pompoms of bloom, water is sparkling, the mountains are still brilliant in their white garb of winter. Pacific Northwesterners are the luckiest people on the planet. (I know, people elsewhere think they are the luckiest, which is a happy thing.)


I spent last weekend in Seattle. Friday the Littles’ daycare was closed and I had them both, all day, by myself. They were, um, energetic.



It wasn’t cold, Elliot just likes his new jacket. And I couldn’t find his sweatshirt.


The bakery.





Gigi needed a break.



Grabbed those bananas himself when my back was turned.


Elliot, budding creative chef, made a pb/jelly/green bean/carrot sandwich for snack (after not eating the pbj sandwich at lunch).


Beautiful, but he declared it “yucky.” Said the green beans were old.



Making a Mother’s Day card while the moms went to a spin class.

Saturday was Adrian’s second birthday.


Another stunning creation by Mama Wynne. It was, by Adrian’s choice, a Dog Party.


Best ever gift from Aunt Becca and Gigi.



Sunday was my first motherless Mother’s Day. I had planned this weekend long before I knew last Mother’s Day was to be her last. I was a little anxious, and a little defiant when I put it on the calendar. What if there are no more years after this one to celebrate my mother, and I’m selfishly off wanting to be the mother for a change instead of the daughter? What if she’s having a bad day and I have to cancel my plans at the last minute?


Last year, one year before she left us.

To have been freed last month of these dilemmas will, I think, continue to cause me wonder for a long time. I can go off on an adventure without planning ahead, without the possibility that I will have to cancel, without having to watch the clock to return in time to visit her or relieve Rebecca of responsibility. I’m not wishing for those days back; don’t make me into some paragon of regret that they are over. (You’ve read my blog, right?)

But to spend days like this in a place like this, I can’t but think of her, and of my father, with gratitude for their quest to move to the corner of the country, to love it, to instill that love in me and my family. I suspect I will hold them with me everywhere I go.

We went to Carkeek Park. I had never been. It is, incredibly, ten minutes from my daughter and daughter-in-love’s home. And it was a sparkling day.



Teaming with life,


(sea cucumbers)






and love.


I’ve been digging through my mother’s scattered collection of favorite poems, quotes, and her own prolific writing looking for ones my sisters and I will use in special tribute at her memorial service next month. I found notes she wrote about me describing what was blooming two or three springs ago, she wishing she could be out in the glory, that she could see it through eyes that had become pale and cloudy. I hope she is in it now, and in her own glory.

Meanwhile, the weeds are growing. And I’m not out there pulling them. Last winter’s blow down (and that from the year before) still hasn’t been picked up. The hawthorn and the apple trees didn’t get pruned again and are now infringing on the view. The out-of-control vinca is climbing into the lilac. Blackberry vines are growing through the rhododendron. I still haven’t planted flowers, squash, and beans in my garden. I miss winter.

The Joy of Life

How sweet is Life, how beautiful!

Go, happy life, and say to Death –
“I gave this woman sufficient joy
To last her for a thousand years.”

Stellajoe Staebler
June 2008


A place like this, on a day like this. Happy Mother’s Day, Mama. I love you.


It’s Never Over

There’s a new post on Daughter on Duty.

One of the things my sisters and I had to do when the Monday after that Saturday rolled around was sit in the black oversized swivel conference chairs around the big polished table at the mortuary (it’s called a funeral chapel, but we all knew our mother’s body was in another room) and talk about caskets and price packages and things. I don’t think any of us knew we were going to end up talking about cremation. And yet, without warning we were.

Read more here.

Adventure Log: Lake Quinault & Kalaloch


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My adventure this week turned out to be a pilgrimage to honor my parents, though I didn’t know that when I chose it. I was in a quandary about where to go as I have a stinkin’ cold, my first in more than a year. I couldn’t afford to be sick when I had to be with my mother nearly every day. Now that responsibility is over and whammo, out of nowhere. Anyway, the idea of the lawn in an Adirondack chair in the sun at the lodge had high appeal. Maybe a walk in the rain forest. Or not.

My mother and I stayed at Lake Quinault a couple of times when I came home for visits after my father died. She sprang for meals in the dining room at a table by the window, me watching the light change over the lake and the hummingbirds at the feeders hanging from the eaves, she with her back to the light.


It was cloudy when I got up. What? I checked the forecast again. Sun coming soon at home, but not until 11 at the lake. No worries. I love sitting in the lodge; I went several times a few winters ago, driving two hours to write until time to drive back home and make dinner for my mother. I adjusted my vision to a fire in the huge fireplace. I wanted to work on my part of my mother’s eulogy anyway.

When I arrived at nine the fireplace was out of commission for chimney cleaning. Great. I anticipated noise and soot. But it was fine.


I finished my eulogy draft at noon and there was still no sign of sun. I decided to go to Kalaloch (pronounced Clay-lock), 30 minutes up the road. It was my parents’ favorite beach. We went to other beaches when I was a child. Ruby, the next one up, is my favorite; Rialto, a little farther north takes longer to get to because of having to skirt around the Quinault Tribe reservation; camping at Moro. But in their golden years they stayed in the cabins at Kalaloch; and my mother and friends went there for their private Purple Arts Festival for several years.


I ate my lunch in the car because it was overcast and looked too cold to sit on a drift log. As I sat looking out over the river to the Pacific Ocean, I read my 2500 word eulogy aloud to time it. Fifteen minutes. Going to have to cut. Don’t want to.


Kalaloch Creek

Turned out it wasn’t cold at all, when I finally went down off the bluff and into nature’s art gallery.


Paying homage.

The beach was strewn with millions of razor clam shells (I think) with brittle translucent sails attached, as if set to lift them up in the next storm and transport them elsewhere. I have never seen such a sight. In death, they were the most beautiful thing.






I walked a ways down the beach, first on the logs as I did as a child—going forever without touching ground—then on the sand past the ancient storm-tossed root sculptures, marveling at the trees that cling to to the cliffs in spite of erosion. (Once again, I forgot to look for the so-called “tree of life” across the creek in the other direction. Next time.)



Stegosaurus. Now that you know, you can’t not see it.





The trees remind me of my mother holding onto life: “I will not fall, I will not fall.”


I don’t know when I last found a sand dollar. It seemed like an omen to something good.


I made a cairn to honor my mother and father. They each, in their own ways, found a delicate balance between life and death in their last years on earth.



Flutterby’s first trip to Mama Ocean.

When I returned to Lake Quinault, the sun was out. I wanted never to leave. I’m plotting a camping trip soon. It feels strange to have this freedom to do whatever and go wherever I want without making arrangements for my mother’s well being. I think it may take a while to embrace it.