Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Pacific Northwest Winter Hiking: Quiet on the East Fork Foss River

With snow falling deep and fast in the Cascade Mountains now, winter is a good time to explore lower elevation hikes and enjoy more solitude than normal on the trail. While I often head to higher elevations with my skis during the winter, in some ways it's the best hiking time of the year too.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, between heavy rainfall, a couple friends and I enjoyed a quiet, lovely hike through lush forest and encountered no other hikers in over 5 hours on the trail. With the massive influx of people moving to the region, that's a real treat now within a few hours of Seattle or Portland.

In the rush of the holiday season, walking in intentional silence in the Cascade foothills was a much-needed balm. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I was affected by a scary traffic accident recently.

After leaving Seattle in a driving rain, we were surprised to arrive at the empty trailhead off Highway 2 near Skykomish under a sky that wasn't dark gray and weeping. Everyone else must have been scared off by the rain or out shopping.

So we set off along the mostly level trail without talking, just walking and absorbing the green dampness of moss and evergreens, crossing streams swollen with recent rain.

The forest offered up wondrous and strange fungi, a lovely large wetland beneath craggy snow-dusted cliffs, and the sweet scent of pine, cedar, and logs decomposing into soil.

Every 30 minutes or so, we stopped and plopped down on our sit pads on a log or boulder and just sat in silence for 10 minutes, meditating on each precious moment in such a beautiful setting.

After a couple hours of hiking, the valley narrowed. While skirting along the edge of big rockfalls from the mist-enshrouded cliffs above, we passed immense boulders that came crashing down here some years ago. I was glad to not be around when the cliffside gave way and plunged into the valley.

When we reached a couple logs spanning the river (or was it a tributary?), the thought of crossing slick mossy wood gave us pause. With just a couple hours left of daylight on a late November day, we turned around. Meg, who has been up this trail before, thinks we were just short of where the trail starts climbing steeply to the Necklace Valley.

On the way back, we repeated the drill:  walk 30 minutes, stop and sit in silence, get back up, and do it again. Which, in a beautiful, verdant western Washington forest, is always a pleasure.

By the time we got back to the car about 3:15, the daylight was already dimming. I actually started noticing it around 2:30 p.m. Based on time hiking and Meg's recollection, we covered about 9 miles roundtrip, perhaps a bit more.

Our quiet day hiking was such a sweet contrast to the hectic frenzy of holiday shopping/traffic and the warm weather crowds that have packed our more popular trails these last couple years. 

BTW, I organize and lead these silent hikes for Blue Heron Zen Community, and everyone is welcome. Just leave a comment below if interested in future hikes!

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.

When You Go
It took us about 90 minutes to get to the trailhead from north Seattle. To get there, head east on U.S. Highway 2 toward Stevens Pass. After passing the Skykomish Ranger Station on the left, continue another 0.5 mile and turn right (south) onto Foss River Road (Forest Road 68). The clearly marked parking lot and trailhead will be on your left at about 4 miles. A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park. The restroom at the trailhead is locked for the winter.

AND special thanks to my hiking buddies Paul and Meg, whose photos are featured on this post along with a few of mine. I forgot my "real" camera, so all these shots were taken on smartphones. 


Monday, November 21, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016: Gratitude for it All

When the holiday season winds up as the year draws to a close, I love coming up with my Thanksgiving gratitude list each year.

This year, I'm first and foremost grateful and happy to be here. As in here on planet Earth, living what poet Mary Oliver calls my "one wild and precious life."  

The miracle and privilege of this was heightened for me last week when I was at the scene of a traffic fatality. About a week later, I'm starting to feel more normal again, my shot nerves finally calming down

A speeding car smashed into the corner of a bakeshop outside from where I sat enjoying tea with a friend. As the first responders told me, I was very lucky to not be seriously injured or worse. I did sustain some bumps, cuts, abrasions, and a little PTSD from being thrown and sprayed with shattered glass. But nothing serious. 

