Reflections on reflections

I had something happen a few weeks back that took me aback.  By that, I mean, I wasn’t myself, I didn’t even recognize myself and my reaction. It’s not like me to get so distraught, the level of my reaction didn’t match what was actually happening, and so, being the introspective seeker I am, I had to reflect upon it.  While I was processing this, I was working on a painting I had started prior to the incident.  Now, you may be wondering what happened, but let me assure you, the actual event is not important to my story… it in itself, is inconsequential.

What is important is what I learned about myself in regards to my emotional reaction. I knew all this before, but  apparently I needed the reminder. In the Zen-mindfulness state I’d been working on, I’d forgotten what it was like to live through a downpour of emotions. My reaction had me pondering it’s cause, so I made a list of stressful events in the last few months and came up with a good dozen crises that, at the time, I’d rolled with just fine, until this last thing that suddenly seemed like life or death. Making the list helped me remember to be kind to myself and give myself permission to be human. It’s really okay to make mistakes.  Mistakes are opportunities to learn.

I also realized that oftentimes, people in your life are a reflection of yourself. By trying to have them change so that you can feel better is like reaching out to a mirror and brushing it’s hair. When what you see is messy hair, try brushing your own head, not the reflection that you see.  The problem wasn’t really what I was seeing… the problem was me.

Ironic that I’d be working on another Women of the Wilderness painting at exactly this moment, and that it would feature a reflection of the Three Sisters in a snow melt pond.  The painting helped sooth my ruffled feathers and as I reflected upon the reflection, it all became clear to me.

The mountains are beautiful, majestic and bold as they march across the blue sky, jagged edges against a perfect day. Below, the trees tumble down obsidian cliffs and spread out on the lava and pumice strewn soil. It’s a nice image, but its composition lacks interest until you get to the almost perfectly round pond. It reflects the peaks, but it shows just a riffle of wind, reminding you, it is not the thing you see, but merely a reflection… a mirror.

Just like life, the thing you see in a mirror isn’t the thing at all. You can’t climb a mountain in a mirror; if you are going to climb mountains at all, you’re going to have to tackle the real one.

Reflection on a Reflection

And Now for Something Completely Different

If you are a Monty Python fan, you may recognize that title.  If not, sorry, you’ve missed out on kooky British comedy from the 70’s, though I imagine some quick web searches will put you in touch with their surreal and somewhat stream-of-consciousness act.

They often stopped their sketches with the catch-phrase: And Now for Something Completely Different.  So, here I go again, stopping my “ART” blog for something else.  Though, to be fair, it’s art in a different form.  Most likely inspired by writing this blog, and then definitely inspired by my Library and REI lecture series on the Wilderness Of Women, a lovely Powerpoint presentation I whipped up and delivered from Portland to Medford.  The feedback I received was very positive and it inspired me to start writing a book.  A book I’d been writing for over 30 years.  A book about my trail life and my off trail life, how they intersect and influence each other.  When my shoulder got hurt and grounded me from hiking last year, I took advantage of my in-firmed circumstances and used the time to write.

My book has morphed into something else, however, and just like all the best of my art, it took on a life of it’s own.  Part memoir, part trail journal, part coffee table art book, part philosohical and spiritual exploration, The Spiral Trail is heading for parts unknown.  Like it’s title, it spirals around and comes back to lessons learned, growing and developing into a story about a life lived on the trails and woods and translated into paint, guided by source.

I’m still working on it, and I’m still painting and hiking and doing all the things that need to be done.  I’ll try to pop into the blog from time to time to say hello and share a new piece.  For now, here’s an excerpt from  The Spiral Trail  to start my literary exploration into the writing of a book.  I hope you find it enjoyable and interesting.  Wanting more is good!  So, come with me and lets take a walk in the woods…

 

Chapter 21

Mushrooming

I took the dogs out on another gold hunting excursion. As I understand it, there are places where one can still pan for gold, actual gold nuggets that wash down from creeks and rivers, but that’s not the gold I am looking for.  I’m looking for Chanterelle mushrooms, a gloriously school-bus-yellow fungus that litters the deep woods of the Pacific Northwest each year when it gets cold and wet. They are delicious, meaty and mild tasting mushrooms, sought by gourmet chefs as well as poor college students because, for those of us who have access and knowledge, they are free. I was taught how to find Chanterelles by a couple of Dead Heads (fans of the Grateful Dead), both of who were deep into their respective studies at Oregon State University at the time.  One in Forestry, and the other in Mycology, the study of fungi, so they knew what to look for as well as where to look for them. My first taste of a Chanterelle had me rolling my eyes upward in delight, they are that good. I paid attention to the where’s and what’s of Chanterelle hunting and I learned my lesson well.

I began hunting for Chanterelles by myself the moment we landed in Alpine and found them at low elevations in those early days.  But the craze for Chanterelles took off and the economy did not, spurring hundreds of mushroom hunters to take to our local woods in search of quick cash.  Which in turn spurred another form of industry, the mushroom buyer, one of which put up a sign on their driveway and gave the hunters an easy stop on their way out of the hills to cash in on their gains.  I’d like to say “ill gotten gains” as they tromped over public and private lands alike and yanked up the mushrooms without regard to keeping the root system in tact and leaving a few to grow and spread their spores for future mushrooms. Chanterelles will return year after year if you treat their ground gently, but that was not to be.  Our woods were inundated with groups of hunters, they’d park their beat-up cars along the mountain roads and carry in white 5-gallon buckets intent on finding a large haul.

I felt a twinge of disgust at these interlopers, these were my woods they were bustling about in, yelling back and forth, disturbing the quiet as they raped the forests of their delicious yellow fungi fruit.  They pulled up every one and left nothing behind but beer cans, candy wrappers and toilet paper.  I frowned every time I saw them out there, failing to see the irony that I, myself was heading out for a mushroom hunt. Their presence was forcing me to range farther from home and I was irritable about the idea I couldn’t prowl about in what I considered “my woods”, which of course, weren’t.

I learned early on to keep quiet about my mushrooming grounds, having once taken a friend out and kindly taught him how to identify and find Chanterelles only to learn he later took a group of his friends back to my spot where they cleaned out the entire hillside. I never quite trusted him after that and our friendship suffered. But such is the nature of gold fever, it changes one’s ethics when you are in the midst of a find.

Since then, I’ve sworn friends to secrecy before taking them to known places but as the hunter hoards continued patrolling my local hills, those known places became found and decimated.  We had dry falls and late rains and some of my best spots were clear-cut, spelling the end of any nearby Chanterelles.  They need deep mature forests, cool weather and rain. I found myself travelling farther from home to find my gold.

Still, every year I’d get a few for dinner.  And sometimes I’d stumble across a new patch and manage to put up some for later, though really, frozen Chanterelles are never as good as freshly picked.  There were some good years before the big local clear-cut happened, I’d bring home bags of them and then spend hours cleaning them all.  But after they cut the hills directly behind us, it got harder on everyone.  Even the hunters began to range along the Alsea river drainage, the backside of our local hills and my last-ditch effort at mushrooming.  It seemed as if all the best spots were picked over, my hunts became hikes.  Those were lean years, it was lucky if I’d find one or two and that would be it for the season.

But still I tried, I felt as if I was missing something… there had to be a place I’d looked over, some patch of woods I’d yet to explore.  I’ve been riding and hiking my local section of the coast range mountains, keeping to about 5 or 6 square miles and had come to learn this land pretty well over 30 years.  But I hadn’t been everywhere between the roads.  Between the roads is lots of brush and the mature woods needed to cruise about without risking life and limb, or at the least, a few scratches from the dense understory, was getting harder to find.  But there were still a few patches of them, it’s just that I had transitioned from being a deer path following bush-whacking hiker to a road follower.  I could take my horses on the road, either an abandoned logging road or an active one, and had cut a few trails to link up roads so I could make a big loop rather than backtrack, so I hadn’t been doing much off road hiking.  Not even when I decided to return to backpacking and was planning and prepping for the PCT.  I was after miles and conditioning exercise and you can’t get a work out pushing your way through the underbrush.  That kind of hiking is slow and meticulous as I wander about, carefully taking note of the terrain and topography, making sure I do not get lost in the “it all looks the same” woodland.  My deep wood exploring days seemed to be behind me, and with it, my lack of mushrooming luck.

