Friday, December 11, 2020

Roads Diverged

 
 
I love when life connects dots of wisdom for you as if directed by a secret source. Deepak calls this 'the organizing ability of pure consciousness.' I think of it in layman's terms as the domino effect. Exposure to one idea or work of art leads to another and yet another, a rabbit hole of interconnected insight and inspiration.

The Optimal Living Daily podcast has been a tremendous source of organizing consciousness for me as of late. It's a short (and I mean short-ten minutes or less) podcast with a new episode every day of the year, and it's become a part of my daily quarantine routine. Recently the host read an excerpt from Adventures in Opting Out by Cait Flanders, which reminded me that my dear friend Hazel had tagged me in a post about the book. I enjoyed the reading, in which she referenced a piece of work by the wildly (get it?) popular author Cheryl Strayed.

Though Cheryl is most famous for her book Wild, she also wrote a popular advice column for years called Dear Sugar. The particular question and answer referenced by Cait in her own book is about the ghosts of our sister lives. You can read that here. A reader writes in with the question "For those of us who aren’t lucky enough to “just know,” how is a person to decide if he or she wants to have a child?"

He goes on to explain all the ways in which he could be happy either way. Already so relatable for those of us who have never felt a strong pull towards parenthood, but could still see ourselves in the family Christmas photo all the same. What Cheryl says in response though, not only about this decision but all decisions, is what really struck me. She acknowledges that none of us really know what we're doing, or how to chose perfectly as roads diverge. There will always be a loss, a grievance of "the other" in every major life decision. There is the thing we choose, and there are the many other possibilities that scatter into the ether once a choice is made.

"There will likely be no clarity, at least at the outset; there will only be the choice you make and the sure knowledge that either one will contain some loss....

I’ll never know and neither will you of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore." 

-Cheryl Strayed

Oooof. These words, and her answer in its entirety, offer much to think about. Being decisive and sure AND following through with total abandon has never been my defining strength. Decisiveness isn't listed on my resume as a top ten skill in my repertoire. Rather, I've struggled with the choice paradox for years- the idea that too many options can actually manufacture paralysis.

I admit it: I'm in love with the ghost ships of my life. It's hard not to fantasize and imagine what the other roads could have brought, had circumstances or timing been different. But as Cheryl says, those sister lives aren't actually mine. They might have been, but now are not. I have to wonder too, if it's the sister lives I long for, or the always-out-of-reach siren call of certainty itself. As if one of those other choices could have been the one to bless me with the joy of being sure.

Back to Cait, and her book Adventures in Opting Out. Despite its title, it's a not a book about the annual opt out holiday pioneered by REI to replace the rampant consumerism of Black Friday. Instead, she shares stories of the many ways in which she has opted out of standard social norms-be it marriage, home buying, child rearing, or drinking. It's a great, quick read in which she writes "You may not be able to figure out what your values are until you're living out of alignment with them." Some choices won't expose themselves as missteps until we've made them, and that can be awfully hard to accept. If trial and error is the only way you know how to operate, then this elimination diet approach to life is old news. It doesn't mean you always find it easy to contend with the failures and changes and sister lives it entails, though.

Over the past couple weeks I've thought a lot about Cheryl's advice and the threads of similarity across these writings. Also of the many choices and commitments I've struggled with, especially in this difficult year where forward thinking feels more theoretical and unsubstantiated than ever. To passionately pursue something with reckless abandon and no concern of outcome-or escape-has felt at times simply impossible for me (brain: JULIET! What about x, y, z, money $$, rent, failure, blah blah blah).

That's the Catch 22 though: most success (even just satisfaction with a choice) requires irrational, zealous commitment despite the fact that there is zero promise of a desired outcome. We don't get to make choices based on promised derivatives or decisive results. That's exactly why there will always be some loss to the big decisions of our life.

A few days ago the O.L.D podcast hit me with another domino. A blog by T.K. Coleman was shared, where he wrote "What happens to our need for certainty when we begin to question the myths we’ve inherited about all the dragons and demons who will supposedly destroy us if we don’t have the answers? The more I unlearn, the more I begin to suspect the following: We do not need certainty. We need liberation from the unsubstantiated assumption that uncertainty is some kind of threat against which we need to arm ourselves." 

