>Ninety Miles Around Tahoma – Sept 2

August 29, 2010 at 2:28 pm (Uncategorized)

> This is the account of my solo backpack trip around Mt. Rainier Sept 1-12, 1990. I will be posting one journal entry each day.

Observation Rock from Spray ParkHand-painted BW photograph

September 2. At 6:20 a.m. Tahoma greets me.

There are only a few clouds, and the pristine glaciers are edged with the first sun. It is revelation, emergent from obscurity, harbinger of mornings to come. I am to see The Mountain on all mornings save the last.

I photograph the morning’s gift to me. Observation Rock is the highest point on Ptarmigan Ridge. In its crotch is the Flett Glacier; Liberty Cap is a smooth scoop of ice cream at the summit. I fill my water bottle at the stream and know I am among the earth’s most privileged. I am alive, fully alive.

The vision quest is a symbolic dying to the old, fearful self. “By making yourself ready to die you give birth to yourself.” This is a creative death. It has already been accomplished in me. That is why I live.

I delight in all I see; brown pipits at a tarn, the jumble of shale-like rocks, streams everywhere. It looks easy to climb Tahoma from here, and I long to. There is nothing so wondrous as the first light of morning, full of promise. Clouds smother the Puget Sound basin to the west and wisps of fog flit about near camp. I cut the reverie short, afraid it will sock in again. Breaking camp, I find the trail and, alone, I walk farther into myself.

Ascending to the 6400 foot ridge to Seattle Park, I am even more aware of my solitude. It is a windswept place, rocky and barren. It is beautiful in simplicity, a rugged scrabble of debris and mat plants and thin sunshine. I think of the young man I met yesterday, walking in the fog with a Walkman sucking his ears. “Christian sermons,” he explained. “Good preaching.” I wanted to tell him he missed the point, but I just smiled and walked on.

A transparent lenticular rain cap forms over Tahoma, to the east of the summit. Mare’s tails, too, hint at bad weather. I am prepared. I will take whatever comes.

Descending, I cross the only two significant snow patches on the entire trip. Two men pass me, coming from Cataract Valley four miles below. The meadow gives way to patchy woodlands and flower fields; there are waterfalls and the clouds are coming in. I stop to apply Second Skin to my downhill blisters, and figure how to keep the healing goop from squishing out. Purple Lewis monkeyflowers (and a patch of albino) cluster along the creeks; clearly summer is not over. In the woods are strawberry bramble with sweet but impossibly tiny fruit. Devil’s club is here, deer fern, twisted stalk with dangling red berries underside. It is all good and beautiful.

Steven Foster writes of the phases of the contemporary vision quest. The first is severance, separation from all that we call our world, our home, family. I think, strangely, of the Oregon Trail pioneers, leaving behind a secure world to find something better. Graves of their loved ones mark their passage into a new life. Graves of the Native peoples they displaced also scar the land. I am a pioneer, white-skinned. My people came from Italy, France, Ireland. It is said my father’s grandmother was a quarter Indian. I call it the family myth. I want to believe it.

The second phase of the vision quest is crossing the threshold into the unknown. “Armed with symbolic tools of self-birth, (the participant) enters a universal order that is sacred and immortal. During this threshold period, secret knowledge and power are transmitted and confer on the individual new rights, privileges and responsibilities upon returning.”

I lunch at Cataract Valley Camp. I pity the conventional folk who camped here in the gloom instead of the meadows; I congratulate myself for insisting on a cross-country permit. It is six miles to Mystic Lake, where I’m supposed to be tonight. I’ve already walked six and I am tired; the added 15 pounds over my normal pack weight is taking its toll. I cross the Carbon River on a suspension bridge and trudge uphill alongside the snout of the Carbon Glacier, the lowest accessible glacier in the park. The trail is filled with Labor Day hikers from Ipsut Creek; many ignore warning signs and clamber near the glacier’s dangerous tip. Rocks fall constantly and erratically, but the tourists are oblivious.