Until last week.

I took a friend on another excursion, hoping the old places would have some kind of nostalgic luck, but no luck was to be found.  Doreen is somewhat new to me as a friend, but we get along well and she was game for hiking about, looking for mushrooms. We drove further out to an old patch I knew of and when that panned out, I took her off trail and off road, but again, nothing. We did not go far from the road as I am reluctant to drag tourists along on these kinds of bush-whacking hikes. I’m quite concerned about becoming lost in the woods, so I work hard paying attention to the hundreds of details that will allow me to back-track my way to safety in the event I’m not sure where I am.  After my jumpy nerves at finding the staircase on the “moonlit” beach, I’ve had some concerns about my state of mind in an unknown situation where no map is at hand to guide me.  The woods beyond my woods are just the same kind of unknown situation as I am not nearly so well acquainted with their topographical peccadillos as I am for my own side of the mountain. This emotional state does not blend well with chatting with friends as we prowl the woods.  I have to concentrate out there and so, I have not been exploring as I mushroom hunt.

Needless to say, Doreen and I got skunked.  I found two mushrooms in the old patch, one for her and one for me.  We shrugged, it was a nice day and the dogs were having a joyous time racing about the forest, it was fun just to watch them and hike about.  We didn’t care all that much so we started back for the car which was parked about a half mile away. I guided us back to the road and took an alternate road, making a loop of our hike.  I always make a loop if I can, there’s something about a circle that makes me feel like my hike is complete, even if it’s a small circle at the end of a straight out and straight back trail.  I call those keyhole loops, and they serve the purpose of “not backtracking” that I like.

We were on this loop when I spotted an opening in the trees off the road.  Something about it said “check it out!” to me, so check it out we did.  I led Doreen off the road and onto a deer trail that disappeared through a brush tunnel and into a deep and open patch of mature forest.  It didn’t look like a deep wood from the road, choked by brush on both sides, I had assumed it was a young stand of trees.  These young stands are usually so thick with underbrush you can’t get through without serious effort, frequently jungle hacking your way through isn’t even worth the pain.

I was surprised and delighted by this find and after picking our way over the old dumped trash at the entrance (I will never understand why people uses the forest as their personal dump) immediately saw scores of mushrooms all along the game trail. There were pink ones and slimy brown ones, some yellow boletus and white death cap kind of mushrooms, not what I was after but still, there were mushrooms here and there were quite a lot of them!  I was encouraged to follow the deer path as it hugged the side of the hill just below the roadway, my boots cutting into the soft needle strewn soil as if I was marching across a snowy mountain field.  Continuing on, I came across our first white Chanterelle, a rare variety, but not that unusual for this area. I’d found white Chanterelles near where we parked the car once, even though, and it’s hard to believe this, but that was 25 years before and before the woods had been selectively cut.

A selective cut will only take say, every other tree, and even though it preserves the forest as a forest, it’s harder to do. I like them, but once the forest is opened up, more brush will fill in between the trees and the Chanterelles won’t return.  It’s too light and airy for them. Seeing this white Chanterelle here gave me hope.  I bent down, carefully pushing aside the fir needles and debris, I cut it gently at the base. Doreen came over to see the mushroom and exclaimed, “Here’s another one!” and she set to the task of cutting that one for herself.  Again, we had found two, one for me and one for her.  But this time, the conditions were better.  No brush and a swath of deep woods.  I followed the path as it paralleled the road above and came across another scattered patch of Chanterelles.

“I found some more!  Yes!”  I picked a few and left a few for her to take before moving down the trail to another scattered patch.  We were ecstatic at finding them, and I was happy to find them in such an easy place.  I didn’t need to worry about getting lost or loosing sight of Doreen as we fought our way through dense underbrush.  This hillside was open and the road was a laidback climb out. We left behind the small ones to grow and talked about coming back for them later.  I pushed on ahead of her and went from patch to patch, finding them and then calling for her to take the ones I’d left for her to harvest.  Sometimes she saw a few I’d missed entirely and her bag began to fill up with a good haul.  As she was delicately brushing off needles and dirt, I wandered down a draw to see if there were more downhill but came back empty handed, unwilling to get beyond earshot of Doreen leaving her alone in the deep woods.  Bringing her out here was my responsibility and I take that seriously. I seem to have been the pathfinder in most of my hiking relationships, it’s not like I tried to take that role, but that’s just how it worked out.  Jane once called me the “human GPS” and I laughed.  I may be good in the woods, however, don’t trust me in the city.  I get all turned around when confronted with streets and buildings.  There’s too much data for me to process.

I don’t think of myself as a confidant pathfinder, more like a nervous pathfinder, I’m worried about getting lost.  I try to remember Daniel Boone, that great Kentucky backwoods explorer who was supposedly quoted as saying he’d never been lost, he just didn’t know where he was for a couple of days.

But still, Pathfinder is my trail name and so, I have a reputation to live up to; regardless of my nervousness in the woods, I also know I have the skills and abilities to untangle myself from a backwoods mishap. What I don’t have, on this day, is an actual map of the area, which, without a compass would be useless as the woods are so deep, dark and topographically convoluted it renders a map useless without the means of pointing one in the right direction. I also don’t have a compass.  Just my faith and skill and backwoods prowess, somewhat like Daniel Boone! I also have my nervousness which keeps me close to the road and checking to make sure we haven’t wandered away from it as we go from patch of gold to patch of gold.

Eventually, we run out of mushrooms and of the deep woods as we get closer to an old overgrown cut which is full of brush. I suggest we climb out and head back.  We’ve managed to find about a couple of dozen mushrooms a piece, so we turn for the road.  Doreen takes the time to pick the ones we come across on our way out and I let her have my share as my bag is full and I’m content with my haul.

I’m content with all of it as I feel I’ve broken the Chanterelle curse that seems to have been hanging over my head the past few years.  I didn’t know if pickings were scarce because of the buyer (but I have noticed they aren’t in business anymore so that’s good news) the dry fall seasons and the new clear cuts or just my inability to get off trail and take the time to find a new place to hunt.  Probably a combination of it all, but the dry spell is over and now I have a new patch of woods to check out… the draw that leads away from the road has me intrigued.

 

The following week, after a solid week of rain, we get a gap between storms and I decide to take the dogs back to the woods and explore the draw.  I figured to look and see if I missed a mushroom or maybe two and then work the hill below this new spot with the hopes there are more Chanterelles to be found.  I go by myself, because I need to explore and not worry about another person.  I don’t have any confidence that the dogs will help me in any way, they are too busy sniffing and digging and running about doing their doggy thing.  I’ve never lost a dog but one time, though like Daniel Boone, she wasn’t unsure of her location more than a couple of days. I hunted all over for that dog, called through the woods and then knocked on any doors in the vicinity. She must have followed something deep into the forest and got turned around because it did take her two days to come home whereupon after much tail wagging and famished eating, she fell asleep for a good 12 hour stretch.

Needless to say, I don’t trust dogs to get me out of the woods.

I parked in the same spot and walked down the road to our exit spot.  I followed our line of mushroom stumps and only saw one seedling mushroom that had grown enough to make it worthwhile harvesting.  I put the Chanterelle in my little orange Osprey daypack, then after getting it back on again (not as easy of a task given my less than 100% shoulder range) I picked up my hiking sticks and headed down the draw.  I began to note the changes in terrain, the hill on my right covered in moss, the hill on my left covered in shrub. I went down, threading my way through small trees, ducking under and stepping over dead branches.  I came across a dry creek bed, noting the stump next to the bed was covered in small, translucently white, spindly mushrooms. I marked this as my landmark and stepped over the bed, forgetting to look behind me to see the path as it would look if I was returning the same way.  My plan had been to follow the draw down to a logging road that I knew was below me, but the hills had folds and contours I was unfamiliar with, I wasn’t sure exactly how far down the road lay and I was anticipating mucking about as I was hunting, crisscrossing the terrain as I went.  It’s easy to get turned around in these coast range hills, distances become hard to judge so I was expecting a long haul across and down slope before hitting the road.

