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when I last visited – I moved west, my parents stopped using the camp, and then in 2012, the US Army Corps of Engineers rescinded the lease.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.

 

Practice

IMG_2819IMG_2827IMG_2838“Well that retreat was a terrible waste of time. I wish I had stayed home and cleaned the toilets.” Said no one. Ever.

And yet for most of last week, I had this nagging feeling that a weekend retreat was just not how I needed to spend my time. If I could have come up with a more compelling alternative than cleaning toilets, I may well have bailed. Friday dawned and I just wanted to stay in bed.

I’d like to say that it was all grand as soon as I got out of the house, but Friday was a long day of reminding myself to just keep trying. Noticing the patch of blue in the gray sky, the one brilliant red vine maple among the stand of green conifers… It takes tremendous energy to meet a couple dozen new people, to explore a new place, to be open to new experiences. But the beauty of a retreat experience is that at some point your own mental chatter submits to the guidance and instruction of a leader. Saturday morning the skies slowly cleared and Sunday was downright sunny, the skies seeming to mirror my headspace.

Of course, in the end, a few days full of stillness and breathing mountain air and kindred folk was nothing but good for my body and soul. My shoulders are softer, my mind is quieter, my notebook is full of ideas to explore.

And I can ignore the state of the toilet for a few more days. I have lots of practice.

F words

Not that kind. Friends and family. Food. Fall. Fair. Fun.

2014-09-17 12.22.04 We spent last week touring around the northeast, the kind of trip I hesitated to call a “vacation” because we logged over 1100 miles on a rental car. But it was also crammed full of good stuff – there’s a reason these are our people.

I ate my very first fresh whole lobster (and my second) and my first pick-your-own apples. We spent a day at the Common Ground Country Fair, and wished we could have stayed for the whole weekend. A new baby, an afternoon of all-you-can-eat food trucks, the first glimmers of fall colors in a northern forest… it was chock full of goodness if not exactly restful.

Unfortunately, the photos are scarce because our camera battery charger has gone missing along with the spare battery (perfect timing, of course).

I had grand plans of a baby blanket emerging off my needles over the course of the cross country flight and all those miles, but as usual I was a bit delusional optimistic. I took four balls of blanket yarn and came home with three. Turns out I still have to navigate (and sleep). But hey, at least I came home with a few, err, several more skeins of yarn and just as many ideas for new projects.

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Universe provides feedback about my independence in flashing lights

I have this stubbornly strong belief that it’s important to occasionally put yourself at the mercy of the kindness of strangers. It’s the basis of my whole “why everyone should hitchhike” theory, but I’ll save that one for another day.

Unlike plenty of other trips, I didn’t intend to rely on the kindness of strangers in my recent vacation plans. But the universe had other ideas…

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Day one, only slightly smoky

My initial plans to spend my second week off backpacking solo got scrambled by a wildfire in the area. I changed my route to avoid the affected area but by day three I was discouraged by the persistent smoke, foot issues, and some general malaise. I studied my map and discovered an alternate route that could get me out to my car in one long but possible 27-mile day. When I woke up at 430a after a fitful night, my plans were cemented.

After backtracking a few miles, I set off on the route I had identified on the map – a mix of a primitive road and some trail that it was obvious wouldn’t be heavily traveled. Things were going well until about nine miles in, when I came to the end of the road and was expecting a trail head, but instead found a fork in the road and a pair of gates. Despite the “no public access” sign on the gate, the right fork of the road appeared to match the route of the trail on my map. So I proceeded, but my confidence was replaced by the kind of anxiety that comes from knowing that 1. there’s no discernible reason for anyone to be on this road; 2. you are in the thick of gold mining claims; and 3. it’s 4 miles to the next trail junction at which point you’ll find out whether the map was just inaccurate about the road versus trail detail or whether you will have to backtrack, meaning at least 40 miles of walking to get out.

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Old mining cabin, neglected but not quite abandoned

So you can imagine how I felt when, about three and a half miles later, I heard tools and saw life. I approached the old log cabin and began shouting “hello!” in my friendliest tone. And it was then that my luck turned.

