Spring makes a booty call

For a few glorious days I got to see what warmth and natural Vitamin D was like. It was as if the Olympic Peninsula weather had a nasty breakup from Winter and went out on a rebound date with Spring. There were a few days of well-above-freezing nights and afternoons that hit 70 degrees; truly such a lovely dalliance. Alas the OP realized that maybe it wasn’t done with Winter just yet and rainy-day 50 degrees returned to try and make things work.

Dazzled by the sunshine and digging out T-shirts, shorts, and, oh yes, a razor (I had sort of let No-Shave-November drag on a bit), I was again smitten by this northwest paradise. While walking in the sunshine I was remembering a hike I took late last summer. I’ll let this be a bit of photojournalism.

Moon and Monty

How does an Idahoan get anything done? There’s so many delightful distractions from the To Do list during the summer. I am a firm believer that one should strive to have accomplishments each day AND that one should absolutely not miss out on the amazingness of the world while in the pursuit of checking off that To Do list. Maybe you should have two lists, a To Do list where you get to feel productive and a Tah Dah! list where you allow time for the miracle of the world to unfold before you.

Figs in the Northern Rockies?

I had some lucky inside info from the don on a location of a fig tree. Figs in Idaho? This place never ceases to surprise me. I was able to find the tree and so much more! I surmise this spot must have been a former homestead along the river and a tiny orchard was planted. First I saw the fig tree, its leaves are unmistakable, even if you have never seen a fig tree before in your life, even if the only exposure to a fig leaf might be the pictures of Adam and Eve with a leafy bathing suit, you will instinctively know a fig leaf when you see it.

Wasps also like figs.

As you might remember if you read the Ponderosa Pinecone picking blog story, the wasps here have well earned their reputation for being aggressive. I was disbelieving of this reputation at first because the wasps in my yard in Houston were so mellow that we never had a negative encounter, even if I accidentally bumped them or soaked them with the water hose. The wasps out here in the harsh and wild West are just plain mean and will sting you just for breathing. Luckily these wasps on the figs are virtually drunk with the sugar and can hardly stay on the fig they are eating. Yes, those boogers eat figs. They poke holes in the figs and nibble until in a sugar coma. Look here.

Wasp-made holes in this fig

So this is probably a good time to mention that whole “figs aren’t vegetarian because they have dead wasps in them” thing. I am not an expert on fig varieties but as far as I can tell, this is just a common fig that doesn’t need another tree or wasps to pollinate (lucky for it because I don’t know how many miles to the next fig tree it might be!) And these wasps are not the fig wasp I saw pictures of on Google. You can tell by the head shape, these are just normal mean wasps that will sting you as soon as look at you- except for one thing… they are apparently happy drunks

Since they are so satiated with sugar, the wasps hardly even notice me or Monty and so we were able to safely pick all the figs we desired.

The grasshoppers also were hanging around the fig tree. The grasshoppers eat with more gusto than the wasps. I identify more closely with them in the eating style department.

Grasshoppers are big and gusty eaters

Near the fig tree was a tree with a fruit hanging on it that I hadn’t noticed before. I grabbed a fruit off the tree and opened it up because for some reason I had an inkling it might be interesting and low and behold…

What is it?

A walnut!

Although doesn’t the walnut fruit look kind of like a small apple? But it pulls away cleanly and leaves the giant nut we love to eat.

By now my collection bag was getting heavy. I do make a point to only take no more than 10 per cent of the food on a wild tree so the animals who can’t go grocery shopping have plenty to eat. Even so, my bag was getting full with the figs and walnuts when I spied a tree with little orange baubles dangling from it.

Drawn to it, I stepped under the tree and plucked one of the salmon-colored beauties. Admiring it for a moment, I ripped it open like a hawk on a starling and checked the seed. I wasn’t sure at first if it was a plum or perhaps an apricot. Once I saw the seed, I tasted the flesh. It was bright and tart and I still couldn’t be 100% sure if it was plum or apricot. Or could this be a rogue plum-apricot hybrid? It was textured like a plum but tiny and orange and tart like an apricot. But the seed lended itself more towards plum. I might have taken a bit more than the 20% on this tree. Plums are famous for having the whole tree ripen at the same time and you have about 36 hours to harvest them or they fall off and rot. Okay, maybe a bit more than 36 hours but it’s not far off the mark. Ask any plum grower. And these guys WANTED to come with me. They were literally falling off the tree and hitting me on the head and shoulders trying to leap into my bag. And they were so soft and squishy and at the peak of ripeness this very moment. It was heavenly and the wasps hadn’t discovered them or maybe they just didn’t have the sugar the figs did so I was all alone picking, or perhaps the better word would be ducking, the plums.

Now Monty, who was not as impressed as I with the extraordinary bounty of the river valley, was getting rather thirsty. However, being the protective fella he is when we are out walking alone, he wouldn’t leave me to go down the 50 feet to the river and get a drink so we walked down together. It was so lovely on the river with the cool fall wind blowing gently balancing the sunshine. I could have stayed there all day.

The wonders never cease! Right near where I parked my car was a group of pear trees and, as luck would have it, there was plenty of fruit on them that was within my reach.

Coming up from the river I came across a blackberry bush. Around here the berries are ripe about July to August and this is in late September so these were well past ripeness and were actually dried on the bush. I picked a few and they were delicious! Kind of like Nature’s fruit leather and I didn’t mind all the seeds in the least, it was sort of like chia seeds. I was entranced by the yumminess, enough to brave all the tiny thorns that are so stabby so I grabbed about a half cup of the dried berries. I probably ate as much or more while collecting.

