Tag Archives: nature

The joy of walking

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that — sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields absoutely free from all worldly engagements.

– Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

In recent days I have been doing quite a bit of sauntering, and as I saunter I often think of Thoreau. I had the privilege of visiting Walden Pond as a teenager. I was underwhelmed by its small size and its decidedly non-wild contemporary setting. It’s difficult to imagine the area back in Thoreau’s day, when he wrote:

I can easily walk ten, fifteen, twenty, any number of miles, commencing at my own door, without going by any house, without crossing a road except where the fox and the mink do. First along by the river, and then the brook, and then the meadow and the wood-side. There are square miles in my vicinity which have no inhabitant.

In my corner of the world, there are still places where it is possible to walk for some distance without seeing a house. I can even walk to some of those places from my own house, although I have to pass by many houses on the way to the trailhead. I wouldn’t want to live in total wilderness or total solitude, so that’s all right by me. Yet, like Thoreau, I do find peace and inspiration in those places that have not yet lost their wildness.

At walking speed I see things that I would have missed while running or cycling. Recently I spent a few moments watching two river otters in full courtship dance. No photos, sorry… while I’m watching something like that, reaching in my pocket for my phone to take a photo is the last thing on my mind.

In an effort to make peace with the place where I fell and broke my arm, I have hiked several miles of the Olympic Adventure Trail. It’s an easy, pleasant, relatively level trail. In several places the trail meanders through recent clear cuts — so it’s not exactly pristine — but those clear cuts open up views southward to the Olympics or northward to the strait and Vancouver Island.

At walking pace I was delighted to find calypso orchids on the OAT! There are at least 100 of them in the first mile from the trailhead. I have never noticed them on this trail before.

I’ve often put orchid photos in this blog, but to refresh your memory here is what they look like. They are tiny flowers, not much more than an inch across.

Calypso Orchids

The other day on the OAT, in the midst of all of these “normal” calypsos, I came across a pair of unicorns.

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Those, my friends, are “albino” calypso orchids! It’s not the greatest photo, but I hope you can see that the outer petals are pure white while the inner petals are muted compared to the “normal” flower. Over the past three years I have inspected hundreds of calypso orchids but I’ve never seen any like these before.

Yesterday we went out to the mouth of the Elwha River. I haven’t been to the mouth since before the dam removal project began. The mouth is now at least a quarter of a mile north of where it used to be! The silt that has flowed downriver from the dams has created a broad, easy-walking silty beach.

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At the water’s edge the river and the tide are joining forces to create small canyons, cutting vertical mini-cliffs through the silt. I took this photo looking straight down. The water here is about a foot below the edge of the silt.

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The configuration of this river delta changes from day to day, but the clear trend is growth of the land northward into the strait. A few hours after I took these photos, I was standing on a high ridge line looking down toward the strait, where I could clearly see the river’s current fanning out and outlined against the saltier water of the strait.

While I deeply miss running (and eagerly look forward to the day when I’m cleared to run again), I’m finding deep happiness in hours of leisurely walking. These are all steps in my journey, and each of them is to be savored. There is no going back, no other way but forward.

By walking one makes the road,
and upon glancing back
one sees the path
that will never be trod again.

– Antonio Machado

Slow and happy — here’s to the joy of walking!

Slowed but not stopped

A habit, once formed, can be a tough thing to break. I like to think that CFL’s and my activity streak is a good habit! I’ll confess that when I first broke my arm I had a tough time motivating myself to get outside and do something. But once I got used to my new temporary “normal,” I stopped feeling sorry for myself over my inability to run or cycle. I discovered that I enjoyed the challenge of finding interesting new ways to move for several miles each day.

During the first several days after my injury I was happy just to walk on a flat paved surface. Together we walked several sections of the Olympic Discovery Trail. I know that trail very well from many hundreds of running miles, but it’s been nice to slow down and share it while engaging in long, slow conversations.

Although I wasn’t able to capture them on camera (I struggle getting off quick one-handed shots), at the Morse Creek bridge we saw three adult bald eagles and a river otter. As a consolation prize I’ll offer you a long, slow look at the shadows on the bridge.

Morse Creek bridge

After five days and 28 miles of this leisurely walking, I was ready to try a bit more.

First up was a short hike to the always-spectacular Sol Duc Falls. It’s only 1.8 miles round-trip on a mostly level trail. Thanks to all the recent rains, we passed several raging streams on our way to the falls. The scale is difficult to capture in a photograph because the trees are so huge, but this stream is about 20 feet across.