On the other side of the creek, a hillside of tall timber opened up into what I thought was prime mushrooming grounds, so I began traversing the curve of the hill over to a set point before reversing my path and coming back to the creek.  I zig-zagged twice before getting all the way to the creek but instead of a dry bed, I now came across a flowing stream of water.  I guessed it was the same creek bed but that where I had crossed, the water had gone underground.  It was a significant amount of water and I followed it uphill until I came to a series of ponds, obviously springs tucked away in this fold of woods.  It was a lovely find, very private and nestled into the woodland like a love note hidden in a drawer.  Precious and sweet, I wondered how many animals used it as their personal drinking pool.  I looked over my shoulder quickly, I had come across a cougar kill the previous day and my neighbor had seen a big one crossing the road.  The odds were small that cougar even knew about this pond, but still, I glanced around before chiding myself for unfounded fears.  My two terriers would be thrilled to take on a cougar, or at least bark at one anyway.  They also were more likely to be a cougar’s lunch than I was, but since that’s a story I’ve never heard or believe, it doesn’t bother me to let the dogs have the run of the woods.

I wandered about the pond, checking its size and considering if would be a viable personal swimming hole in the summer, or if it would turn into a mush of mud once the rains were gone.  The dogs drank from the edge and we turned back to the creek, following it downhill.  But when I got to where I thought I had crossed the creek, everything looked different.  The hill on my left had changed direction, opening out into a wide flat spot with scattered grass.  There was a stand of alder trees I didn’t recognize and a bank of moss that hadn’t been there before.  I stopped, frozen.  How did this happen… in my checking out the pond, did I forget about a fold in the hillside, did I follow the wrong creek?  Is there another creek I missed? Nothing looked familiar and I began to cast about, returning to the creek bed, looking for my marker, the stump full of tiny mushroom.  There was no stump.  I stared at the creek.  How can there not be a stump?  Where is the stump?!  I crossed the creek anyway and looked at it from the other side.  Now it too looked unfamiliar.  I hadn’t crossed here, I must have gone downhill too far.

I took a deep breath, I wasn’t scared, not yet, I just needed to look about a little more.  I crossed the stream again and walked back towards the hillside where I had been hunting mushrooms looking for anything that looked familiar. I thought back to a movie I’d watched last week, On Golden Pond.  There is a scene where one of the main characters, an 80-year-old man, gets lost in the woods around his summer home.  He’s scared because nothing looks familiar, he can’t remember his surroundings and he begins to run through the woods looking for something, anything he can recall to place him in the world of known things again.

It’s a bit of a fear of mine, to be lost in the woods.  And it’s another one to lose my faculties.  My mother had dementia when she died, and before it became severe, she had these episodes of getting lost.  Once going out into the woods in the middle of a snowy New Hampshire winter and falling, laying in a snowbank for hours before she was found.  It was a chilling story for me to hear as I clutched the phone to my ear, 3000 miles away and a day after the event.  She wasn’t allowed to be alone after that, but now I’ve inherited the fear for myself.  What if I too forget where I am?  What if I forget what the woods look like?  It would be just like me to wander off alone as an 80-year-old and then turn left at the tree that looks like an owl’s head when I should have turned right. It’s not like my trails and paths have actual signs.  My hikes are full of personal knowledge, I know where to go because I’ve gone there before.  But not right now… right now I don’t know where I am because I can’t find my way back.

And so, I tell myself, I’m not going anywhere until I can find the way back and when I find my way back I am going back!  I had made all sorts of mental notes along the way, so I knew I should be able to find them again, I usually do. I took out my mental list and went over it in order.  The stump of mushrooms, the hill of moss, the hill of shrub, the pink flag left by a surveyor, the dented can, the narrow draw all the way up to where I found my last Chanterelle and then up and out to the road.  I walk a large circle, get back to where the stream still has water in it, before it goes underground.  I notice where the water actually becomes submerged, flowing between sticks and rocks and disappearing into the moist soil, dirt so fertile it looks almost black.  I look up stream and down, here there is water, and there, just a dry creek bed that shows where overflowing winter rains carve a funnel that opens out into a flat trench.  I take 5 steps to my right and suddenly, from where I’m standing, I see the mushroom stump. I take a deep breath and am relieved.  I had overshot the creek crossing by about 20 feet and continued on until the terrain had changed and I was unexpectedly surrounded by a scene that was unfamiliar both backwards and forwards. The whole incident feels like I’m reading a book where I’ve accidentally turned two pages and now the narration makes no sense until I find my missing page and the story line falls back into place.  I step back across and walk my path out but I only go about 10 yards before I turn back to the creek.

There’s no need to run back for the car.  I’m back in the land of the known.  I wasn’t lost at all, I just didn’t know where I was for a couple of minutes. It was disorienting and a touch disquieting but am I going to let this stop me?  Of course not.  I head back down the hill.

But this time, I do leave a few more markers, scraped boot prints in the duff, a couple of crossed sticks and I try not to veer off my trajectory by sticking to as straight a line as possible. It’s easier to see the way back that way.  I come upon an old skid track from the original cut of this forest, it’s barely perceptible as time has eroded away it’s clean lines and random trees have grown inside it’s borders.  It’s still clearly a flat place in the hillside, so I follow it down until I can see a road below me.  The dogs run ahead and are running up and down the road, maybe showing me that it was here all along, maybe sniffing the path of a wild animal.  Whatever their motivation, between the trunks of trees, I see their white bodies zipping up and down a horizontal line about 200 feet below me.  I’m still carefully edging my way down across the soft needle strewn duff, my boots sink in and I watch for slick branches as I’ve already slid down one that lay like a trap just a fraction of an inch under the carpet of forest debris.  I used to wonder why older people fell as if they were children again, but now that I am a little older myself, I get it.  We aren’t as flexible or fit or even as balanced as we used to be.  It’s easy and faster to get out of condition from hiking then when I was younger, my muscles don’t catch me and correct imbalances as fast as they used to.  And so, sometimes now, I fall and slip and when I do, it’s startling and strange.  I never used to fall.  But I never used to be 56, so I take it easy and use trekking poles, they’ve become a part of my new high tech hiking world, just like bringing a cell phone and a personal locater beacon (which I hope to never need).

I drop down onto the road, glad that I reached my goal and surprised that it was closer than I thought it would be.  Instead of hiking out, I make some side trips into the woods, continuing my search for gold.  I notice that every time I wriggle out of my pack, pick a mushroom, then look about for more, I will not find one until I put my pack back on and head out.  Then, sure enough, another mushroom!  I struggle out of the pack, my not-yet-unfrozen shoulder is somewhat uncooperative with all this on again off again gyrations.  But, if I only find one at a time, still, I am finding them, so I resign myself to fussing with the pack.  On my way out, I find one last group and decide I’m done for the day.  I have plenty for dinner and then some, so I hop on the road and climb up out of the draw.

The road is steeper than I remembered, I haven’t been on it for some time and can’t recall a time I ever actually walked it.  I’m usually on this road with my horse and they do all the hard work for me.  It’s good to get a feel of the road from their perspective, I gain a little empathy every time I walk a trail that I usually ride. I stop to catch my breath from time to time, glad that I am not the kind of rider that pushes a horse too hard, I let them stop and breathe as well. Hiking with a heavy pack helps me to relate to how hard they actually work.  Just when I’m about to reach the car, I see an opening in the trees that looks inviting.  Without thinking too much about it, I wander in for a last chance hunt for mushrooms.  What the hell, why not?

I find another old skid track, it’s faint and mostly gone, covered with moss and underbrush like huckleberry, salal, ocean spray and young alders who are trying to take advantage of the sunlight provided by the logging road I’ve just left.  I weave my way through the thicket but stick to the flat ground. The brush thins out a little further in, and I’m walking in a mossy fairy forest of tall timber and soft earth. There are sword-tail ferns, their ostrich plume like fronds are still, no breeze can reach them down here even though the tops of the firs sing with the winds that touch the canopy up above. I follow the line across a curve of hillside, sometimes stepping over downed logs and limbs, sometimes ducking under them.  I marvel in this hidden gem of a forest, surrounded by thinned timber stands and clear cuts.  Most of these forest lands are considered a crop and are usually homogeneously full of Douglas Fir, but there are bits and pieces of more diverse forest and it’s always fun to be inside a stand of trees that feel somewhat wild in nature.

