balsamorhiza sagittata

There wasn’t a lot of that springtime mainstay balsamorhiza sagittata along the path last Saturday except for one particular draw which I must say was exceptionally pretty in the evening, owing to the emerald green grass. There’s an underground spring hereabouts which is the source of that tinkling creek which seeps out of the ground like a miracle. Beavered in vain to capture these flowers with uplands in the distance for a background characteristic of the local scenery but I was foiled- damn that wonderful bracing air swooping into the canyon! This was one of my last attempts to outwit the wind and have I mentioned the ticks, yet? No booby prize for me!

April 2019 - Umtanum Ridge 467-6

Adam had journeyed ahead by this time. He was a wonderful companion all the day long but waiting around for your dad while he’s stumbling around taking pictures gets to be a little like watching paint dry when you’re eleven years old and besides maybe he just wanted to lose himself in the imagining of his latest space opera concerto, oftentimes I’ll catch him conducting furiously and it’s the cutest thing but I have to act as though I haven’t noticed because he takes great offense to being observed like some kind of zoo animal. Ultimately he would end up patiently waiting for me down at the river, for the better part of an hour. When I found him he was luxuriating with his shoes off although he dashed under the railroad bridge to wait like some kind of troll so he could feel the evening freight train as it thundered through. Before we headed home, he and I found that lonesome willow a mile or two down the canyon. Our hopes for a short stroll up to it were dashed by barbed wire and cows with sharp horns.

steppe aire

We spend most of the time where it’s mossy, water drips down our noses and the cupboard under the stairs is full of musty jackets, sand collects in the corner by the front door with bags of concentrically-corresponding cobbles and driftwood walking sticks leave smudgy tic tac toes on the walls but Saturday found us on the townie side of the Whulge so Adam and I headed east into the shrub-steppe for a walk through bunchgrass and sagebrush in a quest to find some flowers before the big show, right now it’s quieter for listening to the Meadowlarks, pretty soon the colors will drown everything out even the sound of your own breathing and heart pounding.

April 2019 - Umtanum Ridge 416-2

Several zoomy tunnels followed by a floating bridge launched us into the dark green foothills where the transmission case shuddered before jerking to a low growl over the crest of the Cascades, leveling out past old coal towns and distinctly bluer skies finally culminating in a long descent into Kittitas Valley past irrigation pivots and enormous blocks of hay stacked like wooden blocks.

The wide-open country was enticing, so was that pleasant college town at the crossroads but we followed the Yakima River into the confines of the canyon bearing the same name and while the lack of trees was disorienting for these mossbacks, the spring greens were breathtaking (the cattle roaming that magnificent amphitheatre-like bowl, home to the loneliest willow tree on the planet, agree) and flyfisher lines artfully looped and shimmered so much we wondered how people on the ends of them didn’t fall down in their boats or into the river, with the fishes. Finally, we found a spot by the river and took the dusty, rocky path which is the gateway drug to harder places.

We journeyed up a draw featuring tinkling water (there be rattlesnakes) and when the miracle green sort of vanished we stopped to just feel the steppe.  This image is where the clouds fwoosh the baseball cap off your head and wind gusts untwirl your shoelaces, the human population density is low.

a giant pacific octopus (just squirted ink in your tea and pooped on your crumpet)

