I have no words.
I have no words.
I was lucky to acquire my grandmother’s clock when the house where she raised her six children was being emptied this summer, following the death of my uncle.
I remember my grandmother (or my uncle or my aunt) winding the clock every day (or maybe every week) when I visited the family farm in Ann Arbor. It sat on a shelf my uncle had made above the beautiful desk he made in high school woodshop. (The desk is now mine too, when I find money to ship it here from Pennsylvania where my cousin’s son is caring for it.)
The note stuck on the bottom of the clock says my grandmother got it in the 1920s. The note taped on the back says it stopped running the day my grandfather died, not too long before I was born. They got it fixed, but eventually it stopped again and the works were replaced with a battery run quartz movement in 1993 (according to a note inside).
I finally put a battery in it today. According to the note taped inside the door, the battery was last replaced in 2002. I was thrilled to find that it runs! At first it didn’t, and I was disappointed. Maybe fearing that it wouldn’t is what kept me from putting a battery in it all these months. I had the battery in backward.
This afternoon I kept hearing an odd sound, I thought from inside the house, but I wasn’t sure. When I heard it again this evening, I checked my phone, thinking it was an Amber or Silver alert. No. Then I walked into the dining room, following the mellow pings. It was the clock!
I’m sure I knew it chimed, but I had forgotten. If I had remembered, I might have thought the chime went with the original works (at least part of which are in the back of the clock because my uncle never threw away a damn thing).
I am thrilled beyond all reasonable measure that it chimes, reminding me every 30 minutes of the farm and the young lives that were nurtured there. Reminding me of my own time there: playing with the barn cats, climbing in the hay mow, swimming in the lake, exploring the attic, hiding in the corn field, sitting around the big table eating bountiful meals while the clock chimed twice an hour. Seeing my grandmother pick up the key to wind it.
And now I’m thinking of the song we sang in elementary school music class: My Grandfather’s Clock. Listen to Johnny Cash sing it here.
And now it’s chiming 7:00. And I’m smiling.
There’s a new post on Daughter on Duty.
It’s been a challenging week.
I took Saturday off from going to visit Mama, having worked all day for my sister, who was out of town for the weekend. I call to check on her in the evening as I’m fixing my dinner. An aide answers the phone and says she isn’t feeling well and knowing her history of bowel obstructions had called for a hospice nurse to come.
Dateline: September 11, 2017
Paradise, Mt. Rainier National Park, Skyline Trail
It’s fitting that my final regularly scheduled adventure of the season is Paradise. However I may whore around, trying other sides of the mountain, other mountains, other trails—exclaiming that each one is my new favorite—it’s the Skyline Trail at Paradise that will always be the lover I come home to. Just ignore me when I say otherwise.
I was going to go last week, but the smoke was so bad the webcam didn’t even register that there was a mountain. Next week I’ll be in Seattle with the littles, and besides the forecast at Paradise is “a wintry mix.” I wasn’t really up for it Sunday night, I was tired and a bit grumpy; but the weather looked better for Monday than Tuesday and deteriorated after that. The lesson of the mountain: be willing to throw plans and moods out the window and be spontaneous.
I double check the webcam when I get up. The rising sun is a golden glow on the snowy peak. I’m out the door and at the coffee kiosk at 7:05. A little late for me, but there’s no reason to leave before daybreak this time.
I’m on the trail at 10, after getting gas, my pit stop in Morton before cell service is lost, road construction near Mineral again, putting on all my straps and guards and ankle brace. It’s already hot. I leave three of my five layers in the car. I always forget the heat index a mile closer to the sun.
I head toward Dead Creek, skip down Moraine a little ways looking for marmots, then back to meet up with Skyline. The first part, up to Panorama Point, is tough going; but I learned from experience to take this loop clockwise. Get the up over with in this first lung-burning charge, after that it’s gentle down until the up at the end. The other way, the gentle down is relentless up. I feel bad for all the exhausted-looking people I meet on the backside, heading toward the apex.
