Adventure Log: Oyster Dome-Lily Lake

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Sword fern and bleeding heart were abundant and, with the filtered light streaming through he second growth forest, a favorite kind of forest walk.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I nearly fell off a log at the marshy edge to get a photo of this crazy flower growing in the water.

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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.

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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.

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Notes from Three of Earth Farm: This Old House of Memories

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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There I am in the middle of the night after a nightmare, getting in bed beside my mother.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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When It’s Mother’s Day and Your Mother is Gone

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I dreamt of my mother in the pre-dawn hour this morning. One of those tiny snippets of dream that could only have been seconds in real time, but dragged on in sleep.

I was on a bus with my sisters and looked out the window as we crossed the main street in my downtown. There she was, standing in the street near the line of parked cars. She was perhaps 50, my sisters and I our current ages.

She was dressed in a mid-calf pencil skirt and matching short-waisted, long-sleeved jacket—one of her iconic outfits, grey and blue plaid or checked (already the vision is fading)—which are probably still hanging in a garment bag in the guest room closet. Her feet were clad in black fabric pumps, a small cut out at the toe. A Jackie Kennedy hat perched on her head, the netting folded up over it. Her long since white/blonde hair in a tight perm at the ends held it in place. She wore the blue cat’s eye-shaped glasses with sparkles. A black leather handbag hung from her crooked right arm. She stood tall, so much as her 5’2″ frame would allow.

Her other white-gloved hand was raised in greeting—or farewell.

She was not smiling, but her face was at peace. I knew that she knew she was saying goodbye. That she had not tried to arrive before we left. That she was not trying to stop the bus.

I was frantically trying to call her to tell her to wait, that I would come, that we hadn’t meant to leave without saying goodbye; or maybe we had, but I was sorry. But I couldn’t see the screen on my phone for the glare and my tears, I couldn’t remember her number, I couldn’t get my fingers to push the right buttons. Rebecca tried to help me, but it was too late.

And then she was gone.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mama. I miss you.

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Adventure Log: Coldwater Lake Ridge, Coming Around the Bend

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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.

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Hoffstadt Bridge

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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.

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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.

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The rushing Coldwater Creek.

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Alder woods to the ridge.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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My sisters and me. And the intact St. Helens.

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.

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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!

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This is the earliest I’ve been on this trail; I loved seeing the emergence of spring, and that there was still snow.

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.

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