Hell’s Canyon

 

Monty gazing out over the mountains of Hell’s Canyon

“The grandeur and originality of the views presented on every side beggar both the pencil and the pen. Nothing we had ever gazed upon in any other region could for a moment compare in wild majesty and impressive sternness with the series of scenes which here at every turn astonished our senses and filled us with awe and delight.” Benjamin L. E. Bonneville, an early explorer of Hell’s Canyon, wrote about the place I was getting ready to spend two weeks camping and hiking.

Sunset from the Cougar Basin campsite with a view into Oregon.

The area has seen much since white men entered its waters, from its early days of exploitation for copper and gold ore to inciting national division in the 1950s and again in the 1970s on damming the river to present-time recreational pursuits. For many years Hell’s Canyon was hailed as the deepest canyon but that is now contested. Regardless of the numbers, I was about to walk into a place of no outside contact. Not that this is a new experience as I have been solo hiking sections of the Continental Divide Trail for a number of years, but this time was different. I was heading into the area with three mules, three dogs, my friend I call the don and his brother. Would Hell’s Canyon live up to its name and reputation? What hellish fate might await, i wondered?

Could it be anymore perfect for a Texas girl than to have PURPLE bluebonnets?
Okay, technically a cousin to bluebonnets but that can be overlooked.

Obviously I have lived to tell the tale. And share some photos…

the don and his mules

Monty had never been around mules so it was with some slight trepidation that he was introduced to them. He did live through the two weeks but only through the grace of God who looks out for little white dogs.He was disbelieving these creatures were not just big dogs thus he continued to try and befriend them by getting too close to their feet. He would also try to insert himself in the mule train between two mules if I was riding a mule so I ended up in the saddle about 100 yards and then walking the remaining 18 miles into camp the first day. Monty did finally learn, mostly anyway, not to get underneath the mules and would walk very close to the back of the last mule. Thankfully the mules were very patient with this city boy who was just learning the ropes when it came to mule packing. Monty and I had that in common on this trip. One mule was particularly patient with me as I learned to halter and saddle and lead the mules and even let me braid his tail.

Monty learned to stay out of the mule train and trailed along behind. Can you see his tiny white body there?
Otis sporting a fancy tail-do. Definitely a sassy ass!

Hells Canyon will extract its pound of flesh, no doubt ’bout that. Just so you know, there are TWO different manifestations of poison ivy in these parts. There is the normal, vine-trailing-on-the-ground type found in moist areas like near creeks and under trees. Then there is another type that does not resemble a vine or a bush. This nasty and tricksy mo-fo is a stick about three feet tall with lovely white to cream dried-looking berries on it. At least that is how it looks in early spring, maybe in June it gets leaves or hairyness or something but in April it is just a lovely berry-topped stick with delicate red undertones hanging out with all the other grasses that looks like it is begging to be in a floral arrangement.

DO NOT BE FOOLED BY IT

A tricksy mo-fo , this poison ivy, growing along the trail and hillsides in very dry areas and with no leaves.

Another tip, if you are traveling with animals or some companion that goes tromping pell-mell through the grasses, DO NOT LET THAT BEING INTO YOUR SLEEPING BAG, even if it is a skinny puppy shivering in the cold night. That shivering puppy will run through the tricksy poison ivy sticks ALL DAY LONG and then, in the wee hours of the darkness, will bring all that urushiol into your bag and onto your skin. Just imagine what the results of hours and hours of laying in the poison oil will do to your skin as she cuddles up so sweetly to you. All the weight you have lost from so much lovely exercise will not be evident due to the horrible sores and swelling from the blisters and your new trail name will be Scritchers.

 

Only 6 months old, Finn already loved to run the hills all day and snuggle all night.
Three dog night. I finally learned to keep the dogs out of my sleeping bag yet they still loved to snuggle up to me. Here you can see Q, Finn, and Monty’s yellow coat.
Poison ivy legs. The rash was everywhere on my body except my upper back due to a snuggling puppy in my sleeping bag. So much for wearing skirts anytime soon.

