A year ago on this date, Dean and I arrived home after five and a half months away. We walked in the door carrying backpacks and the weariness earned driving a U-Haul truck 3,000 miles. Yesterday, we drove a 30-foot RV up the driveway after 2,000 miles of touring the Pacific coast. It was a coincidence, and it felt appropriate.
It was all just similar enough to transport me back to that homecoming a year ago, and to appreciate how much living we’ve done in the past year. It’s been a good one. But nevermind this whole year, the last week was a good one.
Dean’s parents came out to visit and we rented an RV and drove down the coast of Oregon and Northern California.
It was a strange mix of the new and the familiar. Getting to appreciate places I have come to love through the awe of someone seeing them for the first time. Introducing them to RV life while stumbling upon a lode of family travel memories.
My parents bought a little motorhome when I was 5 and we spent a lot of time in it over the years. Whether it was one of the countless weekends at the lake or an annual summer vacation, the motorhome was one of my happy places. They sold that one when I was in my twenties but when it came time to pack the rental, I realized that I still knew how every drawer and cupboard was arranged. The sounds of everything vibrating and rattling just a little, the feel of the road moving under you while sitting at the table or lying on the couch. Time compressed or spiraling or however we describe those moments when it’s more layers than lines.
It wasn’t all nostalgia, but I struggle to write here about shared experiences, to find the line between telling my story and telling someone else’s. My story this week feels like one of revisiting old memories and creating new ones.
Tall trees, crashing surf, blue sky blending into blue sea at a distant horizon. Spades and sourdough and sleeping on the top bunk.
I went backpacking, the first time I slung my pack since our AT hike last summer. It was a gentle trip with a good friend on a route that was special to her.
And it felt complicated. We spent half a day walking south on the PCT with thru-hikers streaming north toward Canada. I spent some time pondering bodily memory as I buckled the familiar weight around my hips and my legs churned out steady progress and it felt very much like autopilot had taken over and no time at all had passed since I had been doing the same a year ago. There was the awkwardness of transitioning my mind back from thru-hiker to weekender.
Backpacking has been the container for some of the most formative and meaningful experiences of my life. And it is one of my favorite recreations, a portal to simple joys amidst sometimes cluttered and messy days. I’m grateful for all of the ways it fits into my life and it can be challenging to navigate between these different modes.
And yet so worth it. For the beauty, the quiet, and the singular feeling of swimming in a mountain lake at the end of a day.
Hello again. I have more pictures of winter skies. A lot of them, actually, although I’ve really tried to cull it down to some number that seems reasonable to impose on you and your kind attention here.
As has become our tradition, we saw in the new year at the beach. It was a pretty classically fantastic winter beach weekend, with moody dawns and brilliant dusks and a few spots of blinding blue in between. The waves crashed non-stop for three days, the kind of roaring and breaking that vibrates through your whole body and glues you to a spot in the sand, staring, absorbed by the ceaseless rhythm of it all until suddenly you are scrambling to keep your feet dry and looking around sheepishly to see who might be witnessing your high-stepping.
Going into the weekend, the turning of the calendar didn’t feel much like an event that needed marking this year. I had several big transitions in the last few months, and did my share of reflecting on what they meant to me, on our journeys and lessons and gratitudes for 2018. But it turns out that there’s always room for more reflection, or at least there was this time. So I stood on the beach and felt the waves and thought about all the living that we crammed into the last year, and what kind of hopes I have for the next year. And it felt good, especially that part about new hopes.
I hope that you, too, can stand and look at a horizon and feel peace and possibility this year. I hope that you will be awed by light and clouds. I hope that you will find a bit more trust in the innate goodness of yourself and the universe. Maybe even enough trust to allow a new crack in the protective armor you have constructed for your heart, a crack that might allow you to be seen a little more honestly or to feel something you thought was too uncomfortable. Maybe that crack will open just wide enough for some of that light to sneak in. I guess what I’m saying is, I hope that your heart feels a little brighter this year.
We arrived just after sunset last Friday night. I set my two small travel bags down on the floor and exhaled with the kind of relief that comes from knowing that you belong right where you are, and you don’t have to leave anytime soon.
We walked through the house and assured ourselves that it was all here and then I sunk into that particular comfort of my own bed. By 6a the next morning I couldn’t stand waiting any longer, so I explored the yard by headlight to see how all of the trees and gardens had fared through a whole season apart (mostly just fine).