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Sol Duc Falls itself was as high as I’ve ever seen it, with four cascades instead of the usual three.

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I must thank CFL for the spiky hairdo he gave me when he put on my headband for me.

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Sol Duc Falls served as a warm-up. That same day we also hiked several miles on a new (to us) and mostly level trail not far from this one.

The next day we chose a trail that soon turned into an impassible marshy puddle. We were disappointed with our low-mileage day, so the next day we covered 12.5 miles on the ODT before rewarding ourselves with local craft beer downtown.

Over the weekend we hit the hiking trails again. On our 11.5 mile meander along the Spruce Railroad Trail, we enjoyed the impossible-to-photograph deep ultramarine blues of Lake Crescent. We also spotted our first calypso orchids of 2014!

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Yesterday we drove way out to the Pacific coast to hike the Ozette Triangle. This trail starts at Lake Ozette and runs west 3 miles through the forest to the beach, then 3 miles south along the beach, and finally 3 miles back through the forest.

I did fine on the first leg. When we got to the beach, I felt like I had just stepped into a calendar photo.

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We stopped to snack and enjoy the view. There were many kinds of waterfowl, including dozens of black oystercatchers with their distinctive whistles. We heard sea lions barking at a near-shore island. We saw several gray whale spouts just beyond the surf line.

We then set out to walk along the beach. At first it was mostly sand and cobbles, but we didn’t get far before we found ourselves stepping from boulder to boulder and scrambling over driftwood logs. I quickly realized that this was going to be too tough to navigate with my arm in a sling. We reluctantly turned back. By the time we got back to the car, we’d covered 7.5 miles, but I was very tired. Still, it occurred to us that we were the oldest people out on that trail that day — by far. I was also the only person out there with a broken arm! So we congratulated ourselves on our attempt.

All told, I’ve walked (on pavement) and hiked (off-pavement) nearly 72 miles in the first ten days since breaking my arm. I may have been slowed by this injury, but I shall not be stopped.

One slow happy step at a time!

 

If there’s a rock on the trail

If there’s a rock on the trail, try to step over it. (If there are lots of rocks, dance your way through them!)

If you trip on a rock, try to regain your balance.

If you can’t regain your balance, try to fall gracefully.

If you go down too fast and hard to fall gracefully, then take your lumps, get yourself up, start running again, and finish the last 0.7 miles of your otherwise-awesome 11 mile trail run.

Then get yourself to the emergency room.

If you follow my running blog, Slow Happy Runner, you’ll know by now that a few days ago I tripped over a rock while trail running and wound up breaking my left arm just below the shoulder. No running or cycling for me for at least 4-6 weeks. Therefore no OAT Run trail half marathon on April 26, no Bikes and Brews group ride in Seattle on May 3. Even my local North Olympic Discovery half marathon on June 1 is looking iffy.

I’ll know more about the recovery prognosis and timeframe when I see the orthopedist tomorrow, but the writing on the wall is pretty clear. My priority now is to heal both quickly and well. As a lefty, I shudder at the thought of not regaining full use of my left arm. Once the bone has healed, I’ll want physical therapy and lots of it!

My right arm is trembling right now from the unaccustomed effort of pecking out letters on the keyboard one by one. Trying to feed myself is a chore. Cooking is nearly impossible. Brewing a batch of beer is out of the question.

I’m committed to continuing my activity streak, which is now at 461 days. I’m still walking daily, although it’s surprisingly difficult to walk several miles, even on a flat paved surface, while focusing on keeping one arm absolutely still in its sling.

Perhaps the toughest part was looking at all the gaps in my calendar after I removed all my planned training runs, bike rides, and brew days. I caught myself this morning wondering why I should bother getting out of bed if I couldn’t run, hike, ride, or brew. I don’t like thinking thoughts like that! So I know I’ll have to watch my attitude. I still have LOTS of reasons to get out of bed! It’s crucial that I find a way to feel happy in the midst of all of this.

Slow happy living, indeed!

On my walk today I made a point of looking for things that I don’t always have time to see when I’m running or riding. The salmonberries are starting to bloom. So is the evil, invasive, but undeniably beautiful Scotch Broom. Small black-and-white butterflies are suddenly everywhere. Parents and small children are out on the trail enjoying slow, wobbly bike rides. Spring has finally reached the Pacific Northwest!

Maybe I’ll make one simple practice — slowing down to observe — the focus of my coming days and weeks. This setback is temporary; meanwhile I still have my health and my desire to make the most of each day.

