Thursday, October 2, 2014

A Mantra, my homage to Discovery's Naked and Afraid

The mark of summer's end, the Monday of Labor Day weekend, and most people were driving out of the woods. I was driving into them. For miles, my road trailed asphalt until the blacktop gave way to gravel, and finally, to water. Someone once said, "Of all the paths you take in life, make sure some of them are dirt." I would suggest making sure some of them are water too, for magic lives along the trail, certainly, but it is in the lakes, the shimmering rivers, the vast oceans that connect us all where magic is born. 

Setting out in my kayak, I hoped for some magic. I was about to spend four days on a lake mostly alone. Before this trip, I'd never loaded a kayak, or any boat, with the intention of having everything I'd need for a multi-day stay in the woods. The next four days would bring magic and more, and prove once again that luck loves the unprepared. Mixed in with the fun and excitement of a new adventure was moment after moment of learning opportunity. Killer winds, big waves, wet clothes, poor packing, black and blues (including one along my ankle that is still there), thoughts of capsizing, capsizing, loud booms just before 3 am one night (Gun shots? Cannons? Pirates planning to plunder my freeze dried raspberries and granola?), and a relentless Steller's Jay who seemed to want my measly stash of food more than I did most days made for an adventure that, at times, exceeded everything I anticipated. However, I would not be beaten. You see, I had a mantra. One I developed while sitting in the setting sun watching the warm shirt in which I planned to sleep hang from the makeshift clothesline dripping droplets of golden water after yet another mishap in the kayak. Predicting a cold night ahead, I told myself, "But, I'm not naked, I'm not afraid, and I don't have maggots coming out of my butt." The rest is negligible when you look at it that way, isn't it?

In the future, when having a bad day yourself, give that mantra a try. I bet you'll find that it really puts things in perspective. 

Satire aside, the trip was incredible. Despite, and because of, my many errors, the four days on Timothy Lake were some of the best of the summer. See why.

My launching point. Shores and more await. 

A novice to boat-in camping, and specifically, kayak camping, I questioned how all those bags of gear would fit into my 13'9" boat. The two hatches that seemed decently sized at home suddenly became much smaller, and I began to consider what I was willing to leave behind.

Nothing, apparently.  With a few items bungeed on deck and more tucked between my legs, I headed to the northern side of the lake. From the water, I spotted what seemed a stellar spot to camp. With only one way to know for sure, I went ashore.

The site, in addition to having space for my boat, an established fire pit, and a lack of neighbors, also had a room with a 180° lakefront view.

Seemed worth parking the luxury liner, for sure.
After setting up camp, I took an evening paddle just before sunset that chilled my feet, but set my spirit ablaze. The day birds were gone with the sun and the nighthawks had not yet woken to the night. The moment was mine. Across the lake, the developed campground began to flicker, but the fires were few. Summer was ending. Still, the flickering light woven with the musty scent of the lake served as a beacon to something wilder, more native. An instinct, primal, ancient, and mostly dormant, awakened, and for a moment, I felt as wild as the night. A great horned owl alerted the darkening world to her presence- with the night comes a changing of the guard- and I found myself smiling one of those deep smiles that you feel in your legs, your stomach, in your soul- the kind of smile that says you are exactly where you ought to be.
The next morning, fog hung heavy and seagulls called from the clouds. Fish jumped and I made tea. From the water's edge, I watched the fog lift. Watching fog is like scaling back a painting stroke by stroke to see what lies beneath, to find that the canvas is never fully blank.

When the fog lifted and the morning's canvas was revealed, Mt. Jefferson peeked from the south and a congregation of Mergansers skimmed the lake in search of an aquatic breakfast of algae and snails. 