The trip home was a cross country drive. It was only the second time I’ve driven from coast to coast, the last one in the opposite direction not long after the end of my first long hike more than a decade ago. This time we were helping some dear friends move house, so the chariot was a 15-foot U-Haul truck. A bit of a transition for me who had resisted any driving for the first month off trail, but I can’t help but get a little romantic about any long road trip (and frankly, I was mostly a passenger). All the better with friends. And especially when it involves watching the season change quite literally before your eyes. I wouldn’t have guessed it but somehow the fall colors emerged more and more as we drove west.
The days since have felt disorienting – a whirlwind of organizing the chaos in the silverware drawer, re-folding all the towels, and generally putting everything back to just the way I prefer it; reconnecting with friends and neighbors and this place generally; long stretches of just needing to sit on the couch and stare out the window and slowly settle in. Discovering the little ways that we changed and things around us changed and how it all fits together slightly differently now.
It’s been awhile since I’ve visited this space. Time has felt suspended as we have passed the last few weeks without any pressing requirements or obvious landmarks. I started this post days ago and despite coming back to it a few times, I can’t seem to find any tidy way to share a brief update and move on.
There are these photos of late August on the Maine coast that seem far off… but still somehow calming.
I also spent a week wandering around Brooklyn and discovered that I enjoy urban miles more than I expected. The photos aren’t exactly representative of the ground I covered since I was too self conscious to pull out my camera in most neighborhoods but still feel like a good reminder of the diversity of life in someplace as dense as the city.
And this week we took the first step in the direction of home. I can feel my mind shifting toward another center, summer and the hike and travels giving way to autumn and home. But we’re not there yet so I am doing my best to ground myself in the ground beneath me.
We are in between the trail and home, a liminal span of weeks. A space that could easily be mistaken for blank or empty, a time to be passed until the next transition.
Perhaps because of this, it feels essential right now that my days be OF the time and place that I occupy. That I exist in a context.
August in Maine means the beach.
I am really not a beach person. I start to feel overexposed after mere minutes of direct sunlight and the texture of sand gives me heebie-jeebies to a degree I generally describe as a sand phobia. And yet, it has felt like some kind of magnetic pull since we landed in Maine.
Our first day here I was scouring goodwill for a bathing suit and a day later we were packing towels and chairs and Italian sandwiches for our first outing. I played in the waves with a stupid grin on my face until I stumbled drunkenly on wobbly legs back to my blanket. The next day, we found a nearby river swimming hole.
In the water or out, I feel content. My mind is quiet. Everything feels simpler for a couple hours. I gaze at the horizon, or read a book with the sun on my back, or close my eyes and listen to the gulls squawk.
We marked another new year by spending a few days at the beach. I’m so adamantly not a beach person, but somehow that just doesn’t apply in the dead of winter.
I could really just skip writing this post and refer you to the one from this day a year ago. It was very much like all our other beach trips – lots of meandering walks, staring at waves crashing, and taking too many photos of moody skies and the endless Pacific. The challenge of collecting just the right beach rocks (this time to complete a beach rock rainbow, inspired by a great one I saw laid out on driftwood our first morning). Hours for reading and journaling and board games and knitting. And snacking all day, just because it feels so indulgent to me to eschew proper meals.
Side note: somehow we ended up with WAY too many cookies this December. Like I’ve been eating cookies every day for a couple of weeks and there’s no end in sight. When we were baking, I was sure that it wasn’t enough to get us through the holidays. I have no idea how or when I lost all ability to judge cookie sufficiency but I’m a little bit terrified in a very vague way. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever actually thrown away homemade cookies but I can’t see how else this is going to end.
So, happy new year! I hope it’s filled with endless possibility, like ocean horizons and too many cookies.
We just returned from North Dakota, which was all pale November light. I wonder if I’ll ever bore of every permutation of vast sky and weathered prairie. It doesn’t seem likely.
As the train approached our stop this morning, running along the shore of Puget Sound, Dean asked me where I felt most at home. I answered, “North Dakota is my homeland, and the Pacific Northwest is where I belong.”
Almost related but really not: The fateful whims of long library hold lists meant that I read Sherman Alexie’s memoir You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me this week as well. It’s brilliant, and I recommend it.