I walk until I come to some remnants of old growth, stumps from trees that must have been 100’s of years old, these stumps litter the woods near my home.  They are as large as couches, rotted remnants of their former selves, they still fill me with a sense of wonder and awe at their immense size.  At the bottom of the stump I find more chanterelles, they ripple out of the duff, golden flowers with wavy fungus arms.  They push up the moss and the fir needles and curl around clumps of debris, hanging onto it like a baby’s fist.  There is one large one in front of me, then one to the side, one above on a ledge of dirt and as I look, I see them everywhere.  I’ve struck the motherload.

I carefully pull back the carpet of needles and cut my mushrooms, filling my bag, then another.  I’ve picked more in 5 minutes than I found in the past hour or so.  It’s lovely to find a place like this, a place where no one has discovered and disturbed.  I have such a plethora to choose from, I get choosey and only pick the best ones, leaving some to continue rotting or to grow up into adults.  I harvest so many, I run out of space in my bag.  Any more and I will crush them, so I settle my pack carefully on my shoulders and collect my trekking poles from where I planted them in the ground.

Before heading out, I take one last walk down my personal yellow brick road.  I want to see how much farther this streak runs and consider if I can return later for another go at it.  I also want to see if I can resist the “gold fever” that grips me when I find a patch.  Can I resist the temptation of taking more?  I see a few scattered here and there, but I don’t feel the need to add to my harvest.  The forest has been kind to me and provided a feast of mushrooms. I move deeper into the forest and come across a pristine patch of chanterelles in a bowl of moss.  They look almost staged, they are that perfect.  A shaft of sunlight streaks down between the trees and lights up their small golden glade, I can almost hear the fairy’s dancing about this sylvan fantasy.

I pause before getting closer to the patch, I don’t want to disturb the scene or be tempted by their beauty.  But I do walk over, just to appreciate and marvel at how lovely a fungus can be.  I usually see “delicious!” when I see a chanterelle, but this time, I’m thankful for their presence in the forest.  It says, “I’m healthy” and “I feel good, all is right in the world.”  Just seeing them makes me feel the same and I’m grateful for the bounty I’ve lovingly placed in my pack.

 

That night for dinner, I prepare my mushrooms in a wine cream sauce with garlic and pour it over white bean noodles.  And once more, I touch heaven on my plate and my eyes roll back in joy.  Yeah, they are that good.

 

 

 

 

My Three Sisters

I love the Three Sisters Wilderness.  It’s my home base wilderness.  It’s where I go to reconnect to the divine in a very deep and real and magical way. I’ve been hiking there for the past 32 years, so I call them “my girls”.  They are so beautiful, with their lava flows and cinder strewn meadows of wildflowers, an oasis of magnificence in central Oregon. For those who don’t know, they are named North, Middle and South Sister; AKA Faith, Hope and Charity.  Three characteristics that are well worth some effort.

I like that the girls have AKA’s, because I do too!  I rarely use my birth name and  since I’ve had three different last names in my lifetime, I don’t have a deep connection to the names given to me. I’ve chosen my name and my place in the world.  And I’ve chosen my totem mountains.

Which, by the way, are one of the very few mountains (named by the white man) with a feminine name.  Interestingly enough, they are rarely called by their “proper names” but are instead referred to by their relationship: The Sisters. Why do you think that is?  What does that say about our culture, or, our culture of the past, that a mountain could not have a woman’s name, nor be named after one?  Or if they did, it was best that we reference them by their family associations. Was it, that in the old days, men liked to label things that stuck up and out of the landscape as masculine? By that line of reasoning, then all canyons should be named for women, right?  Well, I’m doubtful as to that kind of reason, but that’s research left for another day.

Through my Facebook group, Women of the PCT, a sister hiker contacted me a year ago to buy the painting of Charity (South Sister) but the email was lost in cyber-space until I unearthed it and replied.  Did she still want the painting?  She did, but alas it was too small.  So, we negotiated a larger version to be commissioned and off I went, happy to oblige! I was thrilled to have an opportunity to paint my darling girls. To paint for a “hiker chick” was a bonus.  This is yet another trail painting in my series, The Wilderness of Women, only this time, it was a personal request and that made it even more special.

I chose several photos and compiled an image that doesn’t exactly exist in reality, to get them in this order, I had to squish them together a little bit.  I’ve used my “artist’s license”. You may not see this exact scene from a spot on the trail, but it exists in my heart.  An appropriate sentiment as that is where “my girls” will live forever. And when I am gone, please spread my ashes here, so I can be a part of them as they are for me.

Now, here we have it, My Three Sisters:

My Three Sisters
Oil on Canvas
2′ x 3′

Gone Girl Comes Back

I’ve been thinking about my blog and how I’ve neglected it for so long.  Poor blog!  The longer I stayed away, the harder it got to make myself sit down and write a post.  I’ve been painting, and I’ve been writing, I just haven’t been putting it HERE!

So here’s a brief update:  I hiked in Sedona… and painted this:

Red Rocks of Sedona

Sedona was magical, I came home with a renewed love of the desert and so many more images to put onto canvas.  This is the first, but won’t be the last.

I hiked in the Three Sisters Wilderness with my dear friend, Amira and painted this next image. I struggled with capturing our faces and still feel out of sorts whenever I look at it.  But, I decided to add it to my blog so you can see that while I may personally have trouble with some of my work, I’ve learned that other people LOVE them!  And pieces I love, other people feel somewhat “meh” about. Who am I to say it’s good or bad?  It comes down to your own taste.

Cold July Camp

I was commissioned to paint a beloved family member.  Elkton was an older dog, and his photo’s didn’t do him justice.  I managed to shave off a few years and pounds and drop him into a regal hunting pose.  Here he is, surveying his kingdom:

Elkton the Wonder Dog

And I painted a portrait of my son and his girlfriend.  He was heading out for a job interview and Karen sent me a quick shot of their morning and a glimpse into their thoughts as she titled the photo.  I loved this selfie she took; I had to capture that smirk!

Dressed for Battle

Then I painted a view of my willow that seemed poignant, yet crisp and quietly vibrant. I hung it in the newly remodeled guest bedroom to bring a bit of the outside, inside.

Winter Willow

Followed by a few fantasy images to get in touch with my feminine side and to reflect the deep introspection I had been exploring of late.  I sustained an injury the previous fall that just managed to get worse over time. When you are dealing with chronic, long term pain, it helps to spend time listening to your body.  I kept asking that question…  what are you trying to tell me?  I think my body just wanted me to sit down for awhile.

The Hermit Girl Meditates

Connections of Love

Besides these images, I’ve tooled around with some odds and ends art projects and did some remodeling on the house.  I’ve had to readjust my life in the past year as I’ve been dealing with a shoulder injury that really set me back in my activity level.  You wouldn’t know it by the new flooring and slate tile I managed to lay down, but still, 2017 has been my year of recovery.  I couldn’t ride or hike or do my normal kinds of things, so instead, I took my “Wilderness of Women” paintings on the road.  Literally.  I created a presentation about my art and hiking, how each one influenced the other and gave my lecture/slide show at REI stores from Portland to Medford. It was inspirational for me as well as for others and after it was over, I began to focus on a writing project that germinated from this dog and pony show.  I’ll devote another post to it, later, but for now, this one will have to do.

I think it’s time for this hermit girl to come on out of her cave and say  hello to the wide world of life.

Hello world!

On BEing…. a trail journal part 7

Day 12  Onward to Mirror Lake

August 11, 2016       9 miles

Awake by 7 and on the trail  by 9:30.  Mosquitoes and condensation slow my packing up as I dried my rain-fly before stowing it in the pack.  I don’t want to carry any more water than I need to! Eventually I am on my way and I tell myself it doesn’t matter that it took me 2 and a half hours to get on the trail.  What difference does it make?

Camped just to the left of this picture, I took it first thing in the morning.

Camped just to the left of this picture, I took it first thing in the morning.

I wonder what marvelous things will happen today?  I am amazed at this part of the PCT, I’m on new ground, and it’s simply wonderful!  There are great views, nice campsites and a neat unnamed lake that had me very tempted for an early stop.  Alas, the surface was buzzing with mosquitoes so I go on by after taking a few pictures.  I run my battery charge down by taking too many panorama shots, a phenomena I suddenly notice for the first time. No wonder my phone was so inconsistent with holding a charge.