I leave my camera in my pocket, determined not to take pictures of views I have a thousand pictures of already. I’m just going to hold it all in my heart this time. Uh huh.
I can feel a blister forming on my right foot. When I put my shoes on in the parking lot I noticed my favorite socks are worn thin at the heels, and the ankle brace makes my right shoe tighter. I stop on a rock for moleskin. As I’m putting my shoe back on, there is a group of 19 seniors and their guide coming up the trail. I groan and quickly finish my task, grab my pack and poles, and jump half ready back on the trail just ahead of them. I figure they will be slow and difficult to pass. I don’t want to be behind them in line at the hobbit toilet at Panorama.
They aren’t slow. Their guide is acting as a pace car, setting both the speed and the record for conversation. I pick up my pace. I need to rest, but I don’t want them to catch up. I keep glancing back, but I haven’t put any distance between us, like a car on the interstate with cruise control set at the exact speed mine is. I keep thinking they will stop to rest at one of the large areas with sitting rocks. But they keep coming like the zombies in “Night of the Living Dead.” I really need to rest.
I pass two more guides telling someone the group is attending a camp and they will climb the mountain later in the week. Then I notice they have packs. I have a new respect for them. But I still don’t want to be behind them at the hobbit toilet.
I pass another large group resting on a snow patch, younger people. They are gearing up to take off again. The elders exchange places with the youngers, while I get ahead. I know they will go faster, so I do too. I don’t want to be in line behind them either.
There’s a marmot on the trail, grazing just a few feet ahead of me. I stop short. The boy guide for the youngers practically plows into me. “Marmot,” I say, pointing. “Oh, yes, it is a marmot.” I tell him I was pointing it out, not asking for confirmation of its identity. He doesn’t hear me. “I work here (la di dah); I see them all the time. They’re filling up for winter, they’re everywhere.” My point was not that it was a rarity, or that maybe he didn’t know what it was, but that I was going to stop and watch and he would have to wait. He acts like he’s going to try to pass me. I don’t think so. I wish I had pointed out that maybe his group would like to observe, even if he was snobbishly uninterested. What an ass hat. I’m forced to move on.
Somewhere after that, I lose both groups. I figured they would continue to the High Skyline above Panorama and then take Pebble Creek trail toward Camp Muir, but later I realize there was a lower entrance to the trail. I see another group below me and guess that’s where they went.
I don’t spend time at Panorama, I’m eager to get to the higher viewpoint. There is a group of four women, well into their 70s, at the hobbit toilet. As I climb up the trail, I think it’s them breathing down my neck. Impressive. I step aside to let them pass. Turns out it’s two fairly fit 30-something men. “I dunno,” the one in front says breathlessly, leaning on his pole, “you are setting a pretty good pace.” Damn, nice compliment.
There are a lot of people up here for a weekday after the traditional end of summer vacations, but I don’t come to Paradise for solitude. I have discovered other trails for that. Usually it’s a babylon of languages, and a variety of shoe fashion. Today, though, it seems to be a sturdier crowd of people hiking through. Though there are some young folks (and no families), most are my age. I like it!
It is a spectacular day. I know I say this every time I go, but is this the most beautiful day ever up here? I don’t know where the smoke went, but the Triple Crown is standing in stark relief against blue sky. Adams, Hood (I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Hood from here), St. Helens. Baker can’t be seen, it’s behind a ridge. And there is a plume of smoke rising and shape shifting in that direction, a reminder that Washington is still on fire.