~LIBERATION FROM THE UNSUBSTANTIATED ASSUMPTION THAT UNCERTAINTY IS SOME KIND OF THREAT AGAINST WHICH WE NEED TO ARM OURSELVES.~

Excuse me while I commit this phrase to memory and tattoo it on my brain. Yet another reminder that tracing our anxieties and fears back to our root beliefs and assumptions is incredibly important work. Perhaps all the effort expended in trying to be sure about something (anything) would be better spent finding authentic ways to make peace with uncertainty instead. 

Photo by Alex Burtch


Now that I read these words over they certainly feel like a companion piece to Divinity for the Faithless, where I wrote "Further, what if you miss the train to your destiny by only a moment, or make one wrong turn? How do you make peace with the paths not taken and near misses that feel like failures to launch? The distinction between an intuition to pause and fear holding you back can be hard to discern."

My goals for 2021 are two: to move through choices and relationships with both an abundance of curiosity and a healthy amount of detachment from specific outcomes. Will keep you posted, friends.

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth" 
-Robert Frost
 
 *Photos from recent hikes to Lena Lake and Green Lake at Mt. Rainier*

Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Energetic Signature of Fall

I have always adored and anticipated the energetic signature of Fall. How the heat and ferocity of Summer collapse into the pace of Autumn; a word that evokes the primordial Om, as if the drum beat of time slows in September.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine Fall is associated with the Lung meridian. Our lungs pull in air and qi from the outside world and distribute them throughout our physical form. The lungs are a major player in the creation of vitality, including our ability to breathe through what happens to us and around us, a superpower that cannot be overestimated during this era. Qi (our life force) enters through the lungs and descends, grounding us both in our bodies and into the Earth. While Summer is external, extroverted, and playful, Autumn is inherently internal, deep, and introspective.

Fall is rich in texture; crunchy leaves, multi dimensional clouds, soft sweaters, warm hues of orange and red. The meander towards Winter's aloof darkness is unequivocally my favorite time to be alive. Larches put on their vibrant last stand, yelling yellow before their needles drop, trees strip bear their foliage, and these transitions-small deaths-are somehow universally beautiful.  

The delicate crispness of the air makes life feel full of potent possibility. Every year I think of the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote: "Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the Fall." There is nothing like hiking in September and October. Climbing up through dense atmospheric layers, wind sometimes howling like a wild animal, adding then subtracting clothes every mile, all while the color wheel of nature changes in front of your eyes.

Even I, in all my anti-establishment persuasions, LOVE an overpriced pumpkin spice (oat milk) latte. I got a little turnt at Trader Joes last week- already one of my favorite places to be- shopping in my flannel and beanie, throwing pumpkin curry simmer sauce and pumpkin spiced cinnamon rolls into my cart. Dia de los muertos skull themed succulent holder? Sure. Yes. Absolutely. 

Even though I haven't dressed up for Halloween since I was 22 and a bar party my crew was attending demanded costumes for entry (me: mad scientist), something about Fall puts me in an amicable and willing mood, softer and sweeter than the rest of the year, ready to play along with the basic traditions that proliferate in cuffing season.

If you live in Washington state, these are my personal favorite Fall hikes:

1. Blue Lake, North Cascades (nearby Maple to Heather Pass Loop is also gorgeous but even more crowded)

 2. Goat Lake, Mountain Loop Highway


3. Lake Valhalla and Mt. McCausland, Central Cascades


4. Naches Peak Loop, Mt. Rainier *Doable for all!*

I've seen incredible trip reports from Lake Ingalls and Yellow Aster Butte for larch marches and color displays. Note: you will not be alone on any of these trails. Everyone wants to bear witness (and take photos for IG). Like I said, universally beautiful!

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Ineffable

 

 

Pining for the past is the clearest indication that things are awry in my heart. Yearning for what was, former relationships and intimacies once real but long gone, is an unmistakable sign that I'm caught up in my karmic loop of samsara. That ever-turning wheel of aimless repetition and habituation can hold you hostage for a lifetime if you let it.

