Lake LaCrosse Trek {Sip 3: Serenity}

October 10, 2016

We share the sunrise with four bear, plodding across the valley slopes, heavy maws dripping with the sugary blood of late-season huckleberries. I chew them myself as I walk among the galaxies, pale blue orbs adrift and brimming in the expanse of burgundy leaves—the sweetness washes over my tongue like a hurricane glimpsed from the timescale of mountains. I'm sure the bears too are rejoicing in their good fortune, that their last meals of the season should be so decadent. They hide away in tufts of trees as the shadows slide into the lake, where the golden fish of bending light swim in wavelets across surface. With each step along the rocky shore a new generation of tiny frogs scrambles into the water. We eat breakfast by a pool of tadpoles waiting patiently to walk on land.

In late morning the light is full and generous. Reading by the water, the grass is like a cushion and the pages turn to peach with the sunshine glow of my bare skin. Erica is there beside me in her own silent fulfillment, watching the click-click-click of grasshoppers jumping their jagged arcs of fear and joy. But—the short crorking chortle of a pair of passing crows cuts right through the quiet! I strip and plunge into the crystal waters, nerves aflame, now running through the meadow naked and exulting as the sky drinks the water from my goosebumped skin. The sun showers us in warm kisses until the only thing we can do is drift asleep in her soft lap.

Fly buzzing
through silence
--lazy heat.

In dreams I think, the second biggest lie we're ever told is that this bottomless thirst in our spirit could ever be filled by the stuff of possession. I think, the biggest lie is when we're named.

Upslope across wandering streams that trickle along and suddenly plunge into stonecutting canyon. Ground grades into wall as I scramble up what seem like ancient trails, set down with the gentle grace of age, grasping slick sedges and loose rock and the hope that things will turn out just fine. Around me now are the far horizons of mountains; they're curved downward like spines, Farallon Giants bowed in adoration to something far greater and more terrible than even their own ageless power.

Reaching the ridge, I see it. Mount Anderson's silent mass—Great Tombstone Mountain! It's clear now to whom those lesser peaks are praying. Immense & stony-faced, glacial nesting majesty, jutting at unbelievable angles out of the skinny dark valley below. Monuments of ice hang from His peaks, spilling at mineral speed over rocky cliffs, each instant grinding away at His hard flesh. Yet He sits in monastic stillness, unflinching. Mortality does not scare him! No churn of mantle, no gape of tectonic jaws can make his blind eyes blink. He is mortality itself! Sunset licks her many kings, and the dried-mud precipice stares into me like a mirror. I blink, exhale. Back. 

The whole twilight expanse of the tree-toothed eastern Olympics is there before me, but I can only watch my fragile feet, whistling nervously as I stumble downhill in the deepening dark. Somewhere on the slope the sound of tumbling rocks gives away two elk. They're also headed back—and in an instant the path to camp is clear and safe. I've been following all along the old etchings of their broad hooves, the paths of their ancestors, and of mine. I thank them deeply for showing me the way one more time.

White twilit butterfly
wings flapping
together into darkness.

Lake Lacrosse Trek {Sip 2: Gladness}

September 26, 2016

Camp broken under starscape crevasses—firs' towering darkness. Racing the rising sun up the final push of the pass, make it just a little too on time for the red of first light against the far peaks. Flurry of photos, flustered, and on to breakfast.

Almost asleep in the gentle grasses at Home Sweet Home, sun warm and strong against our skin. We lay there together while time drifts away on the breeze. Sun's already high when we're back on the trail. Brain prickling with ever-shortening days.

Long day with the old growth spirits—through solemn sacred forests of trees with bark like scales of an old dragon who long ago sat down in meditation and let his clawed feet grow into the earth. Impossible not to imagine the kami living in these trees, their silent tinkering with the luck of travelers. Call out—just in case—with a humble prayer for their blessings as we pass through their woods. All that's lost is regained in turn, and so we climb back up from Duckabush Crossing to the alpine country, LaCrosse Basin and Mt. Steel.

Even with our dawdling, we break timber just before the peak of the long autumn sunset. Heron, Grouse, Bear, & Rising Moon come to give us their good blessings, and we know this is the answer of the mountain spirits. We set up camp again in the dark, now casting shadows in silver, and rest our tired bones. 

Lake Lacrosse Trek {Sip 1: Joy}

September 22, 2016

Paranoia and anxiety swim laps in my mind the whole drive out. A tireless list of things forgotten, most of them remembered. The sun's too high, the day's too short, we're not ready. Soothing lies from a worried mind, the promise of paralysis, “nothing has to change.” Meanwhile, another ten thousand cells in my body die and are replaced. Erica's confidence drives us forward, “I've never felt better!” Feet on soil, and it's one step after the other.

on the rocks
a feather's dreams
of fledgling's plumes

Leaves & shadows shiver in the restless wind, the rippling water scattering light madly. Old Fir coils around his dead brother's woody bones. Yes, each step brings us farther into the Forest; farther out of self, further into Self. Everything and everyone is dressed their finest: the river's thunderous skirts & ferny crowns; the waxy vines, lustrous and luxuriant; the mossy maples draped in their cascading regalia; the bushes jeweled with berry-gems, even the Devil's Club in its thorny formality. Yes! The dress of right now is by far the finest, and each second is a celebration!

At Nine Stream the trail turns its eyes up and past the slide crossing sprints upward to the pass. We try to match its energy and with typical frailty barely keep ourselves moving forward. Near the end of our climb, we're rewarded with a view of Mt. Skokomish's elegant curves. The elixir of the mountain! The sight is all we need to finish out our day's work.

