Wild Isle

2019-12-09T14:04:05-08:00Categories: featured posts, hiking, memoir, midlife, nature, parenting, quiet, Seattle, Uncategorized, urban life, writing|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Wild Isle: what a beautiful pair of words. But where, on earth, might there be a wild isle in a city? Right in my back yard, as it turns out. One hundred and just about nine years ago, the voters of Seattle gave themselves a gift they decided to call Seward Park: an island of wild old-growth forest that juts into Lake Washington from its southwest shore, barely connected to the mainland via a then-slim isthmus. It seemed only right to name this green jewel box after William Seward, best known for negotiating the 1867 purchase of Alaska, a territory that Seattleites were very fond of, back in 1911, because of the money that had poured into the city as gold prospectors from all over the world stopped to gear up before sailing from Seattle to the Klondike by way of Alaska. On their way home, the miners stopped through again, and spent more money. At last, Seattle could afford the wild isle at the southern end of the stunning chain of parks and boulevards laid out by the famed Olmsted brothers of New York. And now our Wild Isle has its own beautiful book.  Published by the Friends of Seward Park under the painstaking direction of writer/editor Paul Talbert and photo editor/designer Karen O’Brien, Wild Isle in the City is full of “tales from Seward Park’s First 100 years,” as the subtitle promises. But it goes back much, much further, all the way back to the Ice Age geology that shaped our city; the abundance [...]

Still Restless

2019-11-13T17:30:56-08:00Categories: creative aging, faith and doubt, hiking, memoir, midlife, nature, writing|Tags: , |

It’s 3 a.m. and I hear my neighbor’s car start and I wonder where he’s going at this hour and then I wonder why on earth I’m awake enough to wonder. And then I start wondering other things like will my book get published and will Rustin and I figure out how to live without our children in the house and will I ever get back to sleep? Welcome to the Restless Nest. It isn’t empty, that’s for sure. Two decades of life lived takes up a lot of room. As does this restlessness. When I wrote those words in 2011 (before this blog was even on WordPress), the person I was welcoming to the Restless Nest was me. “Get comfortable,” I was telling myself, between the lines. “You’re here now. The Nest looks different. You look different. Life is going to be different. And all of that is going to be O.K.” The more I rolled those words over my tongue—Restless Nest—the more I liked them. What might happen, I wondered, if I embraced restlessness? Because that’s me, I thought. That’s what I am: restless. And then I saw how well it went with the word “nest.” Restless Nest. Suddenly, I had a retort, a comeback, to the tiresome questions about how I was coping with our newly empty nest. “It’s not empty,” I would say. “It’s restless.” I liked saying it, because it instantly defused a whole Molotov-cocktail shaker full of flammable issues behind the words “empty nest.” There was the implied ageism: “wow, [...]

Being Mortal in the Time of Trump

2019-11-07T12:07:12-08:00Categories: creative aging, faith and doubt, featured posts, gun control, hiking, human rights, immigration, politics, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

What matters most? That question has been like a three-word anthem for me this month, as I re-read Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. The small Seattle church I attend is having a summer book club, of sorts, which consists of reading Being Mortal and getting together in small groups to talk about it over dinner. The group I was in kept coming back to that question: what matters most? In Being Mortal, Gawande talks about a patient who decided that for him, life would continue to be worth living as long as he could enjoy chocolate ice cream and watching football on TV. Another patient, who knew her time was limited, wanted to be able to continue to give piano lessons as long as she could. But what really matters most—behind the scenes of those two and pretty much all of Gawande’s examples—is being with the people you love. Being able to love and be loved. That’s what matters most. The other day, I was feeling a sort of low-grade emotional fever, triggered by Not Accomplishing Enough Work-Wise while wishing I could Just Go Swimming. My malaise was compounded by that other virus I can’t seem to kick: Creeping Despair.           I decided to wallow. Just for a few minutes. So I opened Facebook. And there was the most delightful post from an old friend, describing how much fun she’d had hiking in Mt. Rainier National Park with her adult son. There were photos and captions loaded with mutual affection. [...]