This place. It speaks to me in a way that feels so real and visceral and that I don’t know how to translate into words at a keyboard. I had many visits to fit into my few days in North Dakota, and this river was one of them.
“The lake” was the singular feature of that landscape that captured my attention for most of my years, but in the last few its charm is lost to me. It just seems to be a lot of muffled quiet, too much water obscuring the real stories drowned by it.
Along the river, I can still see the hills carved by the centuries and the depressions left by the natives who lived in just that one village for twice as long as Europeans have dwelled in the area. I can lean into the trunks of old cottonwoods and listen to the wind whisper through the stands of grass. I can walk through the bottomland, dense with plants that I now recognize as food and medicine and all the animals that thrive there. I can watch the water flowing and flowing and even though we’ve managed the flow of that water within an inch of its life, it still has life, and its fierce constancy inspires me.
I rode the train to North Dakota and back this last week, my favorite way to make that trip. The ride is just over 24 hours, so I eagerly pack my bag in anticipation of a whole day to while away. Reading, knitting, and writing projects. The iPad loaded with podcasts and music. All the good snacks.
And everything that I packed was used, some a little, some a lot. But every time, I’m a little surprised how many hours of the day I find myself not doing anything, or thinking anything, just staring out the window at the clouds in the sky and the rolling ground, content to watch the world unfold as I’m gently rocked down the track.
Of course I can’t help but try to capture those moments, hopeless though it is. More hopeless when I’m holding a mediocre iPad camera up to a dirty window in the attempt. But the gap between the hope and the results doesn’t seem to dull my instinct to try, so I’ve got a whole pile of shots like these. A little wonky, but the view from a train nonetheless.
There are lots of reasons train travel suits me so well, but I think the biggest is just that the time it takes to get from one place to another on the train matches the time it takes me to mentally travel from one place to another. Flights so often feel like I’m hurtling across time and space and I land disoriented and trying in vain to catch up with my body. On the train, I have time to leave behind whatever I was holding from my departure, time to experience the transition, time to prepare myself for an arrival. That kind of space is necessary, which is a lesson that I should remember in more aspects of life.
It is February, which means lots of gray and wet and mud and cold in these parts. My instinct is to avoid it all, which means that I need some good excuses to pull me out. Yesterday, an exploratory walk out to glass beach was a good excuse.
As you can see, it was overwhelmingly gray, but the rain mostly held off and the wind was calm so it was actually a good day for a beach walk. It was our first visit to “glass beach”, despite having heard about it since we moved here nearly a decade ago. I’m fuzzy on the details of the history, but at some point there was trash dump that involved the townspeople tipping their refuse over a large cliff onto the ocean beach below. As a result, today there is a remarkable concentration of glass and such in the beach gravel.
It was both underwhelming and fascinating. On the surface, it looks like any other beach. As you can see from our spoils, we mostly found small bits of clear or brown glass. But they aren’t hard to find – sweeping through the gravel with a hand or stick, more swipes than not uncovered something inorganic. And there was just enough variety to keep me curious about what the next sweep might uncover. My favorite finds were the bits of porcelain with some mark of colorful glaze remaining, the opaque glass, the unusual pink and yellow bits. We spent about 45 minutes treasure hunting and I think I could have continued happily for hours, just to see what else I might uncover.
A bit of beauty, and a few hours of walking next to the ocean. That’s enough to call it a good day.
It is good to be reminded, now and again, of the wisdom of gut instinct. Dean and I booked our travel to DC for the Women’s March on Washington exactly four days after the election. There were many good reasons it didn’t make sense – the March existed only as figment of someone’s imagination on facebook, I hate flying cross country, I’ve never been much of an activist… and I’m glad I ignored all of them.
As our trip grew closer, I found it difficult to articulate exactly why we were going, why it felt so important. There were no doubts this weekend.
I was there to see the girl on the train platform proudly wearing her Brownie sash. The doctors in white coats holding their well-made and weary-looking banner proclaiming their support of reproductive rights. The older black woman pushing her walker through the crowd. When we passed her my first thought was, “I’m sorry you still have to suffer for this” and I immediately caught myself and thought, “I’m so happy that you get to be here for all of this.”
I stood in one spot, on a concrete sidewalk, for more than four hours listening to the rally speakers. When the crowd grew restless and began peeling off to begin marching before the program was complete, I became an island in a stream, unable to tear myself away because every person was just filling my heart.
