Long, long ago, when I was just recently back from a fantastic week on the island of Corsica, I wrote a book in which I blew up big sections of Paris and Corsica. At the time, there were several groups fighting for the independence of Corsica; perhaps they still are–it seemed rather entrenched. I finished the book just before September 11, 2001. Somehow, it didn’t seem appropriate to do anything with it just then, so I put it away. And now, almost a quarter of a century later, I dug it up.
The link to it is below. If you read nothing else, try chapter 7. I like it best. And chapter 1. The rest kind of … sucks. By the end of retyping it (since 22 years ago I didn’t save it on a disk), I was inserting sarcastic comments, making fun of my own writing: [Oooh, magic! She pulled out a gun she’d left at home! Now it’s a fantasy book!] or [How could she come in? There were two big people blocking the doorway? Ah, must be more magic!]
Also my characters don’t grow or change, they just sort of lump along like day-old doughnuts, pulled by unseen forces until they have a bad idea and then they do something stupid. I’m almost embarrassed to put it out here, but the upside is I’ve gained two inches of space on my bookshelf.
Anyway, here’s the link to the whole thing, rather than chapter by chapter. Read it or not. Read it and make sarcastic comments and send them to me. We might as well get some humor out of it now! It’s in both Microsoft Word and a pdf (the pdf loads faster, at least on my laptop).
Let’s sail to the Bahamas, we said, or maybe the Dry Tortugas. At least as far as the Florida Keys. Those were, however, just dreams. Southerly winds had kept us on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) for all but one day of our trip by the time we got to Fort Lauderdale, just 45 miles from the beginning of the Keys. And that’s where we gave up.
There were two major reasons. The first was that the ICW bascule bridges (also called drawbridges, but on the water they’re divided into single and double bascule, depending on the width and/or engineering) and are not timed for sailboats. The bridges open at certain times, say on the hour and half hour. As an example, when we pass through one bridge, we have 30 minutes to get to the next one—which would be fine if we could go 6 mph. But we can’t, unless we have a strong wind and are not in the narrow ICW. Either it’s not possible, or we just don’t yet have the skill for sailing it—even assuming the wind was coming from the right direction. So we end up getting to the next bridge at 35 past the hour, meaning we have to hover in place for 25 minutes. Staying stationary is difficult in a sailboat, as the boat is at the mercy of the tides, the current, and the winds. And it is even more difficult to control when many, many powerboats at high speed tend to wake us, making helm management even that much harder.
And that’s the second reason: the powerboats. The wake they set up, one right after another, is stressful. One large wake can send us crashing into something—a post, another boat, a paddleboarder—on the other side. And there are hundreds of those boats traveling up and down the ICW at high speed, some of them with four 450-hp engines. (Our 37’ boat, by comparison, has one 40-hp engine from 1979.) Elliott is much better at handling the boat in those sorts of situations than I am.
Between Fort Lauderdale and the Keys are many more bascule bridges, which limit how far we can go in a day when the timing doesn’t work out. So we considered going “outside”—on the ocean. But that would require wind from the right direction, which wasn’t forecast for close to a week, meaning we’d have to sit still in Fort Lauderdale for six or seven days. Ugh. The nearest dingy dock where we could go ashore was about two miles away, which was too far for us. We were anchored in Sunrise Bay, right off the ICW, and that spot is a favorite for day trippers—people who would come out, party with loud music, and then leave at sunset, making it noisy and full of those powerboats with their massive wakes, threatening to unseat our anchor. At least, that’s what I was afraid of; Elliott was more confident of the anchor. I am, apparently, a Nervous Nelly (Anxious Annie?) sailor.
Between one thing and another, we decided to head north, back to Dallas Bluff eventually. So, in order to avoid the powerboats and the bridges, we decided to go on the outside as far as we could. The wind was from the right direction, the wave period was 5 seconds, and the seas were forecast to be 2 to 4 feet, which to us newbies sounded doable. We passed through the Port Everglades inlet (past a half dozen giant cruise ships) and started north–into a washing machine of waves and wind. Tossed back and forth, up and down, side to side—it wasn’t long before I was starting to get seasick—and unable to do anything but keep my head over the edge of the boat. Knowing there was no way we could keep that up for two days, poor Elliott was left to handle the helm for nearly three hours straight in rough seas back to Sunrise Bay. We were both shaken up by the trip. If anything had happened to him, we would have been adrift, wandering who knows where. Experienced sailors would know that wave height is only part of the picture; now we know that too!
