Monday, November 13, 2006

Lesson Learned the Easy Way (that is, by *not* fracturing my skull first)

I’ve been trying some self-improvement lately, working on getting to know my inner spiritual mechanism a bit better (note: the fact that “mechanism” seems like an appropriate descriptor is maybe a hint that I’ve got a ways to go before true enlightenment). This includes things like paying attention to my intuitions about, oh, which route to drive to avoid traffic; listening to—and heeding—my heart when it says to play the piano instead of vacuuming the floor or going out to lunch with someone; stopping drinking coffee because I decided I didn’t want to be addicted to anything anymore; and, most recently, starting to think about the role my ego plays in my life and where its noisy voice gets in the way of me hearing from the universe.

It’s been difficult for me to work out the difference between self-esteem and ego . . . and I’m not sure that they are, always different. But sometimes, certainly, it seems that they are, and I’ll use an example from my own life to illustrate my point.

Yesterday around noon-time, I felt sleepy, so I decided to take a nap on the couch. In my defense, I’d already hauled about 10 wheelbarrow loads of horse shit from the three small paddocks, plus split several pieces of wood into kindling and restocked the firebox, in addition to feeding horses and cows and dogs and playing with the puppy. So anyway, before heading out for my ride, I thought I’d just snooze a little.

I went to sleep picturing my ego as a huge block of ice somewhere around my throat (or 5th Chakra), blocking communication between my heart and my mind, and I pictured a tiny stream of yellow heat streaming through the ice between my mind and my heart, slowly melting it away. When I woke up around one pm, the first thought I had was “I need to wear my helmet when I’m riding.” The second thought I had was “But if anyone sees me, they’ll think I look ridiculous, out there riding bareback with an English helmet on.” My third thought was “Oh, yes, that’s my ego speaking.”

Now, those who’ve read previous entries will know that I don’t invariably stay on the horses I’m riding, and those who read this entry from Saturday will probably think that my mad, fraught dash on Shadow had something do with the decision to protect my head. If it did, it was only indirectly, through Ian who in Seattle read the entry right about the time I was falling asleep in Idaho and said to himself “God, why can’t she just wear a helmet?!?”

No, my crazy ride on Shadow did nothing to test my confidence in my abilities—I know that I’m a good rider (this is not ego—this is self-esteem, and a fact). I also know that I’m pretty much as safe bareback as not (in fact, my record of falls in the last five years, totaling three, are two-thirds from saddles.). I also know that accidents happen, and that people hit their heads, and that from the lofty back of a horse, those accidents can cause serious head traumas. Really, the one thing that kept me from wearing my helmet was that I thought it looked dorky, and all the good reasons weren’t enough to convince me. The helmet isn’t even uncomfortable, and I wear it all the time in lessons.

I got up from the couch and immediately left Ian a message telling him I was going to wear a helmet from then on, and could he please get me a ski helmet (I tell you, when the ego goes, it goes all the way) for Christmas. I then proceeded to put on my riding clothes, which consisted of cowboy boots, flannel-lined J Crew pants, a turtleneck shirt, a turtleneck sweater I knitted, a green puffy vest, a yellow Patagonia rain jacket, and a blaze orange vest. And I thought it was the helmet that would look ridiculous.

(Yes, that's me looking safe. Safe!)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Rest in Peace, Chico

About the 3rd time I went by the fridge this morning, I saw a photocopied flier? program? memorial, I guess, with a picture on the front of a guy I recognized. He’d been one of about a dozen people to stop by this last summer when I was here, one of the days that K&A and I moved thousands of pounds of hay. The family had driven into the yard in a giant king cab pickup, full of people, and the bed full of people, too, from three generations ranging in age from, oh, 50s down to toddler. This guy, Chico, was of the middle generation, and clearly beloved by everyone. He had an easy energy, and was gentle, but also funny and strong. Just a great guy, which was obvious to me even on such short acquaintance. Anyway, according to the photocopy, which included pictures of him with friends and family, and funny and sweet stories about him, he died October 1. He was 22. I was shocked, and saddened, as if I’d lost a friend. Life is fragile, my friends. Live it well.

That's one big foot! Posted by Picasa

84 acres, and *this* is the best grass? Posted by Picasa

Up this way to Calin's Loop! Posted by Picasa

Too and Eddie. Yum! Posted by Picasa

Come along, Sadie. Posted by Picasa

Um, the drive took longer this time. Extra almost 2 hours in the pass. Posted by Picasa

Puppies and Cows and Clearcuts Oh My

I’m in Jerome Creek again, for my annual fall weekend trip. I left the day after my birthday this year, and didn’t, in fact, eat a birthday breakfast of bacon and toasted banana bread with peanut butter. I’ve got the place to myself for a couple days, and it’s afforded me a much-needed retreat (minus leaping up to put Sadie, the new puppy, outside when she pees on the kitchen rug—or ideally before that happens—or goes into the living room for the fifth time after I’ve told her not to). I’ve been focusing on living in the moment, you know, having my attention here, and choosing not to borrow trouble. It’s not as easy as it sounds, actually. Most of us spend a lot of time resenting people or events in the past, and worrying about events in the future, which wastes a lot of energy. I’m just now beginning to chip off the tip of the iceberg of my own non-present time.

It gets dark here at about 4:00pm these days, and by 5:30 it feels like the middle of the night (I actually took a nap on the sofa this evening before dinner, and argued with myself for awhile when I woke up about whether or not 6:00pm was too early to turn in). I returned home from my ride (on Shadow, of course) around 3:00pm instead of starting to think about going out then. Neither Kit nor Sadie came along; he’s getting very arthritic, and she’s just twelve weeks old, and I left Spackle in Seattle with Ian (although it felt pretty weird to be making rest stops just for myself). Shadow are companions enough, though, and she’s all the more like riding a big stuffed animal now that she’s got her shaggy Appaloosa winter coat on.

We found a lot of new clear-cutting today, one of the hazards of riding around in Potlatch Logging Company land. One of my discoveries, a trail that K&A dubbed “Calin’s Loop”, is now buried under a pile of branches and mud and other logging refuse. We were able to pick our way through some other brush, though, and wend our way down the Long Gallop. I will point out here that the Long Gallop is only that on the way up—it’s steep enough that galloping down is entirely out of the question. At least, I think so. Shadow was itching to try it, and jogged much of the way which, I will say, is not very comfortable bareback, even on a horse with virtually no withers.

We had a rager of a gallop, though, to make up for the missed Long Gallop, when we got to Maple Creek Meadow. I wanted to gallop, and Shadow wanted to gallop, but she took off slightly before I was ready, tossing me up her shoulders a bit. She wasn’t paying any attention to mud, ditches running with water, or major cow wallows, either (all things that can make a horse slip or lose footing), so I had to try and steer her, and try to not fall off, even though I was way too far forward which was making her run in a really weird up-and-down, bucky way (and then she jumped a couple logs). I eventually relaxed my thighs’ death grip on her enough to sit back, and I managed to stop her just before I’m sure she would’ve tried to jump a tree that lay across our path, probably killing both of us. Or just me. Anyway, we were about 10 minutes from home, and she was, naturally, still sweaty when we arrived (although I made her walk all the rest of the way), and so, rather than let her just dry out in the 33 degree wind, I walked her around the yard a bit, and she was perfectly content to hang out with me. As long as I had the lead rope.

