Monday, August 31, 2009

Sherpas without pants

In honor of my Summer Denial I would like to share with you the summit of the Cascades. I chose this because once winter hits here there is no denial that summer is definitely over. This is along route 20 in Chelan County going through Washington Pass. This spiky jagged mountain is Liberty Bell Mountain and Early Winter Spires. It is more than 7700 vertical feet of massive granite. Now, that’ll make a few counter tops. We stopped at an overlook that was incredibly beautiful and incredibly dizzying if you looked down. I don’t consider myself afraid of heights but I’m not an idiot, I know where the ground is and exactly how far I am from it. There was a gorgeous wooden fence that ran along the cliff edge of the viewing platforms. It followed insane angles and I had to wonder if there metal rods within that wood because I couldn’t imagine anything less safe looking than this fence.

Liberty Bell and Early Winter Spires are called the sentinels of the pass and as you approach them you notice a sharp transition in the landscape. It becomes drier and the trees spread out more to reveal shrub brush and pine needle floors. Around November they will close this pass for the winter. One year we had come as far as the blockade. The rocks were covered in ice from the freezing waterfalls and the snow was quickly building up all around. It was abundantly clear why the pass had to be closed. This place looked like something out of the last ice age. I could believe that there were saber toothed tigers and woolly mammoths trundling around up there. What I couldn't believe was that someone had once looked at this treacherous mountain pass and thought “Sure, I could put a road through there.”

Mount Liberty Bell and Early Winter Spires are a big draw for climbers. You know, those crazy fools who like to suit up in weird combinations of biker spandex and Sasquatch hunter camouflage with little grippy shoes and boots. There are alien looking metal clips made from alloys of things like titanium, Teflon, diamond, and sea urchin rubber created in a lab on the Space Shuttle. They carry ropes tacked in seemingly random areas on their fat free bodies, which are made of some uber new age silk threaded stainless steel titanium coated non friction/water proof nylon. Somewhere in all the fancy mutant metals and fibers something will be made with hemp. Just keeping it real.

I have tremendous respect for these insanely fit specimens of the race. These glorious fools who revel in the idea of spending a day climbing some giant chunk of jagged earth thrust up into the sky while they try not to die. No, these creatures are not daunted by the staggering heights, sheer cliffs, loose rocks and sudden gusts of wind. They have their Space Shuttle REI gear and trusty Sherpa guide to keep them safe. So what if the Sherpa guide is really a Troll doll with a llama wool hat and no pants? He has a really cool vibe. And so as I drive by in my comfortable car with its wheels firmly on the ground and a cooler of snacks within reach on the backseat, I salute you, fearless mountain climber dudes and your pant less Sherpa guide.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Fall can wait

I have heard some people say that fall is on the way. I have seen those big yellow buses full of the latest fads, back packs, Ipods and embarrassing hairstyles. I have seen the slight slant in the sunlight and the moon creeping in a little earlier each day. Sure, I have seen it all and I stand firmly in DENIAL. I refuse to accept the inevitable, the obvious. I will not begin bringing in the lawn furniture or put away the oscillating fan. Oh, I may not use the fan but it’s going to be right there if I need too. No dust is going to gather on those shiny blades, baby. I also refuse to pull out my sweaters and comforters for that fall cleaning. And I will not relinquish my sandals for fuzzy lined boots one minute before my toes are actually falling off my feet in little ice pellets.

We should have about another month and a half of very nice weather here in the Northwest and I plan to use every single second of it to its fullest. I am going to have my coffee out by the pond every morning where the sun will warm my skin till I am good and ready to leave. I will take naps in the hammock, falling asleep while looking up at deep blue skies. I will deadhead my flowers and firmly believe that they will bloom again and again. I am going to smell the mint and the rosemary letting their scents linger deep in my mind. The lavender will be brushed needlessly and regularly simply because it smells good. And the pineapple sage I will stroke like a new kitten because it smells good too.