What did you do with this precious day of your life? And what will you do tomorrow?

One step at a time!

 

Fit and feral

As I was riding my bicycle today, it occurred to me that I do almost all of my running, and a fair percentage of my cycling and hiking, as a solo activity. CFL doesn’t run at all. We do try to bike and hike together, but often he’s working on a project with a deadline just as I’m itching to get out the door. This week, CFL is far away attending the funeral of a family member, so I’ve been busily entertaining myself with some big and audacious activities.

I make a practice of texting him after I’ve completed whatever it is I’m out there doing. He usually replies with something like, “Good job — you’re an animal!”

At first I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to be described as an animal, but at some point I decided to embrace the concept. I am an animal. A big part of the endorphin rush is that feeling of becoming attuned to my body and reveling in the things that my body can do.

Yesterday I ran 7+ miles of steep roads and muddy, even steeper trails. There is something magical about trail running that really brings out the animal in me. I bound along, sailing over rocks and roots. I giggle when I get my feet wet sloshing through mud puddles. My eyes and ears tune into the sights and sounds of the forest — this varied thrush, that raven, that mysterious swish of an unknown and unseen creature, those big tree limbs overhead creaking in the breeze. As I ran, I thought to myself: this is a feral activity — and I am feral.

When I run trails, I generally don’t set ambitious pace goals for myself. I’m out there to have fun and enjoy the beauties around me. Therefore I had no qualms about stopping to take a few photos. Tell me — would you want to hurry through places like these?

The little guy in the next photo is a rough-skinned newt. He’s cute, but don’t mess with him. He’s highly poisonous. The only creatures that can eat a rough-skinned newt and survive are some populations of garter snake, and only because they have evolved resistance to newt toxin. In response, the newts have become more and more toxic. It’s a classic case of co-evolution.

So that was yesterday. Today, however, putting aside the charms of stopping to view rough-skinned newts and other trail delights, I set out with an ambitious and very specific goal. I was going to ride my bike 17.5 miles east on the Olympic Discovery Trail, and then I was going to turn around and ride back. My longest bike ride to date had been the Portland Bridge Pedal last summer at 33 miles. I was going to beat that distance, and I was going to do it as quickly as possible.

Now, let’s think about this for a minute. I’m a female in my late 50s. My boyfriend is 1,200 miles away, literally graveside at the moment I’m starting my ride. My jumping-off point is a trailhead on a dead-end road about seven miles east of downtown. I’m going to ride on a “rails-to-trails” biking/running/walking trail that, for the most part, stays well away from well-traveled roads.

In the dozen years I’ve lived here, there has been only one attack on a lone female on the trail — she escaped successfully and the guy was caught. Still, I’ve seen all kinds of things on that trail. I’ve witnessed a moving domestic dispute: the girl bleeding, running after the guy and shouting, “Why did you hit me? Why are you leaving me?” I’ve watched the local police trying to lasso a runaway ram in a chase scene reminiscent of the Keystone Kops. Just a couple of weeks ago, I rescued a black Lab that some idiot had left chained in the back of a truck. The dog had jumped over the side and was hanging itself. I saved the dog’s life. So I’m not kidding when I say, you don’t know what you might encounter on the trail. It takes a certain amount of guts just to go out there alone.

I do it because I’m fit, I’m quick, I stay alert, and I will not let fear rule my life. I do it because I know I can do it.

So I got on my bike and off I went! On my eastbound leg I rode almost non-stop, pausing only at street crossings in Sequim. I flew along, barreling up and down the hills (aided a bit by what felt like a slight tail wind), all the way to my turnaround point at Sequim Bay State Park. Here I stopped to eat a small snack, text CFL, and take a couple of photos.

CFL replied to my text: “You go girl!” I texted  back: “I am so feral!”

Awash in endorphins, I started back. And immediately hit the headwind! For 17.5 miles I battled a 15 MPH headwind. I even dropped my hands down and fully utilized my drop handlebars in an effort to be more aerodynamic. It didn’t help all that much, but I felt ever so athletic.

I thought I’d get a break from the wind in the last couple of miles, which are hilly but heavily wooded. But it was windy there too. Windy and hilly. It took me about ten minutes longer to come all the way back than it had taken to go out, and I was really tired when I finished.

But I never, not even for one moment, doubted my ability to do it.

I rode my bike 35.23 miles solo, and I completed the ride in just a tick over 3 hours — my longest and fastest bike ride ever.