Earlier in the day, I’d taken the two dogs out for a walk, and I started eating an apple as we came to the horses grazing in their pasture. We paused to say hi (allowed) or bark (not allowed) at the horses, and then Sikem caught the apple scent, evidently registered the complete lack of halters, and suddenly I had three horses milling around me, noses in my pockets, in my face, nibbling my braids, snorting in my ears, and basically trying to eat the apple out of my hand. I gave each one a bite and starting walking again (I took the bite and then fed the horse by hand), and Toby was satisfied and went back to her grass, Shadow dropped off in a few paces, and only Sikem followed me for several yards before giving up. I felt bad, briefly, for not holding on to the apple core to give him on the way back. But only briefly.

In addition to Sadie, there are also two new cows, called Eddie and Eddie Too, or just Too. They’re very cute palomino-colored steers, but I don’t remember what the breed is. Ian asked today and without thinking I said “Probably something tasty . . .” and he said “Oh! Right! Farm cows! I should probably stop forming an attachment to them . . .” I do like cows, though. They’re just kind of dopey and non-threatening.

Doucely is still around, doing her own thing, and the people in the family will be back tomorrow night.

Monday, October 30, 2006

After a seemingly very long hiatus . . .

Noble (or should I say Patient) readers, this post is mainly to let you know that I still exist, and still intend to travel, and still intend to post about it. There are a couple reasons I haven’t posted in the last month or so, the main one being that the journeys I’ve been on have been far more internal than external. The body does surprising things when it’s taken off of five years of medical treatments, and the roller coaster of going through puberty as a 33-year-old afraid of cancer has been, shall we say, a little distracting for everyone involved.

I have slept in two beds other than my own, and flown somewhere, since boat class (come on, people, hire me! Really!), so I’ll give a brief rundown of those.

First, the flying: Ian and I, in September, took our architect up to Orcas to walk around the property and talk about where we wanted to build our house. Rather than pay him for six hours of transit time (which is about how long a round-trip is on the ferry), we decided to fly on Kenmore Air, which is the largest seaplane fleet in the US (that may be true; I maybe made it up.).

Let me tell you, if you’re not planning to plant trees or slash long grass or otherwise carry a lot of stuff, this is the way to go. It took us less than ten minutes to get from our Wallingford house to the South Lake Union terminal in Seattle, about 20 minutes to wait for our plane, about an hour to fly up there, below the clouds, looking down on the tops of people’s private lives, and then the plane lands in West Sound within walking distance, about ten minutes, of our land. Boy, it was awesome. And, it turns out, I’m not afraid of flying in small planes at all. We all had lunch in the West Sound Café, meandered around wet pasture for a couple hours, then caught a flight back to Seattle. So convenient. So awesome. So expensive.

About two weeks later, I was up on Orcas again, this time for the annual West Sound Water Users Association meeting. It was far less interesting than last year’s contentious event, as tempers have been boiling all year this year already, and so lots of people just didn’t come. But the cookies were good. And I stayed at the Kingfish Inn, upstairs from the West Sound Café, which was a lovely place to stay. I particularly enjoyed drinking wine and eating cheese on my own private balcony looking over West Sound, after spending the day clearing brush out of our willow copse.

And just last week, Ian turned 32 and I surprised him with a night in a fancy new hotel in downtown Seattle which is perhaps most notable for the pedestal tub that fills from the ceiling, without splashing. We had a great time.

Stay tuned, we have a couple other small things coming up. But the next big thing? Who knows . . .

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Um, you might want to think again about that name. Posted by Picasa

Me and the boys: From left to right, Cap'n Glenn, me, D and S. Home safe. And smelly. Posted by Picasa

Not as Easy as it Looks

I spent last weekend up in the San Juan Islands, learning how to operate a twin screw power boat. Last June, when I spent the day on a friend’s boat, a whole torrent of memories and reawakened emotions came flooding back (nice use of water metaphor, no?), and I realized that, disgraceful as I am coming to find the guzzling of fossil fuels in which our society participates, there’s something about power boating—the speed, and the challenge of operation, and the fact that you have a roof over your head and a gently rocking bed at night—that I can’t get out of my soul.

So I looked around online, and found this class out of Anacortes, where I’d go out on a boat for three days and two nights, and learn everything from navigation to basic engine checking to crewing to operation. Considering my background in the islands, I was pretty sure the entire class would be review, and a snap. I packed accordingly, bringing a novel, Harper’s, a 4-star Sudoku I was working on, my iPod, and a new knitting project, to take care of in my down time*.

Ahem. Well, I wasn’t wrong about the stuff that actually was review for me—I’ve used charts, I’ve spoken on the VHF radio, I’ve hooked up a docked boat to shore power in the appropriate manner (make sure the main circuit switch on board is OFF and all the individual circuits are OFF, and the circuit switch on the dock is OFF; then hook the cord into the boat, then into the dock, then flip the dock switch, then check to make sure the polarity sensor on the boat is green, then flip the boat master, then turn on the individual switches), I’ve been a good crew member, almost always making things easier for Captain Dad. I’ve even spent not an insignificant amount of time as captain through open water, following a course. I was rusty on these things Friday afternoon when we first boarded our boat, but they came back as quickly as I’d expected.

What I hadn’t done at all, or more than once or twice, was moor. And, really, what the entire trip comes down to is whether or not you can arrive in port safely.

There are an infinite number of factors affecting safe mooring, including wind (into or away from the dock?), current (into or away from the dock?), water depth, shape of dock (long or slips?), and who else is around. Also, my habit of jumping for the dock from the bow and quickly cleating . . . well that, it turns out, is allowing the skipper to cheat a little. The skipper should bring the boat in until it’s parallel to the dock, and no more than a foot away. The crew should only have to step off and tie up (and, I have to say, now that I’m 33 and my knees are going bad, I really appreciate this idea.). Anchoring or mooring to a buoy are a little easier, as far as people around you go, because if there’s any chance you’re going to hit someone as you set your anchor or grab your buoy, you definitely shouldn’t be where you are.

There were four of us on the boat (a 34-foot Bayliner called True Story): me; Cap’n Glenn, a 65-year-old retired career Coast Guardsman; D, a 61-year-old retired insurance man from Vegas; and S, a 43-year-old Microsofty. As expected, I was the only woman, although S was much younger than the 60-something of the other two. And as I also expected, even though I brought my sleeping bag and could easily have shared a cabin with one of the other students, I got my own (I also never once did the dishes, which was purely unintentional, but nice nonetheless, I will admit).

D, whose boating experience has been on lakes or on the Sound as a passenger, was a little outmatched by the entire weekend experience. S and I, however, seemed to be pretty well-matched in our ability to pick up the new docking skills. I won’t go into great detail—after all, I spent about 25 hours over the weekend learning these things and it would be tedious to recount them in greater detail than I already am (unless it’s already too late to avoid tedium). Suffice it to say that four levers—two shifters and two throttles—can become confused in your mind the sixth time in a row you come in to dock, and you might freeze up completely as your boat drifts forward, because you can’t remember which levers to push back (to reverse) and which levers to push forward (to do it quickly, or “Get ‘er done!” as Cap’n Glenn liked to say), and getting them wrong would be, frankly, an error of potentially thousands of dollars. Suffice it completely to say that someone standing next to your left ear (or rather, port ear) yelling “what are you doing? WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?” doesn’t make it easier to figure out the levers. I think what I did in this situation was turn to glare at the person by my ear and entirely remove my hands from the levers at all. He took us back out, I brought us in flawlessly on my second try, and then I said, probably still glaring, “that’s it. I’m done for tonight.”

I mean, the thing about docking is this—if you get it right, you never do it again. It’s the most stressful part of boating (barring disaster, of course . . . but it can lead to that easily), your nerves are keyed to an almost inaudibly high pitch, and the body just isn’t made to withstand that much pressure for that long. The next morning, I practiced docking three times, did an excellent job, felt my nerves start to fray, and handed over the wheel to S. “But you’re doing so well!” said Cap’n Glenn. I gave him a look. “I know,” I said.

