Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ski to Tent (from 7300 foot elevation to 1800)

The Ski to Tent Event!

Blooming trillium poked from the ground. Varied thrush, back from the valleys, called once again from the forest floor, and the river rushed by gray with silt and the promise of spring on its back. Thirty miles up the road spring skiing was at its best. There are days in April that are simply too spectacular, too wonderful, too beautiful to go inside. A plan was needed. Soon, like so many things under the spring sun, one was hatched: The First Annual Ski to Tent Event. If the weather held, I would ski from 9-12 on Saturday, return home, grab my backpack and Wisdom (the dog not the smarts), and hit the trail by late afternoon for an overnight hike along the Salmon River. To merge skiing with backpacking seemed adventurous and a bit out of the ordinary for me. Typically, my seasonal sports don't associate. 

With a predicted overnight low of 40 degrees, I was reminded that it may be spring, and very well April, but it's still Oregon, and still Mt. Hood. A cold night would mean a long night, and with dry tinder and firewood hard to come by in the woods this time of year, Wisdom and I left the trailhead late Friday afternoon with two packs stuffed with firewood to cache along the trail somewhere.  

Guess who got to carry them both? 
Let's just say Wisdom isn't named Wisdom for nothing. 

We hiked in a couple of miles, exchanged pleasantries with a few day hikers, and didn't spot a single backpacker. Pleased at the possibility of being the only ones out there the following night, I unloaded and hid the wood in a tree hollow near where I hoped to camp. There's something about giving a wave to the last of the day hikers that excites me. When their packs disappear down the path for the final time, things, somehow, become wilder yet more peaceful; solitary, yet more connected. You understand that the old growth trees know this in the way things like this are known. As do the fish following ancient waterways in the river below. You understand it's you who must relearn the rhythms of the forest.  

Much to Wisdom's disappointment, we didn't stay out very long. It was back to the car to go home, sort gear for both skiing and backpacking, and get to bed early for the first ever Ski to Tent Event!

The following morning, arguing crows outside my window woke me before my alarm. A bluebird sky stretched in all directions. Directions like down to my toes and out to my fingertips. You know the kind of excitement I mean. I downed some yogurt and a banana, threw my ski equipment in the car, and told Wisdom to rest up for later. The day was underway.

Mt. Hood from the parking lot at Meadows Ski Resort

On the lift for first tracks

With spring skiing, you never know what you're going to get. The conditions are variable, just like the weather. The first few runs were like skiing on concrete, but the snow was amazing once it softened. The black and double black runs kept my quads burning and skis turning. From about 10:30 until 11:15, Heather Canyon had some of the best skiing of the season. The snow was forgiving and fun. The kind of snow that makes you feel like a hero banging out turn after beautiful turn down the empty canyon walls.

The morning, and the ski, of the Ski to Tent Event sped by, and before I knew it, I was back at the car. Instead of my skis turning, it was my mind turning now. Driving home, I ran through my checklist several times for backpacking. Mainly I wondered if I packed enough (and the correct) layers for spring camping. Having never camped so early in the season in the mountains before, the truth was, I didn't know.   

After lunch and a quick dip in the hot tub, Wisdom and I were at the trail head ready for the next leg. 

 Note the t-shirt and overall warm weather look

Now note that the days may grow longer in April, but spring itself still sets early. It wasn't long before I broke into the cached firewood, and the extra clothing too. 

By the time the sun set, I had on wool socks, wool long underwear, soft shell pants, a t-shirt, two long-sleeved wool shirts, and a wool hat. Before crawling into my sleeping bag a few hours later, I added fleece pants, a down jacket, and lightweight gloves. However, the gloves made me hot. I thought that was funny. All this down, fleece, and wool, but it was the cotton gloves that tipped my internal thermometer. Once I took them off, I was the perfect temperature for a night in the woods in April. You know the problem though? Eventually, I would have to emerge from my warm little cocoon.

When that inevitable moment arrived the following morning, I went straight to my trusty alcohol stove and got some water boiling for tea before anything else.

I would proceed to drink three cups before even thinking about breakfast or a fire. However, I found that a little chill when drinking tea at the river's edge with your dog at your side is actually quite tolerable.  

(Speaking of the dog and for those of you wondering, I checked on Wisdom throughout the night to be sure she was warm enough. Each time I woke up, she was either making happy dog noises or sleeping soundly. No problem there.)

