owl sounds

Still a touch bedraggled from a week of sleeping on the ground with the bugs in the San Juan Islands, Adam nevertheless cheerfully joined me for this walk which I’d been saving myself up for (don’t fail me now, feet) and by the end of the day we’d meandered twelve enjoyably convoluted miles over the ruggedest kind of parkland. He’s such a good sport, part of me worried I totally bamboozled him back at the house as to particulars of the journey but never a single time did he complain so I won’t bother humorously kvetching here about the sticky, preternaturally coagulated, titaniumized mass of formerly chocolate mints which had spilled then moltenized in his rucksack, that will require industrial sandblasting for removal lest a trail of fresh-breathed ants find their way out of the closet under the stairs to let the entire colony know about the chocolatier offering free samples.

July 2019 - Gem Lake 578

This is unique backcountry at the mountain pass above our town, an exceptional place to wander artistic cracks and hollows in rock gardens of tangled elfin trees and heather. After scooting an absentminded vole off the path and admiring curiously uncurious pikas and other small mammals of the subalpine we climbed over dinner-plate and Yugo-sized felsenmeer to a mountaintop where we signed the summit register containing soggy papers but which left us sunny inside. Halfheartedly attempting a sketch of the complicated basin below us, Adam folded his pencil box shut (not before losing a brown #5 in the rocks) in favor of more chocolate and listened with me to the sounds of quiet. For the descent we followed interminable contours into crannies, crossing parklike meadows down the mountainside into forest at dusk where we listened to the chattiest owl in bird history, shortly thereafter making the acquaintance in the dark of one Recently Retired Rodney of Ellensburg (where he has lived all his life excepting a brief spell in Denver) who having spent the week on the Pacific Crest Trail commencing some seventy miles north and having detoured to some hot springs for a soak and having made a laborious ascent earlier that morning via wickedly overgrown trail, was gladder than glad to see us and join in the owl fun. A delightful companion for the remainder of the walk, we gave him a ride (told you he was glad to see us) to the petrol station across from the ski hill in order that he could wait for his friend taxi from Ellensburg on the other side of the crest, putt-putt-putt. Maybe buy himself a chocolate bar? He deserved it.

campfire corral

This phosphorescent, sinuous vista was the roof of Orcas Island last summer, in June. The oddest juxtaposition, this mossy slope and adjacent, trailing kinnikinnick! Adam and I tarried along the crown of Mount Constitution before dropping like a broken elevator to the lake below, the name of which escapes me as the island is saddled with a number of bland, forgettable place-names. The depth of field here is my cup of tea though it calls to mind a Corgi with grass-stained tummy (it’s my aperture). Several miles from the base of Constitution is home to Camp Orkila, where Adam has spent a portion of the past week (most of his time has been on Satellite Island camping under the stars). During this particular occasion we were sharing a rustic home on the island with dear friends who currently are packing boxes for a move from Ann Arbor to Philadelphia. When I should visit next hasn’t quite been figured out, I do love them and owe a call-upon.  Summer seems a virtually miserable time in the big cities back east (woe the edginess humidity hath wrought) but they’re both university academics so my favorite season (autumn) is probable to be inconvenient unless I’m in the mood for mostly exploring on my own, which I sort of could be, in the evenings regale them with exploits from my zany adventures, like almost wetting myself during a DEFCON 1 search for a sanitary public toilet after miles of walking through history with five cups of coffee.

July 2018 - Mount Constitution 476-4

This morning, Oliver Fern and I counted coins, depositing them into the pretty blue vase from whence we dumped them out last evening (in search of quarters for an apéritif at the hilltop arcade, he played five games of Super Mario Kart followed by quiet browsing at the bookshop down the street).  Curiosity got the best of us at breakfast-time, quizzing one another as to the worth of those tarnished nickels, dimes, and quarters and the grand total arrived at forty three dollars and ninety-three cents, not counting currency from Canada and Chuck E. Cheese and coin counting eventually circled to Orcas Island as I explained the history of the vase to Oliver. It came from a little farm in Crow Valley on the island, quite a long time ago. In the back of a clapboard house was a small barn with rickety shelves and Black Widows, that’s where we picked out the vase.

This morning finds me on the melancholy side, for second-youngest brother who is among the best and funniest uncles on the planet, his visit next weekend kiboshed on account of the soul-crushing demands of ruthless upstairs capitalism, I’m dreadfully disappointed but he has a young family to take care of along with a gruesome fixer-upper in Logan Square. Every day he rides the train to his office in the heart of the Loop where he disembarks into an urban obstacle course, dodging missiles of traffic through fearsome, shadowy Ayn Randian canyons of glass towers before sitting down at a leaning tower of papers stacked five feet high where he conducts drastically serious maneuvers of reasoning and logic. He’s the real big brother, one of us was fated to circle back to the Windy City, carry on the tradition, no one is more Chicago than him.  Two winters ago we stood side-by-side for an impromptu portrait of our families together, much later I startled to see the photograph: Little brother towers over me in crisp business casual, impeccably groomed while I’m discomfitingly hillbilly, long hair curtaining my shoulders, it was hard not to cringe a bit at the Wild Bill Hickock staring back. Some of us are comfortable with the tradeoff when it comes to personal grooming (there’s only so much time in the day) yet the portrait was a jarring reveal and last night, before heading up the hill for the arcade, found me trimming nearly my entire beard and mustache with dainty sewing scissors, I haven’t kept a razor for twenty years (where do I even go for a haircut?) and forgot my nose is sort of crooked, courtesy of an old schoolyard brawl. Oliver beheld with perceptible disappointment his less hirsute father as recently he finished Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in which I’d served as the mental composite for his Hagrid.

