Saturday, August 17, 2019

Reading The Truth

This is the copy of Charlotte's Web that I bought for myself many years ago, just after college. I have no idea how many times I've read it, but I can say for sure that I've cried every time. 

Charlotte's Web by E.B.White

We all know the tale of Charlotte's Web, right?

A sweet story about a superlative pig and the little girl who loves him? 

No. Not really.

Every time I reread this book, I'm surprised all over again to remember what it truly is, and what it is not.

Though it's tempting to assume that Wilbur the pig is the star of this story, he is not. Of course, he's a charming little squealer, what with his tender heart, tremendous ability to turn back flips, and willingness to be tucked into a doll stroller for a nap. But Wilbur is not the hero of our story; he's the victim. It's his understandable horror that he will soon be turned into bacon and pork chops that puts the plot properly in motion, and poor Wilbur has no idea how to save himself.

Nor is eight-year-old Fern our heroine. Sure, it's Fern who kick starts the story by saving a newborn piglet from certain death and raising him to healthy adolescence, but her devotion to Wilbur doesn't last. As Wilbur's life is threatened, Fern simply sits idly by and watches as the plan to save him rolls out. And when the plot climaxes in Wilbur's shining moment of redemption a the fair, Fern is off riding the Ferris wheel with icky Henry Fussy, oblivious to Wilbur's triumph and Charlotte's impending tragedy. Fern's life spins away from the rhythms of the barnyard, and in the end, she's no longer relevant to the story.

No, it's Charlotte, wise lady spider, who cleverly saves Wilbur's life and spins out the truth for all to see:

"You have been my friend," replied Charlotte. "That in itself is a tremendous thing...after all, what's a life anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die...By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that."

As Charlotte gently dies, leaving in Wilbur's capable hands, er, hooves, her 514 babies to be born next spring, she teaches us that the natural cycles of life and death spin ruthlessly on, but friendship never dies.

And though this may be a book meant for children, that is a difficult, painful, beautiful lesson to learn. Thank you, Charlotte, for telling us the truth.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Flower Power

"Always have something beautiful in sight, even if it's just a daisy in a jelly glass." 
-H. Jackson Brown Jr. 

Ever since I was a little girl, I've always loved daisies.

Maybe it's because I was a child of the sixties, when the daisy was an icon for love and peace.*

Maybe it's because my mother and my grandmother both grew deep drifts of Shasta daisies in their gardens, and cut bouquets by the armload every August. 

Or maybe it's just because of their sweet and beautifully simple style.

 All I know for sure is that I've always loved daisies, and I don't expect that will ever change.

* * * * *

* Flower Power is the name of a famous photo from 196t. It shows a young man slipping flowers into the barrels of guns pointed at him at an anti-war protest at the Pentagon. The photo, especially the young man's gesture, made a huge impression on my child self. I always thought he used daisies, but tonight I learned that the flowers were actually carnations. Well. They'll always be daisies to me. 

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Perfect Imperfections

Knotted my way through another macrame project this weekend.

Plenty of cord left over from my last project.
A mostly straight stick from my maple tree that has been begging for an artful purpose.
And a big blank section of fence near my backyard patio that was ready for an upgrade.

I'm a confident knot-tier so it was with sunny optimism and big dreams that I began my project.

Looking back, everything went well. A row of Larks Head knots to anchor the cords, and then Square Knots for days, alternating between rows to create the simple but oh, so pleasing diamond pattern. And once the fringes were trimmed off, a simple Overhand Knot on each cord to keep it from fraying.

Working outside on my front porch on a pair of lovely summer days, I focused on keeping my rows straight and my knots even. Working as precisely as I possibly could, I enjoyed every zen moment of mathematical concentration and tactile repetition.

I was certain that my macrame hanging was going to be darn near perfect.

Just before dinner on Sunday, under my supervision, my husband whacked a nail into the fence post and hung my creation. I stepped back to survey the finished look and I realized....

It wasn't perfect.

Not that it wasn't lovely and interesting and right up my aesthetic alley. My macrame hanging was all of those things.

But it wasn't completely, exactly, one hundred percent perfect. To be sure, there were no mistakes or obvious flaws. But my eyes saw how the natural wiggles in the branch sent ripples of imperfection through the cords, and the knots, though carefully placed, were occasionally misaligned. The fringe was meant to be a bit wonky and uneven, but in some parts, ironically, it looked too perfectly straight.

And, to be perfectly honest, those imperfections shocked me. And disappointed me.

