Tuesday, December 29, 2020

2020, A Year Outdoors in Photos


What a long and strange year 2020 has been. How many of us foresaw our world changing so dramatically?

This afternoon I thought of how different last holiday season was compared to 2020. In 2019, there were dinners out with family and friends, a getaway to a bustling seaside town, a few parties, and shopping and walking in crowds. 

Between the pandemic, racial justice protests turned violent, devastating wildfires, crazy political and cultural divisions, and the loss of a friend and a beloved pet, well, I'm glad to see 2020 take leave. It was an intense year.

But the good times were equally intense in contrast. Everybody seemed to take my #getoutside motto to heart. I didn't stray more than 80 miles from Seattle all year, but I still managed to see and discover plenty of beauty outdoors. Here's a sampling of a northwest Washington year in photos.

After a shoulder injury on my first and only day skiing of the season, I began the first of many weekly plunges in Puget Sound in late January. While it's always a shock to hit that cold water, it also generates a sense of exhilarating euphoria. Cold water swimming can help you feel instantly more alive and energized.

The first plunge. Puget Sound.

Ah February. When we still went out for meals with friends outside our household, went to parties, and were just vaguely aware of a new virus in China. Early in the month, I went to Port Townsend and had a wonderful brunch while sitting across the table from my aunt and a friend. Looking back, it seems so carefree. 
Each February I go down to a park near my home to find the delicate snowdrops that bloom in the forest, an early sign of spring.
Snowdrops in Carkeek

And then it all hit the fan. Thus began a spring of long walks and bike rides exploring my corner of Seattle. I didn't leave the city or fill my car's gas tank for over 2 months. A good friend was parked in my guest room from November 2019 until June, so it was nice to have a companion to walk home with in the dark after some outstanding sunsets at sea's edge.

Salish Sea sunset, Olympic Mountains beyond

Unlike many, I actually lost weight in the first few months of the pandemic from all those walks, bike rides, and not eating out. A bike ride to see the sunrise on a chilly Easter morning was extra special.

Lake Union predawn
With May came the full lushness of a western Washington spring. Looking back at my hundreds of photos, I took almost daily walks down to a forested park near my home. It was a pleasure to see the forest unfurl and ripen with the richness of the season on a regular basis. There were also more sunset bike rides.

Golden Gardens sunset

Come June, we seemed to "flatten the curve" a bit, and I left Seattle for some hiking and drives for the first time since February. I must say, while it was good to drive less, it was also wonderful to do a "real" hike through a healthy forest in the Cascade foothills.
Mountains to Sound Greenway
With the fullness of summer, I pulled out my sea kayak for more kayaking than I've done in several years. Plus it's one of the best sports for distancing. Some friends and I had a brilliant day paddling to some small islands up in Skagit Bay.

Skagit Bay

It was wonderful getting out more than earlier in the year. Late August hiking with a friend and her daughter was another highlight.

Mt. Rainer in the distance from Mason Lake Trail

Our prime outdoors season was abruptly halted Labor Day with shockingly heavy wildfire smoke. Half the Northwest seemed to go up in flames at the same time. It was truly distressing. Things cleared up by the end of the month, and I enjoyed a brilliant fall hike with the Alpine Trails Book Club. We spent some time in the stretch of huckleberry shrubs packed with berries ready for picking.

Scarlet huckleberries in the foreground, Tonga Ridge 

I always say October is my favorite month. This year it lived up to that again, with some marvelous fall hikes over near Leavenworth and Ingalls Pass, farther east than I strayed all year.

Mt. Stuart

While Thanksgiving dinner was quiet and solo, a first, I got in some good long walks and hikes over the holiday weekend. This year, my connections with friends and family were all outside.

Mt. Si

As I write this, the month and year are almost over. It has been a tough holiday season without my usual events and connections. But I've done some nice hikes with friends. And there's always something indefinably clarifying and uplifting about a ferry ride across Puget Sound. 

Bainbridge ferry

So to wrap up, I'm still processing 2020. It was just too big to neatly tie up. Our world has shifted. 
Looking back, I really did get out a lot. Probably as much as any year from summer onward. The sea and mountains draw me out, as always.

How about you? Did you get outdoors more in 2020?

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

Monday, November 23, 2020

Thanksgiving 2020: Gratitude in the Time of Covid

Every year I sit down to write a Thanksgiving post, and some years it's harder than others to come up with a list of gratitudes. But this year...it's 2020.

And despite environmental concerns, unprecedented wildfires, political and social conflicts, a global pandemic, and not being able to hug friends and family...yes, there is still much  for which to be grateful this year.

