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.