There is a climbers trail to the north side of Faith. I didn't find it, but I will one day!

There is a climbers trail to the north side of Faith. I didn’t find it, but I will one day!

I cross paths with an older solo woman hiker by the name of Honey.  We nod and keep walking, not even exchanging a word. I only learn her name later from 2  women I meet further down the  trail when we stop to talk about how unusual we all are (they were older too). I encounter few solo women, fewer still the ones who are closer to my age. There seem to be lots of 20 something guys, in pairs or alone.  Sometimes they are with a 20 something woman/girl/gal… chick?  I don’t know which term to use to describe a female 20 something… all my choices seem wrong.  Old fashioned or condescending, a product of a misogynistic culture that I am only recently becoming very aware of.  I don’t know how I’ve missed this part of the world around me, I guess I just never paid attention.  Maybe if I had taken a woman’s studies class in college it would have opened my eyes a bit wider to the injustice of it all, but I seem to be making up for lost time.  In the past few years I’ve been studying this subject most intently.

I remember being 17 and sitting in my mother’s living room as she and her girlfriend groused about life. As divorcees with children and no career options  in the 1970’s they had something to grouse about, life had not been easy for them.  “It’s a man’s world” said mom’s friend.  Being the know it all I surely was at 17, I completely disagreed.  “It might have been for your generation, but it’s not for mine!” I said ‘wisely’.  They were kind enough to let me figure it out for myself, but damn, it’s taken  me a long time.  I must have believed that the woman’s movement had changed everything and leveled the playing field, and I went on with my life as if it had.

For decades I thought it was just me if things were unfair.  I never saw it was because I was a woman… if some of the unfairness was because of my gender, I was blind to it.  I didn’t notice discrimination. Hell, I never even saw the blatant sexism in a job where the men used me as bait for customers!  I was an uninformed idiot, truly, and being unaware meant I could be manipulated and used. At some point I felt so used up, without even knowing why, I just wanted to hide in my quiet country life and not interact with the world at large.  As for gender roles, well,  I always just did what I wanted to do and didn’t think who’s “job” it was.  I was proud when I could run a skill saw or build something  better than my husband. He was proud of it too and gave me support to try all sorts of things.  I never heard messages that I couldn’t do something because I was a woman.  The day my girlfriends teased me about being more of another “man” around the place because I did things that their husbands usually did, (such as mowing, splitting firewood, building fences, sheds, a barn, my studio!) was the day I started to really wonder why they had limited themselves to traditional domestic chores. How had our society reinforced these kinds of roles? I see much of our cultural bias as restrictive but I think the things I’ve done fall under the category of “I didn’t know what I couldn’t do” more than a conscious rebellion against sexism.

As I write this it’s two days from a critical historic moment for my country.  I feel the sexism and misogyny here has reached a height that is surprising to say the least.  The persecution of a woman candidate who has dared to be herself and who did not play a submissive game and thus has felt the wrath of our media and any political hack who could post on the internet for not fitting the mold, is beyond belief.  It has been hard to hold on to my center, to my peace of mind, to my surrender.  The recharge that the trail gave me has been drained as we’ve gotten closer to this election process… but it’s no wonder as I’ve been taking some sweeping political panorama shots.  I’ll have to go hiking again as soon as possible for another charge of my emotional battery!

I cruise down the trail, happy and content in my solitude.  I’m glad I haven’t let my age or my gender stop me from doing what I wanted to do.  I preen a little when I come across a group of 7 women who are circumnavigating the Three Sisters together and they all admire my bravery.  I walk on feeling a little like the kid who got a gold star on their schoolwork. But my self satisfaction doesn’t last long as I consider how I was being proud of something that wasn’t really that hard for me. I figure it’s not really bravery if the emotional cost is low.  Courage is facing your fears and doing it anyway.  Hiking alone doesn’t worry me…. my brave moments were crossing the rushing glacial waters of the Muddy and the Sandy.  Both events witnessed only by myself and the universe.  I’m proud of myself for doing that. But hiking along this section of the PCT?  It’s a privilege in so many ways.

The women’s group offers me trail bars and food to help me on my way, but I decline, I’m carrying way too much as it is.  I need to lighten my load, not theirs!

Trees grow right out of the walls of the secret canyon.

Trees grow right out of the walls of the secret canyon.

I listen to Carrot Quinn’s interview on Real Talk radio  (listen here) and learn that she often cache’s food and only carries 4 days at a time.  I’m thinking this is a very good idea.  8 days of food is too much.  I’ve tried to eat more but that’s not always easy to do.  The trail falls easily downhill and I hike past a darling mini canyon surrounded by lava cliffs with a flat grassy floor.  The only way into the box canyon is to push your way in between a narrow grove of fir and spruce. I force myself in, I want to see this little canyon I had glimpsed from above as the PCT dropped down then veered off. I walk the perimeter and think about how this would be a good horse camp, you could practically let the horses go and they’d be corralled in among the lava walls.  The whole canyon is about 2 acres and is exactly the kind of side trip thing I’m glad I have time to explore. No water, so not a perfect camp, but I admire the secret space among the expanse of towering mountain views.

I get to Rock Mesa creek by noon and settle down for a rest/lunch break.  I was supposed to stay here after camping at Obsidian but again, it’s too early and when I look at the map again, I realize Mirror lake is only 4 miles away.  I’d rather end my day there and zero at the lake than stay here.  Not that I need a trail zero, but I wanted a day where I didn’t have to pack up… a day to just BE in a place.

I wander about, looking at an area near the creek where I camped over 20 years previously.  It’s odd to be at these spots full of old memories, I recall sitting out an afternoon of thunder and lightening in a very small tent with two large, wet dogs.  The places haven’t really changed much… the trees in the high country don’t grow like they do in the valley.  But they do grow and so too the brush.  The camp spot was still there, I recognized it immediately.  And 20 years later I see what a crappy little spot it was.  It had been much more remote… now there was a trail nearby, following the creek downstream. All those years ago we bushwacked our way down a half mile to the waterfall that was hidden below the Mesa Creek crossing.  Now, there’s a bridge on the PCT and trail heading downstream.  Who knows, 20 years from now, it could be forgotten and grown over, a faint line leading nowhere.

Mesa Creek and meadows.

Mesa Creek and meadows.

After about an hour rest, I hike out and avoid the large group of thru hikers who are congregating in the sunny meadow.  They are laughing and full of fun, but I’m still in my solitary zone.  I don’t really want to interact right now so I wave at them in acknowledgment and move on. Some wave back.  The southbound trail is busy… perhaps I’d have had a better chance of hiking all day in my alone-ness by going north, a better chance of getting in a solo bubble and staying there. Oh well, that’s not what’s happening, so I surrender and accept.

Later, I meet a gal and her barnacle… I nick-name him the barnacle because she tells me he started hanging out with her and she hadn’t been able to get rid of him since the California border.  We exchange trail names, but I promptly forget them as all I can think about is the barnacle phenomena.  Earlier I met a hiker, Sweet Pea, who also had a tag-a-long dude.  I wonder if the guys are hoping for more or maybe the girls are liking the security and friendship?

Then I meet Safe Bet, a Brit who quit his job and moved in with his parents so he could hike the PCT.  He was carrying too much water, because he likes the safe bet… hence the name.  I climb up the Rock Mesa and laugh at how I used to think it was so hard (I’ve climbed it 4 times now).  After climbing up out of the Gorge, nothing seems as difficult.  SOBO Mt. Hood was a real bear of a section but the views were absolutely stunning!

I get mistaken for a SOBO thru a lot… one gal says I look so serious.  But I’m not sure if it’s my outfit or the determined look on my face she is referring to.  I hope it’s the outfit since I’m totally blissed out on the trail.

Your first view of the Mesa wall.

Your first view of the Mesa wall.

The views as I hike are not as steep and epic as Mt. Hood,  but the Sisters have their own charm.  Rock Mesa continues south along the flanks of Faith (South Sister).  It’s open and arid and beautiful to travel the Wikiup plains which stretch way out into the distance.  It was hot by the time I got there but with my umbrella I did just fine.  I was listening to another hiking podcast, Sounds of the Trail and it was so perfect because it was all about how the hard days cause us to question why are we out here.  These challenging days cause us to rise above the hardship and release our inner grit.  And when you’ve risen to the challenge and have beaten it, then you are stronger.  Mentally as well as physically.