For starters, I'm grateful to live where I do, near a perfect sandy beach on the Salish Sea. In late January I started doing almost weekly plunges in the sea within about 10 minutes from my home. 

While my nearby beach is not a warm, tropical spot, it's thrilling to wade in offshore, then plunge into the chilly sea. It makes me feel like I've done something epic, even though often I'm swimming for less than 30 seconds. 

It's the ultimate Zen experience, being completely in the moment, shocked and exhilarated by the cold saltwater. I highly recommend giving it a try if you can.

Plunge buddies

As a self-employed business owner who works out of my home, I'm grateful to have several projects to work on this year. And honestly, working from home is not a change or adjustment for me. I've made my living out of my home office for over a decade.

I miss weekly mornings working at a few local coffeeshops/teahouses, where a friend often parked at the table beside me with his laptop too. It eased my cabin fever and was nice to be around others. I'm grateful all my favorite spots have managed to stay in business during this difficult time.

Thursday mornings at Miro Tea. Next year again?

I'm grateful that (so far) most of my friends and all my family have stayed covid-free. One good friend suffered from covid-19, but she was never hospitalized and is doing better after several months struggling to regain her breath and energy. For her improved health, I'm grateful.

I'm grateful for the friends I've gotten out hiking and kayaking with this year.
And for the power and joy of being out in nature here in the scenic Pacific Northwest. All that forest bathing and expansive landscapes and seascapes have been a strong balm to help ease the stresses of this year.

And I've caught myself in moments recently just feeling grateful for the precious gift of this life. In my office today, it hit me again. There was nothing extraordinary about sitting at my desk, but I felt gratitude for the everyday, of being here to experience life in all its imperfect, messy beauty.

So while I'm at it, here are few more things I'm thankful for:
-New friends

-Poetry, which is so apt this year to capture the ethos of this time

-Acts of kindness and compassion, to which I aspire

-Zoom and other video conferencing and livestreaming. I know it's not perfect, but it has been calming to see people's faces while catching up and "attending" book clubs, on-line events, and more.

-The joy of cooking. I've had some fun experimenting this year (although no sourdough yet). And also the joy of take-out to support some of my favorite local cafes and restaurants.

French toast a la Brewster

-The Marine Mammal Rescue Centre and Vancouver Aquarium up in B.C. for rescuing orphaned baby sea otter Joey this past summer and then livestreaming his growth into a healthy, happy otter meeting new otter friends at the aquarium. The volunteers are upbeat and diligent, and people all over the world have been watching.

Joey napping

So here's to giving thanks, even if at times this year it has been hard to feel it. I write this partly to remind myself, too. 

May you have a safe, happy holiday season. I'd love to hear some things you're grateful for, too, in a comment below!

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Autumn in the Pacific Northwest: Huckleberries, Larches, and Good Rain

There's something indefinably magic about autumn that makes it my favorite time of year. And this year, we all can use some magic, right?

While it's a drippy rainy evening here in Seattle as I write this, we've had some brilliant fall color and weather. Our first frost is expected in a few days.

People this year are flocking and recreating outside in our forests and parks like never before. So today's post is about getting outside and celebrating late summer/autumn beauty in this splendid region.

Early Autumn

By late August, you can usually feel a hint of autumn at higher elevations in the Cascades. The sun travels lower across the sky, vine maples are starting to show a hint of color, and pesky bugs are no longer an issue.

Just before Labor Day weekend, I joined a friend and her daughter for a weekday hike near Snoqualmie Pass in the Mountains to Sound Greenway, less than an hour east of Seattle. We got an early start and felt a morning fall chill that later transitioned to mellow warmth.  

Within a couple hours we made it up to tranquil Mason Lake, where huckleberries were starting to pop out on shrubs around the lake. While sitting on the shore of this mountain lake in the soft warm sunshine, all that 2020 anxiety drained away for a spell.


But this being 2020, heavy smoke from the raging West Coast wildfires kept us inside for almost 2 weeks starting Labor Day weekend. I was lucky to get out a day ahead of the smoke to kayak off Vashon Island.

Early sign of fall on the beach

When things cleared up later in the month, I caught an early morning ferry to meet my aunt and friends for morning coffee at Fort Worden in Port Townsend, Washington.

Olympic Mountains, predawn

After an hour sitting outdoors in distanced chairs, sipping hot drinks, and enjoying excellent conversation, we walked around Fort Worden State Park on what was an absolutely stellar, crisp early autumn day. I kept exclaiming out loud, "This is a perfect fall day!"

Historic Fort Worden building

And then there were huckleberries. I joined a small group of lovely women for a book club hike into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness to discuss Twelve Moons by the late great poet Mary Oliver. Although the trail was plenty busy, we managed to spread out and stayed mostly masked.