As much as I don’t like to be yelled at, things do have to happen in a split second on a boat. And it made a big difference to me that, soon after my near melt-down in slip 25, we went to the grittiest tavern in Friday Harbor and, over beers (I ordered an Arrogant Bastard Ale), Cap’n Glenn admitted that he’d had a long day, too, and was also tired.

The day had been exhausting, on a par with the intensive language courses I took in Portugal several years ago. I could feel my brain laboriously building new neural pathways, grinding through gears long abandoned in sea water. One thing about living the life of a dilettante is that you don’t actually have to work hard, extensively, very often. At all. And I was really out of practice.

But Sunday was great—I didn’t lose reverse at all, especially when I really needed it; I learned to anchor and un-anchor; I was the only one not hung over from the 3 pints of beer and half a bottle of wine from the night before (water, my friends. You must dilute.), we toured yet more of the San Juans, occasionally triggering sharp nostalgia.

“I once said to my dad ‘you know, it’s much easier to drive a boat than a car,’” I told the boys as we motored along Guemes Channel toward home port, “and he looked at me incredulously. ‘Are you kidding me?’ he asked.”

Cap’n Glenn laughed. “Sounds like he was a smart man, your dad,” he said.

I docked back in Anacortes to fuel up, a maneuver that involved a pivot in a narrow channel. Rashly confident in my new abilities as a yachter, I started filling the fuel tank, only to have it burp up at 10 gallons (miles to go before full), spilling probably no more than a pint of diesel into the water, but that small amount spread out fast. Suddenly we’re running up and down the dock in a panic, trying to mop up the mess with spill towels before it got out of reach—this is, naturally, a fineable offense. We did our best, and surreptitiously sprayed a little dish soap on the small remainder, which vanished magically (except from my hand and arm, which continue to smell a little like an auto shop).

Sigh. Boats afford endless opportunity for learning humility.

But they’re also really, really fun, and I can take you out on one now.

Seriously, I can, and I’m ready any time. So call me whenever! I mean it!

* Uh, yeah. I maybe placed 3 numbers per night in my Sudoku, before I collapsed into the sleep of the dead.

Monday, September 04, 2006

One Last Summer Fling

With my husband, of course. Ian’s friend, T, visiting from LA with his girlfriend, E, took her to Bellingham to meet his family and see where he grew up, and he invited Ian and another friend, D, to come hang out. T&E got a room at a hotel rather than stay with the parents, D and his girlfriend K decided to get a room at the same hotel, and Ian and I were going to just drive up and drive home. An 80 mile drive isn’t such a good idea after a night on the town, however.

We had two dogs for the weekend, though, so it hadn’t, at first, occurred to us to try and stay (that and the fact that we’ve been gone all summer.). But on Thursday, when I realized that an 80 mile drive isn’t such a good idea after a night on the town, I called the hotel and asked if dogs could stay. Yes . . . but dogs smaller than ours. Ian did a bit more research and found a motel right across the street that did take dogs, for a $5 fee, and suddenly I felt the rush of excitement that comes when you’re going to stay overnight somewhere. And I realized, somewhat sheepishly, that I’ve totally trained myself to be gone this summer—like really gone, a lot. That’s it, I’m addicted to weekends away.

We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, reveling in farmer’s markets and good food; friends and cheap cocktails; our own queen bed and another for the dogs. Ian and I bought coffee at the hyper-efficient drive-in Cruisin Coffee—quad grande rice latte for me (at home I make my own and one of the shots is decaf but that seems a bit too much to ask when ordering an already weird drink), single tall for Ian. We strolled through Whatcom Falls Park with the dogs and let them off their leashes near a huge swimming hole. After tearing around after each other, careening up and down massive boulders while I winced and pictured them overshooting and plunging to their deaths down the sheer rock face behind us, we finally got them down to the swimming hole and into the water, where Spackle immediately transferred his focus from Marlee to the stick Ian found, and Marlee completely failed to transfer her focus from Spackle.

Bagels, one last visit with the in-laws, an uneventful drive home (because we went the speed limit, because there were cops everywhere on I-5), and a low-key barbecue in our back yard with the same players, rounded out the summer perfectly.

Really now, I’m going to buckle down and stay home.

For a time.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Whirlwind Whistler Weekend

We only went for two nights—not quite long enough—but it was a great trip all the same. We came up with the idea last April because we see N&K, Ian’s brother and sister-in-law, on average about 3 times per year. Is it because they live far away? Only if you consider two miles to be far. Sigh. Anyway, a planned weekend, where we have meals and leisure time together, seems to be a great option for us (a hint into why we see each other so rarely: we had to plan almost five months in advance to find a weekend that worked for us all).

Highlights of the trip:

N&K sharing the driving, in their ultra-fancy and ultra-comfortable Acura, so I could knit the entire time and not have to be behind the wheel through Everett, which has really become the quicksand, the tar pit, the black hole of I-5.

Meandering around entirely pedestrian-zoned Whistler Village.

Hiking with Ian along the nature trail to Lost Lake. Arriving at the lake and finding a parking lot, a manicured lawn, and dozens of high school girls in bikinis. Well, I’m not sure that the bikinis were a highlight.

The dog beach at Lost Lake, complete with off-shore float, itself complete with a doggy-ramp so Rover can climb out of the water and rest. 30 or so dogs swimming.

Lying by the pool reading The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. An excellent book.

Tasty food.

Great company.

The official Canadian Royal Mounted Police gift shop.

Finding nine cans of San Pelegrino Chinotto soda (it's really good! If you like weird sodas!)

and my personal favorite:
sipping Gibsons and champagne cocktails at the Westin Hotel’s FireRock Lounge, while knitting. Heaven.

Berkshire Bliss

One of my dear friends got married in the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts on August 19th. This is one of the girls from my Memorial Day Weekend trips, and all of us made it to the weekend’s events, including Ian and me who set five alarm clocks before our 6:30am flight and didn’t even sleep through the first one, and C, who came with beautiful 2-week-old Avery. Yes, that’s not a typo. Even L and S made it, although Continental did everything in their power to keep that from happening. It’s a long, bitter story, but the upshot is, or rather upshots are: 1) don’t fly into Newark, but 2) really, really don’t fly Continental. We were on Delta, on the other hand, and had a lovely time—flight attendants were friendly, we got food and movies even in steerage, people went out of their ways to fix our seat assignments, which disappeared without exception before each of our four legs of flight. It turns out that at least some of my phobia of flying has to do with my feeling of being a target. And a flight from Seattle to Cincinnati didn’t seem all that threatening to me, and the 50-passenger Comair flights from Cincinnati to Albany seemed entirely safe. Until this Sunday morning, that is.

But I digress.

Anyone who’s traveled in the Berkshires in the summer (or, probably, any time of year), knows that it’s expensive. It’s also aggressively quaint, full of ancient tree-covered hills and winding roads connecting 300-year-old towns nestled all snug in river valleys and curves of topography. It’s the home of Tanglewood, where the Boston Symphony Orchestra spends its summers. James Taylor lives in Lenox, one of the larger villages. It’s also the vacation destination of every upper middle class family in New York and Boston that doesn’t go to the Hamptons or the Cape. A motel room runs at least $170/night.