The next morning, the seas were said to be 1-2 feet with a 7-second period. That sounded better, so with some trepidation we set out again. And oh, what a difference! About 90 minutes in, with our sails up, we turned off the engine. Days like that are what sailing should be. Quiet, moving along at 6 knots in the right direction, we figured we’d be back in Georgia’s waters in about two and a half days.
Knowing one of us would be at the helm all night long, we took advance naps. Around noon, half asleep, I heard the radio squawk: “Seatow, calling sailing vessel Kathryn”—and came wide awake. Seatow or Boat US is who you call when you need help. What was going on that Elliott needed Seatow? Turned out it was a wrong number—Elliott had been calling a tug, the mv East Coast, that was directly in our path and towing a large rusty container ship. Seatow has misheard the call and assumed we were calling for help. Whew! Elliott went down for a nap shortly later, and we had a thoroughly exhilarating sail through the evening. He pulled the first shift, from 8 pm to midnight, so I went down to sleep, though with an earlier nap, it was hard to fall asleep before 9. I awoke at 11 p.m., ready to help out and make coffee—but it wasn’t long before the night just deteriorated into a (for me) living hell.
First, the preventer broke. In essence, a preventer keeps the boom from slapping from one side of the boat to the other, preventing an accidental jibe. The boom began swinging wildly, as we realized it had also broken the boom vang, which keeps the boom from going up and down too far. So now the boom is swinging every which way, and anyone going forward risked getting hit in the head by a gyrating boom. Elliott rigged a temporary preventer, and since he’d had no sleep, went down to take a two-hour nap. As soon as he went to sleep, our autopilot controller stopped working, which meant I would have to hand steer the boat—at the same time the wind picked up. I managed to hand-steer for about 90 minutes when I didn’t think I could keep going, so I yelled for Elliott. At that point, we decided it would be best to motor, so we attempted to take down our mainsail and furl in the genoa (the forward-most sail). Alas, the genoa line was snarled somehow and because it’s such a massive sail, we couldn’t put the boat “in irons”—directly into the wind—and therefore couldn’t get the mainsail down. So we let the sheets (ropes) on the genoa loose, causing it to flap all over, and finally got the mainsail down. Elliott went forward (life vest and jack lines secured to the boat just in case—while I practiced my “Man Overboard” call to the Coast Guard. I think he spent nearly two hours at the bow, between one thing and another, going up and down, left and right, but eventually he got it all working. Somewhere in there our new Vesper radio stopped transmitting so we had to switch to our backup radio. While all this was going on, we were making 1.6 knots instead of our planned 4 knots, and many of those miles were heading off in the general direction of Greenland. So much for our plans of getting all the way back to Georgia.
Also, I wanted bioluminescence, starlight, and a beautiful sunrise/sunset at sea. Alas, there were clouds and no bioluminescence at all. Or if there was, I was too focused on the compass to see it. So much for those romantic notions!
By 10 a.m., Elliott had the preventer fixed, the boom vang reattached, the autopilot working, but the Vesper radio was beyond help (even though it was only 14 months old. Addendum: and about to be replaced under warranty). And I was getting…nonresponsive from lack of sleep. My brain was going “Oh, look at the pretty numbers on the compass! Oh wait, I’m supposed to steer by them… Shit.”
A word about how differently Elliott and I reacted to this stressful event. I think Elliott found it much more satisfying than I did. He’d see a problem, and then go solve it. Never mind he hadn’t had sleep, it was important to do that task, whatever it was. And he was up for the challenge. For me, it was, “I’ll think better when I have some sleep. Just let me nod off for half an hour, then I’ll be good again…for a while.” As I think about it, I’ve had very little prolonged stress in my life…short bursts here and there (exams, health events, normal stuff), but overall I’m pretty much in control and stress/drama free. Out there on the ocean, there is no control—at least for the non-mechanical among us. All I wanted was sleep, and that for perhaps 18 hours, or possibly 36.