No Mud, No Lotus

2019-11-07T14:52:18-08:00Categories: arts, faith and doubt, health & medicine, hiking, memoir, Uncategorized, writing|Tags: , , , , , |

“Most people are afraid of suffering,” writes Zen Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. “But suffering is a kind of mud to help the lotus flower of happiness grow. There can be no lotus flower without the mud.” Thich Nhat Hanh has a remarkable ability to get my attention by saying the simplest things in fresh ways. Especially when I’m stuck in some sort of tiresome, sticky emotional mud; the kind of mud you can’t imagine could ever produce a lovely lotus blossom.            Earlier this year, I spotted his book, No Mud, No Lotus: the Art of Transforming Suffering at Elliott Bay Book Company. I thought it might come in handy as I embarked on my big 2017 foot surgery adventure. But month after month, it sat in a stack on my desk, where I mostly ignored it. When the title did catch my eye, I found it irritating. “Transforming suffering?” Tell that to my friend with cancer, Thich Nhat Hanh. Tell that to the exhausted firefighters all over the West. Tell it to the people of Houston, Florida, Mexico, Puerto Rico. Tell it to the DACA dreamers. The Syrian refugees. The millions of us who have to worry, again, that the Republicans are going to yank our health care. The sidelined career diplomats who live in fear every time our president opens his mouth about North Korea. “Transforming suffering.” Hah! I preferred the edgier acronym a neighbor taught me: AFOG. Another Fucking Opportunity for Growth. But as I sat at home this summer while my [...]

The Long Game

2019-11-07T15:23:32-08:00Categories: hiking, human rights, journalism, politics, Seattle, women's rights|Tags: , , , , , |

It was the hottest evening of the year. So far. I rested my post-surgical, boot-encased foot on my husband’s leg as we sat with a group of like-minded, anxious Seattle progressives and listened to the ACLU’s state communications director answer questions. “What should we do?” was what we wanted Doug Honig to tell us. Meaning: about Trump? During his presidency? What should we do? How can we help? Honig’s advice, which I’m paraphrasing and which he delivered with more nuance, was essentially this: Try to stop obsessing about Trump. This isn’t about Trump, this is about the Republican plan to remake our country. The Republicans have deep pockets and many loyal foot soldiers and they are in this for the long game. And so we need to be, too. What does that mean? It means supporting local, state and national politicians and candidates who stand for compassion, not cruelty. It means raising our voices in defense of the Affordable Care Act, immigrants’ rights, our national parks and monuments, clean air, clean water, and everything else we care about that is threatened not just by Trump’s vicious, bullying twitter feed but by his clever cabinet appointees and his allies on Capitol Hill, who love love love that he is providing constant, highly distracting cover while they pursue their draconian agenda. Stay in, people, for the long game. “There’s a part for you to play in the next great progressive comeback story,” Senator Al Franken writes in his new memoir, Al Franken: Giant of the Senate. “But only [...]

In Real Time

2019-11-07T15:27:56-08:00Categories: economics, hiking, memoir, midlife, politics, travel|Tags: , , , , , , , |

Home. I’m home. The #TravelBinge2017 Tourist has Halted. However: she lives on inside me, and she has given my brain a much-needed adjustment. I don’t much like the word “tourist.” “Traveler” is the word I’ve always preferred, with its hints of Martha Gellhorn and Graham Greene. But in the eyes of the Chinese, Korean, French, English and Icelandic people who tolerated me tromping through their countries this past month, I was not fancy or special. I was a tourist. And that’s OK. No one would mistake me for a native in any of these nations, except perhaps Iceland. And being a tourist is not what it used to be. Or it doesn’t have to be what it used to be. You can break free of the pack, even in China, even without speaking Chinese. People are ridiculously busy in China these days, but if you flag them down, they’ll help you buy train tickets, or get off at the right stop, or order dumplings. And sometimes, if they want to practice their English, they’ll flag you down.       Outside Guangzhou--a city of 12 million in southern China that appears to be adding a skyscraper a day--my friend Lindsay and I were hiking up Baiyun Mountain when two young law students, Carry and Pelly (their “English names”) asked if they could walk and talk with us. It was a national holiday: Tomb Sweeping Day, when Chinese families gather to clean and decorate the graves of their ancestors. Carry and Pelly, both 21, came from a [...]

