Sometimes in life one feels the energies of creativity building up inside. This past week or so has been one of those moments for me. My muse thought it might be a good idea to explore the often overlooked potential of a simple computer program called Microsoft Paint. Here are some selections. Interpretations are welcome and would leave me greatly entertained.
Winters in the Pacific Northwest are not particularly suited for outdoor activities. Now, this is not to say that one cannot enjoy a short walk in the forest or even a weekend camping trip to the coast (both of which I have done on more than one occasion since my arrival here). However, with daily rain and temperatures consistently hovering in the 40s, to heed the temptation to stay indoors is not always an ill-advised course of action.
With this backdrop firmly in place, it was several evenings ago that I made a normal pilgrimage outside only to be greeted by a warm, moist wind blowing from the southwest. Nicknamed the “Pineapple Express” by meteorologists, this phenomenon brings heavy rain to Western Washington when it occurs and often carries with it the risk for major flooding.
Being cooped up in a house for too long will do things to a person. Human beings bore easily, and we are always looking for new things to catch our attention or distract us. In any case, I promised myself that evening on the porch that I would take advantage of the milder weather and spend the following day exploring the forest in my area - a worthwhile pursuit in my opinion.
One of my principal fascinations as of late has to do with attempting to replicate the fascination, excitement, and awe with which toddlers and young children approach the world. Somewhere along the course of my life I have replaced much of said sentiment with anxiety, stress, and fear. Blame it on my culture, blame it on other people, blame it on myself – Actually I would rather not play the blame game. Somewhere deep within, buried under layers of subconscious thoughts, repressed feelings, and the like is that inner child.
Going back to my story, the next day broke cloudy but bright, dry (ha!), and warm by Western Washington winter standards. I eagerly ate a quick breakfast, packed some water, and was off.
The previous day I had overheard a conversation regarding the Tolt River (a local waterway) and its history. According to my source, there was a 9,000 year old trail that paralleled the river into the mountains and somewhere up there was an old hunting camp site.
Armed with this information and a conscious attempt to let my imagination run wild (food for adventure), I built up a plan in my head to explore this mysterious river. Along the way perhaps I would learn a thing or two about the landscape and my place in it.
Marking out a plan with map in hand, I decided that a location called Moss Lake Natural Area would be a good jumping off point to start my expedition. The river is hard to get to as a general rule. Finding its beginning as snowmelt high in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area of the Central Cascades, the river’s forks course downward until they (the South Fork that is) find themselves compounded by a reservoir which happens to be a primary source of drinking water and electricity for the city of Seattle. From this point onward, the river flows through state forest and logging land, being logistically difficult to reach as access roads are gated and at times patrolled by security personnel keen on protecting the area’s natural resources.
Understanding these challenges, I set off on the footpaths of Moss Lake towards the river, which lay to my southeast about a mile away and a few hundred feet into a canyon. The day was beautiful, with that same gentle Southwest breeze bringing fresh scents of evergreen. Birds were singing happily, and I noted that the Red Winged Blackbirds had migrated back into the area.
Moving into the forested area at the back side of the lake preserve, I was stunned by the great beauty of the woodland. In my short time here I have noticed that there is a great span between the make and manner of recently logged forests and those that have had time to heal or even those who were never tampered with in the first place. Standing amidst the great and beautiful Western Hemlocks and Douglas Firs with the open and needle-padded floor beneath my feet, I discerned between the ferns a small footpath. Intrigued, I decided to follow, as it led in the general direction of the river.
The route along the path was fairly silent and introspective. The songs of birds had died and the beautiful forest was quickly giving way to the unfortunate scene of a former clear cut area –all too often I have found that those special areas one encounters in the world are often so close to those places that have seen devastation.
Making my way onto an old logging road, my senses informed me that the river was not far off - I could not only hear the sound of rushing water, but it was apparent that the land dropped off steeply to my right.
What joy I found as the road took me onward that up ahead the near-vertical hillside was dotted with gigantic Douglas Fir trees - easily needing three or even more people to reach around. Making my way to the embankment was like an adult hanging candy in front of the eyes of a hungry child. Below was a dark forest and pools of emerald green water, but there was no easy way down without risking injury. The hill was steep and to make matters worse unstable from the recent heavy rains. The descent would have to wait for another day.
Scrambling back up to the tableland, I faced a decision. Thirst and hunger had got the best of me, and, as I carried neither of these items with me, I would need to either return to the car or look for my own nourishment.
Reluctantly turning towards the lake, my choice to head back was abruptly cut off by a sudden brisk wind. A group of true firs seemed to be waving at me in the distance. Following seemingly such seemingly-fanciful whims has always dealt me good fortune in the past, so I decided to take head to the tree people and press on.
The decision was a good one. As I passed the group of waving trees, I found a small fork in the road. Just to the right were numerous beds of soft grass covered in drops of fresh rainwater. Stooping down, I giddily lapped these up – delicious. Even better news came when I looked up and noticed a small puddle full of cattail stocks. Wading in, I dug a root. Sticky, starchy paste in the fibers provided a tasty treat and a needed boost to my energy. Dandelion leaves finished off the wilderness feast - I was thankful that I had been invited.