The morning was cold, but pretty. Wisdom and I went for a wildflower walk and spotted wild calla, glacier lilies, trillium, western buttercup, and many other early bloomers that I can't name. Sunlight flowed downstream into our camp. 

After awhile, the Ski to Tent Event came to its natural closing. I slowly packed up camp happy to have gotten out so early in the season and pleased to have completed the goal, although I didn't feel as accomplished as I thought I would. I think it's because the event wasn't as challenging as I anticipated. I'm already thinking about next year and what to do to increase the difficulty. Certainly, we had a good time though, and I can tell you that someone definitely didn't want to come home. 


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Say thank you

She ate a bongo drum while we were in Bora Bora. Not the whole thing- that would be piggish- no, she only ate the drumheads, the animal skins, that were stretched across the two open ends of the instrument. At that moment, everything I'd read, everything I'd heard about her and her kind was confirmed: beagles do indeed march to the beat of their own drum. Quite literally, it turned out, for some of them. They do what they want when they want. It seems so simple really when you write it, but here was our petsitter scrambling once again to get Emmy to the emergency animal hospital for X-rays and consultation. Thousands of miles away in Bora Bora, we tried to stay positive because, despite this little dog's behavior that has cost us in the past 6 months a weekend at the coast, a Jamaican bongo drum, multiple trips to the ER, and thousands of dollars in veterinary bills, we really didn't want her going anywhere. Might as well add our hearts to the list of expenditures, too, because clearly, they're not ours anymore. Eventually, we received word that she was OK; the X-rays came back negative. No blockage or obstruction. As our vet so astutely pointed out, at least she had the good sense to chew before swallowing. 

So, life with the beagle continued.

I often think of that bumper sticker that says My golden retriever is smarter than your honor student. Let me tell you, we have both, and the golden retriever is easy. It's the beagle we're constantly trying to outsmart. After her first trip to the ER, one that included a two night stay for eating 165 glucosamine tablets from an unopened, childproofed bottle, we knew we had to come up with something or else- DUN-DUN-DUUUUUN- she was going in the crate. And Emmy hates the crate. So, out came the baby gate to block off the back of the house, the counters and living room were cleared of anything considered even remotely interesting to a beagle's nose (how could we know the drum would strike her fancy?), and all of the dogs' supplements, treats, and anything else edible were moved to the pantry. The only thing we have to do now before leaving the house is remember to put down a treat-stuffed toy, put up the baby gate, and shut the pantry door. But hey, I never claimed to be smarter than an honor student. That's how I came to be in a panic Thursday night when I realized I left the house and forgot to shut the door. 

Already parked at the Moda Center, I had tickets to see Andre Agassi, my favorite tennis player of all time, play in a one night tournament in Portland. I started calling everyone I knew who had a key to the house, but I couldn't reach anyone. Should I go home and shut the door? Was another trip to the emergency room riding on my decision? I called my friend who was on her way to meet me, but she wasn't answering either. I willed Emmy to stay on the couch and be a good girl, but I also knew that didn't mean much if her own will kicked up and encouraged her to reach high onto the forbidden shelves of the pantry. I tried to remember what was in reach. Could she get to the glucosamine? 

Finally, a friend with a key responded. She could be there in an hour, she said. Oh sweet relief! I was/am still/will always be so grateful. She texted me a little later to say my neighbor was also at the house when she got there. Together they let the dogs out, played with them a little, and perhaps most importantly, shut the pantry door before they left. Everyone was safe, and I got to watch a hero from my youth win one last tournament. Later that night, I made a "thank you video" with Emmy for my friend and neighbor. Emmy was a great performer until I asked her to say thanks. Watch the little stink's body language change when I tell her to say thank you. Such a turd!  


Emmy is also the sweetest girl. You can feel it when she curls in next to you on the couch or when she stops to give you a kiss before crawling under the blankets for the night. You can see it when she walks down the street, tail wagging from side to side, confident that everyone and everything wants to say hello to her. I'm convinced her insides are made of everything that is wonderful in this world. 

I guess that's the thing with beagles- you never know what they have in mind. Sure, there are some constants. You know you're going to get a sweet, funny, loving, little dog who wants nothing more than to be with you, a good friend, but what else? An entire box of treats eaten while you're out of the house? An overdose on glucosamine tablets? A bongo drum gone missing perhaps? Frantic calls to friends? A vet tech once said about Emmy, "She is like a college freshmen who has an all night bender and feels like crap for two days, but next weekend, she's out doing it all over again." I suppose this, this ying and yang, the salty with the sweet, is why people come up to Emmy all the time with open arms, huge smiles, and happy looks on their faces. They say fondly and without a hint of irony, "Oh, a beagle! I had a beagle." Pause. "Once." HA. Just makes me love my little drummer girl even more. 