Rain Forest

2019-11-07T15:45:04-08:00Categories: hiking, nature, quiet, Seattle|Tags: , , , , , , , |

 Rain Forest: the most cooling words in the world. Can’t you just feel the rain, dripping through the cool, deep shade of trees draped in moss? Aaahhh. I’m speaking of our Pacific Northwest rain forests, the great temperate forests that once stretched from Alaska to southern Oregon. Now, what is left of those ancient mossy kingdoms form the rich lungs of the Olympic National Park, breathing moisture through the valleys of the Queets, Quinault, Bogachiel and Hoh Rivers. They are where we go when we crave not just green but a thousand shades of green; not just trees but hundreds of giants, each one of them hundreds of years old. My husband and I were there this weekend, backpacking along the Hoh River. As always, we packed fleece and rain gear. You never know, in the rain forest. But this was no ordinary Fourth of July trip to the Olympic Peninsula. This was the Fourth that came right after the warmest June in our weather history.     It’s hard to describe to someone from, say, Arizona, what exactly is so strange about all this. Why it is incredible to camp on a gravel bar on the Hoh River without a rainfly over your tent, your sleeping bag unzipped and thrown open, the dry, clear summer twilight still faintly pink at ten o’clock, the full moon about to rise. Not only will there be no cold breeze or rain on this night in the temperate rainforest, there will barely be any darkness at all. It’s wonderful, it’s [...]

Beyond the Trail

2019-11-07T15:46:19-08:00Categories: arts, brain, dementia, hiking, memoir, nature, reading, Seattle, writing|Tags: , , , |

  “End of Maintained Trail,” read the sign. “Travel Safely. Leave No Trace.” We had hiked the 3.1 miles up to Glacier Basin in Mt. Rainier National Park on a mid-June day that looked like late July: wildflowers everywhere, sky bluer than blue, glaciers looking decidedly underfed. I could use that “end of maintained trail” metaphor to riff about global warming, couldn’t I? But my mind is traveling in a different direction. More of a life direction. More of a… what it might feel like to get a scary diagnosis direction. For 5.3 million Americans living today, that diagnosis is Alzheimer’s disease, and it may as well come with a trail’s-end message attached: This is the end of the maintained trail, pal. Sorry. Travel safely. Oh, and leave no trace of your fears and feelings because frankly, the rest of us can’t handle hearing about it. For their family members, the diagnosis message is the same: your life, too, will now proceed on unmarked terrain. There will be rocks, some slippery, others sharp. There will be immoveable boulders. Crevasses of anguish. The endless putting of one foot in front of another, as you wonder what lies around the next switchback or over that looming ridge. The Alzheimer’s Association recently switched its awareness month from November—cold, barren, dark—to June: mild, lush and flooded with light. At first, I didn’t get it. November had always seemed like the perfect Alzheimer’s Awareness month to me. But I think the point is to get us all thinking about just how [...]

Spring Fever

2019-11-07T15:47:56-08:00Categories: hiking, midlife, nature, Seattle|Tags: , |

What a great day it was to have five working senses. My nose might’ve had it the best: from coffee to strawberries, lavender, mint and, topping the list, dirt. I wallowed in it like a three-year-old in a sandbox: scooping wet compost into my garden bed, raking it, poking holes, patting seedlings into place. Rainbow chard, Merlot lettuce, Dinosaur kale: day one for this year’s 2 feet by 4 feet vegetable kingdom. Reach high, seedlings! Shake off that greenhouse gloom: you are outside now, kids, and every day, we’re all going to get a few more minutes of this golden light. My husband and I started our Spring Fever Saturday with a long tromp through the Washington Park Arboretum. For two hours, we were the greenhouse transplants, stretching into warmth and light. Spring in Seattle is like that: everyone turns into happy seedlings, faces pointed skyward, toes in the mud. Or maybe we’re more like a tribe of Munchkins, blinking and wide-eyed as we obey the urging of the sun to come out, come out, wherever we are. The Arboretum trails were thronged with strolling birders and blossom-lovers, painters with easels all along Azalea Way, runners and rubber-booted families in the marshes of Foster Island. What an old friend of a landscape this is for me, I thought as we sat and put our boots back on after wading across a submerged bit of the Foster Island trail. On suddenly warm spring days just like this one, I used to come down here on my bike [...]