This concludes my public service announcement.

Now for the good part, and if you heed my advice above, you can skip the icky and go straight to the good part. People tried to settle the canyon years ago and planted gardens. Most of the people and settlements did not last but some of their food-stuff is still there. If you go in early spring (as for this area, not the early spring of Houston) you will be fed well from the coffers of the canyon. the don knew of several spots where yummies were growing and shared them with me. Sadly I did not get photos of the morel mushrooms the don gathered and then cooked in butter on the wood stove (yes, for real. this is my life now) but i promise they were exquisite. The same day as the mushroom gathering, he showed me where asparagus would grow. Only a few stalks were showing then but when I went back a week later, JACKPOT!

Asparagus growing in the wilds of Hell’s Canyon. Can you believe the luck!?!

I gathered a quart ziplock bag and nibbled on quite a few stalks as I gathered and only took about 20% of what was showing. There is also an area where watercress grows and we enjoyed fresh greens pretty much every day of the trip.

Watercress growing along a creek just waiting to be made into a delicious salad.

Can you imagine a two-week camping trip with fresh asparagus and watercress and mushrooms? and all cooked over campfire or woodstove. Hard to believe yet I offer photographic proof.

Watercress salad with beets, coconut, and mango. The latter two were rehydrated since I have yet to find a mango tree in Hell’s Canyon.
Cooking asparagus over a campfire. Also on the menu this evening was polenta with tomato sauce which you can see in the background.

Monty was his usual majestic self and struck a pose on every rock formation he saw. Truly, I do not pose him and rarely do I even try to arrange a photo. Mostly he gets his vogue on and waits until I finally realize I should take a picture. He even photo bombs and, as usual, his version is much more interesting than my own. Do you think Ansel Adams might come back as a photogenic master in a dog body?

Monty photobombing as I try to shoot landscapes. As usual his version is way more interesting than my boring ol’ flower picture.

I’ll put more photos at the end of this post. At the time every single view was breathtaking and so I have tons of pictures of Monty posing with some dramatic view.

As you may know, I am a former city girl who has decided to try a completely different lifestyle. I am learning so much every day! For example, do you know where the antlers for those awesome chandeliers in hunting-themed lodges come from? Out here it is a hobby to collect the ginormous antlers that are shed naturally every spring by the elk. the don and his brother engage in antler hunting and I began a little hunting myself.  I was better at finding asparagus.

“Glassing” the hillside looking for antlers.
I spy an antler!
Here is one of the smaller antlers. Some were almost as big as me!

Fresh mint- perfect for adding to salads and also to a bit of rum
Waiting for snow to melt and getting a suntan at the same time
Still waiting
Dinnertime in Hell’s Canyon
A fresh and cold spring at just the right height for bottle filling. Hell’s Canyon will extract its pound of flesh but will also provide
Another awesome view of Sheep Creek
Spider on flower. I was so intrigued by this little guy hanging out in the flowering bushes just waiting for bugs
I forgot my hat one day and ended up making one from my bandana and some of the branches from the bush behind me. The branches were to make the brim and I have to say this worked out very well for the entire day!
Rose hips. Reminded me of chinese lanterns
Pictographs!
Curious Otis
the don and mules near suicide point. Can you see them on the trail?
My boy
A view into Oregon
Bear claw marks on pine. I promise, Mom, I never saw any bears this trip!
Brain freeze

Monty near Old Timer
Monty on the mountain

I don’t need inspirational quotes
I need coffee

 

Wishes…

Wishes…

Just before I left Houston my beloved friend placed a kiss on my cheek and this wish bracelet on my wrist as I silently made my wish. As I understand it, the wish will come true when the bracelet falls off. As you can see, it is just a few threads away from happening!
However, it’s been like this awhile now. These few threads, frayed and colorless, holding on to what was and refusing to be broken, perhaps fearful of the idea of no longer existing. These few threads are preventing my wish.
So, dear reader, I am making a plea to you for help. The wish I made is for all the people I love to have the courage to follow what is in their hearts, to pursue their dreams and not have to know the exact ending before beginning. I can promise you that there is so much more available than you can even imagine or know to ask for. Just take the first step towards opening your heart and mind to possibility. If trying to figure it all out seems overwhelming then don’t concern yourself with anything more than this next step, leave the last step for later. You can handle it when the time comes.
I think of the story of Noah frequently now. I wonder how many people God told to build an ark? I am confident it was more than just ol’ Noah. Noah reportedly had zero carpentry skills and certainly no ship building experience since he lived inland. Even though the way and reason weren’t clear, Noah pursued what was in his heart to do.
Is there something in your heart calling to you?

