August 31, 2011

Blog gone weird

Apparently, the new blogger interface has caused my blog to freak out. Hopefully, I'll get it back to looking normal soon.

Update: Yesterday, my blog looked like some kind of odd, abstract painting, with blocks of texts and images lying on top of each other, and most of the text unreadable. I have to admit that it kind of freaked me out to see my blog in pieces, like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz ripped to shreds by flying monkeys. I sent panicky text messages to Scrivener, who logged on and used his mad computer skills to rescue the header that Dr. MMMmmmm designed for me six years ago.

Now that I'm used to it, the new blogger interface is fairly easy to use, so I've been playing around with the new blogger templates. If the colours and shapes keep changing, it's not your imagination. Feel free to chime in with your opinion on what the blog should look like.


Old tree

When we hiked through a rainforest in the Pacific Northwest, I couldn’t help but admire the mosses. Soft green covered every stump, every broken branch. The fantastic shapes of the forest made me feel like I was in a science fiction novel.

Through the rainforest

August 29, 2011

Old mountain inn

After a week of eating mostly hiking food — sandwiches, fruit, anything that could be easily carried — we decided one night to find a restaurant. A teenage girl at the bunkhouse gave us directions to an old inn built close to the winding mountain road.

The wooden-paneled dining room was filled with warm light. The waitress brought us a fresh loaf of homemade bread, which we began devouring even before we ordered our meals. The smell of spaghetti sauce and seafood wafted over from the other tables.

I looked around the room and spoke quietly to my husband. “See that group of eight in the corner? They are different ages and different backgrounds, definitely not related to each other. And it’s pretty clear from their body language that they don’t know each other very well.”

My husband took a glance over his shoulder. “I think they all signed up a weekend hiking expedition. This is their get-to-know-you dinner.”

I glanced at their footwear and nodded in agreement. Then I looked over to the young couple seated by the big mural, who were reaching across the table to hold hands. “How about them? What’s their story?”

My husband smiled. “A romantic comedy, for sure.”

The next day when we came in for breakfast, a group of women were sitting at the table where the hiking group had been.

I looked them over as I ate my potatoes. “The woman with duct tape on her finger is older than I am, but the other women are more like college age.”

“That’s easy,” my husband said. “Wedding party. The woman at the end was just saying something about the color of their dresses. The duct tape woman is the mother of the bride.”

His guess was right. When I began talking to Duct Tape Woman, she said, “I hurt my finger putting up wedding decorations.” She laughed and waggled a finger wrapped in bright purple duct tape. “We didn’t have any band-aids so we had to make due. I think we’re fifty miles from the nearest drugstore.”

“That’s going to look GREAT in the photos,” the young woman next to her teased.

I rooted through my camera bag and pulled out some band-aids. Duct Tape Finger took them gratefully. It turns out that the women had traveled from the northeast for this wedding. The burly man at the next table, who had taken off a leather jacket to reveal detailed tattoos on both arms, turned out to be a local. When the mother of the bride started fretting about ominous clouds, he jumped into the conversation.

“Could change any minute,” he said. “That’s how it is here.”

We’d spent so much time alone all week, hiking and driving and walking on beaches, that the extrovert in me couldn’t resist chatting with pretty much anyone who came in the restaurant. I drank three cups of herbal tea before I was ready to head out the door and start the day.

August 28, 2011

Snow in August

Snow in August

Driving into the mountains of the Pacific Northwest meant driving up winding roads into the clouds. The cool grey mist felt wonderful as we hiked. After the ridiculously hot summer we had at home, it felt a bit surreal to be walking on snow. Some of the trails were still closed from the record amount of snow the mountains got this year.

Sometimes the clouds would shift, and we’d catch a glimpse of the famous glaciers we’d come to see. Other times, the swirling fog kept us in our own private world, able to see only the trail and the trees nearest us.

August 27, 2011

Across the water

Across the water

During our vacation, we traveled almost every day, sometimes into the mountains, and sometimes down along the coast, making a big circle in an attempt to get to cool beaches and scenic hiking trails. My husband had planned the trip, using google maps and online sites.

On the first day of the trip, he glanced at the printout directions and said, “This doesn’t make sense. We’re going less than fifty miles, but it says it’s going to take us hours.”

He looked at the map again. That dotted line that looked like a bridge? Turns out it was a ferry crossing.

So that’s how we began the trip. We waited for about half an hour in a long line of cars, then drove onto a ferryboat. Once we’d parked, we climbed up onto the deck, with a crowd of people who were excitedly clambering for spots at the rail.

