Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Spiritual Warrior

I know a handful of people will click on this blog curious for possible details on the recent death of my friend. You won't find them. I feel your hot breath on my neck, your hungry eyes scanning my Instagram stories despite not reaching out. I'm full of anger, don't make yourself available to my irrational wrath.

Grief will tumble in and find you straddling an invisible line between utter numbness and panic fueled OUTRAGE. Nothing, nothing-yet everything, everything matters. Not regardless of, but because of, the end.

In this strange and obscene past year I've been training to become a Spiritual Warrior. I've learned how to show up and face the senseless fuckery of death and despair. The intimidating, horrible, beyond uncomfortable moments that we crawl through during the worst anguish imaginable.

Death comes- and stricken with a pervasive helplessness, we send flowers that wilt, commemorating human expiration. Instead, consider that your presence in the midst of sickness and loss will never be forgotten. Avoiding the sheer awkwardness, the nausea inducing interaction that facing other people's grief entails, is for losers. Toughen up. Show up. Cry, cuss, hold each other, sit in silence, suffer in solidarity. Don't send a goddamn text and call it good.

There are no great answers for why we are the way we are- why we die, or why we're here in the first place. Each death is a transformative experience for every single person it touches. Suddenly our lenses are divergent, our aperture expanded to a size where almost nothing is in focus.

All I want to do is honor you. By living, and persisting through the brutality of existence with fortitude and generosity. Oh, and with the quality of sheer bluntness that only you possessed...

A letter to you

Photo by Anna Sparks

Wow. It's been a minute or 30 since I last updated this once weekly blog. Firstly, I haven't been on a real hike since the end of February when we bagged Mt. Storm King. After that trip (and a subsequent ankle roll while snowshoeing), I decided to take a hike hiatus to prepare for my trip to Utah and the many miles I thought we'd be clocking. Secondly, life (no-death) happened, and I cancelled my trip at the last minute. I had moments last week of wishing I'd gone through with the selfish option of keeping my vacation plans in tact; wandering across the sandstone hills of Canyonlands National Park nauseous and tearful. I'm more than sure that the choice I made was the right one, though.

Mark and Bobbie-I'm beyond sad that I couldn't make this trip to see the Red Rocks gang. I hope to see you in Fall. XO

Since I typically write only about hiking and living and staring into the abyss of self-analysis, I'm at a loss of what to share. I'm stuck in a crevasse of private repose today. A cavernous belly of dark, echoing grief. Meanwhile I'm trying to get a handle on my brand new job, and I really need to be delicate with myself. My priority right now is to be gentle and tender as I navigate this fucked up terrain.

To that end, I decided to write a celebratory letter to myself. I've never done this before; gratitude practice turned inwards rather than outwards, a selfish necessity for remembering your worth in times of angry despair. This is the very raw, indulgent, and unedited letter that I wrote to Me. You don't really need to read it. The point is I want to sincerely encourage you to sit down and write yourself one. It's rewarding. Scrape away at the tendency to belittle and bemoan yourself. Sing your praises, acknowledge your strength!

*Please share your letter with me if you feel willing.

