I’m spending Christmas at a friend’s wee place on the edge of Hood Canal on the Olympic Peninsula. The Olympics are hidden today, but were sparkling when I arrived yesterday after crossing Puget Sound on the ferry from the Emerald City with the Cascades as backdrop.
After dropping my family off at the airport the night before, with dinner at Chuck’s before that. (Word today has it that Adrian did take off the cape to sleep, but not the cuffs, and donned it again up awakening.)
Today, Christmas, I reluctantly got dressed at noon and went for a two and a half mile hike at Twanoh State Park next door.
As I walked through the deep damp wood, I realized this is probably the first Christmas of my life I haven’t at least talked to my mother by phone. It feels strange. My mind drifted back to the letters my father wrote to her during the war. So long ago. My children are older than they were then.
When I got back to the couch, I looked them up. Christmas is such a time of nostalgia. It’s what makes it special and, for so many whose present doesn’t measure up to the past, sad. My next writing project is to do something with these letters and the story of a family separated by a war. All of them missing each other. They are all gone now, and I miss them.
December 25, 1942
Ann Arbor, Michigan
(My father was home in Ann Arbor from NYC where he was in officer training; his love was at her home in Tennessee.)
Merry Christmas, Stellajoe. I tried to call you this afternoon but the operator said that it wouldn’t go through for 3 hours because of over crowded lines so I waxed patriotic & cancelled it. I would liked to have talked to you & wished you a Merry Christmas. I wish I could celebrate it with you. I hope that I can the next one. I hope that the war will be over. I hope that you’ll love me as much as I do you. For if you do your name won’t be English.
Christmas 1943 they had been married for nearly a month and were living in Texas together. They did not yet know that in two weeks he would get overseas orders, something they didn’t think was going to happen at all. But his sister, a nurse already stationed in Italy, wrote to them. And they wrote to his parents.
December 26, 1943
Dear George and Stellajoe,
Another Christmas has come and gone. May we not be separated for another! Everything possible was done to make the day pleasant but nothing could quite eliminate that feeling of loneliness.
Love and best wishes to you both, Helen
Christmas Day 1943
We have had a very nice Christmas. Can’t say that I don’t miss being home, because I do. But if we have to be away, me and wife couldn’t have done better than to be married.
I hope you are all enjoying the Christmas season. It would be nice if we could all be together in one place place, but it is good that a few of us at least could be together.
How much we’ve enjoyed your fruit cake, cookies and jam. We’ve been rationing them so they wouldn’t be all eaten at one meal. Thanks so much for sending them.
Thanks too for the wedding gift. Do you mind if we save it for a while until we can buy something we’ll need? It’s too hard to know what to buy now – when we think we might have to be moving around.
Christmas night, 1944
Near Paris, France
In a way it’s a shame that the weather was arranged as it was. Yesterday the Air Forces were every way hammering the jerry. And I presume the same was true today. The war reached a peak of fury right on Christmas. Not a pleasant Christmas for those doing the fighting. And even less so for the jerrys. But I’m not wasting any sympathy on them, even on Christmas day.
This abnormal life – such as being away on Christmas – sometimes gets me down. And it’s then that I thank God that I have the love of my wife, of my family, and family background to fall back on. I suppose it’s sort of like a religion. I feel so sorry for those who can’t have memories and visions of a future to live on. Homesickness, and an inability to tell right from wrong, is the inevitable result. That has taught me to be more tolerant of waywardness than I ever was before. War is a terrible thing, and that is one of its worst features.
I was hoping to write you a long and interesting letter, but I just am not in the proper mood. But I can tell you this: I love you, dear wife. My Christmas was much happier because I have you to love. I love you wherever you are and wherever I am! Next Christmas I hope we’ll be together, and every Christmas thereafter.
December 25, 1945
Well, Christmas is almost over. Like I wrote mom, we haven’t had it half bad here. Christmas was a very welcome and happy holiday. But even so, I’ve spent most of my time thinking about and remembering Christmases past. I can almost see what’s going on each hour at home. And the rest of the time I’ve been dreaming of Christmas next year and the years after that. That’s a bit different because you’re in those dreams and Christmas will be our own.
Merry Christmas, Mama and Daddy. I hope you are together again forever and with the family you loved so well.
#adventurelog, Adventure Log, Hood Canal, Mt. Zion, Olympic National Forest, Olympic Peninsula, Olympic Peninsula hikes, rhododendron, rhododendron hikes, solo hiking, Washington Trails Association, wildflower hikes
It was a long week. My mother’s memorial service was Saturday and there were guests in the house for a week. When everyone left, I knew I would have to turn my attention to the abandoned house and garden projects. I needed a break, so I took a friend up on her offer of the family vacation spot on Hood Canal, offered when my mother died six weeks ago.
The weather wasn’t great so I just did what my body told me it needed: three naps in one day. But before I left for home, I went to Mount Zion.
The hike in the Olympic National Forest just north of Quilcene has been on My Backpack list on the Washington Trails Association site for a long time. It’s claim to fame is rhododendrons and I’ve been waiting for them to be in bloom. There hasn’t been a WTA trip report since mid-May, when they were not blooming yet.
