Archive for the ‘Washington’ Category

Orcas Island in November

November 24, 2011

Life is quiet on a San Juan island in the fall. I know this because my sister Laura and I just spent two days on Orcas, the largest island in the archipelago off the coast of Washington State. In the waterfront community of Eastsound where we stayed, “shut” signs excuse many shops from business, the streets were empty of people, the wind blew fiercely across the water, and the sun set by 4:45 p.m., driving us to our pajamas soon after. After months of running at full-steam, we welcomed the slowdown.

The ferry ride over

Here are some highlights of our trip:

  • After a cold and rainy ferry ride to the island on Tuesday, we turned up the heat so high in our room at the Outlook Inn that we passed out from heat exhaustion. Laura did not wake up for 12 hours.
  • After serving us coffee and pastries, the flannel-clad woman at the Wildflour Bakery burst out that we were “so tall” and then apologized, saying the 12-year-old in her could not resist commenting. We wanted her to be our friend.
  • We ate burgers at the Lower Tavern, a dark, cinder-block building that seems the center of the town’s nightlife and offers microbrews, “the best burgers in town,” a pool table and a juke box that lights up in time to its own tunes (which seemed to be vintage video game soundtracks when left unattended).
  • The Island Market, where we picked up crackers, cheese and double-chocolate Milanos to fill up after our overpriced salads at the Madrones Grill.
  • We hiked up Mount Constitution (2,409 feet) in the 5,000-acre Moran State Park, skirting the edges of small mountain lakes, crossing fields strewn with dead ferns and moss-covered logs and passing through foreboding forests where fog surrounded the dark trunks of the trees. From the stone tower on top, we could see miles out across the water, to other finger-like San Juans, even over the border into Canada.

My sister-friend, and moss.

  • We watched the sun set over the water from the end of a pier in Olga, on the eastern side of the horseshoe-shaped island.

  • The wind was so fierce on Thursday that, during our morning run along the back roads, we had to lean forward 45 degrees to keep moving forward. Later in the day, I began to question my choice of dangly earrings.
  • One last thing: let me recommend traveling with a Bota Box, a box o’ wine (Malbec, in our case) that’s actually pretty good. You save the glass it would take to produce four wine bottles and always have inexpensive but good wine on tap. Plus, it’s classy!

On a separate but semi-related note, I have decided to start memorizing poetry, a practice my grandfather felt important in life. My first project is Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese, which I feel is appropriate theme- and image-wise for our stay on the wild isle. Here it is, from memory:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.

[That’s as far as I’ve gotten. Here’s the rest:]

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.


Smack-pop-stick: Seattle’s giant wall o’ gum

September 9, 2010

The exterior wall of the Market Theater on Seattle’s waterfront is like the underside of a middle school cafeteria table, times 100. Since the early 1990s, people have affixed wads of chewed gum to the brick wall, located in  the downward-sloping Post Alley right beside the Pike Place Market. The result? A giant saliva-infused, molar-molded collage.

There’s no denying it’s disgusting. At the same time, though, it’s a cool example of an ongoing community art project. And, if you look closely, you can find some interesting arrangements of colors, shapes and textures.

I did my part.

In Washington’s Goat Rocks Wilderness: the cutest warriors ever!

August 23, 2010

In the Goat Rocks Wilderness of southern Washington, the marmot population is acting particularly feisty these days. During the subalpine area’s brief summer season, the groundhog-like creatures emerge from their rock piles to engage in epic pushing battles atop large boulders. On a recent backpacking trip, I witnessed multiple skirmishes between the pear-shaped creatures, who would stand nose to nose on their hind legs, shoving each other like 8-year-old boys on the playground.

A hoary marmot between fights

The 105,600-acre wilderness between Mount Rainier and Mount Adams in the Cascade Mountain Range is absolutely beautiful during the summer. Glaciers melt into creeks and cascade downhill, catching sunlight as they ribbon through the grass. Red columbine, pink mountain heather, long-leaved phlox, lupine, shooting stars and red paintbrushes bloom in the meadows. And packs of musky-smelling mountain goats roam the high hillsides, dipping their large rectangular heads to munch the grass.

We saw around 10 mountain goats grazing on the hillsides above the trail. Here is one, for example.