For teatime on Sunday we met north of the Ship Canal at the Crown Hill cottage of a dear friend who makes the most beautiful watercolors, she’s quite insecure about them yet not overly modest so if something catches your eye it’s a knife ridge. Sitting in the living room with a view out the picture window past a billowy willow up to Greenwood, we sipped with our eyes open the better for advance scouting the tray of muffinish breads, the delicious kind with seeds and berries that get stuck in your teeth so you end up savoring them for hours like a flavory electric toothpick until finally much later you just about go bananas in the mad dash for floss. One of us is a bus driver for Metro and always gets around to sharing one or two remarkable tales of collisions between ambulances at four way stops, we were on the edge of our seats and I was feeling a little more grown-up than usual in my v-neck sweater while I may have hogged too many of the things on my side of the tray, that’s why you’re probably better off serving freezer-burned crumpets when the big lug comes over. We were getting sore from sitting so long, you could tell because one of us stretched across the sofa like a geriatric pet and it spread like yawns or maybe it was the heavy woebegone family matters which must always be gotten over, we lightened the mood a little with a tour of the charming rented house and everyone gasped at the tiny bedroom with the stunning nautical mural on two walls featuring a two masted whaler, octopus, fishes and other stuff but I found myself astonished when everyone voted the mural down, they uh-huhed and oh-boyed at the lifelike diorama (someone suggested it was time for the whole thing to be painted over which I thought was the most terrible thing anyone had said about the ocean all afternoon).  While generally-speaking I do believe life-size bedroom murals can be risky propositions, I found this vivid, pulsing seascape utterly charming, the stuff of childhood dreams and just maybe little Greta or Gunnar who grew up in that bedroom now works for NOAA doing important research or maybe they’re a Little Debbie-addicted chain-smoking, salty liveaboard at Shilshole.  Moments later a miscalculation was made on my part, nobody seemed terribly impressed as I reminisced about a few days ago when the boys and I found a severed, sand-breaded octopus tentacle on the beach, this was deflating to me but once again with my childish notions and bad timing. While the conversation floated to transitional ephemera I drifted happily to the Peninsula: Turning over the sucker-covered tentacle with my foot, bemused at the grotesquely solid, rubbery heft, deftly balancing it on the end of my foot like a crude ball, chucking the fleshy mass toward the boys (and grandma) who shrieked with terror. The next morning that shoe smelled really bad. Coming to moments later, it was all I could do to not beg for the tiny, exquisitely-inked octopus on the browned art card which I’d nosily discovered pinched between papers in the napkin holder on the side table in the kitchen (the cottage is just one big room, really). I’ll admit to admiring it for longer than I should’ve in the hopes it would be mine, wasn’t that selfish of me to think my friend should give her hard work to me? Everyone started down the treacherous steps to the day-lighted basement to inspect the humongous backyard (there was even a treehouse in the front yard), I shuffled the tiny illustration back into the deck of charming doodles like a coupon for toothpaste. On the other hand, my dear reader, you just take all these words and keep’em. That’s right, all eight hundred and ninety eight are for you! Scramble them up for something else when you’re done, I won’t be the least bit offended. They make super-good compost, even.

Teatime really was wonderful as I have an abiding love for these friends as they have always been the smart, particularly virtuous kind busy making the world a better place.  Plans we’d made for a walk to nearby Carkeek Park disintegrated with storm clouds, I’d been looking forward to showing everybody where the boys found a broken bike in the dark woods back in February (they managed to ride it hairy scary) but it’s probably better we stayed at the cottage because it had to be wet as hell in the park (it rained a lot on Saturday). Really isn’t it kinda cool we found a chunk of octopus (don’t get me wrong, I’d obviously rather see an entire living one)? Maybe the damned thing got whacked by a freighter propeller and right now it’s sulking on the bottom of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I know it’s not as though we found the Loch Ness monster, people savor these things like butter-soaked crumpets in some places, but the boys were delirious at the discovery. Me, too. The Giant Pacific Octopus is truly one of the fascinating, arrestingly magical species of the Sound and if only we could have transported the hunk of tentacle back home for closer study but alas we were swiftly disabused of the notion by adults in the room, er, on the beach.

tone deafness

The low, blue-green profile of Tiger Mountain which barely forms that ho-hum pyramid in the foothills visible from porches in our neighborhood was the destination, three or four Sundays before last.  Oliver Fern has been antsy to ride his bicycle which indeed is a little red number begging to be taken out all the time and there’s no better place than some up-and-down hills on the near back forty where mountain bikers rule while staid plodders in our party utilized unflashy feet to wheelie-walk (or rockhop) over roots while breathlessly discussing weighty topics ranging from politics, literature or how to get the boys to stop turning their dirty clothes inside-out. Driving to the backside of the recreation area cum working state forestland which encompasses more than ten thousand quilted acres of trees and raccoons we found to our surprise (the boys’ delight) a lot of snow leftover from February. The path we commenced to take started inside of a dark hollow of Doug firs where the snow was surprisingly firm and the thought did occur to us prudence might be the better part of valor but the boys would have none of it and thankfully the route found plenty of southern exposure and we were even down to shirtsleeves at times. A number of areas on the trail blanketed by snow might have allowed us to catch up with the boys where it was necessary for them to dismount and plod along after they had spun in place like overeager hamsters, however, by and large they rode away from us for most of the morning and we decided the snow provided the advantage of discouraging any hungry cougars lurking about as cats this close to the city clearly must not like walking in the stuff because it makes their paws cold.