     I’M SO PROUD OF YOU. You’re infinitely stronger than you give yourself credit for. You never look in the mirror and acknowledge how courageous and put together you are. You never identify with your brute ability to carry on and charge ahead. You’ve parented yourself a good portion of your life. You’ve lived with no back up plan for years. You’ve made it happen: financially, emotionally, resolutely, in periods where no one offered to help, or simply couldn’t. You’ve been a rock to so many people. Paid for things you didn’t have the money for. Made the effort, the drive, remembered what mattered to others, listened attentively, and offered everything you could- and then some. You’ve been rejected and dismissed by people you earnestly care for. Over the last two years you had your character assassinated more than once. You’ve received unwarranted threats, complaints, and criticisms. Despite this mess you’ve clung to a deep and adamant belief that your soul is pure. This required forcing yourself to remember both your innate and earned worthiness alike. I don't know how you did it. You’ve supported your friends through devastating traumas: Divorce. Death. Cancer. Disease. You had no fucking clue how to do this but you just showed up time and time again. Set your plans and often your needs aside knowing that your presence was the most you could offer. You tried to make your fear of helplessness and hopelessness as inconspicuous as possible. Regardless, you always feel like you’re failing to do enough for other people. At least one person is usually annoyed with you for not being Good Enough as a friend or support system; never really absorbing the reality of the anemic energy and resources you have to offer. It feels like everyone is suffering sometimes, and that can make life feel really fucking claustrophobic. The last vacation you had that was longer than 4.5 days was almost three years ago, dude. Despite anxiety, insomnia, loneliness, health problems, and mystery skin flares, you’ve managed to cope without Xanax, sleeping pills, antibiotics, (modern poisons), or even weed. You are so damn resilient. You're fierce as fuck, especially when you're alone. You climbed out of a 6 mile trail with your kneecap dislocated for the love of God. You epitomize self reliance. You're often at your most peaceful when you're alone: hiking alone, driving alone, adventuring solo to other states and even countries, sleeping and living alone. You have a knack for being self sufficient. You’ve spent thousands of hard-earned dollars on therapy trying to learn how to construct boundaries but when you enact them with confidence, you face new challenges. You never skip on prioritizing the responsibilities that mean the most to you. Never let your dog go un-walked or unfed. You try assiduously to be a force. Still, you often wish someone would come along and alleviate your burdens. Take care of you. You’ve made the gut-wrenching mistake of trying to convince the wrong people to value you as you are. It’s criminal how much time and energy you frittered away on people who didn’t know how they felt about you. Apologies accepted; debts unpaid, 2nd and maybe even 7th chances given. All this turned you into a skeptical monster, but you're working on that. Continuing to give the benefit of the doubt and ask yourself what your responsibility is in any given situation. Some days you’re beyond tired of being strong, independent, and responsible. Then you just want to be shitty for the sake of it.You recently realized that your worst fear is being expendable or dispensable. You’re so human for this. Kudos to you for owning your insecurities left and right. I love you. I see you as you are, stripped free of clothing and makeup, experience and habit, knowledge and superfluity, accomplishment and failure, even personality. I love you Juliet Lina. I'm proud to embody you, and to be the you that watches you in awe and laughter.

"See if you can nail down eternity right now. Give me this sterling moment, just as it is. Don't run out and buy a new dress and a pair of stunning sunglasses. This is it: Just as you are. Get it down. Go." -N.G.

Thursday, March 14, 2019


I'm nearly always reading, writing, or reading about writing. As a self proclaimed writer (the only kind I know), I know no other way.

This week, re-reading Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down The Bones, I thought a lot about her chapter on composting. "Bad" writing, words that go nowhere, pieces that don't move-they're still worthwhile. Somehow, they become a layer of fertile soil from which stirring pieces are born. Sometimes it's a line; a single line in a paragraph of otherwise-crap, that bleeds through and sparks much better prose. Everything is worth thinking and writing and turning unto the earth in a blessing for future inspiration.

This concept works because it's not much of a metaphor at all. Shit engenders new life. Shit begets closed doors, followed by open ones. The same way farmers plow their land with literal crap to prepare for future harvests, so too must we-with not only our words and thoughts, our stories-but with every single challenge we encounter.

A cavernous faith is necessary to accept the complex reality that lame, hostile, even horrible things enable the grandest leaps in our evolution. That bullshit and failure can expand the vision and scale of our life in ways that allow us to see new possibility. New solutions. New versions of the future bursting up from the mud.

Composting transforms trash to treasure. The sole, not so secret ingredient is time. Keep writing uninspired pages of boredom and complaint until a breakthrough happens. Keep wading through your crap with the mind state that it will invite wildflowers in the Spring.

Great books on Writing:
1. The Great Spring -Natalie Goldberg
2. Writing Down the Bones-Natalie Goldberg
3. On Writing- Stephen King
4. Bird by Bird- Anne Lamott
5. The Artists Way- Julia Cameron

I've been struggling through a crisis of identity: and by that, I mean of passion. Outside of writing, everything else is a revolving door of concentration and intensity. Many things have stepped into the light of being that one thing, as I tend to hone in on on one identifying hobby or fervor at a time.

