I got a new fuschia-colored raincoat. It’s been a long time since I had a raincoat I didn’t get at a sporting goods store, but now I live where it allegedly rains all the time, I figure I should have a pretty one. After just short of seven years back in Washington—though I’ve hardly worn even my 15-year-old North Face jacket because that rain thing is a myth—my sister ordered a beauty for me through a distributor for her eclectic gift shop HUBBUB. (A little plug for her fabulous shop.) It finally arrived, the day after the April showers ended. It hasn’t rained since.
Other than getting my garden ready to plant and the seeds in to take advantage of the rain, I made good use indoors of the April showers, advancing renovations. My job (other than scheduling contractors around Airbnb reservations): painting. (That’s me in the coat in the partially renovated, not-lavender bathroom.)
My mother has been gone for a year. The 24th anniversary of my father’s death is coming up. They poured their hearts and energy into this house they built in 1960, but made only rare and subtle changes, one room at a time as my sisters and I left our bedrooms behind, and with no overall vision. Since my father died in 1995, it’s been hibernating, other than some color my sister added in the kitchen after it flooded a few years back. (How she talked my mother into giving up her pale yellow, I have no idea.)
Memories in this house float down the halls and in and out of the rooms. There’s 3-year-old Rebecca racing down the hall and careening into the kitchen doorjamb as she takes the corner.
There Rebecca and I are in our unstacked bunk beds with matching Dutch doll quilts made by Granny, home fake sick for the day playing “I spy,” which Granny taught us.
There is adolescent Jo Ann reading on the fold-out chair in the window alcove, finally with a room of her own. And there, after we all left home, is my father in his new study in her old room—a visual not in my memory bank.
There I am in the middle of the night after a nightmare, getting in bed beside my mother.
There is my mother in the kitchen, my most enduring memory of her. There we all are sitting around the dining room table, “Thank you for the world so sweet.”
I did not do anything in the living room, but there is my father scowling over his newspaper at adolescent us because we aren’t in the kitchen helping our mother. There is Jo Ann slinking into the house to confess, stomach contents in throat, that she scraped the brand new car on a telephone pole backing out of a parking space. There’s me slamming my bedroom door, then in the basement, screaming “I hate you!” at my mother, for whatever reason, or no reason. There’s Rebecca left alone for five years, big sisters gone, during our mother’s long and difficult menopause.
There are my young children and their cousins picking blackberries with their Nana and making a cobbler. There is my teenage son helping his Papa build a new sidewalk and steps. There is my daughter scraping moss out of the stone walk under my mother’s tutelage and yearning to do “boy work.”
There’s my father dealing with polymyalgia and heart disease, but not giving up working on the property, dying of a heart attack at 78. There’s my mother, banging her walker into the wall as she makes a turn in a hall not wide enough for such devices; then, one night, falling there, breaking wrist and shoulder. There I am, escaping to my room in the basement, exhausted from trying to cook a meal she can eat; from trying to make her happy. Missing my own house where I made my own good memories.
Now the family is gone from this childhood home, except for me and the memories. I feel like a squatter. There comes a time when old presences—though never removed—need to be nudged to the edges of memory to make room for the present to build new memories.
There are my son and daughter-in-love with my older grandsons—who get here far too rarely—helping me build a vegetable garden. There are the younger grandsons racing up and down the hall on the new hardwood floors and my daughter and daughter-in-love trying vainly to corral them.
The interior renovations are complete, except for my finishing work. The big exterior maintenance projects are nearing the end. The skylights have been opened up, I have added color. I think my dad would have loved seeing the trees and sky through the open skylights; my mom would say there was too much light, it would fade the photo gallery. My mom might have liked the color on the walls, I’m not sure; my dad would have hated it. They both would like the floors. I can hear my mother saying, “It’s what I always wanted.” My father would wonder why he never thought of building a wheelbarrow ramp to the step-locked middle level.
The rooms are awash in light, the dark memories faded, the happy ones leap-frogged to the foreground, the new ones waiting to be built. The deck has a new coat of paint and the rotted steps my father built to his new workshop after he retired have been replaced. (Next on the agenda is to clean out and brighten up the mildewed interior shop to make space for new creators to work).
