Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Black Hole Falls

On Memorial Day my dear homie Francis and I embarked on a nearly three hour drive in the pouring rain to find (and lose, and find again) the elusive trail to Black Hole Falls.

The North Siouxon Creek trailhead is located up a steep gravel forest road; FR #1000, spray painted on trees every mile or so as the road continually parts toward random, unmarked offshoots.

This wet wonderland was full of creative creek crossings, often over giant, fallen trees. A landscape ripe with large clovers, maidenhair fir, and uninterrupted mushroom growth. Old cedars split open to expose blood red flesh deeper even in hue than their bark. The rain and the river created a misty atmosphere that added greatly to the ascent....and descent...not a standard climb to a peak, but a winding expedition full of unpredictable up's and down's.

Despite considering a turn around at the 3 mile mark, we instead took a quick beer break before pushing on for another hour to the waterfall. I stuffed my leggings with an extra pair of socks and a shirt, which helped to sop up a few hours of rain. All in all, we were super stoked and proud to finish the trail (plus an extra mile) after so many weeks of inactivity. I feel like I'm breathing life back in my bones one muddy boot print at a time.

In the spirit of True Crime Garage, I'd give the Tropic Haze IPA a solid 3.5/5 Bottle caps

The gorgeous and remote Siouxon wilderness blew me away. I'm excited to spend Summer 2020 exploring more of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, as well as the Dark Divide- the mysterious wilderness that lurks between Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams. As the itch to move increases and I fantasize about what/where is next, I want to soak up my current access to the arcane South Cascades.

"Love is being willing to ruin your good painting, for the chance at a great one. Is this really the boldest stroke you can make?"

10.5 miles
2200 ft. elevation gain

Sunday, May 17, 2020

To Embody or Not to Embody

No one feign surprise if hereafter I break into Georgia size 12 font and collapse across pages, never to be seen in human form again. If we are what we eat, or what we do-as Jung said-I am surely a book.

I've been gorging on words. Waking up and opening my laptop to read about old growth forests, holistic medicine, or the Elwha Dam for hours at a time. Running through books so fast that I've actually started ordering from Amazon (I'm usually gravely against this, but the local bookstore can't keep up). Listening to endless episodes of The New Yorker: Fiction podcast, clocking blogs and articles. Underlining passages and recounting phrases in my space and mind and journal. I am an absolute info junkie.

My allegiance to words underpins my cerebral (read: over-thinker) nature. I spend the vast majority of my days in my head, whether in my thoughts or in alternate realities of fantasy and imagination that reading engenders. Both my parents are keen readers, and my mom loves to shamelessly recount how I was chomping down chapter books in Kindergarten. I think words have always been my destiny.

And though I love it up here, most days, in my head- I have been working very hard to consciously come back home to my body. Be it a spacesuit or vehicle for my soul to travel inside of, "I" often forget about my corporeal self and can feel distantly separate from it. My friend Claire has deftly suggested for years that I work on becoming more embodied. She also says I'm way too hard on myself....she's pretty smart.

Aside from communion with nature, I know that embodiment is what I derive most from hiking. A reintegration with my physical self and its system of sensations, breath, movement, endurance.

Twin Firs

So much of the human experience is available to us through only physical exchange: movement, touch, fluidity. Our life energy, or chi, becomes stagnant and dis-ease(d) when it remains dormant or encumbered. For some of us heady, introspective humans, we have to conjure and sustain willful effort towards re-igniting & re-calibrating our tangible selves.

The body can feel like a dangerous place to house your sense of identity. After all, we age and deteriorate, and pain accompanies the realization of these shifts in our mortal selves (even at 32!) "I" often feels like it belongs completely to the voice in my head, rather than the stick figure walking around and interacting with things. But there is so much wisdom in aligning the inner and outer ("As Above, so Below"), and finding a nice dance between between thought and action.

In my efforts to become more embodied, I've been enjoying doing things with my hands. Tinkering, taking apart, putting back together. Taking a dance break every afternoon. Cooking and baking. Cutting vegetables and pickling them. Placing my hand on my heart to check my breathing and ask my self how I am in sincere attentiveness to all sensation. How do I feel on a molecular level after a walk, a meal, a conversation? And of course-resisting the urge to pursue only mentally strenuous hobbies.