Optimism is Possible

2019-11-07T16:00:00-08:00Categories: hiking, memoir, midlife, politics, travel|Tags: , , , , |

It’s Election Day. Whatever your persuasions, you know and I know the news will not all be good. So: based on my just-concluded road trip—aka four weeks and 4500 miles of unscientific research—I am here to spread a little optimism. My husband and I left Seattle on the last Monday in September and returned on the last Monday in October. Our destination was Salida, Colorado, where our daughter just finished a five-month season with the Southwest Conservation Corps. Reason for Optimism Number One: did you know there are more than 100 Conservation Corps all over the country, employing strong young people to take care of our wilderness areas in all kinds of ways? All summer long, they build and repair trails and camps in national parks and forests. Most are paid an Americorps stipend: barely enough to get by on. So as you gnash you teeth waiting for election news, be thankful for the more than 26 thousand young adults who serve our country in this invisible way. We took our time getting to and from Colorado. One of the things we wanted to do was explore a bit via bicycle—not in any mega-mile way, like the supertough riders we saw out on Highway 101, cycling through the California Redwoods in a driving rainstorm—but in more modest jaunts around towns we didn’t know well. Which brings me to Reason for Optimism Number Two: good, long, well-marked bike paths can now be found in places you might never have expected. Like Laramie, Wyoming. Who knew how great [...]

The West: A Love Story

2019-11-07T16:00:34-08:00Categories: family, hiking, memoir, midlife, nature, parenting, travel|Tags: , |

“A mountain lion sounds like a screaming woman,” said the ranger at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. This bothered me. Until I was standing outside a locked door in Castle Valley, Utah, listening to what sounded like a chorus of screaming women. “Mountain lions,” I thought, as mournful coyotes sang harmony. My husband and I are on a road trip around the West. We have stayed with relatives, camped, enjoyed a few budget motels and a sweet suite at a hostel. The graciously lent Utah home of a friend, outside of which we were now standing and listening to wildlife, was by far the most luxurious stop on our trip. For the first time in two weeks, we cooked: pasta with veggies from the Salida, Colorado Farmer’s Market; a bottle of red wine. Aahh. After dinner we stepped out on the patio to admire the stars and the moon over the red rock castles of this storied valley. Rustin was in socks. I was in slippers. The door closed and locked behind us. What followed was one of the longest half hours of our lives. For a few minutes, we swore and moaned along with the coyotes and lions. Then Rus began systematically checking windows. I tried jimmying the lock with my tiny cross necklace, succeeding only in twisting the cross—a metaphor I may use in a future Restless Nest, but not this one. Then I racked my brain: what else could I find and use, without a flashlight? My bicycle key and the [...]

Welcome to Seattle

2019-11-07T16:02:45-08:00Categories: arts, hiking, memoir, midlife, travel, urban life|Tags: , , , |

Here’s a sad, sad thought: your cherished friend is visiting Seattle from across the country and you find out she’s drinking bad hotel coffee at her downtown hotel. You know the stuff: those packets that you stick in the toddler-sized coffeemaker, because you can’t bear to spend ten dollars on a cup from room service OR throw a coat over your pajamas and venture out for a to-go cup from the nearest café. When I heard the news, I felt personally embarrassed on behalf of my hometown. Vicky and I met forty years ago this month, when Wellesley College assigned us to live in the same room. She was from Ohio. I was from Seattle. We were both 17, on financial aid and not from New York or New England, which must be why Wellesley College matched us up. Vicky remembers that I drew little cartoon evergreen trees on the whiteboard outside our dorm room because I was so homesick. She remembers that I brewed my own coffee, purchased at the gourmet store in town. I remember that no one knew anything about Seattle, except for what they’d seen on Here Come the Brides, the TV show responsible for the song, “The Bluest Skies You’ve Ever Seen.” (“—are in Seattle?” Who wrote that?) Over the many years since college, Vicky has been in Seattle briefly a few times. But on this visit, she finally had the leisure to look around a bit, while her husband attended a conference. I know Vicky to be an intrepid walker, [...]