It’s been a solid year of projects that won’t need to happen again during my sojourn here. I’m eager to return solely to maintenance mode without men and their trucks in and about.
May dawned beautiful, sometimes too hot, and I could no longer ignore the outdoor work. The strategy I didn’t realize I had of choosing one small area to rehabilitate for 3-4 hours then calling it a day’s work is panning out well. I close my eyes to all the “one small areas” reaching out to me for attention. “Look at me! Choose me! Fix me!” See it, and let it go. Instead of being overwhelmed now, though, as I was last month and the months before, I find myself excited to choose the next project.
Rebecca’s sanity garden that used to be beautiful is definitely not beautiful right now. It’s the one she created from nothing when she moved home to accompany our mother in her advanced years. How much do I want to do to fix it? It was my agenda one day last week, and I decided just to beat back the vinca, blackberry vines, and sweet peas that creep up from the lower 40 and call it enough. A friend gave me some fencing that I added for visual delineation between the tame and the wild. Even though they look exactly the same.
I worked on the front door garden in honor of my mother for Mother’s Day.
I scraped the moss and weeds off the tiny patio in my garden and chose not to pull up the bricks and put down weed-stopping plastic.
I hoed the buttercup out of the wildflower bed and added soil and seeds.
I re-painted the iron thrift store rockers I brought from N.C.
I got annuals for my mother’s pots at the front door.
Giddy with happy for a forecast this week of rain, after relentless sun and upper 80s all month, I can just sit at my desk with my father, aunt, and uncle—my current writing project—puzzling together 1500 letters they wrote in the early 1940s into a readable narrative.
I also picked one of the remaining interior projects: painting the closet doors in the guest room. I noticed in a previous painting of the inside of the door, paint is slopped over from the hinged edge to the stained wood on the hall side. I know my father did all the painting himself. Like me, he wouldn’t pay someone to do what he could do, even if he was no expert, even if it killed him. He probably never even noticed the brush putting paint where it didn’t belong, or he would have wiped it off. There will always be memories here.
Tuesday I needed to go find new silver door hardware to replace the gold. The promised rain had not materialized, to the great disappointment of me and of the gardens; so I didn’t wear my new fuchsia raincoat. Five minutes after I left, the heavens opened up.
I’ve been whining about nice weather since February. It means I should be outside, cleaning up the gardens, doing yard maintenance, finding early season places to hike. And I’ve not been feeling it. Even last month, I wanted still to be hibernating inside. And, after forcing myself to get out for a nearby hike in March, three people told me not to hike in Capitol Forest alone and I started being afraid of solo hiking. I don’t want to be afraid. What’s the matter with me? Have I lost my appetite for adventure? Gotten too lazy to make the property look beautiful? Getting old and worn?
And then came May, and I crossed the bridge, turned the corner. (Too much metaphor?) A walk around the yard and suddenly I see potential in the gardens, and I’m impatient with having other things to do that keep me from it. Monday I decided on a first mountain hike and I couldn’t wait until Wednesday. Huh. Note to self: next year just let it be okay to wait until the leaves are on the trees. There is no need to force my inner spring. It will come.
It was overcast Wednesday morning when I got up before 5, eager to be on my way. It promised to be another gorgeous one though—on its way to too hot at the end of the week (I might move to Alaska). I knew I would get above the clouds and I fought off disappointment in the onset of the day, remembering I love emerging from the fog at the top of the world. Besides, this hike through the blast zone at Mt. St. Helens—one of my favorites—is exposed and hot, I wanted to get the up part done ahead of the heat.
It did not disappoint.
It’s a long trail, a loop, with 1-1/2 miles on the busy road at either the beginning or the end. With the advantage of experience (I’ve done this trail at least twice), I decided not to complete the loop along the lake. The ridge is my favorite part anyway, and I could park at the trailhead and avoid the road walk. Excellent plan, except the road to the trailhead, which goes on to Johnston Observatory, is still closed for the winter. I had to walk anyway. At least there were no cars, motorcycles, and motor homes zooming past. In the car I would have missed the five elk that crossed the road ahead of me.
Early on, I met a young couple coming down. Asking them if they had done the loop—and thinking they must have started mighty early, since it was only a bit after 8am—they said they had done it last night, then slept at one of the back country camp sites. They asked if I was going to. I said I had before, but this time I was going to the end of ridge and back the same way.