One of my favorite theories (don’t we all have a favorite theory?) is Albert Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy. Bandura defined self-efficacy as “one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations.” It’s that sense of “I can” that empowers us when we dare to set big hairy audacious goals and then dare to achieve them. There’s a lot more to the theory, but that’s the gist. Because I have self-efficacy, I can decide to train for a marathon, and then go out and train for it, and then run it.

I occurred to me, as I was riding into the headwind today, that there is a connection between self-efficacy and experiencing myself as feral. Please bear with me for a couple hundred more words while I try to tease out this connection.

Last month I celebrated my second anniversary of becoming “post-corporate” — okay, I’ll say the word “retirement.” I truly feel that it’s taken all of two years to fully detox from corporate life.

When I finished my undergrad at UCLA lo these many years ago, I jumped into corporate life with the feeling that I would do great things and be amply rewarded for them. For the first few years, that was true. Then I married, had a child, took on a mortgage and a couple of car payments. Suddenly the stakes were higher — I needed my job and I couldn’t afford to screw up. I became cautious. I did whatever I had to do to get by and not much more than that. I lost the fire. I lost my sense of self-efficacy.

In the two years since I left the corporate world, I have had to re-learn how to relax. How to take deep abdominal breaths. How to sleep for as long as I need to sleep. How to fully live each day, wring it to exhaustion and deep satisfaction, and then let it go in anticipation of the next day. How to be feral.

I have let go of all that toxicity. I am no longer a garter snake facing down a rough-skinned newt and hoping I’m resistant enough to survive. I have come back to that more-innocent animal that I once must have been.

I have regained self-efficacy.

I am fit, I am feral, and I know that I can do the things I set out to do.

Oh, and I’m still a bit bashful about taking “selfies” — but here I am anyway.

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring!

Hiking at the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge

I wake up every morning thinking about what I’m going to do for exercise that day. Some days, it’s easy — my calendar tells me it’s a running day so I run! Other days, I know I’ll be walking downtown in the evening for dinner or a special event.

On those mornings when I have no special plans with respect to exercise, I have to get creative about what I’m going to do.

The other day the big item on my calendar was my twice-monthly trip to Costco. Okay, so driving to Sequim was a given — but what could I do while I was over that way?

Somehow the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge popped into my head. Dungeness NWR is comprised of the entire length of Dungeness Spit along with a section of forested bluff top. Dungeness Spit, one of the world’s longest natural sand spits, extends into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and is more than 5.5 miles long.

I had visited Dungeness NWR only once before, in the summer of 2001, the year before I moved here. Why I never returned, I have no idea, but when I mentioned it to CFL, he was immediately enthusiastic. He hadn’t been there in years either!

Our timing was good — it was low tide and it looked like we’d have a few hours’ break from the rain. We parked the car at the first possible parking area so that we could walk the bluff top trail before hiking down to the spit itself.

The first view of the strait from the bluff top 140 feet above is stunning.

As you walk down the trail from the bluff top, more of the spit reveals itself.

Once you are down on the sand, it’s a long flat walk along a beautiful beach. The outer (strait-facing) side of the spit is the hiking side, while the inner (mainland-facing) side is off-limits to humans. This is where hundreds of water birds amass at various times of the year, whether as a migration stopover or as a home for some species who nest here. To see the birds, we needed to scramble onto the large driftwood logs that collect at the “summit” of the spit.

The logs themselves are so beautiful that we didn’t want to walk all over them, so we didn’t see that many birds. I’d forgotten to bring binoculars so we couldn’t do any serious birding anyway. But we certainly enjoyed the logs!

As we continued our hike along the beach, the Dungeness Lighthouse came into view. Can you see it there in the distance?

We turned around about two miles short of the lighthouse, as the afternoon was getting later and the sky was looking darker. Here you can see both sides of the spit, looking back toward the bluff.

On our way back I noticed an odd object on the sand. A jawbone! We think this was a juvenile seal, based on the fact that the rear molars appeared to be only partially erupted. It was probably 6-7 inches long.

By the time we got back to the car, we’d hiked ten miles. When we return — and we will — we’ll give ourselves enough time to get all the way out past the lighthouse. And I’ll remember to bring my binoculars so I can identify some of the birds!

Staying active through the dead of winter

February can be tough sometimes. While the days are getting noticeably Ionger, winter still packs quite a punch. It can be difficult to motivate myself to get out there and stay active when the temperature is in the high 30s and the sky is gloomy with an intermittent drizzle. I confess, there are days when I just want to say “curse you, Activity Streak!” and snuggle more deeply into my favorite reading chair.