We shortened our route and motored instead for the Port Canaveral channel. This was drama of a different sort, but at least it was daylight. The trip up the channel was rolly, windy, and required dashing across the channel in front of a Carnival cruise ship. By 3 p.m., we were tied up at a boat slip. We took showers (first time in 10 days—oh, the pungent life of a sailor!), and fell asleep.
As an addendum, the trip up the Canaveral Canal and through its lock the next morning were fantastic. We saw a bald eagle, a couple of roseate spoonbills, and flying fish. It was a slow motor to our next destination, Titusville, and that’s just what we needed. We’ve been at Titusville Marina for a couple days now, and the perils of the night seem far away. I’m not sure I ever want to do an overnight again, but then, in the middle of that night, I didn’t even want to sail again.
It seems the highs are really high on a sailboat, the lows are really low. Kind of like a roller-coaster. Personally, I’ve always liked the carousel better.
2020 is not my year. I realize it’s really not anybody’s favorite year, except maybe the makers of N95 masks. But as far as my life goes, this year really sucks. I had 68 really great years so I shouldn’t be complaining. Many people—my own parents included—don’t make it that far, healthy or not.
Let me sum up.
In March I had abdominal pain which led to surgery for a 14-cm kidney cyst removal in April. I have scars from belly button to around my side. It meant no running for a while—hell, I couldn’t do a single sit-up for weeks. I admit to much greater empathy for anyone undergoing major surgery now. Said cyst might have been prenatal and simply not bothered me till it got so big it started squeezing other bits of me out of the way. I don’t know how many stitches there were on the inside, but there were a heck of a lot of staples on the outside. (Normal kidney cysts, by the way, are 5-10 mm.) I’m released from care now and all is well on that front.
Or it was till June 13 when I started running again. And then fell. So now I have memory loss—I still don’t know where it happened or how I got back to the condo in Charlotte. Thankfully, a friend was there to make sure I didn’t do anything really stupid, like ordering 100 pairs of my favorite running shoes on a shopping binge. Which is just as well because now I’m walking and of course running shoes aren’t suitable for walking long distances.
Then along came August. I went for medical checkups not suspecting anything at all was wrong. But it turns out I have polyps in unmentionable places—wait, I’m a grown-up, I can say it—anal polyps, that have to be surgically removed because they’re painfully close to nerves in said unmentionable places. Painful being the operative word. Surgery—painful, embarrassing, and most definitely necessary—is scheduled for right smack in the middle of when we intended to be moving from one house to another, two states away. I’m confused—is that a good thing or a bad thing? “Honey, I can’t lift this box of tissues. Can you get it for me?” is sort of a good thing. “Honey, I can’t poop. Help!” is not so good.
The next day I found out I’m 1.5 inches shorter than I used to be. I was in denial—how can I be that much shorter and not notice? I mean, I don’t go around kissing Elliott that often anymore, but surely I would have noticed if I’d bussed his chin instead. But no. I can only conclude he’s 1.5 inches shorter as well. Alas, I have osteoporosis. I’m not believing it until I stand next to my daughter, who was excited some years ago when she magically ended up a slight bit taller than I. But with covid-19, it might be a while before I can check that one out. Also, because of said kidney issues (see above), I need to see an endocrinologist to make sure I get the right medicine for the osteoporosis. Sigh.
And today I found out I have melanoma. Granted, it was caught early—I do go for yearly skin checkups. And I get points because I’m the one who called attention to it. But it’s on my arm, and there will be surgery involved. And stitches, more stitches. Soon, I’ll be looking like FrankenAnn. How did I go from 68 years with no stitches to a gazillion stitches in one year?
I eat healthy—mostly vegetarian, but occasional steak and BBQ lapses. I exercise regularly and I’m training for my sixteenth marathon. I don’t smoke, and I don’t drink to excess. Usually.
I’m kind of afraid to go to another doctor this year.