* * * * *

Over the next few hours, as my mind puzzled over this strange turn of events, I realized this is how life goes sometimes.

With our friends and families, with our partners and pets, we often try our best. We set our sights high and we have all the best intentions and we put every effort into making things happen just the way we want them to.

We plan a special meal.
We send a friendly text.
We laugh at their jokes.
We let them choose the movie.
We listen.
We try to show that we care.

And many times, maybe even most of the time, we come pretty dang close to getting things right.

But there are times when we look back at our efforts and the voices in our head tell us that we have fallen short.

Or even worse, someone else looks at our efforts and implies, or maybe even tells us straight up that we have fallen short.

But those voices, the voices of hyper-criticism and excessive judgment, are wrong. People are never perfect, and what matters most is that we try. This is no gooey, participation-trophy sentiment but a legitimate argument that the mercy and kindness that we often extend to other people should be applied to ourselves as well.

And if the people around us don't see our efforts and appreciate what we do right instead of calling us out for what we do that is not wrong but merely less than perfect, well, maybe that says more about them than it does about us.

Now when I walk past my macrame hanging, my eyes still leap right to the places that I consider imperfections. But instead of feeling shocked or disappointed, I smile and thank them for what they've taught me. That they were never imperfections at all.

* * * * *

More macrame projects to make your dreams come true:

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Reading Natalie Babbitt

The Search For Delicious by Natalie Babbitt
A young mermaid's heart breaks when her favorite doll is inexplicably locked up in her underwater playhouse. Centuries later, a king sends a twelve-year-old boy out to survey his kingdom in search of the perfect description of the word 'delicious.' These two story lines weave together to build the beautiful tapestry of a surprising and charming story

Kneeknock Rise by Natalie Babbitt
Folks from far and wide are both thrilled by and terrified of the mysterious and menacing life force that lives on top of Kneeknock Rise. When a young boy finds the courage to hike to the mountaintop and learns the truth, he's not sure what to do with this new information. A poignant tale about the human need for mystery.

Goody Hall by Natalie Babbit
A young man seizes an opportunity to tutor the son of a wealthy family that lives in a remarkable mansion called Goody Hall. He meets a charming cast of characters who fill in bits and pieces of the family history, and what he learns is that money cannot buy happiness. The house takes on a personality of its own and what happens to it in the end is shocking.

Natalie Babbitt has a way of knitting together stories with the comfortable, soft familiarity of a classic fairy tale, as seen through fresh and imaginative eyes. As I read, I keep nudging up against a familiar place in my mind, as if this was a story once told to me as a tiny child, sitting on my grandmother's lap.

Little bits and pieces of the tale are at once fondly familiar but just beyond my memory's reach, like an emotion on the tip of my tongue that I can't quite name until the words unfold and I see it there in black and white. Each novel stirs up in me the same delight for whimsical people and places that exist out of our time, where incredible things happen that just might be true.

You never know.

For a long time, I thought this power came from Babbitt's prowess as a writer, in her ability to weave a wonderful story. But now I'm quite sure that the magic is Babbitt herself/

* * * * *

If you'd like to read my reviews of my favorite Natalie Babbitt book of all time, go here:


* * * * *

Read more about what I've been reading:

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Day Three: More Potholes And A Perfect Alpine Lake

" Let's go on a hike," said my fourth-born. "A proper hike in the Cascade Mountains."

Yes, What a grand and glorious summer bucket list idea. So we brought out the mountain hiking guide books, studied and strategized, and laid in a plan for a thoroughly challenging hike to a mountain lake.

Little did we know the complications that were about to unfold.

Read the full adventure here:

Day One: The Gulch And A Great Beach
Day Two: Potholes, Boardwalks And Another Beach
Day Three: More Potholes And A Perfect Alpine Lake

* * * * *

Day Three dawned cloudy and grey but surprisingly dry, so with an urgency driven by our two days of failed attempts, my two younger daughters and I set off for the mountains once again. 

We were armed with a new plan. This time, our sights were set on Heather Lake: a 4.6 mile round tripper with an elevation gain just over 1000 feet.

My daughters and I love to hike but we are not hardcore hikers. What I mean by that is we love to be out in the wilderness, conquering the land with our own two feet, pushing ourselves to do something hard...but not too hard. Rather than focus every effort on crossing unstable stands of scree, scrambling across slippery stone boulders, or summiting crazy elevation gains, we prefer to use most of our bandwidth on smelling the flowers and enjoying the scenery. We have no desire to suffer, to struggle, to sweat, for heaven's sake. Hiking, in our humble collective opinion, should be enjoyable and relaxing, not a gladiator's match. And with that lovely goal in mind, we choose our hikes carefully. 

