therestlessnest

where life's not empty, it's restless.

Archive for the tag “hiking”

Restless Breeze

TiffanyLakeToes2013I’m restless, I’m humid, I’m one big inhale. I’m a late-August breeze in the shape of a woman.

Labor Day is SO next week.

Vacation’s over. There’s work to do. But give me any excuse and I’m jumping on my bike. And/or into the lake. I’m stalking blackberry bushes with a plastic bag. I’m looking at the Washington Trails Association website, studying the Hike of the Week, reading articles about what to do if you encounter a bear.

I think the entire Northwest population is unanimous about how wonderful the weather has been this summer, even with these recent splatters of rain. It’s such a big deal for us: we don’t always have summers like this one, with tomatoes ripening in early August and day after day glittering like a glacial stream. But it also makes it very hard to say goodbye. Word from the weather watchers is that we don’t have to quite yet, thank God: the September forecast is for more, more, more.

But therein lies the challenge: how do we shift gears, get busy, get going, when our restless bodies and minds shout Summer?

I am hoping that resuming my reports from the Restless Nest will help. Breaks are good, but I’ve missed this, which is so different from anything else I do or write.

And the Nest is authentically Restless right now. Our children—who don’t live under our roof but do live nearby—are off adventuring. Claire’s in the mountains of Colorado with the Southwest Conservation Corps, out of cellphone reach for ten days at a time. Nick’s on a cross-country road trip that just got complicated by mononucleosis. He’s sweating it out on a friend of a friend’s bed in upstate New York; I’m stuck here, sending him sympathetic but useless texts.

Their absence makes for a sudden surplus of quiet. An excuse to take my own temperature.

It’s a little on the high side, I’d say, and that is not a hot-flash joke.

No, it’s more of a slightly feverish thrum winding its way through my brain, under and around the idle visions of mountain lakes and saltwater beaches; over and through the work of the hour. I didn’t have a word for it until Saturday, when, lucky me, I got to spend the day up at Hedgebrook (the Shangri-la of women’s writing retreats, on Whidbey Island) soaking up writerly inspiration. The occasion was an alumnae celebration of Hedgebrook’s 25th anniversary. The morning started with a pep talk from Brooke Warner, longtime book editor, writing coach and co-founder of the new, very exciting She Writes Press. Warner focused on what she called women’s worthiness problem. As in, I am not worthy of time and space to write. My writing is not worthy of being read. My voice is not worthy of being heard; my self not worthy of attention.

Worthiness. This is why I’m here, I thought: I really, really needed a worthiness tune-up. Because the annual portal that is Labor Day always scares me a little. Goodbye blackberries and basking; hello adrenaline, deadline pressure, expectations, worthiness crises.

And yet: going into fall with my feet browned and my legs berry-scratched means this was a good summer. One that will be inside me, half restless breeze and half rock-steady heartwood, shoring up my worthiness through the months ahead.

Radio lovers: I’ll be back on the air in September!

New Orleans lovers: today is the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Our documentary film, The Church on Dauphine Street: One Katrina Story, is available on Amazon, Hulu and other digital sites.

 

Fire

We Northwesterners think of where we live as blue and green, like those pictures of the planet from outer space. Lots of water. Lots of trees. Which is why fire shocks us so. Suddenly, a deliciously warm week becomes ominously hot. Suddenly, landscapes we know and love explode in flames.

This week, it was the Taylor Bridge fire, just east of Cle Elum, a scant 90 minutes from downtown Seattle. More often, the fires burn further east.

When I was a child, we rarely crossed the mountains into fire country. Forest fires were something that happened far from my blue and green world. But in the past twenty years, my family has crossed the North Cascades to backpack, hike, camp and rent a cabin in the Methow Valley every summer. We were there not long after the terrible Thirtymile Fire of 2001, in which four firefighters were killed. That summer, the valley was as thick with stunned grief as it was with the heavy smoke of a fire that’s been doused into ashy mud.

Then and now, we hear the usual reminders of the benefits of fire. Of how fires are part of the forest ecology; vital for the transmission of seeds and regeneration of dozens of species. All true, but hard to hear when a place you love has been charred to nakedness.

This summer, we drove up the long east branch of the Chewuch River Road, where a succession of fires has scorched thousands of acres in the past decade, to hike up Tiffany Mountain. The landscape was lonely. Eerie. Mile after mile of giant black toothpicks: no branches, no leaves.