From the highest deck, I could see across an expanse of blueness. I looked back to the little town beach, with its rocks and driftwood, and then at the green islands in the distance. Wind came whipping across the deck, bringing the smell of salt and dead fish. Seagulls screeched and swooped down, looking for scraps of food.

The engines purred into action beneath me. The boat moved slowly away from land. I went off to explore, checking out every deck. Two kids on the boat were running from place to place and yelling to each other in excitement. The wind was pretty cold, so most people went inside, but I didn’t want to risk motion sickness. Soon I saw our destination across the water: a little town piled on the side of a hill, with a big dock in front for the ferry. That’s how the vacation began.

August 25, 2011

Close enough to feel the mist

Close enough to feel the mist

The unbearably hot summer we had gave me a new appreciation for waterfalls. We’ve got quite a few lovely waterfalls here in the northeast, but we also spent a lot of time standing in the misty spray of waterfalls when we were vacationing in the northwest.

August 23, 2011



The driftwood we saw was incredible: whole trees, big trees, washed up on shore, bleached by the sun, their roots forming play structures that made me remember what it was like to be a little kid.

August 22, 2011



On our morning walk, we passed an older couple who were strolling along, talking quietly to each other, stopping now and then to admire the patterns the receding surf had left on the wet sand.

Patterns in the sand

August 21, 2011

Sand beneath my toes

Twin rocks

Yes, we took long walks on the beach. Because married life is just like those personal ads. Well, okay, maybe it's not, but on vacation, we get to pretend.

I kept taking pictures of the huge rocks that jutted out of the waves. I loved how dramatic they looked. The other cool thing was the nature of the light on the west coast, so different than what I’m used to on the east coast. I’ve often heard about the sunsets on the Pacific, but what I liked even better was how the early morning light came shining at an angle, turning wet sand everywhere blue, blue, blue.


August 20, 2011

Rock, sand, and ocean waves

Second beach

After hiking for about 20 minutes through mossy trees and big ferns, we noticed that the path was going downhill sharply. “Listen,” my husband said. Above the sound of my own breathing, I could hear the familiar sound of ocean waves.

I’d known we were walking to a beach, so the stretch of sand didn’t surprise me. But I was startled by piles of driftwood we had to climb over just to get to the beach: long logs and whole trees, most too heavy to move. I wished immediately that I was eight, and I had a whole summer of lazy time to build forts on the beach.

The sand was just normal sand, like I’m used to on beaches on the east coast, but beyond the waves were the most incredible rocks. I’m not even sure if I should call them rocks: they were more like tall chunks of cliff that some giant had broken off from the mainland and plunked into the ocean. I’d read that native people in the area had buried ancestors atop some of these rocks, but I can’t imagine how they possibly got the bodies up there.

The only other people on the beach were a group of young people who reminded me of my own kids. They’d set up three tents amidst the driftwood, and they were climbing around on the logs, calling out jokes that made unoriginal use of the word “wood.” Two of them had waded out to the nearest of the cliff islands, and they looked intent on climbing it.

The sand was soft under my feet as I walked out to the cliff island, but the rocks closest to it were covered with barnacles, and I had to search out smooth spots to stand on. The boys clambered up the side of the rock, but they didn’t make it very far. The boy in the white t-shirt climbed to the first ledge and then jumped back down into the water.

He looked at me, grinning. “That hurt like hell. I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone without shoes.”

Up close, the island is bigger

August 18, 2011

Harbor wildlife

Misty morning

In a port town along the coast, my husband and I went out early to walk along the docks and look at the ships anchored in the harbor. As I was scrambling about on the rocks, trying to get a closer look at some harbor seals who were lounging about on the moorings, my husband nudged me. “Look! Right below your feet.”

A raccoon peered up at me. He didn’t seem afraid, but looked at us curiously. Then he picked up a dead fish he was eating and scampered off underneath the rocks.

Harbor wildlife

Lost and gone forever

Lost and gone forever

I’m an obsessive reader, which means when I’m walking through a marina, I walk up and down the docks and read the name of every single boat. Sometime I hate the names: they seem corny or sexist or just plain stupid. But I was charmed by many of the names painted onto the fishing vessels in this small coastal town. I had the song Oh my darling Clementine stuck in my head for the rest of the morning.

August 17, 2011

By the sea

Sacred rock

We’d slept with the windows open, and all night, the waves of the Pacific Ocean crashed and sang in my dreams. Because our bodies were on east coast time, we both woke up at about 5 am, when the sky was still dark. My husband needed to work for a couple of hours before his vacation officially started. Well, mostly, he needed find a place with internet access so that he could watch the stock market crash. He went off to find the one place in the little town where he could get the iPad to work, while I grabbed my camera and put on sandals for an early morning walk.

