Sunday, October 18, 2009

Atom-by-Atom: Celebrating in the Sierras

It's harder to get older nowadays. My last birthday (a year ago) seems to have just happened last week. Why is it we feel time rushing, zooming past us so fast that we can't get a grip. Can't make it slow like a big yellow light on the street. Is it perception? Less time left on the planet to follow our dreams? I guess we'll never know answer. Maybe it's best we don't. Maybe the questions make us LIVE without hesitation.

So to reign in this birthday, the extended family road-tripped it up to the Sierras, my heaven. We went comfy this year and rented a cabin at Convict Lake instead of roughing it in late autumn. (Mornings at 8,000 feet are chilly.) We had a bit of luxury. Ice cream to buy next door. Hula-hula hoops to play with out in front. Deer to admire on our porch.

Autumn brought with it the changing leaves, peace on the over-stimulated eyes. Warm temperatures and clear skies highlighted the azure water of Convict Lake. Rugged shale, old oak and pine. Clear air. Ah to breathe. Really breathe.

Hiking in Mammoth is always a treat. Near Lake George, we decide on Barrett and TJ Lake (Dogs had cut-up feet from the shale the day before, so first we spend an hour properly wrapping all three dogs' feet in kid socks with non-adhesive medical tape and duct tape for bottom gripping! No, it didn't work. We start hiking and the socks stay on for about 5 seconds. Unwrap them, and then I must carry a bag of soggy socks and poop. The joys of hiking with dogs!)

On the trail, the pines shelter us, cool our breath and remind us of how easy it is to feel alive. The dogs hike, three in a row, tail-to-nose, good scouts. The lakes give us emerald gifts, and in the heat, so tempting for a little swim. I wade in. Brrr. Then splash! AHHHH! High elevation lakes in autumn? What was I thinking? The freezing water shocks me. I can't breathe. Feels like a giant crushing my chest. I stay in a whole 2 seconds. Dan fishes (but the Lori-no-catch curse still prevails!) On the way down, we grab a ride across the lake with the fisherman in the family (son and BIL.) Three dogs and a boat-full of humans across the sapphire ripples of Lake Mary.

That night we soak in the hot springs (turn right at the green church, and pass three cattle grates.) Wild Willies rocks. We laugh with Mammoth locals and meet a really great couple--artists from LA, dissolving into the Sierra sky at sunset. It's perfection, and we witness it here and now. It's times like this that slow the rush. For a brief, shining moment, you feel as if you've grabbed on, atom-by-atom, and it's amazing.

On the way home, we stop in Bishop and rent tubes and a 2-man kayak for the dogs and me. Heading for the Owens River. Three dogs in a kayak? Extreme-Canine Kayaking. The next Olympic sport? NO.
Lucy can't stand seeing her family float down the river in tubes, so she's off into the water in a heartbeat. I can't figure out how to maneuver the windy river with three dogs in my face. I have to yank the dogs back in the kayak every five minutes. I'm exhausted and frustrated. But I will not quit! After pulling all 70 llbs. of Logan back into the kayak, I think, "I can do this." Then the mosquitos hit. Swarms of blood-thirsty bugs that haven't eaten since summer. They feast upon us, especially Leo, who's petrified and hasn't moved an inch since he got onboard. We stop and spray ourselves down.
The last part of our journey is peaceful. The dogs are too tired to jump out. I've finally mastered the art of rowing a two-man kayak on a windy river with three dogs in my face. And, through the tall grasses, I spy huge antlers of a elk or deer, plus two herons flap along the banks. It's a bit magical, and wraps up nicely as we soak in the warm water thermal pool at the half-way point.

Adventure wouldn't be adventure without a little hardship.
A little beauty, and a lot of fun with my beautiful family.

The Sierras welcome us home once again.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Marked by the Redwoods

Redwoods National Park, CA

Sunset on the Smith River smiles upon us like old friends reunited (and we are.) The bigness and love dwarf us, just as we stand next to these, massive red giants.

Banana slugs and bridges. Discovery and peace along the river. Climb fallen giants. Spongy red bark crumbles on your palms. Rusty stains on your knees. We are marked (so every willingly) by Redwoods. By their majesty. Their beauty. Their life-sustaining strength.