Nothing trumps hiking, though. It is without a doubt the greatest physical pursuit there is for returning home to your body. I haven't been on a "real" hike since I was in Arizona in early March, and despite all my efforts to pursue and practice embodiment in creative ways during Quarantine, nothing compares to a luscious day outside and a forward stride.

Suspension over the Ohanapecosh River

Yesterday, Claire and I parked at the road closure outside the Ohanapecosh entrance to Rainier and got a true hike in- a little over 10 miles, and hours of plant and life talk. The welcomed chill of waterfall molecules on exposed skin, stroking the bark of giant, old trees, peering at mushrooms and tiny wildflowers just beginning to awaken. Rain drops and wet, squishy earth beneath our boots. It was sensational!

(A past post on the magic of waterfalls)

Silver Falls

As with anything, hiking can become competitive amd prideful. In a true embodiment practice, the act of feeling your body as it moves through the outer world is the focus, rather than specific achievements or self-improvement. Otherwise that inner voice can take over, taking us back inside the mind, obsessing about specific mileage, speed, or calories burned. In hopes of reacquainting with the "I" outside my head, stepping one foot in front of the other and being aware of how my fleshy, human self feels during and after is the only goal.

"The Big Cedar" - nearly 50 feet in circumference

(Trip details: Park off HWY 12 at the junction with HWY 123, walk up the road past the Ohanapecosh entrance of Rainier, to the Grove of the Patriarchs loop, back out to the road and down a spur trail to Silver Falls. Then from the falls through the campground, and back up to the road)

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Dispatches from the Void

Mural in Tacoma, WA. Artist/s unknown

Who wants to settle for a life that feels like less than living? The creative challenge of COVID-19, for those of us who have our health, is cultivating a life under intense restriction that still feels full, free, and our own.

"Hell is the absence of the people you long for."
 -Emily St. John Mandel

After six weeks of solo quarantine, I've started taking calculated risks in order to glean much needed communion and connection. Drive-by chats from the car to the stoop, surprise deliveries, walks with friends, and a full day spent visiting Anna this weekend in Fall City. Taking her motorized dock out for a lake ride with a bottle of rose was the most luxurious thing I've done in months. Total. Bliss.

Anna, me, and Jos last Summer. I MISS HUGS.

Our state parks are set to re-open next week, but no news on the vast terrain managed by the Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife, BLM, National Parks & beyond. Because outdoor recreation has been at a full-stop in Washington, my days are entrenched in and harbored by ART. I've written before about my infatuation with stories. Stories and relationships are the light of my life, and as a single person who lives alone I'm leaning heavily on the powers of imagination and narrative. 

At a time when life feels like a run on sentence with no punctuation, I'm moved by the exclamation and emotion of other peoples' stories. With hiking out of the picture, I've returned to my first love: music. Creating playlists and diving into new artists has become a daily practice-one that is spiritual, joyful, investigative, and creative.

"Music is my total existence dawg, straight up.....I'm still with my first love, which is music." 
-J Dilla

I've also been writing. Writing is good medicine for every one of us right now. The awareness and attention we give and the records we keep will define this pandemic in retrospect; at that distant point on the horizon when this is an unbelievable past. I have hope! I'm keeping my heart open.

Where we're at right now sucks, but it's far from despair. Things could be so much worse, perfectly illustrated in the apocalyptic pandemic novel Station Eleven, which I devoured last week and highly recommend. I'm going so far as to say this is the best book I've read in years.

Built a rock garden with my landlords' sweet daughter

Aside from constantly listening to, reading, and watching all manners of artistic expression, my new hobby is taking long drives in the evening. Being OUTSIDE the house, even if it's just my car, feels indulgent. There are a couple places between Olympia and Tacoma that offer safe outdoor respite without breaking the rules and risking tickets, but of course my adventurer heart craves new experiences, alpine lakes, and long trails.

I've been fantasizing about and strategizing road trips that would involve low impact car camping and hiking in nearby states with far less closures and infection. Idaho! Montana! I truly want to be considerate. I also want to live.