The start of the Wikiup if you are heading south.

The start of the Wikiup if you are heading south.

Today was that mental challenge for me.  The unrelenting heat on the plains, well, I had some doubts that I should be venturing out.  I’ve had a few bouts of heat stroke, so when it hits 90, I try not to do anything physical in the sun. But under my personal shade, it was fine. Slogging along, I thought of my days in endurance riding.  Sometimes you are in the doldrums of the race.  It’s hot, you’re tired, your horse is tired, you just want to get to the next vet check or you think longingly about the end of the ride and never going through all this nonsensical torture again.

Looking back at the way I've come. Hello South Sister!

Looking back at the way I’ve come. Hello South Sister!

But you can’t quit.  You are in the middle of nowhere and you have got to press on.  I’ve had some hard moments on the endurance trail and sometimes you kind of hit a wall but you still… just…keep…going.  And then, you round the corner and you are done.

I trudged across this sandy desert of a plain and then, I was in the forest again. Ahhhh, shade!  On I march, now I’m listening to Amira’s book, (how cool is it to have an author as a house-sitter?) the second in the Seeds Trilogy.  The resistance fighters are turning to guerrilla tactics as well as infiltrating and destroying from within.  Listening to these stories keeps my mind occupied as I march through the miles in the heat of the day.  I save them for times like this and they transform the trail into something different from what I’ve experienced in the past.

I’ve been a backpacker for over 30 years now, before cell phones and the internet.  (Back when dinosaurs ruled the earth.  HA!)  Technology has changed the wilderness experience, true.  I no longer feel so remote or out of touch.  But listening to a story or a song, lightens my load in the same way my hiking poles help me on the trail.  They are tools however, and not a crutch.  I still have to do the work out here, they just make it easier.  Sometimes I listen and sometimes I’m quiet and in the moment. It just depends on what I want to get out of that part of the trail.

I cross paths with a hiker who has her phone pressed to her ear.  She steps aside as if we were meeting in the cereal aisle at Safeway rather than on a remote trail in the wilderness.  She’s calling Elk lake to say she forgot something and would they…. at this  point, I’ve moved out of range.  I still think it’s odd to have phones in the wilderness, it’s so incongruous.  I forget I even have a phone… I think of it as a camera, an audio player and a GPS but then I remember and stop to check my own signal.  4G!!  Hurrah!  I turn off airplane mode and the Galaxy begins to ding.  Messages are checked (there are a few well wishes from my family) and I send out a few of my own.  Now people once again know where I am and the world feels a little smaller and definitely less remote.

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I used my umbrella to shade my tent while I lounged about inside after my swim.

I cruise into Mirror lake and walk it’s perimeter before I settle on a site on the far side, tucked up into a stand of young pine.  The mosquitoes aren’t too bad, but I do get stung by a yellow jacket when I was bushwacking between possible camp sites.  I’ve taken 2 Benadryl but think maybe one more might be a good idea.  I’m glad I don’t have to hike any more today as Benadryl sleepiness will soon creep up on me.  It’s the only thing that will minimize my reaction to wasp stings which seem to have gotten worse the more times I get stung.  I hate to say I hate yellow jackets, but I kinda do.

I’ve got a nice little spot among the trees, the lake is a short walk away across the soft mud flats and I’m far enough away from the usual camp sites that I’m alone even on a well used camping lake.  I do my laundry and take a good long swim across the lake where I haul myself out on a rock in the middle and sun myself like a turtle.  I feel so good!  Another 9 miles down and now I can take a zero.  Finally, my first zero on the trail.  The hotel thing was nice, but not quite what I was imagining when I put this whole trip together.

Later, I have a wonderful meal, another one of my homemade dried creations.  Curried sweet potato, vegetables and rice, so delicious.  I thank my past self who made this  for me now and chuckle at the concept of time.  There was a Sky in the past who cooked, dried and packaged this meal and then here I am, opening and re-hydrating this little packet of nourishment and love.  It feels complete.

Time… I’ve been thinking about time on this leg of my journey.  Reading the Power of Now will do that to you but being away from my normal time centric life also puts these concepts and ideas into the forefront.  Everything happens in the now… even planning for a future event is something you do in the now.  Ruminating over the past happens in the now.  I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of time travel.  As if one could leave the present now and actually zoom forward or past and actually make that your now.  But in a way, when we project or remember, we are time travelling!  In our minds, we leave the present now to visit these memories or imagined futures.  Problems occur when we cannot see the difference between what goes on in our heads with what goes on in our NOW.

I’m getting it… slowly.  I keep re-reading these concepts and each time, it becomes more and more my reality as it reminds me how to focus on the now.  How to be kind to myself as I learn, how to withhold  judgments of others and  judgments of myself.  The more I release these pains and sufferings, the more I surrender, the greater (faster?) my growth.  My peace, my understanding… my accountability to my soul.  The less ego, the less mind…  the more integration of my body, mind and spirit.

That’s a lot to digest for one day.  I step out and take pictures of the setting sun.  The sky is on fire with the end glow of another glorious day and I feel immense gratitude for my place in the world.20160813_055903

On Being… A Trail Journal Part 1

This post will take a step sideways from my usual art blog format.  I’ve made some changes in my life… mostly to the way I think and process and thus, believe and behave.  I no longer feel driven to create art as a way to keep my head on straight. I still want to create and paint and feel closer to that muse than ever, it’s just that I no longer feel driven. And while I have yet to get myself back into the studio to see how all this shakes down, what I did do is return to the hiking life that used to fill my soul with an extreme form of joy in being alive.

And so… I hiked.  130 miles.  In the wilderness.  Alone.

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What I hoped to find was a greater presence of peace within myself as well as more imagery to add to my series, “The Wilderness of Women”.  I did find those things, and along the way, a few more unexpected truths.

My solo journey began in late July after many months of planning and packing.  Testing gear, training, making my own vegan trail food and modifying equipment.  The trip was planned, but then, before I could even start my border to border hike across Oregon on the Pacific Crest Trail, changes were made.  Circumstances shortened my time away from home.  I compromised and rearranged the journey.  Friends got involved and stepped up to bring me resupplies… which was great, but it meant that I now had to schedule within their availability.  This had an unforeseen affect on the length of my hike, but was really just another facet of the gem that was my journey.

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Sorting out my resupply.

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Lets see, do I have everything?

I kept a journal and took the time to write every day; details of things that happened along the way, thoughts that came to me.  Observations and musings…  sometimes it read like a log book, other times it’s profound and poignant. I’ve whittled down the entries to include what I consider the most interesting and relevant parts.  Here it is… my trail journal, part 1:

Day 1: Eagle Creek Trail (PCT Alternate) (AKA Too Many Tourist Heaven)

Joe drops me off after a quick goodbye. Later I feel bad that I was so distracted, but I was eager to GO and focused on getting to start my hike after all this planning.  He wanted to help me so much, but I wouldn’t let him.

“No, no… I have to do this!” I exclaim when he moves my gear about.

“Fine,” he laughs and teases, “Get the hell out of my truck!”

“Okay, BYE!” And I pretend to walk off.  After 30 years of marriage, we know we don’t mean anything by this exchange. We hug and laugh but then I really am on my way.  It’s hot and mid-day and the trail is full of tourists.  Some are coming back to the parking lot, some heading out to see the waterfalls along the Eagle Creek Trail.  Some are slow, wearing flip flops. clutching purses or carrying small children.  Some are fast, unencumbered by 35 lb packs on their backs, they skim over the rocky trail and quickly climb out of sight.

As the trail snakes up the canyon, it hugs  basalt cliffs.  In places it’s so narrow and precarious, only a cable hammered into the wall keeps you from pitching into the abyss.  One woman says she was terrified and couldn’t look down.  I focus on the slick rock and hope I don’t meet anyone coming in the opposite direction.  I do, but in places where I can safely be passed.

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The dangers of Eagle Creek. Don’t look down.