Acceptance of impermanence lets me have courage to go into the unknown. Terror, happiness, peace, insecurity, security, these all come and pass like a breath. In sitting for meditation I see how an itch or a tickle can arise and engulf my attention, my mind screaming out to jump to it, scratch and rub, then everything will be better. But in my short 10 minute meditations from Calm app, I learn how those very itches can seemingly engulf and then be gone to be replaced by another attention-taker. I learn how mind/ego wants to be anywhere but here now, wants attention and throws mental tantrums to get it. I know I can handle an itch or tickle for just 10 minutes and so I watch it, giving 100% attention but 0% action or reaction. And I watch it subside, then a few moments or seconds of blissful peace before another tantrum.
My fears, which have been numerous these last few months, are similarly handled. Give attention, do not try to assuage or distract from the uncomfortable or un-pretty. Accept all as part of this experience, love this life as it comes. Soon enough this body will go back to the ashes and dust of its origin. The poet Rumi, as always, has something to say about this:

WHO SAYS WORDS WITH MY MOUTH? All day I think about it, then at night I say it. Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing? I have no idea. My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that, and I intend to end up there
Rumi

Where, my dear friend, is your soul from and what are you doing to get back there?

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

WWFD

3/31/18

 

So, it was pointed out to me that I have been remiss in my “ob-blog-gation” as I have not posted in quite some time. I absolutely agree that the stories I think of in my head are not sufficient, they have to get written and posted. I do have many ideas, sort of the opposite of writer’s block. What I didn’t have was discretionary time. However, I have decided to make writing 30 minutes in the morning every day for a week my current goal, then assess. Surely the farm won’t fall apart because of 30 minutes!

One part of the time challenge was the sale of the farm. When I came here it was up for consideration that I would buy the property. I made a decision about 4 weeks ago not to purchase. Then, within days of me making that decision, another potential buyer came along. I spent most of the day working the farm and then the evenings in meetings and visits with the potential owner. Unfortunately, after almost 4 weeks of negotiating and planning, the deal has fallen through. I have learned a valuable lesson about how to live and work in the same place. Hold holy the time and habits that feed and nourish you and keep yourself sane and healthy. Hold holy that time.

As I was out on the property the other day thinking about my beautiful friend who pointed out my long time since posting, I was remembering a marvelous gift he gave me. It was a bracelet with the words, “WWFD yoga massage wine nature” printed on it. I began to meditate on the different things Frank would do.

Hang in there, even when the world seems to be washing away from beneath your feet. Kalaloch Beach

Yoga- to me yoga is about centering, accepting what is in this moment, finding ease in the difficult poses (on the mat and in life), knowing when to push a little harder and when to relax and be easy on yourself. Oh, and yoga is also a nice way to strengthen the body.

Gluggaveður
Icelandic for “window weather” which is the perfect time to connect with a loved one and share a bit of sunshine on a frosty morning.

Massage- touching, recognizing the similitude in all of us, letting go of worries and notions and breathing in the gift of connection and also of reciprocity, this is what massage means to me.

With no good restaurants in this area, I’ve taken my cooking up several notches.
Honestly, this fence is pathetic but coated with fresh snow it is transformed into a beautiful vision.