“No shame in that,” she said.
It never occurred to me that there was. For one thing, I don’t think it’s any less mileage, 9.72 miles with the 2 miles RT on the road from the Hummocks trail parking lot. Did I look aged? I pulled up my new mantra: “I don’t have to do it all today. I don’t have to do it all day.” No shame in that.
I noted the pocket gopher (I assume) tunnels: the bane of lawns and farmland and the savior of the blast zone. Buried deep in their dens 39 years less 10 days ago, after the eruption they ventured back to the surface (what twilight zone did they think they had emerged to?), pushing and carrying seeds out with them that would begin regenerating the landscape.
Like driving through the heart of America on my cross-country journey home seven years ago, where it looks like the dust bowl was just yesterday, the mangled, rusting logging equipment that was stranded and abandoned on that cataclysmic day are a reminder of the heat and force of the blast that snapped cables like twine and twisted, broke apart, and tossed pieces of the massive machine, the bulldozer, the yarding tower, the truck leaving the bodies half buried in ash and sediment. As if the topless mountain with a gaping hole in her side isn’t reminder enough. It makes my stomach hurt a little bit.
While I passionately love the well-heeled Mt. Rainier, going there has always been like visiting the rich relatives in the city. The less ostentatious Mt. St. Helens was my family’s mountain when I was a child. We can see her from our home, we picked huckleberries on her pumice slopes, and canoed on Spirit Lake. Maybe we camped there, I don’t remember. Someday I will go through the 8,000 slides in my home and find the evidence.
This new lake, Coldwater, is a lake still in process of maturing. This trail along the ridge is not a wildflower meadow. The trip up and down is not a cathedral hike through old growth forest, but alder—the first foliage to arrive after a clearcut or a fire. Or a volcanic blast. In fact, it’s on former timber company land; I suppose the stumps represent trees that would have been logged. Weyerhaeuser did clear the fallen timber that was salvageable and accessible. It’s a scientific study, walking here, remembering the first time I came as close as people were allowed after the event when it looked like an atomic bomb had been dropped. Not a speck of green as far as the eye could see. A landscape in black and white. It was possibly the saddest thing I have ever witnessed.
I’m glad I saw it then and can bear witness to the recovery today. There are birds hopping about and singing in the bushes; ants and spiders scurrying on the trail; a scampering chipmunk and a frightened tiny toad. A grouse beats out a rhythm: thrum-thrum, thrum-thrum. I see a prodigious amount of elk scat and tenacious ground cover flowers are coming on. And, what’s that? A rabbit under an alpine fir!
It gives me hope. We humans won’t destroy the earth, only ourselves. It will take a long time, but the earth will recover.
Returning on the same path with the sun at my back instead of in my face, retracing steps instead of doing the loop, there is a different perspective. I see views I didn’t notice before. It’s like aging, life comes from a different frame of reference. I’m fast approaching my 67th birthday; I know my body will change and with it my capacity for the life I enjoy now. “How much longer will I be able to do this,” I wonder. Exactly until I can’t.
Spring has come into fullness, as only spring can do. The leaves on some of the trees are full on and beginning to darken from that mouthwatering spring green, while others have not yet reached their full size. The lilac is beginning to fade and the rhododendron buds are popping. We’ve had a string of gorgeous days, and the April showers are already a memory. We will be needing more rain soon, and I fear we won’t get enough. Again. There are already brush fires in Rochester and surrounds, a few miles away. I saw and smelled one Thursday when I drove down I-5.
Speaking of rain, or not enough of it, I did one of my least favorite outdoor tasks this week and I’m so glad it’s over with: get the water to my garden. This year I finally made good on my intention to see if the closer water sources still worked. My mother said not, but true to my personality, I had to find out for myself. I am misleading you about finding out if they work though. What I did was dig out the buried valve on one, which took over an hour of digging. When the shovel hit metal, it was like striking the treasure chest. I was quite satisfied with myself just for that much.