And if all that wasn’t enough, then, in a cool spot on the walk back I spied a blackberry bush that had berries just beginning to ripen! Honestly, this is the most amazing spot, just when you think you have a handle on it, another surprise rounds the corner.

Here are a couple of photos of the bounty from this Eden.

Pears, figs, walnuts, and berries!

This one includes some items from the don’s garden. It’s a great time to be a vegetarian!

and plums/pluots, kale, tomato, cucumbers…

Gosh, all that remembering has made me hungry!

My days now will be divided between Idaho and Washington. Both of them are coastlines, if you look far enough back in the geologic record. I am quite lucky to have such extraordinary beauty surrounding me and these current cold and gray days are just a time to remember the bounty of summer.

And perhaps begin to plan this year’s garden!

Forever Twilight

Just a quick note to share a smile. This tiny town on the western side of the Olympic Peninsula has seen some tough days after the logging slowed. A book, The Final Forest, by William Dietrich discusses the challenges that this town and other logging towns face. Forks was lucky enough a decade ago to become the mecca for fans of a particular vampire romance book and was utterly inundated with tourists. While the Twilight tourism has slowed appreciably, there are still many references around town to the story and its characters. This little town has definitely got a sense of humor! This was in the local hardware store. FYI, the bike did get sold.

“There is no evidence available at this time to suggest that this motorcycle was not used in the Twilight movies”

Pondering Pines

A brief interruption in the rehab of Brighty occurred in early August. I am quite behind in my posting, I know. I will get better about that, promise. I was lucky enough to get a gig helping the don with some pine cone picking. Unlike the other pines worked on in the spring, these pines have no special genetic traits offering resistance to anything. They were just selected for their looks and value as lumber specimens. The person who had done the selecting would frequently point to a tree and say to me, “See that tree? Would you want a forest full of those?” I realized he wanted a forest of trees that all looked the same, very straight and tall and just a few limbs whereas I think I prefer a forest of trees like in the Dr. Seuss books with bends and forks in the trunk and limbs sticking out all which-a-way.

Would you want a forest of these trees? the don in this pine- see his blue hat?

Also, in case you are wondering, pine cone is one of those words that can be written as two words or as one, called an open or closed compound word. Probably it is best to pick your favorite and stick to that style throughout your writing. I do not promise to do that because I prefer to live the “and” life rather than the “either-or” life. If it is okay to use pine cone AND pinecone then I will probably do that. 🙂

Ponderosa pines are probably my favorite tree because of the smell of the bark. It is either vanilla or butterscotch, depending on the tree, and it is heavenly to smell as you climb. The cones are quite large, about the size of an avocado and about as heavy as a large grapefruit. Now, these cones are just ripening and are still full of moisture making them MUCH heavier than their dried and opened counterparts on the ground and in many fall centerpiece arrangements. I learned this from experience and, as I tend to do, I gained that experience the hard way.

Ponderosa Pine in early morning light

Tip: if you find yourself in a situation where someone 30 feet above you wants to toss a cone down for you to slice open and check for ripeness, let the cone hit the dirt and then go pick it up. Do NOT reach out your hand and catch the falling cone like some baseball outfielder in a World Series game. I have NO IDEA what I was thinking and, really, I’m not a sporty-gal who played softball or anything. I mean, I can barely catch a cold much less anything thrown in my general direction. And yet when the don hollered, “Hey, Susan, can you check this cone,” and lobbed the pine grenade towards the ground, I was walking to the truck and just reached my left hand out and caught the thing. IN MY BARE HAND. To be honest, I was quite shocked that I had so nonchalantly caught it while I was sauntering to the truck, I didn’t even really try to catch it. Probably because, as mentioned, I’m not good at catching things. And even when I do catch something it usually bounces out of my hand and I go running pell-mell after it like a dog with a Kong toy. However, if the caught object has spines like a puffer fish that will stick into your palm and fingers it is much less likely to bounce out.

Spines on this prickly booger make it pretty easy to catch, if one were so inclined

It can also cause a little nerve damage. Even 6 weeks later the tip of my middle finger has that weird tingling numbness to it. I do not mind too much because it still works well enough when that finger needs to point out some minor infraction or irritation that crosses my path.

Ouch. Lots of little stab holes in my hand. On the plus side, I could hardly feel them due to the temporary nerve damage from catching the cone. 

Aren’t these pinecones beautiful? Naturally the purple is my favorite.

Green, brown, and purple cones all from Ponderosa.

I mostly worked on the ground the first two days but then we got to an area where the trees to climb were close enough together that I could climb one and have the don within shouting distance in case anything went wrong. I wasn’t worried about falling out of a tree but there are other things that can go wrong and, even if I am late telling you the story, I always want to get back in one piece and tell it. I am kind of cautious that way. So finally the day comes that I get to climb a tree by myself! I get my gear together, check the ropes and knots, get the little “Bo-Peep” tool the don created to pull the branches in. See, the cones are on the outer branches and I am attached to the trunk so this tool lets me grab the outer branch and bend it toward me to pick the cones. It is actually quite peaceful up there. Very few bugs, lots of birds and the views are amazing! It took me probably three times as long to get the same quantity of cones but that is okay, I was having a pretty good time even if I was slow.

Getting started as the sun just starts coming over the hill
All the gear to climb fits into these two bags
Ropes, clips, and powder
Powdering the ropes keeps them from getting sticky with tree pitch
Me in a not-too-tall tree

Unfortunately the tree climbing was slowed down for me due to getting “glutened.” I have to eat gluten-free or else I get very sick. I had been living in a house with bread and trying to be careful but some crumb of bread must have gotten into my breakfast one morning because on the way to the climbing site I became very ill. I tried climbing a tree but keeping my nausea at bay took most of my attention and I wasn’t able to pick very well. I ended up on the ground for a number of days which is the best place to be if you are vomiting and having diarrhea. When I get glutened I tend to run a fever for a few days, too, and that makes tree climbing not such a good idea, either. At least getting out into the forest was keeping my mind off of how yucky I felt, even if I was on the ground the entire time. I did get to see some pretty sights.