CFL and I recently made a quick trip down to southern Oregon to visit my dad. We contemplated bringing our bikes along, but then decided we’d just take it easy with long walks. We eagerly anticipated walking around downtown Eugene and Portland, stopping to take in a few local breweries and taprooms along the way.

All went as planned in Eugene, on the outbound leg of our trip. We enjoyed sharing flights of beers at Oakshire Brewing and Hop Valley Brewing, and had a great dinner at The Bier Stein, a brewpub boasting 24 taps and over 1,000 types of bottled beer.

Coming back northward toward Portland, however, we got caught up in heavy snow. We never had to put on chains, but trucks and cars pulling trailers did. At one point I-5 was blocked completely, with truckers stopped in the middle of the freeway to put on their chains. It took us two hours to drive five miles beyond the place that I took this photo.

By the time we reached Portland, we were in the midst of an ice storm. We crept into downtown, trying not to slide sideways on some of the same bridges that we’d pedaled over happily on our bikes during the Bridge Pedal last August.

We’d booked a room at the same motel we stayed at last summer. From this location it’s a quarter-mile walk to a light rail station that would take us directly to the middle of downtown. We were hungry; I eagerly anticipated a great dinner and an awesome IPA at Deschutes Brewery’s Portland brewpub.

The slightly frazzled reception desk clerk assured us that no matter how bad the weather, the light rail never shut down, thanks to super-duper new defrosting technology. So we bundled up and set off toward the train station.

It was 21 degrees with a 19 mile per hour wind. Freezing rain lashed our faces as we stumbled intrepidly to the station. We bought our round-trip passes and stood on the platform with a couple dozen other hardy souls. Then we began to hear rumblings: “We’ve been standing here for an hour.” The marquee display still indicated the expected arrival time for the next train, so we figured all those people had just lost track of time!

Then the marquee display changed. All trains in the system were shut down.

By this time we were very cold and very hungry. We trudged back. Earlier we’d heard that only one restaurant in the immediate area of the motel was open. It was a steakhouse, about two blocks past the motel. To get there, we had to walk into the blistering wind and navigate sidewalks and parking lots that were in the process of becoming encased in half an inch of ice.

By the time we arrived, my jacket was frozen stiff.

It turned out to be a steakhouse of the old-fashioned sort, meaning there was nothing for this vegetarian to eat but fries. The fries tasted a bit fishy but at that point I really didn’t care. Fortunately they did have some interesting beers on tap! 

The next morning our phones awoke us with an emergency alert imploring everyone in Portland not to go out if at all possible. We hung out at the motel until almost checkout time enjoying the view of the iced-over pool.

We then decided to make a run for it. Getting out of the parking lot was a bit scary but once we were on the freeway it was fine. By the time we were fifty miles into Washington, we had left most of the snow behind us.

Since then it’s rained every day here at home. I got my new bicycle on February 1 but so far I’ve only managed to ride it 25 miles, mostly right around the immediate neighborhood.

I surprised myself by buying a road bike. I didn’t think I wanted drop handlebars, but when I thought about what I enjoy doing on a bike — riding fast and riding long — a road bike became the obvious choice. I’m gradually getting used to the more aggressive riding posture. Mostly I keep my hands up top, but on a long flat stretch (which is scarce in my neighborhood) I can inch them down into the dropped position. Going downhill is still scary though! 

Fortunately, going uphill is much easier than it was on my old bike: that’s when I really notice that it weighs 19.5 pounds compared to my old bike at 33 pounds. I’m going to need that lightness and quick acceleration this coming Sunday when — whatever the weather — CFL and I will ride the Chilly Hilly. At 33 miles around Bainbridge Island with a total elevation gain of 2,675 feet, it will be my hilliest bike ride ever! I just wish I had more time between now and then to get comfortable on my new bike. 

But it does get tough to get out there  and feed the activity streak when the weather is lousy. This morning during a sunbreak I got out and ran along the waterfront. Thanks to all the rain, Ennis Creek was higher than I’ve ever seen it before.

During the last mile of my run, dark clouds loomed over the strait, the wind picked up, and the rain began. I caught this shot of sun, rain, and oncoming storm clouds during my after-run stretch time.

There was a flock of surf scoters in the water near the pier. I noticed with delight that the birds were forming boy/girl pairs. Spring is coming, and love is in the air!

I’d hoped to get out with my bike this afternoon, but the skies look inky again. My reading chair is calling me…

Tomorrow is another day! It will be activity streak day #414 to be precise. I don’t know yet how many miles I’ll be able to fit in, but one way or another I know I’ll drag myself out there and do something.