I'm also grateful for my favorite jacket, a trusty Mountain Hardwear alpine shell that protected me from tiny glass shards and transmission fluid (or battery acid?) sprayed over my backside, ruining the shell.

One of many good ski days in my favorite alpine shell.

I'm grateful for the forces of velocity and air pressure that caused me to be thrown down and forward, out of harm's way from the bigger glass shards that flew over me.

Doing the Pose - a silly moment in the shell.
I'm grateful for the kindness of strangers. Two young women in the bakeshop noticed me standing dazed and in shock, bleeding a bit, and took charge of me. Kat called and cancelled my scheduled medical appointment, and her friend visiting from California led me to a chair and had me sit down while talking calmly to me and checking for injuries before the medics arrived.

I'm grateful for the first responder firefighters, who really are as tall and handsome as they are on TV. But seriously, they charge into frightening and sometimes perilous situations with grace, strength, and their wits about them, to help others. Sorry, no photos of them, so here's a shot of a nice day in Seattle.

West Point Lighthouse.

I'm grateful for friends and family, who were concerned and supportive. 

And I'm especially grateful that the corner of the building where the car struck, just a couple feet from where I sat, was a strong, heavy concrete column instead of lesser-strength material.

"If that had been wood, it wouldn't have held against the force of the impact" said one of the first responders tending to me. 

And I'm saddened by the life that ended just outside from where I sat. This being Seattlewhere before our explosive growth we used to joke "There's only a thousand real people in Seattle and they all know each other"—I was just two or three degrees of separation from the victim via a cousin. 

I know his family is mourning his death but is also very grateful for his life. He loved to sail, so this shot is for him boating off into the sunset.

So yes, I'm grateful for it all, for the whole enchilada. To be alive in this moment, sitting here in my cozy office trying to convey how profound and special it is to just be here. I can't say it more eloquently than Mary Oliver below:

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
—Mary Oliver

Wishing you and yours a lovely and blessed Thanksgiving and holiday season. And if you're not in the USA, I wish you a happy day, every day, anyway.

En route to Thanksgiving dinner on Bainbridge Island, 2015.
  Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.


Friday, November 11, 2016

Pacific Northwest Landscapes: Let's Enjoy and Help Protect

It sure has been a topsy-turvy week here in the USA. How are you holding up? Are you euphoric? Horrified?

We're definitely a country of deep divides in our values and politics. And we're also a country of vastly differing landscapes.  Even here in the Pacific Northwest, the difference between east and west of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon and Washington is great, both politically and geographically.

Although I was born and raised west of the Cascades and have spent most of my life here, I've lived in New England, central California, and southern Illinois as well. I'm glad for my time soaking up different regions and cultures within my own country. I don't know if it helps me understand our divisions as much as appreciate the breadth and beauty of our land.

So today I'm just sharing random photos highlighting my beloved Pacific Northwest. No trying to figure out what just happened.

Well, I guess I do have an ulterior motive. 

One of my goals here at Pacific Northwest Seasons is to foster a desire to protect our natural resources, whether that be through volunteering to pull invasive weeds or letting our politicians know that we support environmental regulations that keep business and government from running rampant over valuable habitats and landscapes.

I hope you enjoy the photos. But I also hope you take action when you hear our elected officials make noise about circumventing or dismantling environmental regulations that assess development actions that could affect any landscape. Guiding this process is the important National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). 

Perhaps that inconspicuous patch of marshy, weed-infested land is an intermittent wetland that harbors threatened insects or frogs only during certain times of the year. Without maintaining the environmental process through the NEPA, development could inadvertently destroy valuable habitats. 

I encourage you to let your representatives, from the state to federal level, know you think it's important to keep these regulations in place. They ensure the public is informed how proposed actions could affect the land and surrounding areas. They also ensure that alternatives are considered.

So let's get outside, get involved, get informed, and appreciate our beautiful country. And cherish these words from the late great American icon Woody Guthrie:

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.