Bee my friend
What do you think the caption for this should be?

I will say it was hard work but it was also really fun work. Watching the sun rise as I headed to the forest site, then going to swim in the river after working, heading home to appreciate a soft bed and shower. It really simplified life to the sweet things. I don’t think I could do it every day for a year but for a couple of weeks it was really good. It is also really nice to have a job that you can bring your dog along with you.

Oh, and one thing, wear gloves when you work with pine cones. Trust me on this.

Identity Crisis

“Leaves of three, let them be”

For many of us, this is pretty much the total of our woodsman training in avoiding poison ivy. However, if you have an outdoorsy nature and have traveled to other wooded areas then you know that poison ivy can look very different from one place to another. If you have read my earlier post then you also know that plant can take several morphological aspects in the same geographical locale. If you don’t have experience in that location then you are back to your own little ditty to hopefully protect you from itchy skin and oozing blisters.

It’s quite mind-boggling to try and figure out who is who in the plant world on the hill above me. I have been promised that there is no poison ivy anywhere on this hill. Oh yeah? Well, what about this?

Oh, wild strawberry? Really? Not poisonous then? Oh, okay. (Does it really make strawberries?)

Lalala… whoa, what’s that? Three leaves climbing up a stick- kinda like that one down by the Snake River in Hell’s Canyon. Surely that is some version of poison ivy? Nope, just a plant, and don’t call me Shirley.

Monty and I decide to meander down a creek. We love these fresh walks in the woods. The crisp air, the sunlight streaming through the trees and making little patches of light in the green shadows. And here is more three-leafed wonder

Three leaves, viney… watch out!!! Oh wait, thorns? Blackberry?

Sheesh, I’m beginning to question the validity of that saying now because everywhere I look there are three-leafed plants and some even have the mitten-leaf appearance of the poison ivy I am familiar with.

Oh lordy, look at all that, the mushroom is probably poisonous, too. I used to feel so safe in the woods. I guess those were “my” woods, with animal sounds and plants and topography that I have known for many years. There is PLENTY of poison ivy in Texas, believe you me, but after so many years of exploring I just instinctively knew where it was and how to avoid it and if it did get me a little, well, it was only a little. Maybe a couple days of itchy and a wee bit of blistering. Not a full-body event that is utter misery like I had a couple of months ago. Swear to God I’d rather birth a child than go through that again.

Oh, here is a three-leafer but I do know this one. It’s trillium and is quite lovely.

And look at all the other kinds of three-leaf around it. It begins to get overwhelming, just trying to figure out what is what in a new place.

Pretty lighting but who are you?

Pretty sure this is okay

Monty doesn’t concern himself in the least with plant identification. He does worry about staying close to me and will check on me frequently if I am loitering or moving to slowly. He is so funny that way! I do like hiking with him because he does always check and if he hears me exclaim over something he comes running to make sure I am okay and give me a bop with his nose.

Ummmm, I’m not seeing this in the plant identification booklet

I keep trying to figure out who is who in this three-leafed plant world. My guidebook is not really all that helpful at times. I think it assumes I already kinda know what I’m doing here. I’m beginning to realize I do not know jack. It’s rather humbling because I used to know A LOT and feel totally at home in the woods. Here I don’t know anything. It is both interesting and uncomfortable at the same time. The discomfort makes me think more about what is what. No comfy ruts for me. Every step is examined. Sometimes I can only hang on to the few truths I know still exist, but what are those again? Oh bother, here we go getting existential again…

There are so many encouragers saying, speak your truth. Walk your path and find what serves you. Follow your bliss…

Well, what if you don’t know what your truth is or where your path is or goes? What if you spent your whole life doing what you were supposed to do, what others wanted you to do, what you thought would be “the right thing” to live happily ever after and you played nice in order to make things better for everyone? (but were you included in the everyone count because how did suppressing your own outrageous being make things better?)

How then can you speak your truth and walk your path to the glory of God or whatever if you don’t even know what your own voice sounds like?

A story of a little girl I know has cracked the door open for me. I spent many years playing a role to make life better for everyone else. Like many women, I focused on taking care of others and, in the process, hid who I am and what I want. Maybe it was easier to keep the spotlight off of me rather than risk everyone finding out I am so small and imperfect. Whatever the cause doesn’t matter anymore, it is done. Now I am trying to figure out who I am without the layer of b.s. I caked on to play a role that was not really me.

“I am done obeying for today.”

Rip off the costume you thought you wanted to wear but that does not fit quite right, grab the ice cream cone that you desire and give not a care how it will affect your appetite for dinner. Get in touch with who YOU are, the base instincts and desires, the stories you tell yourself about life, about today. Begin to feel what is real in you. If you are feeling grumpy and bitchy open up and accept the grumpiness, accept the bitchiness fully. You may find that when you open up, and make a place for this so-called ugliness that it no longer needs to grump and harrumph and take up so much of your precious time on this earth.

And this acceptance of the wholeness of who you are just might be the way to start hearing the sound of your voice and recognizing it as you.

My goodness, if you are still reading then you are probably related to me. Thank you, Mom!