What about you? How is the dead of winter treating you? Any signs of spring yet where you are?

A moment’s pause

I was driving home this afternoon after going for a run. It hadn’t been a particularly enjoyable run.

It was chilly — about 45 degrees with a breeze as I started my run. As usually happens when it’s cold, my hands and feet promptly went numb. I was wearing gloves and waving my hands around, so that part wasn’t so bad; my hands warmed up within a few minutes. But it’s tough trying to run on numb feet. It took two and a half miles for my feet to thaw out, and when they finally did, I realized that (as often happens) they’d been slapping the ground rather hard while numb and were now sore.

I’d almost given up and turned around in the first cold mile, but I’d decided that today it was my job to be out there and keep running in spite of feeling less than stellar. I went on and completed my run (from a county park to an Audubon center/park and back, 7.6 miles round trip), patting myself on the back at the end for toughing it out.

On the way home I stopped off to pick up some vegetables for tonight’s dinner. I also grabbed a bottle of fruit/vegetable juice to drink on the way home.

As I left the farm store, I noticed that the sky was quite dramatic. Heading west toward home, I was driving out from under dark gray clouds and into blue sky and broken clouds that were spectacularly lit by the late afternoon sun. I drove by two or three possible locations where I could have stopped to take photos. By this time, I was actually in a hurry to get home because my darned fingers were going numb again from holding the cold juice bottle (if you’re wondering, I have Raynaud’s phenomenon). So for a few miles my inner dialogue went: “Do I stop or do I hurry home to get warm?”

Finally the sky became so beautiful that I had to stop — fingers be damned! I pulled into a downtown parking lot and quickly snapped these shots with my iPhone.

It was a moment worth pausing for, don’t you think?

Some moments are just too good to let pass unnoticed. This is a lesson too easily overlooked, a lesson that demands we practice it, every day.

What did you notice that gave you a moment’s pause today?

October and half of November

Well, that was quick! I knew October was going to be a busy month, but I had no idea I’d be so swept up by events that I wouldn’t have another chance to post here until mid-November. While the living has not been so “slow” lately, it has certainly been happy.

October began with the Yakima Fresh Hop Festival, as documented in my last post. The following weekend was the Victoria marathon. As I’ve written here, I can now and forever call myself a marathoner!

The weekend of October 19-20 we went to Seattle to see the Moody Blues for what I believe to be my 40th time (CFL’s second). They never disappoint, and this was yet another great show by my all-time favorite band. The following evening we attended the 10th anniversary celebration for the local region of the sports car club that I belong to. As a charter member of the region, I was among those who stood up to share memories of our early days. Good times!

Our big travel event for late October was a trip down to Eugene, Oregon for a philosophy conference at which I presented a paper. My paper was a very preliminary attempt to make sense of what I have learned (and continue to learn) about running and personal transformation. I’m playing with the idea of the literal steps and place-to-place movement of my running “career” as a metaphoric movement through the course of caregiving, grieving, and re-creating one’s life anew. My paper was well-received at the conference, but I didn’t get enough feedback to determine which direction I want to go further with this.

Here’s the dilemma I’m mulling over in my mind. I think these life experiences that I’ve had make for a good story, but I want to frame them conceptually as something more than a simple memoir. As a scholar/philosopher, I want to put them in a philosophical context — which would seriously limit the potential audience. At the same time, as a person who has actually had these very real and human experiences, I do want to make them accessible to others — not as a slick “self-help” book, but as some sort of a guidebook for the journey. I’m sure there is a happy medium there between conceptual “navel gazing” and pop psychology, but I can’t quite grasp yet what that middle ground might look like.

So I think I will do some noodling around with alternate takes on writing projects and see whether the work finds the right direction, or at least the direction that it wants to go. Many times in the past, I have begun to write without having a clue where I might end up, and I have learned what I needed to learn in the process of writing. I sense that this will be another one of those times.

That was October. Now, what the heck has happened with November so far? I think I must have exhaled and collapsed!

We’ve brewed two batches of beer — a black IPA for Thanksgiving and an Old Ale for mid-December — and I’m tweaking my recipe for the imperial stout that we’ll brew next week to have ready for New Years.

We keep talking about a hike up the Elwha River valley before winter really sets in, but we seem to be so busy from day to day that we haven’t blocked out a full day for a good, long hike. We haven’t let up on the daily activity streak, however — yesterday was day 317, and I’ve logged just under 1,900 miles of running, biking, hiking, and walking since the beginning of this year.