I have a passing thought that maybe I could hike to Camp Muir some day—with a guide. I’m feeling strong. Maybe when a certain hiking friend in Colorado comes to visit. At the top I find a small group of young Asians with a white-haired guide (volunteer, according to his name badge; also a bit of a prick. Maybe it’s a job requirement). They ask him about Camp Muir. He points out where it is, and informs them that it’s a very difficult climb. “More people die between Paradise and Camp Muir than anywhere else on the mountain.” He tells them there is a 5000 foot elevation gain in five miles, the last 2.5 on snow and ice, which is soft on a warm day like this one, with lousy traction. And, at 10,000 feet, it’s hard to breathe. Okay, never mind. Someday, though, I may go to the edge of that snowfield.
I spend a good bit of time at the top, drinking it in. I put another layer of moleskin on my right heel, the first blister of this epic hiking season. I’m disappointed not to find this promontory covered with inukshuks. It was just that one time, the first time I was here five years ago, when a crowd of them populated the rocks. Today there is not a single one, except mine.
The other thing about doing this loop clockwise is that the hard part is over and my favorite part is yet to come. I head down through the barren talus slopes toward the creeks and meadows looking into the layers of view: the valley below, the Tatoosh, the triple crown of peaks in the Cascades, the cerulean sky. And behind me, Herself. Though seriously, the imposing mountain is not what I love here.
Off to my right an unkindness of ravens suddenly lifts off with an audible whoosh from a snow field, dozens of them twirling upward together before splitting out in small groups on private sky paths. Their shadows on the snow as they rise, multiplies their number. (I wanted to call them crows so I could say “murder of crows,” even knowing they were probably ravens. But who knew a group of ravens are an “unkindness”?)
I cross paths several times with the group of four women. I learn they are from various places in the northeast. Three of them are sisters and they have visited many national parks together in their “elderly years.” I’m envious. I tell them they are living right to have lucked into this day at Paradise.
I take a new trail on my way down: Paradise Glacier. I’ve dawdled so long getting there, though, that I only go a little way down its length. But I get to where I was hoping the trail went. It doesn’t, but I see a spur up the hummock when I turn back that may or may not be a real trail. I am hoping for a view of Mt. Baker, but she is still out of range. I do discover the source of the gushing, rumbling, falling water I have been hearing. I’m guessing it’s the Nisqually River far down in the ravine. A new view, after all these years.
The flowers are long gone here, even the old man on the mountain is past prime. I’m surprised to discover that autumn color has not begun, other than the orange berries of the Sitka mountain ash. I wonder if I can get another visit in before the snows come, when the slopes will be awash in red, orange, and gold. First a trip to western North Carolina to visit the bigs, then I will keep a close eye on the web cam.
Back at Myrtle Falls at 4:00—the end destination of the majority of visitors, just beyond the Inn—I find the flip flop wearing, purse and iPhone camera toting crowd that was missing earlier this morning. There is a mix of Asian and European languages punctuating the alpine air. I love this place. Even this. It’s part of the gift. All are welcome in Paradise.
I stopped on my way up to the Park to see if Basecamp Grill is still open. The last time I came in autumn, I was disappointed to discover it was not open everyday late in the season. It hadn’t said on the website, and there was no definitive signage. I’m holding my breath as I approach Ashford. It’s open! It’s closed on Tuesdays until the end of the month when it closes for the season; I am so glad I didn’t wait until Tuesday.
What a perfect day. What a Paradise. And only 203 photos.
Not My Mountain, the last day
I coax myself out of bed before the first hint of dawn on my last morning; the coldest of my four days here. The first two mornings were veiled in smoky haze, the third was overcast. This morning, though, I can see starlight through the trees from my tent window.
I slide into my flip flops and zip up my jacket. Wrapping my blanket around me, I slip through the trees in the dark to my chair by the lake. Pinpoints of light dot the sky. I identify the Big Dipper hanging right above the silhouetted mountain, but find nothing else familiar. I look for Orion, but can’t spot it. It’s been so long since I’ve seen the night sky. Even on my hill above my small town—unlike when I was growing up here—there is too much light.
I sit and breath in the silence and wonder until a weak glow begins to blot out the stars around the horizon, then return to my bed to get warm, reading by the light of the lantern.