So all this came about as I was partaking in an activity that I adore and the circumstance were less than adorable. I had been feeling a bit untethered for a few days and decided to head out for a few days of solo backpacking. Would the place of respite that I had always enjoyed continue to bring solace when things get difficult for me? Who am I now anyway without the jobs, the friends, the home that defined me for so long? That was a question to which the answer still eludes me. I was hiking along a trail and was getting so aggravated, I will blame it on the incessant biting bugs that were thicker than a wool blanket so that I could not stop to take in the views . Even taking a photo was a challenge for in the half second it took to get my camera  from my pocket, 3 to 5 mosquitoes would land on my hand, swarming my face so that I had to hold my breath and keep my ears covered and eyes squinted to take a photo. All the tricks I knew of going to a ridgetop for wind, staying away from water, even bug repellent did not deter this irritation. And I was getting grumpier by the step, being driven on by these bugs. Finally I let myself just be grumpy. “Fine, here is some direct attention, bitch all you want about anything, not just the bugs, anything whether it seems to have merit or relevance or not.”

Shockingly, once I had permission to be fussy, there was not really anything to be fussy about. Yes, the bugs were still bad, no miracle came and erased them for me, but my horrid mood was diminished and my emotional load was certainly lightened. I wish I could say this lasted forever, or even the rest of the day but alas, I am not that enlightened. It did last a few moments though, enough to give me a break and some space to see how I was letting circumstance outside determine what was going on inside.

And so I asked, why am I here?

Not the philosophical question but for real. Why, if this is sucky, am I still here? Go somewhere else. And I had no good answer except “well, this is what I planned on doing.”

Well, if you aren’t having fun then go do something else. What would you like to do instead?

…(crickets chirping)….

Searching…

Well,… I don’t know. This is what i have always done for fun, to get centered, to get my head together, to find peace and respite and answers to questions. It is who I am. What would I do, who would I be without it?

Who would I be?

Monty doesn’t worry on such matters. He is a good teacher that way. Just chill out and be here now.

OMG, girl. Quit thinking so much and just enjoy the ride!

Okay, okay. I know Monty is right. All this wondering is not much different from worrying. “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.” Corrie Ten Boom

I probably ought to go get on my yoga mat but first, Monty says to take a nap. And Monty knows best.

Me and my boy chillaxin


Independence Day

Independence Day

Happy July 4th!

In America we celebrate this day as a reminder of our birth as a new self-governing country. It is classically celebrated with time spent outdoors, picnics, family and friends gathering, and, my favorite, firework shows. The history behind it all is not something I will discuss except to add this is not a unique situation in human experience, some group gets together to manage the society and then a smaller group splits off because they want to do thing differently or are being mistreated by the bigger group. I appreciate that my grandmother made the arduous journey to America, that she was welcomed into this amazing country even though she did not speak English or have any job skills. She got work as a housekeeper and taught herself English, then she built a life for herself and paved the way for her progeny.

One of the things i like to think about while making Oma’s perfect potato salad is independence of thought. I believe my greatest contribution to society has been raising three people to be independent thinkers. I tried hard, failed occasionally, to see the strengths and weaknesses in each of these magnificent beings blessed to my care and stewardship for a brief time. Like any parent, I wanted to instill my values in them. However, the double-edged sword of holding in highest esteem the ability to suss out what is right for you regardless of what anyone else thinks, whether that anyone is the kids at school or your own mom, means that I got to be both pleased and worried when they would do things in a way different from how I wanted them to do it.

Critical thinkers, awareness of personal strengths and marching to your own drum, seeing clearly and acceptance of the weaknesses which lets you also strengthen your march, willingness to try something new and to listen and pay attention to those who went on before you, allowing yourself to fail and then get up, reevaluate, and get going again without fear of failure dogging your every step, all of this is what I think about on Independence Day. I believe that to be truly independent you must be willing to listen to the truth that whispers in your heart and soul. We need to recognize when fear is driving our steps and be courageous enough to turn and face it openly or else we are not truly independent. Could there be anything sadder or Machiavellian than to be enslaved while pretending we are free?

My children are each unique in the paths they each have chosen and the way in which they choose to walk it. That I was entrusted with this little part of God wrapped in flesh boggles the mind, yet I was. And without a doubt they are each so very much greater than the sum of their parts.

Here is to Independence Day and independent thinkers! Thank you God, amen, please pass the potato salad.

Oh, and the secret to the potato salad is to boil the potatoes, slice them and lay them in a dish while still very warm and then sprinkle a mixture of vinegar, olive brine, and water over the potatoes and let them sit until cool. And don’t you DARE use anything but real mayonnaise; the use of so-called “salad dressing” may cause my poor grandmother to roll in her grave or even come to your house and haunt your kitchen.

Prepping Oma’s perfect potato salad

I had the weirdest dream last night. In it I was pregnant and in labor and all these people kept coming up and interrupting me and the calm and peaceful labor I had planned. It was very frustrating to keep fighting with them all. Then I was at the doctor at some kind of in-labor check-up and he told me I had cancer and only 10 months to live. So here I was about to give birth and prepare to die at the same time.  And I got to where I could find acceptance with the duality and had to begin to accept how others were going to handle it all. Isn’t that weird? Lot’s there to analyze, for sure.

I went for a mule ride on this Fourth of July weekend in the hills just above the house I am staying. The good news is that Monty has gotten more accepting of me being on top of a mule, he no longer panics at not being able to touch me with his nose to make sure I am okay and that he is okay. The bad news is he is way too lackadaisical around these powerful animals who only just tolerate him. He gets too close to their feet, doesn’t take it seriously when they charge at him to run him off. Fortunately these are nice mules who don’t really mean to hurt him, they are just giving him a hard time but if a mule or Monty accidentally stepped the wrong way, well… it would be a very sad situation.