Every snack you make, every meal you bake, every bite you take, I'll be watching you.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Chartering Bora Bora

After three and a half days of a quiet existence on Taha'a, we say good-bye to the little island and board a fishing boat to Bora Bora. Other than the crew and perhaps some bait, Kimi and I are the only two on board.

Our ride to Bora.

Approaching Bora Bora by air is stunning, but to approach the island by water is to see her shores the way the Polynesians have for centuries. Frigate birds circle above schools of mahi mahi. Terns, wintering here from the arctic, follow tuna through the currents, and on the horizon, Bora Bora sits majestically upon her watery throne. She is the queen of these islands; we, merely her subjects.

Flying fish escort us north across the Pacific. One travels at least 15 feet before falling back to the sea. Even our captain, born and raised on these waters, is impressed. As we draw closer to Bora Bora, green-bottomed clouds reflect the island's lagoon like a road sign in the Pacific. On the low-lying island chains to the south, it is these reflective clouds that guide lost fishermen to land. We, too, are given a chance for reflection as our captain tells of a Polynesian history that, unfortunately, isn't so ancient. He speaks of a culture- no, that's too easy of a word- he speaks of a people, moms and grandfathers, pushed to the edges of extinction. He tells of a group of people who lost their customs, their beliefs, and nearly their language to another man's ideals. He shares all this with humor, wisdom, and I believe, a sense of responsibility- to the past, but also the future.

I ask him what he thinks is the answer. "Well, we aren't going back," he responds. "Nope," I agree. "The answer," he says, "is respect. Respect Mother Earth. Respect each other." The green-bottomed clouds are almost on top of us now. I look up and think about his answer.

If a man, living on a volcanic rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles from land in any direction knows this, what's our excuse?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Bora Bora Birthday

I woke up a year older today. Funny how birthdays do that to you. Just when you think life is going fine- BAM! You're over the hill, more than halfway to 80. No offense to the octogenarians out there, but I think I might jump.

Then again, we're in the French territories. Maybe a sabre would be better? We all know how much Napoleon loved his sword.

Wait? What's that you say? There's champagne?

Perhaps I should rethink this jugular thing. After all, Napoleon loved his champagne too, and legend around here has it that this is how he opened his bottles on the battlefield.

With a pop, the cork lands in the lagoon. Guess I have to jump in after all. Cheers to that! And cheers to the octogenarions too! See you soon!

Maruuru, everyone, thanks for all the birthday wishes today!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Meet Big Papi

We've had stray cats on vacation, even a stray dog or two, but a stray pufferfish was certainly a first. He showed up around dinner time on our first night and hung out by our swim ladder staring at us with his big, soft eyes. When he drooped them for added effect, we knew we were in for it. And judging from his size, we weren't the first. Soon, we were carrying him bread home from breakfast and dinner and calling him Big Papi after the Red Sox slugger.

Meet Big Papi.

Big Papi was never far from a meal. He showed up for breakfast and dinner on his own, but we could also lure him over for lunch by tossing bread into the water. With eyes on the side of his head, he couldn't always find the bread when it was right in front of him. He would make this funny glub glub slurping noise as he aimed with mouth wide open.

Sometimes he nailed it.

And sometimes he didn't.

Just like the Red Sox slugger.

Later at breakfast (ours, not Big Papi's), we met a fellow whose son-in-law pitches for the Red Sox. He won the championship with them last year. We told him about the Big Papi of French Polynesia and talked a little sports, the common language of travelers. Turns out they were Oregon Duck fans too!

On that note, it's nearly time for the Super Bowl. Go Hawks! We'll be watching from Bora Bora on the Australian feed. Somehow, I don't think the commercials will be as good!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, January 31, 2014

Catching Rays

(Please excuse the more than usual typos, grammatical errors, missed editing, and lack of creativity- it's too beautiful to think much here. )

After 22 hours of travel, 6000 miles, 8 take-offs and departures, a boat ride, and stops at Los Angeles, Tahiti, Moorea, and Raiatea, we finally arrived at the motu or islet Tautau, just off the main island of Taha'a. The water glistened with at least six shades of blue. Hot and sticky, all I wanted was to jump into one of them. The baby blue color at the shoreline looked more than satisfactory. However, it's customary and a bit unfortunate, that when you arrive on a motu in the middle of the South Pacific someone expects you to check in with them. For the next 45 minutes, as I got hotter and stickier by the word, we learned about every amenity the resort had to offer, including the tennis courts, volleyball net, and horseshoe pits. Perhaps though, I shouldn't be so tongue in cheek; surely, the possibility existed that we would have an urge to throw iron horseshoes at sticks in the sand. There is a first for everything.

