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 [...]

Field Trips

2019-11-07T14:53:02-08:00Categories: midlife, nature, quiet, Seattle, writing|Tags: , , |

Restless Nest readers, I want to share with you this guest post I wrote for the Wide Open Writing blog. Wide Open Writing is for writers in search of inspiration; they offer a few gorgeous retreats every year, virtual writing groups and one-on-one support. Their website will make your mouth water. What I wrote for them is below. I didn't take pictures on the day of my field trip, so here's one I took at Seattle's Lincoln Park, just to get you in the right mood: Why Writers Need Field Trips I thought I was going to take a quick stroll down the beach. Instead, I walked straight to the water’s edge, sat down, took off my shoes, and waded into Puget Sound. My toes dug happily into the dark, kelpy sand. My calves were electrically, perfectly cold. After a few minutes, I backed up and sat down where the tide could still lap my toes. I lifted my face to the sun and the breeze, both newly freed from the summer wildfire smoke that had blanketed Seattle for days. I felt like I’d come home, after a long time away. None of this involved thinking. All of it simply happened, as if some irresistible magnetic force was pulling me. As if I knew with my body, not my brain, that at this particular suburban Seattle beach, Richmond Beach, the thing to do was to get yourself right into the water the minute you got there. I never go to Richmond Beach. I live in southeast Seattle, [...]

Boot Camp

2019-11-07T15:24:24-08:00Categories: faith and doubt, family, fitness, health & medicine, memoir, midlife, quiet, writing|Tags: , , , , , , , |

“You should write about This,” my friends say to me, as they take it all in: the bulky blue splint with its five Velcro straps, the twee roller cart, the pajama bottoms I’m trying to pass off as trousers. (They’re brand-new and navy-blue: surely it’s not obvious!) I’ve resisted Writing About This, until now, for many reasons, including: One, this is corrective foot surgery, not a disaster that befell me and would make for a really gripping story; Two, the prognosis is promising: This is not forever. And Three, I am getting all the help I need from my unbelievably patient husband. We are lucky enough to work from home, so these six weeks of being roller-cart-bound are not nearly as logistically daunting as they would be for most people. I have absolutely nothing at all to complain about. Right? Right. So I won’t. Instead, I’ll take a crack at the strangely surprising upside of it all: I’m learning like crazy. It’s all stuff I’ve never had to learn before, like: how to be helpless and grateful (especially on those first few days); how to ask for help (still learning, but getting better at it); how to be patient with the mysterious, and slow, process of healing (ditto, with occasional colossal backslides); how to be humble (crawling or backwards-scooting really are sometimes the best ways to get from A to B, especially in a house with stairs). Re asking for help, my husband—who is now an expert on getting asked for help 50 times a day—has [...]

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 [...]

Dining Alone

2019-11-07T15:46:51-08:00Categories: brain, midlife, quiet|Tags: , , , , , , |

     Cacio is an old central Italian word for cheese, but I didn’t know that until I looked it up later. What I wondered, as I crossed Second Avenue on a silky spring night, was whether it might mean “gift:” as in, a gift for me; the gift of a restaurant where I would have the courage to sit and dine alone on a Friday night in New York. On any night, the East Village is chock-a-block with groups of friends and tightly clinched couples. These days, the trendiest restaurants have lines out the door and deafening crowds in the bars. But Cacio e Vino was a quieter place, just around the corner from my friend Lisa’s apartment, where I was staying. Its garage-style windows were rolled up, its tables invitingly half-outdoors. I thought I could do it. I knew I needed to do it. I was hungry and thirsty and fresh out of mojo. I wanted to do it. But after 27 years of marriage, dining out, alone, is something I just never seem to do. Or maybe it’s something I have forgotten how to do.          Funny thing is, the week I’d just spent in New York had been all about female empowerment with a capital E. With the help of Lisa, who is president of the Women’s Media Group, I gave my first New York reading from Her Beautiful Brain at Book Culture on Columbus Avenue. Later in the week at Book Expo, I was on a panel of women entrepreneurs. I spent [...]

Dateline Máncora

2019-11-07T15:55:12-08:00Categories: family, midlife, quiet, Seattle, travel|Tags: , , , , , |

There are only so many ways to describe a beautiful beach. The true beauty of it, for writers and readers, is the way it allows your mind to travel lightly, far and wide, or to venture deeply and with great absorption, as you wish or as you dare, always returning to the anchor of the beauty before you. The surprise of it, on this trip, is that our beach is in Peru. Peru is the Inca Trail, the glorious Andes, sprawling, sleepless Lima. It is also one of the most ecologically diverse countries in the world. From where I’m sitting now in Máncora, on the north coast, the Amazon basin is not far away. Nor are the snowy high sierras. But this coastal landscape is a rugged desert edged by a strip of long, curving bays and beaches. We came to Máncora because it is a town my great-uncle and his family lived in for a year in the 1950s. It was a dramatic change from their elegant Lima home. My cousin Andy remembers Máncora as an 11-year-old’s backwater paradise, where he played in the dusty hills and on the sublime beach. We are in Peru to wrap up filming on our documentary, Zona Intangible, which was inspired by my great-uncle, who lived here for two decades and was a pioneer of Peru’s fishmeal industry. The film won’t be all about fishmeal or all about my uncle; it will, mostly, tell the story of a handmade city outside Lima where a clinic on a dusty back [...]

