Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays!

Atop Hyak, Summit East at Snoqualmie Pass, Washington
I don't know about you, but life right now for me is a frenzy of shopping, cooking, holiday events and parties, seeing old friends visiting from out-of-town, and heading out of town to visit family.  Whew!  But no matter, I'm making myself sit down each morning and just be with the moment. 

Just this. Right now.

I hope you can take time to slow down and savor the season.  Maybe you're with family, friends, or alone. No matter.  Every single minute is a precious gift.  

Sure, it's easy to throw out statements like that and move on. I know I do.  But maybe you know someone battling cancer, like my friend Jean, or are still mourning the senseless loss of children to violence. 

Reminders.  Every single minute is everything and all that we have. 

So my wish for you and everyone I know is this:  May you be fully alive and awake to the gifts that each moment brings. May your days be merry and bright.  And if you're a skier (or snowboarder) like me, maybe all your Christmases be white. :)

Holiday cheers!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Powder Energy: When the Snow Flies, Carpe Diem

As we all know but might need reminding, life can be shorter than any of us expect.  I had the pleasure to know someone who really took the term carpe diem to heart when it came to skiing and, I suspect, life in general.

Back in my ski school days, I shared some memorable backcountry runs with Mad Mountain Dean Meinert, a fellow instructor at Crystal Mountain. Our time together didn’t extend much past ski weekends, but we shared a natural affinity.  

And a passion for freshies.

We were kindred spirits at the regimented ski school—both in our early 30s and a little too old and nonconformist to take all the politics and rules too seriously. When I first met Dean, I quickly developed a little crush, but he was married with two small kids. He seemed oblivious to his rugged blonde good looks.  Dean was a no frills, ski-‘til-you-drop kind of guy. His ski clothes and gear were functional, not fashionable.

During lunch breaks, sometimes Dean would slow down and let me join him for a few laps in the Crystal backcountry.  He had a religious fervor, reminiscent of an evangelical preacher, about going out and “gettin’ some ‘pow.’”  He’d stuff a small pack with water bottles and Clif bars for lunch during lift rides and then hiking.  

I did my best to keep up with him.  Dean would wait for me to catch up, then he’d be off in a puff of snow as soon as I did. Seems like almost everyone who skied with him said the same thing. 

One day with temps hovering just above freezing and a light drizzle, I followed Dean out to what was then the North Back.  He plunged down into Brand X  with a series of jump turns, breaking through the ice-glazed surface and leaving a trail of crusty slabs on the slope behind him.  Dean could power his way through heavy Cascade crud like it was champagne powder and have a big smile on his face at the bottom, ready for more.

But I really liked Dean because he was a totally unpretentious, no bullshit, good guy. He wasn’t out to impress, he just wanted to squeeze as much out of every day as he possibly could. That meant watching the mountain forecasts each ski season carefully, then calling in sick on those epic days after the snow fell hard and fast and cold. The man had his priorities.

After four ski seasons together teaching, we both moved on and away from the Crystal Ski School and drifted apart except for the occasional email and lunch date. A few years later I got an email from a mutual friend and co-worker of Dean’s that hit me like a splash of icy glacial melt in the face.  As I scrolled down, I saw the words “I have some very sad and shocking news...”  

My friend Dean had died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack while playing ultimate Frisbee.  He was just 37, one of the strongest and fittest people I knew.  It would be fitting to describe Dean with “leaps tall buildings in a single bound.” 

At his memorial service, his widow Michelle said that once while doing yoga with Dean, she was expressing her thanks for Earth energy and Moon energy.  Dean interrupted her and said “Hey, what about powder energy?”

I wonder if Dean had any premonitions of his premature demise. I don’t know if he was aware of a heart condition, but if he did, he never mentioned it to his friends and co-workers.  But I do know his life was about action.  Living life to the fullest, spending quality time with family and friends, drinking good beer, playing ultimate Frisbee, bicycling everywhere, climbing up and skiing down mountains as often as he possibly could, and the pursuit of epic powder days. 

When I heard that it snowed 4 feet in the last two days at Crystal, I thought of Dean and knew that he would have called in "sick" and gone skiing.

So get on out there. Enjoy the day. Ski hard.   Because you just never know what the future holds.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Good Northwest Reads: Closer to the Ground

While I usually write about everyday adventures here in the Pacific Northwest or  occasional essays or recipes, this is my first book review. Why?

I just love this book because it so authentically evokes the taste and feel of the  Northwest, and I suggest anyone living here (or anywhere) and raising kids (or not) read it. Beyond its Northwest ethos, the themes of family and respect for the environment are universal and applicable anywhere.

While I've been doing battle for a few weeks with a nasty bug and not getting out much,  I was vicariously transported to the forests, tide flats, and waters of the Puget Sound region and western Washington through this lovely and joyful book. 

In his first book Closer to the Ground, Bainbridge Island author Dylan Tomine writes sweetly and vividly about foraging, gardening, fishing, shrimping, crabbing, clamming, cutting wood, and more here in western Washington with his family, including his two small children. And amazing kids they are, eager and excited to join their dad on outings for wild edibles.

Organized by the seasons, Tomine writes about the different offerings of the sea and forests throughout the year.  From a wet and chilly weekend on the Washington coast with a group of friends harvesting razor clams, to fishing for salmon on the Sound near his Bainbridge home or in the Columbia River, to scanning for chanterelle mushrooms on the way to the grocery store, I thoroughly enjoyed going along for the ride.

In fact, I was sad to have to take leave of the Tomine family when I finished the book. The author takes you into the woods and on the sea and then writes enticingly about preparing and enjoying the fruit of their labors with family and friends.  

"Candace has a big crab pot loaded with clams, butter, garlic, white wine, and parsley. A couple of big crusty loaves from the bakery up in Port Townsend are warming in the oven. Stacy's tossing winter greens with dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, and vinaigrette...Stacy yells 'Soup's on' and the feast begins. The crisp oysters burst with the briny flavor of the sea...A rich, citrusy amber ale from 7 Seas Brewing down in Gig Harbor quenches thirst and complements the food. We are getting down to some serious eating now."

Can I just be there for their next party?

Puget Sound mussels

Here's a family who, although not foraging for subsistence and survival, chooses to involve their children in food gathering and production.  

"For us," writes Tomine "I think it's more about living and raising our children in a way that keeps us in touch with our surroundings." 

Edible lobster mushroom

And kudos to the author for working in messages of concern for and protection of the environment as well as meaningful ties with family, friends, and community.  In this day of sedentary kids glued to their iPhones and games, I'm heartened for the future by Tomine's children Skyla and Weston, who are getting a solid grounding in respect and enthusiasm for the natural world, outdoor pursuits, and healthy food.

Thank you for this beautiful book Mr. Tomine!

Where to Buy
For starters, if you're in the Seattle area, how about making a trip to Bainbridge Island to pick up this book at the author's home community at Eagle Harbor Books. Or buy online via their website