Here Monty is too damn close to the mule. Thank God Ginger is so calm!

So unfortunately some electronic collar training is going to be necessary. You might recall that is what I had to do to get Monty to leave the elk alone. I send many prayers of thanks and gratitude to the God that cares about little white city dogs and protects him.

the don with Stella and Henry. Henry’s wearing a pack saddle to which large boxes of stuff can be strapped.

Enjoying the view!

My number one fella keeping some distance from Ginger

Mule ears. Notice Ginger’s summer hair cut. No, I did not do it. I kind of prefer a longer main for her to toss around but apparently mules wear a version of a crew cut.

And, for your listening pleasure. hooves on a wooden bridge spanning a lovely mountain creek. No coconut shells were harmed in the making of this sound video. Isn’t it adorable how her ears flip around?

Training Day 2 (and then some)

Training Day 2 (and then some)

All a girl really needs…

A brief rundown of the situation so far: in 2017 (and honestly, way before that) I was ready for something different and a chain of life-changing events had conspired to let me, if I was willing to risk it all, have a whole new life experience. I quit my work and tearfully and fearfully left my family and friends to take a job that was interesting to me in a location that I have long loved. The job was great but the hours long, no days off, and the owner of the place is a bit whacky. After a few months I finally took my earned time off and traveled to other parts of the beautiful northwest U.S.  Upon my return I found the owner had emptied the bank account and had not paid me as contractually agreed to. After some discussion, I took a hiatus from the work while awaiting payment and chose to follow my heart even further afield. The cool thing about no longer having anything is that there is nothing to lose and no excuses to not try something new. Since I have already left everything I loved, I am sure as hell not going to settle for a situation that is undesirable. My motto: If it isn’t fabulous why bother?

I did get to meet some really cool people in the tiny town of Forks, Washington. While the town has a population that is smaller than the high school my kid went to, it only takes one person to make a good life even more bright and interesting and it is there that I met the don.

the don has led a pretty exciting-sounding life so far and enjoys the outdoors as much as I. However, it was his cooking that got my attention and, I suppose, broke the ice. He told me of his multi-week-long packing trips to go bow hunting in the fall and to collect antlers in the spring, of his winter months in the Olympics Steelhead fishing, time spent surfing on the lower Pacific coast and his recent retirement from regular work as a smokejumper. I was intrigued by the idea of hiking with mules and having a giant tent that is heated and especially having really good food; that is so very different from my experience as a backpacker. I love backpacking. I love getting away from civilization and walking the contours of the land and feeling the wildlife all around me. The thing about backpacking that is kind of hard is carrying all your own stuff and especially carrying food. For one or two days it isn’t that big of a deal but for a couple of weeks it can be very, very heavy. Having a dog along means carrying dog food, too. I was intrigued by the idea of seeing the wild landscape of Hell’s Canyon and having a mule carry all my stuff including some real creature comforts. When the don invited me to join one of his trips I jumped at the chance to enjoy some needed time away from working and that first experience in Hell’s Canyon has already been shared.

After the trip and returning to the undesirable BnB situation, there was suddenly an opening in my work schedule. the don offered me a position in his company doing some contract work this summer, work that even a beginner like me can do. And so now you are up to date on how it is that I find myself literally fit to be tied and learning the ropes.

Fit to be tied

So many pretty colors!

This project has to do with collecting pollen from specific trees that have been identified as able to fight off a disease called blister rust.

Blister Rust Resistant White Pine

This pollen is collected and used to propagate new trees with this desirable quality. the don has been climbing trees and rock faces for decades so he can shimmy up as fast as a lemur. I am a bit more… sloth-like. I haven’t quite gotten to the stage where I stop clutching but I am practicing every day so that I can get up and down a tree and not have my hands cramp into a claw-like thing. Plus, it is probably better not to leave dents in the tree from that death-grip I have been using.

Learning the ropes
Practice makes perfect and one cannot settle for anything less than perfect when 90 feet up a tree.

Here I am, all roped and tied up, practicing and testing my knots before heading out to do a real climb. While I did get almost as high up as the don, I did not do any collection because I wasn’t quite ready to relinquish the aforementioned squeeze and three-points-of-contact attitude.

 

 

 

 

 

Up!

 And here I am up in the tree with a view down at the ropes and the ground. I am only about 10 feet or so up here. I neglected to take a camera with a wrist strap and so this photo is taken with my phone. I wanted to take some photos when I was about 60 feet up but there was no way I was going to risk pulling my phone out when that high up. If I dropped the phone, even if it survived the fall, I’d never find it in the thick forest and there is no cell service available to try and locate the phone by calling it. I only take certain kinds of risks and that isn’t one of them.

Waiting for the tree climbers to return to the ground

So we will have to make do with photos of the don in the tree. This is one of my favorites.

the don

Okay. That is enough chatting for now. I need to get strapped up and get my practice climbing.

Big hug to you and please do tell me what risk you are going to take this week to brighten your life?

Oh, and here are some other photos from the past week and the White Pine Pollen collecting job.

Sadly, this tree was burned in a fire so it won’t be contributing its genes to the pool

Checking pollen ripeness

We missed you!

Orange diamond is along forest road and marks the location of the desired tree in “chains” and cardinal degrees. If you look right of the tree marker at about 1:30 you can see the don in that White Pine.

Getting ready to do my work of cleaning and processing the pollen that was collected. This rock was the perfect desk for my office in the woods.

