Thursday, July 30, 2009

Moonlight and Me

Hoh River, Olympic National Park

Through slender red alder trees, a three-quarter moon rises high above the Hoh River, illuminating the rushing current. In a pool alogside the shore, a moon-face reflects back to me, a mirror into the deepest parts of me.

What shines back? What spills into the pools of moonlight, I'm not quite sure. But I feel myself more like the waters of the Hoh. Unending, never stopping. Going forward downstream, collecting driftwood, rounding stones. Rising and falling along an ancient glacial valley, reflecting stars, red-shine of Mars, the glow of the moon. Tonight. Tomorrow. And every night forward.

The moon tells me so. And in her reflection, this midnight on the Hoh River, I believe her. Whole heartedly. It is a gift to sit here on her riverbanks.

A fleeting moment so sacred

Quillayute River, Olympic National Forest

Perfect 8:00pm sunset. A friendly camper lends us his canoe. Mirror water, tall pine reflections. A quiet stillness. Birds sing, echoing through the woods. A lone seal keeps its distance. He has cruised in from ocean, just under a mile down river. He watches us as we move downstream.

Along the shore, we spot big, brown furry bodies, jumping in and out of the water, hiding amongst the reeds. We wait. Anticipate what they might be. SLAP! SPLASH! THUD! A group of very intent beavers try to scare us away. But we hold strong. We belong here too, even if just for a few hours.

Above a big brown raptor swooshes down from the sky, talons reaching. He tries to capture a fish but comes up empty handed. He rests on a tall pine and tries again. As he flies overhead, we're astounded at his massive wingspan, and later realize he's a juvenile bald eagle. Pure grace. He skims the water again, but stops after a few tries, no salmon tonight. He rests, watching us cruise his river. Later a blue heron cruises by, eyes us, then flies on. Lines of baby ducks zip by in turbo-mode to get across the river. Tenacity. Perseverance all in a little body.

We paddle up and around an island. Get out to treasure hunt and skip rocks. Paddle back, led by the moon's reflection in the water. A perfect night. A night I don't want to end. One of those moments when you feel like you're somewhere almost too precious to see in person. A fleeting moment so sacred.

And I am thankful.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wishes, waves and wonder

Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park

In the morning, fog surrounds us, cloudy like walking in cotton. The air chills me. Down to my bones. Along the rocky beach, we find perfect circular stones. Gray, red, green and white eggs. Designed by a variety of ocean artists like the tides, waves, and earth. We pick up a wishing rock, circumfrenced by a delicate white stripe. I wonder what the wish should be? Too many to choose from. Too many things out of my control in this world. So I wish for sunshine. Let's see what nature can do for us.

Upon the shore, we find long streams of kelp adorned with huge bulbs. We drag them along the beach, leaving our mark in the sections of sand. The sea leaves foam behind, silhouetting the waves gone by. It floats in the breeze, soft and fluffy. Driftwood: our next treasure, ocean-carved creations. Staffs, whales, mega-shark teeth, all perfectly smooth. Tree graveyards with roots stretching, reaching high above our heads. A sadness is the stillness and loss of such great giants.

The beach turns from stone to dark sand as we approach the hole in the rock. Stacks shrouded in the morning with mist and fog now clear and vibrant in the afternoon sun. Did I say sun? Wishing rocks rule! Upon these rocks that jet up and out of the water, one or two pines stand proudly, lifting their heads toward the heavens. Tide pool treasures. Orange and purple sea star beds. Rainbow sea anemones. Low tide allows us to hike up a cliff out beyond pools. Waves burst, crashing onto our perfect climbing rock. I dig in to the Cheez-it bag (now printed with ABCs!) I pull out the letters to spell S-E-A. A gift from the Neptune? Posiedon? Mother nature?
Hike back down as a higher tide rolls in. Pass the sea stars, anemones, and through the hole in the rock. Rest against a huge fallen log, a drift for days in the ocean, now lodged safely on our beach. The rays of the sun are strong. It warms me through my skin, muscle, bone. Together, we rest, and dream of wishes and waves and wonder.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Beach Glass

Anacortes, WA

What an honor to be a part of our friends' birthday bash up at their home in Anacortes. Quaint town (with delicious pizza. Perfect after a long drive from Vancouver. Who ever said there is no traffic in the NW???) Beautiful homes--each unique. Deer roaming from door to door. Their amazing tudor home sits on a point on Fidalgo Bay. Otters. Seals. Herons, ducks, and eagles. Tug boats and refineries. Jacuzzi with the ultimate view. It's a paradise and we're so honored to be a part of this special occasion. We find the sea mesmerizing, gleaming wishes upon bubbles. Floating, soaring across the water. Treasure hunting on the rocky shore below. Oyster, clam, and mussel shells. Rough and unique. Friends are beach glass. Relationships rounded and smoothed over time into something completely beautiful. It is a time and place we will never forget.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Black and White Majesty

San Juan Islands, Washington

Okay, so I have to admit I've got motion issues. The seasick gene. The carsick gene. The sitting-on-a-rocking-chair- makes-me-nauseous
gene. I usually cannot go out onto the open ocean without feeling like I want to kill myself more and more with each wave. But...

I really, really wanted to see Orcinus orca, in the wild, largest member of the dolphin family. So...I take Dramamine (label says "slight drowsiness") and decided to take the risk. Orca are worth it. Definitely worth it.