It's a funny facade of familiarity, that ache for the devil I know verses the one I don't. In an effort to break free of this deceptive impulse to revisit the past I decided to put myself out there and seek new evils, so to speak. Which in this era of lock down equates to ~internet dating!~ I've fought long and hard against the tide of side swipe-dating, but the plague of quarantine loneliness and the fantasy of having someone to ride out the apocalypse with dissolved my repulsion-for a short while at least :)

Pretty quickly I matched with R, who seemingly checked every box of what I want in a partner. I was instantly impressed. But after more than a week's worth of continual conversation and our first meetup, my instincts were already screaming that despite the obvious positives we weren't a fit. Wanting to do things differently and be less impulsive, I urged myself to stay open to being wrong. I knew by the end of the first full day we spent hanging out-our third meetup- that my heart would never be in it.

The idea of matching with a near-neighbor who happens to be handsome, witty, and attentive is thrilling, and feeds the blood thirsty hunger for modern convenience. It has seemingly worked out well for many in this era of techno-romance. But it was also surprisingly satisfying to realize that even after my longest stretch of solitude, at times haunted by ghosts of the past, my intuition remains as strong as ever. I am no less selective in pursuing my need for soulful connection.

 

I truly believe it's worthwhile to hold out for greatness. It's not just that I'm a romantic at heart. I've experienced the wonder of love at first sight and the synchronicity of running into a lost love connection many moons later who I ended up dating. Butterfly landing on you through an open window type serendipitous. When it comes to matters of the heart, I'm singularly satiated by the miraculous and I welcome its unpredictable apparitions!

Divine connection is utterly ineffable- the "spark"- a confluence of chemistry, soul recognition, and attraction moving in tandem at the speed of light. It inspires heart ripening, love staining joy. Though ineffable can mean taboo, it also means indescribable, nameless, indefinable. And so much of life feels like this at its core: inexplicably grasping for something you can't quite define but that you're sure you will know when you find it...
 
 
Someone can appear great on paper, or screen, or be a cherished friend and confidante. But quite rarely does that connote the ineffable. Logic simply doesn't cut it when it comes to love. And though the act of seeking can produce partnership, I've only found serendipity and surprise capable of delivering.

I don't need placeholders for Big Love. I know there is a(nother) symbiotic and timely connection waiting for me in the universe. I feel it in my gut, that knowing place . Magic exists, is accessible to believers and doubters alike, and is always worth our devotion.
 
 
By no means am I saying that Big Love always equates to a big boom. Often, what burns hot at the beginning flames out quickly. A Big Love can build slowly but surely over time without rushing or demanding. After all, if the divinity of soul recognition is present there should be no chance of missing out if you don't pursue hard enough or fast enough. There will always be an unnameable quality to the connection though; a hint of the supernatural and a fervent sense of familiar intimacy. 

"Love opens the door of ancient recognition." 
-John O'Donohue

I'm not advocating for anyone else to hold out for miracles, or to willingly walk through life alone. It can be excruciatingly tough. We have the right to chose the kind of partnership that is best for us at the time of life we're in. We seek connection to experience healing, whether that be through the necessary confrontation of our individual issues/traumas, or through cultivating an ability to speak our minds and honor our indisputable needs.
 
I didn't get to this point passively, and I have no delusions about prince charming or 'perfection' in human form. I simply know what I've had and what's possible, and I've cultivated an amazing ability to not settle. Aside from those magical experiences, I've also had all the mediocre passion and unrequited love I need in this lifetime. I would wholeheartedly rather be single than settle for less than ineffable. 
 
 

"Remember to slam the door behind you"- This title of a blog I read recently, is excellent advice when it comes to seeking audacious resonance in your relationships (and really, every other aspect of life). Settling can deaden us to the truth that there is wonder and awe worth waiting for. Gracefully bowing out can be even better than slamming- just make sure you close those doors as surely as you do softly. Keeping them cracked will cause a choice paradox which can really fuck with your ability to make definitive decisions. I've been there. 