Wine- food and life are meant to be enjoyed! Yes! Allow the amazing qualities of the world, physical and metaphysical, to transform you into a glistening jewel-like substance. Rumi’s poem about wine says “there are thousands of wines that can take over our minds. Don’t think all ecstasies are the same! … Every object, every being, is a jar full of delight. Be a connoisseur and taste with caution. Any wine will get you high. Judge like a king and choose the purest, the ones unadulterated with fear or some urgency about “what’s needed.” Drink the wine that moves you as a camel moves when it’s been untied and is just ambling about.” Rumi cautions to be thoughtful of what we choose to enter or let enter us. Whether it is food, work, a partner, books or movies, be attentive to the deeper ingredients of these items and choose those that are the purest for you. How to know? By how you feel, are you tense, worried, angry, fearful or are you calm and relaxed, peaceful, like a camel that is no longer having to work but is just chillin’. That is the wine that serves you best!

The sun is always there, even when we cannot see it for the clouds.
Swirly tracks on Ruby Beach at sunset

Nature- “And forget not the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” Kahlil Gibran reminds us that we must connect with our natural self, we must engage and be willing to get dirty and messy to fully live. We must let down our guard and our striving for perfection in order to see it is the imperfections that bring depth and beauty to our experience. Look at the forest, the tangle of trees and branches and the interesting rocks half-buried in the dirt and the bugs crawling across the rotten logs that have fallen beside the trail. See how these tangles and rot come together to create interest. In the same way that we can look at a knobby tree with appreciation, we can see the places in us that are kind of knobby and have compassion and acceptance for them. Does the riverbank worry and fret over the flood season? No, even when the floods come and wash away a part of the bank, the riverbank still is, it does not cease to be. So even when the difficult times come, and they will come, they do not wash away who you really are but instead reveal even more depth of your being.

So, thank you, Frank, for your inspiration! We can all remember What Would Frank Do and get on with it!

Sun kisses

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

Alchemy

Meditation is the alchemist
Transforming putrid shame into joyful rapture
Dust swept under the rug becoming sparkles of gold as I sit

I was inspired by a recent meditation experience to write the poem above. If you have read any of my other posts, you will no doubt know that I am a big proponent of meditation. Not for the relaxation that occurs when sitting on the meditation cushion, although that is nice, but for the transforming effect if you let what is learned on the cushion to occur in the rest of life. Maybe it is a result of critical thinking skills, being able to take what is learned in one arena and apply it to not-previously-seen arenas. In school those are the hardest tests, when the teacher makes you really think about what was learned and apply it creatively versus just spitting back a particular powerpoint slide. In life, it is also about taking what we learn and applying it creatively to a situation. In doing so it builds a trust in one’s self that allows you to believe you can handle the next thing that comes. And the next thing, and the one after that, even if you don’t know what is coming, you know you can handle it. Boy, there is so much less worry when living this way!!!
What you may or may not know about me is that I love rules. I am a big believer in knowing the rules and then, with creative thinking, deciding which rules can be broken. It isn’t until one has mastered the rules and can maneuver within them that one begins to know which can be broken to achieve a certain result. Now this does encourage an understanding of the difference between a law and a rule. Laws cannot be broken. Gravity is kind of a law, as is pretty much all of physics and chemistry and organic chemistry and math. A carbon with only 3 bonds is going to be one unhappy guy, that is something you can count on. Rules aren’t so rigid but are a pretty decent framework for living if you don’t want to think about stuff all the time. You should not eat dessert before dinner is a decent rule, because you are hungry and might overeat the sugar and then undereat the salad. There are times that you should break this rule and eat the cookies, dammit, like if you are getting ready to menstruate and you deserve a congratulatory cookie for getting up and not spitting venom at any object in your path. That totally deserves a cookie or two. And a glass of wine. And quit looking at the clock because, really, that is how addictions are made. But you don’t go and break that dessert rule ALL the time or else it loses its effectiveness when you need it. Like crying wolf. You don’t want the new normal to be one devoid of rules because then when you do have a wolf attacking your sheep no one will show up and you will probably get eaten, and if the wolf is getting ready to menstruate and thinks of you as a cookie, then it will probably eat you first and go for the fuzzy sheep afterwards. And then where will you be? If you were lucky enough to be like Jonah and eaten by a whale, then you would stand a chance of surviving to tell the tale and probably be an internet sensation since you’d no doubt have some great video footage of the whale tummy and being puked up on the beach of Nineveh. But you wouldn’t survive in a wolf’s stomach.
“Squirrel!”
Actually I have no idea how crying wolf relates to meditation but maybe that just proves the alchemy part in the poem I wrote at the beginning of this post. Yes, that is EXACTLY what alchemy does so somewhere my brain is making connections and I just have to trust the path and not be so doggone worried about knowing in advance where it leads. Never place limits on what can be by demanding to know the future because how could one even IMAGINE such a connection?
I have some possible big changes coming up in my life. Not that I haven’t been living with big changes the last couple months anyway, and changes that I could not have imagined have occurred just because I trusted in the ability to try and even to fail and get back up and start going again. Failing and then getting going again is dust turning into gold.