I will thank every flower that bloomed in my garden this summer and remember how sweet the honeysuckle was as it scented the air by my front door. Bask in the way the roses glowed as they opened slowly to reveal their tender beauty. There will be smiles for the nasturtium and the poppies that exploded with color, for the delphiniums that graced the air with dramatic spires of blue and for the azure swath of cupids dart. Delight in the birds that filled the garden with their song and playful flight. Express gratitude for the frogs that serenaded us in the spring and kept the mosquitoes at bay all summer long.

There are so many things that make up summer each year. The trip to the beach, the way the lilies smelled in the evening or the way your hand felt in mine with the grass beneath my bare feet. There are weekend projects, trips to take and people to visit. Plus plenty of barbecues and pool parties to throw and attend. It seems that in summer everything is trying to get out there and live as much as it possibly can in the precious little time that it has. I guess we’re all like butterflies in this way. We only have right now so we had better make it good.
Let fall bring its delights and I will welcome it with open arms, but for right now, it’s still summer and I for one plan to leave nothing on the table. There is a hammock calling me.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Meet the neighbors

I would like to introduce you to Tucker (right) and Jack (left).
These are my neighbors. I actually have people neighbors but I rarely see them. These guys I see every day. They have a house just up the hill from me. I can see it from my front yard, front window, front porch etc. They are not the quietest neighbors but they do refrain from playing rap music at 2 AM so that's a good thing.

Initially I worried that we might have clashing lifestyles. They seemed aloof. They were morning types, me not so much. They liked to run, I only run if chased or if Starbucks is about to close.

I would also like to introduce you to my house mates. Because of prior bad deeds that shall go unmentioned their names have been changed, mostly to protect myself from litigation. "Big Dog" is the blond one and "Blaze" is the black one. This shot was taken as they came back from doing unspeakable things in unmentionable places.

With these two crews living in close quarters I knew eventually there would be a confrontation. It was inevitable. There was a lot of posing going on. A lot of swaggering and prancing about. Territory was marked and within 4 hours of arriving it was ON.

Big Dog decided that anything that big couldn't be trusted and Blaze figured anything with legs that long had to be a good runner. But the little scrappers underestimated the cunning of their new adversaries. Big Dog ran right up on their heels and began barking his fool head off. Then he nearly got his fool head kicked off. I am pretty sure I heard the horses snickering. Blaze didn't know what to make of the "really big dogs" and so she barked also. This new neighbor thing wasn't going so well and we hadn't even moved in yet.
After Big Dog got hoofed again (contact was made) something definitely had to be done. To be fair to the snarky horses they weren't actually trying to clobber the dogs. They were just setting some distance boundaries. Big Dog just took a little extra educatin'. I tried every Dog Whisperer trick I could find and some I just made up but nothing worked. They still barked and the snarky little horses actually goaded them on. The furry punks would wait to see the dogs and then begin charging at them. Big Dog always played right into their hands...hooves and Blaze was always up for a good bark and run.
One day it occurred to me that maybe I needed to establish the horses as part of the pack. I mean the dogs didn't try to eat the cats because they were part of the pack, right?
Hmm. So how to do that?
Feed them!
I had to lure them over to the fence line. I waved bright orange carrots, sprinkled fresh cut grass and eventually they came. Then I had to reach over the fence where they held their little snickering heads just out of petting range. This is right about the same time I found out that the fence was electric. Holy Cow! That will get your attention. Adjustments were made. Distance was measured...carefully. Soon I had them eating out of my hands. I pet the horses to rub their smell on and then pet the dogs to introduce them as approved members. Negotiations took some time.
Big Dog is still wary and keeps his distance after that last hoofing. Blaze now has long legged playmates to run with and I have a daily routine that includes feeding horses that I do not own or ride. Did I mention that I also do not have to muck out the stalls? Man, my life sucks. In the spring and summer they get fresh cut grass from the lawn. In late summer and fall we bring them apples from the orchards. Carrots fill in the winter months.
When we got our big pond going last year I wondered why I kept losing water so fast. Then I found this was going on! Nosy neighbors. Recently when I had failed to get carrots for their morning snack Jack decided to help himself to one of my daisy beds. He ate them and all the Lady Ferns down to the nub. I couldn't even look at it. Nubs! Nothing but nubs. Snarky horse.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Beach Run!