I knocked on my 92-year-old neighbor’s door. He had told me a while back he didn’t think the pipe was broken under the driveway near his house, just that it was turned off, but now he doesn’t recall that he knew anything about it, but that the one farther down toward my house was more recently used; meaning my mother watered Daddy’s corn from it the summer he died in 1995. Robert remembers he ate some of that crop. It was the last garden until I reimagined it.
In his trademark gentle, non-alarmist voice, Robert reminded me which water meter box was mine down by the road in case there was a geyser when I turned the valve with a pipe wrench and I needed to turn off the water. “Those gaskets and such rot over time,” he said. Twenty-five years probably qualifies as “over time.”
I could get a plumber to do it, but I imagined the whole driveway dug up and I wasn’t going to open that can of snakes. I dragged out the hoses. I actually got them strung out with minimal trouble, made a route adjustment from last year, and DIYd a sprinkler location change that stays out of the way of the weedeater AND, for the first time, hits everything that needs to be watered by getting it up higher. Now, if only someone else would make the garden beautiful again. And repair the fence.
I gave up on finding a youth group or Boy Scout or Girl Scout troop that wanted to earn money to remove the two seasons of winter blow down in the wood lot and did it myself yesterday. It was not as onerous as the 20 seasons worth I removed a few years ago. I got one side of the trail done—eleven piles and 2/3 of the job. I did not move the piles down to where they can be loaded into a truck for disposal. I REALLY hate that task. It looks more like a park, and less like a fire hazard. I found a single trillium, and some Indian pipe. Really, it could look like a park—it could look like the Rhododendron Species Garden I visited Thursday—with some money and a gardener. I’ll be satisfied with the clean forest floor, and I won’t skip a year again. Now, what extravagance should I treat myself to with the money I didn’t spend on help?
I bought a second wood rack and restacked the wood pile that fell a few weeks ago, presumably when one of the pieces on the bottom of the too full stack broke. I was motivated to do it so the sweet man painting the deck could put his equipment there overnight so it wouldn’t be in the way of my Airbnb guests.
The deck painter brought a helper when he started prepping two days ago. When I found him working alone at the end of the day, I asked him what happened to his helper. “He’s a millennial,” he sighed, as if that explained it. “When I told him we would be working eight hours, he was shocked. ‘Eight hours in one day?'” He didn’t stick around, and yesterday Steve came alone. He has been a painter for 40 years. He says his wife tells him it’s time to get a helper. Good help: hard to find.
There are new steps to the studio/workshop over the carport, replacing the rotted ones. A wheelbarrow ramp (my idea) and new steps behind the carport will be finished on Monday. (The Littles are going to love that ramp; it’s like a luge track.) I will be glad when these guys are done. I had to wear noise-cancelling head phones to block out the blaring far right “Christian” talk radio station while I was at my desk working on my writing project, even after I asked them to turn it down. The muscular, heavily tattooed builder is a pastor; he tells everyone he meets, lest they overlook his born again status. My sister wonders if he’s considered that God might be speaking through the birds and trees and can’t get through. I thought about asking him; maybe it would have made this week’s sermon.
There have been people working intermittently inside the house since September (and the upstairs bathroom floor was done before that, and the floor in the Airbnb bathroom two years ago). I’ve been painting one thing or another for the past year. The contracted work is complete, but for one small thing. My painting goes on. (Photos in another post.) Other than reroofing in the next weeks the contracted outdoor work will be complete in the next week or so too. All of them (except the step builders) have been highly considerate of my need for them to work around Airbnb guests.
Very soon it will be just me again, and the man who mows weekly from now into September. Last week I thought he was going to abdicate, sending me into a full out sleepless panic; but he did it after all. Carrying on.
There was a deer in the driveway yesterday. Maybe I will work on my fence today and plant the rest of the seeds, now that there is water.
Ok, he’ll be three in a week and a half and how did that happen already anyway? I’ve suggested to his moms that they have another babe, but they have declined. These two are four hands full; I get it. But…
Anyway. My weekly days with the last grandchild is drawing to a close. Another month or so, then I’m taking a break for a couple weeks to store up energy and patience—and have some solitary adventures—for a 12-day Camp Gigi with Adrian and his five-year-old brother Elliot. Did you understand that? Both of them. At the same time. For twelve days.