My friend Tim and I started hiking at the Berry Patch trail head mid-afternoon on a Sunday and spent the following two days exploring. We passed through the flowered Jordan Creek Basin — a.k.a. Paradise! — and climbed up Goat Ridge to Goat Lake, which was still frozen except for a few crescents of melted turquoise water around the edges. We set up a base camp less than a mile down the trail in a hemlock grove overlooking Goat Creek Valley, executing, in the process, a picture-perfect bear-bag hang — high off the ground and far from the tree trunk. We proceeded to take numerous pictures of our work, and we’re pretty sure other hikers did too, when we weren’t in camp. The following day, we hiked across meadows, rock fields and snow pack to the top of Old Snowy, a 7,930-foot peak above our camp that afforded incredible views of Mount Adams to the south and Mount Rainier to the north.

The seed pods of the Pasque flower, also known, appropriately, as mop heads

The mop heads kind of resemble furry sea anemones.

Here, the mature Pasque Flower, which likely wants nothing to do with its crazy-headed younger siblings.

The avalanche lily blooms one to two weeks after snow melt.

Red columbine and raindrops

Tim climbing toward Old Snowy

Mount Adams from the top of Old Snowy. As we stood among the rocks on top of Old Snowy, misty clouds swirled into the valleys below us, where they hung for the remainder of the trip.

Sunset light from our campsite

Mount Adams

Look at that beautiful bear-bag hang! Let me know if you want a copy of this pic.

White water wafting the White Salmon

September 17, 2008

Q: What do you get when you put three dental equipment salesmen from Kansas City together in a river raft?

A: Knock-knock jokes!

I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say, I learned quite a few one-liners during a recent rafting trip in Washington State.

My friend Jonathan guides rafting trips on Washington’s White Salmon River for a company called Wet Planet. He took Helen and me — and the three salesmen — down the river on a recent Saturday morning.

Within seconds of shoving off shore, we were negotiating churning Class III and IV rapids (out of V navigable types) that didn’t relent until we pulled the raft off the water at the end of the run. This took a well-coordinated digging of paddles, an every-man-for-the-team mentality — and some skilled steering from the back.

The White Salmon River starts on the glaciers on Mount Adams, ends at the Columbia River near the town of Hood River, Oregon is protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The clear, frigid water was on its way through a narrow, steep-walled canyon of volcanic rock during the eight miles we followed it. The setting has a pristine beauty about it; flowers and ferns grow from cracks in the canyon walls, needly trees arch out over the water, and osprey circle overhead.

We abandoned our raft upstream of the first waterfall, BZ Falls, and while the empty vessel floated over the 24-foot drop by itself, we walked around. Then we jumped off a cliff and met it at the bottom.

“Make sure you land in the dead center of the river,” our trip leader had said before we hurled ourselves off the edge. “Land too close and you’ll hit the rock ledge on this shore. Land too far away, and you’ll hit the rock wall on the other side.” Instructions like that make for an exhilarating free fall. No really, it was fun.

The trip concluded at the base of the 10-foot Husum Falls. We stayed in the raft for that one, and practiced a stay-in-the-raft tactic as we approached. When Jonathan said “Get down!” we swung our paddles along the outside of the raft (being careful not to remove each other’s teeth in the process), scooted our butts onto the floor and grabbed a safety cord.

Here we are in action:

CRAFT IDEA: Why not print out these photos and staple them together to create your very own Husum Falls flip book?!!

Notice our calm composure as we approach the drop. That’s me, back right. Helen is directly in front of me.

OK, not as much composure here. This one has more of a “HOLY SHIT!” feeling to it.

That’s Jonathan, our guide.

You can still see his arm.

Aaaaaand, we’re back. And all accounted for!

Oh, to be alive!!!

I’d say that was a bonding experience

After Helen and I dried off, we drove to Giffort Pinchot National Forest to hike the Sleeping Beauty Trail. The 1.4-mile path ascended through a forest of firs and hemlocks draped in lichen.

It ended at a 4,900-foot rock outcropping that overlooked Mount Adams (pictured above), Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier.

Helen and me, windswept, at the top

And, a shot from the way down, some lichen in the sunlight:

Rafting photos courtesy of Wet Planet.