A long time ago (in a galaxy far away), when I was still living in Michigan with six younger siblings, once in a while my father would insist on a poetry night. Each one of us kids would have to recite a poem before dinner, and the younger you were the easier it was. The flip side of that was, I always had the hardest. Usually I would choose something flippant, like The Spider and the Fly. But the last one I remember doing was Oliver Wendell Holmes’s The Last Leaf on the Tree. For some reason, it seems appropriate now. I think my brain is the last leaf on my body’s tree, I guess. Of course, if that’s not true, I’d probably be the last to know.
The Last Leaf
By Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.
I saw him once before,
As he passed by the door,
The pavement stones resound,
As he totters o’er the ground
With his cane.
They say that in his prime,
Ere the pruning-knife of Time
Cut him down,
Not a better man was found
By the Crier on his round
Through the town.
But now he walks the streets,
And looks at all he meets
Sad and wan,
And he shakes his feeble head,
That it seems as if he said,
“They are gone.”
The mossy marbles rest
On the lips that he has prest
In their bloom,
And the names he loved to hear
Have been carved for many a year
On the tomb.
My grandmamma has said—
Poor old lady, she is dead
That he had a Roman nose,
And his cheek was like a rose
In the snow;
But now his nose is thin,
And it rests upon his chin
Like a staff,
And a crook is in his back,
And a melancholy crack
In his laugh.
I know it is a sin
For me to sit and grin
At him here;
But the old three-cornered hat,
And the breeches, and all that,
Are so queer!
And if I should live to be
The last leaf upon the tree
In the spring,
Let them smile, as I do now,
At the old forsaken bough
Where I cling.
I think I must be feeling a bit self-centered today, so excuse this mess. Somehow, it helps to put this all out there, knowing there’s only a half-dozen people (if that) who read our blog anymore.
Maybe my lesson in all this is “Empathy.” Having been blessed with good health for so long, I tended to lose patience with those who focused on their own health, even if I never (I hope) showed it. So if you’re losing patience with me today, I totally understand. I’ll get over this. It’s just a bit much today.
And as Seth Myers says in closing, “Stay safe. Wash your hands. Wear your mask. We love you.”
As I write this, we are 11 days from leaving Orcas Island. The time has flown by, and we still have a lot to do before we leave. Primary among those items is the decision on how to dispose of the RV if we don’t sell it between now and then. (Day before yesterday, we listed it on Craigslist and posted notices on bulletin boards all over the island.)
We know we can store it here for a reasonable fee, but then what do we do? Try to sell it from afar? Come back and retrieve it? In many ways, selling it before we go makes a lot of sense because that would tie up loose ends, but even then, in my daydreams, I’m trying to find ways to come back to the island. (Family reunion? Retirement? This has been an awesome–in the best sense of the word, full of awe–experience.)
Orcas Island is a phenomenal place. The people–undoubtedly tired of the 800,000 tourists who come traipsing through here each year–have been uniformly gracious and friendly. The scenery–no matter where you look– is spectacular. The lifestyle is thoughtful and mindful, rather than the mindless rushing about of regular life. Crime is almost nonexistent. The arts flourish here. There are no chain stores (well, I did see a NAPA Auto Parts) and, compared to most of our lives, that is no drawback at all.
Stationed up here on top of the mountain, the weather is a little cooler and wetter than I’d like–but I hear it’s warmer and sunnier down at the bottom, so maybe that’s not as much of a drawback as it seems. (We’re looking at five days of cold and rain coming up–naturally, on our days off when we’d like to get things done.) I’d like to do more running–flat, road running, not this trail running nonsense that eats up my knees, both inside and outside–and I’ve seen several gravel paths running through and near town.
I feel a sense of community with this place. I don’t know how well it would stand up to day-in, day-out, year-round living, but I sense it would be abundantly pleasant. Even allowing for the “grass is always greener” effect, it’s far better than the mindless existence so many of us settle for.
But I am only one half of a couple, and it takes two to make things work. I think Elliott agrees with me on much of the above, but perhaps not enough to drop everything and move. And moving might destroy the dream. There are tough decisions to make. What I’d like to do is grab all the people I care about and move them here with me too–but that daydream is unrealistic.
Home is where the heart is, and part of my heart will always be here on the island, no matter where I’m living.