And that’s really why I was there. To be held by the kindness and beauty and visceral strength of a crowd so massive that from the inside, it gave the appearance of being endless. To listen and learn how we can work together better. To be inspired and grow more courageous. To fill my heart with the strength that I will need to stand up and speak my truth. To feel the electricity of looking people in the eye, standing shoulder to shoulder, and raising our voices together.
It was a memorable day, and I’m grateful that my gut got me there.
I spent a week walking around Mount Adams (or Klickitat) with a Zen Buddhist group earlier this month, soaking in the last perfect days of summer, breathing the rhythms of the mountain, and honoring the wild with a bit of ritual.
I was mostly too busy taking in the beauty around me to be bothered with a camera, but I managed a few. I loaded these couple a week and a half ago, but the trip felt too fresh to find words to tell you about it. Then I got on a plane and was hurled across the continent and back and now it all feels like a pleasant but distant memory.
So the words will be sparse, just a little haiku from our second day out:
On Klickitat’s flank
summer skin meets autumn air
to hike September
Hello again. I’ve been off to the mountains. We took a full eight days to walk for miles and sleep on the ground and swim in mountain lakes and have long rambling conversations about what we love most about backpacking trips and how someday we’d like to do another very long hike and the perfect backpacking meal plan, of course.
All week the word “waning” vibrated in my mind. The full moon was so bright it woke me at 2a our first night out but then gently waned all week. And despite a couple days of sweltering heat, it was apparent that summer is most certainly waning in the high country – the flowers in the many meadows were hanging on and the sweet berries could still be found but the nights were just holding off autumn and it was clear the momentum was shifting. Especially on the mornings when we awoke to frosty lace on the leaves in the open places.
Even as our days in the mountains waned, I felt so grateful that my self from last summer wrote the note reading “two weeks off in August!” and that my self from early spring committed to an 8-day hike and followed through even when it felt like we were woefully unprepared and that my self from the first day of our trip created a beautiful itinerary when our plans were completely thwarted by overbooked permits and rangers offering only defeat. It wasn’t the trip those former selves imagined but in the end, it didn’t matter a bit. It was glorious and I have eight more days of sunny mountain goodness stored up in my bones. And I feel richer for that.
Midweek camping, could anything feel more like a gift of stolen time? I’m tempted to say that we took off on a bit of a whim but honestly, I’ve been suggesting that we bike out to a local state park for a quick overnight just about every week this summer. And in some ways, this summer feels like a long string of good reasons that it really didn’t make sense (see: un-summer-like weather, brutal allergy season, work schedule, etc).
But then this week came and I half-heartedly suggested it again and none of those good reasons we couldn’t applied and so we did it. And it was glorious!
We took off at 6p with sleeping gear and ham sandwich makings in our panniers, and hit that sweet spot when night felt far off but the shadows had lengthened to cool the air. Made the island general store 15 minutes before closing to grab a treat for later, and then pedaled the last few miles to the park. We arrived at the sparsely populated campground, set up our tent, ate our ham sandwiches and treats, and then went for a walkabout to soak in the golden light and saltwater air. Quickly it was dark and I was very happy to add one to the woefully low tally of sleeping bag nights for the year. This morning we woke at my usual time to break camp and ride home and I was pouring tea to take to my desk a few minutes after 8a. Fourteen midweek hours, which I assure you translate to many more in camping standard time.
We went camping this weekend with some dear friends, a little getaway that I had been looking forward to for many weeks.
It was an ideal trip. We discovered a new-to-us campground in an enchanting mossy forest along a river; it was spacious and quiet and appropriately dark. We spent hours poking at a fire and watching flames dance and marveling at the generous piles of windfalls-turned-split-firewood in nearly every site. We went for a little hike in the rain to see a waterfall and throw stones into a river until we were soaked and then wandered into a national park lodge to warm up and I had the best hot toddy of my life. I slept better than I have in weeks, including an amazing one-hour nap on Saturday afternoon. There was an endless game of “chase” with a gleeful almost-two-year-old. On Sunday, the sun came out and we put our canoe into the lake for it’s inaugural paddle on calm water beneath glorious mountains. It was only two days without phones or screens or even a book or journal or knitting, but it felt like two weeks’ worth of recharge.