So this is Pacific Beach on the Washington coast. We went a few days ago. It was a perfect August day with clear skies, warm temperatures and a breeze coming in off the ocean. The place was packed! You could hardly find a spot to call your own. We walked up and down the beach for hours just looking for a tiny patch of sand to call our own where we could spread our beach towels.
The sweaty hordes of ...
Wait, wait a minute. No, that's not right. There was no one on the beach. We did walk for hours but there was only surf and sand. No sweaty hordes, no lawn chairs or bloated floaty toys. No car stereos or boom boxes battling it out in an auditory war. Nope. There was just the steady sound of crashing waves mixing with the call of sea birds and two silly dogs playing in the surf. Nothing but sand and surf beneath my feet as I walked along with some good looking beach bum on my arm.

The ocean did for me what it did to these cliffs. Carving away the rough edges and revealing something layered and beautiful. I dug my toes into the warm sand and remembered what it feels like to be only in the moment of now. To just lay there in that soft sand with the sun on my skin as the waves came crashing in and just believe. Truly believe and know that nothing that ever happened was as perfect and complete as it was right now.

For me the beach is somewhere I go to find home. It is the one place on earth where I feel my actual human size and my actual human potential. Where I understand in my core that the universe is bigger than me and that I have a place in it. I mean really, look at this picture. How could I take myself seriously when standing next to that?
... and no that isn't actually me standing there. I am much more elusive than that.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Lake Diablo

This my friends is Lake Diablo. Yes, it is actually that color. The lake is in the North Cascades National Park. We took the Cascade Loop drive which is about 400 miles long. Ironically it starts and ends in our little town of Monroe. More or less. OK, we don't actually live in the town of Monroe. We don't actually live in any town at all. More like between two towns that we alternate claiming residency in depending on the mood.
Back to the lake.
The lake is created by a damn along the Skagit River. That fantastical coloring is caused by the fine glacier silt that floats in the water. It is full of brown and rainbow trout that don't seem to mind all that silty sediment floating around. I have not fished in it nor have a swum in it. It's a freaking glacier! Did I mention I'm from Arizona?

There is so much to see on this drive that it is actually overwhelming. I have taken this trip several times and all it does is make me realize that I will never see everything there is to see here. For instance, Ross Lake. This lake is huge. It is a 1600 feet elevation, 22 miles long and 488 feet deep. Diablo is a small tip at the southern end of it. Ross Lake runs right up to the Canadian border where it mysteriously disappears from the map. Now I don't know if the lake actually disappears or if Canada just refuses to acknowledge it for some unknown reason. Perhaps an unforgiven slight from the heady glacier days. Either way, the thing is huge, Canadian love or not.

The mountain range is stunningly beautiful. Traveling through you are dazzled by cascades and waterfalls that seem to spill out of nowhere and everywhere. The roads curve and wind leaving every next bend something yet to be discovered. The eye is never bored and the spirit is constantly uplifted. You can't help but find yourself in awe as your eye follows the mountain peaks up into the sky. To see those rugged unforgiving ridges of the earth cutting into the clouds is enough to remind you of just where you fit in the whole scheme of things. And just when you're feeling pretty darn small and powerless you remember that it was we who pushed a highway through these mountains. It was the small fragile humans that actually tamed a glacier and mastered a mountain range. I am at one moment marveling at the awesome power of the planet and feeling utterly insignificant and powerless. In the next I realize just how brilliant, creative and profoundly determined we humans are. To face such an overwhelming opponent and not cower but instead rise to the occasion and achieve success. Incredible.