Seven Lessons I’ve learned by living in a small space (95 square feet, more or less) for two months (so far) with my husband:
There’s only one cook in the kitchen. Literally. The kitchen blocks both the door to the RV (the big door) and the door to the bathroom, so timing is important, sometmes even imperative. If I need to continuously stir something, communication is important. “Little door, coming through” is a cry you don’t need to hear while your hands are busy in the kitchen, the phone is crocked under your ear, and your nose has started to drip.
A comfortable bed is essential. Ours is a little too hard for me, just right for Elliott, but I’m growing accustomed to it. What’s harder is that I’m used to a king size bed, and I sprawl. Right now, I’m too leery of getting comfortable because if I shove Elliott too far, well, there’s a five-foot drop on the other side of the bed. Despite his snoring in my ear (earplugs don’t seem to work as well at a six-inch range), I really don’t want him to fall out of bed. Till he starts snoring, anyway.
Warmth is also necessary. Maybe someday I’ll get used to cold, but in the meantime, I–the nonmechanical one–have had to learn how to turn on the propane gas, the gas heater, the water heater, and the oven. And they all operate differently. I’m still scared of the water heater, but the others I’ve mastered. I suppose it’s an important skill, should I ever be deserted in the cold isolation of a rural area in an RV I have no intention of driving all by myself. Also, we’ve used up our first tank of propane and will need to get more, which entails driving down hairpin curves on a narrow mountain road because the delivery trucks don’t come this far. I would suck at boondocking.
The world does not end if I don’t shower every day or if I wear the same clothes (more or less) three days running. Unless I go running, in which case (men sweat, women glow), I’m lighting up a five-square-mile area at high noon. But trail running isn’t happening here (not with scraped knees and bruised ribs from my last attempt), so the world is safe from my armpits for a few days more.
Headphones are essential. I like to read–okay, I love to read–but reading while listening to the latest sample of Audible’s Daily Deal at high volume is not conducive to comprehension. Hence, earbuds, headphones, or some other way of muting the noises coming from Elliott’s devices. I’m sure he doesn’t want to listen to my Barry Manilow anymore either.
Stir crazy is directly related to sunshine, and television doesn’t help. We’ll ignore the fact that there is not much on television worth watching (I made Elliott watch Shirley Temple’s Heidi yesterday) and not everything on the Internet is worth perusing, and jump right into the fact that staring at each other over our respective computers after many hours does not lead to endearing looks of everlasting love. More like, “It’s raining and cold out there. I’m bored,” sounding much like small children in need of entertainment. I used to tell my kids, “I’m not here to be your entertainment system. Boredom comes from within.” The words have come back to haunt me.
I don’t need whatI thought I did. I need fewer t-shirts but maybe more sweatshirts, given the recent cold weather. I miss my sewing machine and I miss kitchen storage, but beyond that, pffffft. But what I haven’t spent on kitchen supplies, I’ve probably spent on kindle books. I certainly don’t miss cleaning a big house, my garden (that’s a surprise, really), or mowing the lawn. You win some, you lose some.
We won this one. We’re comfortable with each other–and each other’s foibles. You can’t hide much in 95 square feet.
Would I be a volunteer host again? You betcha, and for a whole lot of reasons:
Elliott and I have learned to live in a smaller space, with all of our essentials. Do we need 3,000 square feet? Certainly not. Can we live in 95 square feet indefinitely? Um, no. Among other things, a somewhat larger shower would be nice, as would room for my sewing machine. And having room in the fridge for more than one chilled bottle of wine would be great, though not necessary. Elliott probably misses his computer tinkerings and all of its assorted pieces of equipment. If I were to do this full-time, I’d need two desks: one for my computer and one for my sewing machine. And yes, I like my creature comforts–though fewer of them than I had thought I needed.
Living isolated has taught us that it’s up to us to get out and move. I can’t rely on my running buddies (though I definitely miss them) to motivate me to run. I miss running–correction, I miss having run–and I’m not sure enough of my footing to go trail running. Hiking is a good alternative, and the uphills keep me huffing and puffing. I still need to make myself go out and hike–the lure of vegging out in front of the computer is strong–but the self-discipline is good. (I think I was a sloth in a previous life. In a warm climate. With plentiful food supply.)