On board the Island Explorer (thanks so much to our good friends Sheila and Ron for setting it all up.) Sunscreen. Snacks. Camera. Eyes ready to meet one of the most spectacular creatures of the ocean. We travel through the islands, the sea is calm and my equilibrium, so far, is happy. San Juan Island takes my breath away. Isolated. Wild. Spectacular. We salivate over the homes that sit at the ocean's edge. I dream of being a writer living on a remote Pacific North western island. We see harbor porpoises, shy and skittish, jumping through waves. We learn how there are three resident orca pods here--J, K, & L-- totaling 88 orca.

Our captain keeps us informed. No orca sightings yet, but in constant communication with other whale watching boats. They are almost sure we'll sight some today. Butterflies flip & flap in my stomach. We cruise San Juan in to the open waves. I keep my eye on the horizon. Sit on the top level. The strong wind chills me, but the air on my face keeps my stomach feeling just fine, and I'm not even tired. This just might work out!

We get word from the crew. Orca nearby. The ocean is immense. The sun's rays reflect a shine back into our eyes. We scan the water. Nine o'clock. Twelve o'clock. Three o'clock. Nothing. Like cattle, we all move from the bow to stern, starboard to port, surprised that the boat doesn't tip! Stretch your eyes. Search the waves. Anticipation connects us all together. We're looking for a dorsal fin. A BIG dorsal fin. Up to 6 feet tall on a male.

We find out that there are two pods of orca here in the San Juans. One resident population that eats only salmon (has a smaller jaw) and stays local all year. The orcas in the other pod are transient, larger in size, and eat small mammals. Today, we'll see the resident orca.

Orca! Three o'clock starboard. An adult male. His dorsal fin cuts through the deep blue water. We let out a communal sigh--cameras snapping, hearts fluttering. The orca is magnificent and I can't stop smiling. He breaches. The splashes all around him glitter like diamonds. Soon another male enters the scene, and then a female.

The staff uses digital pictures to ID the orca. Looking at dorsal fins and a white pigmented patch called a "saddle patch" (used like a fingerprint) right behind the dorsal fin, they figure out that that the two males are brothers, and they are fishing with their mothers. Resident orca travel in matriarchal pods--offspring stay with their mother their whole lives. I'm touched (yes, I'm humanizing, shame on me) by their bond. Orca can live up to 95 years! The mother is about 40, big brother is 25, and little bro is 15.

We watch three more breaches from the big male showoff! (They must travel up to 23 MPH to propel that huge body--up to 11 tons--out of the water!) My favorite moment is watching his fin jet through the waves as he rushes through the water after a salmon. It's exhilarating. Mystifying. These creatures are pure majesty and grace.

We watch all day. Pop in the cabin for hot chocolate and nachos (we're on vacation, okay?) The staff comes around with photos and ID explanations and answers to any of our questions. I appreciate how they share this knowledge. How it seems they truly care about the protection and conservation of these great ocean beasts.

Heading home, we snake through the islands. We watch a young bald eagle soar over a smaller island and land in a tall pine. The sun sets, leaving a golden glow all around us.

I'm happy. Not sea sick. I close my eyes and dream of the black and white majesty.

Grace. Power. Intelligence. Family.

Pretty good role model, huh?

Everything in Between

Ape Cave, Mount St. Helen's

Walking almost a mile underground. 42 degrees. Chilled, earthy air. No flashlights. We rent lanterns and descend into NA's longest lava tube (almost 2 miles!) The high arch on this 2,000 year old tube made as lava cooled about the rushing, soaring stream of lava that ran below. The walls are rough, rocky and sharp at points.

We walk on and on. It's the ultimate quiet--except for the chatter of another subterranean group of hikers. We turn our lanterns off. And it's that pitch, pitch black I experienced in Kenya. The darkness surrounds you. Envelops you, until you no longer exist. We became one with the dark.

We continue and the tube narrows. The brave in our group make it (slipping through crevices on their bellies) to the very end. It's as odd feeling being so far down. So far removed from light or anything living. Gives me a good sense of the mood I must reinforce in my current novel.
Dark vs. light, and everything in between.

Volcanic water. Rushing, liquid turquoise. The raw energy. The re-grown vitality of St. Helens. Astonishing. Beautiful. Solid. Just like a man we all love. Bud Hubbard. What a gift to have taken this trip with him. Wisdom. Compassion. Goodness. All rolled into one. . We will always honor what he has passed onto us. Regrowing with every breath, just like this great mountain. Just like this great man.

We miss you, Bud. Forever.

Friday, July 24, 2009

One heartbeat

Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge

Up. Up. Up. A steep incline. A trail covered in ferns and mosses. Maple & oak shadows on rocks. Light filters through the pines. Warming me. Soft, gentle sun highlights the almost florescent green foilage. Switchbacks. Round corner after corner. The top of the falls nears. My son and I talk about shaping our lives. Perseverance. How it all starts now. This day. This moment. Who we are with every step. Every hill.

Pounding forward. Stepping. Building.

At the top, we breathe. Cool mist on our cheeks. A beautiful view of the Columbia spread out along the horizon. A lone pine tree stands right at the eruption point of the falls. Tall & proud. Roots exposed, its soil long eroded. How long will it last before gravity yanks it down? Have faith. Faith in strong foundations and solid ground. Hearts of gold.

Easy hike down. The joy of observation. Sunlight ignites the waterfall in late afternoon. My daughter smells wildflowers. Spots tiny, wild strawberries. A caterpillar. Baby snake. Most interesting find: a tough, predator bug pulling a spider up and under his rock. He tries. Pulls with all his might. The spider falls. He tries again. Again. And again. Like the pine standing tall. Like my son on the trail. Like all of us in life.

One step forward. One breath. One heartbeat.