To save money, and also because we like each other, we Memorial Weekend girls and our various partners and/or gay husbands rented a house instead. This was a much better deal for the 10-12 of us, at $1800 for the entire week, except that weeks invariably run Sat-Sat in vacationland and many of us were arriving on a Thursday. I found a property that had both the main house, however, and a small cottage as well, and the owner agreed to let us have the small cottage for Thursday and Friday nights—we’d basically be camping—and the large house until we left town (which was two nights before the end of our week, so she got a good deal, too). What I will say about the cottage is that it was definitely rustic . . . and that if Continental had actually gotten L&S to Albany Thursday night as they were supposed to, instead of closing the jetway door in the girls’ faces as they approached from their other Continental flight (this is literally true), it would’ve been a tight squeeze.

I had a moment of confusion at 5:15 Friday morning when I heard, from the sleeping loft Ian and I were sharing, CNN radio start up very loudly directly down from me, where B was sleeping on one of the couches. “I know B’s a lawyer,” I thought with irritable sleep-muddled logic, “but does he have to listen to the news right now?” I eventually figured out that he must still have his earplugs in and be sleeping through the preset alarm, and I stumbled down the ladder, almost pitching head-first onto the pine floor, to turn it off myself. “Goddammit!” B gasped out as I approached, and flailed for the off switch. A couple hours later, Ian and I woke up for good and slipped out of the house to celebrate our own 5th anniversary with breakfast alone before the weekend’s events swept us up.

The wedding was one of those awesome affairs including nail appointments, a casual rehearsal dinner, short but lovely ceremony followed by a cocktail reception (full bar!) and then dinner (all vegetarian and really tasty, particularly the squash blossoms filled with white bean paste) and dancing and a multi-tiered cupcake “cake”, then a brunch and badminton tournament the next morning at a family farmhouse—so all the guests really had time to get to know each other/get reacquainted. And in our down time, once we moved into the large house and had space to lounge, we ate cheese and crackers and fresh fruits and vegetables and crepes (S brought two crepe pans and a chef’s knife in her luggage . . . TSA obviously checked her bags) and drank beer and wine, and talked endlessly with each other, and talked endlessly with shockingly verbal Paige, now the almost-three-year-old big sister, and watched Avery learning how to observe (“This person’s face is different from that person’s face,” her eyes seemed to say, staring from me to L and back again), and practicing her proto-smile.

And then a last meal with the blissful newlyweds (who received a lot of cast-iron cookware, considering their Brooklyn walk-up).

And then home, to start our own sixth year of (still blissful) marriage.

Falling Behind

I’ve been gone the last two weekends, for a wedding in western Massachusetts and a getaway with Ian’s brother and sister-in-law in Whistler, and I’ve so far completely failed to write anything about either. But I do have some things to say, so stay tuned!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Late Breaking News

It turns out that my ass is not, as I had previously assumed, made of spring steel. Over the last week, my tailbone has increasingly ached, to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore (at least without knowing what was causing the pain), and on Saturday morning Ian and I went to the emergency room. After 8 hours (my problem was clearly not a crisis and there were, in fact, crises going on that day), X-rays, and blood tests, we were finally discharged with the diagnosis Old Fracture. This means that it’s not currently broken, but it was (presumably when I somersaulted over the head of Sikem last May) and I have evidently strained the new tissues around the area, so it’s causing me pain. Particularly when I go to the bathroom, but not, in fact, so much the rest of the time, except during the process of standing up or sitting down.

Contributing factors to the pain could include 1) the active summer I’ve spent: kayaking, riding, throwing around hay, and restarting Pilates, and 2) the fact that my hormones, chemically dormant for 5 years, are starting to reassert themselves, which could affect the tissues. It seems that all I can do is be careful, and not get constipated, and take Ibuprofen if I need something for pain. I said to the doctor, who was very tired and appeared to be about 7 months pregnant, that I didn’t have any riding lessons scheduled for the near future and she said “No. You will not ride a horse until this doesn’t hurt at all.”


Detroit Follow-up

Yes, folks, we did make it. The third person we spoke with once we got to SeaTac finally offered to let us each pay $25 to reserve space on the evening non-stop from Seattle to Detroit, and was surprised no one had given us the option before. (note: if you ask for stand-by, be prepared to stick with your current routing. And don't expect an airline grunt to think outside the box. Ask to pay some small fee instead.) We even got a window and a middle seat, and so were in perfect position to enjoy the spectacular light show taking place over Duluth as we passed (the pilot conscientiously avoided flying directly through the electrical storm). It was so fantastic, in fact, flash after flash, lightening ripping through the clouds in jagged bolts, that a flight attendant got on the radio and admonished us all to turn off our reading lights and look out the window! Which virtually everyone did. It was really amazing, and we only caught a little turbulence at the end, right before landing in Detroit, where it was 12:40 am. This was 8 hours after Ian and I had intended to arrive, before (evidently) choosing to sleep in, in our own beds, instead, so instead of blearily collecting our car, we checked into the new Westin hotel that is right in the terminal, and had a blissful mini-vacation, just the two of us.

The next morning we picked up our rental car and drove to Ann Arbor, which, from what we could see in our two days driving around the Detroit area (which, granted, doesn’t really give it a fair opportunity to impress), really is the best place to go in Michigan. By far.

We stayed with my linguistics friend G and his Swedish wife A, who are charming and interesting hosts, and whose small apartment holds even more books than our house (though not by much, I think). They encourage the local wildlife, so we were treated to multiple birds (I couldn’t even identify one species if G hadn’t told me what they were), multiple squirrels, and even, to my alarm, a late-night skunk. I will say, the skunk is really an adorable animal. Particularly since it seemed to think the same of us, and wandered off without spraying. Houseguests and fish smell after three days, they say . . . but I think adding skunk to the mix might speed up that schedule a little.

We had a couple brief Eminem moments; one when we passed 8 Mile Road on the way to the wedding venue in Rochester, and the other after we returned home and realized that the wedding location was the same as Eminem and Kim’s most recent (and most recently failed) second nuptials. Meadow Brook Hall did not publicize their famous clients.

The wedding itself was beautiful, with the 3 bridesmaids in varying shades of purple to coordinate with the groom’s hair, and a collection of Carleton students I’ve seen now at four weddings (including my own), so I felt like part of the crowd.

The only bad part of the trip was arriving at the airport at 7:00am on Monday morning (or thereabouts) and finding that our seats together—one window, one center—had been switched to two center seats. Which meant we weren’t seated together. And there were no other seats available anywhere on the plane, except maybe one or two middles. It seems that, when we missed our flight Friday morning, our entire reservation had been un-confirmed. The attendant who put us on the replacement flight reconfirmed the rest of our reservation . . . but evidently not our seats. So we arrived after virtually everyone else had checked in online, and snatched up our good seats. This was incredibly distressing to me, up to the point where we actually boarded the plane, and the man sitting on the aisle next to me agreed graciously to switch with Ian.

And so it all worked out, and two more great people are enjoying newly-married bliss.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Okay, Yeah, I See Your Point . . . But Sometimes You Just Oversleep

Ian and I were supposed to be on a plane right now—not just at the airport, but actually on a plane—but we overslept. Way overslept—I set my alarm for 4:15am, and didn’t wake up until 6:40am, 20 minutes before our plane took off, and ten minutes after the latest we could possibly leave our house if we were going to get to the airport . . . in time to pick up someone whose plane landed at 7:00am. So yeah, late.

Now, since last Saturday evening, I’ve periodically been feeling what I believe is my dad’s presence—a sort of prickling of the skin on my left arm and neck, which usually can’t be explained away with drafts, even though our 80-year-old house is drafty. And last night, after we got home from our jazz gig and before falling into bed, exhausted, at 1:00am, finally packed, I felt it a lot. I’m not a huge believer in the occult, or ghosts, or whatever . . . but I am a strong believer in the idea that I cannot possibly know everything, and so I should remain open-minded. So, when I feel my arm prickle, I usually acknowledge Dad. I occasionally wonder if he’s there for a reason—protection? Or merely to visit? At any rate, I briefly thought—“maybe he’s warning me to not take this flight,” and I did a careful diagnostic of my other senses and extra-senses . . . and didn’t really come up with anything alarming.