I have descended 3500 feet since this morning. Now I must gain another 3900 with a pack half my body weight because of my camera gear. I learned from my failed summit climb six weeks earlier (yes, fool that I am, I gave it a try) that rest, rehydration and good blood sugar are essential to my well-being. As long…as I can…get enough…of…those things… I will… make it…

It is the longest four miles I have ever walked. Or maybe it is only three. Or six. I don’t know. I go through Moraine Park in the fog and can’t stop long or I’ll chill. It is 7 p.m. and I reach the top of the pass and see the sign, “.8 miles to Mystic Lake.” I am hypoglycemic, sore, exhausted, cold, sweat-drenched, and it will be dark in an hour. I see a lake, or a tarn. For all I know it’s Mystic Lake herself, mystically shrouded in fog, and the camp’s another mile away.

To hell with this.

I pull off, figuring this isn’t a cross-country zone but it’s an emergency. I have my story ready should an officious uniformed person question my camp. “What do you want, a few crushed flowers or a hypothermic body to cart off this mountain in the morning?” It would not be wise to tangle with me this evening. Fortunately, company never shows up.

I apologize to the lupines under the tent and untangle the mess of ropes on the rain fly while my meal heats to lukewarm. I flop into my sleeping bag at 8:30, bundled in all of my winter clothes, and fall mercifully to sleep.

Again, it is a fitful night. Sometime in the middle of it the moon emerges from behind a silhouetted hill. I have a nightmare. I talk to God a lot, out loud. I pray for my family, my friends, and for me. I have some decisions I need to make. I tell Him I expect his reply within ten days. Avalanches keep me awake. I am not sure where I am.

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>Ninety Miles Around Tahoma – a Quest for Meaning – Sept 1

August 29, 2010 at 2:15 pm (Uncategorized)


This is the account of my solo backpack trip around Mt. Rainier Sept 1-12, 1990. I will be posting one journal entry each day.

Spray Falls in the fog – Hand-painted BW photograph

September 1, 1990. Spray Park backcountry. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington state.

There is no noise in the fog, none save the white sound of an invisible stream.

My tent faces Tahoma – Mount Rainier. I had seen Ptarmigan Ridge momentarily, before the fog settled, but I see nothing except my meadow and dewey flowers. It is the first day of September, and for the first time in my life, I am spending the night alone in the wilderness.


My parents had been baffled. My husband Tim initially refused to allow it. I stopped telling family that I was going on the 90-mile Wonderland Trail in Mount Rainier National Park. Alone.

Why? They had all asked.

It is necessary, I said. I must do this to live.

I am here on a vision quest. I am 35 years old, and I have entered a place I didn’t ask to be, a place I know I must embrace before I can leave it. It is a mid-life thing. That’s what the books say. The Native Americans have a saying when they pray in the sweat lodge. “Mitakuye Oyasin. All my relations.” On this first day of a 12-day journey, I realize I am going into the wilderness not just for me, but for all my relations. I go seeking wholeness. Renewal. Indeed, I seek Life itself. My family, my friends, deserve no less of me.

It is the result of a several-year-long spiritual quest. I would say this trip is the culmination of the search, but I know the path is never-ending. It moves, spirals, allows growth. This is merely a high point, one that comes at great price.

It is an act of desperation. But it is not foolhardy. I’ve hiked and backed for 14 years. Tahoma has always been a place of power for me. My photographs of the dormant volcano are featured in my two coffee-table books, on postcards, posters, calendars, numerous publications. It is only appropriate that it be the place of my own Searching.

Indian people traditionally went on vision quests as adolescents. It was a rite of passage, an entry into another phase of life. For contemporary people, the vision quest often comes in adulthood. It is a symbolic enactment of death and rebirth, an ancient ritual deep in the collective consciousness of humankind, a necessary journey for those who are called. It is an immersion into the very source of life, the Great Mystery. Aloneness is required, and we fear it. We leave behind the shells that insulate us from nature; our roles, rank, wealth, responsibilities. We are, in comparison, naked and helpless.

So on the first day of September, 1990, I say goodbye to Tim and my five-year-old son Ryan and bounce along with high spirits, great determination, and a 65-pound pack. I am to rely only on myself, my wits, the little house I’ve packed with me, and a friend’s words, the words of his Chippewa grandfather, that whatever happens, “She’ll be all right.”

