Stronger Than That

Fall in the Hoh Rainforest

Up in the wilds, where the state of Washington meets the roaring waters of the Pacific, Nature demonstrates her greatest power. Trees, uprooted and tossed like toothpicks, land like daggers impaled in the sand. After a dry summer, a record-setting rain pelts the area, littering branches on the road. We dodge them and the standing water. Near Neah Bay, a rock slide causes us to slow the car.

Here at the end of the world, the farthest northwestern point on the Lower 48, it’s hard to imagine that for centuries the Makah Indians carved out a living here, quite literally, as they hollowed-out cedar trees to make boats for whale hunts. They traversed heady waters in these canoes, bringing food (tasting like cow, one Makah gentleman told me) to the tribe. The Makah were not relocated here by the white man; they lived here all along. Descended from Canada’s natives, the Makah reservation shrank over time with treaties left unfulfilled, but still exists. In Neah Bay, the Makah have a museum which proudly displays artifacts rare in that they were not captured by Europeans, but uncovered during an archeological dig. They are preserving their past and their language.

We are here to hike. We spend Friday on Rialto Beach not far from Forks (yes, Twilight fans, THAT Forks), where we will base for the weekend. We crawl over logs and rocks, colorful as though they, like the leaves, have turned vivid for autumn. The wind is at our backs, blowing rain onto the backside of our clothing, soaking us through. It’s the first rainy weekend of the season, and it feels appropriate. We walk the beach at low tide, our feet sinking into sand. Others pass us on the path, and we are all grinning, enlivened by the rough weather.

A view of the “Hole in the Wall” at Rialto Beach, Washington State

Saturday, we enter the Hoh Rainforest. Our hike there is hushed and reverent among fir, cedar, and western hemlock rising more than 200 feet into the sky. Moss drapes itself around tree limbs, and maples stand out against the evergreens with leaves of yellow and orange. Though nature is less dramatic here than at the Pacific, we pass a cedar that has fallen and blocked the path. Workers saw parts of it into manageable pieces so we can get by, but we are sobered at the thought that at any time, a tree could fall. The trunk will be left to rest here, where it will shelter new seedlings for new trees.

At the bottom of the collonade of trees, still visible is the tree that, once upon a time, they grew upon as seedlings.

Sunday, we head to Neah Bay and the trail to Cape Flattery. We watch as water smashes against rock, polishing it and carving new patterns and holes. Yet sea lions and birds play on and in the water as though it was a peaceful pool.

We all live in life’s waters that sometimes batter us and take us to places we don’t want to go. We get up and do it all again, day after day, and before we know it, fifteen years have passed. Fifteen years since the day that nature’s forces battered me, too, separating me from my daughter, taking her from my arms before I’d even had a chance to get to know her. Fifteen years later, my heart still breaks, and yet I am frolicking, too. In the presence of nature raw and moody, I am alive. I am still here. I am seeing the great beauty of this world.

We humans have a capacity for resilience. No matter how mighty and intimidating and anguish-provoking nature can be, we who survive are stronger than that. I write about the death of a child today not for pity or even comfort, but to stand in strength. She gave me that. Nature gave me that.

On October 14th every year, I feel the sadness, yes, and all the grief all over again. Yet the Makah survive and flourish despite the white man’s intervention in their lives. Nature knocks down an ancient tree, but new trees form, perhaps in a beautiful collonade. And the course of my own life changed for the better because I had a daughter to love and to be with me, even though our time together wasn’t nearly long enough for me. We can withstand winds and rain and pain, more than we know. We are stronger than that.

Cape Flattery, the most northwest point of Washington State.


Take a Hike!

I’ve been lucky enough to see some of the world’s greatest art, and I have crawled around some of the most ancient ruins that humans have located. At some point I always say, “I don’t need to see any more.” But I never get tired of looking at mountains!

In the summertime, eager tourists visit the Olympic Peninsula to enjoy her many and varied terrains. From the Hoh Rainforest of the west to sunny Sequim, there’s plenty to see and do. Festivals abound in the summer, and campgrounds fill.

When the tourists go home, though, locals take advantage of hiking opportunities. A nip in the air makes for perfect hiking weather. Though the best of the wildflowers have gone for the year, the leaves are starting to change color. If you’re lucky, you can catch a glimpse of marmots playing, enjoying sunshine, or just waddling around before they start to hibernate later this month.

We moved here in part because of our love for hiking, but other activities have kept us busy. Then, at a recent auction to raise money for the Jefferson Land Trust, which helps preserve farmland and wilderness in the area, we signed up for a guided hike that took us to the Elwha River, the site of the largest river restoration project in the world. The Elwha Dam has been removed, and removal of the Glines Canyon Dam is forthcoming. Restoration is a slow, careful process so that the salmon can return safely.

Later, we hiked at Hurricane Ridge. Hubby and I tried to hike it in June, but the summit was still covered in snow. On this day, however, we had glorious views, as you’ll see below.

This area is just about 1.5 hours from where we live. To think, we used to get on airplanes to go see this scenery, and now we don’t have to!

Have a hiking spot you want to share? I’d love to hear it!

When we lived in Houston, we never saw fall color, so we’re giddy as we watch the leaves start to turn.
Here’s the site of the former Elwha River Dam. Protective matting has been laid and native plants are being installed to prevent invasive species from rushing in.