Make Two Bear late, with smiling exhaustion and ravenous appetites—campsite flush with fresh huckleberry bliss. The early moonlight darkly lights the slope across from our camp. For us, it's not yet risen.

Pettit Lake - Golden Matriarchs

September 5, 2016

The two Matriarchs of Pettit Lake illuminated by the golden rays of cloud-piercing dawn. On such a morning in the Sawtooths, you'd best be careful or the mountains will cut right through your ego.

Turqoise waters, shallow
& unending, even in stillness you can't
step in the same lake twice.

Pears - for Nikki, Katie, Julie, and Pat

September 1, 2016

for Nikki, Katie, Julie, and Pat - Thank You

We left in morning,
sun at our backs,
roaring down the coast,
howling & skin exulting
in the sunshine and sylvan air
swirling in through open windows
riding high in the saddle of
the Great Vehicle of Creative Destruction
(Coyote, Kitsune, Raven, three thousand blessings)
Each moment dying
and living
in the way only bodies know,
over tide's fingers and clearcut hills
over concrete piers—the mouth of Old Columbia itself!
timber ships passing down below
bellies full of fire of ancient trees,
burning into poison air,
humming with our motor,


on the river's hills,
I left you with another family.
Their generosity was immediate,
overwhelming. They gave me
this bag of Asian pears
from their garden--
the taste! Crisp and quenching
in the warm blanket of august noon
Like new stories
among old friends, like underground
rivers, like light and water embracing
there, in the leaves, at last,
in mutual pleasure
I stuff myself
the whole way home.

National Park Service - Centennial and Legacy!

August 25, 2016

Today is the National Park Service's 100th birthday. What a codger! In all truth, it is pretty darn cool that we've had an institution dedicated (more or less) to conservation for so long. But equally as cool  is the legacy that the Service has built up in its century of existence. The United States' National Park system has been hugely influential in international conservation, serving as a model for other nations in creating their own parks systems. So for my contribution to today's celebrations, I thought I might take it a little sideways and share some images from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, a National Park in Botswana and the second largest game reserve on the planet. I was fortunate enough to spend several days there in back in 2014 as part of a college research trip.

CKGR is a place where you can feel with your whole being the heart-filling expansiveness of the morning sky. It's almost dream-like, the abundance of space and life. There's an unbelievable remote feeling, like what you get when backpacking, but for hundreds of miles in all directions. Despite the presence of primitive roads, it's true wilderness. As a testament to the sheer size of the park, just take the fact that out there it was hard to find an elephant.

Just walking on the same ground as all of those incredible animals was exhilarating, seeing Lion and Leopard and Elephant tracks in the dust and knowing that they were out there somewhere living their lives in accordance with their nature. You get this real sense of how inhabited the world was before the spread of human civilization: every inch, even in the arid semi-desert, teems with life. It makes you endlessly grateful that there are still wild places. That there are still parks.

So in thinking of all of that life, and all of the life around the world sheltered by the ever-expanding Parks system, I'd like to extend my own personal bow of gratitude to the National Parks Service and all of the people within it. Thank you!

Mt. Ellinor - Perseid Dawn

August 16, 2016

 Seen through the windshield, first shooting star is precipitous, unbelievable. It appears at the hazy edge of vision and even before my eyes in reflex dart to see it it's gone. It is a thing of transcendental frailty, like an orb of dense magic, or a grain of sand in some stellar hourglass. And so come the rest, plummeting now through the atmosphere in Jupiterian rhythm, the weight of their celestial histories burning up behind them. Flowing eons in the comet's cosmic stream ended now (for now) by the deep graviton tides of orbiting Earth, strange new home.

           How long is a moment?
           What is impermanence?
                 Look northeast on a late summer night.
                 In the trail of a falling star it's all laid bare.

moonless forest
dark flowers, above
comet's silent stream

One-lane road, headlit tunnel through trees, til trailhead. Sweating in the torchlight, more climb than hike through firs, canopy only known by the starlight shapes left uncovered by needly boughs. Suddenly whole expanse of nighttime sound is laid out before me, twinkling electronic moonlight metropolis. But trail kept up. Make peak as the first predawn orange swell silhouettes Rainier. Not long til Cascade sunlight crests radiant. Day.

Mountain goats lounge on Ellinor's shoulder, digging for food and cool earthen relief, August sun's now blaring. Quarrels now and then arise abruptly from obscure breaches of protocol, or simply hot blood, but are forgotten just as quickly. Introduced Species. I wonder if they feel how alien they are to this place? If they long for their natural Northern Rockies in some vague way, for not having to dig away from the heat quite so much. If they feel in that way the burden of their presence here, the karma we've given them in our uninvited meddling. They too were drawn here, by forces beyond sight, beyond memory, to this strange new home.

last snowbank
resting under
goat's clever smile

Kalaloch Beach 4: Life all the way down

August 10, 2016

Tidal Stream

Out over the treasury. Where creek & tide meet, ten thousand sandstone coins worn flat & round, vast wealth of beauty. Stones shrinking as we spread, like the snowmelt strength of creek's spring, over this flat expanse, til only sand is left to be carried by the swooning current's alluvial fingertips. Beach. The twice-daily winter of low tide. Huge carpets of anemones huddle into themselves, colors muted in the fresh air, while crabs watching winged shadows crowd into the last watery cracks of the sea-stack rocks. With unfair power we step carefully; in this place each inch could be alive, or more, the only difference between object and organism, life and death, is how closely we look.

Cormorant, resting wings drying
--clap of ocean spray!
already gone.

Otters play in crashing waves that would kill a human. The ocean's depths churn on, unseen.