It feels good to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. (This might be the royal we, as I haven’t really talked about this with Elliott.) Knowing that I can make a difference in every park visitor’s experience is motivation to keep that smile on my face, that “we’re glad you’re here” in my voice. (Though I will admit that’s not always true. There are those rare people who talk down to me as if I were a second-class peon whose only purpose is to fulfill their every park desire. See the vest? It says “volunteer,” not “walk all over me.”) Even picking up litter means that I’m making this bit of the world a little bit better.
Getting to know a park really well–and the other park volunteers–is rewarding. When someone asks me, “What’s this trail like?” I can reply with personal knowledge and maybe make their visit a little bit rewarding too. As a day-tripper, I could appreciate the scenery from an egotistical point of view (“I like this,” “I find this beautiful,” “I saw an eagle,” etc.) but I couldn’t share a lot about the park itself. Now I can. (And yes, that’s a do-loop of an egotistical point of view as well. I think it’s impossible to escape our ego, but not impossible to let it rule us.)
And speaking of ego, working in a not-very-well-funded state park means a lot of our focus is on making the park better, and not on ourselves, our experiences, our self-entitled worlds. Everyone here works to make the park a better place. It means some days I find myself plugging mouse holes with 2” circles of wood and a bit of glue, and other days I’m painting ceilings in the bathroom. It means combining Elliott’s trip into town with a stop at the shop to drill holes in the new “welcome, visitors” signs advertising free coffee and tea.
I’m thinking this has opened up a whole new world for us, one that I hope we’ll repeat. I’m not sure I’m ready to give up the sticks-and-bricks home that we’ve built–not yet, anyway–but it has definitely expanded our world.
While Elliott and fellow volunteer Darlene were off consuming oysters yesterday (fresh, briny little buggers that he reports were delicious), I set off on a hike that was partly already-traversed territory (Summit to Twin Lakes and Cold Springs) and partly new (North Arch area).
Despite being on a 57-square-mile island, the only long-range views of this loop were at the end of the hike. The ripples and currents in the water called for yet one more photo of an ever-changing landscape. These are the views that make you feel like a tiny speck of dust in a giant windstorm, a single mindless drop in an ocean of the same.
The rest of the hike was what I had expected when we decided to head to the Northwest: old trees, mossy landscapes, narrow paths. These views are the more close-in ones, the ones where you are just yet one more example of a
vast landscape of beings and plants. As my hikes get further out from the tourist centers (the lakes, the tower), I encounter fewer people and more mysteries.
Mysteries like the circle of stones with a stone cross bisecting the
circle. Who put these rocks here? Why? When? And mysteries of the two burned trees about ten feet apart–but nothing else had burned near them. [A digression: Some native pine trees require burning to propagate. Unfortunately, controlled burns are discouraged here, for various reasons: There are old growth stands it would be a shame to lose. Some of the second-growth trees are some 150-200 feet tall, and fire would spread uphill rapidly. Fire breaks would be near impossible to create. Rather than even attempt a controlled burn, apparently the state legislature at some time in the past redefined “old growth” to include younger trees, thereby making it politically (environmentally, economically, legally) difficult to get public support for such an attempt. I wonder if it would be possible to select a few trees, cut them off at some lower defined height, station a dozen or so people with fire extinguishers around, and burn the stumps, giving Mother Nature its necessary burn but preserving the trees around them. Maybe? Who knows–not me.]
Part of this hike borders a 23-acre square “hole” in the middle of Moran State Park that is the site of a private antenna farm visible for miles around the area, from Vancouver in the north to the Olympic range in the south (including Mount Rainier). Signs on the trail warn you when you are leaving the park, discouraging unwanted visitors. Deer, however, have no compunction about disregarding the signs, and I spotted one drinking from a pond that was probably just inside the restricted area.
One of the reasons for these hikes is to stay in running shape. I’m not sure it’s working–I’m averaging about 30-minute miles, but I am getting aerobic workouts. Guess I’ll just have to wait and see how I do when I get back to the flatlands.
And a humorous addendum for all of you patient readers who have made it this far:
If I fart in the wilderness, does it make a sound?
