Thursday, March 29, 2012


I’ve been thinking lately about “Community,” and the many, nuanced meanings and interpretations of that word.

I’m not at all sure why, but for me, “Community” connotes life in a place smaller than a “City.” It means I can go into my local post office and Chris behind the counter speaks to me by name, and so does Diane who works at the bank. It means that, when my neighbors and I go to our town’s grocery store and Girl Scouts are out front selling cookies, we stop and buy a box, no matter how rushed (or broke) we might be. “Community” means that in February, when I begin to run low on dry firewood, Cathleen down the road has some I can bum, but she won’t take money in return -- a plate of cookies or a few jars of homemade jam will be payment enough, she insists.

The main thing I’ve been understanding as I contemplate “Community,” however, is that it is a team sport, a pot luck dinner of everyday life. We all contribute a skill or commodity or energy of some kind or another, if only because to just sit on the sidelines, watching what others are doing, simply would not be any fun.

Two young women who are amazing bakers in our community -- and whose goodies are quite popular at a nearby summer Farmers’ Market -- have recently rented a lovely and vacant farmhouse, barn, and acreage that will be home to an enterprise they call “Food Shed.” Though it is very much a work-in-progress, my sense is that Food Shed will be a place where local foods will be celebrated, and where our community will just plain hang-out together.

A bunch of us happened to be in the farmhouse at Food Shed about lunch time one day last week when a baby goat was born out in the pasture. We took a break from our pastries and soup and went outside to visit the mama and her new baby. We had just experienced several days of Northwest springtime rains, and, finally, were able to bask in a beautiful, sunny day.

A young mother played with her child.
There were smiles all around.
I felt fortunate to be part of this community.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Getting Rattled

It was probably 30 years ago that I first hiked the Skyline Trail high above the Yakima River Canyon, and, in all humility, I must tell you that my outing that long-ago day was not auspicious.

The trail, you see, is in the dry, rain-shadow landscape east of Washington’s Cascade Mountains -- sagebrush and desert country. It is a beautiful environment with a wide-open sky and lots of wild land where elk, deer, and coyotes roam.

In the hot summer, however, that arid land is also prime habitat for the rattlesnake (Snakus Bastardus) and it was one of those venomous demons that brought me, literally, to my knees. I was hiking along alone, minding my own business, bothering neither man nor beast, when a snake popped his head from behind a rock and RATTLED ME -- literally and emotionally. I was so startled that I stumbled and tripped over a rock in the trail, falling on my face in the desert sand, winding up nose-to-nose with The Freaking Snake, which was still rattling. My heart beating wildly, I retreated, s-l-o-w-l-y, crawling backwards on my belly.

There was zero dignity in my retreat, but I cared about that not one bit.

My encounter with Snakus Bastardus brought an end to that day’s hike. With my legs trembling and wobbly, I kept my eyes peeled for more ratt'lers while slowly walking the several miles back to my car at the trailhead.

It’s taken me 30 years to rekindle my interest in desert hiking.

Last weekend two companions and I returned to do a spring hike on the Skyline Trail. It’s a little too early in the season for hot-weather-loving snakes to be out, so I can report that my friends and I were able to enjoy the magic of a snake-less desert. I even allowed myself relaxed, leisurely stops to make a few photographs (you should click on the panoramas below to view them at a larger size.)

I’m pleased to say too that I returned from last weekend’s hike with my dignity intact, and I even have plans to return in the next few weeks for more desert adventures. Come about June, however, I think I’ll stay away from the Yakima River Canyon country.

I really do not like snakes.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Rain, Rain Go Away!

I have BIG plans for hiking adventures this summer, and there might come a time -- though I honestly hope this is not the case -- when I post words and images here that come off sounding like I’m working for my state's Chamber of Commerce, doing a PR campaign for the part of the country where I live. I mean, if my plans play out in the way I’d like, I’m going to be making my way to and photographing some really cool places in the not-too-distant future: The North Cascades; the wilderness beaches where Washington meets the Pacific Ocean; the deserts in Eastern Washington and Oregon. It might be hard not to gush.