For the past 4 years, my biggest passion (and self-presenting image) has been hiking. Constant hiking. Nature photography, writing about hiking, reading trip reports, planning hikes. It says a lot that nearly every gift I've received over the past few years has to do with hiking. It's certainly the main way I relate to my extended family, who couldn't relate to me whatsoever before this common denominator arose. Suddenly the Uncle who never spoke to me carries on long trail talks with me over holiday meals, and that's great.

The truth is, my dedication to hiking has been slipping through the sands of time for awhile now. It used to be something I needed with a quality of desperation. It was essential to my mental health in so many ways. Through circumstance and time, along with a quieting of suffering, I've become used to life without it. Though I crave the trails after a month without, it doesn't have the same lure it used to.

Life is a process of falling in and out of love with nouns: people, places, things. So often that which we were desperate for fails to fulfill us, and instead turns to mulch. It's all a Zen experiment in impermanence, I'm sure...a process of detachment from the false narratives that we are any of these: our hobbies, jobs, let alone our feelings. We know these change unequivocally.

To be embodied is to be clear on the fact that we are rivers unto the earth, constantly moving and changing. Inscribing the landscape around us as we carve a place for ourselves in time and space, hoping our fossilized imprints cast a permanence beyond anything else we know.

It's time to find something new to dump my abundance of love into. Something to do, then write about. A passion or project that awakens and invigorates me the way that hiking used to.

"I write out of total incomprehension that even love isn't enough and that finally writing might be all I have and that isn't enough. I can never get it all down, and besides, there are times when I have to step away from the table, notebook, and turn to face my own life. Then there are times when it's only coming to the notebook that I truly do face my own life." -Natalie Goldberg

Monday, March 4, 2019

Perched on the King

The Olympic National Park has about a dozen emblematic, notorious trails. These span from the Southern "staircase" entry of Hood Canal, just an hour outside my front door, to the tip of the Northern Coast.

The park encompasses 1,500 miles and includes a handful of distinctly different ecosystems: alpine forest/wildflower meadows, two coastlines, forest, and temperate rain forests. From roadside coastal views to mild forest hikes to alpine lakes, long river ambles, and mountains to summit, there's something for nearly everyone. Save for maybe the true peak bagger, because in all honesty the Olympics are about the most accessible of any national park I've traversed. Though the crown jewel of the range-Mt. Olympus-is a mere 8,000 feet, it has the second greatest glaciation of any non-volcanic mountain in the U.S. It's a Mountaineer's delight, with wide glaciers to cross and plenty of ice climbing.

Each separate section of the park has a gorgeous trail worthy of your bucket list. Some of the top dogs include:

Northern Coast- High Divide-Seven Lakes Basin, Hurricane Ridge & Mt. Storm King

Pacific Coast-Enchanted Valley, Shi Shi Beach and Point of the Arches, Ruby Beach, Rialto Beach and Hole in the Wall

The Rainforests-Hoh River Trail, Hall of Mosses

Mountains-Mt. Ellinor and Mt. Olympus

Hood Canal-Lena Lake and The Brothers, Lower Big Quilcene and Skykomish River trails

Last week, on a lovely little trip to Sequim, I finally made it to one of the epic Northern Coast hikes: Mt. Storm King. I've been warned about this beast of a trail, and it didn't disappoint. Storm King is around 2,500 feet of elevation in less than two miles, with a full on hands-to-rock scramble at the end. Multiple feet of compact, icy snow and a skinny little ridgeline created quite the shit show for our climb up. Snowshoes would have been impossible on the thin trail, but we made the way successfully, albeit slowly, in crampons. Post-holing off and on created soaking wet feet and numb toes that induced the fear of frostbite.

