Sunday, August 22, 2010

Well, despite my honest intentions, I've slacked off again and waited entirely too long to post. Now, for punishment you will have to endure this tragically long winded blog post. Feel free to take a few intermissions, I would. For starters, let's talk about berries. I heard a catchy little ditty, a hiker’s motto, if you will: If you don't know and take a chance-watch out! You may s**t your pants! See, catchy right? Apparently I don’t even listen to my own best advice. Torben and I were doing our usual throw away the map-get lost on purpose game near Mt. Adams on the northern side of the Columbia River Gorge and we kept seeing people hunched over on the side of the road. If I hadn't known better I'd have said it was a receiving line of butts. The only thing we could gather was that there was something of value to be had there. Not to be left out we found a deserted gravel road half way up the mountain and began to look for ourselves. Eureka! Hmmm, to eat or not to eat? I was had with the first mouth watering berry that I gingerly sampled (yup, I said it: gingerly, thank you future brother-in-law). Thankfully, no adverse effects. Though the law of averages suggests I won't next time be so lucky. Huckleberries, these little bits of deep magenta candy tarts, are everywhere this time of year and much of the mountain was well picked over. But with our eyes on the prize we secured a healthy helping (all we had was an unused dog poo bag-ah, what ever works) and even Torben reported that he enjoyed the simplicity and joy of berry picking. So much so, that in fact we keep stopping every time we see a new patch. In addition to huckleberries, blackberries are EVERYWHERE, I mean like weeds people. I pluck & eat at least a dozen every time we take the dogs out for a walk. MMmmmmm. I don’t even mind that my fingers from the nails to the knuckles are stained a deep purple. It’s my new summer tan line. We are inexplicably drawn to caves. My fascination with them has grown, bewildering even me. Something about the damp stillness in the dark air is mysterious and invites adventure. If there is one mentioned on a map, we’ll find a way to wiggle a little headlamp exploration into our day. We have seen some amazing ones and I thought we had seen it all. I love being wrong. Ice caves. These volcanic caves maintain a constant freezing temperature and before modern refrigeration local communities would trek up the hill to chip out their ice blocks. This is a real marvel, especially since above ground it was 70-something degrees. We have a super cool flashlight that shines green, so for effect we found this to be the perfect place to use it. Behold!
One thing I forgot about ice…it is slippery. My feet did not forget this little fact. For a moment I felt like I was playing a role in an action-packed adventure mishap movie (oh wait, that is my life). A very ungraceful slip had me sliding on my ass through a narrow passage which swiftly carried me from the main tunnel to a more hidden room. Another thing I forgot about ice (living in Florida has spoiled me)'s cold. Duh. After overcoming the shock of frozen ass-syndrome I laughed with glee and had a blast. Although I was mildly envious; we passed people deep in the cave bundled up in snow pants, gloves, boots, etc. That would have been nice. Somehow we managed to survive in shorts and sandals, but just barely. We surfaced just before the hypothermia set in. The Columbia River Gorge is another must see for those of you contemplating travel to the North West. It's a stretch of land between southern Washington and Norther Oregon, and it has it all. Where else can you see the ocean embrace the rivers, the mountains converge in the valleys, and the lakes reflect the glistening snow on a sunny day? Its 360 degrees views of natural splendor.This is has hit every “oh and ah” button we have. There are about a dozen waterfalls in a 15 mile span. We visited the most obvious choices and enjoyed the view. But the real sight was the one we had to work for. Work, yes I did say work. We had to climb over a true log jam about 20 feet high and 30 feet wide that had blocked the river a decade ago. Then we waded through ankle high water while dancing across the large rocks up the river bed, through the gorge which had to be several hundred feet tall between the mountains. It was at this point when we were already committed that we came upon the final challenge before reaching this promised waterfall…a swim through glacier stream water. Being unprepared for this leg of the journey we shed a few layers to keep some dry for the return. Ten guesses as to what my husband is fashioning as his new hat. But ohhhhh, what a sight awaited us! Somehow the view is so much better when you’ve really earned it. It was exceptional. With no one around to explain we were left to marvel in our own imagination when gazing upon this pyramid of stones created at the basin of the falls. I have no idea who or when, but I send a prayer of gratitude to its creator for providing me with such a quirky pleasure in God’s garden. My husband remains firm in his belief that we will see Bigfoot on this journey. I humor him. As it turns out Skamania County has the highest number of reports of