I don't talk about my love life much on here, mostly because there are always more pertinent matters at hand. Despite my shift in focus over time, and further-despite the ongoing collapse of the western empire and fingers crossed, the police state- I still believe that love is the prima materia, the origin of infinite potential and the greatest of super powers

Pushing through the absurdity of 2020 has given me so much compassion for all my fellow singles out there. I write this with you in mind. Big Love will come and you'll recognize it as a sacred gift bestowed upon your life. It will be of service on your path of ascension towards your highest self. Until then, please cherish and spoil yourself. Never,ever give up on the great for the good.

~*Photos from my solo trip to Iceland because I flew there exactly four years ago today, and it's one of the dopest things I've ever done for myself*~
 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Solo Camping at Takhlakh Lake

Takhlakh Lake is probably my favorite campground in all of Washington. That honor used to belong to Bumping Lake, which is now used for military air drills. File under worst surprise ever when I arrived last Summer to my special place just in time to witness two fighter jets appear and drop mere feet above the lake for target practice, breaking the sound barrier. *Immediate panic attack*

Making it to Takhlakh was much easier this time than the last, as the forest road from Cispus has been (mostly) repaved and Google now lists the correct directions. There's usually only a small, sweet gap between this kind of progress and overcrowding, so I'm ecstatic to have made it this Summer before Takhlakh (inevitably?) goes the way of the Enchantments or even Bumping Lake.

I could pen furious diatribes about the militarization of wild spaces or the harm that geo-tagging and overcrowding have caused outdoor recreation, but we'll table those topics in favor of something positive and light. It's okay to be playful and bright sometimes in the midst of a dark and trying world.

I had such an amazing time solo camping at Takhlakh and I absolutely intend to make this a regular practice. Though I was in a campground rather than some far-flung, empty BLM land, I had plenty of space away from others. The sites here are much larger than most, with ample tree coverage and impressive privacy. Despite my last minute booking, I was able to snag a site at the end of one of two loops, so I only had one neighbor (unless you count the hoards of mischievous chipmunks).

Tent reads
 
A stellar gift from Pops

Takhlakh Lake is nearly unparalleled when it comes to mountain views. The lake and adjacent campground sit at nearly 4,500 feet elevation and less than 8 miles northwest of Mt. Adams. Its proximity to the second highest mountain in the state gives it a very short recreation season, with both late and early snowfall.

The natives knew Adams as Pahto or Klickitat. Depending on the tribal language and spelling, this meant "beyond, high up, very high, standing up, or high sloping mountain." Today, the Eastern side of the mountain is Yakama Nation territory, while the rest sits within the borders of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Lewis and Clark thought that Adams was "perhaps the highest pinnacle in America" when they came across it during their exploration. (Wikipedia) 

The various tribes of the Columbia Plateau and East Cascades have individual creation stories and  legends regarding Mt. Adams and its volcanic neighbors, including Wy'east (Mt. Hood), Loowit (Mt. St. Helens), and Tahoma (Rainier). Some involve love triangles between the mountain ranges. Others offer explanation for the broken, flat top of Pahto. Pahto does indeed have quite the unique summit; the post-eruptive cooling has settled into a flat, mile long snow field that can be walked across fairly easily.

Sunset

Venus at dusk



Watching the sun set and beyond, posted in hopes of catching a glimpse of the Perseid meteor shower, I got to chatting with the only other human who seemed willing to spend hours in the dark. He was also my campsite neighbor, a retired mountaineer who happens to live in Olympia. He told me that he summited Adams 2.75 times in his life- the third attempt was thwarted by an incoming electric storm. He caught wind of the threat when the metal ice axe on his back began emitting a high pitch BUZZZZZ from the immense static electricity.

We passed the time with intermittent bouts of trail talk between comfortable silence. We compared our love for lookout towers and the beatnik writers who inhabited them. Chatting about Kerouac, he asked if I had ever been to Hart's Pass in the North Cascades. It's the highest point in Washington accessible to vehicles, and looks like an absolute heart (hart? ha) attack waiting to happen. He did promise that the campground at the end of the road was one of the most beautiful and remote of his lifetime.

