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 even drank 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.

In a way, I'm amazed and delighted by how many people flock to the outdoors to combat anxiety. It says so much about our core need for grounding through earthing. Sadly, trails are no more safe than a shopping mall when everyone shows up and proceeds to abandon even the simplest rule of maintaining 6 feet of personal space.

A parking lot at one of the Columbia River trailheads in N. Oregon on Saturday
Rattlesnake Ledge this past weekend. The trail has since been closed.
Angel's Rest in Zion. All those hands on the chain....Gahhh!!

News stories and trail reports documenting the explosion of people seeking solace outside had me deeply concerned and re-evaluating my 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 beginning especially

Photo by Mark Johnson

The stream crossings were fun puzzles. It was lovely to see that I've overcome my PTSD towards water crossings. After dislocating my kneecap a few years back on wet rocks, I struggled with tackling even the simplest stream/creek on hikes. Feeling much more at ease these days.
Photo by Mark Johnson
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.

Photo by Dad

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 buddies during Quarantine.

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.

I've been thinking about this, as well as Plato's Allegory of the Cave. In it, prisoners in a cave watch the shadows and projections cast through fire onto a blank wall before them. They perceive what they see with their eyes to be reality. Socrates and his student discuss what would happen to these people if they were released from the cave and exposed to the Truth. It's a discussion of manufactured reality, and that's something that I think is really important to consider in our current crisis.

Corona is real, and having very real impacts on human beings and the economy. But that doesn't mean that everything reported and projected onto your local news broadcast or Instagram feed is relatable to you, or even factual. While practicing your 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.

"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. Because pandemics can't take away the simplest joys.

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



*Tucson part 2 coming soon*

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Dirty Harry's Balcony

Dirty Harry's Balcony


After some time, the forested trail opens up to a false summit- with McClellan Butte in the distance

This portion of the Cascade Range is ripe with relatively small peaks (around 3-4,000 ft)

A snow dusted treeline never loses its reverie



Today called for a true winter hike with my girl Jasmine, but in one week's time I'll be touching down in Tucson, Arizona. Temps in Snoqualmie this morning were a (surprisingly warm!) 40 degrees, while Tucson is sitting pretty at 70.

Specs:
4.7 miles
1480 ft elevation