Finally, after a quick viewing of the ice maker on our dock, we arrived at our overwater bungalow. We were down to mere formalities now- sign here, initial there. Quite literally, the tennis courts were behind us. The big blue stretched in all directions. I was already picturing where in my suitcase I packed my bathing suit.

"Now, let me show you your bungalow......." What? The words teased more than the water rippling below our feet. I mean, the bungalow was one room with a shower and bathroom area. I felt confident in our ability to find the toilet when needed. Apparently, our hostess believed differently. So, a tour around the bed and bathroom it was. I guess it was a good thing though because without the tour, I'm not sure I would have spotted the bath towel sitting so close to the tub. I kept my impatience in check, however, and even managed to portray an acceptable wonder for the location of the TV remote tucked away in the most novel of places- the top drawer of the desk. Thankfully, the universe recognized good effort that day, and soon I was rewarded with the sweetest of words: "Maaruru. Enjoy your stay." I was free. Free to throw my cares to the sky. Free to let them drift out to sea with the soft Tahitian clouds. Free to do nothing with my time but think lazy thoughts and dream lazy dreams. "Na na, bye-bye" I said to my cares already floating with the clouds, "Don't come back with the tide." And from my experience in the South Pacific, they don't.

After swimming until waterlogged, Kimi and I caught some rays on the deck while our eyes caught rays in the water. Stingrays, one of the most graceful fish in the sea, were swimming along the lagoon floor right next to our bungalow. They would continue to do so the four days we were there. After a few failed attempts with timing and my camera, I finally got smart and set my gear in one place by the ladder.

It helped.

Later, another fish came to say hello. This one had sharper teeth and more cartilage than the rays. Also a dorsal fin. About 25 feet from where I stood, a Black Tip Reef Shark passed through the shallows. I called to Kimi to look, "That's a reef shark, right?" "Yep," she confirmed, "a black tip." Interesting. I didn't expect to have them for neighbors. I've seen, even snorkeled with reef sharks before, but always after a boat ride, a comfortably long boat ride, to reach them. Taha'a suddenly became a lot more exciting. My gear stood ready at the ladder.

Excitement is not usually the draw to Taha'a. It is off the beaten Polynesian path without even an airport of its own. The island has two resorts- one on the main island, and ours situated on the motu. There is a water taxi that will take you from our motu to the main island, but unless you have one of the two excursions Taha'a offers, your outing will be exploring the dock on which you were left. There are no taxis, restaurants, or malls. No movie theaters or shopping unless you want to buy fuel. Apparently, there is a gas station near the pier. Simply put, Taha'a welcomes tourists, but doesn't exist for them. And why would it? Of the 50 overwater bungalows at our resort, only 15 are occupied. Assuming two to a bungalow with a couple of kids scattered throughout, we are on a motu with perhaps 35 others. If Bora Bora is considered sleepy, Taha'a is comotose. Yet, the voice of the wild earth is awake. And awakens. Birds squawk at each other high over the lagoon, the distant surf pounds the sand, fish jump, and the ocean water will lap at your soul if you let it. In Taha'a, there is no other sound and no other moment. I'm not very Zen-like and even I understood that.

A stingray moving below the current caught my eye. Always in search of the one great picture, I slid into the water armed with mask, snorkel, and camera. There wasn't time for fins. I turned on the camera and looked for the ray. Instead, I saw a fin. A shark moved right in front of me. Surprised (just a bit!), I somehow managed to push the shutter button before it darted for deeper waters.

I'm reminded of another time in the islands when I was facetiming with my family in New York. My niece enjoyed giving me different directives as I jumped into the water. Jump backwards, Aunt Lisa, do a flip, put your mask on she instructed, but the cutest and most memorable was when she yelled in her sweet, excitement-filled four year old voice, "Catch a shark, Aunt Lisa!" Oh, how I wanted to catch a shark for my niece that day. I wanted to ride it into her heart so she knew deep in the place where things like this are stored, that I would do anything for her. However, the resorts in Bora Bora are crowded (at least compared to Taha'a standards) and the sharks know better than to hang around them. I did a few more jumps and said good-bye to my family sans shark, but those words became a part of my Bora Bora story. I don't think of my trips here without hearing their sweet music. So this picture is for Hayley: Aunt Lisa caught a shark!