Near the top of Mt. Sawyer, we filled emptied water bottles with huckleberries after discussing the lyrical poems. With a clearing sky and all that mountain fresh air too, it was another perfect fall day. (And the huckleberry tarts I made later were pretty wonderful too.)

Evergreen state


And then there were golden larches. I'm addicted to seeing these deciduous conifers each October at their peak brilliance. This subalpine species only grows in a limited range, between elevations from 5,800 to 7,500 feet on the sunnier eastern crest of the Cascades.

On a midweek hike to Ingalls Pass in the Teanaway region near Cle Elum, Washington, I met up with my high school backpacking buddy Alice. Many years had passed since we tramped together along a trail, so it was a special day for me.

Mt. Stuart

In early October, even on a Wednesday trail traffic was steady. We both felt the elevation as we trudged upward a few thousand feet. But as soon as we topped out at the pass, glowing golden larches appeared everywhere and any dragginess we felt disappeared.

We hiked onward through and past groves of vibrant trees in the basin below. Just an awesome day!

Closer to Seattle, a couple girlfriends and I snuck out for a chilly, misty morning hike recently on a popular trail west of Snoqualmie Pass.

While it didn't rain on us that morning, by afternoon the next storm arrived. Our thirsty plants and forests throughout the region soaked up the much needed moisture. 
This is what we call a good rain. As I write this, snow is predicted even in the lower mountain passes later this week.

But where I physically feel the change of seasons most is during weekly brief open water "wild" swims in Puget Sound. When my plunge buddy and I started in January, the air and water were downright frigid. Then this past summer, we'd sit in the warm sun on the beach afterwards.

With October, we've been greeted by wind, rain, and sometimes fog, like in the short clip below right before our plunge yesterday. 
And yes, I think standing in the rain before plunging in the cold sea is actually pretty wonderful. :)

I hope you, too, can get out and revel in the changing season. 

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








Monday, September 14, 2020

In the Pacific Northwest: Fire and Rain

As I write this, the air outside is tinged with a smokey fog that smells like a campfire here in Seattle, where there shouldn't be campfires. Yesterday the sky was tinged orange, although it's slightly improved today. Our air quality is still considered unhealthy.

This is not the Pacific Northwest of my youth or even young adulthood. Big fires happened sometimes, but absolutely nothing on the scale of the last few years and this past week. 

Most of us here are grieving for the loss of lives, homes, and many special wild places. Right now one of my favorite trails is burning; some of our last remaining old growth forests and wilderness areas have burned. 

Turns out there's a word for what I'm (we're) feeling: “solastalgia.”

Coined by Australian environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht, solastalgia is “manifest in an attack on one’s sense of place, in the erosion of the sense of belonging (identity) to a particular place and a feeling of distress (psychological desolation) about its transformation.” In other words, it's “a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at ‘home.’”

This term came about from distressed people who had remained in place, even as the landscape that had once brought them solace became unrecognizable. It’s a word that has started to be used in the context of climate change.

Before I read the article in the L.A. Times about solastalgia, I was basically trying to come up with words to convey this feeling, which has been exacerbated by the  fire maelstroms here in the Pacific Northwest this past week. 

Some of of my most treasured places, such as trails through lush forests carpeted with moss and ferns, have burned or are burning. I read that western red cedar will eventually become a victim of changing climate. I can't imagine a world without these magnificent cedars in our forests, where I feel the most at peace in the world.

As quoted in the L.A. Times  article“We have relationships to places,” says Dr. Susan Clayton, a professor of psychology and environmental studies at the College of Wooster in Ohio. “They’re very significant to our history and our sense of who we are.”

I was nurtured and shaped in ways I didn't recognize until midlife by woodlands thick with western red cedar. I can't explain clearly the visceral way I'm drawn to these trees.

So here I'm posting shots of places that might have burned (like Silver Falls State Park east of Salem, Oregon, where we're still waiting to hear the extent of fire damage). But I also hope to convey a sense of a changing region, and what's being lost.

Our forests westward of the Cascade Mountains crest are temperate rainforests, which are home to one of the highest levels of biomass on Earth. They harbor a richness of life that needs a good dousing of rain off and on, even in the summer, to thrive. Instead the trend is higher temperatures and longer, drier periods that allow the underbrush to dry out and serve as fuel for fires.

Granted, it's not just a changing climate that is contributing to our increasingly record-breaking fires. Historically there were burns, but it was part of the natural regime. Fire suppression and profit-driven forest practices in the last century have played a role in exacerbating bigger and more extensive fires. 