My brother was going to take us to the airport, picking us up at 5:00am. He’s been practicing polyphasic sleeping for a few months now, and so he’s become the obvious choice for off-hours favors. When he arrived home last night, however, his wife (who’s also been doing it) offered to drive us instead. Well, this morning he woke up from a nap at 5:10 and realized she was sound asleep next to him in bed, instead of on her way to the airport, us already in the car. He leapt up and raced down to our house, which was pitch black when he arrived. He called our house phone, then sent me a text message to my cell, then assumed—reasonably—that we had taken a taxi or driven a car to our grandmother’s house and taxied from there, and that we were fine. He went home.

My cousin, who’s staying here with us right now while he and his wife fix up the house they recently bought, was evidently asleep still at 5:35am when Deane gave up and went home; he also evidently got up and showered and was out of the house to work without realizing we were still in bed—and without waking us.

And so, we did not hear the alarm, the house phone, the cell phone, or the person departing for work. Those are a lot of things to not hear, particularly for me, who always hears everything. We irrevocably did not make our flight. So—assistance from the other side, keeping us from a flight that would have been dangerous to us? Or is this the only clue I need to solve this mystery: “falling into bed, exhausted, at 1:00am.”?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Kayak Trip 2006: Blake Island (Saturday), or A Reminder to Live Fully

Saturday morning dawned early and gray, actually, which was a relief after two days of intense sun. A bit groggy from our pirate-laced sleep, we all took our time stumbling around camp and no one, I will say, leapt into a boat to take advantage of the cool morning stillness. Laura and Sonja made some Cream of Wheat (not so well received, or not so universally received, as their pasta and Kate’s salad of the night before, which I forgot to rave about in my disgruntlement at pirates), and Mario and Mia rounded out our morning meal with breakfast burritos. Deane and Erika paddled off soon after, headed to Manchester across the channel in search of more camp stove fuel and un-iodined water. The Puppies tumbled out of their tent and milled about eating cereal and burritos, Laela found the bow and arrow and quiver she’d fashioned the first afternoon from flotsam on the beach and tacked from person to person, threatening to shoot us (we were in no real danger, as you might imagine). The ranger came by on his morning rounds and we pulled him aside to complain about the pirates. He was sorry to hear that we’d had trouble, and had thought himself on his 9:30pm tour around the island in his skiff, that the boat looked like potential trouble. They were fairly quiet then, though—not enough use yet of the beer bong, I expect—and so he’d gone on his way. He informed us that in the future it was perfectly reasonable to call 911 and they would call his direct line, or send over a sheriff. He then asked if we happened to know if any of the boaters happened to be on shore. Mia pointed behind us, to where a very pirate-looking man, tan with a ponytail and earrings, was standing at the base of our sandstone cliff, watching his 8-year-old son clamber about. Oh. So that’s who that was.

Our friend the ranger took the man aside, and evidently asked him to leave; the boat sailed less than an hour later.

At noon a group of us decided to paddle over to Manchester dock to see what kind of water/ice cream options were available to us on that shore (Butterfinger bars and Aquafina); back in camp we met up with Deane and Erika, who’d traveled many miles south along the peninsula until they found more gas for our stoves. Some swimming took place, some naps, some lunches of sandwiches, some drinks of filtered water. Some catch with two of the Puppies and Deane, for at least 45 minutes, waist deep in the 45 degree water.

In the late afternoon, Laura, Sonja, Deane, Erika, the Puppies and I all decided to walk the long southern route around the island to get some ice cream and see the sights. The one thing about kayaking is that your legs are pretty much useless except as ballast and a little for stability, but they don’t get to work much (except in this kind of kayak, which we didn’t have). I generally find that I need to run, really run, for at least a little bit as soon as I’m on land. So the long (3.3 miles total) loop trail is perfect.

On the way home, after we’d drunk them out of fresh strawberry milkshakes and I’d enjoyed—very, very much I will say—my chocolate rootbeer float, we took turns “skipping” each other, to everyone’s entertainment.

This is something Ian and I discovered in late winter when we had an urge for ice cream and decided to walk rather than drive down to Fremont. Walking took too long, so we started to skip, and then we had a brilliant idea. Basically, two people start skipping arm in arm. On a particular skip, pre-arranged or not, the person whose arm is below flings the person whose arm is above straight up while skipping up. The result is an unexpected loss of gravity for the person who’s being flung, which is hysterically funny. The problem with doing this with only two people is that the flungee is inevitably flung a little to the side. Generally, this isn’t too much of a problem; when I introduced Deane to the concept, I managed to launch him only enough to lift him a little and surprise him into schoolgirl giggles. When he returned the favor, however, he launched me so hard I flew into the scrub on the side of the path (which surprised me, and then him, into hearty guffaws). Having one person on either side, though, you get more lift and more stability. And so, everyone was skipped, and we arrived back in camp breathless and laughing and all talking at once to everyone who was already there.

“Wait, you guys,” said Mia, breaking in. “There’s something going on down the beach—some people just came up in a ski boat and they’re calling for help. Someone passed out or something?”

I gazed down the beach and my heart did a little flip. Sure enough, the activity of the multitudes of other campers who’d come to stay throughout the weekend, living up to kayak man’s predictions of a full campground, was tinged a frantic yellow. I started down the beach, just behind Laura who called out “I know CPR! I’m certified in CPR!”. We waved the ski boat in toward shore and started out to it. “Do you want me to come?” I asked Laura. “Yes,” she replied.

As we reached the stern of the speed boat, I called up to the driver, who was clearly freaked out, to put it in neutral. He cut the engine and I climbed up on the swim platform and helped Laura up after me. “Okay!” I called as we tumbled on board. As we headed out to the buoys, Laura started asking questions. “Is it a relative of yours?” No. “Has she been drinking?” They didn’t know. “How long has she been down?”

We docked abruptly next to another ski boat rafted on to the main boat, a 35-40 foot cabin cruiser, and Laura made her way across to the aft where the victim was lying, prone, on the deck. I stayed out of the way and ready to assist in any way I could, in the rafted ski boat, with the owner of that boat, who appeared to be either a friend or relative of the victim.

I sat quietly in the gorgeous, golden-glowing evening sun, rocking gently on the water, and listened to the activity flow around me. First Laura’s voice, calmly repeating her questions. Then a sister, or a friend, of the victim, on the phone with 911 on the deck just above my head, repeating instructions. “They say 15 compressions then one breath, then 15 compressions then one breath,” and into the phone, “it looks like there’s some air in her stomach. Should we try to push that out?”, then back to the people performing CPR “Make sure her head is tilted way back when you give her breaths.” And from someone on deck, “Her color’s better.” and her teenage son, agonizingly, on the phone with the Coast Guard, “WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU! YOU’RE GOING TO GO HOME TO YOUR MOTHER TONIGHT AND MINE IS GOING TO BE DEAD!”

The park ranger arrived in his skiff with a park nurse, who didn’t have a defibrillator but did have a mobile ECG tester, which kept saying in its mechanical voice “please don’t touch the victim. Testing . . . no pulse. Resume CPR.” The son appeared on the back deck during one of these cycles, and yelled at his dad to let go of his mom. “It doesn’t matter if I die,” said his father. “YES IT DOES!” screamed the boy.