Assuredly, yes. Mine must be like bull moose mating calls or something. I stop and listen to birdsong, squirrel noises, and leaves rustling, assuring myself I’m the only one there. But inevitably, as soon as I let loose, someone appears. Yesterday it was a trail runner coming from the switchback path above me. The hike before that, it was at a trail intersection I hadn’t known was there until I reached it–and saw the group of hikers silently parading by not fifteen feet from where I was–silently being the operative word, and which I was definitely not. Deadly is still under debate.
This is extremely embarrassing. I know part of it is due to a healthy (as in lots of beans and rice) diet, some is lactose intolerance, some is age, and some is, well, a lack of muscle control. Being new to this extravagant abundance of gas means that I’ve never figured out how to time such things or how to postpone them. They just happen.
But there is a plus side: If ever I fall off a cliff while hiking in Moran State Park, one toot and someone will arrive to summon the EMTs.
Three days a week–Tuesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays–it is my responsibility to pick up litter in the day use area down by Cascade Lake. This is a recent addition to my duties because two of the volunteer hosts had to leave for medical reasons, and so the remaining volunteers have divvied up all their tasks. Since I have to start my day at the gift shop on Tuesdays and at the learning center on Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m., that means I have to get down to Cascade Lake and back up here before that time–and it’s 4.3 or so miles each way, and normally takes four hours just to hike.
I could easily drive to the bottom–but we’re in a borrowed car and are trying not to kill its transmission by going up and down the steep road more often than once a week or so. So I’ve started hitching a ride with the ranger or park aide opening up here at 6:30 a.m., do my litter-picker-upper job, and hike back uphill via the Cold Springs Trail.
Yesterday, Elliott went with me–and since I didn’t have to work in the gift shop, we had all day to hike. We stopped on the way down at a couple of abandoned mine shafts, where someone had gruesomely placed a rabbit skull (Deer? Human?) on a stick at the entrance. Elliott bravely followed the shaft until it split in three directions and then opted to return to me, waiting at the entrance and ready to flee at any moment for help, life, or backup (depending on what he found). Near the bottom we also found what has to be one of the largest trees in the park, though the majority of them are to be found near Mount Pickett–a hike for a different day.
It takes about an hour to pick up litter at the beach, the parking lots, and the picnic areas. Although most people are considerate and dispose of their trash, there are sometimes those who simply leave their tables littered with used cups, paper plates, paper ice cream dishes, the remains of a dozen or so crabs, and so forth. Grrrr! Cigarette butts abound in the parking lot, presumably where someone waited for errant family members to arrive. The worst litter is the fruit sticker, since it gloms itself on to pavement, tables, grass, etc. Many people do stop me and thank me, and it does feel good to leave the area looking much better, so I guess I won’t complain too much about the few.
After dumping the litter in trash cans, we took the Cascade Loop trail to Cascade Falls, where there are actually four waterfalls: Rustic, Cavern, Cascade, and Hidden Falls, all found within about a half-mile of the trail. Cascade Falls is the tallest, at over 40 feet, and the highest in the San Juan Islands. During the course of our hike to Mountain Lake, the path followed the stream–and we found several other, unnamed but equally enchanting, waterfalls. We also found trail riders and a banana slug.
At that point, nearly nine miles into our hike, we called it quits and hitched a ride to the top with Gary, one of the park employees. Facing the last five miles–most of them a steep incline–on a by-now empty stomach was more than we could bear. Still, we’re well on our way to covering all 38 miles of hiking trails in Moran State Park.
Length: 9.17 miles. Time: 4 hours plus the time it takes to devour one dish of sorbet
Elliott and I completed the descent along Moran State Park’s Little Summit Trail from Mount Constitution to Cold Springs a couple of days ago, and it was by far the easiest (so far) of our hikes. It’s a mile and a half from the summit to the Cold Springs picnic area, where explorers can find a spring next to an old well.
There’s not much to see at Cold Springs–well, other than, you know, your typical enchanted green forest, mossy hillsides, and Mother Nature at her finest. There’s also a bat project there that Elliott’s been tangentially involved with. The area comes alive once people leave (or stop talking), with birds be-bopping around, squirrels chittering, and presumably bats doing their sonar thing.