Sunrise
 

On Friday, I spent the morning reading by the fire before heading out to hike one of the only trails in this remote area- Takh Takh meadows and lava flow route. 


High Noon

 

Of all the stratovolcanos of the Cascades, Mt. Adams has produced the second largest amount of eruptive material behind only Mt. Shasta. The trail departs from Takhlakh Lake into a forested area that opens up to a meadow, which was probably impressive earlier in wildflower season. From there the lava flow route emerges, with huge boulders of volcanic rock piled in every direction as well as a handful of lava tubes. Despite being in a rather remote area with only one gravel road nearby, the trail was well developed and maintained. I made my way to the top of a cluster of boulders for a gorgeous 360 degree view of the surrounding peaks. 

On my way back down, I hit the crux of my solo camping journey when I encountered a rattlesnake. The inherent, ancestral recognition of that rattle was unmistakable and I immediately jumped back. Instantly my knees were weak! It was my first time being up-close to one and it was incredibly thrilling. Here in Washington, rattlesnakes are the only native venomous snake we have to worry about.

Aside from the rattlesnake sighting, I also came home with an insane spider bite that swelled massively with broken blood vessels all around. No idea what got me out there, but it won't stop me from setting out on another solo camping adventure. As it is, I see gnarly spiders on a regular basis here in my bungalow in the trees. I do my best to chalk up these fear inducing interactions to spiritual warrior training.

@fungalparty

@fungalparty

Entering the Takh Takh lava flow zone

Ascending the ancient lava rock



Tahoma and Goat Rocks peaks in the distance

Atop the lava flow
 

Amazing & informative podcast episodes on:

VOLANOES!

MOSS!

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Cancelled: the New Normal

 
 
A plan is merely a pipe dream these days. Damn near every time I think I've set something in stone, it crumbles before fruition. Regulations proliferate, closures continue, and comfort levels vary unpredictably in terms of socialization and exposure. Cancelled is the new normal.
 
I was wildly excited for my "plan" to backpack to Bear Camp in the Mt. St. Helens backcountry this week with my road dog Claire. Unfortunately, she was just exposed to the big C at work and is isolating. Once again I found myself with plans dissolved and empty days to fill. Claire was the permit holder for our site, and I can't honestly say I'm comfortable with the idea of backpacking alone (yet!). Instead, I've decided to start a step below and embark on my first solo camping trip.

I've lived alone for years, hiked alone, traveled alone- road trippin', hopping planes, sleeping in hostels and hotels across the US and abroad, but somehow I've never camped by myself. I'm excited to do something outside my routine and round-the-way radius. Ironically, I'm actually sick and tired of doing shit alone. But as we crest the 5 month mark of quarantine, I'm itching to at least do NEW things alone. Somewhere else. Anywhere else, so help me God...
 
 
I moved out of Seattle desperate for all the things I've acquired here: a slower pace, privacy, time alone to nurse my creativity, easier access to the outdoors. All in all, my time in Olympia has been the perfect antithesis to my previous life. I'm ever grateful for the intermission.
 
The first year here was great, the second alright, and now I'm beyond ready for the next adventure. It's not exactly the easiest time to uproot your entire life, though. I wonder constantly what forming community and connection in a new place would take during these socially distanced times. I can't know until I try, but the fear of incidentally isolating myself more does weigh on my heart. Still, the road is calling and departure seems nigh...

I think part of the existential crisis of ageing is the lack of "newness" and a persistent sense of deja vu that nags at the psyche; a feeling that so much of what is happening or even being said from day to day is a version of something already experienced. Seeking newness and novelty and edging out the boundaries of my comfort zone are my attempt to slow the process-or at least my awareness-of getting older. 
 
Western pasqueflower

Sweet mock-orange
 
Photos from my (solo, haaaa) hike to Glacier Basin last Friday. Certainly one of the easiest and most accessible trails I've done at Rainier, while still avoiding the huge parking lots at the visitor centers. An amazing place to witness the wildflowers and continue practicing plant identification. I also encountered more bear scat than I've ever seen, but no sightings. WTA trip reports have recorded more bear sightings than ever before in the park this year, as evidenced by this insane photo from nearby Spray Park.
 