Park Dreaming

2019-11-07T16:06:37-08:00Categories: fitness, hiking, nature, quiet, Uncategorized, urban life|Tags: , |

I want to write about parks. Seattle voters, you know we’ve got a big decision to make. But here’s the problem: there are these snapshots in my head that keep getting in the way. A woman standing in front of her wildfire-torched home in Pateros, Washington. A funeral for a child in Gaza. Bodies lying in a wheat field in Ukraine. The headlines this week, and the pictures that go with them, have been brutal. I want to write about parks. But it seems—disrespectful. I want to write about how parks saved my mental health more than once. About what a safe haven they’ve always been for me. I want to remember the Arboretum, where I could spend half a day with a pencil and notebook. I want to shout out the old-growth trees and cool summer waters of Seward Park, my refuge for 24 years. I want to remember the climbing tree in the playfield up the hill from my childhood home, where I could hide out for a while when being one of six kids in the house just got too cramped. But even though I really, really want Seattle voters to pass the measure on the August primary ballot which will create stable funding at last for our city parks, it just seems so indulgent to write about while the largest recorded wildfire in our state’s history blazes on. While both sides in Gaza report their deadliest day. While families in the Netherlands and Malaysia and a dozen other countries mourn the violent [...]

Peru

2013-11-06T03:42:27-08:00Categories: dementia, hiking, travel|Tags: , , |

 “I’m doing this for Mom,” I thought, half-dreaming, as our bus climbed up and up through the scarves of fog that swirled around Machu Picchu. Doing this for Mom. Why would I think that? It’s not like her heart’s desire was to visit Peru and see the Inca citadels. But the thought persisted, until my eyes were welling. It’s the altitude, I thought. It’s the 4:00 a.m. bolt out of bed. I need more coffee. I need— I need to share this with my mom. And I can’t. And yet, as the day progressed, I felt like I did. I have a necklace my Great-uncle Carl bought for my mother in Peru. It’s a simple string of alternating wooden and silver beads. I remember how perfect it looked against her tanned skin and dark hair. I imagine that Carl, or perhaps his elegant wife Ruth, enjoyed buying it, fifty or so years ago, at some lovely shop in Lima. They were nearing the end, then, of two decades here; decades in which they helped launch Peru’s thriving fishmeal industry, raised four children and became leaders in the ex-pat community. To me, as a little girl, their lives sounded unimaginably exotic. I remember Carl instructing us to say YA-ma, not LA-ma; I remember the strange words—Machu Picchu, Cuzco, Inca—rolling off his tongue. When Carl gave my mom that necklace, she had never been east of her home state, Montana, south of San Francisco, north of Vancouver, west of Westport. But she loved to daydream about the trips [...]

Restless Breeze

2013-08-29T14:50:43-07:00Categories: arts, hiking, nature, parenting, Uncategorized, women's rights|Tags: , , , , |

I’m restless, I’m humid, I’m one big inhale. I’m a late-August breeze in the shape of a woman. Labor Day is SO next week. Vacation’s over. There’s work to do. But give me any excuse and I’m jumping on my bike. And/or into the lake. I’m stalking blackberry bushes with a plastic bag. I’m looking at the Washington Trails Association website, studying the Hike of the Week, reading articles about what to do if you encounter a bear. I think the entire Northwest population is unanimous about how wonderful the weather has been this summer, even with these recent splatters of rain. It’s such a big deal for us: we don’t always have summers like this one, with tomatoes ripening in early August and day after day glittering like a glacial stream. But it also makes it very hard to say goodbye. Word from the weather watchers is that we don’t have to quite yet, thank God: the September forecast is for more, more, more. But therein lies the challenge: how do we shift gears, get busy, get going, when our restless bodies and minds shout Summer? I am hoping that resuming my reports from the Restless Nest will help. Breaks are good, but I’ve missed this, which is so different from anything else I do or write. And the Nest is authentically Restless right now. Our children—who don’t live under our roof but do live nearby—are off adventuring. Claire’s in the mountains of Colorado with the Southwest Conservation Corps, out of cellphone reach for ten [...]