The next hike, a day or so later, I followed that same path but continued on downhill past Cold Springs, where the trail begins a
steep descent switchbacking toward Cascade Lake. Here is strong evidence of the windstorm that struck Moran State Park in 1972. Some of the upraised root structures look like nightmarish monsters. Unfortunately, since then, many of the second-growth Douglas fir trees have become infected with laminated root rot—perhaps as many as one in four trees, the rangers estimate. Part of that is also due to the stress the trees are under from the drought, as evidenced by the cascade of dry pine needles that descend on my head in a gentle breeze. A major cleanup effort in 2011 eliminated the worst cases of the root rot, but it is still prevalent. Thousands of western red cedar and
lodgepole pine—native trees that are not as susceptible to root rot—have been started and will be transplanted to the areas hardest hit by the fungus.
One of the plants I was hoping to find was the phosphorescent fungus I remember from Girl Scout camp days. I found several fungi that looked similar, but since it was daylight I couldn’t quite tell if they were what I was looking for. Apparently, nearby Shaw Island is alive with bioluminescent critters, as shown in this (slightly reimaged) amazing photograph by Floris von Breugel.
A pileated woodpecker showed no concern as I traipsed along the path, nor did a squirrel happily munching a pinecone. I didn’t see any
deer, though their tracks were all around. I met a few hardy souls hiking up as I went down, and ran into them again as I was huffing and puffing uphill and they were sprinting down. But my plans to do this in the mornings in order to pick up litter at the lake before going on duty at 11 at the top have been moved to the category of “Dream on,” because that would entail hiking down in the dark, something not for my cautious feet.
One of my jobs as a volunteer host is to fill in at the Summit Gift Shop, high atop Mt. Constitution and across the dead-end loop from the Summit Learning Center where Elliott and I spend our weekends. The gift shop is open daily, 11–4, and is the primary way the Friends of Moran State Park (FOM) earn funds, 100% of which go to helping the park and its volunteers.
The gift shop is two-room cabin located in an old 8’ x 10’ forestry shed built–like so many of the structures in the park–by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. FOM sells a variety of souvenirs as well as chips, candy bars, and kettle corn from the building. Unlike most touristy sorts of venues that sell cheap kitsch, most of FOM’s are exclusive to the area and appropriate to a state park.
One of the best things about working in the gift shop is that I get to interact with the public–which, after a couple of days of being hermit-like in our RV and all of our nights of solitude, is a welcome relief. I like knowing where people are from, why they are here, and so forth. Perhaps that’s just another way of being snoopy, but chatting with visitors makes the day go by quickly.
The weather has been exceptionally warm (I wouldn’t go so far as to say hot, though some of the locals do) and dry, despite the little bit of drizzle we had a few days ago, and that means that we’ve had a larger number of visitors. Yesterday’s view of Mt. Baker was obscured by haze and rumors of a forest fire, but that didn’t seem to stop visitors from driving, biking, and hiking to the top.
The bicyclists are amazing, riding all the way to the top of a 4.7-mile incline from sea level to 2400 feet. Most drivers know to share the narrow two-lane road with bicyclists and are aware that a slower bicycle might be lurking around the next hairpin switchback, though we’ve seen a few drivers (and a few younger bicyclists) who seem oblivious to the dangers. Every once in a while a bicyclist takes a spill, usually while going downhill at excessive speeds (in my book, defined as over 12 mph, but I’m a chicken when it comes to high speeds on a two-wheeled vehicle).
Hikers are easily identified by footwear and sweat. Later today I plan on doing the hike to the bottom and back up again (the opposite of most hikers), so more details on that later.* Particularly impressive are the families–sometimes with kids as young as 8 or 10–who arrive at the summit still full of energy, racing each other to the top of the tower. Trail runners are particularly remarkable, as the loose stones, high roots, and fallen trees have to be taken into account. Some of them are training for the triathlon to be held here on Labor Day Weekend–and there will definitely be more about that later too.
* I hiked Mt. Constitution to Cascade Lake, bought a sorbet, and climbed back to the top by way of the Cold Springs trail–four hours, sore muscles, and a hole in my dirty, stinky socks…but I’m glad I did it.