A man arrived who “worked in an ambulance. I’m not a doctor, well, I am, but I’m a psychologist.” A woman, a medic, arrived and managed to get a small bit of steak out. The woman on the phone with 911 announced that an ambulance would be waiting two miles away at Manchester dock, and the ranger let down the bow of his skiff to transfer the victim over. Her husband went with her.

I caught a glimpse of her face as she was moved. She wasn’t alive.

As the skiff left, Laura checked to make sure there were still going to be adults on the boat with the kids, and there were. In the sudden silence, we quietly asked how many kids there were (four—their two children, and two friends), and made sure someone would stay with them, and then the husband of friends rafted on the other side of the boat from where I’d been, who had just arrived for dinner, offered to take us to shore.

Halfway there, a police boat raced by the bay, and caught up with the skiff mid-channel northwest of us, in the path of the setting sun. On shore, Sonja met us with a big hug, and Laura burst into tears. “We can’t stay here,” I said quietly. “Those kids sitting on the bow of their boat . . .”

Maybe 45 minutes later, the man who was not a doctor, well, yes, a psychologist, came putting by in a dinghy. We waded out to him, and he told us that the police boat from Bainbridge had collected a doctor and met the skiff, and they had removed the rest of the steak (why is it always steak?), and restarted her heart. Soon after, the ranger stopped by and confirmed the report, and added that she had blood pressure and was being transferred to the hospital. He took Laura’s name and number, but I doubt if we’ll ever hear more.

I have a lot of thoughts competing for attention—like, how amazing it is that my brother and I had the same childhood and yet my first-hand experience with boats is that there are life-and-death problems on them, and that’s second-hand for him. Or the baffling combination of strength and vulnerability in humans—both the victim, in this case, and those who helped save her life. And fear that she was out too long, that she will never be the same again. And deep sadness that her children, so young, but not young enough to be protected from the knowledge, now understand intimately the fragility of life.

And overall, again, I am reminded of how achingly beautiful consciousness, and experience, and friendship, and love, and nature—and life are. And how precious.

N.B. Laura told me that the instrument the Blake Island nurse brought with her was an AED (automatic external defibrillator). But for some reason--the motion of the boat, the cell phones, or the current state of the woman's heart, it wasn't working.

Kayak Trip 2006: Blake Island (Friday)

note: Please start on Thursday, below.

Friday morning, Deane and I ate some PB&J for energy, hit the water at 6:30 and paddled, against current, back to Vashon to collect the rest of our group, who were racing with that particular early-morning drunken-looking shuffle around the muddy shore, mostly packed up. We dropped off some trash and stuffed more food into our empty boats, trying to be careful not to fill them so far that we wouldn’t be able to get everything in for our homeward paddle Sunday (these boats had, after all, already been stuffed full).

Early morning—like, just after sunrise early—is a magical time to be on the water. The winds haven’t started up for the day yet, and the sea is glassy, clear, and the air is cool. Puget Sound is a beautiful color when it’s not churned up by shipping and industry, like thick sheet glass, the kind that looks green from the end. Our paddles sliced through, green-tinted under the surface. Deeper down, wavelets reflected dappled sunlight on barnacle-encrusted boulders, with sea stars and anemones adding splashes of purple, orange and cream to the wavering underwater scene that you are, nevertheless, careful not to peer too closely at over the edge of your boat. I love kayaking—it makes me feel like a different sort of creature. My habitat is water, not land. I love the alive feeling of my back muscles working with my arms, I love gliding across the shining surface of the sea. When fish jump off your bow, they’re jumping to eye level. When waves hit, you really feel them—little multi-directional ripples plipping against your hull, larger roller-coaster rollers swooping you up and down.

Back at camp, Erik prepared a giant brunch of eggs, potatoes and veggie sausages while the newcomers put up tents, and then we settled all the more securely into summer camping mode. Our sites were on a grassy shore just up from the sand, pebble and driftwood beach, at the foot of a short sandstone cliff and in the shade of several madronas and a couple of firs. We faced west over to the Olympic Mountains (as several sunset pictures from each night attest), about a quarter mile from the bathroom, a little closer to the drinking water (which went from being brown to clear to brown again in an irregular pattern, but which always tasted of iodine). Being right on shore is convenient if you’re a guy, and there were a few we never saw make the bathroom trek the entire weekend (although, for their sake, I hope they had to at least once . . .).

Along on the trip were three little blond teenage girls related to Deane’s wife Erika: her sister and their two first cousins. The three girls look like sisters, and played fetch with each other, and slept for hours on a heap with each other, until I started calling them the Puppies. The three happily shared a tent and an air mattress and only two sleeping bags (“Lauren likes to sleep in the middle,” Jessica told me, “because no one can steal your covers.”)

Deane and Mia and I walked to Tillicum Village to buy briquettes and ice . . . and, okay, chocolate and banana (me) and chocolate and strawberry (Deane) milkshakes. I mean, why not take advantage of all the facilities? I’m not sure what Deane and I were thinking, but we took a paddle and two dry bags along with us to carry home the briquettes balanced between us . . . the briquettes that were sold in five pound volumes . . . and five pounds is five pounds and, well, very light for even one person to carry, no matter how you look at it . . . so we carried the paddle back home again, unused.

Late Friday afternoon, a pirate ship pulled into the harbor and tied up on the linear moorage just offshore. We knew the beautiful old black-hulled wood sailboat was a pirate ship because of the Jolly Rogers—not one, but two—flying in the late afternoon breeze. As the evening progressed, we became more and more convinced that pirates are, in fact, frat boys. Certainly, they have no sense of decency or common courtesy. The noise drifting in to shore became louder as the air grew darker, and our conversation around the small briquette fire became punctuated with distant shouts of “NAKED!!!!” and “BEER BONG! BEEEEER BONNNG!!!!!” To our disbelief, at one point when we were checking them out with our binoculars, someone saw a child on board. Indeed, it wasn’t just frat boys—it was a whole family, and some extra young people, and I mean extra-young, like 8 years old.

Quiet hour came and went amidst screeches and loud music, and people from shore started going out in their dinghies, asking the pirates to please be quiet. Erik, who’d brought his slingshot, starting launching ammo out into the dark. We left a message on the ranger’s phone, and called a friend with Coast Guard ties. Finally I remembered that I had earplugs, and I fell exhausted into bed. The Puppies could sleep through anything.

Deane napping the shade of a madrona on our first day. Posted by Picasa

Kayak Trip 2006: Blake Island (Thursday)

note: Due to the long, long nature of this post, I'm breaking it into several parts, more or less by day.

We arrived home, ultimately, Sunday night around 10pm. I was in “keep moving” mode before then, wanting to get as many things done as possible before collapsing into my (mercifully unsandy) bed, so after our long day of loading-paddling-beaching-launching-paddling-beaching-unloading we dropped off the three Seattle-based kayaks we’d rented, then drove out to Maple Valley to pick up our dog, then up to Deane’s to pick up my yellow dry bag of clothes that looked like the yellow dry bags of clothes that the five people currently staying in his and Erika’s house all had, and then, about 10:30, I picked up Us Weekly and did collapse into bed. I didn’t even finish the magazine, and I have to point out, that says something about how tired I was.

Kayak Trip 2006: Blake Island was blissful. As I’ve mentioned here before, I find it increasingly hard to live in Seattle and not own a boat. Fortunately, there are many options for getting out on the water, if you start to dig. It’s moderately easy to find someone to rent you a kayak for a few days. At least in a kayak, you’re in no danger of killing anyone but yourself if you fail to yield right-of-way, and signed releases take care of the company’s legal responsibility in that. There are also multiple tour companies offering kayak adventures. Several of us have taken part in a couple of these—they’re very gourmet, with exotic foods like green curry and smoked salmon omelets cooked for you, and tents provided. They involve quite a bit of paddling in my experience, more than we did this weekend. But, they come with guides. And guides impose an order that may not work very well for any particular group, or rather for all the individuals that make up a group.