Oh yeah, I wanted to show you some sights from the farm.

Here is what I do every morning. I am one of the best fire builders. The wood is fresh cut and wet and green, not good for making fires but I have developed a system or series of systems that lets me succeed as long as I am patient and attentive. The wood stove has water jackets on each side of it that circulate heated water through the floors and help heat the basement bedrooms. I guess because of the water jackets taking up space, the firebox is not big enough to be able to stoke enough firewood to keep the fire going all night so every morning I build a new fire. It is kind of a relaxing way to wake up.

Next I go for a walk. It might not be immediately in the morning but sometime before mid-afternoon I head out. The snow lately has called me out to walk and enjoy a real winter. Monty loves all the freedom of walking without a leash and sometimes I bring a guest’s dog along.


In between fire-building and walking is some work or other, maybe bookkeeping or maybe farm chores or fixing something that is broken. There are lots of things broken and some I can fix on my own. And finally I decide what to cook for dinner. I am fortunate that I like to cook and the grocer in town is acceptable and Amazon delivers. It is a little hard because I do not have a full kitchen with all the spices and accoutrement my old kitchen had but that just makes me more creative. And flexible. Did you know that for some recipes baking powder can stand in for baking soda with no appreciable difference. But coarse-ground cornmeal, which is great for polenta, cannot be used as is for a breading on stuffed jalapenos. I will try grinding it in the coffee bean grinder next time and I suspect the hint of coffee taste will be a pretty yummy addition. and if it is not, then a little extra sriracha-mayo dip will take care of it. I enjoy taking my time fixing dinner. It is a nice chance to have me-time as the cooking kitchen is separate from the main living area and kitchen-prep area.


Sometimes guests or neighbors will join us for a dinner party and that can very interesting. Unless all the guests are avid fishermen which means the discussion devolves to types of hooks and such. Those are the nights I go to bed early. Sometimes we have very personable and interesting guests and I get to learn all about other parts of the country, what their work and lives are like, how they see the world. Those are my favorite times. It helps fill the void left by not being in the salon and talking with all my interesting and fascinating clients. Shoot, now I am thinking about some of them and there is a catch in the back of my throat for those I love dearly and miss so much. Sometimes I wonder if I am selfish and foolish for chasing this dream. But sometimes I talk with a dear friend and I can feel the love is still there even if I do not get to lay eyes or hands on them right now. Breathe in loneliness, wistfulness, missing you…breathe out warmth, compassion, understanding, ever-abiding love. Meditation is the alchemist.

Feeling the Glory

Daily I read from Jeff Foster’s The Way of Rest and am inspired by his poetic earnestness. It just so happened that today, Valentine’s Day, I read his “Out of the Ashes” and, as usual, was struck by the depth of his work. There are many layers to his writing if you are willing to open up to the deeper meanings. Even when I am not ready to open wide, his work is beautiful and moving but, oh, those times I am courageous enough to fling open the doors to my heart and soul and let the light stream into the dark places, Jeff’s insight caresses as gently as a mother’s kiss. Those places where fear and shame dangle like cobwebs in my being are laid open, sometimes still flailing, and I can hear God’s voice, full of compassion, reminding me of my true nature, my true being, and that I am made from Him. How could there possibly be anything wrong with me?