Of course there was also the part of the weekend where we planned to stay at the campground on the lake but it was full when we arrived. And we remembered there were backup options but had failed to take a map that showed them. The damp and gray gave way to showers overnight and rain and then the kind of drizzle where you can’t tell if it was falling or just hanging in the air. As soon as the sun broke out for a few minutes Saturday and coaxed us out of our defenses, it started raining harder. I under-packed clothing and found myself soaked and shivering. We’re rusty on car-camping and packed at the last minute so messed up countless little things like packing loose leaf tea but no way to brew/strain it. But none of that mattered.
We had the luxury of two full days set aside to do nothing in particular and we were soaking them in.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “surrender” in recent weeks. Not the kind of surrender where you give up and stop trying, but the kind where you let go of all expectation, release all attempts at imposing your will. Surrender to what is. It doesn’t come naturally for me, but when it happens, it sure feels magic.
Our recent trip to the Berkshires was all about visiting family and friends, not being tourists, but I saw there was a Shaker village museum nearby and secretly hoped we could fit it in. As you can see, we made it, and it did not disappoint.
The Shaker’s emphasis on handcraft and functional design was an obvious draw, and traditional farming is another of my soft spots. But I didn’t remember many details of the order of daily life for Shakers – it really is rather monastic. Put it all together and it would be hard to devise a combination better suited to lure me.
I realize that not everyone is seduced by monastic life, but honestly, that realization is more recent than you might imagine. I thought everyone read the bit in a book about pre-dawn chanting and not needing any possessions and extended periods of daily silence and wished it could be so. Of course there is that pesky detail that I’ve never been a bit interested in the religious content of that life, but I think the rest looks pretty damn good – the simplicity, the ritual, the communalism, the contemplation, the reverence.
So I’m sure the beauty and the sunny spring weather also contributed but I wanted to move in to pretty much every room in the village, either for the furnishings or for the lessons the ghosts would surely impart after hours.
We are visiting family and friends on the east coast this week, so I’m just dropping in with a quick glimpse from the road. So far it has been a lovely week filled with general store treats, lazy afternoon chats, drives down tiny back roads, sun room stargazing, a pond-side picnic, and the generally overwhelming quaintness of this corner of the world. I’m tempted to carry on, but there is a puzzle urgently demanding my attention.
The coast delivered just as much sun as promised by the forecast. This series was all shot last Wednesday afternoon. We arrived after a long drive of squinting into the southern sky and unpacked the car into the yurt and I glanced at my watch and realized that daylight was waning so set out for the nearest beach access. And was met by golden light and crashing waves and swirling birds and the sun slowly dropping into the Pacific on the second-to-last day of the year on an almost empty beach. As if the universe wanted to be extra sure that I knew I was exactly where I should be.
The rest of the weekend was not quite as charmed, but we bundled up against the wind and did some hiking and exploring. I saw the Milky Way and thought about all the constellations I’ve forgotten in the last 20 years. I read and knit and journaled about the year past and the year ahead. We visited a new baby.
It was just the pause I needed, a good deep inhalation between December and the new year. Because really, Monday felt like the start of the new year, when I went back to work and set about recovering my routine and generally stared out over the landscape of weeks and wondered what they would bring. If this week is any indication, they’ll be over before I figure that out.
I got up into the mountains this weekend for a little outing. The snow was crazy fluffy for this part of the world, the sort where even on snowshoes I was up to mid-thigh sometimes and if I wasn’t on the established trail, I was certainly making knee-deep plumes of powder. And all the while more giant flakes were floating down, adding to the impossible drifts precariously piled on every branch. It was awfully charming, really, but as you can see, it wasn’t the sort of day where you escape to bluebird skies up high. Which wasn’t terribly surprising but was still a little disappointing, because this is what it looks like outside right now:
And while I just ran out the front door and snapped that, it kind of feels like that is exactly how it has looked forever. And will for all eternity. And I know it’s not true but it’s December and for the love of all things bright and shiny… it’s gray.
And tomorrow we head out to the coast for a few days. Where this is the forecast:
Do you see all those spiky yellow sun icons? I’m still blinking each time I look at that, so foreign and dazzling it is. I like the beach in winter, but that’s usually for its moodiness and its relative unpopularity and the general change of scenery from my home cave. But sunny?! I like that kind of omen for a new year.