Heather Lake seemed like a solid choice for us. Not too long, not too steep. Plus two of us had already made the hike and lived to survive, so we were pretty sure we had a winner.

Along we drove, retracing our steps from Day Two, and feeling a little proud of our sticktuitiveness. 

* * * * *

It wasn't until we pulled into the Ranger Station, gravel crunching under our tires, that we discovered our commitment would face one more test. 

"So you're thinking of going to Heather Lake?" the rangers asked. Well. I heard the reservation in her voice, clear as a bell. 

"That's what we were thinking. We tried Ashland Lakes yesterday but the access road was is rough shape so we gave up and turned back."

At the mention of this trip through potholedhell, my new friend visibly relaxed. "The road up to the Heather Lake trailhead is about the same," she gushed. "Have you considered Lake Twenty Two?"

Five minutes later, we were back in the car, crunching across that same gravel but this time with a new plan in mind. 

* * * * *

One mile down the highway, we pulled off the highway and directly into the trailhead parking for Lake Twenty Two. And thus, after three days of setbacks and recalculations, our proper mountain hike in the Cascade Mountains was finally underway.

We knew we were pushing ourselves to the edge of our hiking comfort bubble. The hike to Lake Twenty Two runs 5.4 miles round trip to the base of the lake, but the extra loop trail around the lake brought the total mileage to 6.5. Noting the elevation gain of 1350 feet, we gave thanks for the cool temperatures and set off.

* * * * *

Hiking uphill, for me, feels quite a bit like natural childbirth. 

There is discomfort. 
There is pain. 
Many small sips of water are needed. 
There may be some curse words thrown around.
There is also a quiet voice within that reminds me, "There's no way out of this except to go through it, so you may as well quit complaining and get on with the job."

And then, when the goal is finally achieved, glory hallelujah! The pain and agony disappear in an instant, and suddenly, I'm immersed in pure joy. 

And so it was when I arrived at Lake Twenty Two. 

^ With little ado, the trail comes to an end at a boardwalk junction. Three steps to the left led us out onto a footbridge across the northern end of the lake, wetlands behind us and the green glow of reflected forest ahead. 

^ A low-hanging curtain of fog obscured much of our view across the lake, but wildflowers in the meadow and a glacier on the distant shore put in lovely appearances. 

^ After a quick break for Gracie to cool off in the water, we set off on the loop trail toward the east side of the lake. 

^ Just as we did, the fog hovering over the lake did a belly flop and landed right on top of us. All the beauty we had come to see was lying just beyond that ridge of low trees, but you will have to take my word for it. 

^ Massive granite boulders lay strewn this way and that across the meadow, leaving me with the impression that giants had once been at play here. Or glaciers. Same difference.

^ Gracie's hiking style is to rush ahead and lead our little pack from the advantage of her (partially coiled) long leash, and then circle back to make sure she hasn't lost us. All in all, with this back and forth business, I expect she gets in about twice as many steps as we do. 

^ The lake, as seen from the southern vantage point. You may be asking, "What lake? I don't see any lake." I know, right?

^ Where the east side of the lake is open meadows of tumbled boulders, the west is a wooded paradise. 

^ And before we knew it, we were back where we started. After our battle up the side of the mountain, the 1.1 miles around the mostly level loop trail felt like a walk in the park. 

^All that was left for us to do now was to march back down the trail. My feet had wings and Gracie's paws collected mud. 

^Down through the scree fields, switchbacks, tangles of roots, steep staircases, slabs of rock, and waterfalls streaming across the trail we traipsed until we were back on the mostly level ground from whence we came. Gracie and my daughters rushed ahead to the car, leaving me a few moments alone in the forest to contemplate my hike to Lake Twenty Two. 

And just as my memories of childbirth flew away the moment I held my baby in my arms, I forgot every moment of the day's challenges. 

"Sure," I said to myself, "I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat."

Monday, August 12, 2019

Day Two: Potholes, Boardwalks, And Another Beach

" Let's go on a hike," said my fourth-born. "A proper hike in the Cascade Mountains."

Yes, What a grand and glorious summer bucket list idea. So we brought out the mountain hiking guide books, studied and strategized, and laid in a plan for a thoroughly challenging hike to a mountain lake.

Little did we know the complications that were about to unfold.

