Friday, March 29, 2013

The Burn

Most of the time when I head off into the Pacific Northwest backcountry for a hike or a climb, the landscape where my adventure plays out looks like something you’d typically see in photographs in a Sierra Club wall calendar: I trek up snow-covered mountains,  or I walk a trail that takes me to pristine lakes,  or to viewpoints of dramatic waterfalls.

Occasionally, however, I venture into lands that most of us would not think of as being stereotypically “beautiful.”  Last weekend, for example, two friends and I snowshoed in the Cascade Mountains near Blewett Pass in central Washington.  Our trip covered about 10 miles and involved the gain and loss of several thousand feet of elevation.  We traveled through a forest of amazing and majestic ponderosa pine trees, and we climbed a sweet little peak.

We also passed through an area called “The Burn.”

Last summer was a bad one for wildfires in the timber and grassland areas of Washington, and, at one point,  700 individuals were working to put out 30 wildfires near Blewett Pass. The Burn area my friends and I experienced last weekend was not big -- it was only a tiny portion of the terrain we covered -- but it certainly gave us an up-close look at what is left behind after a fire.  There were charred, black, stick-like trees on the snowy slope of a nearby peak, and the scene looked to me like a spare, classical Japanese pen-and-ink painting.  At another point I saw burned tree branches lying in the snow, and the  shape of the branches and the shadows they cast somehow made me think: "caribou horns!"

The Burn was a stark and serious landscape, but also surprisingly picturesque...maybe not beautiful in the calendar picture sense of the word, but visually inspiring nevertheless.   

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Copping Attitudes

Pumpkin the Goat has become a bit of a princess, a diva, a prima donna, and I’m afraid it’s all my fault.

Pumpkin’s Attitude came about this way:

The Public Radio station in Seattle invites listeners to contribute audio clips for a feature the station airs weekday mornings called “Sound of the Day.”  Last summer I sent in a piece of sound of Pumpkin, making a noise I call “purring.”  The station played it,  and apparently listeners LOVED it because the station aired it again, at the end of 2012, as a kind of “Greatest Hit” Sound of the Day.

If you were to hear Pumpkin purring, you’d have no doubt that it is the aural embodiment of contentment, perhaps even pleasure. On a warm summer day, Our Lady of Perpetual Leisure finds herself a sunny spot in the pasture, nestles down in the soft grass, and she purrs -- an embarrassingly sensual purr, I must say. 

It felt just a wee bit creepy when I too laid in the pasture grass with my iPhone and recorded Pumpkin’s purring.  I felt like I should avert my ears.

Anyway, now that Pumpkin is a Media Darling, she’s become picky about her food. She picks the alfalfa pellets out of her goat chow, leaving behind the bits of grain.  She will now only eat expensive orchard grass hay, not lowly timothy.  And if the water in her water bucket has been there for longer than a day, she won’t drink it.  I hafta fill her bucket with fresh water each and every day.


Now our rooster, too, seems to be copping an attitude: I noticed the other day that he was preening and strutting more than usual.  I was poking around inside the chicken house with my camera, looking for pictures, and I caught the rooster standing in the chicken door, tail feathers all fluffed out, posing.

I suspect it won’t be long before the critters begin demanding that I hire an agent and a public relations firm to represent them.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Changing Seasons

For Pacific Northwesterners like me who spend a lot of time playing in the mountains but have homes down near sea level, this is the time of year that could make us a little crazy.

It is still Winter up in the high country, you see, and I spent last Saturday on snowshoes, breaking trail in fresh powder snow with four friends at an elevation of about five thousand feet near the Coleman Glacier on Mt. Baker.

At my home near Puget Sound, however, it feels like Spring outside.  Temperatures have been in the 50’s lately, and yesterday, when I decided to give my car a bubble bath to clean off the road grime from last weekend’s mountain adventure, I realized that the tall cedars that tower over my driveway have already begun to shed a light dusting of tree pollen onto the car windows.

One day of my visual week, then, looked like full-on Winter, while another day was all about Spring.  Rather than feeling disoriented or crazy, though, it struck me how flat-out amazing it is to live in a part of the world where one can be tromping in snow and photographing ice formations one day, and doing mild-weather chores around the house the next.

Just going out the door can be an adventure.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Two Images

I heard this week that there were new baby goats born at a farm down the lane from us and I asked the neighbor whether I might  wander over with my camera and maybe take a few pictures.

“Sure,” the neighbor said. “We’ll be around this weekend. Come hang out.”

And so Sunday Leah and I went a-visiting, and our neighbor and her husband and their nine-year-old son  took us out to their pasture where we all watched the two baby goats bounce around and play.  It was a mild, spring-like day,  and the goats were just as cute as could be...though I must say that it was one instance when I kind of wished my still pictures were accompanied by sound because baby goat bleating is about the most heartwarming thing you’d ever want to hear.

As I cropped and sized the baby goat picture to post here, it struck me what a human moment I’d seen between the adult goat and the baby.

I was reminded then of another “moment” picture I made recently in a Buddhist monastery in Seattle, an image of a Tibetan woman touching foreheads (a cultural gesture of peace and compassion) with a young monk. 

Two photographs.
Two very different circumstances.
Yet so very similar.

Oh my!
Om Mani Padme Hum!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Nature's Classroom

When we came West 30 years ago and I began hiking and climbing in the mountains of Washington state, I took a basic mountaineering class offered the Cascadians, an outdoor organization in Yakima, the town where we’d moved.   Leah and I had grown up in Ohio and I guess we were a little intimidated by a part of America where roadless wilderness could still be found. I remember that, even as we unpacked,  we heard a radio report about hikers in distress who'd been plucked by a rescue helicopter off a remote peak. A few days later there was a story about river adventurers who had gotten into trouble while rafting whitewater in a remote canyon. If I too was going to go outside and play in wild country -- and that was certainly my intention -- a class in How to Avoid Trouble seemed like a good idea.

And so I took a class,  and learned, for example,  how to read a map and compass, and also what survival gear one should have along on a trip into the wilderness. I guess the class has served me well because, in the 30 years that have now passed,  wild places have become my second home. I’ve done probably thousands of hikes and climbs and backcountry adventures, and -- knock on the wood of a towering evergreen tree -- I’ve never gotten into serious trouble in the backcountry.

A couple of weeks ago three friends and I snowshoed in a winter wonderland of beauty near Snoqualmie Pass and one of the photographs I made that day was of my companions, traveling across a frozen, snow-covered alpine lake.  The landscape was large and my friends seemed small.  I think we all felt strong that day, and we moved well, but we were also cautious and not too cocky:  Is the lake ice thick enough to cross?  What is the avalanche potential of that slope ahead?

Anyone who has spent time in big country will tell you that wild places are, themselves, a kind of classroom where one learns many lessons...and the abiding, ever-lasting, not-to-be forgotten lesson is humility.