Not all who wander are lost. I did some wandering today.
I’m in Bellingham, writing with my dear friend Joanna Powell Colbert in her new home in Historic Fairhaven Village—a fun adventure in itself, across Bellingham Bay from her old home on Lummi Island, where I have also visited her. For those of you who don’t know Washington, Bellingham is a hop skip from Canada. I met Joanna at my first writing retreat, four months after I moved back to the PNW; which makes it an unbelievable six and a half years ago.
She is an earth mystic and creatrix of the Gaian Tarot deck and the soon-to-be released Herbcrafter’s Tarot, and I love her. She reminds me not only to observe the natural world, but to honor it; and is a guide to unlocking its secrets.
Like my home in SW Washington, Bellingham is sandwiched between water (Puget Sound with its San Juan Islands and the Pacific Ocean beyond) and mountains (the North Cascades and Mt. Baker, or Koma Kulshan).
Today, wanting to take a hike outside my usual hike zone, but not wanting to take the time away from writing for a drive to the mountains, I chose Oyster Dome, an ascent up Blanchard Mountain to an overlook of Samish Bay and the Skagit Valley, the Olympic Mountains beyond.
Somehow I missed the driving instruction on the Washington Trails Association website for the exit to take off I-5, and thus began my wander. When I had descended into the valley, I stopped and asked directions at a convenience store. The clerk had no clue; I could ask next door, she suggested. That would be either the Joint Store or the Tattoo Shop. I picked the Joint Store. She didn’t know either, but she Googled it and wrote down instructions for me. Guess I could have done that, though my smart car had been no help.
I reached the trailhead parking lot shortly after realizing I had forgotten my homemade trail bar. No worries, I expected to be back to town by lunch time, even with the delay. The view from the overlook parking area was spectacular.
The trail through the forest was beautiful, and the many switchbacks doable because they were in the shade. It’s part of the Pacific Northwest Trail—a 1200-mile hiking trail running from the Continental Divide in Montana to the Pacific Ocean.
Sword fern and bleeding heart were abundant and, with the filtered light streaming through he second growth forest, a favorite kind of forest walk.
The writing project I’m working on is compiling the letters my father and aunt wrote home during WWII. My father began his service in officer training in the canyons of New York City, determined to see and do everything he could while he was there—in part so he would never have to go back. After a childhood in Michigan farmland, he took a first job in east Tennessee and hiked the Appalachians. He wrote home:
“Occasionally the trail will break out into the open on a mountain peak and you can see for miles and miles and thousands of acres. I get a lot bigger kick out of it when I have to walk several miles and then come on it unexpectedly.”
That wasn’t this hike, but I know that experience.
My aunt, on the other hand, was a nurse with the 36th Hospital Unit awaiting deployment to Europe in Colorado. When they weren’t bivouacking on steep trails and narrow ridges, she went hiking for pleasure, determined to see and do all she could while she was there.
“I’m getting tough and rugged. It’s so pretty in the mountains that words can’t express it. Being out here is just like a vacation to me. I’m beginning to feel like a hardened mountain climber.”
I took her with me on this hike.
I reached the overlook, where several hikers—some loud—and dogs sat on the rocks at the edge of the cliff. The view is spectacular, though frankly no more so than from the parking lot, just higher. I didn’t stay long.
I had decided to take the short spur trail to Lake Lily on my way down, and I was eager to get there. Besides, I had no trail bar to enjoy while I looked over the bay. And did I mention loud people? The trail to the lake was lined with the biggest not-yet-blooming skunk cabbage I’ve ever seen, with the slight skunky odor. There was a small marshy pond, and I wondered if that was the lake. If so, quite the disappointment. But it was not.
Lake Lily took my breath away, really. It was utterly silent. People free. I swear I could hear the water striders hopping across its surface. It was one of those lakes clear enough to see the silty bottom. Lily pads dotted the surface in a Monet painting.
I nearly fell off a log at the marshy edge to get a photo of this crazy flower growing in the water.
There are campsites there, and I wanted nothing more than to set up a tent and stay for days. I sat on a bench, and sat and sat, completely overwhelmed with my good fortune to be in the tranquility. But I had to go.
Halfway back to the main trail, I heard voices. Loud voices. The six women weren’t on my trail, but their voices were. Eye roll. The first one immediately said, in some astonishment I thought, “Are you hiking alone?” “Yes,” I said. “Do you like that?” she said. “Oh yeah.”
And then things went a little south. A ways down the trail I came to a sign (signage is good on this trail), and I realized I was not where I wanted to be. Well, I wasn’t where I needed to be. Next time I will skip the Dome and do the Lily and Lizard Lake loop, but not today. Though I was tempted.
I retraced my steps and turned onto a trail that said Max’s Shortcut. I remember seeing something about that on a WTA trip report. There was also a map, and it clearly went back to the parking lot. Still, I was unsure if I should take it, or keep trying to find the trail I came in on.
I took it, and was anxious the whole way. It seemed longer. Was it headed to the right parking lot? What will I do if I get there and it’s the wrong one? Why is it crossing a road? Ach! It was beautiful though, and there were more wildflowers—many of which I even knew the names of—and fewer switchbacks than the trail I went up on. And I did meet a couple of people, I wasn’t alone; and there were blazes on the trees. I wasn’t lost, just wandering. And hungry. And getting a little tired.
A mountain biker on the road I came to confirmed that I was headed to the parking lot. I tried to let go of the niggle of fear. Also my phone was almost out of battery. I sent Joanna a text and told her where I was if she didn’t hear from me again, and just kept walking. I’ve never been so glad to see my orange car. Well, maybe a couple other times.
As I write this, I see I took a picture of that trip report so it would be on my phone. Too bad I forgot.