Today, however, there's little or no chance you'll think I'm "selling" life in the Pacific Northwest or the Seattle area. Just check out the weather forecast (above) that I viewed on my phone this morning. Rain, rain, and more rain...yuk, yuk and more yuk. The intense green and lushness that will probably be visual elements in my lowland forest photographs this summer, result from all the damned rain we get during the winter.

Once in a while though, we Pacific Northwesterners DO get lucky. It is true that occasionally -- even in winter -- the sun does show itself. And on those rare days we mossbacks make a dash for the door and head outside. We bask in the sunshine, we revel in it.

The images below were made during the past several weeks on two different hikes I did with friends near Hood Canal on a trail only a few miles from my house. One day was gloriously sunny, even warm. The other day offered soft sunset light and a sweeping view of the Olympic Mountains and the twin-summitted peak called The Brothers.

Even now, as I type these words and glance toward the window, I see what might be a patch of blue in the sky. Maybe the weather forecast was wrong...

Maybe it’s time for some revelry?

Friday, March 9, 2012

At the Top of My Game

I have invented a photographic game I sometimes play when I’m out for a run or a bike ride, a game I guess I could call “Exercise in the Abstract.” The object of my game is that I find and execute a photo, something aesthetically different than I might normally see when my brain is not swimming in the Happy Juice of exercise-induced endorphins. Extra points are awarded if I can make the image without stopping my run or my ride (hey, my game, my rules.)

The photographs I’m posting today were recent Best Picture winners of “Exercise in the Abstract,” the winners picked by an esteemed panel of judges (me.) (My game, my rules.)

Above: There was ice on a small puddle that I came across when out for a trail run one chilly morning about a week ago. I did stop running, momentarily, to shoot the image...however, the photo is extremely sharp even though I’d been running a fairly quick pace and my heart rate was up and camera shake might have been expected. Thus the judge awarded me an extra 10 points.

Below: The confluence of shadow, light, and line resulted in an image that the judge called “Truly Visionary, Extraordinary.” The photograph was made from a moving bicycle (10 extra points) and against a brisk headwind (500 extra points.)

I am humbled by the success I have had in this game; I thank the judge for his praise; and I promise to continue to compete in the future in a spirit of sportsmanship and exemplary good-guy-ness.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Wisdom of Uncle Alex

This felt like a good week to spend some time in the pasture with Pumpkin the Goat and Smokey the Sheep. I needed me some Critter Peace.

The radio had been telling me about the latest of many attack ads that one Republican presidential candidate was airing about another (all those ads cost a lot of money)...and there was a story too that comedian Bill Maher had donated a million dollars to the Obama campaign. Meanwhile, here in my state, the legislature is struggling to find the money to fund basic education.

“Be-gone!” I said to the demons of negative juju that were pressing in on my tender soul. I turned off the radio, put on my work boots, and wandered out to the pasture.

Pumpkin greeted me, breathing sweet goat-breath in my face. I went to work, gathering sticks and branches that had blown down during winter’s wind and rain storms. The sun came out. Pumpkin and Smokey found themselves comfortable spots, Pumpkin contentedly chewing her cud in the sun, Smokey the black sheep napping the shadows under a leaning tree.

I hung out with the critters, taking a few pictures, but mostly just being. I was thankful for the fine day, the good critter-company, and the time I had to enjoy them.

I remembered something I read recently, part of a commencement address that Kurt Vonnegut gave at Rice University in 1998. Vonnegut talked about his uncle Alex, saying:

"A Harvard graduate, Alex Vonnegut was locally useful in Indianapolis as an honest insurance agent. He was also well-read and wise.

"One thing which Uncle Alex found objectionable about human beings was that they seldom took time out to notice when they were happy. He himself did his best to acknowledge it when times were sweet. We could be drinking lemonade in the shade of an apple tree in the summertime, and he would interrupt the conversation to say, 'If this isn't nice, what is?' "