I should be reminded of this whenever I feel defeated or disheartened. These men blasted through a mountain and tamed a glacier. Surely anything can be accomplished.
Heck, we might even fly to the moon one day.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Walking with Giants

We decided to take a walk today. A forested ferny moss covered and cool walk in the shade. We decided a little forestry road along Hwy 2 in the Cascade Mountains would be the place to take this walk. It's just past Deception Falls and up a rough dirt road past the old train trellis is a trail head. Without the greeter/permit board it would look just like what it is; a hole in the shrubs. What it beyond that hole however is an amazing world of old growth trees, dinosaur sized bog plants and enough ferns and moss to supply all the fairy stories ever written. The paths are narrow, winding and soft with countless years of forest fluff to cushion your step. The light trickles in through a wonderfully high canopy of towering old giants. Their trunks revealing teasing views of the rushing mountain streams. Simple wooden bridges offer brief passage over the smaller waterways. More elaborate ones span the rocky river beds.

During the summer months it is hard to imagine how savage this place can be in the winter. The snow is amazingly beautiful and can lure an unprepared hiker to his doom. Those massive trees are often tossed about like swizzle sticks in the winter storms. In spring that crystal clear ribbon of water turns into a churning mass of liquid energy tearing through anything in its path. But for right now on this hot August day it is a cool and sparkling retreat with moss covered stones. So we decided to take a walk.

There were signs this day. Important signs and we took heed for they were good signs. Ok, these were the signs.

But hey, they were good signs! The cherries were excellent and they went well with the blueberries we had picked up at the last fruit stand we passed, which was right after the one with the plump raspberries. Now the sign with the “Hempuccino” was maybe a little questionable so we were less inclined to heed that one. We did however go with a coconut iced latte and that was good. We frequent the Espresso Chalet whenever we drive out this way which is fairly often. Their claim to fame is that “Harry and the Henderson’s” was shot there some eons ago, 1986 to be exact. Sure, why not? A movie about Big Foot and the family that takes him and tries to find him shoes that fit. What they are famous for now however is that they have the best coconut latte I have ever had. I’ve had a few.

I am going to have to say though that the very best drink of the day was this one. You just can’t put perfection in a bottle no matter what you call it or how you pronounce it. It has to be scooped up ice cold and sipped out of your hands. That’s perfection.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I've got an alibi and I never saw that pick ax before!

It’s Sunday night and so I thought I would do a little update. Nope, no special reason. Well maybe because it’s Sunday night and I got nothing people. Nothing!
Do you remember this little effort of mine where I wanted to turn this massive boulder into a second waterfall? This is where it stands so far. Here is an in progress shot from earlier this summer and then the current view. I haven't decided if I think it needs a bigger pump or not. There is another falls to the left a few yards plus the little pond to the right and I don't want to feel like I have to yell over the roar of a tidal wave or something. It's supposed to be soothing not water boarding.
I had planted some variegated ivy in there but the heat wave killed it back so severely I am not sure if it survived at all. That’s a shame too because it was trailing down the sides and was going to look pretty cool. I have alyssum and marigolds holding the fort till the perennials get going. I do have trailing sedums in that little pocket bed and I just put another ivy in so maybe something will trail somewhere sometime. Please, please, please.

Next up is the gravel ditch also from earlier this summer. I was so happy to find myself pick axing through endless feet of hard packed gravel again. I can't believe it was only last summer when me and the chiropractor were like this (fingers crossed to show just how close we were). Boy, those were the days. I went down as far as I hoped I needed. I did start seeing some of the old growth forest roots from back in the day when there were actually trees on this spot so that must be a good thing. I think. Got it all filled in with some rich “composty” soil and mounded up for more depth. I then promptly proceeded to over plant it as is my style. I’ll deal with it next year. Right now I just want to see plants in there.