Feeling hungry myself, I, too, found breakfast. As I boiled water for the granola, I noticed I had a visitor, and a bold visitor at that. My brave, yet uninvited guest showed no fear in dive bombing my food bag, bowl of cereal, or whatever else caught its eye. I would not eat in peace for the remainder of the trip. At every meal for the next three days, my unwanted company would stalk and continually try to outsmart me in an attempt to steal my food. Persistent and relentless, it forced me to keep my bear bag hung day and night. Not for bears, mind you. No, it wasn't a 600 pound, sharp-toothed wild animal that kept my bear bag in the trees, but this, a little 4 ounce featherball, that would gladly have taken my thumb off if it meant getting a chunk of cheddar cheese too. I mean, look at that face. That is the face of war. 
I was to have more visitors that day, but these were expected, and likely a lot nicer than the Jay. For example, they probably wouldn't steal my food. My visitors, long time family friends from Vermont, were coming by foot and by boat, and I couldn't wait. I hooked a bright blue life jacket to a log in the water in front of my camp to serve as a marker for those coming by water, and hung a towel to a tree for those on foot. Unfortunately, my towel was green.
I have smart and observant friends though. The markers didn't go unnoticed, and we longtime/onetime Vermonters were reunited on Mt. Hood. We hoped to spend the afternoon the way we always used to in Vermont- swimming, boating, and being together by the water, but just before they arrived, a wind kicked up from the west. Whitecaps leapt across the lake, and the wind seemed to blow directly across the water and into my site. Instead of bathing suits, we wore jackets. Instead of paddles, hiking shoes. Still, it was a great afternoon. Too bad I don't have any pictures to prove it.

Later in the day, and after my friends left, two things happened- the wind died down some, and I realized I came out here partly to become familiar with my new kayak. So, in the water the boat and I went- quite literally, as it turned out. Before capsizing, however, I had another wonderful evening paddle. The stretch of shore from Meditation Point on was mine without a neighbor in sight but for an eagle perched high in the trees and mergansers on the rocks. The wind blew warm and the sky turned pink. 

When the wind began to pick up again, I paddled back to camp. Knowing I had a rocky beach landing with more rocks and logs lurking under the water, I didn't want to come in too fast and crash my new boat (some of you may remember the snowmobile incident). I tried to compensate for the wind with balance and precision. I must have over-compensated, though, because the next thing I knew, I was coming up for air, flipping the boat over, and pulling it to shore. My first wet exit.   

With the shirt I planned to sleep in hanging in the last of the day's sun with no hope of drying in time, the wind blowing cold into my campsite, and the Steller's Jay casing my bland and uninspiring dinner, I chided myself for packing so poorly. Then I thought of Naked and Afraid, maggots, starvation and fear, and I came up with my mantra. For I wasn't naked, I wasn't afraid, and I certainly didn't have maggots anywhere near my butt. Life was good! 

The following day was windy, but beautiful. I pushed off from shore and headed out for a good, long paddle. My boat, an Eddyline Samba, lived up to her name. She danced with the waves, and if I timed it right, surfed them. Mt. Hood provided the perfect backdrop.

After playing in the waves and the wind for awhile, I felt confident heading back to camp. I believed I knew my boat and understood her rhythms, and I wasn't the least bit concerned about over-compensating. Perhaps I should have been.

Clothes in the dryer after a second wet exit. These low profile boats are tricky!

On the last day, the wind seemed to be blowing harder than ever, and by the looks of it, I would be taking waves broadside. I loaded my kayak the best I could in terms of weight and balance, but mostly I just hoped for the best. As I set out for the car, the first wave came over the deck. I was sorry I'd forgotten the bilge pump at home. When the second wave came over, I hoped I loaded the boat properly, the way the books said. With the third wave, I promised myself that if I got back to the car with all of my gear intact, next summer I would load the boat on the very first nice day, take it out on the lake and practice rolling. I wasn't scared for my life or anything like that, but I was a little concerned about my brand new boat and all of my beautiful backpacking gear being swamped at the bottom of a very deep lake. But like I said, luck loves the unprepared. Plus, there's magic in these waters.    