Read the full adventure here:

Day One: The Gulch And A Great Beach
Day Two: Potholes, Boardwalks And Another Beach
Day Three: More Potholes And A Perfect Alpine Lake

* * * * *

Day Two began with plenty of promise. With our backpacks loaded, lunch packed, and big red pup ready and raring to go, we headed north out of the city and east into the Cascades.

Our sights were set on the Ashland Lakes trail, a five-ish mile long moderately difficult climb up to three alpine lakes. 

Everything was going according to plan till we turned off the Mountain Loop Highway and onto the dirt road that would deliver us, five miles later, to the trailhead.

Now, first let me say I'm rather fond of dirt roads. 

In Michigan lake country, where I grew up, dirt roads were a dime a dozen and just a normal part of life. Observant child that I was, I learned all the secrets of driving on dirt roads long before I got behind the wheel

Slow down.
Stay out of the dust.
Watch out for washboards.
Beware of soft shoulders.
Use the whole road to your advantage. 
Drive around rather than through pot holes.
Never, ever drive through a puddle if you can't tell how deep it is. 

And so it was with great confidence that I swung a right onto a dusty ol' logging road, ready to put my experience and confidence to good use. 

But I was not prepared for what came next.

Five meters beyond the end of the pavement, we were met by our first two potholes. Each easily a meter wide and half a meter deep, they sat side by side, two gargoyles cautioning us to turn back now or regret it.

Ha. I steered the car over the top of them, and laughed at them in my rear view mirror. 

But they were only the first two demons to beset us. As we drove on, the potholes continued to come at us, thick and furious. Ranging in size from reasonable to outrageous, they were mostly dry, though some had a bit of water in the bottom. Still, I could easily estimate their depth and felt comfortable driving on. 

It was about a mile in that I met my match.

Slowly creeping up to a tight right turn in the track, I spied a huge puddle, extending easily three or four meters long before it disappeared around the corner. It covered all of the road, from side to side, except for about a half meter of loose and fluffy sand on the left shoulder.

And, you know, if I had a couple of testosterone-fueled twenty-something young men in the car, who could have pushed my noble CRV out of whatever mess may have lurked beneath that pale muddy water, I might have considered going for it. 

But my daughters and I were not up for pushing.

Nor were we up for flooded floorboards, wet engines, or heaven forbid, broken axles.  

After a quick consultation, our decision was unanimous. 

Hell no.

And so we decided to head back into town - Granite Falls - to pick up some cell service and plan another hike.

Such was our luck that by the time our Plan B was firmly in hand, the sun was long past the yardarm. 

"It's too late," I called it. But let's come back tomorrow and make this hike happen."

Reluctantly, my daughters agreed.

But I was not about to deny us a walk in the woods. So it was back to Mukilteo (Everett, technically) and in the shadow of the largest building in the world (by volume), we hiked the lovely Narbeck Wetland Sanctuary.

Back in the 1990s, when our very own Snohomish County was looking to expand the runways at nearby Paine Field, their plans called for them to "impact," or more bluntly, pave over several wetlands on the property. To make up for that, the airport built up and set aside this lovely parcel as Washington's first so-called mitigation bank.

What that means, in simple English, is that sandwiched in between the Boeing colossus and the local county airport is a dream of a natural hideaway.

^ The main trail loops around the perimeter of the property. Most of the 1.3 mile track is well maintained under a lush green canopy of young trees. Weirdly, there are two short sections of the perimeter trail that edge out onto the city sidewalk before ducking back under cover. It's a bit jarring to step from the secluded forest into Boeing's transit center during shift change, but you know, we rolled with it. 

^ Shorter but oh, so much more sweeter are the interpretive trails that crisscross through the center of the wetland. Though they're only about a half mile long, there are lovely sections of boardwalks and bridges that make my heart sing. 

I love a good boardwalk. 

Gracie also adores them, happily trotting ahead on her long leash and then twisting back to make sure I am still coming along. She keeps a close eye on me.

My previous dog was less impressed. For reasons we never understood, Ranger hated any sort of boardwalk, elevated walkway, or bridge. When we brought him here, he refused to participate in the stroll along the boardwalks. Solving his problem nicely, he simply hopped over the edge and walked along next to us on the boggy ground. He was such a good lad. 

^ But here's something Gracie and Ranger could both agree on: swimming! 

Well, I exaggerate. 

What my dogs actually like to do is wade out into a body of water, the murkier and muckier, the better, and settle right down for a good drink. 