Five years ago, I spent two days a week with baby Elliot. Then, after a year off, two days a week with baby Adrian. Then another year off. This past school year we’ve spent a day a week together with the hope that one-on-one time would accelerate his delayed speech. I don’t know if it contributed, but a year later he talks nonstop, as does his big bro. Who needs the lottery; I won the jackpot moving back here.
Here on out, it won’t be a regular gig—he’s moving from day care to a stimulating pre-K program with an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), if he still needs it—but just try and keep me away for long. Although my mother’s mother lived nearby when I was a child, my paternal grandmother was far away. I rarely saw her. (My grandfathers died without ever meeting me.) My children grew up far from both sets of grandparents, though we did the best we could to make regular visits happen. Mostly my cousins lived far away from our common grandparents too. My family has been atypically migratory. To my regret, I am very far from my two oldest grands; but they live across the road from their maternal grandparents and they see their paternal grandfather often. Children need regular contact with grandparents, and I am thrilled that my Bigs and Littles all do, even if it’s not with me.
This week I went to Seattle early, to watch Elliot in the second game of his first T-ball season. He was awesome! Totally focused the entire game. (Somewhere he got the notion that the batter lifts a leg, knowledge that has not yet extended to why or which leg.)
It was a gorgeous PNW weekend, continuing through the week, and Monday Adrian and I took the bus to the zoo. “School bus?” he asked. “No,” I said, “the city bus.” It took several reminders, but by the end of the day he announced to his moms without prompting that we went on the city bus.
The Woodland Park Zoo is a beautiful urban habitat 20 blocks or so from home. There is far too much to see in the window of time a three year old and a 66 year old can handle without a stroller or a wheel chair. “What do you want to see?” I asked Adrian. “LULU!” he shouted. Elephants. They don’t have elephants at this zoo, but we headed for the Savannah and giraffes, zebras, and “HIPPOS!” The hippos were sleeping. So were the lions. One of the giraffes is pregnant; due to give birth, after 15 months gestation, any day now. (I think that’s mommy Olivia in front of baby daddy Dave on the left.) In case you were wondering, giraffes are six feet tall at birth.
I think his favorite, or at least my favorite to watch him experience, was the rain forest aviary. He was delighted, as only a young child can be delighted. He would spot a bird and run back to the interpretive sign and find the match. When one landed on the sign while he was standing there, he was awe struck.
He played on the hippo lounging in a puddle, then had the snack his most excellent Gigi brought. Sticking his fruit snacks wrapper in his pocket until we saw a trash can, he spotted someone else’s snack wrapper on the ground. He pointed to it and, looking at me, asked, “I do good deed?” “Great idea,” I said, and he put it in his pocket too for the trash.
The orangutan and the tapirs were sleeping. It was a nap kind of morning, apparently. The rhinos were nowhere to be found. The Komodo dragon was sleeping on a ledge (good grief, those guys are big), but Adrian got up close and personal with the exhibit, with its life size claw and all.
The meerkat met him at the window after standing modestly at attention as only meerkats can do, and the sloth was eating breakfast. V e r y s l o w l y. Hanging upside down, of course. Probably you are wondering what sloths eat for breakfast: carrots, broccoli, peas in the pod. The sloth was my favorite, and probably is a foretelling of how I’ll be feeling by the end of each Camp Gigi day.
We had lunch—which he insisted in his moms report we did not do—then made our way back to the bus stop. It took a while to get there—it’s a big place (94 acres)—but I managed not to be lost and wander like I did last time I was there. The penguins, which must have been sleeping when we went in, were out playing.
And we ran into the “PEACOCK!” Adrian followed it around, with that unparalleled kid delight thing again. (According to an overheard conversation, it had displayed its feathers earlier, but we weren’t that lucky.) It was first on the storying to his moms and Elliot.
The Olympics lit up the horizon across the Sound while we waited for the bus. Gah, this is a beautiful city.
We walked the four blocks home from the bus stop at sloth pace, then collapsed before he took a two-hour nap then another 30 minutes in my lap. It’s been quite a while since he snuggled with me after his nap. I soaked it in. Every experience could be the last of its kind with a child; which is not to say there won’t be many more new experiences ahead. Camp Gigi is going to rock.
Spring has left its creeping entry and exploded into fullness.
