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; 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.