I begin in the northwest corner of the park, at Mowich Lake. It is a cloudy Labor Day weekend, and the trail to Spray Park is crowded. People express concern that I should do this thing alone. I smile, and continue my steady pace through ancient forest. In three miles I emerge into open meadowland.

The fog is definite; there is no promise of sun. The ranger on the trail predicts (in terms of lenticular caps and meterological jargon) that it will rain. I am not dismayed. Fog aids the interior journey, the sorting-out time, the time of letting-be. The sub-alpine meadow is serene in the fog. This is the stillest time there is. Revelations come suddenly, and small things become visible. Gentians the color of indigo ink pots cluster in tight groups like crocus, distinct from dewey lupine and paintbrush. Butterflies do not go about in a fog. Nor do bees or mosquitoes. Fog is a perfect beginning.

I depart from the trail, using compass to mark the return route. Tim and I have been here before with Ryan, when he was a 7-month old baby. I want to find our spot again. After a half hour of careful walking, I see Ptarmigan Ridge and a flat glade. The place calls to me. I will stay here tonight.

Before the tent is up, the fog has hidden the ridge at Tahoma’s base. I want to heat water for dinner, and supremely confident in my abilities, I screw in the fuel canister without bothering to read instructions. It sputters out of my hands like a loosened balloon, fuming propane and collecting ice crystals. Well, I can laugh about this. I’ve got another one.

I’m careful this time, for I have no more fuel. Fortunately, Top Shelf lasagna does not require boiling water to be edible, so I heat it just enough to save gas. A hard roll and chunk of semi-sweet chocolate top off the meal. It is getting dark. I take out my Huichol Indian rattle and sing the two Huichol songs I know. “Mother Earth, I give you my life. Great Spirit, I want to live.” In Huichol I sing them. To the Four Directions I sing them. Then I go inside the tent. The nylon is like a skin between me and the Great Mystery, but it is cold and wet and I need it.

This is an important night. I have entered the realm of the vision. My path here has been most unconventional.

Steven Foster authored “The Book of the Vision Quest,” about the traditional quest for meaning in a contemporary culture. He calls the vision quest a “heroic passage” where “separated, alone, given over to the Great Mother, the hero/ine enters the fearful darkness and confronts the naked self, the apparitions and shadows of the mortal state of being. Here the solitary battles against the inevitable monsters must be fought. “The hero/ine does not court fear; but fear must be faced. The treasure of the quest cannot be found without enduring the despair of ever finding it. The trials of the heroic passage exist because strength and courage exist, but these traits are found only in combination with vulnerability and fear.”

I have a lot to say in my journal tonight. I use up two sets of batteries. It is eleven p.m. when I shut off the light, and I feel vulnerable. Dark shapes blend into dark ground; the rush of the stream hides animal noises. There is no one around for miles. I know this. No one. The animals won’t hurt me. I know this. I hear the voice of my friend. “She’ll be all right.”

I don’t sleep well. Sometime during the night the fog lifts and the moon shines into my eyes. I awaken with a suffocating panic. What the hell am I doing here? But it goes as quickly as it has come. I know it’s okay to be afraid. I come here to meet my fears. I come to grow strong in spirit, mind and body. I come to face the dark and light within. “She’ll be all right.”

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>Summer’s End

August 27, 2010 at 4:48 am (Uncategorized)


Raspberries and blueberries from my garden

Well it’s happened again. Summer’s end. Not much time for blogging, although I did get a bit hooked on Facebook for awhile before I decided to just quit cold turkey. I got tired of eavesdropping on all these private conversations going on between friends and family. Didn’t seem right. And I wasn’t getting enough work done. Plus I feel compelled to rant and rave when somebody says something that “ain’t right.” Gotta stop that. But I’ll do a post now and then, just to let folk know I’m still alive.

Papa bluebird feeding his kiddoes

So I did what I usually do – took care of the yard and gardens, though not as aggressively as I usually do. I did the art shows to sell out of inventory and save up money for a new vehicle to get me back to Big Bend in October. And I spent a little time with friends. Here are photographs of the summer here in Maine.

Edmund my Garden Muse and loosestrife

I also began to clean out the house and studio of all the stuff I’ll never use, even though I thought 15 years ago I’d really really really make a quilt someday with all those fabric scraps, or do a stunning found-object sculpture with those flattened catalytic converter rusted metal parts. So what I can sell I’ll put out in my yard sale Sept 11-12 (Ya’ll come now, hear?) or list on craigslist or Uncle Henry’s.