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial words

All day today, I read "Happy Memorial Day" messages (which, by the way, I don't quite understand) along with many more words of sincere gratitude and thanks to our American men, women, and animals who have sacrificed in our country's name. Yet still, something was missing. As I got my hair cut, drove to the bed store for Memorial Day sales, and walked the dogs in the park, I thought of our fallen soldiers. Yet still, something was missing. Tonight, just before dinner, I shared this with my partner. She nodded and showed me some words by a friend of hers. By nature, these words should never have resonated. I'm not apologetic. I would never suggest that god keep you, me, or anyone. War is not my fault. Yet still, these words, written by a preacher man from upstate NY, finally filled what was missing for me today. "When individuals struggle with things in the same space at the same time, they become a culture that struggles with them." 

By Kevin Hershey: 
This Memorial Day, many people will offer words of posthumous thanks to you who gave your lives in service to our country, and to your family and friends who deal with the ongoing sacrifice of loss. I echo that gratitude. What I want to say far more is, I’m sorry. 

I’m sorry that our world can’t figure out the way to peace. I’m sorry, beyond the giving of your life, there was a need for warriors in the first place, for you to meet. I’m sorry you were asked to make choices that pulled you away from family and friends, a life without fear, and the longevity you might have otherwise had.

I’m sorry, not just in the conceptual awareness of the “world’s” mistakes, but I’m sorry for my own. To my knowledge, I haven’t caused any wars. But, I have let anger overcome me to say and do things I knew were wrong. I have let self-righteousness convince me that I knew what was best and didn’t need to listen to another. I have allowed fear to paralyze me to inaction when I knew action was needed. To me, these are the things at the very foundation of war. And when individuals struggle with these things in the same space at the same time, they become a culture that struggles with them. And when a culture struggles with them enough, the poor communal decisions born out of it become those that lead to war. I would bet that every war that ever was or ever will be, has roots in just these kinds of weaknesses – in people, in groups, in countries, in cultures.

So, to those remembered today, I am sorry for my part in perpetuating the world’s culture of war. I am also a part of working toward the world’s culture of peace. And your sacrifice has given me more time and opportunity to work harder toward the latter. I’m trying. Thank you. God keep you.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Pirates Beware

The prompt:

You’re a pirate on a small pirate ship, that consists of only you, one other pirate and a captain. Recently you ransacked another ship and found a treasure map. After weeks of following it, you’ve finally found the island where “X” marks the spot. Write a scene where you find the buried treasure, only it’s not exactly the treasure you expected to find. 

My story (540 words):

Tis expectations, not cannons, that drown men of the sea, me wise mother phropheted some two score and four years ago when me set down to the water in search of a piratin’ job. For forty-four years, I held those words close to me breastbone and kept me expectations low. Twas likely those low expectations that caused me to be aboard a rickety ship one morning raisin’ me hand to go ashore. For inevitably the time arrives in a man’s life, and certainly a pirate man’s life, when ye is forced upon a decision: swim toward something or start sinking. Ye see, me mother, may she slumber in peace, was wrong. Ye can’t stand in one place too long ‘fore eventually, ye find ye are standin’ in quicksand.

Twas all these years of obeyin’ the captain, layin’ beneath the rails, partakin' in but not leadin’ the plunders that kept me stuck to this rancid cog for so long- a dinghy at most, big enough for one other mate, a captain, and the predictable parrot. Over the years, me noticed even the bilge rats expected better for theeselves, takin’ departure of this miserable yawl for the bigger ships. The ones that promised deep waters and vast riches. Ye take yer lessons where ye get them, I s’pose. Aye, them bilge rats twas how I come to be that day with me hand in the air offerin’ to step ashore whilst me mateys remained at the bow. Other pirates twas in the area and the captain did not liken to leave our vessel unmanned. For word was about- our wee crew had taken possession of the most coveted map on the seven seas. The four oceans too, but that didn’t sound nearly as poetic.