Then there is the rose which is actually at the top of the post because it was a much better picture to start the post with. In a flash of genius I decided to move said rose to the spot next to the sumac which was now planted in the new gravel bed. My flash of genius was promptly followed by the thump of stupidity as I proceeded to kill the rose bush with too much Miracle Grow in the transplant watering. Ever the optimist though I refused to take that leafless thorny stick out of the ground. I mean come on, how could that beautiful bush really be dead? No way. It was really quite a horrible lingering death. I just planted some plants around the murdered thing to hide my crime and went about securing my alibi. Then lo and behold a miracle occurred, no thanks to the product of the same name thank you very much. The little thorny leafless stick has LEAVES. Yes, leaves, green lush baby leaves. There will be roses again and they will climb up the sumac and through the branches just as I envisioned and be spectacular! Well that’s as long me and the Miracle Grow stay away from the poor little thing.

I also wanted to share some of the work the birds have done in the garden. They deserve some recognition for all their efforts. They have planted these pumpkins which I am really enjoying. There are several around the garden and I love the big round leaves. They even have several actual pumpkins growing on them. I have decided to grow them on purpose from now on. The thing that really gets me however is where they are growing. When we started the whole “yard” area was just packed gravel and ratty weeds. We decided to cover the whole area with sawdust from the neighbor’s wood mill. It smothered the weeds and gave some cushioning to the ground. The bird plants are growing in the sawdust. Not a lick of actual soil.
The second favorable thing the birds did this year was to plant sunflowers. I had originally intended and planted a sunflower bed at the back of the garden. Last year it was great. This year we apparently changed things enough that the lady ferns that were long dead by June last year just stayed on. They stayed on and took over. They blotted out every thing. Now I like the ferns and I am happy to have them fill in the back side of things but they took out my sunflowers and the Black Eyed Susan's. OK. Then suddenly sunflowers started popping up all over the place. Yeah! I love sunflowers and I especially liked the spontaneous design the birds laid out. So, the ferns can keep the sunflower bed and the birds can keep planting where they want. We got a thing going on.

Friday, August 14, 2009

So what have you been doing?

I got to thinking that I sure hadn't been doing much lately. It had been insanely hot and sunny at 107 degrees last week. Then it became cool and rainy at a silly 61 degrees this week. No wonder we wear wool socks with sandals and parkas with shorts up here. We honestly don't know if it's coming or going. It's not that we want to be prepared; its just that we're completely confused.

No this has absolutely nothing to do with the hummingbird picture. (it is pretty cool though isn't it?) This does have to do with the picture of the single chair looking down the pathway however. That is where I was sitting when I began to think I had been far to focused on the darn weather. I sat there watching the birds flit from feeder to feeder through the garden and I thought "what the heck have I been doing?" I wondered if I had accomplished even half of the grand plans I had made for summer while shoveling three feet of snow off the steps in December.

I began to run down the list in my mind. Had I done this, had I done that? Did I get that new bed started and planted, did I repaint the deck or clean out the garage? The list went on and though I was certain that I must have been a total lazy bum, each item could be checked off. Still there was the nagging feeling that something big had been left undone, something important. And so I sat there and thought some more.

The garden was looking good. I had managed to do that. The deck was painted, the garage cleaned and I had even managed to work in the studio on a daily basis again. So what was missing? Why the nagging feeling that the summer was slipping away and I hadn't gotten something done? It should have been so obvious but I missed it anyway. I had not relaxed. I had not let go. It finally dawned on me that I had worried about something or other that had to be done, accomplished, completed and managed at ever turn. That is not to say that I did not feel joy or happiness. Or that I did not feel summer glory laying on a hammock in the shade of a tree or smelling the flowers with the sun on my face. No, it is to say that while I was doing all that I was also running the constant mental program of "what's not good enough" in the back of my mind.