But when we got out of the car and onto the trail, we saw a different story. Abundant fireweed—tall, bright green plants with purple tops like oversized sweet peas—filled the forest floor. Waist-high pines and knee-high fir trees waved in the breeze. Alpine flowers—lupine, Queen Anne’s lace, paintbrush—crowded the clearings. The ghostly tree trunks, surrounded as they were by all this growth, took on a sentinel quality: gaunt elders watching over the next generation.

It’s an irresistible metaphor: how fire clears the way for new growth; how we have no control over when and where the blaze will occur. Over the terror of the flames; the pain of the burn; the shock when it’s over.

I didn’t think it applied to me, right now, not really. Not until I got home from our hiking trip and suddenly, without warning, got kicked in the gut with a whole messy smoky stew of fears about the future, about work, about money, about meaning. You know: about everything.

There’s a writer that pastors and chaplains turn to when they’re feeling burned-out. (Speaking of fire metaphors.) William C. Martin writes this: “Discontent is a wonderful gift. It tells us something. Let it burn openly. If it is deep and valid it will burn and cleanse the underbrush and prepare for new growth. If it is superficial and false, it will find no fuel and burn out quickly.”

Some of my discontent was nothing more than post-vacation re-entry syndrome, as I like to call it, and it did burn out quickly. But some of it is real and important and I’m trying hard to let it burn openly. To make way for new growth. For the seedlings and the fireweed. Which deserves a much prettier name. It’s really the most beautiful of all the mountain flowers.

 I’m teaching a non-credit memoir class this fall at Seattle Central. Six Wednesday evenings. Join me! and/or spread the word! Here’s the link. 

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

National Parks

His name was Brady, “like the Bunch,” he said, which I’m sure he knew would make it stick in the minds of a couple of people already a chunk of years older than the Brady parents were during their TV heyday.

Brady looked no older than our own 20 and 23 year-old children. He had that skinny build that made me want to offer him a sandwich right away, if we’d had one to offer. If we hadn’t been backpacking in the North Cascades and just eaten a meal of freeze-dried something reconstituted with hot water and served in a pouch. And if he hadn’t been an actual park ranger, gun in holster and all.

We had just set up our tent at a place called High Camp when Brady loped into view. He apologized for bothering us, explaining he wanted to let us know he was there, right around the corner at a ranger campsite, since we might have thought we were alone and been startled by his footsteps or his two-way radio.

“No need to apologize,” I assured him, not adding what I was thinking, which was: we’re just a couple of city-dwelling people your parents’ age who really have no business up here in the backcountry and we are frankly thrilled to know there is a ranger on the other side of the knoll!

We asked about a noise we couldn’t identify, a sort of Tuvan throat-singer sound. Grouse, Brady said. We asked about bears. Oh sure, they’re around, he said—just make sure to hang your food bag. We talked about how gorgeous the alpine meadows were, though it was too bad the mosquitoes had just hatched like crazy. He offered to change our permit for the next night to a site where they weren’t so relentless, though he urged us to take a hike in the morning to the high meadows, before we headed down to our new camp. We promised we would, and we did.

As we hiked the next day through meadows of lupine and paintbrush, we marveled at Brady and everything he represented.  As Tim Egan wrote in a lovely essay in the New York Times, we—meaning all of us, all Americans—are the owners of a vast resort called the National Parks. Hard-working rangers like Brady make it safe and possible for us all to visit our communal vacationland; to be awed by wild places the way Americans have always been.

Rangers spend ten days at a time in the backcountry. They also log desk time at places like the Marblemount Ranger Station, where they have the tough job of eyeballing and tactfully questioning the hikers who come in for permits. It was a ranger named Sage who sent us to the High Camp trail instead of the one we’d intended to do, which was still under heavy snow, after we told him we had only one hiking pole between us and no ice axe or crampons. Sage may have pre-saved our lives, so to speak, and/or the lives of his colleagues who would have been sent to rescue us when we slipped and fell.

On our second night out, tucked in our tent at a cozy site called Hideaway Camp, I felt so grateful for Brady, Sage, the whole concept of National Parks in general and rangers in particular. It is hard to articulate what a few nights in the mountains will do for a person—spiritually, physically—but the rangers get it. And they want you to get it. Safely, and with no more mosquito bites than necessary. Because they understand: this is not just their summer resort, it is everyone’s.

I’m teaching a non-credit Introduction to Memoir class at Seattle Central this fall. Six Wednesday nights. Join me! More info here.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

 

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