therestlessnest

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

Archive for the tag “Olympic National Park”

Rain Forest

IMG_1897 Rain Forest: the most cooling words in the world. Can’t you just feel the rain, dripping through the cool, deep shade of trees draped in moss? Aaahhh. I’m speaking of our Pacific Northwest rain forests, the great temperate forests that once stretched from Alaska to southern Oregon. Now, what is left of those ancient mossy kingdoms form the rich lungs of the Olympic National Park, breathing moisture through the valleys of the Queets, Quinault, Bogachiel and Hoh Rivers. IMG_0991They are where we go when we crave not just green but a thousand shades of green; not just trees but hundreds of giants, each one of them hundreds of years old.

My husband and I were there this weekend, backpacking along the Hoh River. As always, we packed fleece and rain gear. You never know, in the rain forest. But this was no ordinary Fourth of July trip to the Olympic Peninsula. This was the Fourth that came right after the warmest June in our weather history.

IMG_1894    It’s hard to describe to someone from, say, Arizona, what exactly is so strange about all this. Why it is incredible to camp on a gravel bar on the Hoh River without a rainfly over your tent, your sleeping bag unzipped and thrown open, the dry, clear summer twilight still faintly pink at ten o’clock, the full moon about to rise. Not only will there be no cold breeze or rain on this night in the temperate rainforest, there will barely be any darkness at all. It’s wonderful, it’s beautiful. And it’s unsettling. Normally, the first few days of July around here are still June, weather-wise, meaning quite likely rainy gray and cool. Normally, we dress warmly for Independence Day picnics and fireworks. But this year, the question we’re all asking ourselves is: is this the new normal? Hot, dry Fourth of July weather in the Rain Forest, where it rains 12 to 14 feet every year?

“Seattle on the Mediterranean,” was the headline on a New York Times essay by contributor Tim Egan, published last week. Egan points out that it’s been hotter here than Athens, Rome or Los Angeles on several days over the past month. He also cites University of Washington climate scientist Cliff Mass’ explanation of why Mass believes this heat wave is not attributable to global warming but is instead a, quote, “amplication of the upper level wave pattern.” It has to do with the jet stream being stuck in a persistent, warming ridge and trough. I think. Mass also explains high pressure over the eastern Pacific Ocean is warming the water, which warms the air flowing our way. Mass is no climate denier. His point is that when the weather is this spikey, this suddenly strange, it’s not about something that is happening incrementally and globally.

But Egan nails why it’s hard to just sit back and enjoy our Mediterranean summer. As he puts it, quote: “The current heat is a precursor, an early peek at a scary tomorrow.” We actually don’t want this to be the new normal. It’s hard to enjoy a quirky heat wave when we have much to legitimately fear about global warming.

And when we go to the rain forest, the last thing we expect is heat. Or the haze of the 1200-acre Paradise forest fire, the largest in the park’s history, blowing up from the Queets valley. A volunteer told us it will probably burn until snow starts falling. And weather-watchers are predicting another warm winter here. Strange times. Unsettling times. Though I’ll never forget our balmy night on the edge of the icy Hoh.

HBBfinalcoverBuy Her Beautiful Brain from the small or large bookstore of your choice. Find a bookstore here. Order the Kindle version here.

Hiatus: the Mid-term Report

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Gravel bar: my favorite hiatus phrase. So far. See photo, at left, of the view from our Fourth of July campsite in the heart of the Olympic National Park’s Hoh Rain Forest. Who knew that in the middle of one of the shadiest, mossiest, wettest places on the planet we would find a sun-drenched spot called Five Mile Island on one of the Hoh’s 50 or so miles of braided gravel bars?

We splashed our sweat off in the icy water and set up our tent. Then we sat in the sun and read, trading back and forth an unlikely pair of books: War by Candlelight, Daniel Alarcón’s luminous stories of Peru, and What Darwin Really Said by Benjamin Farrington.

Truth: the real reason these two books made the backpack cut was because they are slim. But they delivered.

Alarcón is a master of the first line that hooks you, helplessly:

“They’d been living in the apartment for ten days when David was first asked to disappear.”

“The day before a stray bomb buried him in the Peruvian jungle, Fernando sat with José Carlos and together they meditated on death.”

“Every year on Mayra’s birthday, since she turned one, I have asked Sonia to marry me.”

Then he reels you in, and sends you flying from the gravel bar to New York, to the Amazonian jungle, to Lima. Alarcón’s genius is to slip from sight, to leave us alone with his characters and without any overhanging awareness of his authorial presence—so that, at the end of the story, you the reader are as devastated, or uplifted, or both, as they are.

Meanwhile, there was Farrington, the late Irish professor and historian of science, eager to give those of us who never got around to reading The Origin of Species a brisk review of Darwin’s life and importance. Published in 1966 when Farrington was 72 years old, it’s the kind of book that makes you wish you could curl up with the author in front of a shilling-operated gas fire, light his pipe, pour him a cup of strong tea, and have him read it to you. But sitting on our gravel bar by a river milky with glacial runoff in the midst of an ancient forest? That wasn’t such a bad setting either, for lines like:

“The trouble began when Darwin, absorbed in elaborating his doctrine of natural selection, lost interest also in the wider culture which had once delighted him.”

This is from a chapter called “Darwin and the Poets,” in which Farrington argues that Darwin’s intellectual development suffered from his increasingly monomaniacal focus on his theories at the expense of everything else in his life.

Maybe what old Darwin needed was a hiatus. As prolific writer Anne Lamott might put it: I’m just saying.

However. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to some mixed feelings about this Restless Nest hiatus. After two years of weekly radio deadlines, I feel a little unmoored, much as I loved being able to bask on the gravel bar without worrying about what I would write next, and when I would write it. Just as I loved the trip I took to Boston in June for my college reunion: I didn’t “have” to write about it, I just got to do it. (OK, that trip did inspire me to write one little piece for Minerva Rising’s blog about a painting in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts that is like an old friend to me.)

Mostly, I like this feeling of being alert to everything around me—without an agenda, an angle, beyond scribbled descriptions in a notebook.

What I could be doing, of course, is writing ahead. But I’ve rarely done that with the Restless Nest. Maybe it’s that name: without thinking too hard about it, I’ve gotten into the habit of writing it restlessly; thinking on the page. I want it to reflect the week in which it’s written.

And that’s what I’ve missed on this hiatus: thinking on the page. I haven’t done enough of it. For me, it is the best way to think.

But I like that I miss it.

Except when I’m basking on a gravel bar, hanging out with some pretty great guys: Alarcón, Farrington, Darwin and of course my fellow basker Rustin Thompson, aka the Restless Critic and now also Crosscut’s Digital Prospector. We’ve been seeing a LOT of movies during this summer hiatus and unlike me, Rustin has been writing constantly—don’t miss his recommendations for the large and small screens!

 

Our films, The Church on Dauphine Street, 30 Frames a Second: The WTO in Seattle and Quick Brown Fox: an Alzheimer’s Story are available on Hulu, Amazon and other digital sites.

 

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