We hike along the Smith River at Jedediah Smith State Park. Light filters in through the pine needles and leaves. It's magic, a space between real life and a time long past. Ancient majesty. Old, hallowed trunks become rocket ships, welcoming us inside. Deep, dark, musty. Generations of old growth returned to the earth.

Further south we hike to the Valley of the Giants. Permit only. Lock and combination on a gate. It's a secret hike! Here, we find our way through the forest toward the Redwood Creek. Red beasts. Green ferns. Filtered light contrasts against the bright and soft pink Rhodadendrons. Circular fungi and lichen, perfectly designed to complement the linear nature of this place.

At the creek, we relax. Discover and explore. We find "tadpole heaven." The water rushes and flows into us. Then, as we're leaving, we spot something out there. What is that? RIVER OTTERS! We stumble to the shore and four otters chase each other downstream. The dive and eat and we follow. Stopping at a small cove, the otters are totally not bothered by our presence. They put on a show. Slipping and sliding. Splashing and swishing. They continue their romp, feeding on underwater plants. We are overjoyed. My daughter says, "Mommy, I have joys of tears. Isn't that what you have when you cry from happiness?" It is truly one of those moments that stand still. Precious gifts of life. These gentle, sleek creatures are completely at one with the river, and we are entranced by their joy and beauty.

THE TREES. Look up into the heavens. How could anything be THAT big? So wise. So wonderful. The Valley of the Giants. Some the oldest and biggest trees in the world. The air is different here. Still. Quiet. Almost prehistoric. The trunks are so...wide, we stretch, reach, try to hug them, but realize it will take a whole lot more arms.

Upon leaving our giant friends, we notice the color against the deep green of the forest. Fox glove. Tiger lily. Burst of color seem to give us a glimpse of hope. Hope that this sacred place is protected. Forever.

We pass Elk Meadow on our way out. Big, graceful beasts. Deepens the richness of this place. A gentle, patient group.

To celebrate our last night here, we walk down the sand at sunset and dig a fire pit. The golden glow and purple haze complete us. Seep into every cell. They paint us with hope and love, leaving us with a palette so sacred, I can't even describe the colors through words. These gifts I don't take for granted. Like ancient friendships and love everlasting.

We head down to Arcata. Enchanting town. Overcast outside, yet sunshine inside. Lunch with Lori, (yummy soup, sandwich, and chocolate) and trek around the wetlands. We pass through Big Foot's forest, miles and miles of Redwood coast. Absolutely breathtaking. So energizing that we make it the full 13 hours home, arriving at 2 am.

Worth it. Worth every gallon of gas. Every droopy eyelid. Every bathroom stop.

Marked by the Redwoods.


Tea on the Rocks

I lay flat on a rock, sipping chai tea. Sweet nectar surrounds me. Pine fresh scent. Swallowtails dance. Hummingbirds drink in the red lilies. Finches cheep-cheep, hidden in the trees. Ospreys soar overhead making soft, high-pitch calls. Their wings arced in a V-shape as their glide above, circle, and return. They float upon the wind, disappear, then come back to us. Another bird answers from somewhere behind me in the trees. Osprey calls are a mixture of a cat's meow and the shriek of a hawk. A deer forages in their front lawn, eating leaves and buds. The first one they've seen here. Trains whistle in the dark, moving, chugging up and down the tracks just beyond the road, along the healing river. Inside the house, family laughs. Brothers connect. Puppy nails click against the wood floor.

Visit with cousins, jump into nostalgic memories from long ago. Love & and family sustain, and that makes me happy.

Out on Detroit Lake. Perfect water weather. Deep blue. Fresh air against our cheeks. Family love. I remember the splash of the water (especially when a certain driver accidentally dipped the nose of the boat into the lake!) The sun on my body. The eternal laughter of that day.

Powell's, Portland & Pitas

I make it into the maze of Portland. What's the answer: PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION. The MAX; the only way to go. So I take the Blue line across the river and into downtown. It feels great to be on the light rail--haven't used public transit since the TUBE in London last summer. Time to stop and slow down, read, meet local people, and travelers-- excited, friendly, ready to explore. Cause I am.

