Adventure Log: Lena Lake— A Broken Open Heart

6.4 miles (31 / 70).

There needs to be a word for when you are a weepy mess, but there are no literal tears. If you have one—real or coined—let me know.

The heart rock came at the beginning of my hike. It’s ten days beyond the date that is exactly equidistant between the death anniversaries of my parents, and my heart breaks again by the loss of them and the generation of my family. There’s an incompleteness, a gap between my living and my own end that is no longer filled by their presence. There’s a crack in everything.

I considered a couple other hikes on the Olympic Peninsula for my hike this week, but they would take mojo I don’t have yet this early in the season, so I chose a familiar one. I know the trail will be free of both snow and winter damage, it’s just 90 minutes from home with little interstate and no potholes, it’s an easy trail by my metrics, and there will be company, but hopefully not too much if I get there early. And there’s ice cream in Hoodsport at the end.

I haven’t been to Lena Lake for two years, when I hiked it as the pandemic began to rage. The post I wrote in 2020 is an interesting accounting of those early weeks when we knew nothing. (There’s a link at the bottom.)

The drive to the OP is beautiful, even from I-5 as the sun comes up. A truck throws a rock at my windshield as NPR reports on the first funerals in Uvalde. The ping when it hits startles me, and my heart tightens at the unimaginable terror of those children. An hour later I see the fissure curving up from the bottom of the windshield. There is a crack in everything, and right now I’m not seeing the light in this troubled country.

There are four cars in the lot when I arrive, and two more come while I’m putting on my boots. I’m on the trail at 7:30 with my fabulous new trekking poles on their maiden hike.

I hear the roar of the Hamma Hamma as it rushes beyond view down the mountain from the snow fields to Hood Canal where it will move more slowly to the Pacific. Eventually I catch glimpses of it far below me through the towering evergreens.

The boulder field captures my imagination each time I hike this trail, the remains of a mountain exploding millenniums ago? Emerging underground trickles sing along the trail and the thick skin of the evergreens contrasts with how thin mine feels today.

The woodland wildflowers are splendiferous, beginning with the bleeding heart at the trailhead, setting the scene for my hike this day. I stop often to photograph one of everything. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many blooming all at once, from trillium in its final days to emerging rhododendron. And there is that aching heart again, as I channel my mother, stopping every few feet to take a picture. The trillium almost perfectly mimics human death in old age, the skin becoming almost translucent, bruising easily and turning purple.

One man passes me on the way up to the lake, and later I pass him. Otherwise, the trail belongs to me and the flowers.

I reach the rock above the lake and sit for an hour, snacking, listening to bird song, watching the clouds, writing some notes.

I filled the small notepad I keep in my knapsack last hike, and grabbed another from my box of partially used pads and journals. It turns out to be the one I had in the console of my CRV on my drive across the country ten years ago, recording my expenses and writing some notes when thoughts entered my head as I drove, observing high tech windmills contrasting with broken wood ones on farms abandoned in the dustbowl. The expense list for gas, food, hotels, is often noted as “gift.” I remember the gift cards my friends in Raleigh showered me with as they celebrated my 60th birthday with me the day before I left them. I miss them deeply.

Apparently the book I was reading was Gods of Noonday, by Elaine Orr. She wrote, and I copied in my notes, “My bones were made in Africa.” My bones were made in Washington, and it is here I returned after 36 years away. My heart catches.

An adorable young couple who camped at the lake last night, asks me to take their picture. Their as yet unknown future is ahead of them, I hope it holds beautiful things. Orr wrote, “I have learned that the future is behind us.” It is true in a large sense. As I turn 70 this month, what I have is my present, and the invitation to live it as fully as I am able and not put off what I most want to do.

During the years I lived with my mother, she said several times that her 80s were her favorite decade. Close to her end of life, I finally asked her why. As I read the pages in this notepad, though, I see that I had asked her earlier. At 96, she said, “I look back now at my 80s as a time I experienced great personal growth and an appreciation of this beautiful world we have been given.” My heartstring stretches and contracts.

People are beginning to arrive, I hear them talking on the trail as they pass behind me. I feel complete, and decide not to go down the steep trail to the lake. I head back, meeting many people, among them a family with a six-year-old daughter and a tiny baby. They are beginning life right for those small people. My heart is glad for them.

The trail crew I read about on the Washington Trails website is back, completing work on a bridge replacement.

A while back, thinking how I would like to celebrate my entry into a new decade, I briefly considered volunteering on a trail crew. I quickly decided that train had already left the station. I chose something else (which I have largely kept a secret, the reveal will begin later today on FaceBook). But, as I pass the crew, thanking them, I notice three-quarters of them are women, and every one of them is my age or beyond! And the tears almost reach the surface. Women living their best lives in their elder years.

I’m not sure how to age myself anymore. It used to be when I said “my age,” I meant in their 60s. Now what does it mean?

I stop to talk to a couple photographing fairy slipper (or calypso) orchids. We talk a long time about all the flowers on the trail, by name. I hold my own, my knowledge has grown.