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 [...]

Quiet: the Book

2019-11-13T16:54:46-08:00Categories: quiet, writing|Tags: , , |

This year, I am making a New Year’s resolution that might appeal to you too—or to someone you know. Here it is: I resolve to stop trying to make my introvert self live up to the extrovert ideal of our culture. Introvert that I am, I excelled as a child at book reports, and that’s really what this is. The book I read, that led to my resolution, is Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. My report can be summed up in three words: Read this book. Even if you’re an extrovert, you will recognize many of the people you know, love or work with, and you will benefit from learning a little more about what makes them tick. Quiet was published in 2012, so you may have already read it or heard of it. I didn’t read it until now because I was number 674 or something on the library hold list and only just got my hands on it, which says something about the number of people who found the title appealing. I should have bought it. In fact, I probably will buy it, so that I can re-read comforting sections from time to time. People who know me casually might say: you’re an introvert? Really? But that’s why you have to read Susan Cain’s book, in which she explains better than I can why  “introvert” does not mean shy or anti-social. Many introverts, myself included, love good conversations with friends and colleagues. It’s the [...]

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 [...]

Hiatus

2013-05-29T11:22:33-07:00Categories: midlife, parenting, quiet|Tags: , |

We were going to camp, but the weather was terrible. Instead, we rented a tiny cottage on the Washington coast. It has a wood stove and a big window, so we can watch the storm pound the beach in comfort. There is room, in this cabin, for exactly two people: my husband and me. About fifteen years ago, we rented a pair of houses up the beach a ways. There were eight of us—my sister and her family and me and mine. Four adults, four kids. Beach fires, forts, expeditions, charades, a new puppy—it was a hectic, joyful blast of a trip. It was a different time of life. A wonderful time. I feel lucky to have had such a wonderful time. We still feel lucky. We have two young adult children who actually want to hang out with us reasonably often, and we treasure our time together. But we also have this: the flexibility to sneak off to the beach and rent a place the size of a dollhouse, where we can read, write, walk, eat and sleep when we want. The Washington coast is a good place to ponder the passage of time. Little changes here, and yet everything does. The wind and waves push the sand without ceasing: every day, the beach is brand new. Two years ago, when I began writing these commentaries for KBCS radio, I thought I would reflect frequently on the passage of time and this big life transition from a full nest to a “restless” one. More often, [...]

Meaning: Searching and/or Finding

2013-03-19T13:43:57-07:00Categories: arts, education, faith and doubt, midlife, quiet, Seattle, urban life, writing|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Trying to fill a room in Seattle is a fickle business. On the first day of 2013 that felt like spring was not just a dream some of us had, who ever would’ve guessed that 25 hundred Seattle souls would willingly converge for a collection of lectures called the Search for Meaning Book Festival? And this was a free event: advance registration encouraged, but no fifty dollar commitment. No reason why you couldn’t just say, “Are you kidding? I’m going to Golden Gardens!” after you pulled back the curtains on a morning flood of daffodil-yellow sunlight. Now in its fifth year, the Search for Meaning Book Festival just keeps growing. It is hosted by Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, but the authors and speakers come from every religious tradition, including none-of-the-above. This year’s keynotes were a conversation between authors Sherman Alexie and Michael Chabon in the morning and a riveting talk by Iranian-American writer Reza Aslan in the afternoon. Before and after the keynotes were seminars, of which we attendees had to choose three or four out of nearly four dozen. Topics ranged from searching for meaning in suffering to the ethics of sustainable seafood. Highlights for me were Port Townsend poet Holly Hughes’ session on contemplation and creativity and Stranger Genius Award-winner Lesley Hazleton’s talk on the life of Muhammad. But I digress. Back to the weather. Next time you’re on Capitol Hill, stroll a few blocks south and you’ll find yourself in a little green oasis: the Seattle University campus. Not such [...]

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 [...]