Turkey family

I’ve got ads out to rent my house year-round. My goal is full-time work for the Park Service, preferably two seasonal parks. I bit hook, line and sinker when I worked at Big Bend this winter, and I also have a goal of visiting all of the national parks in my lifetime. It’s a leap of faith, but I’ve got the Wanderlust again, and I’m ready for a big change.

Day lily with dew

It seems like every 18 years there’s a Big Change in my life. First joining the Army at age 18. Then being married and living in Washington state for 18 years. And now it’s been nearly 18 years in Maine and the road calls again. It’s harder this time. But I’m excited despite the uncertainties. Life’s given me a lot of lemons the last few years, but I do like lemonade. Needs lots of sugar though. Sugar can be hard to come by sometimes. Maybe some day I’ll tell you about some of the summer lemons, but for now I’ll focus on the peaches.

Yeah, real peaches. They came off my very own trees. I planted them 3 years ago and they finally produced. The Reliant gave lots of small, sweet fruits, and the New Haven gave fewer very large peaches. Next year whoever rents the house will be soooo lucky.

Peach ripening and the August harvest

There was lots of bird activity. A flock of turkeys consisting of 3 hens and 17 pullets has been visiting regularly and is tamer than I’ve ever seen turkeys. I threw out scratch feed the other day when the flock was in the yard, and not only did they not skedaddle, but one of the babies came running up to within three feet of me!

Part of turkey flock

Bluebird baby

My bluebirds successfully raised a family, although they didn’t hang around after they fledged. The catbirds barely had the first crew out on their own before mama built another nest in the wild rose bush. Tree swallows, mourning doves, song sparrows, common yellowthroats, and who knows what else found nesting spots in my yard.

Catbird with yummies for babies

I had a boarder this summer, though he didn’t pay any rent. Matter of fact he stole from me. Woody Woodchuck dug a hole under the living room (my house is on a slab) and thinks I planted the zinnias and daisies for his snack bar. But he’s just too cute to evict, though I’ll encourage him to leave in a few weeks by shoving the dirt back into the hole. Don’t want a skunk to take up residence there over winter!

Woody Woodchuck

Yeah I’ll miss all this critter activity. I love my yard. But I hate winter. Hate hate hate. And I love America’s natural places. Love love love. And I love helping people respect and enjoy them, too.

The most beautiful gladiolus (gladioli? gladiolusus?) in the world

Another little thief

My cats have been tormented by a chipmunk which they sometimes “attack” through the screen door. This little guy has been raiding my bird feeder and storing seed under the deck. I’ll probably have sunflowers popping through the cracks next year. The red squirrels (below) have also been busy, but the blue jays are the champions when it comes to tucking away sunflower seeds in their throat pouches and caching them for winter use.

Red Squirrel

What? Me? Steal the bird seed?

One of the banes of my existence is the Japanese beetle. Thanks to the early spring, the roses were more voluptuous than I’ve ever seen them, blooming long before the beetles emerged. But once they did, every emerging petal was covered with ravenous beetles and I never got a rose past mid-July. Does no good to spray, since new beetles just take their place.

Japanese beetle – so pretty, and so HORRID!

Another garden heartbreak – late blight. Again. The tomatoes were huge and green. And the blight, which first appeared in Maine last year, got ’em again. I hope my friend down the road did a prophylactic copper fungicide application, as she has probably 100 tomato plants. I salvaged a few, but even a long soak in a chlorine bleach solution didn’t keep the brown blotches from showing as the fruits ripened. I salvaged what I could and made fresh salsa. Yum.

Sweet pea

Birdhouse my friend “Mama” Gay gave me, and climbing sweet peas

Late summer flower arrangement

Well tomorrow I’ll hit the Speed Limit (55) and I guess that means I’m supposed to slow down. But as long as I have meaningful work, and good friends and family, and a lovely place to live, how can I? We must move toward the Light in the world, and try not to let its Darkness overwhelm us. The best revenge is a well-lived life.

Here’s to living well!

Full moon setting at dawn

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