Early this morning a litter of coyote pups sang for their breakfast, an owl called for a mate, and the bright half moon glowed outside my window.
Who can sleep with all this enthusiasm?
#adventurelog, Adventure Log, Big cedar, Kalaloch beach, Kalaloch Tree of Life, Lake Quinault Lodge, Olympic National Park, Olympic Peninsula, Rialto Beach, Ruby Beach, scattering ashes, Stellajoe Staebler
Adventure is not always to unfamiliar places, and the western edge of the Olympic Peninsula is one of the places I have most often been to over my 66 years. On Easter Sunday, my sister and I returned to a favorite place of our childhood to scatter some of our mother’s ashes on this one year anniversary of her death.
As children, we traveled on the sticky vinyl back seats of the one-tone-green ’56 Chevy station wagon, hauling with us whatever out-of-town guests were visiting. My father pointed out the commercial timber forests to the visitors, citing the year they were clearcut, replanted, would be ready for harvest again, while we rolled our eyes from the back.
Our first stop—Rebecca and I—was at Lake Quinault Lodge, where we spent the night in the oldest part of the hotel. Franklin Roosevelt had lunch in the dining room there in 1937 and is rumored to have decided to create Olympic National Park while sitting in the lodge, perhaps in front of the enormous stone fireplace. The lodge sits in one of the three temperate rainforests in the world and is one of the wettest areas in the contiguous US, so there is a fire pretty much every day.
My mother and I stayed at the lodge a couple of times in recent years when I came home for a visit. We always sat at the same table for meals, her with her back to lake and the light that hurt her eyes, me across from her watching guests playing lawn games, the hummingbirds at the feeders, and the sinking sun setting over the pristine lake. Rebecca went to the dining room for breakfast ahead of me. When I followed a minute or two later and found she had been seated at the familiar table, my eyes filled with tears.
After breakfast, and some time reading in front of the fire, waiting for the fog to lift, we drove on to Kalaloch beach. It was not our childhood destination, but was the beach my parents enjoyed in later life, staying in the cabins on the bluff. They took the grandkids there when they came to visit, digging in the sand and making sand casts on the beach. My mother’s “Purple Arts Festival” group gathered there each year too, doing art in one of the cabins and on the lawn. I’m not sure why we didn’t visit the so-named Tree of Life, or at least I have no memory of it, perhaps because the riverlette has to be forded to get there. It should be one of the natural wonders of the world.
Next stop, the Big Cedar. The ancient tree (estimated to be over 1000 years old, according to the internet) is my Notre Dame. It sits in a forest of other large trees, the mother cathedral among the lesser cathedrals. Its immensity, even after losing a “spire” in a storm in 2014, is almost too much to take in. It is not a single tree, making it difficult, I suppose, to determine age; or just how much of it is original. It is a true “mother tree,” pulling to her many children of other ethnic origins and giving them life. The simple sign at the road “Big Cedar” with an arrow, is tantamount to a sign pointing to Notre Dame that says “church.” The park service, just this month, is finally giving her her due, constructing a fence to keep worshipers from climbing on and into her, and improving the trails around her and her fallen spire as well as back to other huge, ancient trees.
A favorite hymn of my mother’s: I know a green cathedral, a shadowed forest shrine, where leaves in love join hands above, and arch your prayer and mine…
On to Ruby Beach, the favorite of mine and my sisters. We were greeted on the trail down from the parking lot by the smell of a fire, flashing us back to tiny fires built between the drift logs to protect us and the flames from the wind, roasting hotdogs for lunch, before or after we stacked and leaned logs to build a fort and searched in high competition for the roundest stone. On nicer days we, floated on logs in the river—the water play alternative on these beaches with too strong an undertow to venture into the ocean. We had the best childhood.
No place really felt right for scattering ashes, but we wanted to leave some of Mama on this wild coast. We returned to Kalaloch with our collection of heart rocks (none of the round ones we found would have met our father’s strict criteria and the test of his calipers) and set a small shrine in the sand to hold a bit of her. As I write this, it has long since washed into the sea, taking her a little farther away from us.
And now I am the grandmother, passing love for the beauty of this place to my grandchildren. I am hoping to take them at this summer’s Camp Gigi. What lives in hearts and is passed to the next generations is never truly gone.