November prairie

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.

Along the river

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.

Because water is life.

Views from a train

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.

Glass beach

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.

Raising our voices together

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.

 

Mount Adams circumambulation

img_1581 img_1563 img_1605 img_1592I 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

Waning

DSC_4193 DSC_4195 DSC_4254 DSC_4188 DSC_4276 DSC_4248 DSC_4262Hello 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

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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.

I think I’ll try suggesting it again next week.

Soaking them in

DSC_3980 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.

Like an ideal camping trip with dear friends.

Shaker life

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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.

Postcard from the Berkshires

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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.

Between December and the New Year

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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.

My kind of omen

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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:

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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:

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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.

Perfectly frozen in every time

imageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageThe older I get, the more I find the concept of linear time wholly insufficient. A little like I imagine the idea of the earth being flat felt in the age of the explorers. I had that experience of the present intersecting with several pasts a few days ago, when I made an unplanned visit to a place that’s awfully special to me.

It was my last day in North Dakota and I had a few hours without plans, so I borrowed my dad’s car to go for a drive. I figured I would troll some country roads with my camera, maybe head down toward my hometown in search of familiar scenes. The Girl Scout Camp was halfway between so maybe I’d swing by… “The Girl Scout Camp” was indeed where I attended scout camp but it was also where I spent nearly every weekend between Memorial Day and Labor Day for the first two decades of my life (my parents traded volunteer caretaking for access to the camp when it wasn’t in use). It was a couple hundred acres where life was simpler; where we ate outside, played in the lake, roamed freely through the shelterbelts of trees and across the prairie, and ended most days watching flames dance. In retrospect, it was the place where I felt most competent, most peaceful, most free, most myself. It was the place where I most felt I belonged, in a childhood when I so often ached to belong.

For all that, I can’t remember when I last visited – I moved west, my parents stopped using the camp, and then in 2012, the US Army Corps of Engineers rescinded the lease. It’s no longer a camp, just a wildlife area.

As I drove up, I encountered a new gate, maybe half a mile back from where the property was previously gated. I parked and got out, thinking this was perhaps the end of the line. But there was pedestrian access, and the signage didn’t preclude public access, so I immediately threw my camera in my pocket and set off up the road. It felt… fraught. The road was really overgrown, and I found myself searching for landmarks. As I walked on, I felt more and more anxious, worrying that it would be unrecognizable, worrying that I was walking into something better left alone.

When I got to the site of the old gate, the nature of the road changed abruptly. It went from “there might be a road under the weeds” to “there’s some grass growing up in these tracks”. It looked like it might have if we were opening up for the summer and hadn’t yet mowed. And the smell was unmistakable – dewey grass and sunshine, with a touch of dust and white sage. I stood there blinking, and I swear with each blink time flashed from 1990 to 2015 to 1983 to everything in between. I walked the last quarter mile or so into camp proper and wept at the sight of the rutted track and the old camp buildings. All those years of footsteps and tire tracks had left a mark in the very earth that time has not yet erased. It was real and tangible in a way I never imagined I would see it again.

I walked from one end of that camp to the other, letting the waves of time and place wash over me, every familiar detail coming back alive: the lilacs and the “units” cut into the shelterbelt where we slept in musty canvas tents during camp, the muddy beach where we whiled away endless summer days fueled by sunflower seeds and pop, the boat in perpetual motion pulling someone on water skis or a tube. I heard Taps sung around the flagpole, where the cactus still lurked to bite the unsuspecting who dared sit without a sit-upon. I looked across the field and saw the big tents erected for my dad’s company picnic, a child me competing in the gunny sack race and cheering the popcorn-eating contest. I stood at the fire pit overlooking the water and saw the Milky Way overhead, the glimmer of the northern lights shimmering over the treetops. I looked down the path through the archery field and felt worn jeans on sun-kissed legs as we took our twilight walk to see the deer feeding. Riding moped, walking on old electric spools, helping park the camper in its spot, the wheels settling into their holes dug into the ground so we could be assured it would be level.