I chat with Helena, an Oregon transplant from Minnesota. A mother of four who works in the securities industry. But at heart, she says she's a writer. A woman with many stories to tell--heartache and joy all apparent in her generous, kind eyes and smile. We connect as mothers, as women, discussing the never-dull job of parenting pre-teens. Our stories connect, and I start to think how we all are storytellers. But only a few are lucky enough, or crazy enough, to write them down and follow the long, winding path of sharing them with the world.

I exit Morrison, head south a few blocks on toward Burnside. The streets are mellow. Crossing one-way streets as a pedestrian is actually quite nice. I pass a park, tiny trailers of various ethnic food, vintage clothing stores. Hip, outdoor cafes. Burnside is just ahead. And there it is...
Powell's. Ya-hoo! I'm through the maze of downtown Portland. Take that! Inside the store, a writer and reader's dream come true. So many rooms. All labeled by color: yellow, green, orange, and rose. Like a magnet, I find myself drawn to the literary section. The musty smell of old books wafts into my nose. Such a welcomed scent. I check out Mark Twain, admire his rebelliousness & skepticism. A true man before his time. I buy two books on writing (THE FOREST FOR THE TREES by Besty Lerner ((recommended by my fellow writing buddy, Monique Ruiz,)) WRITING THE LIFE POETIC by Sage Cohen.) On to the Mystery room where I buy Nevada Barr's HIGH COUNTRY, set in Yosemite (been meaning to buy it for years.) In the fantasy section, I admire Neil Gaiman's huge body of work (as I finish THE GRAVEYARD BOOK. Boy what a career Gaiman has!) Off to new-releases and politics. I buy TRAVELING AS A POLITICAL ACT by Rick Steves (very cool book. a concept I agree with immensely.) And then off to the children's section. I'm drawn to the Newberry & National Book winners. Awed by the long line of incredibly talented children's book authors and the impact they've made. I find my critique buddy, Kathryn Fitzmaurice's first novel, THE YEAR THE SWALLOWS CAME EARLY, face out on the shelf. Yipee! I buy SAVVY by Ingrid Law, THE DRAGONS OF ORDINARY FARM, by Tad Williams and Deborah Beale (my reluctant-reader son is loving this one.) My stack is huge. What am I doing? I have no control. Total book obsession. At least book addictions are healthy for the body and soul, just not my bank account. Ugh.

I sit on the floor of the children's section and gawk at my books, laughing out loud at this picture book:

Cover Image

A must read for dog lovers who appreciate the imperfection and

perfection of rescued dogs, or anyone who loves a quirky sense of humor (the author/illustrator, Berkeley Breathed is the artist who did the OPUS cartoon.)

I buy this one, and leave it with my brother and sister in law (to honor their quirky beagle and basset hound.)

Outside Powell's, I meet another writer. Rashib carries this sign: "VEGAN, HUNGRY, HOMELESS, AND HANDSOME." I laugh and head on down to the Pita Pit (OMG I love the Pita Pit. Why don't we have them in OC?) I order a veggie falafel with feta and all the fixings. Eat half, and take half back to Rashib, forgetting that vegans don't eat feta--NO animal products (makes me feel a bit guilty for my easy vegetarian ways.) But he's gracious, and accepts the pita to give to someone else who is hungry. A waiter walks out. Someone has already bought Rashib a slice of colorful vegan veggie pizza anyway. You gotta love Portland.

Rashib and I talk of the world. He says he's traveled all over the globe with this very same sign. He even wrote it in Indonesian when he was there. Rashib says he's been writing like crazy lately, and I should look for his book soon in the stores--GLOBAL NOMADS. That would be cool. We talk about Africa, he's still yet to go there. I recommend it (hauntingly for's been a year since I've been and my heart longs for that red soil.) He's glad to meet me. Glad to eat his began pizza slice. Glad to tell me his story.

Like bookends, I meet Helena on the way in and Rashib on the way out. So many storytellers. All of us so diverse, such different life experiences, yet all eager to share our stories, to share our piece in this massive, interconnected maze of life.