So a couple months ago, when Erik brought up the idea of the next kayak trip (I love that there’s always a next one—we’ve hit on a winner as far as group vacations go), I immediately started brainstorming ways we could go without having to follow, well, anyone’s framework but my own.

Erik and his sister Sonja, and me and my brother Deane, all have fond memories from Blake Island, a +/- 480 acre self-contained marine state park in Puget Sound between Vashon and Bainbridge Islands. A quick consultation of Google Earth (the traveler’s best friend) showed Blake to be a mere 2 miles from the Vashon ferry dock, where presumably we could launch some boats. After an arduous couple of weeks collecting data on participant interest and availability, I found an outfit on Vashon willing to rent us the kayaks we needed, minus the three we could conveniently bring from Seattle (we were a large group and they didn’t want to have their entire fleet out on tour during one of their busiest weekends of the summer). They were a bit loath at first, hesitatingly telling me that Blake is very, very popular in the summer and trying to get a first-come/first-serve campsite, let alone three, would be very difficult with a Friday arrival. Okay, I replied, six of us will go Thursday. Eventually they agreed to my plan.

About 10 days before we were scheduled to leave, their accountant emailed and asked what time we’d like to start out on Thursday.

“Well, I have some questions,” I wrote back. “Is there a particular time of day, or time of tide, where the currents would be working in our favor, or at least not working too hard against us? Also, what kind of rescue equipment comes with the boats? Paddle floats? Bilge pumps?”

Evidently, these were the right questions, because my initial contact suddenly came back with a long, friendly email stuffed full of interesting information about the tides and the currents. Such as—Colvos Passage, to the west of Vashon Island between it and the peninsula, virtually always has a northerly current (which means it flows north, sometimes meeting a northerly wind, which blows south. The combination can make for some splashy, choppy, um, exciting waves.), regardless of whether the tide is ebbing or flowing. Also, just off the southeast corner of Blake Island sits a shallow sandbank where tide rips and afternoon winds make for some pretty dicey paddling. AND, it was a new moon yesterday, and so the tides were already particularly exciting over the weekend.

To take advantage of the slackest combination of tide and wind we could find, we all agreed upon a 7:00am launch on Thursday and an 8:00am launch on Friday (which meant, of course, leaving home at 5:00am on Thursday to catch the right ferry, and 6:00am on Friday).

Thursday’s early morning paddle was uneventful. We cut out straight across the ferry lane to Blake, and paddled slowly up the west side looking at the beachside camping. The island was quiet and almost empty, except for several small raccoons eating shellfish in the intertidal zone. Around the north end of the island we decided to land for a short time and first check out the Cascadia Marine Trail sites (for paddlers only, but too exposed for our liking, plus you could see downtown Seattle from them and that made me, at least, feel a bit too close to home—where’s the adventure in being in your own backyard? I’m 33, not 6!), then the west side standard sites. As we were landing we experienced our one and only capsize.

The northwest tip of the island is shallow and sandy, and becomes a huge beach at low tide. The tide was still mostly out, but when a couple boats passed by off shore, the wakes they created sent rollers crashing up the shallows and into our boats (literally into Mario and Laela’s, because Mario’s skirt didn’t fit right), and suddenly I’d tipped into the water. I felt a brief urgency when I didn’t just fall out of my boat, and I was reaching for the release loop on my spray skirt when I suddenly realized I hadn’t fallen out because my arm was resting on sand in six inches of water. I pushed, my boat bobbed upright, and I paddled the last 3 or so feet to shore, laughing hysterically and dripping with 45 degree brine. It turns out that spray skirts=not so effective for keeping out volumes of water, but dry bags=very, very good.

We decided on our three sites (at the north end of the west side, in the madronas) and paid for them, set up camp, found the bathroom (real running water!), and pretty much all dropped off to sleep. The remainder of Thursday we spent hiking around the island, and settling into camp. Mia and I walked to Tillicum Village on the other side to buy fire wood and were told a burn ban had just begun—no burning except briquettes allowed until it rained. Well, no biggy, we’d come and get some of those when we needed them for S’mores. Dinner that night was tofu and veggies in peanut sauce that Deane made. Yum.

And I slept on two mattressess.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

My Shadow Riding Shadow's Shadow

 Posted by Picasa

I Can Only Hope An Actual Bear Would Be Less Scary

Today K&A were gone so I had a housesitting day to myself. Still tired from the 8,000 pounds of hay (of which I probably moved at least 12,000 pounds), I read Harper’s and took a nap on the couch after breakfast and letting the horses out. The dogs napped too, sprawled out on the floor around me. Of course it’s undoubtedly hard work being so consistently underfoot while hay is being unloaded.

After I awoke, I sang through my jazz songs for my next performance (estimating beginning pitches based on how low I think I can sing—note to self: get a pitch pipe, or perfect pitch), then took the opportunity of a length of uninterrupted time to paint a couple watercolors for the new art class I’m taking. It turns out, I’m afraid, that I’m not just a dilettante traveler; I’m just a dilettante. Painting, singing, sewing—how Jane Austen can I get? I mean, I’m also a consummate hostess, a bit of a meddler, funny, and verbose. But enough about me.

Back to me—today Shadow and I went out for a ride, leaving all dogs behind. I like to think of dogs as protection from bears; bears don’t like dogs and keep away from them. But A. also seems to imply that dogs could be bear bait, or at least bear distraction while I’m galloping away. Which would be awful, awful, but probably slightly better than being mauled to death. Anyway, today I didn’t take any dogs because I was going to take a long ride, Shadow likes to run, and Marlee still has a bit of a limp (although it’s much better) and Spackle and Kit are just not that strong anymore.

The first half of the ride was perfect—perfect. Beautiful weather, interested horse, and my thighs and sitz bones had given up hurting because, well, it just wasn’t doing them any good. It’s Sunday so there isn’t any logging activity—which is particularly nice, because there’s going to be a double whammy later this summer with logging taking place on both sides of the Jerome Creek road.

Anyway, about 2/3 of the way through our trip we entered some relative old growth on a steep and narrow downhill trail and I saw, right in the middle of the trail in front of us, human poop. Now, I can say with assurance that there are no human habitations conveniently close to this trail. Furthermore, in my experience, humans generally take cover for such activities. Therefore, question: Do bears shit in the woods? Answer: No. They shit in the middle of the trail.

Immediately I noticed the scat, Shadow started at something off to our right down the hill and sped up her pace. I seated myself more firmly on her bare back, very carefully not looking away down the hill, confident that seeing a bear would not, in fact, allow me to feel more calm and collected as my steed crashed through the underbrush reaching into the trail and stumbled over deadfall not yet cleared from last winter (it’s not that commonly used of a trail—more evidence that humans hadn’t been there pooping). I consciously untensed my muscles while I batted pine branches away from my face, and in a couple minutes we emerged, both of us a bit breathless, near old Jerome City and one of the Gold Hill mines.

Now, I feel like a normal person would have considered this to be a close shave and headed straight home. Shadow certainly would have, but since I was already up there I made her take a detour, through more woods, to check on the huge log I tried to clear last year and failed. She kept flicking her ears at me—Really? We’re not going home? ARE YOU INSANE?—but she didn’t ever bolt.

The log is still there, we backtracked through the woods then headed on home, and we arrived after almost two hours and a fantastic outing. Shadow really is a joy on the trail.