At 6:00, I return to the lake. Only the bright planet remains visible in the still-dark sky. Owls call from the forest as dawn come; the mergansers fish. One dives suddenly, and comes up with a tiny forage fish. One of its mates fights for it, while the third floats on, looking for its own. Each time a fish is caught, the duck stands up in the water, perhaps to lengthen its gullet for the fish to slide down. I hope for an eagle or an osprey, but they still don’t show up.
Upright wisps of mist float across the far side of the lake, like a heavenly host of skaters silently gliding on an ice-covered pond. I imagine them to include my father and his brothers and sisters on their Michigan farm lake, and I weep for longing of those bygone days when they were young and I was not yet here. I feel embraced by their presence, even as they remain distant from me. Do they know I am here? Watching? Perhaps my tears are for my mother, the last (wo)man standing. I wish she could join them, released from the bounds of her own darkness here in this world.
The sky brightens, and suddenly the glow of the sun—no longer the red ball of the first smoky mornings—peeks above the tree line. The chipmunks scamper out of their nest to greet it, pausing to honor the new day. As it quickly rises into place, they move on to find breakfast.
With a sigh of contentment, I rise too as the camp begins to stir, to make coffee, then return to the lake edge to bask in the sun’s warmth one more time before I make my last breakfast and take down camp. The ghost skaters have left the lake and so must I.
Every place on the planet is beautiful at dawn.
I return home around the east side of the Mt. Hood Scenic Loop. I am glad to see “my mountain” across the river.
I visit Multnomah Falls with a throng of people. As it turns out, we are one of the last throngs to visit for now, due to the wildfire engulfing the area. Three days later the interstate the Falls sits beside closes, along with the Bridge of the Gods crossing the Columbia River to Washington (which the fire jumped). Today, the fire is only 8% contained, and the highway remains closed pending removal of some 200 unstable trees in danger of falling on the roadway and to check for loose boulders.
The Eagle Creek fire is thought to be caused by teens throwing fireworks into the Gorge. I am sick and horrified, sad and angry at the resulting change in this wilderness; even as I am reminded that it is wilderness. It will return, different, as happens in wild places subject to mischief of nature and of humans.
Mt. Hood is not my mountain, but I’m grateful I was there last week (and not this week).
Cheryl Strayed, cute animal photos, Hoodview Campground, Mt. Hood, Mt. Hood National Forest, Olallie Lake Resort, Olallie Lake Scenic Area, Pacific Crest Trail, Timothy Lake, Whitewater fire, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Willamette National Forest
Not My Mountain, the Fourth Day
The morning sky is dramatic this morning, the mountain hidden behind clouds until the sun comes up. I eat my breakfast with the wildlife.
I’m torn between wanting to explore and yearning to spend the day at my campsite reading and writing. I’m becoming more sure, though, that I won’t be back across the border any summer soon, so I opt for a short explore.
There’s a branch off the road to the campground, with a sign pointing to “Olallie Lake, 25 miles.” I Google it. “Olallie Lakes Scenic Area,” “Olallie Lake Resort.” I picture the Olympic Peninsula’s Lake Quinault Resort. I will take my lunch and book in case it’s really beautiful and I want to stick around. Otherwise, I figure three hours, max.
I head out at 9:45, checking my odometer at the intersection. Eleven miles in, the road changes to one lane at a fork. Not one way, one lane, with frequent wide spaces to pull off. There’s a sign: “Olallie Lake, 28 miles.” I’m no math genius, but 25 minus 11 does not make 28. The only thing to tell me which way to go, is a 42 painted on the pavement. I hope I’m supposed to stay on the same road.
I go another mile and a half and there is another small road sign: “Olallie Lake, 28 miles.” Have I stumbled into the Twilight Zone?
Roadside bushes encroach onto the jagged margins of the pavement. At least it’s paved, and pothole free. I meet no cars.