 
Trails Specs:

7 miles

1470 ft. elevation gain

 



Forever favorite


 

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Hieroglpyhics and Harry's Ridge

Suddenly another month has passed since my last post. I always have things to say-if you know me, you knowwwww this. The girl can talk. I don't always have the motivation necessary to scribe. 

I go through such phases with sharing my writing. With everything actually. I swing between two states of self (Gemini placement anyone?): an open book who wears her heart on her sleeve, achingly earnest, to a private, self reliant, and suspicious loner. 

I often wonder what my writing is "doing" if it's just a shout into an empty canyon. At times an echo back in the form of self reflection. Recently I received two emails (Hi Ruthie and Andrew!) about this blog. I told both readers that posting here often feels like the proverbial tree falling in the woods. Is anyone around to hear? Did they need to be, to make it real? More over, does any of it even matter?

"And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep."
-Vonnegut

Actually, this blog gets quite a lot of views-but the comment feature has been disabled for months if not a year now, and I can't figure out how to allow anyone other than Blogger members to comment. I know people are reading, even when it feels like I'm dumping sentences and personal musings into a vortex of infinite space. The occasional comment from someone in India or Virginia used to be some sort of confirmation of felled trees in the forest of More Life Less Waste, I suppose.
It doesn't help that I (like many others) remain suspended in an ongoing existential crisis. What are words and writing worth if the planet is dying, and people are too? Disease, violence, race wars, bombs, global warming. What if everything is going to end much sooner than we imagined? What if a long, rounded out life just isn't in the cards for my generation, or those after?

The only answer I've come to in pondering these (dark, real) thoughts is another question- who are we, if not our memories?

What I write is mine. My legacy of lived experience is my baby-quite likely the only one I'll ever have. Cultivating a consistent allegiance to record keeping is the only way I know to honor the memories and experiences of my time here on Earth. 

I see my words as tombstones in the graveyard of time. Moments lived and disorderly thoughts wrangled. Feelings-real but fleeting, fraught with unpredictability, recorded for reflection and remembrance.

It may be delusional, but continuing to share anything I write publicly is basically my hieroglyphics. I find great comfort in imagining a post-apocalyptic world wherein future Earth dwellers stumble upon these memories and experiences and find something in them. If that happens in this lifetime too, even better.

We tend to paint the past with the paintbrush of nostalgia. Conveniently forgetting the painful parts whenever possible and elevating the things that we don't have anymore. Our memories become muddled versions of reality. Being hyper consistent about journaling, and sharing what feels right to share, is the best way for me to get a firm grip on things before time passes and suddenly I've forgotten what really was. How it felt, what it meant to me. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Learning from our personal history is the only way to course correct and hop off the wheel of Samsara, a purgatory of repetition.

To record and to remember are deeply important core values in my life. And though things can feel overwhelming in all that remembering and picking apart, it nonetheless feels like a worthy and actually necessary task. So please take today's post as my verbal re-commitment to regular entries. To find a rhythm to sharing, despite the feelings of impending doom and potential meaninglessness.

My sage Natalie Goldberg says to "Shut up and write anyway." Today I listened.

"If everything was forgotten, what were you? Weren't you all that had happened before? And if you didn't remember it, then you lost part of you too. And instead you would be patchwork pieces of you..... Everything else behind her had blurred into floating impressions already."
-Martine Murray


Last Saturday I pulled out of my driveway at 5:47am in hopes of reaching Harry's Ridge at Mt. St. Helens before too many others. I hadn't been on this trail in two years. The first few hours were good, but slowly more and more people began to emerge, returning from back country camping or sunrise on the ridge, and catching up to me from the parking lot. Too many unmasked, unaware humans for the last 2 miles of this hike, where passing becomes more difficult. Ah well, the drive was fully worth it for the intoxicating smell of fields of lupine in perfect bloom. My absolute favorite flower.

Trail Specs:
8 miles
1550 ft elevation gain

St. Johns wort blooming