It was an overcast day, and I’m a fair weather hiker, but I was halfway there from home, so I decided to go for it. It was the rhodies that was the draw after all, not views.
The trail head is 10.5 upward miles of Forest Service road from Hwy 101. The potholes weren’t too bad; Flutterby took them with ease. I saw no other cars as I climbed into the clouds. I did start seeing rhododendrons along the road though, a good sign. But I was feeling increasingly isolated, and I had forgotten to tell my sister where I was going. “Maybe,” I thought, “I’ll just go to the end of the road, eat my lunch, and head back down.”
But when I arrived, there was a car in the lot! It never occurred to me that the sole party on the trail might be an ax murderer, because I don’t think that way. I just knew I wouldn’t be alone. The long-abandoned pickup truck hanging off the edge of the parking area was a little ominous, I admit.
I suited up: boots (I’d forgotten my boot socks, only had shorties and wasn’t sure how that would work), knee straps, poles, driver’s license in case my comatose body needed to be ID’d, and camel pack and headed across the road to the trail head. It was chilly. I have never taken my jacket on a hike, but I left it on. As it turned out, I never took it off.
Of course the trailhead signage included the cougar warning and what to do in a rare sighting. Tell that to the hiker who was killed by one a few weeks ago, a story I chose not to read. I took my newly acquired can of bear spray out of my pack and put it in my pocket.
There were rhodies right away! And, true to the WTA report, the trail headed “up” right away. It’s a short hike, just 2.3 miles to summit—another half mile if you go beyond to a vista overlooking Puget Sound, the Olympic mountains, Mt. Baker—with a 1300 foot elevation gain. People use it for quick workout, the WTA says. People are nuts.
Did I mention it was chilly and damp? Mist hanging about in the dripping-lichen trees. And quiet; very, very quiet. “Maybe,” I thought,” I’ll just go for a little ways, then turn around.” But the rhodies were oh so pretty next to the trail and through the trees, just short of prime with some still-closed buds. My feet kept walking. “I’ll turn around a half hour in,” I thought.
I came upon a view point over the valley, but low hanging clouds obscured the horizon. Maybe it was the damp—I’m used to sunny hikes—that gave it a creepy vibe. I started thinking about cougars, forgetting the part about how rare it is to see one. And where was that other hiking party? I started thinking about ax murderers.
I checked my watch. The half hour had passed. It really wasn’t as steep a trail as I’d anticipated; I’ve been on far more strenuous. The socks were good, my knees were good (they’ve been bothering me a bit lately). And it really was pretty. Lots of rhododendrons. “Okay, I’ll turn around at the one hour mark,” I promised myself. I’m not a quitter when it comes to hiking. And I was feeling a little less uneasy.
Then I heard them. Voices. I rounded a corner, hoping not to startle them. My bear bell was tinkling, but it’s not very loud.
Two young women. Not ax murderers! We chatted. I asked them if it was much farther to the summit, said I had never been anxious hiking alone, but was a bit today, thinking about turning back. They said I was brave, and agreed that the weather cast a bit of a creep factor. “It’s not much farther at all!” they said. “The rhodies are beautiful. There’s not much view, but the shifting clouds are pretty. Maybe it will clear for you.”
Their “not much farther” and my “not much farther” are different. But I arrived. I did not use the outhouse. I walked most of the way out the point, beyond the summit. The rhodies at the top were short of prime, another week maybe, but beautiful in the mist.
There was going to be no view though, so I finally turned back. I’ll have to come again in the sun for the view. But this time, there were rhododendrons.
The parking lot was empty when I got back to Flutterby. And I met no one on the road going down. I was very glad not to have to worry about my car breaking down. When I got to the highway I started breathing again. I think I’ll stick to sunny day hiking.
Trip latte in hand, I left town at 6:30 Friday morning and turned CuRVy toward the Olympic Peninsula. The day had dawned with blue sky, but as I ate my homemade granola and yogurt breakfast, fog had sneaked into the valley and hung out up I-5 toward Olympia. I knew it was going to be a beautiful day, so I welcomed the fog. I thrill to leaving on an adventure closed into CuRVy’s womb and at some point breaking into sunshine and blue.
I was heading up Hwy 101 when the fog dissipated, and I drove along the sun sparkling water of Hood Canal. I crossed the Duckabush and Dosewalips rivers, curved around Lilliwaup Bay, and turned onto the Hamma Hamma River Road. Fourteen miles of paved road was a treat; few of my adventures are without bone-jarring potholed dusty gravel surfaces.
I was on the trail at 8:30, six cars in the parking lot. I know this hike is a popular one—partly due to easy access, and it’s an easy 7-mile RT hike—but it was Friday, so I was hopeful it wouldn’t be too crowded. One man and young boy passed me about halfway up, followed shortly after by a ranger. I saw no one else until I arrived at the lake at 10:30.
The trail broke out of the second-growth forest to a broad rock outcrop above the blue, blue lake. The rock was occupied by a chatty couple a bit older than I, so I didn’t dally there. I should have. I headed down the steep trail with them right behind me. When I stopped to let them pass—hoping to get the noise ahead of me—the man stopped to tighten his shoes laces. I pressed on with a sigh. Where is it written that where there are two or more people there must be talking?