Our four days on Taha'a were some of the most beautiful. The days stretched long and time was measured like this: time to wake, time to sleep, time to eat, time to swim, time to read, time to write. Time to be.

Peace out.

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Saturday, January 4, 2014

An account of last night

As you may know, we haven't had much of a winter out here. The snow folk stand ready, but we stand in sneakers and lightweight coats because, as of today, Mt. Hood has only received 23% of its typical snowfall. However, yesterday's ski report from Meadows promised a blue sky and warm sun today, so last night I got all my gear ready for the morning to make my first turns of the season. I set my alarm early enough to take the dogs for a walk and feed them before hitting the slopes. The temperatures have been so warm that the early part of the day provides the best, although not quiet skiing (think: ice). Whatever snow there is turns soft by the afternoon, then freezes overnight, and is icy again by morning. However, this east coaster prefers ice over slush any day of the week, so early morning skiing it is. When you grow up on the slopes of northern Vermont, you quickly learn to ski ice. You must for your bones depend on it. These days, my bones have softened from years on the west coast and age, but tucked away, deep within their marrow and their matter, they still recall being 10 years old and flying down the ice, skidding into the lift line slightly out of control, hoping ski patrol didn't see, and if they didn't, ready to do it all over again. That's why they say you can feel it in your bones. Because that's where the things that count are felt. Are known. I'm not a diehard ski bum anymore, if I ever even was, but last night just before falling asleep, I dreamt of the slopes. But, what's that saying about the best laid plans? They often go awry?

At about 130 last night, I was awoken by the dogs going nuts. I mean, nuts. They were both barking and growling like crazy. I tried to get them to calm down, but they were too excited to listen. Eventually, I got out of bed and looked out the window to see if anything was going on here or at the neighbor's, but I didn't see anything. Again, I tried to get the dogs to be quiet, to let them know they had done their job. I was more than fully awake and alert, but still, they wouldn't listen. I looked out the window again, but didn't see anything. Then, just as I was about to turn to the dogs once more, to implore them to please shut up, I saw something in the road between my place and the neighbor's- a big, light-colored animal of some sort. At first I thought it was a dog and looked for a person, but didn't see anyone with it. As it stood in the road with its head cocked over its shoulder looking toward my house, I wondered if it belonged to the people who lived on the river. They have a big husky who sometimes gets out, but I didn't think they were up this weekend, and it was so late. The animal was a little out of reach for my eyes to get a good picture of it, but something about it hinted at the wild, seemed un-doglike, but the late hours can play those kinds of tricks. Then, before I could really make sense of it all, the animal darted into the woods. My dogs quieted down and I was left wondering what I saw. A coyote? A loose dog? A wolf? Do we even have wolves on Mt Hood, and if we do, would one be walking down my street? I couldn't sleep, so I did some looking around on google. We do have wolves on Mt Hood, but they're rare. In fact, they're very rare in Oregon overall, which surprised me. I chalked it up to most likely being a coyote, a big one at that, but I've seen plenty of coyotes and something about it nags at me. I wish I would've had more time to see the animal, even if only to find out it was a neighborhood dog who got out. Eventually, I fell back asleep, but you know how that kind of sleep is. A few hours later when my alarm went off, neither the dogs nor I budged. Actually, that's not true. I moved just enough to turn the alarm off before falling promptly back to sleep until 1015! At 1030, my neighbor called to ask if I heard the blood-curdling scream last night. She said she heard a scream at about 1230 that turned her blood cold. She wasn't sure if it was human or animal, but it made her get up, turn her outside lights on, and set her house alarm. I told her I didn't hear it, but shared with her my story. She said her dog was going crazy too. She wonders if it was a mountain lion. I think it's possible by the way she described the sound, and they have been spotted in the vicinity, but what I saw was definitely not a mountain lion. Also, whatever she heard happened an hour before whatever I saw, although it's hard to imagine the two events being unrelated. By the time we got off the phone and I had the dogs fed and walked, it was too late for skiing. However, there's a mystery brewing in these woods, and I can feel it in my bones. 

Update: The woman with the husky just walked by, so I ran out to ask her if it got loose last night. It didn't.