Sometimes I think of my life as a river. We emerge from the highlands, cascading over rapids and falls, pooling and falling, pooling and flowing, until we course through our lives and empty back into the waters that fed our beginning. Birth, first steps, day one of school, growing up, graduation and college, the first job, marriage, having kids, watching them grow up, grandchildren, death. Such milestones can bring turbulence, but great beauty as well – the scenery is constantly changing.
I currently stand in the midst of a new life transition. I have found a place to call home here in the Pacific Northwest of Washington. A modest house in the woods, I am surrounded by new growth forest and logging clear cuts. People still use the word frontier out here. Beyond my house are the Cascade Mountains, where as a rule you will find not find houses due to the rugged geography and heavy winter snows. The area was never historically settled by white immigrants, and still isn’t.
I mention trees. While lacking the species variety of, say, your typical woods in Arkansas, the forests of the Pacific Northwest stand out in their grandeur and sheer size. Looking out my window, I can make out the soaring arch of the Western Red Cedar branch with its drooping needle patterns. To the right stands a dense group of Alders, another tall, leafy evergreen with soft needles.
Going back to logging (a chief industry here in the Duvall, WA area), one of the interesting concepts in forest growth here is that deciduous trees are some of the first trees to grow back after an area has been damaged by the ax or chainsaw. In many parts of the South the role is reversed, with pine trees the norm in burned, cleared, or logged areas (take the hilltops in the East Fork Wilderness Area near Hector, AR for example). The renewed prevalence of deciduous trees in such places marks a return to some degree of balance in the ecosystem.
In the Pacific Northwest, Big Leaf Maples, Alders, Cottonwoods, and other “leaf off” trees fill the role of “disturbed area” markers, leaving the farmed valleys and regenerating forests with a very different feel than their older, healthier, old-growth brethren.
Moisture is everywhere. Damp permeates rocks, ground, and bones. Raining or drizzling almost every day of the fall and winter, the climate in the Cascade foothills takes some special getting used to. The trees of the forests, green with all manner of fern, ivy, and grass, look as if they had adopted their own special winter coverings of lichens and moss to stay warm.
Besides their usual hangout spots on trees or rocks, green spreading creatures are always eager to visit humans in their abodes. While I have a room secured, I will not be sleeping in it for another night as my roommate waits for his small quarters to be de-molded (apparently once it gets into furniture or walls, it is hard to stop). Heat from a fire is good medicine for this malady, as is the newer idea of a dehumidifier. When it comes to food, fresh breads, fruits, and veggies must be eaten quickly or they too will play host for their own little friends.
Speaking of food, my dinner is waiting, and it smells fresh and tasty.
Tonight I write quickly because my fingers are cold and the computer battery dies.
A quiet, remote recreation area in Central New Mexico, my camping local is far from primitive. In fact, the word luxurious has been tossing around in my head for the past 45 minutes. At my disposal are a covered picnic table, trash can, and nearby car.
A crisp breeze, 30ish temperature, and partly overcast skies have me content, as I know that a wet camp is mostly out of the picture for tomorrow morning. Because of this guess and the fact that I have a small pavilion, I opt not to pitch a tent. My camping philosophy has always been fairly minimal.
Dinner is simple but delicious. A bed of slightly undercooked rice (I didn’t compensate extra water for the high elevation), basil, and olive oil are complemented by a few slices of beef jerky. Instead of washing dishes, I add water to my eating bowl and bring it to a boil, thereby killing the germs and providing me with hot water for tea (with a few leftover rice pieces floating about).
I have often found that while on camping trips by myself I easily become uncomfortable with the silence and lack of human interaction. Most of us are not very familiar with the plants and animals of our wilder landscapes, and this can bring about a certain kind of culture shock. And yet, sitting out here with the sage and cholla brings on a peaceful feeling inside me. There is a beautiful calm in the desert unavailable in the city or even much of rural Arkansas with its barking dogs and wind in the trees. Perhaps I am finally beginning to make my peace with Mother Nature and learning to see her as a friend rather than the tough adversary portrayed in our society and media.
Tomorrow I drive all day, with the goal of making it to somewhere up in Utah. That’s all for now. Much I would like to write, but my mind is tired.
Rice. It's simple, It can be made into a seemingly infinite number of dishes. It also feeds the world.
In locations where money and resources are scarce, the promise of a bowl of rice gives billions of impoverished people a means by which to live.
Here in a America we tend to scoff at the staple. Unless its prepackaged with tasty spices and flavors and mixed with meat, we generally turn up our noses. At least that is my perspective through personal recollections of my younger days. The dreaded "red beans and rice," "Cuban black bean soup and rice," or "breakfast plain rice" always left me disinterested as a child (although I dutifully ate up). Basically, rich people often skip or limit the white and fluffy stuff for more expensive tastes (for example those with money in China actually eat very little rice as opposed to the peasants and industrial laborers).