Time outside Time

2012-07-26T08:34:33-07:00Categories: midlife, quiet, travel, Uncategorized|Tags: , |

“Wherever you’re going, we can get you there and there and there!” exulted the United Airlines on-hold record-a-voice.  Well, unfortunately, no, not on this midsummer Saturday. One packed flight from Seattle to Washington D.C. cancelled; 200-plus people, including me, suddenly stuck in airport purgatory. For half an hour, I thought a few of us were lucky: we were rebooked on a US Air flight, via Phoenix, arriving in D.C. a mere five hours after we were originally supposed to. I sprinted from one end of Sea-Tac to the other, fingers crossed. But the US Air flight was delayed four hours.  The gate clerk ordered all of us United castoffs to go back and start over. Back we went, now with no chance at all of getting a reasonable re-booking. Long story not so short—long time on hold on my cellphone; long time in line—I left SeaTac, now scheduled to leave the next afternoon. And so I had a strange, sort of secret day. No plans. No responsibilities. No one, besides my immediate family and my disappointed friend in D.C., knew I was in Seattle. I could have pulled weeds or caught up on some work. Or caught up on sleep, after a night spent tossing and worrying about waking up in time for the flight that never happened. Instead, I left a note and got on my bike. On a whim, I rode straight to a Columbia City nail shop, where the staff is friendly, the massage chairs are the tacky best and offbeat nail colors [...]

Slowness Breaks

2012-06-27T14:52:09-07:00Categories: midlife, quiet|Tags: , , , , |

When you’ve been moving fast, slowing down sometimes feels nearly impossible. Especially if you’ve been flitting like a hummingbird from task to task, as we so often do in our speed-loving, app-happy, instant-everything culture. For example: every single time I sit down to write, I have to relearn the most basic of lessons, which is: Going slow is the fastest way to get the job done. Because there is just no way to do it besides: One. Word. At. A. Time. It’s like bricklaying: it happens brick by brick. Or, to use author Anne Lamott’s famous example, if you are writing a school report about birds, you have to go bird by bird. Last week, I activated my new smart phone. Oh, the new high-speed horizons! But something unexpected happened on the way to my new 21st century lifestyle. In my eagerness to embrace all that my new toy had to offer, I brought my four-year-old laptop into the computer store for some upgrades. Long story short, something somewhere got miswired in the process and I ended up making four trips to the store and spending quite a bit of the week without my number-one tool: my laptop. Fortunately, I picked the right week: no looming work deadlines. But I still felt like I’d been handcuffed. Sure, I had my sparkly new phone. But you can’t write write on a phone. And yes, I own pens and pencils and I used them plenty last week. But for 25 years, my habit has been to scribble unedited [...]

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 [...]

Thank you, Mary Margaret

2012-02-02T07:22:06-08:00Categories: midlife, politics, quiet|Tags: , , , , , |

Please help me in my campaign to prolong Mary Margaret Haugen’s moment in the spotlight. Already fuzzy on placing that name? She’s the conservative, church-going, democratic Washington state senator from cozy Camano Island who, like our church-going democratic governor, had the courage to change her mind. Thanks to Mary Margaret Haugen, gay marriage is almost certainly going to be legal in our state, very soon. How I admire a politician who thoughtfully and deliberately Changes. Her. Mind.  This is not what we love to call “waffling.” This is the human brain doing what it does best: considering new ideas. Pondering them. Reflecting. Praying. Departing from long-unquestioned assumptions to ask and answer questions one might never previously have thought to ask. This is why gay marriage is such a linchpin issue: because it is getting rational, thoughtful people all over the American belief spectrum to think in new ways. To have new conversations. I’ve been reading a book by the Quaker writer Parker Palmer called A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life in which he talks about how damaging it is to live a life in which “soul” and “role” are kept firmly separate, our outer selves orbiting further and further from the compass of our true, inner selves.  Politicians, perhaps more than any of us, are expected to wall themselves off in this way, keeping firmly out of sight any quirks or views their constituents might reject. Gay marriage has given them, and us, a chance to ask: OK, how do I really, truly [...]

Quiet

2012-01-04T08:28:09-08:00Categories: midlife, quiet|Tags: , , , |

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. You can lead a man to knowledge but you can’t make him think,” blues singer Tracy Nelson belts out on the radio. I’m listening to my husband’s Thursday afternoon show, “The Outskirts” on KBCS, and I’m thinking about all the knowledge that now inundates us every day of our lives, and how when it gets to be too much, we can’t think at all. This is not a new thought, this notion of information overload. What’s interesting is the lengths to which people go in order to find some peace and quiet. A few minutes after he played Tracy Nelson, Rus sent me a link to a New York Times opinion piece by travel writer Pico Iyer called “The Joy of Quiet.” Iyer writes of author friends who pay for a software called “Freedom” which blocks their Internet connections for hours at a time so they can get some writing done. He writes of other friends who declare an Internet Sabbath on the weekend, unplugging from Friday evening until Monday morning so they can enjoy family time. He writes of hotel room rentals for upwards of two thousand dollars a night where one of the main attractions is: NO Internet, TV or other connections to the outside world. When I read these kinds of anecdotes, my impulse is to go judgmental. Have these people not heard of hiking or camping? I want to ask. Or maybe just a walk in the park, without [...]