I went out along a beach that was filled with driftwood: not little pieces of driftwood like we find up at camp, but huge trees, bleached white and too big to move. We were staying on the land of the Quileute people, who have fished here for thousands of years. I walked to their little marina, looking out at the huge rock that towers over the village. Ancestors are buried on that rock, and local legend says that spirits live there still.

I passed the one restaurant, the tribal school, and the community center. Across from the docks were some clapboard houses and some trailers. The last fishing boat was just leaving. A black dog stood in the middle of the road and watched me as I walked past.

The rocks of the breakwater were striped white with bird poop. I clambered around, my sneakers slipping, as I tried to get a good photo. When I gave up and sat still, I saw movement in the water. A harbor seal! He pushed up to look at me, and I noticed four more faces. The seals swam up to the edge of the rock, then disappeared under the water again.

The sky was getting lighter, but the sun was still hidden behind clouds. I watched a boat come into the harbor, a little one moving very slowly. Two men yanked the motor off on the dock and began taking it apart. I heard a car crunch along the gravel road and a car door slam. Then I had that feeling I get when I’m being watched. I looked back behind me and saw a man bent over a tripod. I sat still so as not to ruin his picture: he probably needed a human silhouette to show the size of the rock. When I walked back past him, he smiled and said, “Oh, you’ve found the perfect spot.”

The black dog watched me again as I walked back behind the restaurant and over another breakwater to the beach. The wind had risen so I found a place to sit on the sand, tucked behind the bleached roots of a tree that had floated in during high tide.


August 04, 2011

Gone again

When I was kid, summers lasted forever. After school ended, we had days and days, weeks and weeks, whole long stretches of time to play kickball, pick wildflowers, or just lie on the grass staring at the clouds. Every Tuesday, my mother took us to the library, and I’d stay up late, reading all my books at once because it was summer time, and I didn’t have school the next day. We went camping all the time, too, and those days were filled with swimming, playing, and sitting by the campfire.

“How come summers go by so much faster now?” I complained to Denim Friend one night.

She took my question seriously. “I think it’s because as adults we have too much awareness of time,” she said. “I mean, when you were a kid, you didn’t know it was the beginning of August. You just lived for the moment, enjoyed every August day, and then suddenly, your mother would take you to the store to buy school shoes, and you’d find out that school was starting that week.”

I think she’s right. So I’ve decided not to look at my calendar too closely right now, and I am keeping the fall to-do list off my desk. It is still summer, and I plan to continue enjoying it for another two weeks.

Of course, it helps that I’m heading off for another vacation. My husband and I are leaving a long trip, just the two of us. The gang in the living room — our own four kids plus the extras — will get along fine without us. They’re mostly grown-ups now, busy with research and music and grad classes. Our plan is to pack a few clothes, fly to someplace beautiful, and pretend that we’re teenagers again.

The old sailor

The old sailor

That's my father, sitting on the edge of an island, looking out across the river.

August 02, 2011

Rainy day naked

Naked stretch

We decided to take the photo early, while her kids were still asleep. A steady rain and cool breeze thwarted our plans to frolic naked in her backyard. I walked through the house looking for a blank wall. The spot near the front door seemed perfect. I opened the big door to let in the morning light and moved a bench out of the way.

“Just take off your clothes and do some morning stretches,” I said. I stepped outside onto the front porch and knelt down on her front porch to peer through my camera. “This should work.”

She stripped off her clothes and stood in the doorway. A car rolled by slowly. It was a weekday morning, and her neighbors were going to work.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “Your neighbors are half-asleep. They won’t even notice.”

We’d been up late, talking. It was the first time we’d met in person, even though we’ve been friends online for years. We both turn fifty this year, and that means neither of us are shy when it comes to talking about the body. We discussed, for instance, the way many younger women feel pressured to shave their pubic hair, and we speculated as to whether or not that pressure comes from pornography.

We talked about the way our bodies have changed over time, the way our ideas have changed over time.

We compared geographic differences: we grow up on opposite sides of the country. I’ve often wondered how the landscape itself might impact the way we feel about our bodies. Would living in a warm climate predispose a person to feel more comfortable being naked? Certainly climate and landscape must in some ways impact social norms about nudity.

We’d left on the lights in the kitchen, our cups of tea still on the table. Behind me, rain splattered against the driveway, and I could hear tires humming as another car went past. My friend stretched this way and that, dancing in the morning light, while I snapped a few fast photos, both of us still talking the whole time.

(Readers who want to know the history of the naked photo tradition can check it out here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here. )

August 01, 2011

Yesterday, in the kitchen

Yesterday, in the kitchen

The great thing about living in a rural area is that I don’t have to travel very far to see wildlife.