With the map in me pocket, I waded to shore. On me shoulders were the dreams of me captain and me mate- a bigger boat, a larger crew, more swag for grog and the pretty lasses at port. Me dreams were present too, but they were different than me mates. I had a yearnin’ to captain me own ship, sail me own seas. For once, I had me own expectations, and they were risin’ like a strong spring tide, pulled by some power beyond me reckoning. 

The map twas not difficult to follow, and soon me feet stood where X marked the spot. Sweat profused out me eyes as I dug towards me golden future beneath the sand. Me pockets felt weighty, as though they were already overflowed with the riches below-- 

Aye, in retrospect, if pirates had retrospect, the writing twas on the wall.

Me fortune never came. Nor me boat nor me seven seas. Me captain, in his despair, threw himself to the sea. Me matey and I spent the remainder of our days drowning our sorrow in drink and the occasional wench. Rumor has it the parrot took to the streets and spent the last of his life begging for crackers. Ye see, the map proved a fraud. For beneath the X twas no treasure, twas nothing fortuitous or even worth takin'- twas nothing but a picture already fadin’ in color.

Twas nothing but what modern day thieves know as the Mona Lisa.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

When you were three

Recently, I signed up with a website that sends out weekly writing prompts. Because you can post what you write on their site, they suggest keeping your response to 500 words or less. Mine comes in at 479. I'm posting it here because I'm curious to know what you guys think- is it interesting? Hokey? Badly written or what? This kind of writing is way out of my realm! Thanks, Lisa

Here is the prompt I worked on last night:

You wake up one morning to find that you are your three year old self, with your parents again, with all of the memories and experiences of your current life. Write this scene and express the emotion and frustration your character undergoes as you internally try to sort this out. 

My response:

You were three when the owl box was hung. The tree stood about a hundred feet from the living room window. It would be good for owl watching, your father had said. Later that night when you and your sister still believed an owl would come to the box and were checking it every few minutes, she said that it had been there for 100 years and it was very, very old. You asked her what was very old. “The tree, silly,” she said nudging you playfully with her elbow. “If Daddy cut it down, we would be able to count the circles inside to know how old it really is. Maybe it’s more than a hundred. Maybe it’s two hundred!”

You recall that conversation as you look at yourself in the bathroom mirror. As you attempt to conceal another sleepless night, you realize: circles don’t tell shit about age. Circles tell pain. Pain that goes around and around like the amusement park ride that spins so fast it doesn’t even matter when the floor drops out from under you because you’re stuck to the wall. You can’t move. You haven’t been able to move for thirteen years. Now you realize you have run out of concealer and you have to be at school in 15 minutes. You leave with one eye uncovered. Unprotected. This lack of protection is just enough of an opening for the hand of time to slip through and return you to your third year of life.

You understand you are not really three again. You vaguely wonder if you've slipped into some other dimension, one that includes time travel and rabbit holes. You don’t much care; those aren’t the answers you seek. Six months have gone by since the owl box was hung. Like an unfulfilled promise, it hangs in the air crooked and empty. Your sister has all but forgotten it, but you occasionally still look. You are only three, yet you have a patience about you, one that is grounded in hope. 

 This time when you’re three and you see your father crying at his desk or in the kitchen when he believes he is alone, you don’t get scared and run to your room. This time you go to him and crawl into his lap. You ask him what’s wrong. You put your head on his chest and your arms around his neck. You feel his stubbly beard poke through your hair as he rests his chin on your head. His soft lips, the ones he would very soon wrap around the barrel of a gun, kiss your forehead. You wait for him to answer.

Thirteen years later, you are still waiting. Waiting for the owl, and for something to fill the empty space. You have a patience about you. You are beginning to understand: it is this patience, this ability to wait, that will keep you moving.

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 do not 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 got a kick out of that. 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.