Pollen processing

My number one fella

Burned out cedar. This giant cedar is over 5 feet in diameter. It was one of the many acres of trees lost in the great 1910 fire that devastated this part of Idaho. It was so large that the U.S. Army was called in to help, including the Buffalo Soldiers.

the orange marker is a newer type of marker, the silver tag is very old and is starting to be engulfed by the tree

The hooligans, mine, the don’s, and a friend’s puppy. A few days before this shot I taught the griffons how to pose for a photo like Monty does- they hit the mark every time now!

Still snow on the ground! After the tree climb I scooped some snow into my cup and poured a syrup of lemonade and rum. Best snow-cone ever!

Nez Perce trail- some pretty sad history here for the Nimi’ipuu

X marks the spot. Think there is any buried treasure here?

White Bark Pine pollen has a raspberry color when ripe whereas the White Pine pollen is yellow.

Two *chains* away is the tree. How archaic to measure in chains?
oh, it’s 66 feet if you were wondering.

Some trees need fire to reproduce. It kind of allows a nice view of the distance, too

Some of these trees have been in the program a long time!

Spring Fever and Practical Jokes

Okay, so I sort of told a lie to the grocery checker.

Tree pose

Well, maybe not a lie, per se, perhaps more like spinning a yarn. Everyone chats and one cannot be in a hurry when checking out at the small town grocery store. (aside to Brooke- thanks for letting me know of your Marfa experience, it has been so valuable in adjusting to small-town life) All of the check-out line workers are so nice and friendly; they are such a welcome way to engage in the small town life.  My favorite checker is quite the cook and will comment on some item in my basket and ask what I am going to do with it and  tell me about a new recipe she made with the ingredient. Her recipes are spot on with my tastes, too, which is amazing to me! I mean, there aren’t that many vegetarians around here. Because of this engagement with each shopper, I do not mind waiting my turn to check out because I know that the checker will spend just as much time chatting with me as with the person who was just before me and that all seems fair enough. This trip, though, I could tell the person behind me was in a bit of a hurry and also I am quite picky about how my stuff gets bagged so as Mr. Checker was scanning I grabbed a bag and started putting my stuff in the it. The checker commented that he would do it, “Not a problem, I don’t mind doing it,” I replied. He said again, “I’ll do that for you,” and had a rather firm tone. I don’t know where this came from, maybe because I am fighting off a virus, maybe I was channeling that Texas tale-telling character, maybe it was his firm tone- I don’t know- but what tumbled out of my mouth was, “No, it’s okay. I’m certified back home to bag groceries.” Now, that isn’t really a lie, right? I mean, if something is so ridiculous then it is obviously just a funny story or practical joke, a teasing for humorous effect, and not to be taken seriously, right? But then he did take it seriously. And instead of telling him I was teasing, I expanded on the story to him and to my shopping companion and it could be now that the urban myth of how the Whole Foods customers in Texas are so doggone picky that WF has to train and certify people to be able to bag groceries could be traced back to this incident. I would apologize but I’m not feeling any remorse.

This is our “Sorry, not sorry” look
with Alex on the Ides of March 2018

Wow, so this is SPRING!


In Houston I think our spring lasts for about 20 minutes before charging headlong into summer. If you don’t believe me, do an internet search on how many times the people in charge have had to ice down the azalea beds so they don’t bloom too soon before the big Azalea Trail, which, if you haven’t experienced, is totally worth the trip to Houston in March. While the rest of the country is still wearing down coats and boots, you can be tooling along beautiful mansions and gardens in your shorts and floppy hat before going to enjoy a sangria at one of our many amazing restaurant patios.
But back to Spring in the Pacific Northwest, it is just like the calendars of spring that you find in the Hallmark store. Daffodils and other bulbs poke their little heads out of the ground on a welcoming spring day only to be covered in snow 4 days later. It’s like the weather is getting in on the practical joking, too, “Boy, wouldn’t it be nice to send those dirty down coats to the cleaners and get out the shorts and T-shirts? Psyche!”

Daffodils in snow- March 2018

Sticks and bundles of sticks that looked like some left-over flash flood carnage begin to have little buds and you are like, “Oh, you’re alive?!?!” And if there are hills in your area, and there is not a single spot on this side of the Cascade Range that is not near a hill, you may get to see the budding and blooming occur in succession as you climb up from the warmer valley bottoms to the cooler hill and mountain tops.

Spider web and buds along the hillside.

The big draw for the tourists and even the settlers back in the 1800s is the trees. Awesome doesn’t begin to cover it. Massive cedars, gorgeous stands of alder with their white trunks, spruce and fir keeping the green backdrop while the aforementioned trees go topless for the winter.

Alders, spruce, firs in the Bogachiel Valley

And then there is the driftwood on the beaches. Massive logs tossed like pick-up sticks along the beach just above the average high tide line showing how powerful the storms can become to move such beasts.

 

Can you believe this is a tree??? Alex and Monty checking out the driftwood on the beach at Kalaloch.

Alex reclining on driftwood where the Hoh River meets the Pacific Ocean

Many of the trees here are quite hardy specimens, even with some major damage that knocks them down, they continue to find a way to grow and even bloom! I appreciate these horizontal trees for their ability to provide respite from the day’s work without having to sit on the undoubtedly wet or elk-poop-covered ground. One apple tree even has a beverage holder in it!