Hiatus: the Mid-term Report

2013-07-17T15:00:38-07:00Categories: hiking, nature, quiet, writing|Tags: , , , , , , |

Gravel bar: my favorite hiatus phrase. So far. See photo, at left, of the view from our Fourth of July campsite in the heart of the Olympic National Park’s Hoh Rain Forest. Who knew that in the middle of one of the shadiest, mossiest, wettest places on the planet we would find a sun-drenched spot called Five Mile Island on one of the Hoh’s 50 or so miles of braided gravel bars? We splashed our sweat off in the icy water and set up our tent. Then we sat in the sun and read, trading back and forth an unlikely pair of books: War by Candlelight, Daniel Alarcón’s luminous stories of Peru, and What Darwin Really Said by Benjamin Farrington. Truth: the real reason these two books made the backpack cut was because they are slim. But they delivered. Alarcón is a master of the first line that hooks you, helplessly: “They’d been living in the apartment for ten days when David was first asked to disappear.” “The day before a stray bomb buried him in the Peruvian jungle, Fernando sat with José Carlos and together they meditated on death.” “Every year on Mayra’s birthday, since she turned one, I have asked Sonia to marry me.” Then he reels you in, and sends you flying from the gravel bar to New York, to the Amazonian jungle, to Lima. Alarcón’s genius is to slip from sight, to leave us alone with his characters and without any overhanging awareness of his authorial presence—so that, at the end of [...]

Fire

2012-08-22T13:48:15-07:00Categories: hiking, midlife|Tags: , |

We Northwesterners think of where we live as blue and green, like those pictures of the planet from outer space. Lots of water. Lots of trees. Which is why fire shocks us so. Suddenly, a deliciously warm week becomes ominously hot. Suddenly, landscapes we know and love explode in flames. This week, it was the Taylor Bridge fire, just east of Cle Elum, a scant 90 minutes from downtown Seattle. More often, the fires burn further east. When I was a child, we rarely crossed the mountains into fire country. Forest fires were something that happened far from my blue and green world. But in the past twenty years, my family has crossed the North Cascades to backpack, hike, camp and rent a cabin in the Methow Valley every summer. We were there not long after the terrible Thirtymile Fire of 2001, in which four firefighters were killed. That summer, the valley was as thick with stunned grief as it was with the heavy smoke of a fire that’s been doused into ashy mud. Then and now, we hear the usual reminders of the benefits of fire. Of how fires are part of the forest ecology; vital for the transmission of seeds and regeneration of dozens of species. All true, but hard to hear when a place you love has been charred to nakedness. This summer, we drove up the long east branch of the Chewuch River Road, where a succession of fires has scorched thousands of acres in the past decade, to hike up Tiffany [...]

National Parks

2012-08-16T10:15:26-07:00Categories: hiking, midlife, quiet, travel|Tags: , , , |

His name was Brady, “like the Bunch,” he said, which I’m sure he knew would make it stick in the minds of a couple of people already a chunk of years older than the Brady parents were during their TV heyday. Brady looked no older than our own 20 and 23 year-old children. He had that skinny build that made me want to offer him a sandwich right away, if we’d had one to offer. If we hadn’t been backpacking in the North Cascades and just eaten a meal of freeze-dried something reconstituted with hot water and served in a pouch. And if he hadn’t been an actual park ranger, gun in holster and all. We had just set up our tent at a place called High Camp when Brady loped into view. He apologized for bothering us, explaining he wanted to let us know he was there, right around the corner at a ranger campsite, since we might have thought we were alone and been startled by his footsteps or his two-way radio. “No need to apologize,” I assured him, not adding what I was thinking, which was: we’re just a couple of city-dwelling people your parents’ age who really have no business up here in the backcountry and we are frankly thrilled to know there is a ranger on the other side of the knoll! We asked about a noise we couldn’t identify, a sort of Tuvan throat-singer sound. Grouse, Brady said. We asked about bears. Oh sure, they’re around, he said—just make sure [...]

Best Days, Worst Days

2012-07-05T10:51:52-07:00Categories: hiking, midlife, politics|Tags: , , , |

“If I die tonight it will be with every single thing unfinished (like, I suppose, any other night), and yet, what a gift to die on the verge of tears.” I didn’t write that. I wish I had, because I find it so beautiful. It is a quote from Pam Houston’s autobiographical novel, Contents May Have Shifted.  She goes on, in this one paragraph of speculation, to ask questions like “why my best days and my worst days are always the same days.” I read this book three months ago and yet my mind keeps returning to this passage. Because there’s something about these notions—our best days are also, often, our worst days; we feel most alive when we are on the verge of tears—that feels important to me. Especially after a week in which there were so many bests and worsts. The Affordable Care Act—upheld! Writer and director Nora Ephron—for 30 years one of my role models—dead of a rare leukemia. This verge-of-tears week started with a funeral for an old friend, Kathy. The opening hymn, which I’m sure Kathy selected, was “Joyful, Joyful We Adore You.” She wanted us to feel joy in the midst of our sadness; joy at the wonders of love and life, whether it ends with ovarian cancer at 55 or continues for many more decades. And I did feel it; I cried but I felt uplifted at the same time. It didn’t last. The day was dark, wet and cold, even for June-vember, and we had a nail in [...]