At the lake I passed some of the 28 campsites, a few occupied. I decided to continue on the trail along Lena Creek a ways to see where it went. I knew there was a bridge out—a casualty of the wettest fall in Washington history—cutting off access to the north end of the lake. I thought I would check it out. The trail forked, one direction to the inaccessible Brothers Wilderness Area. A large log spanned the tumbling creek, a few feet above the water. There was no sign of a bridge. I was confused. The report I reread when I got home was posted in November. Maybe the bridge parts rolled on down the river and were among the many logs in the lake. (The couple at the outcropping did say to one another they had never seen so many logs in the lake.) Or maybe the not-a-bridge was somewhere else.
A hiker crossed on the log while I stood there debating. Well, I wasn’t really debating. I think I could have done it, it was a wide log and I had my poles, but while I am not afraid of hiking alone, I am always aware of the limits to my risk-taking. If I traverse a rocky or root-filled spot, I plant my poles and move with deliberate care. If I twist my ankle, there is no one there to help. I didn’t think I would fall off the log, but that I would get to the middle and panic. I could have sat down and scooted, but a man and young boy were setting up camp several yards down the creek and would have observed me. I have my pride.
I continued up another fork of the trail that turned out to be a spur meeting the main trail to Upper Lena Lake. I was tempted to keep going, but I had read in a trail guide that it’s a hike for masochists, and that I am not. And I hadn’t read anything else. (As I write this I read a trip report that there is still snow. Reading on, though I would love to go there, I know I will not. That one needs a back country permit is probably a clue that I am too old for some adventures.)
I turned back toward the lake and went down into a campsite that made me wish I was spending the night. Sweet! Sitting on a log by the lake, my feet in the chilly water, I ate my lunch, defending it from the camp robbers (grey jays). A bat made some lazy circles, I heard a toad. My mother warned me the day before not to get eaten by a bear. She was light-hearted, but I know she worries when I am out alone. Kudos to her for five years of mostly keeping her fear to herself. I could tell her I saw nothing larger than a single squirrel, and astoundingly only two slugs.
By 12:30, the campsites were filling up. I dried my feet, put my shoes back on, and headed up the hill, hoping to spend a few minutes at the outcrop. Now, I know there are people who like to hike in large groups—community, camaraderie, meet new people and all that, you know who you are. I am not one of them. A group of twenty-some people around my age, give or take 10 years, covered the rock, along with three dogs and, I kid you not, a parrot. (What is the line between eccentric and weird?)
They seemed to be getting ready to move on, so I stuck around snapping some photos. I caught some snatches of conversation. They weren’t going down to lake level, they were going my way. I stuffed my camera into my pocket, snatched my poles, and took off, just ahead of two dads and their two young boys, who had camped the night before. The seven-year-old was getting whiny, he missed his mom. I walked faster. The dads started playing movie trivia with them to distract them, calling out questions, answers, discussion. I was nearly flying down the trail. (All told I saw six groups of dads and sons. Did any of them have daughters at home? If they had a daughter, would they bring her? It irritated me.)
I came up short behind a young couple stopped in the middle of the trail in wild-animal-observation stance. “Goat and baby” the woman mouthed. I caught a glimpse then hustled back up the trail until I had the movie trivials in sight and put my finger to my lips, indicating that they should shut the f*** up. “Goats,” I said quietly. The dad in the rear must have gone back to the mega group with the message, they got quiet though the dogs were having none of it.
Now this was a bigger-than-a squirrel thrill. I’ve seen a mountain goat close up just one other time, and it was lying down. They were not much interesting in the thirty people behind them, most of whom couldn’t see them and had started talking again. They grazed, moved down the trail a bit, grazed, drank from water trickling across the trail.
A hiker came around the corner from the other direction and stopped dead, then retraced his steps. Trapping them was probably not a great idea. In front now, and ready to move on, I started walking slowly toward them. The young boys pulled up beside me in a wide spot, definitely distracted now. We waited again then moved on, forcing them around the corner where the man and his party, holding a dog, were pressed up against the bank at the edge of the trail.
Suddenly aware of stranger danger, Mama dashed passed them, her baby bounding behind her. They hurtled down the shortcuts between the switchbacks and found more intimate dining on a rock outcrop away from the trail.
And I was back to hiking with a crowd. The young couple galloped past me and I took off too, eventually putting distance behind me, only hearing the chatty boys and dads above me when there were switchbacks.
I was back in my car at 2:30—the parking lot was nearly full—ice cream in Hoodsport was calling my name.
June 4, 2017
Dry Creek, Olympic National Forest, Lake Cushman
8.4 miles RT
I finally got out of town for an adventure. Between elder care and baby care and really crappy weather, it’s been a long time. Of course there have been other distractions as well: my garden in the meadow, my mother’s gardens at the house, my sister’s garden at the house is still unweeded (damn creeping Jenny), tree trimming, trail clearing, Airbnb (which has been quite successful, meaning lots of laundry and muffin-baking). But today, hiking.