Gracie brilliantly demonstrated this technique and lapped up a good half gallon before hauling her muddy self back up onto the trail. 

^ I distracted myself from her swamp queen antics by admiring the flowers. 

* * * * *

And so our quiet interlude at Narbeck helped to take the sting out of our second round of hiking setbacks. Just to be sure we weren't suffering too much, it was decided that we make one last stop at Mukilteo Beach for a round of fish and chips and a bit of beach adventuring. 

^ Thus Day Two ended with still with no mountain hike but fresh air in our lungs, food in our bellies, camera rolls full of beautiful shots, and a dog covered in a curious mixture of swamp mud and beach sand. 

Not a bad day's work.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Day One: The Gulch And A Great Beach

" Let's go on a hike," said my fourth-born. "A proper hike in the Cascade Mountains."

Yes, What a grand and glorious summer bucket list idea. So we brought out the mountain hiking guide books, studied and strategized, and laid in a plan for a thoroughly challenging hike to a mountain lake.

Little did we know the complications that were about to unfold.

Read the full adventure here:

Day One: The Gulch And A Great Beach
Day Two: Potholes, Boardwalks, And Another Beach
Day Three: More Potholes And A Perfect Alpine Lake

* * * * *

Here's my dog, Gracie, prancing through the idyllic blue swells of Puget Sound at Edgewater Beach Park. This no-frills, nothing-but-the-glorious-beach destination is Mukilteo's lesser-known marine playground and for those of us happy with sand, sea, and sky, a perfect destination.

But this is not where I expected to be on this day.

The original plan was to hike in the mountains.

However, real life reared her ugly head and kept us in town till way past noon. Which left no time for a proper mountain hike.

So I proposed to my daughters a local hike up the steep grades of our hometown's own Japanese  Gulch, just a little outing to appreciate our surroundings and whet our appetites for the big-boy hike to come. And maybe also to give our quads some advance notice.

Seemed like the perfect way to spend a sunny August afternoon.

Until we actually got out on the trail. And this is what we found.

A narrow, dusty trail hung on the edge of the ravine. Stairs, railings, and boardwalks groaned as we passed over them, staring at us with broken boards, unseated supports, and missing teeth. Winding quickly uphill through a series of switchbacks, we plodded our way though the familiar sight of second-growth forest. An emerald canopy, to be sure, but nothing that we don't see every day.

Maybe our sights were set a bit higher on that alpine mountain hike we were craving. 
Maybe we are spoiled by hiking on top-quality trails. 
Maybe this just wasn't our day.

But alas, we were sadly unimpressed with Japanese Gulch. 

About a mile in, we decided to backtrack to the beach.

Specifically, to Edgewater Beach Park

Technically located in neighboring Everett, this small beach has been closed to car traffic for the past ten years, and recently reopened. Formerly the home of rusted-out fuel tanks and soon to be the linchpin in Mukilteo's new waterfront development plan, this new kid on the block park was worthy of a visit.

Though we could have hiked a five-minute bee's line from the Japanese Gulch trailhead through the lower part of the forest, we opted to drive a crooked mile down to the beach. And this is what we found. 

A perfect Pacific Northwest city beach, with all the trimmings:

A soft ridge of dunes met us at the parking lot, defining the edge of civilization and the beginnings of the beach.
Lush green grasses grew along the ridge and blew in the winds off the water.
Bleached beach logs, the ghosts of towering trees thrown up on the shore during fierce winter storms, offered us a maze of crosswalks and a series of seats to enjoy.
Suitably walkable small stones underfoot crunched agreeably under our feet as we walked along. 
Happy blue waves rushed up to meet us, and bowed down at the shore as we walked by.
In a word, the beach was heaven.

* * * * *

Gracie seemed to agree.

She pranced up and down the shoreline.

She stepped out chest deep into the waves.

She spotted any number of seagulls taunting her from the waves, and waded in after them just to show them who's boss:

And then my good girl posed for some beauty shots:

^ Ninety eight pounds of you-got-it-girl.

^ I'm smizing. Can you tell?

^ Duck fuzz standing up on the top of my head? My signature look. 

* * * * *

And once we had done all those things, we turned around and did them all again. And again.

And when we humans were good and tired, just a tiny bit sunburned, and ravenously hungry, we coaxed our beach-loving pup out of the water one last time, and headed for home. 

Our plans for a mountain hike had definitely gone awry but we had every confidence that we would soon remedy that.

And so ended Day One.