I was greeted with a polite, “are you lost?” but very soon it was “I’m Eric.”, “take your pack off” and “would you like a cup of coffee?” I got confirmation that I was indeed just where I hoped I was on the map, great information about the trail ahead, and then, very unexpectedly, an offer of a ride out. Because it seems that Eric’s dad had his lunch packed and was heading out in about ten minutes – the only trip out from this cabin, the only users of the road, in a couple weeks. I hemmed and hawed for a few minutes before settling on, “Hello universe, thank you for the sign.”

As we pulled out of the driveway, Jim told me that he wasn’t much of a talker. He then spent the next few hours telling me about the family that built the cabin in the late 1920s, how his parents had come to own it in the late 1940s, and all the change he had seen visiting each summer for the last 65 years. Dams and highways built, mining fortunes, forest fires and so much more… When we finally reached the trailhead I hugged the man goodbye as he took out his peanut-butter-and-jelly-on-cold-pancakes lunch and loaded my pack in the Geo for the drive home, smiling at my good fortune.

I made it about a quarter mile down the road before I noticed that my gas gauge was below “E”, a full half-tank lower than when I had parked the car there four days earlier. I thanked the universe that I wasn’t going to run out of gas in the dark after hiking 27 miles, and started coasting every possible chance. My luck held, and the Geo made it all 30-some miles to the nearest gas station on fumes.

As soon as I started filling the tank, though, gas started spilling out and forming a pool on ground. Not home free yet. Closer inspection revealed that the rubber hose that leads from the gas cap to the gas tank had been neatly slashed. Someone was so desperate that they siphoned the tank of a Geo Metro. (Side note: a Metro tank holds less than 8 gallons. Absolute best case scenario they were going after $25 worth of gas.)

This story is dragging on far longer than it really deserves, so I’m going to speed ahead. I chatted up the gas station attendant to confirm that I was a further 40 miles from the nearest auto repair or tow services. A few minutes later, he was crawling around under my car in the lot confirming the situation and offering to lend me tools. A few minutes after that, I took his advice on effective application of duct tape and executed a (very) temporary repair. Good enough to get a few gallons of gas in the tank, enough to carry me the 100-odd miles home.

I pulled into the driveway about 7p that night, less than 14 hours after I had set out homeward. It was certainly not the journey I imagined when I set out, and it certainly looked to be going off the rails more than once. But I was home, safe and sound and hours earlier than I could have hoped at the start of the day. All because a couple of strangers went out of their way to help me out, and because I was trusting enough to take them up on their offers.

Thank you, universe, for the most appropriate ending to a trip I set out thinking was all about self-sufficiency and independence.

Lake rest

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I feel like I’m getting better at vacations of late. And I don’t mean that I’ve planned the perfect trips to see the most amazing things. Mostly, I think I’ve gotten better at not planning fabulous trips or grand adventures.

I spent the first week of my mountain escape canoeing with Dean on Ross Lake in the North Cascades. We paddled for a few hours each morning, set up camp before lunch, and then spent the entire afternoon reading, knitting, swimming (oh, the swimming!), exploring, napping… Did I mention the swimming? In a clear, cool lake?

It really was bliss, exactly what I needed. I think that’s the part that feels so amazing – to come home feeling energized to jump back into things and maybe start a few new projects. Such a contrast to “back to the grind”…

SAM inspiration

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I feel like I have a backlog of posts in my head this week, but we still have guests so this will be quick. We visited the Seattle Art Museum over the weekend, and it set my head to buzzing with knitting design inspiration… everything from Japanese kimono textiles to metalwork. It caught me off-guard, frankly. I always enjoy the museum, and frequently have to circle the native baskets a few times before I can pull myself away, but it’s been awhile since I felt pulled to design and in the past, my design inspiration has been much more functional. Anyway, I love that they invite photos of most everything in the collection, so I snapped lots of impulsive shots with phone and had some fun flipping back through them this morning.

Back soon with more!