I meet a small group of women, I would say they are in their 70s—my age. I feel a tiny yearning to be part of such a group. Maybe someday. I still prefer solo hiking. But will an established group accept me five years from now? Another group, very large, asks me to take their picture on a bridge. They are from Olympia—the Tuesday Charter Group—in their 70s and beyond. I balk at the thought of hiking with one person, I have no desire to join a group of fifteen! (Especially who wait until nearly noon to arrive on the trail.)

I talk photography and cameras to a woman who used to develop her own photos but now finds her phone more convenient than carrying a heavy camera and lenses. She is surely several years older than I, and heading, late, to the trail crew. She says she’s just playing today, and she is seems in no hurry, but she’s wearing her hardhat and vest and carrying a pick-ax. She’s a delight. Of course, I forgot again to print more blog cards. I would have given out at least three today.

There’s another trail crew taking a lunch break near the trail head. They have been carving out some drainage ditches and smoothing the trail. There are two men and half a dozen senior women. My heart is singing by the time I return to the bleeding heart.

There are 48 cars in the lot, and the crack in the windshield—when I notice it again in Hoodsport—is three times as long as it was and curving back the other direction. There will be a new windshield next Tuesday. I wish it were as easy to repair our world.

I’m already nearly half-way to my 70-mile summer hiking goal. Should I just exceed it, or change the goal? Let me know your ideas in the comments.

2020 hike to Lena Lake (A Mask, a Bear Bell, and the Hamma Hamma)

2017 hike to Lena Lake (with mountain goats on the trail!)

17 thoughts on “Adventure Log: Lena Lake— A Broken Open Heart

  1. Dear Gretchen,

    Lena Lake is a long time favorite hike of mine. Lovely to hear your rendition of the hike and what seeing all of those “senior women” in various positions of activity and trail construction are inspiring in you as you approach a big decade birthday. As always, your photos are wonderful. June Blessings, Ann

    >

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a lovely hike. I briefly considered saving it for later and maybe trying Upper Lena. But, as I do every year, I decided that hike and its elevation change in a short span, is above my ability. I bet you have done it!

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  2. Beautiful. All of it. From words to wildflowers. I like that hike in spring. It’s a good measure of early fitness and it sounds like the perfect antidote for your ailing heart. I’ve had a week like that for many reasons and it helps to remind myself that where I put my attention matters. Maybe with this being a year that will bring your Mom so near to you again, you could shift your goal to the number of years she had on this good green earth. Honor her long life as well as your own new beginning. 

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  3. There is so much wonder in our world, yet hard to recognize at times with so much going on that is painful. Your words and photos touch my heart and remind me of the gratitude I have for so many opportunities in my life. Whether the deep canyons in the southwest or the mountains of the PNW they are my gateway to the soul.
    I’d stay with 70, it’s a special number and everything beyond is a gift!
    All things done in the great outdoors requires pie to celebrate the accomplishment in my world. Ice cream is a great 2nd choice though!

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  4. I believe the hike length to ice cream size ratio is a scientifically proven one.
    I love that your mother loved her 80s. I have loved my 60s as a time to recover who I am and what I want, a time to slow down enough to see. And have felt forboding about the next decades – though maybe we always do? So thanks Stellajoe.
    This weekend I camped with a big group of people, almost all younger to some degree. It was invigorating and I rarely felt too old.

    As for your goal, it makes me think of a GoFundMe, where you keep edging up the dollar amount as you exceed it. Or pricing real estate at a reasonable level and then having a bidding war. I guess the answer is what will motivate you and what would make you happy!

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    1. My 60s were a mixed bag, what with leaving my friends and caring for my mother. There were certainly gifts though, that I didn’t always see as I was receiving them, but I do now. I’m looking forward to at least the first half of my 70s! The women on the trail energized me, maybe the second half will be great too. Good idea for the trail goal. Yes.

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  5. If you are well on the way to exceeding your mileage goal for the season so early, it might be an option to find a different, more qualitative, metric with which to rate your hiking season, such as trying new trails you have never hiked? Or what species of flora and fauna you have yet to observe and record? Or log and visually record the variety of rocks and formations in and under the trails?
    On the other hand, as I spend far too much time looking at this computer screen, I can see the wisdom of a quantitative goal. I need to set one for myself.

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    1. Thank you, Dave. I also have a goal of seven new trails. 🙂 I will think on the flora thing. I rarely see fauna: a slug and a robin this trip. I heard a grouse near the trail, but didn’t spot it. I’ve no patience for birding. One reason I took photos of every flower is my determination to finally make a laminated card of commonly seen ones, both woodland and meadow. I look them up and then forget. I like being able to call them by name.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. From reader, Gail Chesson: “Ice cream! Quite a treat after such a steep climb emotionally. But isn’t life like that? Up and down. Choices on the path. Beauty surrounding us if we notice. Named beauty and the unnamed! Treasures of thought like the pebbles and boulders that move and shelter that show us who we are. Memories that hurt but are a terrible beauty all their own keep us company. Embrace those memories. My girl, you have wisdom and still have questions which is our journey. Thank you.”

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