Too bad Shel Silverstein didn’t hang out here or The Giving Tree might have had a whole different twist. I mean, really, that is the saddest story of dysfunction I can think of, well, maybe also that one about The Gift of the Magi where Mickey and Minnie each sell something to buy the other a present that is then useless because it… you know the story and to me it is a sad story of commercialism over communication. Yes, I know it didn’t originally start with Disney but, like many kids of my generation, I was exposed to Disney before O. Henry and you know how powerful first impressions are. So anyway, Shel’s story is more like an Easter Island situation but could have been a coexistence situation had The Boy been a little less self-absorbed. Out here on the Flying S Farm we support sustainable logging practices and we have a conservation easement so not every tree gets cut down and certainly not these trees that make such great recliners. Imagine this apple tree in the late summer, hanging out with a book and a lemonade and then just reach out and grab an apple when you are feeling peckish.

This tree played one of the scary trees in the Wizard of Oz. It is obviously a character actor because it isn’t really scary in real life.

This is the yogi tree, it can hold Reverse Warrior forever. Looks like it probably will.

This Yogi Tree knows how to flow with whatever comes and continue to grow toward the light

These are the scary trees. You must always, always know what you are getting into before you fool around these.

Log Jam on the Bogachiel River

Monty made an error in judgement that almost caused his death just minutes after this photo was taken. Btw, this is a photo he insisted on as I did not think it a good idea to saunter out on the logs but there is no telling him anything when a photo op is presented. Yes, that is at least three times narrowly escaping death for him that I know of: 1. Getting hit by a car which resulted in my adopting him, 2. Playing Mufasa in the stampede by running into a herd of elk, 3. Jumping into the water at a tangle of trees on the river and then almost getting swept underneath the logs if I hadn’t ran out on the logs to grab him, which was also a little dangerous. Kids, don’t swim near log jams.

Beavers like trees, too.

Beaver nibbles

This is a rather rural area which helps with all the trees, naturally. (Ha!) Everywhere you go, most people are really quite nice and friendly and they love their trees here in the PNW. Some people, like me, are here for the beauty of the area, some make their living off of the trees through logging practices. For the most part, everyone appreciates the trees and what they add to our lives. There are two trees held in great reverence, both are cedars and they grow quite close to each other in the Olympic National Park.

The Big Cedar- and boy, is it! That is Alex and Monty sitting on it

The other is billed as the third largest cedar in the world and is a bit further off the main highway. It is known as the Duncan Memorial Cedar Tree. A brief Google search did not turn up who Duncan is but I think it is about the loggers who were clear-cutting the area being awed by the tree and choosing to save it from being felled.

Alex at Duncan Memorial Tree- see that tiny person at the bottom?

To file under the friendly and helpful category, the locals have gone to great lengths to help the tourists, especially the city-dwellers, by identifying so much of the forested area. In case you don’t get to see big trees in the city, many are labeled so the cosmopolitan visitors can know and appreciate what they are seeing. “This here is a tree and that over there is also a tree.”

Forestry 101. That is a tree.

Forestry 102. That green triangle thing to the right of this sign is also a tree. This is very helpful for urbanites who have never seen a tree in its natural habitat.

The locals also have a sense of humor and poke a bit of fun at the urban tourist’s expense. In case you are a big city dweller and not very educated in forestry, a good rule of thumb on tree identification is that it has a (usually) brown cylindrical base with a (usually) green bit on top. If you do not see the brown base, called a trunk in tree parlance, it might not be a tree. In the photo below, do not be fooled by someone saying this is a deciduous tree and is going to leaf out come summer. Pay attention, do you see a trunk? If not, it probably isn’t a tree. Hmmm, I’m not the only one who likes to have a little practical joke fun, am I?

The locals having a bit of fun at the tourists expense. For you city dwellers, this is not actually a tree

The trees enjoy the joke, too.

Giggling tree

Close up of the giggling tree

Terrific=tenebrific^10

Do you ever feel mopey?

I tend to be rather bright and cheerful with a touch of aggression to keep things interesting. Moping and somber are not my natural state, but every now and then I will indulge in a bit of melancholy. Sometimes it can be due to a specific incident or situation, sometimes it will just show up without invitation and hang out for a bit. Today I decided to schedule some time to just let the blues hang out with me and I have even been a very good hostess to my forlorn and dispiriting friend. I have served up every high-carb instant food on hand, which isn’t much actually, before moving on to the game of “What’s my ratio?”

In case you need a refresher on this game, it’s typically played either on long car trips or when all alone in the house. You take two edible items and mix varying ratios to find the perfect-for-you combination. It can be an almond-to-raisin mix (3 raisins to 1 almond for me), Tabasco-to-orange slice (for real, it’s good and again is a 3-1 ratio), and today it was a PB to J ratio.

I’m rationing my few remaining slices of g-f bread until I get to Seattle and can get more, besides when moping you can’t just start jumping around all energetically and start making yourself good peanut butter sandwiches or you will ruin the whole point of the wallowing in misery. If you live with other people, you should totally NOT double-dip the spoon between tastes. That would be germy. So let the dog lick the spoon clean in between tastings; they have clean mouths and all that (don’t argue with me, argue with Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel as they are the ones who confirmed it). HOWEVER, since I do not currently reside alone in this house and I do share my food items with others, please take note of the following photos which offer photographic proof of clean technique.

Well, clean-ish. I really should have put the lids on the jars before doing any tasting if I was going to follow proper lab technique. Oh well…

Another advantage to this clean technique is you can actually compare ratios side by side whereas double-dipping requires memory and guessing estimates. And if you are going to start using words like “ratio” to describe what you are doing, then probably you should go ahead and spring for washing the extra spoons in the name of scientific research.

 

Surprisingly, my visitor was still disconsolate after the game of “What’s my ratio?” That is when I decided to produce this pièce de résistance of pathetic food-for-one: mug cake.