A beautiful grove along the Point Defiance Loop in Tacoma
Long walks on the Chehalis-Western Trail
Catching the cherry blossoms at the state capital

"I guess what I’m trying to say is that the world is like a sleeping tiger and we tend to live our lives there on its back. (We’re much smaller than the tiger, obviously. We’re like Barbies and Kens on the back of a tiger.) And now and then that tiger wakes up. And that is terrifying. Sometimes it wakes up and someone we love dies. Or someone breaks our heart. Or there’s a pandemic. But this is far from the first time that tiger has come awake. He/she has been doing it since the beginning of time and will never stop doing it. And always there have been writers to observe it and (later) make some sort of sense of it, or at least bear witness to it. It’s good for the world for a writer to bear witness, and it’s good for the writer, too. Especially if she can bear witness with love and humor and, despite it all, some fondness for the world, just as it is manifesting, warts and all."
- George Saunders

Stories and Soundbites from Quarantine:

My soundtrack: SiR, Masego, Leon Bridges, Orion Sun, Junglepussy, PARTYNEXTDOOR, Lucky Daye, Baby Rose, Joey Pecoraro, Rex Orange County, and Smino

Podcasts I'm bingeing: The New Yorker: Fiction (SO GOOD!), Unlocking Us with Brene Brown, The Wild, American Scandal-the current series on Waco is fascinating, True Crime Brewery

Books: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, Writers and Lovers and Euphoria both by Lily King, The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

Films: Uncut Gems, The Gentlemen, Shattered Glass, Blinded by the Light

Shows: Big Little Lies, blackAF, Insecure

"And that's all for now folks.."

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Crowded Canyon

Reporting live from day 14 of self-quarantine. It's 9am, I completed a Youtube workout, my abs hurt and I haven't chugged coffee yet....

Which begs the question, who is this Juliet?

So many interesting questions and conversations being posed during this time of overwhelming unknown: on community, solitude, productivity, mental health, justice, government, and life as we know it. One of the most profound for me has been the conversation around outdoor access and responsibility.

When I arrived home from Tucson, my plan was to circumvent the worst aspects of quarantine by getting outside every day, hiking mid-week, and indulging in forest therapy. Unfortunately, all of humanity seemed to have the same idea. It says so much about our communal need for grounding through earthing. Sadly, our parks and trails are no more safe than the mall when everyone shows up and proceeds to abandon even the simplest rule of personal space.

News stories and trail reports documenting the explosion of people seeking solace outside immediately had me reconsidering my original plans to hike twice this week. Washington and Oregon quickly shut down all state parks after photos spread of the weekend crowding, and now most county and city parks are gated. Our National Parks-Mt.Rainier, the Olympics, and the North Cascades, are closed to visitors.

So.... let's travel back in time to a few weeks ago, pre-social distancing, when I was still in Arizona. Back to the Babad Do'ag mountain range, inside Coronado National Forest, where we decided to brave one of Tucson's most popular outdoor attractions: Sabino Canyon.

I say brave because this is a much more crowded trail than any of our group would normally chose to do, even in the best of times. But I had read reports on All Trails about Seven Falls running mightily this year and was curious to see the desert oasis described: a deluge of saguaro, stream crossings, and perennial pools, ending at a 7-tier waterfall.

After taking a shuttle from the park entrance to the trailhead a la Zion, we did our best to maneuver in front of other groups in order to claim some space away from the trail talkers.

Quite green at the trailhead

The stream crossings were fun puzzles. It felt good to casually realize how far I've come in my PTSD towards water crossings. After dislocating my kneecap a few years back, I struggled with tackling even the simplest stream/creek on hikes. Feeling much more at ease these days.

There was no escaping the crowd once we arrived at the Falls. As we sat and snacked I thought about how funny and inescapable it is to feel utterly infringed upon by the other people in National Parks/ landmarks. I'm annoyed by their presence, and they're annoyed by mine. We're all there with a similar desire to experience sacred spaces, and in theory we all have an equal "right" to them.

Yet it remains a disappointment every single time I show up to a trailhead and see more than a handful of cars or humans. Sharing these treks with others tends to lessen the emotional impact of the experience, which is the very medicine of nature therapy. Imbibing the great outdoors isn't really about being outside of the house. Hiking can be immensely spiritual when solitude, silence, and ~space~ are involved. Otherwise it's just a workout.

It's clear that for the immediate future, over-crowding is more problematic and harmful than annoying. In order to keep myself and others safe, any outside time will necessitate alone time. No hiking in my favorite parks or at the crown jewel trailheads, and no trail homies during Quarantine. I'll miss my Claire!!