Finally, this morning (when Oliver and I were scriss-scrossing tallies, plinking coins into the vase) my thoughts turned a quarter rotation to Adam. Several nights ago, struggling to fall back asleep I found myself reflecting upon the thorny ethics of the journal, writing about my teenager-in-the-wings. It dawned on me with clarity how devastated or conflicted his future self could be to find these accountings, if they go on much further. Up until now, I think it’s been fine. He has always been just a boy, after all. It’s like the time mother showed your first serious steady the ridiculous Kodak featuring you at four years old, the underwear is on your head (it’s supposed to be a deep sea diving helmet) and you’re itching your nekkid parts. Who gives a flying leap? But I’ve gotten past that point. Naivety or good intentions aren’t on my side, anymore. Adam deserves the right to tell his own story.  It’s time for me to start standing on my two feet.

helicopter parents (la merced and dodger blue)

Be that as it may, this goat is possibly superior to myself in that she doesn’t curse like a pirate around her kid. Anthropomorphizing as a habit is to be avoided, along with corny puns, I suppose. It’s true I do my best to not indulge in it excessively around the boys for fear of giving them a bad grasp on the natural sciences, animal behavior or whatnot although some of the most passionate, favorite wildlife biologists of mine fall prey to the tendency.

June 2019 - Mt. Ellinor 148

This will be the final image in my Non-Native Wildlife of the Olympics series featuring goats with dingleberries and leftover, tattered winter coats. It’s probable these two will have been airlifted out of this part of the range by the end of August, part of a campaign to remove mountain goats from the Olympic Peninsula. Jesus Christ, some of them are even getting helicoptered out with mind-altering drugs and cushy blindfolds!  As for the cursing, I’m neither potty mouth nor puritan, the boys delight in chastising me over my slightly more than semi-occasional lack of self-control which is gratifying to me, accountability is a paramount virtue in our household.

Wednesday saw me dropping Adam off at the ferry terminal for Camp Orkila. While I was inclined to stay until the boat arrived he encouraged me to leave. During the drive north to Anacortes, that fishing village cum retirement mecca and jumping-off point for the San Juan Islands, I stole glances at my handsome, oldest baby boy with those tiny prepubescentish dotty pimples begging for recreational popping and goofy death metal straining the tinny speakers of his headphones. As we descended into Skagit Valley, his voice cracked like a dinner plate. Yipes! Two nights ago in our very dungeon-like, unfinished basement (having graciously volunteered to crash there on a musty old sofa across from the washing machine in order that his cousin visiting from Lake Michigan Country could have his bed so she didn’t have to sleep like a sardine with Grandma in the back room) I kissed him goodnight on the forehead. He looked up at me in surprise so I wheeled around, kissing him again and he laughed like I told him a corny joke and ever since I’ve been struggling with an acute case of phantom limb. This morning I wrote him a letter because he should have something to tuck under his tearstained pillowcase, like everyone else. The letter was mostly blabbations regarding the history of La Merced, that landmark old schooner with trees growing out of it that anyone on the way to the Anacortes ferry terminal will see, it’s down in Lovric’s shipyard. What I’d written seemed a little dry around the edges so I enclosed a few old Dodgers baseball cards and cut out the latest box scores. Adam’s a huge Dodgers fan, in the beginning it was because of Dodger blue, legitimate as any reason when you’re ten years old but now he’s actually become something of an authority on the team. I’ve thought of taking him down to Chavez Ravine later this summer for a game. You know, as if LA is just a couple hours down the coast……

you can do anything if you put your mind to it and possess particular biological adaptations and evolutionary propensities

Wildlife photography is a wholly unfamiliar discipline to me so it was kind of neat when Adam and I made the acquaintance of some shaggy mountain goats at close quarters in the subalpine, Saturday night. This portrait is someplace in the 24 mm neighborhood which is normally reserved for more stationary objects which tend to not elude me. The inspiration to share this came after dropping the boys, my niece and Grandma off at the zoo, this morning. They’re still there, even. I’m not a big zoo person. The animals always seem to lock onto me in particular with their sad eyes, staring into my soul trying to trade places as it were, giving me a terrible guilt complex, raising all sorts of ethical and philosophical questions I’m not well-equipped to handle. So I just don’t go there.

June 2019 - Mt. Ellinor 158

At any rate, it’s always a good idea to keep a rock available in your pocket in case you encounter a pushier goat on a mountaintop in some ranges of the Olympics or Cascades, they’ve become quite habituated to (fond of, even) Instagram-obsessed humans and the braver ones will get up in your business in the quest for salt. It was electric watching them scale cliffside, the sound of those clacking hooves tend to induce goosebumps. As evolved as they are to move comfortably, nonchalantly about this terrain, plenty of goats bite the dust falling to their deaths so watching them gave me sweaty palms.