Commuting: a mini photo essay

Since I started the new job back in mid-April, I’ve been going into the office in Seattle twice a week. It’s a huge time suck and not something that I will do long-term, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoy it in real time. In the early morning, an hour drive with Dean drinking my tea, then an hour on the ferry while I meditate and write and read, followed by a mile-long walk through downtown Seattle; repeated in reverse in the evening, of course. I am feeling a bit wistful for the routine already this week, knowing that this is Dean’s last week of classes for the term so I’ll be driving myself and taking a shorter ferry very soon.

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seattle pike

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Deception Pass

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We took a quick overnight trip up to Deception Pass this past weekend. It’s a pretty spot we drive past when we’re heading up to Bellingham or the North Cascades but we had never stopped for longer than a rest break.

I first visited the Pass on a family vacation when I was twelve. I have a few clear memories from that trip – marveling at the big old log and stone guardrails constructed by the CCC and wandering the beach.

I also remember that we made the day trip on that family vacation so that my parents could revisit a memorable park and the naval base less than ten miles up the road where they lived for a time when they were first married.

Dean and I paddled past it just a few days into our kayak trip up the Inside Passage in 2008, full of anxiety about timing the tides right in order to pass in calm waters.

Such a curious layered history with this place. It’s the kind of place that feels like it holds a lot of stories. The 24 hours we spent there this weekend were just enough to hint at the exploring to be done, of the beaches and the forests and the stories of this place.

Captain may I?

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When you board any of the Washington state ferries, there are signs that read, “Once loading has begun, the captain’s permission is required to disembark the vessel”. I’ve read them countless times, but they occupy the same space in my mind as every “do not leave baggage unattended” sign ever… filed under blahblahblah.

Yesterday morning, I had to ask the captain’s permission to disembark. It had been a rough morning from well before “go”. I had spent a couple-hour period awake in the middle of the night for no discernible reason, so when the alarm went off at 515a I was firing on something decidedly less than all cylinders. I managed to get myself in the car at 6, never more grateful that Dean and I could carpool and therefore I could doze in the passenger seat, thinking the only casualty of the morning was my forgotten cup of tea, which wasn’t so bad really. Fast forward an hour or so and I was sitting on the ferry, settling in for the crossing with my breakfast smoothie and journal, headphones full of nature sounds in, when I suddenly realized that something else was missing… my wallet.

The ferry only collects passenger fares in one direction, which is the return for me. I had just learned how to strand oneself on the other side of the Sound.

I headed swiftly for the exit, and met the deck hand there who was handling passenger loading. “I don’t have a wallet, I need to get off before I’m stranded in Seattle.” He pulled out his radio and I suddenly remembered the signs. Yup, the captain wants your full name and some sort of corroborating ID so they all know who to blame when something goes catastrophically wrong on the boat you’ve abandoned. Details submitted, late-boarding passengers amused, permission granted, I disembarked and the bridge went up immediately behind me.

One desperate phone call to Dean and he was backtracking to rescue me with some cash, and I was waiting on the 845a sailing, waiting to see how many other exciting ways the day could go sideways. (It was mostly uneventful from there, thankfully.)

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Tulip time

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We almost missed these beauties. On Friday afternoon, we drove right past on the highway two miles north, oblivious. Thankfully, we remembered it was tulip time before the return trip and built in a little extra time. (Not enough of course, with a ferry reservation looming.) A little extra time to enjoy the beauty, that’s something I could aspire to more often…

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Tea and biscuits, via ferry

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My husband Dean and I took a quick overnight trip to Victoria this weekend. It’s only the second time we’ve done so, which is a shame given how much we’ve enjoyed it each time. One of the reasons for that is that the travel is just as charming as the destination – we drive less than an hour to Port Angeles, park the car, and hop on the ferry. No freeways, no reservations, no security lines. The ferry ride feels like you might be stepping back in time about 60 years (including that shade of pistachio green interior paint) and the view outside isn’t bad either.

Our only real plan when we arrived was the SPARK Festival tickets we had reserved for the evening (Terminus – good theater, excellent conversation material). It was a typically gray March day but we happily filled it with wandering and grazing, including tea and treats from the fantastic Victoria Public Market and gawking around the Empress (where we had scored a last-minute deal).

Laid-back Canadians, British colonial flair, and home for Sunday lunch! What prematurely old person wouldn’t love it?

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