Towards the top of the summit, the maintained trail comes to an end. During warm months, the area that follows is made more accessible by climbing ropes that have been added to assist in the final scramble to the peak. Unfortunately, after the biggest Washington snow storm in years, most of these ropes appeared to be buried under fresh pow; we could only find two. I stopped a few hundred yards past the signed end of trail, staring up at a ridiculously exposed, steep, and icy climb. I don't have a significant fear of heights, and I've done a few epic trails that compete with this one, like Angel's Rest in Zion. But this had me alllllll the way fucked up! The climb looked spooky but possible, but the coming down appeared to be a near death wish.

Eventually, after hemming and hawing and debating the stupid scramble, I decided to go for it. Luckily for us, the sun was absolutely glowing and though temps were still near freezing, there was no wind blowing. Had there been, I don't think I would have chanced full ascension on this incredibly exposed peak.

Finally cresting the top of the balance beam ridge, its easy to forget how much work you've put in to reach the infamous view of Lake Crescent below. It's a small but stunning summit, with only enough room for a handful of people to hang. Mt. Storm King feels incredibly removed from the rest of the world, and the unobstructed 360 degree views reminded me of paragliding. The water below flows into the Strait of Juan De Fuca, separating the U.S. from Canada. Lake Crescent is shockingly clear and blue, thanks to an absence of nitrogen in its deep waters, preventing the growth of algae.

After climbing Storm King, I was sore for a good two days. Trudging up the stairs to my apartment was a tangible reminder of the steep elevation we'd tackled. It felt damn good to get some much needed training in as Spring finally comes into view around the corner. Two days before this trail, Claire and I had attempted a little climb to Lena Lake, with my car getting stuck 2.3 miles from the trailhead. We ended up doing an unexpected 9 miles that afternoon, which probably contributed to my extreme soreness.

Next up on my Olympic NP checklist is Mt. Townsend, which we've been hoping to access for a few weeks now.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Anxiety vs. The Truth

What do you know that you wish you didn't?

This was one of the questions posed on a podcast I listened to recently with Ashley Stahl. She introduced a concept that I've been thinking about ever since: Anxiety or The Truth.

I dig this so damn much. I never tire of the fact that the most profound wisdom is often hidden in the simplest statements. Timely reminders delivered in quotes and cliches can be potent medicine. Hell, I have journals full of simple but significant quotes. Through attention and (more importantly) application, simplicity transcends to pure magic.

So again, what do you know that you wish you didn't? What burden of inconvenient truth are you setting aside to attend to on some future day when you're willing or suddenly more capable? As this unavoidable truth festers deep inside in your knowing place, is your anxiety growing wilder and more difficult to control? For me the answer is a resounding yes. Even if I'm able to scapegoat and avoid throughout the day, the moment my head hits the pillow a familiar, erratic heart beat and restless thoughts return.

I think anxiety come from two distinct triggers: 1. evidence or articulation of powerlessness/ lack of control, and 2. inconvenient truth being willfully ignored. Anxiety is a powerhouse sensor, warning with foreboding the shit storm that's coming if we continue to ignore, deny, and detach....

To be clear- living in sincere truth and making the kind of firm decisions that rarely yield instant gratification is fucking difficult. But a great deal of the indecision and confusion we feel in moments of division or transition are actually just hesitation towards owning up to a truth that's already revealed itself on a soul-level. The place we know as gut. We just don't want to give up that thing that's bad for us, or our back up plan, or alllll thatttt workkkk we put into something that somehow doesn't fit us anymore.

It's so hard to face the music in these situations. Most of us are willing to literally throw time away to avoid it. We can be maniacal about holding onto a place or position in life where we are small yet somewhat comfortable. Unfortunately no amount of waiting or external force can change The Truth. The Truth is: utter impermanence, often inconvenient, potentially hurtful, and always personal. My truth probably won't ever match yours, and that dissonance alone is hard to reconcile when our realities bump up against each other in unsavory and unfair ways. How much of our anxiety is really us suffering as we try to avoid letting others down?