There were signs that nature is slowly but surely reclaiming the camp. But right then, it felt like a time capsule, perfectly frozen, if it was possible to be perfectly frozen in every time I was there.

I’m struggling to tie this one up neatly, still processing what it all means to me now. But I’ve spent countless hours already reliving that visit with a smile and misty eyes. The universe is kind.

Postcard from North Dakota

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I’m back in North Dakota for a few days. I find these visits a bit disorienting, the places so familiar and so changed; the world of today and my childhood memories all scrambled together. Home will always be here, but you can never go home again. One of my favorite things to do on these days is to go out for a drive on the gravel back roads and just drink in the landscape, which is exactly what I did this morning for a bit.

Postcard from Seven Lakes

IMG_1041 IMG_1045IMG_1065IMG_1101IMG_1059IMG_1073IMG_1088IMG_1121Four days in the high Olympics. One last hurrah before summer slips away. Of course, autumn comes a little earlier in the mountains, and we felt it in the cold rain that turned to sleet on the hike in, then waking up to a heavy frost (and ice on any standing water smaller than the lake) the next morning. But we had plenty of blue skies as well, the sun strong enough to compel us to strip any extra layers if not to tempt us into the bottomless blue waters.

Back home today, I did my last long run before the half-marathon (less than two weeks away!) and spent a day at all the chores to get ready for the week ahead. September is a busy month for us, and October is shaping up about the same. But yesterday, we were still suspended in mountain time, and we spent a good share of the hike out planning our ideal itinerary for a return trip next summer, and alternate approaches, and daydreaming about bigger hiking trips. Which I take as a sign of a very good trip. And indeed, it was.

Postcard from Upper Lena Lake

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IMG_0961 IMG_0939IMG_0972IMG_0981This long weekend at Upper Lena Lake in the Olympic Mountains was just what I needed. A rough hike in with heavy packs to earn three nights of backcountry base-camping with the extras like a full-size tent. Huckleberries and wild blueberries so abundant that I had to restrain myself from chastising the other visitors we saw who clearly were not eating the berries. A fabulous book started and finished. Cribbage in the tent while another shower passed. A side trip exploring a ridge top above tree line. Watching the mist rise up the valley, push through the gap, settle on the lake and then disappear in the sunshine. Yes.

Cloud-watching

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Dean gets credit for the space needle outing – he had never been up and started noting his indignation about that more vocally last year. So it seemed appropriate that we have lunch at the top to celebrate his birthday. And my reduced work schedule finally took effect, so we had the luxury of doing so midweek. Having a day off midweek is such an illicit freedom. It’s thrilling to me. Which probably says more than I would like about my life experience and personality. So… did you see those clouds? No seriously, I’ve been completely enthralled by the clouds of late and it was a good day for cloud-watching. Also spider-watching.

Time travel

IMG_0469IMG_0483IMG_0474IMG_0480IMG_0481IMG_0495NYC verticalsIMG_0507IMG_0498These photos are all from a day spent on Governor’s Island in New York last September. We had camera issues on that trip, so most of our photos were stranded on a memory card unseen for the last six months. There’s something about seeing images for the first time that magically transports you across time and space. And appropriate, since this place was pretty magical and a bit of a time machine itself – full of little pockets from other times, giving the sense that it was just waking up from a long rest, maybe a little unevenly.

Pale winter light

IMG_3174IMG_3183IMG_3192IMG_3188We took a little road trip over New Year’s, just down to the Oregon coast for a couple nights of winter “camping” in a yurt and then a swing through Portland. It was lovely in many ways – we drove a stretch of Highway 101 that was entirely new to us, hiked around a wonderfully quiet state park, read and knit and gamed through the long winter nights, explored downtown Astoria just enough to plan a return trip, and met a precious new babe.

We also didn’t get quite enough sleep and snuck in a trip to IKEA at the tail end, which is always more or less traumatic for me. I feel like I’m still recovering a bit, although I suspect that has more to do with trying to get back into the swing of regular routines after the last couple weeks of easy unstructured days.

So how about a few shots of pale winter light from recent days? The soft edges of foggy days and weak light feel like exactly the kind of gentleness I need this week.