Here’s the thing, though, and if anyone can help me figure this out, I’d appreciate it. I don’t like to be ruled by fear. For example, I’m flying to three different places this summer, and I don’t like the idea. So my feelings, when we saw bear scat and then a half mile later I insisted we continue deeper into the woods instead of hightailing it home, were that I wasn’t going to let a fear of bears keep me from checking on that log when it was convenient to do so. But! How can I tell—how does anyone tell—if my fear of bears is irrational—i.e. the scat was old, the bear’s long gone, he’s not interested in me anyway—and should therefore be challenged; or if my fear is actually a survival instinct, some long-forgotten keep-safe-in-the-wild-world sense—i.e. the bear is just waiting for your horse to slip and you to fall off so he can eat you, gorily and painfully—that I should absolutely listen to?

Was is reasonable for me to continue riding around in the woods, or was it bloody stupid?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

After All, This Is What You Asked For

It’s 7:30 in the evening, the sun hasn’t even set (although the house is submerged in a pool of cool dusk), and I’m almost dizzy with exhaustion (and a little with wine). K&A must be made of steel, because 30 minutes ago they took off to drive to Seattle, to attend a family birthday party tomorrow afternoon. They’ll be driving back here tomorrow night. In the last three days we’ve put up almost 8,000 pounds of hay.

Several months ago Ian told me he would be attending a conference in New Orleans from 12-18 July; recently, this seemed to me to be the perfect opportunity to head back to Jerome Creek, this time while K&A were home. I thought that if they were around to deal with attack mares, missing cats, broken gates and escapee neighbor horses, maybe I could slough off some of the emotional scars from my visit in May. “Give me some hard work,” I requested. K took me at my word.

Maybe two years ago, K took advantage of my visit to load some hay into the loft. Horses eat a lot, something like 20 pounds of hay per horse per day in the winter. Fortunately, these horses have close to 80 acres to graze on so they don’t have to be fed hay throughout much of the year. Still, I bucked maybe 40 40-60 pound bales, from the back of the pickup onto the rattling hay elevator. I like bucking hay—it’s hard physical labor, but it’s clean and finite and the hardness is distinctly satisfying.

I suspected, more and more the closer I got to the Palouse this time and the more hay trucks I saw on the roads heading west, that I would be spending at least an hour or two heaving around bales.

Uh, yeah.

So a rundown of my trip to date:

Wednesday: arrive 4:30pm, drop my bags, immediately take Shadow, Spackle and Marlee out for a long ride.

Thursday: up at 7:00 with the dogs (and the gravel trucks racing up the JC road to the Potlatch road because, yes, there’s going to be more logging). Mid-morning, drive to the hay field to load up the truck. Yes, folks, we even picked up our own hay. This involved A. driving the pickup in compound low from bale to bale, me heaving them up (remember, 40-60 pounds) to the tailgate, at least four feet off the ground, and K stacking them in the truck. I think we brought home two loads of about 25 bales each. To unload, A. and I stood in/by the pickup and loaded bales onto the elevator; K stood in the loft and stacked them as they tumbled off. To make our job more interesting, the bales were mostly very poor. That is, the hay is excellent, but the baling was far less than mediocre. We’ve all gotten very good at finessing 50-pound prickly, wiggly, bendy less-than-cubes and only lost maybe 5 (which merely means the hay is already loose, not really lost). Around 4:00 I collected Sikem and went off for a ride with Marlee, checking out the extent to which the beautiful old overgrown logging roads have been graded and widened to make way for dusty clear cuts. In the evening, we had a birthday party for one of the members of On Golden Pond Tours, who were traveling in France and Spain while I was here in May.

Friday: up at 7:00 with the dogs. By 9:00, leaving to load more hay, this time with a flatbed trailer. A., to get her exercise, loaded from the field onto the trailer while I drove and K stacked; we then unhooked the trailer and loaded the pickup (A. driving again). We then unloaded the pickup, then loaded it again, then unloaded, then had lunch, then loaded again and unloaded, then loaded and collected the trailer, then came home (there may have been one fewer loading and unloading . . . but really, by this time it had become a way of life. Another form of breathing. Something you ceased to notice except by its absence). A. went off to work at the Palouse library for a few hours, K had a meeting, I took Toby and Spackle and Kit (Marlee is a little limpy in her left front foot) for a ride. I arrived home about the same time K did and we unloaded the trailer and the pickup (with a bit of help from G&N from up the road). We three ate leftovers, salads with steak (them) and halibut (me).

Saturday: Today I was up at 6:30 because A. and I had riding lessons; we hauled Sikem into Moscow and I had a one-hour flat lesson on him, then A. had a lesson on a borrowed horse. Back home, we exchanged trailers and hitches and trekked off for our final load—both trailer and pickup—of hay. And then we brought it home and unloaded it. As we were finishing up a pickup full of people—two in the front, two in the king-cab back, and maybe five or so in the bed—pulled into the yard and a group of old friends of K&A, aged 1 ½ to 50, all related somehow, spilled out and spent the next hour or so milling about playing fetch with the dogs, petting the horses, sinking into the pond on the “boat”, and discussing the aerial photo of the place that Ian got made last year.

And now I am tired. And K, just turned 65, was the one who handled every last bale at least twice. I only handled most of them twice.

Now, when I come out here where people don’t “exercise” because it turns out they never actually stop, I feel silly about my Pilates and my membership to the rock climbing gym where all I ever do is bouldering. But the fact is, I was remarkably well set up for three days of this hard work—which, I might add, mostly took place in the hot (86-90 degree) sun. My arms are sore (my left arm in particular, which is evidently the weak King John to my right arm's Richard the Lionhearted), but less sore than yesterday (a remarkable thing about the human body—the incredible speed at which strength can be built). And my hands aren’t blistered—in fact, my rock climbing calluses are fortified (I did wear gloves--I'm a tomboy but not delusional). And the rest of me feels great—no joint aches, no nerve twinges, and my lower back and wrist stiffnesses are gone. So, I think I’ll keep up with my exercise routines for the time being—at the very least, so I’m prepared to do Orcas the real way—including bucking hay.

NB--for all you machinists out there, a reader pointed out that it's "compound low," not "compact low." More evidence of extreme exhaustion and a tired personal editor. Thanks, Joel!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Okay, Fine, Not All Camping is Hardship

Case in point: Fourth of July Weekend, 2006 on Lopez Island


1. Camp location. Three sites at Odlin County Park, the three best sites, a little bit in the trees, and with immediate water access. It actually sucked to wake up in my own bed on the 6th and not be able to go directly out to the beach.

2. Boats. One 10 ft. handmade sailboat, two single kayaks and one double, one inflatable with a 6-horse outboard.

3. Food. Gourmet, if I do say so myself. Herbed turkey burgers. Banana pancakes. Fresh-caught crab. Roasted corn on the cob. Breakfast burritos. Hand-picked blueberries. Steaks, or veggies sausages. Fresh biscuits. Cucumber salad. S’mores (hello, of course).

4. Drink. Copious.

5. Weather. Hot and sunny during the days, dry and cold at night. And therefore

6. Sleeping accommodations. Two 3-inch-think foam pads borrowed from my mother, with our two giant cotton-flannel-lined sleeping bags spread on top to make a double bed, in which we slept swathed in fleece so we were warm and unbelievably comfortable.

7. Fun. Badminton, wading, lounging on the beach, trips to town and buying ice cream, jumping off the dock into 52 degree water, Booze Cruises, fireworks, group hikes, fire poi. The Sun Shower to rinse off (but not actually shower with soap. Please. We’re camping.).

1. None, really, even including waiting 5 ½ hours for the ferry on Wednesday, because we got to have ice cream again.