By no means am I underscoring the insanely complex and physical manifestations of anxiety. I know them very well. Instead, I'm learning to honor the guidance that anxiety is struggling to offer. What if anxiety, rather than a limiting belief or mind state, is actually an intuitive road map to authentic living? Again, what do you know that you wish you didn't? What can be done today to feel better about the cacophony of 'problematic' feelings and needs within you? The Truth is often disruptive but determined to reveal itself none the less. We're stuck with icky feelings of anxiety and frustration until we reconcile our inner and outer truths. Authentic power requires responsible choice and decisive action, even though it's some of the hardest work we do.

I'm starting to imagine my anxiety as an intelligent being inside me, pulling puppet strings of heart thumps, tension headaches, and sleepless nights, begging me to remember the simplest sentiments: If it's not a hell yes, it's a No! Own your truth! Seize this moment!

Photo by Damon Porter

~Photos from a beautiful little hike to Franklin Falls a few weeks back. We saw a bobcat on this trail! My first legitimate wildlife sighting~

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The King of Roads

I had no idea that the Columbia River Scenic Byway is known as the "King of Roads" - Or that it was America's first scenic byway, and the nation's second official scenic area. Frankly, I knew close to nothing about Oregon until this year, as I started to explore my growing attraction to the state just south of home. Growing up I thought of Oregon as Bend and my grandparents' house there. I clearly remember writing an essay on the pond in their neighborhood when prompted with the school assignment, What is your favorite place? My own little Walden, it seems.

Last Summer I took myself on a solo road trip to central Oregon. There, I took in Painted Hills and Smith Rock State Park:
As Above So Below
Terra Incognita

Now that I live in Olympia, day trips and short burst trips to the Columbia River and NW Oregon are more accessible than ever before. I've been inexplicably drawn to this gaping gorge that cuts through the Cascade mountain range, separating states. Before settling in Oly I was hunting for a place in/near Hood River, which sits along the Oregon border. Alas, the job market isn't so hot in those sleepy lil' towns..

This week we headed south to take in some of the many waterfalls along the scenic byway, that King of Roads. Even the laziest human can enjoy some nature porn in this glorious pocket of Oregon. Dozens of exquisite falls line the road, most of which don't require any real effort to access. We had to seek out extra mileage and extend some of the little trails to lesser known, more "hidden" falls-like Fairy.

Fairy Falls

We easily took in four falls in one afternoon: Wahkeena, Fairy, Bridal Veil, and Latourell, along with a drive by of Multnomah. Can't get me out of the car for that one. It's not that I hate Multnomah, the highest waterfall in Oregon. It's that I hate the crowds.

Latourell was by far my favorite, and the most Icelandic of the gang. This whole area is reminiscent of my favorite Nordic country though: towering stacks of blackened volcanic basalt, highlighter-bright moss, and plunging, nameless falls of various size pouring around every turn.

Latourell Falls
Latourell from afar

The Columbia plateau and river, along with the ancient lakes that surround it, were formed by millions of years of expansive lava floods emanating from as far away as Montana. Large basalt skyscrapers that remain, like Beacon Rock and Crown Point, offer the best views of this phenomenal little corner of Earth. There's a unique comfort in the climactic beauty that only cataclysmic disaster can create; Arresting light and moss bursting through the ruins, like Tupac's rose from the concrete.

At 31, I've become way more interested and invested in the geologic (and indigenous) history of the places I hike. These days I research each new area I visit and try my best to understand what I'm reading. Yeah....wish I had paid more attention in Rocks for Jocks, aka Geology 101, rather than writing it off as my one and only Science credit at UW. Yay, Bachelor in Arts!

Bridal Veil
Bridal Veil

I'm exceptionally grateful to experience this Columbia byway after the devastating Eagle Creek Fire of 2017 blocked access to much of it. The blaze was ignited by a 15 year old who threw a firework into Eagle Creek Canyon. It charred through 50 acres, an area larger than the metropolis of Washington D.C. Some of the most spectacular sections of this wilderness are still inaccessible, including the magical Oneonta Gorge. Oneonta is the miniature, PNW version of Zion's Narrows. You hike up a creek bed, under a log jam, through waist-high water to a climatic waterfall that drops into a swimming hole. Then there's nearby Tunnel Falls, with a giant waterfall you can walk behind (Icelandic indeed).