It’s a Saturday and the place is LOADED with people.  I didn’t bother to count, but I probably passed a 100 people by the time I got to 7 1/2 mile camp. At this point, the trail is brushy and the forest deeply shaded. I made  good time,  climbing 1500 feet by 4:30 PM, but the site is right on the trail and unappealing so I continue on.  There aren’t many places to camp, Eagle Creek is mostly a canyon and any other possible campsites are taken.  I hiked another half mile, taking my pack off twice to climb over, then under fallen trees.  I needed water to camp, I was running out, but the trail left the creek and began to climb up into the deep forest.  The thick under-story of Devils club, salal shrubs and cedar trees did not lend itself to rough camping.  I tried to find a place but it was getting darker in the canyon and I was tired.  I finally gave up and retraced my steps.  I had to climb over and under the logs again then asked a group if I could use the empty  tent space next to their camp.

They were very friendly, two University teachers and their friend, so I felt quite at home among them for my first night on the trail.  The creek was right off the camp but I had to walk through their “living room” to get to it.  They are welcoming to me, especially after I say I went to the same school and had been a teacher myself.  But later, the friend is quite interested in my journey and asks many questions … and I get very talkative, which results in the teachers getting quiet.  I feel like I’ve overstayed my welcome so I retreat to my tent, whereupon the laughter and camaraderie resume, loudly.  It confirms my party crashing vibes.

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My damp home away from home.

They stay up rather late, there is bourbon involved after all.  It feels strange and I wonder if I feel lonely, but I don’t. I feel more “out of place” and knowing that, I choose to be okay with all that is happening. This is a journey of discovery and of being in the moment. This particular moment is noisy and a little annoying as they laugh and shine their headlamps on my tent. Accidental? Maybe. I do wish I had the chance to camp alone my first night, but there were so many people up and down the trail, I’d rather camp near these intellectuals than the group of flannel wearing men with furrowed eyebrows I saw just around the corner. My camp-mates may run hot and cold, but I feel safer here. And so I sleep as they party on into the night.

Day 2:  Up to Indian Springs (Brutal Climb)

I made it to Indian Springs!! It was a grueling day, I climbed about 3 thousand feet…  in 5 ½ miles. Ugh. The most gain was the last 2 miles and it took me almost 3 hours. At first, I’d count 100 steps then stop and take a breather. Then it was 50. Then 20 and finally 10. I’d plod 10 steps and stop to breathe. It was brutal, grueling, hard…. how many words can my tired mind come up with for steep and exhausting? Not many apparently.

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Destination, top of the ridge. And NO this picture does not quite capture how hard this trail really is!

Long, low miles,  it was 3 PM when I stepped out of the woods and into a party. The abandoned campsite of Indian Springs had a truck, tables full of food, water, BBQ grills, lounge chairs and 7 women. One looked up at me and said, “You made it!”

I made it!” And wondered what the hell was going on. Turns out, these 7 women, all from the same family ( sisters/aunts/in-laws) had hiked from Timberline lodge to this spot. Where they were met by an uncle/brother who drove the difficult road bringing the party trimmings, including a propane shower!

I was welcomed into the family party and plied with water, food, wine and a hot shower. I declined the last two items, (I don’t really drink… much) and the shower? Well, that’s some amazing trail magic, but it was only my second day after all! I didn’t feel deprived enough of the luxury of showers that taking one in the abandoned Indian Springs campground was worth the effort. I was holding out for a high mountain lake!

The Indian Springs party was so warm and welcoming, such a difference from how I started my day. The Eagle Creek women were rather cold to me, I barely got a good morning and it was very quiet as I packed up. One of them pointedly turned her back to me, whenever I looked over at their camp all  I’d see were backsides.  It was odd, I mean, you have to work at maintaining that position. Finally, I shouldered my pack and said “Bye, have a nice hike out!” One quiet “Bye” was all I got in return.

Well, I hoofed it out of there by 9 and had a laugh at myself for even noticing the morning cold shoulders… was my little ego wanting to take a “poor me” ride? Silly ego!  I focused on the trail and the moment and in a short time I met two very friendly thru hikers (hikers trying to go from the Mexican border all the way up to Canada). They both stopped to chat about the trail and were happy to answer my questions about the river crossings and other trail conditions. They asked where I was going and where I started and suddenly I felt like I was part of the trail hiker community. Not just a camper or a day hiker, but someone who was out to do some real mileage. Someone out to accomplish something bigger than themselves.

They  warned me that the Indian Springs trail was steep and hard.  I gulped a little inside.  If a thru hiker who’d already seen so much, including the Sierra Nevada range, said it was steep… uh, yikes!  But that was the way I had to go, so go I did.  Just at the trail junction, I came across a group of women who were cheerfully day hiking from a nearby lake.  As they went past me, I noticed one of the had a Hamsa tattoo on her leg.

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And since I’d drawn a few and happened to be wearing a shirt with a Hamsa on it I called out, “Nice TAT!”  And for some reason, they came back.  They were chatty, but mostly wanted to know how to find Indian Mountain.  Then they showed me their directions for a loop hike that would take them back to their lake.  No map, just printed directions from an internet hike site.  I pulled out the map, had them take a picture of it, then pointed at the Indian Springs trail which they had just missed.

“You’ll need to go that way for 2 miles, then turn left to get back to the lake,” I told them.  They were very happy they had come back and asked for help, as they would have gone all the way to Eagle Creek before they had figured it out.  As they left up the steep trail I told them the Hamsa was a sign of protection.

“I guess it’s working!” said the tattooed girl.

I took a big swig of water then started up the trail myself.  The thru hikers did not exaggerate.  It was steep alright.  At times I had to roll myself up a step as high as my waist.  There was no way to “step up”.  My calves were screaming, so to shut them up, I’d turn around to rest, just so the incline went the other way while I paused.  After an hour and a half, I looked up my location on my phone.  I have an app that works off satellite GPS and tells you where you are on the trail.  Unbelievably, I was only half way up the trail.  I was pretty shocked and since I was hungry and tired, I sat right down on the trail and had lunch .  Food always helps.  20 minutes later I pressed on.  I met some more thru hikers, this time from England who were already disheartened by the steepness.  They were hurting, just different parts.  Everyone I met seemed to agree, downhill is worse, though it was hard to relate as up, up, up seemed to be my only experience so far.

And then, 3 hours after I saw the Hamsa tattoo, I found the spring and the end of the trail.  And the most welcome welcoming committee ever.

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Best trail magic EVER! The Seven.

So tired… will write more tomorrow.  Reminder:  write about the lost hiker and her brother.  And about the 54-Days-Out-Boys.

Day 3:  The Ridge Above Bull Run Watershed

I went to bed early, but the party lasted into the night.  I was tired from my hike, they don’t call 9 PM “hiker midnight” for nothing.  Most are pretty wiped out by then.  But the “Seven” (as I began to call them) had a pretty flat hike the day before and were jazzed by the family trail magic.  They had a campfire, which generally means you are staying up late and enjoying the fun.  It would be quiet for a while, voices murmuring in the background as I drifted off to sleep, then the group would erupt with laughter, startling me awake.

OMG, What kind of trip was this going to be? So weird to start off with my second communal camp and second night of a trail party. I sincerely hoped things would quiet down once I got further down the trail.  Indian Springs ends, or begins, depending on which direction you are going, at the PCT.  Maybe getting on the Pacific Crest Trail will make a difference.

Before I wrapped things up for the evening, a hiker came up the Indian Springs trail with a frantic look on his face.  He asked us if we had seen his sister, describing her in detail.  He hadn’t seen her since 2:30 that afternoon when he stopped for water.  She, however had hiked on and rather than wait at the trail junction, had kept going.  Apparently she missed the turn off just like the Hamsa tattoo girl.  Her brother, thinking she had made the turn and wasn’t waiting for him, hiked up the Indian Spring only to come out at the top and discovered she wasn’t there.

I helped him look at a map, pointing out what she had probably done.  And suggested he go back down Indian Springs and meet her as she was most likely climbing up right now.  But he opted to drop his pack and head the opposite way in case she completed the loop and was circling around to our campground.  We told him we’d be on the look out for her and not let her leave should she arrive.