Despite my background and personal experience, in recent years I have have begun to look more favorably on rice. While in Costa Rica during the summer of 2008, I found myself eating the food on a daily basis along with beans, salad, and usually some sort of meat dish. This combination left me feeling leaner and more energetic than usual. The experience was one duly noted, and one I have come back to in my quest for a cheap, nutritious diet.
I have this idea of how I am going to eat during the next months or even years. It may be idealistic, but it is my plan for now. Basically I plan on beginning an eating pattern which revolves around rice, beans, and olive oil. Supplemented with this nutritious combo will be spices, herbs, vegetables, fruits, and occasionally meat (ideally free range or wild). Among this latter list, I hope to skip the store as much as possible and rely on the three G's - gather, grow, gun-down (do I need to explain why I had to chose this latter phrase and how I flee from its connotation?). These techniques will of course be dictated by my landscape and its needs - ethical and reverent harvesting. It all sounds simple and nice, but the implementation I am sure will have its "fun moments."
To cook rice (in my current case Basmati white rice):
I took a medium saucepan and added 1 cup of the good stuff. To this was added 1 1/2 cups of water. The combination was put over high heat and brought to a boil. Watching and stirring to avoid burning, I, upon the desired bubbling boil, turned the heat down to low/medium and fasted the lid tight. After exactly 13 minutes the heat was extinguished and the pot was left to think and meditate quietly in its own little "sweat lodge." After another 7 minutes I crashed the party and opened the lid. To my great surprise and relief I found a nice bed of cooked white stuff. Fluffing it up with a fork, I quietly gave thanks and excitedly decided to write a blog entry. What a thrill!
Rain. It’s doing just that outside my window at the moment. It is a phenomenon I have always enjoyed in Arkansas – just love those long, drawn out days of clouds and slow drizzle that come with the cooler weather. Its cozy weather for being indoors and provides a nice atmosphere for contemplation.
In a very short time, I will be (lawd willin) in one of the hot spots for rain in the world. Cool, low clouds, slow rain: all of these are par for the course in western Washington for the majority of the year. My experience in this weather will not, however, be limited to my watching it from my window pane. I will be living in it.
This latter fact has recently prompted me to consider clothing choices. In cool, wet weather, cotton kills. I learned this early in my career as a Boy Scout. Basically when cotton, the garment that 99% of us wear 99% of the time (made up stat), becomes wet, it loses its insulating purposes, sucking the heat right out of the body. On camping trips I have on occasion seen friends shivering and in danger of hypothermia simply due to the fact that they were not “dressed for success.”
Better materials to wear when in areas prone to rain and cool (or snow and cold) are wool and synthetics. The majority of these materials and blends do provide warmth even when wet. The advantage of wool in my experience is that it does not hold scent while synthetics are often not as scratchy as garments of more “organic” weaves.
Buckskin, another favorite of mine, does not fare well when wet. This past summer I learned this fact very quickly after walking around in wet moose skin moccasins for a day with my feet freezing (if it weren’t for a mandatory shoe policy, this wouldn’t have happened). The old timers and Indians would have covered their skins with various materials such as wool, grass, etc. to prevent them from becoming soaked.
Now that I am about to embark on my trip, I am faced with a decision on what type of clothing to bring with me. 2 pairs of undergarments (1 wool and 1 synthetic) are a check. So are several pairs of wool socks (some of which I need to buy) will be important as well, especially considering the fact that I will at times employ socks as my primary footwear (barefoot in warm/cool weather, barefoot alternating with wearing socks when colder, when very cold (snow would qualify) wearing socks around the whole day – I do not yet know how well wool will hold up under such wear so this is an experiment of sorts in minimalist footwear. I of course have moccasins and Vibram Five Fingers depending on the weather and ground conditions I am in). Wool shirts sound nice (used would be great as they are cheaper). Otherwise I will be checking all the tags of clothing in my closet and pulling out those polyester gym pants and Bill Cosby sweaters that have been hiding away. Cotton will be reserved for those occasional trips to town (it’s a temptation I have overcome in my life).
The rain jacket is a mystery for me at the moment. I have somehow gone through almost a years worth of camping in my life to now come to the realization that I have never really owned one. At Philmont this summer I lugged around a light windbreaker. Somehow I was convinced it was waterproof. I stayed in this happy delirium until one day on the nine mile hike from my camp to my car when Mother Nature decided the landscape needed watering. It rained three hours and I was soaked from head to toe (minus my backpack which I secured with a waterproof covering). Thankfully I wasn’t wearing cotton.
The moral of this story is that if one wants to stay dry, it is advisable that she either invest in or make a covering to shed the rain or do like many native peoples throughout history and simply stay indoors/under shelter during rain (this latter approach being difficult in our world of strict schedules). Or one can opt for my strategy and simply dig the rain in insulating clothing (not advisable).
I am sure I will have more to write on this topic in the months to come.