Wahkeena Trail
Charred trees

Though disappointing, the ongoing closures will allow some deep healing for the Eagle Creek region, and a much needed respite from human trampling. The Gorge may well be the next stop for me in stationary living. Otherwise, without a doubt a frequent haunt if I go the way of van/RV life. Until then, I'm really enjoying hiking in it as much as possible. Heading South against traffic ain't so bad either...

More on waterfalls

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Guide Thyself

This will border on sounding like a page out of the Narcicistic Personality Disorder handbook, but bear with me: At times when I'm funneling through a loop of indecision or conflict, I look back on my journal or blog to remind myself of my former wisdom and advice. Lessons I've learned and misplaced. I whole heartedly believe that writers write what they most need to hear anyway. This purging has to serve some actual purpose, right?!

We live in a time where self help and personal development is a multi-billion dollar industry: books, courses, retreats, podcasts, yogis, etc. It's not just Tony Robbins or Deepak Chopra now. Rather, vast swathes of people seem to be clambering for a career in the semi new age sector-as an Influencer, Life Coach, Speaker, or Healer. If not, they're probably imbibing some array of these offerings. Everything from the self-help section of Barnes and Noble to Reiki, $10k yoga teacher retreats, and weekly therapy.

Seeking for the sake of seeking is a benevolent enterprise, but it can also consume the weaker aspects of our spirit. See, there's a limit to the effectiveness of other people's advice. Not just people we hire or buy into as our Gurus either. At times the well meaning advice of those we love and respect can create the most debilitating disconnect from our often soft-spoken inner voice.

The risk is this: sometimes guidance outside ourselves creates an inner chaos rather than an empowering consensus. Other people's opinions begin to bleed into our consciousness as we move forward in our own lives. Lives that we are ultimately responsible for. Suddenly we aren't sure who has it right- the little voice inside us, distant as it may be, or the seemingly smart advice of those we genuinely respect.

"Confusion is a gift from God. Those times when you feel most desperate for a solution, sit. Wait. The information will become clear. The confusion is there to guide you. Seek detachment and become the producer of your life." -Rza

We have everything we need within us. We know ourselves more intimately than anyone else can or ever will. Yet we also impulsively rush decisions and ultimately, untimely results. Waiting is sooo dammmnn uncomfortable. Thus we crave an end to the manic pause. For me, coming to a conclusion that feels righteous and livable requires removing the deadline, or even a time frame.

We try to hand off the consequence of making our own firm decisions by asking for guidance that we don't really need. In fact, input from others can often distort a vision that would otherwise be clear (though rarely immediate). And even if not would certainly be ours.

We humans are such dynamic creatures of light and limbs. We need to practice honing our intention and discipline, without constantly relying on authority. It's hard work, maneuvering life and choices with tender execution. I have to be careful to enforce my own beliefs and dreams, rather than being imposed upon. We are forever responsible for ourselves and the decisions we make. It doesn't mean we won't fuck up, or wonder about a path we discarded, but I find myself easier to forgive than others. It's pretty hard to keep a wall up against your own soul.

"Does this choice enlarge or diminish me?" -James Hollis

We had another lovely Sunday in the church of Mt. Rainier. Actually this trail to High Hut is just outside the park boundary, and part of the Mount Tahoma Trail Association. The hut itself is available for rent but we simply used the stove inside to service our coffee addiction. The views from the top of this steep little snow climb were so astounding! Besides the obvious, full frontal Rainier views we also caught sight of The Olympics, Anderson Lake, the Nisqually valley, St. Helens, and a slightly obscured Mt. Adams. 

Even at our weakest, we are still fully capable of commandeering our own story. Sometimes I need to reflect on past moments of powerful unblocking to re-align with my inner conductor. Relationship is essential to life, but friends and lovers and even sages are meant to be adventure partners, not the authors of our biography. Take every bit of advice you receive with a grain of salt. Or better yet, a dead sea dose of salt.