After a week of fires and hazardous/unhealthy air quality casting a pallor over the region, rain is predicted for tomorrow night. We're supposed to have rain in September. When I was a teenager, I remember getting rained out on a couple week-long backpack trips in the Cascade Mountains the week before school started in early September.

Let's hope (and dance or pray) this rain really comes as forecast. (Monday night update, it did rain a bit although not enough to make much difference in the air quality.)

Here's to a predicted La Nina winter, with colder temps and heavier rain in the Pacific Northwest. Even if it staves off the inevitable for while longer, we'll take it.

How are you faring or feeling this past week if you're on the West Coast USA? Have you been directly affected by the fires? We'd love to hear in a comment below.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!

In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news. 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

The Power of Rituals

With 2020 bringing an unprecedented series of challenges, it's a hard time to feel settled.

As the year lurches along, many of us have stepped back from the news and sought solace in rituals, like long daily walks.

Studies have shown that rituals help us feel in control when there are a lot of unknowns in our world. For anxiety-prone people (shooting my hand straight up in the air here), rituals can be calming.

While rituals have their roots in ancient religions, they can be anything we do with regularity, with a sense of purpose, just because. Rituals provide an ongoing way to structure our lives. The ritual process provides a sense of stability and continuity amidst the ever-changing world. Like that daily walk. Or that morning cup of tea or coffee, savored slowly.

My friend Andy's morning ritual involves brewing a cup of coffee just so, then sipping it while doing one game of Sudoko before starting her day.

For me, it’s a variation. During a museum internship in London many years ago, the art department where I worked took a 10-minute break together for tea and biscuits, twice a day. From the department director to the janitor, they all took turns bringing biscuits (cookies) to share.

So although I work at home alone, around 3 p.m. I break and have a fresh pot of silver jasmine tea and a buckwheat fig bar, reheated until just crispy. It’s a cozy and calming few minutes. (And sometimes I think about those heady days as a student in London.)

In a Psychology Today article on rituals I read while prepping for this post, some really resonated with me. They say rituals connect us with nature and the seasons.  By watching the constant shifts and turns in nature, we recognize our own cycles of life, our own rhythms as humans. Rituals remind us of the interconnectedness of all of life.

While I don't have such lofty thoughts when out hiking/walking in nature, walking throughout the seasons does make me feel more connected to the places I pass through. I especially feel this connection on silent meditation hikes that I occasionally lead, where we walk in silence.

Every autumn, I also watch for the peak of golden larch season in the North Cascades and head out for a hike to catch the glorious display. (Now they call it "Larch Madness" or a "Larch March.") My autumn wouldn't feel quite right without a ritual walk amongst those shimmering golden trees.

Rituals provide us with a sense of renewal. They offer us a time-out from our everyday routine, habitual existence. Metaphorically, rituals can provide a time to rest, replenish, and restore our selves.

My morning meditation practice, which has its roots in centuries old rituals, is lovely way to start the day. I don't hit every day, but when I do, sitting silently, focusing on my breath, trying to "stay in the room," in the moment, instead of letting my mind wander all over, is calming and balancing. This year, that's gold.

My meditation is done via Zoom, with my laptop propped in front of me while I sit with people in the Seattle area, Michigan, California, sometimes Florida, and Georgia. Maybe there are people logging in from more locations too.

And then there are rituals I've been doing for years, for no particular reason. Every time I walk on a beach, I go down to the sea's edge and dip my fingers in the salt water.

Before COVID-19, a loose group of us met most mornings at a local bakeshop when it opened at 7 a.m. for coffee/tea and pastries. This diverse collection of people, from an economics instructor, a professional photographer, an insurance company owner, a former chicken farmer, a software engineer, a retired Boeing engineer, a cook-chef, to this writer/editor, was anchored by our matriarch, artist Carolyn.

This morning ritual offered a dose of camaraderie, often laughter, and friendship as we gathered around a table and traded stories before heading off to our respective days. It went on for over a dozen years, with people coming and going, until the pandemic. And fittingly, Carolyn chose a perfect time to move on to the next realm, whatever that may be, with her passing in March.

Here she is at her 95th birthday party we threw for her last year. Wasn't she beautiful?

We all miss Carolyn and mourn her death, but she lived a long, fascinating, often whimsical, and productive life.

So we create new rituals as others fall away. They anchor us, give us solace, and maybe connect us to something beyond.

Have you relied on rituals more than normal during the pandemic? I'd love to hear about any of your rituals in a comment below.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!

In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news. 

Labyrinth walking, another ancient ritual.

Zen rock garden, translated to "ritual space" in ancient Japanese