This time of year, when everything changes suddenly and dramatically from green to gold and then to brown/gray, it can be difficult to escape a sense of the urgency and inevitability of passing time.

The “slow happy” mantra is a reminder to ourselves to appreciate and make the most of NOW. But it can be difficult to resist packing too much into each NOW.

Sometimes NOW needs to be a silent soaking-it-in time/place — even if we only get to be there in our memories or thoughts.

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I’ll try to remember to slow down and pay attention as I go about my busy day.

How about you?

Don’t let another moment slip away

In keeping with this blog’s theme of slow HAPPY living, I usually try to keep things here light and upbeat. Sometimes, however, a bit of philosophy is in order.  After all, I AM a bit of a philosopher… but I’ll try to restrain myself and not do any really deep navel gazing in this post.

Today I went for a hike. Usually CFL and I hike together, but he’s busy working on a big project. If you wonder whether the economy is ever going to improve, you may take heart from the fact that architects are suddenly getting work again. That’s great for CFL, but it has put a crimp on our summer hiking plans.

So today was a perfect, clear and warm late summer day. We’ll only have a few more of these days before the rainy season returns. I sat around the house for a while, but when I found myself watching cat videos I knew I needed to get out of my chair, get outside, and move my feet.

We’re 255 days into 2013, which means we’re 255 days (and I’m 1,520 miles) into our activity streak. On a busy day like today CFL still manages at least a two mile walk around the neighborhood. But I like to do a little more than that.

So today I went for a hike. I went up to Hurricane Ridge and hiked the same trail that I did back on August 4. It’s an up-and-down trail that meanders along the side and top of a minor ridge, ultimately connecting with trails that climb steeply up the north side of the mountain. The elevation of this section of trail ranges from about 5,100 to 5,600 feet. Nothing really strenuous, just a lot of ups and downs, and on a warm day like today it’s a good workout.

It’s a front country trail, so I felt comfortable hiking alone knowing there would be others in the area and that I would never be more than three miles from the car. As it turned out, I saw about ten other hikers — busier than some days but not so busy that I couldn’t do a whole lot of thinking and simply taking in the views and the moments of silence.

Views like this kept me happy.

I turned around at the first major fork in the trail.

The Klahhane Ridge Trail (the trail I was on — and yes it is misspelled on the sign — if you look closely you can see that someone has corrected it!) begins to climb steeply at this point. The Switchback Trail descends very steeply down to the road a few miles below where I’d left my car. This sign, therefore, marked the perfect place for me to turn around and return to the visitor center.

I returned a little more slowly, even though the shadows were beginning to lengthen. I found myself deep in a meditation about life, about how wonderful it all is, how awesome is the fact of simply being alive. Not merely being here but participating in it, making it happen, step by step by intentional step.

Sometimes I wonder if this whole “activity streak” has become an obsession. Perhaps it has, but if it has, I’m convinced that it’s an obsession of an entirely positive sort. It’s become a way of marking my days, of keeping a promise to myself that I will do something every day to ensure that I live it. I log my daily miles and how I attained them in a spreadsheet (are you surprised?). It’s become a diary of sorts. I can look back at the end of a day, a week, a month… or soon, a year… and know a little something about how I chose to spend my finite, precious time.

Today I did a 5.3 mile hike in Olympic National Park. I stopped along the way to notice things like the moon low in the summer sky over Hurricane Ridge.

As  I was driving down the hill toward home, I lost myself in another way, listening to music in the car. Michael Franti’s “Hey Hey Hey” came up. It’s a simple song, and the lyrics as a whole aren’t that relevant to the thoughts I was having today. But the catchy refrain “I won’t let another moment slip away” resonated deeply.

Despite the best efforts of the medical profession and the best care that I could give him, my late husband spent the last days of his life angry and in pain. Perhaps in some part of my heart, in my daily quest for significant movement, I am still running away from my memories of those moments. I prefer to think that I am running toward the opposite of those moments.

I want my moments  and my miles to add up to something. I want to experience each of them fully — slowly and happily. I don’t want to let another moment slip away.

Right now?

I’m relaxing and having a home brew. And writing.

And tomorrow?

I’m going for a run.

Oh yeah, and after that there is grocery shopping and bill paying and pre-cooking for a potluck. Those moments matter too. I shall be intentional about doing them, however. And then I’ll go out and meet some friends for dinner.

What did you do today?

What will you do tomorrow?