 

To be fair, cooking for one is not really a pathetic enterprise but a show of love and devotion to one self (purposefully using one and not one’s; I had to write that since I can’t use (sic) in this situation although you could if you quoted me). ANYWAY, mug cakes have been in my family for a number of years now and I love finding recipes for them. Biggerbolderbaking.com has a recipe for a PB&Banana mug cake that is really good. I mostly followed her recipe but then, since the jelly was still out, I placed a dollop on top of the cake before microwaving it. I used plain oats and ground them in the coffee bean grinder to make the oat flour, as she suggested. Turned out perfect!

 

I have to say, it was really yummy! I added a cup of crazy-strong French press coffee and the  mix of carbs and caffeine were the perfect snack for me and Ms. Dolorous (1).

Alas, my moping time has come to an end. My schedule requires I move on with my life and get to the next thing on the list. Thank you for visiting, Ms. Dolorous, do come again sometime. Actually, I kinda knew Ms. D would be leaving soon when the fork I grabbed for the first bite of cake turned out to be a salad fork and I was like, “No way, you will put that atrocity back and grab a proper fork for eating cake, young lady!” When one has the energy to give a rat’s ass about which fork is being used, the blues are on their way out, for sure. Not that we actually have salad vs dessert forks here at the farm, though, now that I think about it, why the hell not? THIS TOWN IS NAMED FORKS!

Definitely check out Gemma’s blog on mug meals and let me know what you think. I’m looking at that pizza in a mug recipe next! https://www.biggerbolderbaking.com/gemmas-mug-meals/

Did you know that tenebrific is a synonym for moping? Isn’t that the most anti-onomatopoeic word ever? It should mean terrific to the power of 10 or tenebrific=terrific^10. That will be my platform for 2020, “Make tenebrific great again!”

(1) I *know* it should be “Ms. Dolorous and I” but that totally loses the alliterative effect I was going for, and artists can get away with grammar faux-pas in the pursuit of expression

The Never-Ending Search for Balance

Just jump in, do it, don’t over-think things, follow your dreams/bliss/heart

Good planning makes good products, measure twice cut once, patience is a virtue

Sometimes all these sayings seem at odds with each other. How can you know when to just jump in and when to carefully plan out how things will go?

As a trail runner I would start a rainy day run trying to avoid mud puddles. After a moment I would accept that getting wet and muddy was inevitable for me and how I choose to run and with that acknowledgement I would begin to run through the puddles and let the mud splash up on my legs and soak my shoes and socks. The sooner I just accepted how it was going to be for me the more fun the run was. Some people I ran with were different and would avoid all mud puddles and filthy trails and get back to the cars with clean shoes whereas I was usually coated with mud and gunk and exhilaration. So maybe I can say that if the end result is inevitable then I should just jump in with both feet at the beginning so as to fully immerse and engage with my situation.

Okay, that is easy enough. Now, what about when I don’t know the end result? What about when I am not in control of the outcome, when I am flowing with what life brings and letting go of worries for tomorrow’s happenings? Prayer and meditation have worked wonders for letting me live in faith that I can take this step without knowing what the exact next step would be. Well, and to be perfectly honest and transparent, God knows I am a bit headstrong and impatient so the little vision peeks that are given to me on occasion help, too. Okay, that is where patience comes in and patience is a discipline of practice.

Now here is where it gets interesting to me. How do you know the balance between patience and jumping in? Patience to let the path unfold without forcing your own will versus jumping in to accept the change that you wish to have in life without knowing exactly where the change will take you. Where is the balance between modesty and full monty? What, you thought I knew? Ohhhh noooooo, balance is not my strong point!

The only thing I have learned so far to help determine what to do at any time is feel for the joy. Not happiness because happy is too variable but true and deep joy that pervades every moment, every interaction. Meditation helps me find the joy even if I am in a situation that is uncomfortable and conflict-ridden. Joy sits back and says, “Wow, even during this argument where you are trying to get your way and he is trying to get his, even during this discomfort you are so animated and believe so fully in how this tiny detail will make everything turn out. WOW, you are SO HUMAN and ALIVE!” And then some part of me will begin to giggle at how intoxicating all these feelings are.

One of the things I love and cherish about my new life is the time outdoors in nature. Every single day has long walks to explore this new land of mine and it is easy to make time to go outside regardless of weather. I am enraptured by this rain forest and, in the same way your fingers trace the curves of your lover’s body, I walk the curves of this land, venturing farther and deeper each time. I took the afternoon off to explore the hill that is my view across the meadow, Reade Hill. There is so much more of her to traverse but this is a beginning and I hope these photos can convey to you how crisp and clean everything is, how joyful life is in such a nurturing environment. Most of all I hope you have a special place that you love and loves you and that you take time every day to keep that love alive!

Gray days

I am working on a post showing life on the farm and this urban girl getting some rural skills. While that has been delayed a bit (by the very chores on which the post depends), I am going to share a poem written many, many years ago.

When I was packing my house to put in storage for my move to the Olympic Peninsula I came across a binder of poems written when I was in my late teens and early 20s. How fun it was to go through those writings and visit that young person through eyes who have seen the other side. If you know me personally you will not be surprised that there is a bit of the dramatic in my writing, just believe me when I tell you that I have actually mellowed since then!

poem written in 1990

rain softly tapping
a peaceful tempo gentling my mood
i watch raindrop rivulets race down the window pane
and bet as to which will win
the pastel gray of the sky is a perfect reflection of my mood
soft, quiet, relaxed
my thoughts wander- daydreaming
today is meant for snuggling
for enjoying the closeness of each other
and sipping hot cocoa to ward off the chill in the air
unplug the phone and turn on the tv
to hell with news, find the cartoons
today is for light-heartedness and gaity
a time to recharge
we will be serious tomorrow