About an hour later, the sister popped out of the woods… she’d figured out she was going the wrong way and (as predicted) had backtracked and climbed up Indian Springs.  She was entreated to stay and given “Seven” hospitality.  Since she was in very good hands, I retreated to my camp where I listened to my neighbors chat about Harry Potter books for another hour.  These guys had come in right after the brother and settled into the site next to me.  They had been on the trail for 54 days and this was their last night.  Three 20 somethings, they appeared all trail hardened and looked every bit the bearded survivalists they had become.  And then they started chatting about Harry, Hermoine, Dumbledore and Snape.  It was rather adorable actually.  First thing upon awakening in the morning, they picked up where they left off… who had the greater challenges, who was the best character, what Harry would have done if Ron hadn’t…  so cute.

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My camp at Indian Springs in the morning. That table came in handy.

I packed up, did some yoga stretches and said bye to the Seven.  In my first 200 feet on the PCT, I met a group of older gentlemen who also had hiked down from Timberline.  They were very interested in my “hands free” umbrella set up.  As we chatted, I found out that I was meeting the Chairman of the Board of the Pacific Crest Trail Association, John Crawford!  He gave me his card, solicited my membership and shared his trail name, StormChaser.  The other two were also on the board, apparently there had been a meeting at Timberline that year and they were using the annual meeting as a springboard for a section hike.

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And just like that, I was above the trees! I believe that is Mt. Adams back there.

Around the “corner” I came across the brother and sister team (Will and Anne) who’s reunion last night was met with cheers from the Seven.  I could hear Will shout from my camp,  “Where the FUCK were you??!!” as he came back from his search. Apparently that was accompanied by leaps of joy and huge hugs all around.  We chatted a bit about how to avoid that situation in the future, and considering they were hiking SOBO (south bound) from the Canadian border to Mexico, it was a good idea they develop a strategy.

The rest of my day was rather uneventful.  I met section hikers Smudge and Toaster, two 63 year old women who were on their way to Canada.  They had started at the Oregon border and looked great.  So capable and strong.  They actually looked better than many other thru hikers I saw later, which goes to show you, wisdom and experience really do make a difference.

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For you Star Wars fans: The forest of Endor? Nope, the PCT above Bull Run!

I met “In and Out” who chatted about gear with me.  Again, my hands free umbrella set up was the icebreaker.  He took a picture of it so he could make one for himself.  I probably should explain…  I have, along with many other hikers, a silver colored umbrella that works as a marvelous portable shade as well as a rain cover.  But, if you use trekking poles, like most hikers are now-a-days, you can’t hold your umbrella.  I figured out if you cut a paint roller, drill a couple of holes in it and attach it to your backpack strap, you can stuff the handle of the umbrella down the short tube and voila!  Hands free!  It was the talk of the trail as hikers asked what my roller was for…  if it wasn’t being used.  Otherwise, many were envious of my set up.  That shade saved me more than  once!

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Hands free shade!!

It was nice to have relatively flat day after climbing up out of the Columbia River Gorge.  I was starting to understand why even section hikers went NOBO (northbound).  Day three was mostly ridge walking along the Portland watershed known as Bull Run.  I caught a glimpse of Mt. Hood, it was nice to see where I was going for once! I also caught glimpses of jumbo jets.  Apparently this portion of the trail was right on the flight path of PDX.  Every 10 minutes or so a big old jet would wooosh on by.  I’m sure the passengers were getting gorgeous views of Mt. Hood, but for me, it was definitely disturbing the peace of my hike.

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My first glimpse of HOOD!! Hey there, big guy!

There were signs all over warning hikers to stay on trail, no camping allowed.  So I headed for a site at a trail junction.  Just as I was checking it out, a group of women came in, also looking to bed down for the night.  They graciously offered to move on, but the site I had just passed was so fly and mosquito infested I wouldn’t wish that on anyone!  So I stepped across the trail to a flat spot that wasn’t a part of the camp and let them have it.  I’d rather camp with the 4 women then an unknown mixture of who knows who.  I was literally feet from the PCT but the flat spot was far more cushier than the regular site.  It was full of fir needles and was my softest bed yet.

And better still, everyone was tired.  My friendly neighbors who had been buddies for over 25 years all tucked themselves in by dark.  Finally, a quiet camp!

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A good nights rest was had by all.

 

Blue on Blue

PCT in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, WA  A field of blue lupins echo the deepening sky as day turns to night.  (Based on the photo by Gabi Fulcher 2014)

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When I started this painting I had no idea how blue it was going to go.  I had been doing a lot of inner work, thinking about my inner self, my concepts, my ideas, my integrity, my weaknesses.  Why do I think this way, what lessons are there to learn from our emotions… when I get frustrated or upset, what does that come from? Does it come from the situation at hand or from a lifetime of similar situations that make the current crisis seem bigger than it is?  I examined all my inner wounds like a forensic investigator, trying to make a case for guilt, innocence or acquittal.  I had no preconceived notions of the outcome but one word rose to the surface and I followed it like a flashlight in the darkness.

That word was compassion.  That I find the compassion in myself, that I nurture the compassion and choose the compassion rather than the hard edged anger and meanness that was trying to gain a foothold. I don’t like the hard edge… though I admire the strength anger has given me.  Anger is a good emotion, it’s a powerful one, but not one that should be driving my car.  You can’t make anger go away, but you can recognize it’s usefulness.  Anger is the fire that burns away the pain and takes you down to ash so you can rise again, clean and new and reborn.

Anger turned inward is depression.  There were too many times I had taken that anger and smoldered the flame with my body, inhaling the toxicity, allowing depression to take a toehold deep inside. And so, with the gray skies of the Pacific NorthWest dumping their seasonal load upon my home and myself, I found a deep blue streak staining my life. I had a hard time getting into the holiday spirit.  I just couldn’t do it, that blue funk was everywhere.

But then there was compassion.  And compassion led me to stories and places and videos and chat groups and forums and a greater understanding.  I followed every lead, turned over every rock, searched in all the drawers, cupboards and forgotten shelves.  The anger that had masqueraded as depression was swept out and dealt with.  The light began to shine again as we rounded the equinox and the sun literally returned to my part of the world.

With gratitude, I stood before a blank canvas and painted yet another in my Wilderness Of Women (WOW), a series of paintings from the trail.  All paintings are from photos taken by women hikers.  So far I’ve only done one from my own photo, the rest were taken by other women hikers.  This image of the PCT is from the Goat Rocks Wilderness in Washington State. It was sent it to me last winter by the photographer/hiker, Gabi Fulcher.  It’s been hanging in my studio for some time now… and well, now seemed to be it’s moment.

All these WOW paintings have a vivid saturation of color that connects my deep love of these wild places to my heart.  This one was the same in intensity, but different in just one word.  The word is “I”.  As in “I” painted it, because it doesn’t feel like “I” actually did.  I stood before the canvas after sketching it out in my normal fashion.  I was between the 6th and 7th chakra painting in my last series (see previous post) and using the same palette of color I was about to start when I hesitated.  I’ve done this before, and usually with good results, so I trusted the pause.  And I said to my muse: go ahead… you got this one.  Do what you like, I’ll just hold the brush.  And so, she did. Or he… it doesn’t matter, my muse is gender neutral.

Blue on Blue can speak for itself.  It’s so much more than me.  Just like the word compassion.

 

The Wilderness of Women

This winter I’ve been collecting images from the wilderness; photos taken by women.  I’ve made some wonderful connections with women hikers (good old Facebook!) and this has fueled my desire to get back to the back country.  I don’t have much to say about it other than I noticed a trend in these paintings.  That is, I seem to be recreating these images with intense, vibrant colors.  Far exceeding the photos sent to me, the hues are saturated, brilliant, strong and deep.  I suppose I am expressing my own personal intensity when it comes to these remote places even though I have not been to these specific locations.  Yet.

Anyway, it all came together without the fuss and drama I had experienced with Spectacle Lake.  I have no idea why!  Maybe I was just in a better “head space” when I got into it… seems like life is on track right now and my own personal dramas have been smoothed out.  So without much fanfare, musings or stray thoughts, here it is, Mile 2330 on the PCT.  It’s the fourth in the series, based on the photo from “thru hiker” Jocelyn (Patches) Songer.  Thank you my fellow Yankee!

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Mile 2330 on the PCT Oil on canvas 12 x 16