Don’t let another moment slip away!

Marmot monitoring in Olympic National Park

Over this past week we spent three days in our “back yard,” participating as volunteers in Olympic National Park’s marmot monitoring program.

NOTE: All of the marmot photos below were taken with a zoom lens. Although marmots are not particularly bothered by the presence of humans, I would never get so close to a wild animal in its natural environment.

Wouldn’t you want to spend as much time as possible with these cute little guys?

The Olympic Marmot is endemic to the Olympic Peninsula; 90% of the Olympic Marmot population lives within the boundaries of the Park.

Historically, a stable population of 2,000 or more Olympic Marmots existed, but about ten years ago anecdotal reports began to indicate that the population was in rapid decline. By the year 2006 the estimated population was only 1,000. The probable cause of this decline is predation by coyotes, which are not native to the area. Although the population is currently rebounding, the marmot’s lifecycle (slow reproductive rate, long hibernation time, limited mobility within its range) and other factors including climate change cause concern for the long-term viability of this unique species.

In 2010, Park biologists began a citizen marmot monitoring volunteer program. The idea is to survey areas within the Park that are known or likely sites of marmot habitat. The program is now in its fourth year. CFL and I volunteered to participate this year and were thrilled to be selected!

We began with a morning of classroom training followed by an afternoon in the field. This video taken at a prior year’s training will give you an idea of what is involved.

The survey method is straightforward:

  1. Hike to an area (“unit”) delineated on the map
  2. Use a GPS device to confirm that you’ve arrived at the right location
  3. Look for marmots within the boundaries of that unit
  4. If you see a marmot
    1. Hike to its location and mark it as a waypoint on the GPS
    2. Count all the adult and juvenile marmots you can see at any one time
    3. On your data sheet, enter the marmot count and mark the unit as “occupied”
    4. You’re done — move on to the next unit.
  5. If you don’t see a marmot
    1. Hike around within the unit looking for marmot burrows
    2. Mark any burrows on the GPS
    3. Determine (based on fresh dirt, feces, etc.) whether the burrow is occupied or abandoned
    4. Mark the unit as “occupied” or “abandoned”
    5. Move on to the next unit.
  6. Keep looking for burrows until you’ve surveyed the entire area
    1. If no burrows, mark the unit as “no sign”
    2. Move on to the next unit.

As first-year volunteers with (in my case) no overnight backpacking experience, we requested and were assigned to a front-country area. The most remote of our units was only about three miles from the trailhead.

Hiking out to each unit was the easy part! Once there, we left the trail and scrambled across meadows. These sub-alpine meadows are extremely fragile, and we would normally never go off-trail — but this time we were doing it in our official volunteer T shirts. We felt like kids getting away with something!

In many places the meadows are steeply sloped, and getting around the unit can be difficult. The next photo shows a typical occupied burrow. Note the freshly-dug dirt as well as the dirt on top of the rock (left behind by sun-bathing marmots). To get here, we had to hike for some distance sideways across the slope. It’s a good workout for toes, ankles, knees, and hips!

Accesses to and/or within couple of our units were so steep that we didn’t attempt to hike into them — but we didn’t need to, because we could survey them from above with binoculars.

There are (at least) three marmots in this photo. Can you spot them all?

The pups are grayish in color.

Adults have two-layer coats, brown to yellow-brown with a darker undercoat. Many of them are in the process of molting right now.

This big guy is sporting an ear tag. We’re hoping that the Park biologist can identify him or her from our photos and tell us more about him.

He or she was very patient with us while I took numerous photos in this stunning setting.

However, he finally expressed his displeasure by showing us his incisors, so we moved on and let him enjoy the rest of his day in peace.

To our surprise, we didn’t see a single black bear or mountain goat during our three days of off-trail excursions. We did see a golden eagle (a first for me), lots of deer, and some other interesting birds.

I believe this is a female sooty grouse (formerly known as a blue grouse). She had at least three chicks with her, but they were impossible to find through the camera viewfinder in the tall grass.

These are horned larks.

Sadly, the wildflower season is pretty much over, but we did see some beautiful specimens. This is pearly everlasting.

This is red columbine.

I have no idea what this gorgeous flower is, but we saw it only in a few places where there was loose shale.

All told, we hiked about 15 miles over the three days, at least a third of which was off-trail. We saw marmots and/or marmot burrows in 12 of our 14 units. We were very happy citizen scientists! We will certainly volunteer to do it again next year — maybe even venture into one of the back country areas. All in the name of research!