I am perfect in my imperfection.

What is not to love, then? What could there possibly be in this bit of God made human that is not delightful and lovable? Even my quick-to-judge ways, my moodiness, my tendency to interrupt, my rough feet that look more like a dog’s paw, my stretchmarks and crow’s feet and hail-damaged thighs, all these places where I want to be different than I am, I can look at with eyes of my soul and say, “Is that so?” And sometimes the compassion and patience that is bigger than me sifts down into this mortal and imperfect being and I take myself a little less seriously and a bit more joyfully and with gratitude for this very moment.

Sometimes I do love my Self so much that I laugh out loud with the joy of Being.

May you feel the deepest love and gratitude for yourself today, my friend. Start there, with complete love and acceptance for your own being, and see what happens.

 

Out of the Ashes

Jeff Foster

Do not despair if you are now feeling far from love. You are only seeking a reflection of your own heart. Love is burning even more brightly now, even if it feels like pain and longing, chaotic sensations in the belly, chest, throat.

If it is warmth you seek, if it is closeness you long for, begin by feeling the warmth of your own broken heart, reconnecting there at the very source of disconnection, finding presence in your own presence. Your loved one is near, for you are near.

When you feel like seeking outward for love, turn, come closer, get more intimate with yourself.

Even if you find yourself in ruins now, understand that even the ruined place contains seeds of grace and the fragrance of renewal. You cannot go back, life only marches on. Dignify its ever-onward movement. The power that was there at the big bang is still with you; you are undivided from the cosmos. There is power in your doubt.

Know that a new life can only grow from the earth upon which you stand. A new painting must begin with a canvas. Use the canvas that is given. Even old canvases can hold fresh paint.

If you dream of a new tomorrow, your dream appears now, held in your presence. Keep sight of the goal, yes! But never lose connection with the Origin, this moment, the lace from which goals are seen or not seen, held or released.

Being present is never in conflict with holding a vision of a more expansive future in your heart, for the holding can only happen in Presence. The present holds the future.

And then, out of the ashes of ground zero, that dark place associated only with death and destruction, a new kind of life may suddenly appear possible, and, with love and trust, begin to manifest.

Never give up on life, for it never gives up on you, even when you give up. And know that your heart is near, broken yet radiant. Allow it to be closed now, and it will open when it is ready, and not a moment before.

 

 

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!

Perseverance

Perseverance.

I only just noticed the word “sever” is within the word “perseverance.” I think that, in light of what I share today, you will agree that it is good to have only noticed that academically now and be so grateful that all my fingers and toes are still where they are supposed to be.

Part of what I want to share is the complete infatuation I have with this dream-life of rural, off-grid living. I actually enjoy the physical work of feeding a wood stove for warmth. I like learning new skills, especially physical skills (I really don’t like learning new computer program skills) and so the chores around here are ways that I get physical motion as a part of my whole day, not just 30 minutes at the gym. The main house where I am staying is very nice and big with lovely skylights and Alexa to play any music I desire so I’m not roughing it that much. After a day of being outside, I feel so gratified. After a day of working a computer screen, I feel like a day in my life was stolen.

Chopping wood is something I have never done before. I never swung an axe before a few days ago. I have to say that for me it was not a terribly natural thing. An axe is heavy! Learning to lift it over my head and then swing it down in the same place over and over took quite a bit of practice. My very patient teacher would encourage me by saying, “Good swing! Now hit it again in exactly the same spot and that log will split wide open.” He would even show me, “See, hold it like this and then let your hand slide down as the axe comes down.” And he could actually hit the log in the EXACT SAME PLACE EVERY TIME. For me, hitting it in the same place meant just hitting the top as opposed to the side or missing the darn log altogether.

But, as with anything, practice makes… well not perfect but better. And of course, yoga finds its way into even the most mundane farm chore.

Wish you were here!

P.S. My teacher says this wood is from an alder tree. I say the darn thing is obviously a Kevlar tree. Notice how the axe just bounces off the log? C’mon, what kind of wood could do that?

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