Warm sunshine baked the dusty parts of trail to a pleasant earthy potpourri and where we passed through snow there was that delightfully shivery freshness like glacier breezes. For lunchtime, the boys’ mother surprised them with cookies. Adam won the bullseye rock throwing contest aiming for the tall, spindly young trees perched on the steep slope below us which gave way to bare mountainside and a thorny old service road. We gazed out at the long forever ridge of Rattlesnake Mountain and the tippy-top of Mt. Si peeking over yonder from Ranger’s Prairie (you barely recognize ol’ Si minus those bottom few thousand feet of ramparts). Several years ago found me walking Rattlesnake’s eleven miles end-to-end in that exceedingly rare January when not a patch of snow was to be found on high, it may not have been the most exciting journey because it’s basically a tree farm up there but it’s kinda neat to connect the dots (Grandma and Adam picked me up at the other end). More than a month ago I suppose it has been, the Department of Natural Resources took the unusual step of saving us from ourselves and closed the Rattlesnake Mountain path due to deep snows.

Last year on Tiger Mountain, when the boys and I were taking a late-winter walk along a quiet, snowy path, somehow we found ourselves on a gated logging road and though the snow grew deeper we pushed on, until our exploration terminated atop an airy knoll in the middle of a clearcut which overlooked a quarry on one side and the other direction was snaggletooth distant views of trees and more trees. The views weren’t all that inspiring because it’s only Tiger Mountain (the unfamiliarity so close to home is the fun thing) but the main reason I remember that day is the genesis was revealed for the start of a thought-provoking essay which had been welling up inside of me and so many agonizing attempts were made at writing it that finally the idea fractured and gushed nonsense, a total ecological disaster and once again I came to that miserable (bad for me but good for you) conclusion I don’t possess the intellectual heft or savor to convey moral seriousness on just about anything and so I decided it was time to make peace with my breezy musings, those scenic tableaus of familial tranquility as it were.

July 2018 - USA Today 1010-2

Breezy musing or not brings me to this scene which anyone who has driven the winding highway along the Olympic Peninsula may recognize because I bet the metaphor has surely struck a lot of souls before their wandering eyeballs widened at the logging truck about to ram them off the road and I revisit the notion, turning it over in my head, every time we wind our way around Discovery Bay past that greasy spoon and maybe it’s the armchair social scientist in me or that navigation through my own cultural dissonance and endless worries about when the shoe will drop. This incongruous, dirty little news rack is like some kind of harbinger, out in the middle of way out there, a place where you would like to imagine life is so much different than anywhere else. Millions of dehydrated tourists pass by here in the summertime. Before smartphones came along, supposing just maybe this particular rack was intended for homesick Type As from Middle America or the other coast, a reminder of the outside world to tide them over during family vacations? This awful rag, perfectly at home on the filthy floor of the airport restroom stall where millions more travelers mindlessly piddle while waiting for their connecting flights, must be the People magazine or strip mall of news dailies and perhaps it’s symbolic apropos to the inexorable putrification of Anywheresville America: Mass markets for everything from food, fashion, sports to gun violence.  Back in January, the irony was more than a little depressing when Gannett found itself on the receiving end of a potential hostile takeover bid. The fish just get bigger.

At the Tiger Mountain trailhead that Sunday was a destitute couple from Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, changing out of their bedclothes in the front seat of their red Chevy van. The sweetest-seeming young woman smiled at me from the driver’s side and I nodded knowingly back, the boys were tussling about who would be the first to ride off into the sunshine.  Part of her face was covered in scabby sores, a couple teeth were revealed to be eaten-away nubbins and as we set upon walking through the woods I couldn’t help selfishly wondering if our windows were gonna be intact later because I’m a pragmatist some of the time but mainly I couldn’t get the thought outta my head how it’s by the grace of God it wasn’t me sitting in the passenger seat, if not at Tiger Mountain then in a rest area someplace on the interstate, filling up on watered-down coffee because I’m an addict deep down, I can just feel it in my bones and I ran away from home a long time ago like maybe she did and it’s not hard remembering that terrifying feeling of escaping gravity only to find oneself locked in geostationary orbit.  Being necessarily obtuse here, I’m not sure where any of this is going because we’re just sort of nodding about this together, you know more than I about how the world works although you’ll talk until you’re blue in the face about not having answers. I find myself regularly locked in a chronic struggle against levity, having not quite figured out how to wordsmith my way around this pleasant cul-de-sac every time something heartbreakingly wicked in the world unfurls like a scarlet banner.  With apologies to Gertrude Stein’s ghost, I’ve worried more than once about where exactly the there is, in here and although I like telling myself there’s nothing higher than to write for writing’s sake, lo the complicity of silence and so this: What I really wish I could do but I can’t because I’m not good enough is write the serious stuff every once in awhile when it was really needed, reassure you with the voice of logic, reason or goodness during times of darkness, like some kind of Plato, Emerson, Woolf, or Martin Luther King Jr..  I wish I could be the light, that way. I’m not even the mite of a mote. Reading this must have felt like brick-laying or the sun beating down with the sails hardly fluttering but please believe me that there’s in fact a there, in here. I think.