One of the many magnificent views in Olympic National Park

The Olympic Mountains capture the rain, creating a “rain shadow” effect that keeps us much drier than other parts of Washington State.

Up In The Air

The geeky life doesn’t get any better than this. As I write this I am up in the air, en route from Detroit to Newark and the second leg of a family visit. The flight we were supposed to take was overbooked, so we accepted vouchers to take a later flight. Now I’m feeling flush and happy to spend the $4.95 for the on-flight Internet service. This is so cool!

We spent the past several days in Peoria, Illinois, where we had a great visit with my parents. Now we’re headed to New York to visit Henry’s daughter, Sarah. I’ll be delivering Fluffy the Bear — for those of you who’ve been with me for a while, you remember that story. At long last, Fluffy and Sarah are going to be reunited, along with a special surprise that I’ll be revealing to her tomorrow, and I’ll share more on that soon. Best not talk about it here. She might actually read this.

I’ve taken my knitting with me, which came in handy on and between flights. Yes, that knitting. As you may recall, I recently started knitting again after a few decades off. Knitting is relaxing, right?

Um, no, not so much.

My determination, ambition, and enthusiasm are exceeded by just one thing: a meager skill level. It’s been a looonnnggg time, and I’m having a lot of trouble remembering anything beyond knit and purl.

As I learned quickly that I was in over my head (why didn’t I start with something simple, like a scarf? Don’t know. I always overcomplicate my creative life), I bought some knitting books to help me. Stitch ‘n’ Bitch by Debbie Stoller has become my knitting bible, reminding me about things like “yarn over” and “knit two together.” Okay, I tell myself. I can do this.

I have also discovered the genius of YouTube. There’s a video for everything, way beyond all the cute kittens! All I have to do is to go to YouTube and type in the mysterious, esoteric abbreviations that appear on a knitting pattern. PSSO? SSK? SL? They’re all there with little samples to show me what my work should look like, all with soothing female voices providing comfort and reassurance.

Turns out from watching these videos, though, that I learned to make stitches in reverse — probably a left-handed thing — so I still have to adapt some of the instructions a little to accommodate my quirks. Yes, not only did I start out with an overcomplicated project, but I also overcomplicate it with my personal style.

Of course, all the guidance in the world doesn’t help when I don’t read the instructions. Well, I did, repeatedly, but for some reason my eyes managed to miss some essential information, as often happens when I try to follow directions (I generally just wing it, which used to drive my previous husband crazy). Seems kind of strange coming from someone who wrote several procedure manuals on her day job, but that’s how it goes.

In this case, I totally ignored an instruction that required an additional 70 rows or so.

Here’s the thing. The skirt has ruffles. There’s an underskirt that’s supposed to go the whole length of the skirt, and then I pick up purl rows to add the ruffles. It’s really cute! At least it could be, in the hands of someone with a bit more skill.

I had already ripped and re-ripped the bottom ruffle multiple times. I finally understood the pattern, only to realize that I had to take it out all over again to add the missing rows. Does it matter? Yeah, this was one mistake I couldn’t cover up. The area meant to be the bottom skirt ruffle was going to end up, well, more at my bottom. I could get arrested wearing a skirt that short. It’s also rather chilly and windy on the Olympic Peninsula, so a micro mini doesn’t fit the weather pattern. But I am nothing if not persistent — years as a struggling writer have taught me that much.

After working and reworking the skirt, I am finally back on track. All of this doing and re-doing has given me quite an education, and all of a sudden I feel back in a groove again. My fingers have found a rhythm, and my hands their memory.

This is not to say that there aren’t any mistakes left in the skirt. I’m happy to report, though, that none of them will be visible. Just stay the hell away from my waistband. You don’t need to be looking there anyway!

A Whale of a Tale

Our cruise ship for the afternoon. If you were a Gilligan’s Island character, who would you be?

On Saturday we took a three-hour cruise (cue music from “Gilligan’s Island”) to Protection Island, a small island that gained government protection under *gasp* President Reagan. Protection Island gets little rainfall, so it has a desert-y look to it, but birds flock to it. We are not allowed on the island itself, but the boat parked about 200 yards offshore so we could enjoy looking at eagles, brants, and other delightful creatures. Seals lolled around in the sun at one end of the island.

We were having a merry time, meeting other people who were excited about seeing the birds. Hubby and I had our favorite bird book, Birds of the Puget Sound Region, to help us, and we also had a naturalist on board to give us history of the island and its furry inhabitants.

However, as in the rest of life, sometimes detours happen. This detour happened to be of the more pleasant variety. Our captain had learned of an orca sighting, and before we knew it, we left the birds behind and cruised over to find them! There we saw several, males, females, and young, frolicking in the water. Later that day, when we returned home, we actually had a view of some orcas from our window as well! These magnificent creatures never fail to inspire and delight.

Check out those feet!

In our move here, we have had a number of surprises such as these, and we are being kept in a perpetual state of astonishment. When we decided to move here, we saw it was a cute town with a lot going for it, but we had no idea.

Protection Island is a desolate-looking place, but the birds love it!

Of course, all this nature made me think about life in general. Not all surprises work out well. Sometimes we have disappointments. But there is something magical in taking a leap of faith. At the very least, we get to see some pretty birds, and maybe some seals. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we get orcas!

Thanks to hubby, by the way, for providing the animal shots shown here today.

Time to get some sun!

Up close and personal.


The main event!