Ten more miles and I see a T in the road ahead. And a car! And a sign! The cross road is a two-lane, with a newly painted yellow line down the center. I discover I had been holding my breath just a little. The sign informs I am in Bull Trout Country! And that if I don’t know, I should let it go. I don’t know if that means anglers can only keep the bull trout or only anything else. What I do know is, it’s not any help to me at all. Did I mention I have no map? (Though as I write this, I remember there might still be an old atlas in the drawer under the passenger seat. Too late now, and that road probably isn’t on it anyway.) I intuit that I need to turn right.
I pass signs to other campground along the way, but nothing about Olallie. The road follows the curve of the river that runs along side it, and is beautiful, but I begin to think I’m not in the right place. The 25 miles, no, 39 miles, has now been 50 miles. Did I miss a sign? Or…
I come upon a ranger station slash camp store, but I don’t see it in time to pull off. It’s several more miles, down the mountain, before I can turn around. So far this quick explore is more of an adventure than I had intended today.
In the ranger station/store, I tell the ranger/store clerk my confusion. She pulls out a map that is just a bunch of road numbers on lines with no pattern at all. But yeah, I was supposed to turn left at the Bull Trout sign. She highlights the route, xxxing out a road that is the direct line to my destination. “It’s closed,” she says. “Fire.” Terrific.
I head back the way I came. At the Bull Trout sign I look for what I missed. Or what was missing. There are two posts with NOTHING ATTACHED TO THEM! But, golly, I’m glad to know about the fish.
I find the turnoff to the lake: 14 miles farther. How could this part be 14 miles and the whole thing was advertised at 25?
After six miles, what had been fir forest, then mixed conifer, is now pine. I groan. My provincialism kicks in. I have no affinity for pine trees, nor for the environments in which they live.
With the change to pine forest, the one-lane paved road drops off to gravel with Honda-swallowing potholes. The speedometer needle hovers around zero. Eight miles of this? I consider turning around, cut my losses. But I’ve come this far, and my mother-grown curiosity to see it out wins the debate battling in my head. I have been meeting a fair number of cars. If I break an axle or blow a tire, I’m not alone. Did I mention AT&T in Oregon has its limits? If not for the pine trees, the road might have made me think the destination was worth the trouble.
There is also a Vanagon behind me. They apparently thought at two miles an hour I wanted to go faster, and they had pulled over and let me pass. I guess I was going faster, because I lost them in rear view mirror.
An hour later (eight miles, remember), I arrive at the lake, car intact. It is no Lake Quinault Resort. Though the lake is pretty, I immediately wish I had stayed put at “my lake.” But then what would I have written about?
The Vanagon pulls in about 10 minutes behind me. They come here often, the husband tells me, and the road has never been this bad. When his wife returns, she tells me the road gets worse every year. But she has never seen it so smoky. “There’s a fire close by,” she says, confirming what the ranger told me. “And Mt. Jefferson is right there across the lake.” Not today. Later, when I look at pictures online, I see Mt. Hood is behind the cabins, as well. Not today. I feel cheated.
The resort is a stop on the Pacific Crest Trail. I wonder if Cheryl Strayed slept here. I need to reread her memoir. In back of the store, I find a box of items “for PCT hikers only,” and remember Cheryl left things in such boxes to lighten her pack.
I eat my lunch with a pair of chipmunks. Cute, but I know their teeth are sharp and I don’t care to know how sharp. I snap a couple photos and shoo them away. Several times. Then return to my car.
This time I can anticipate some of the potholes, and the eight miles takes just 40 minutes. Six hours, 125 miles later, I can at least say I have explored the Oregon back country. Still not my mountain. I pray the last beer in the cooler is still cold.
As of today, September 7, the Whitewater Fire has burned 13,000 acres. It was discovered two days before my excursion to Olallie Lake. Cause unknown.