The nagging bit of undone business was that I had not really unplugged from "me" and recharged. I had not let go of last year or even the year before. I was still looking for what's next and not what's now. I had not made a trip to the ocean to sink my toes into the sand. I had not driven out to the vast wheat fields on the Eastern side of the state to watch them sway in the wind. I had not even gone up into the high mountains to look out into the big sky. The summer was nearly over and I still had not made myself feel small.

You see, the most important thing I always want to get out of summer is not completed projects or barefooted fun but to remember what it is to be insignificant and yet profoundly important. The way the ocean makes you feel when the crashing waves roll in and you know the they have been doing that since the dawn of time and they'll keep on doing that long after you're gone. The way you feel when you look up into the Milky Way and see worlds beyond measure and realize that you are on one of those tiny specks too. I need to feel the rest of the universe around me like you feel the cool grass between your toes.

Summer is for living and rejoicing in life. It's for reminding you that you have a place in the whole swirling mass of existence. And it's about having the courage and willingness to live each day like it is was the only day... and that day was summer.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A trip to Bountiful... aka Skagit Valley

There was rain again last night. Leaving the day full of sunshine and blue sky it waited until early evening to start. This morning it was clear and beautiful again with the gentle summer temperature the Northwest is famous for. We took a little drive up North to the Skagit Valley today. It is definitely one of my most treasured places to visit. I feel incredibly fortunate to live close enough for an easy drive through some lovely back roads that wind around McMurry Lake. That name of course always triggers my memory of the old TV show My Three Sons with Fred McMurry and the opening credits with the cartoon shoes. I just can’t seem to edit it out of my head. It doesn’t take away from the beauty of the lake but it does add a little humor to it.

Skagit Valley, Washington is one of the most fertile spots around. In the spring it is bursting in techno color with fields of vibrant and richly colored tulips along with bright sunny daffodils. Painters and photographers follow the field hands as they harvest the colorful rows. Tourists swarm the roads and fields, the clicking of so many cameras creating a buzzing sound as memory cards are filled with abandon.

In summer the fields come alive with all manner of crops to many to number. Grape and berry vineyards mingle with corn and potatoes, alfalfa and brussel sprouts. Fresh seafood is sold from wooden shacks and vans along the roadside and it is actually fresh seafood since the valley blends right into the bay at La Conner. The wonderful little town of La Conner is an entirely different post all together.

In early fall trucks with wooden slatted sides make camp along the edges of the farms to sell their harvest. Loyal patrons eagerly fill their bags with "Sweet corn, five for a dollar." My favorite spot sells roasted corn and hot dogs with a soda on the side. Driving through the back roads at this time is my favorite because of the wonderful farm houses that glow with fires in the hearth and the scent of hot cider mingling with burning leaves in the crisp autumn air.

With winter the valley is full of the most amazing array of birds you have ever seen. Snow geese descend like a blanket of snow on the fields and fill the sky like a blizzard. Great blue herons and bald eagles are so plentiful they are pests. Harriers, hawks, owls, and so many other species of birds I could never name them all reside in or migrate through the valley. There are designated viewing areas where you can actually find yourself swept up in a swarm of birds as they gather and swirl lifting up into the air making your heart race and your head swim with the excitement.

I love this little valley with its fertile land and collapsing barns. I love the commerce it produces and the families that make it work. I love the smell of the soil and the warm sweet aroma of hay. Ok, the cows can be a bit pungent but that’s what automatic windows are for.

There is something that sinks deeper than words can illuminate about a land that is teaming with life. It is something that reverberates deep within the soul and stirs the very DNA of you. On the surface it may appear to be lacking the vibrancy and urgent energy of the city but on closer inspection it is quite the opposite. A fertile land teaming with life is a cauldron of activity. There is incredible energy and activity creating entire universes within those little green sleeves. If you can consider string theory in physics for a moment you’d be amazed at the incredible amount of vibrating of energy that surrounds us all in a living and breathing environment. If you listen close enough I think you can actually hear the corn growing.