As the 'Stay Home, Stay Healthy' order comes to a close in Washington, I'll venture out to test some lesser known logging roads and river rambles. I will NOT report back if I'm able to find safe and spacious solitude ;)

On my last morning in Tucson, before my early evacuation and scramble to get home, Dad and I found a quiet trail just outside the entrance to Saguaro National Park. We really enjoyed this river wash walk and the petroglyphs!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Life in the time of Corona

My father calls my blog Dispatches from the Void, which is astute and also referential to the tagline at the top of these entries- Writing, Hiking, Staring into the Abyss.

My subtitle has never been more accurate than now, as I report from the epicenter of Corona in the U.S. We're all living in the void of the unknown (though, weren't we always?..) Lacking factual answers but, thanks to social distancing, brimming with more personal space than many know what to do with.

This isn't as jarring a transition for me as it is for others, since I thrive on alone time. I'm also incredibly grateful to have jobs that I do from home. Despite the burgeoning pandemonium catapulting into a frenzied paranoia of Costco proportions, I decided to stick with my plan of flying to Tucson for a meet up with Dad & friends.

I have a bevy of beautiful photos to share from hikes in & around the Babad Do'ag, the native Tohono O'odham peoples' name for what is now called the Catalina mountains; A range renamed in 1697 by a Jesuit priest in honor of St. Catherine (Santa Catalina).

As far as desert hiking goes, I think it's safe to say that Utah is the grand apex. However, this was my third trip to Tucson and it does not disappoint. The area is home to a surprisingly impressive mountainous region (Mount Lemmon- the pinnacle point of the Babad Do'ag- is higher than Mt. Olympus of the Olympic range here in Washington). On my last trip, we hiked in Madera Canyon and I was astonished to see high-elevation aspen trees. Tucson is not the flat and barren wasteland that some connote with the desert.

On our first full day together, Dad and I met up with the lovely and badass Mark and Bobbie for a hike just outside their (RV's) front door. We sauntered along saguaros swollen with winter rains, cholla and ocotillo, as well as boulder gardens reminiscent of Joshua Tree National Park.

Crested Saguaro

Ocotillos approaching their bloom

After the humid hike, I started a book called In Search of Snow by Luis Alberto Urrea. I love reading narratives set in the area I'm visiting or traveling, and I picked this one up at my local bookstore the day before I left. I'm a HUGE fan of mystic realism. If you're not familiar, it's a literary genre in which realistic settings or tone are interwoven with surreal or fantastical elements. Most of the famous authors who epitomize this field of writing are Latin American: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, Jorge Amado, and Paulo Coehlo to name a few.

This blending of real and surreal themes is so appropriate for what we are all collectively experiencing at this moment. The Corona outbreak and its social impacts are almost absurd by nature-unreasonable, illogical. Like a cataclysmic natural disaster, pandemics rattle our concept of reality. They are a bleak reminder of how vulnerable and tender existence is, and how much we frame what is "real" around a predictable and controllable set of circumstances.

“Courage did not come from the need to survive, or from a brute indifference inherited from someone else, but from a driving need for love which no obstacle in this world or the next world will break.” -Gabriel Garcia Marquez (author of Life in the Time of Cholera, the inspiration for this blog's title)

The truth is our lives hang in suspension every day, and are as soft and fallible as they ever were. The threats just feel more real now than they may have before. 24/7 news cycles don't help that, and neither does constant rhetoric. It's perfectly okay to be scared when the container of reality changes before your eyes, though. There's no shame at all in that.

“Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.”
Jorge Luis Borges

Magic realism speaks to a core belief inside of me that things are not, and never have been, as they appear. Instead, life is layered with aspects, qualities, and dimensions that we must believe to perceive, rather than see to believe. We are always on a quest, as is a central theme to the genre. Fables, myths, and allegories are safe spaces to explore the improbable and unfathomable - before they potentially converge with reality.

"Sometimes like Santiago, at crucial points in my novel, my only logical option was to transform into the wind." - Jay Electronica, referencing Paulo Coehlo's The Alchemist

I'll be here, in the eye of the storm, blowing in the transient wind and striving to keep my impact positive. Reading books, listening to music, and taking long walks with my canine companion.

While you practice social distancing, it might be of great benefit to also practice newsfeed distancing. In dealing with fear and anxiety, it helps to stick to logic and reason. Be preventative, be well. Take care of yourself and your mental health.

And if these really are the end days-well, I spent them with the right people.

*Tucson part 2 coming soon*