Phaedra

2012-04-21T01:48:24-07:00Categories: hiking, midlife, quiet|Tags: , , , |

A long time ago, my daughter had a friend. Her name was Phaedra. I thought of her a few days ago when I saw the first fiddlehead ferns unfurling in Seward Park. The ferns always make me think of Phaedra because she was just starting to unfurl, to stretch up and out into the world, when a drunk driver killed her at the age of seven. We know neither the day nor the hour: we don’t know whether we’ll have seven years or 17 or 97.  It’s what makes life so intensely precious. What makes gratitude for the time we do have mandatory. Or is it? Mandatory? South African philosophy professor David Benatar is the author of a book with the intriguing title, Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence. In a recent New Yorker article, Elizabeth Kolbert explains the book’s contention that, quoting Benatar, “The amount of suffering in the world could be radically reduced if there were no more of us.” Kolbert calls it his, quote, “Conclusive Conclusion. If we all saw the harm we were doing by having children and put a stop to it, within a century or so the world’s population would drop to zero.” This school of thought is called “anti-natalism.” Anti-birth. Which is not to be confused with the abortion debate. This is not about family planning, this is about preventing ALL births. About measuring the value of all of us and concluding it would be better if we just stopped. No more people. I [...]

Trilliums

2012-04-11T20:38:48-07:00Categories: hiking, midlife, quiet|Tags: , , , |

Sixteen: that is the number of trilliums I’ve seen in the past two days. Sixteen! I wish I could travel back in time and tell ten-year-old me the good news: The trilliums made it. They didn’t go extinct. When I was a girl, I worried so much about them. On one of the first hikes of my life, our Girl Scout leader told us trilliums were endangered and that was why we mustn’t ever pick them, beautiful though they were, shyly nodding their white tri-cornered heads from their shady hiding places. The scout leader said it didn’t look good for the trilliums: they might be gone very soon. She said this in a grave voice, as if she were talking about a very ill child.  She told us that if we saw even one on our hike, let alone two or three, we’d be lucky. But today, yesterday, here they were: 16 trilliums sighted on two urban runs, both through reclaimed green spaces within two or three miles of downtown Seattle. And as I crouched to get a closer look, I thought: this is one of those good things about having a few more decades under my belt. I see the trilliums and I understand, in a way I couldn’t if I were ten or 20: when people put their minds to something, like saving a plant or an animal from extinction, it’s not necessarily some impossible dream. Change may sometimes be slow, but it is possible. Trails through ravines that, not long ago, were choked [...]

Desert Rain

2011-11-30T08:24:46-08:00Categories: dementia, hiking, midlife, Uncategorized|Tags: , , |

It was pouring as I drove my tin-can rental car up the hill outside Tucson.  This is crazy, I thought.  Crazy that it’s raining in the desert, and crazy that I haven’t turned back yet. I listened to the news as I splashed along.  An 85-year-old man, known to have dementia, was missing: went to the supermarket, never returned home. I pulled into the Tucson Mountain lot.  The rain suddenly stopped.  So I grabbed my knapsack and began to follow the first trail I saw. A hundred yards from the car, I hesitated, confused.  The trail had disappeared.  Or rather, there were suddenly half a dozen trails: all formed in the past hour, by rivulets of rain.  Whatever footprints might have once marked the real trail had been washed away.  There was no one else around. This must be what dementia feels like, I thought. I turned around and spotted a stone shelter just above the parking lot.  My beacon: When I turned around, I would head straight for it. I knew I was in no danger, not really, yet I felt queasy: do scorpions come out after a rain in the desert?  Rattlesnakes?  I had no idea.  Could the clouds gather again so quickly and rain hard enough to cause a flash flood?  Probably. I felt small and humble and not very smart.  But I pressed on, thirsty for a little fresh air and exercise.  Twenty minutes, then I’d turn around. 40 minutes later, I made it back to where I started, dry and unbitten [...]