Bigfoot sightings. So we did a little hiking and searching. With so many mossy covered trees and old tree stumps that sprout ferns it is easy to see how people could “see” the image of a big hairy beast. Torben nags that I am a skeptic, but at least I am an open minded skeptic. While climbing over a large downed tree he suddenly turned to me and asked “Why do you think they call him Bigfoot? Shouldn’t we say Bigfeet? It’s not like he’s a mono-ped.” I laughed so hard I damn near fell off the tree and I am sure my hooting was loud enough to scare away every animal in range. I think this is the closest he will get. If you get bored with majestic waterfalls and cascade mountain hikes aren’t your thing, the Columbia River Gorge also offers another one of my guilty pleasures…vino. As they say in Italy, the nectar of the gods. There are so many wineries, you can literally walk, or ride your bike, but I suggest walk, as riding can be kind of tough after the first few, from one to the next. There is a Fruit Loop trail. I swear, I am not joking, a Fruit Loop trail that leads you from winery to orchard where you can literally drink, eat and pick your way into merriness. The hills beneath the mountain are dotted with farms of brightly colored fruit and flowers. It is almost like looking at a patchwork quilt laid out across the earth. I have always loved sunflowers. I find them cheery in a non-pretentious pure sunshine sort of way. I had not a clue that there we so many varieties. I ran through the crop, hands greeting every flower with tears streaming silently down my cheeks. It was as if God said “Enjoy this merry happy moment.” I hope you are all greeted with a similar blessing, whatever your love may be. The feeling of being so connected to life around you, beneath you and above you is inner JOY. Simple, true and blessed. Torben loves cherries. He found his own tender joy sampling four different kinds of cherries, ripe, bursting with flavor and just plucked from the trees. We are both in awe of the magnificence that the natural world offers. Funny, it’s almost as if we are seeing, smelling, and tasting life through new eyes, ears and mouths. We don’t need to do anything fancy, we don’t need to get in the way, just let Mother Nature do as God intended and the result is awesome. One of the best things about travel is that you never know who you are going to meet. For example, down the way there's a woman living in a tent who just sold her house for beaucoup money. Is this a move up or down? We don't know and certainly we're not the ones to judge. Interesting, nonetheless. Back near Mt. Hood we were invited to join a band of rogue women bonding on a women’s only camping trip. Through cocktails, games and laughs I learned a new phrase to add to my dictionary of totally tasteless words. In addition to fart, winder, pooter, barking spiders and fanny burping I can now include butt clapping to describe the ever comical human flatulence. Thank you to the ladies in the Hood Village campground for sharing that beauty. Rude AND charming, I love it. My poor sister called, in a yucky pattern of self-torment, she had rear-ended someone oMy poor sister called, in a yucky pattern of self-torment, she had rear-ended someone on the way home from work. Been there, done that, on both accounts. I tried to cheer her up. My attempts at support and sympathy were well intended but fell a little flat. What really worked was when I reminded her things could be worse, and at that very moment I was currently in line at Wal-mart to purchase yet another sewer pipe to replace the one that just broke and leaked all over my new manicure. The crapper tube fiasco was her remedy. Glad I could help Kel.
We send our sympathies to those of you who are enveloped in summer’s stifling heat. I remember the humid sticky days of Florida, and from what I hear, the Midwest is equally as repressing. So I’ll be sensitive when I break this news…WE'VE GOT SNOW!! Woohoo!! Torben had to fly back to Orlando for the quickest conference presentation in history. We knew about this engagement as we headed out on this trip, but in all fairness, we planned to be a little closer than, well, the farthest point across the country. But, what a small price to pay, considering. Torben can’t get over the fact that he left Orlando’s sweltering sauna and stepped off the plane in cool 60 degree Oregon and an hour later we trekked up Mt. Hood in the snow. It was awesome! My southern bred husband hasn’t seen snow since he was a child, six to be exact. And, clearly he hasn’t grown up much; as soon as I was getting the camera out I felt the first chilly powder ball dust my head. After taking a moment to absorb what had happened, I became smug: Game on. Florida boy went from laughing to shrieking and squealing as he learned why us “Yankees” prefer pants and boots in the winter. I aimed at all exposed skin. Snowball fight over. Score: Yankee girl – 1, Florida boy – 0. I also took a small vacation from our vacation. A trip within a trip. I went home. Home, that sweet glorious word evokes more deep relaxing sighs and wistful memories than any other word I know. Home to me is Fort Wayne, Indiana. A place I spent all of my life growing up to escape…and now return. Fort Wayne isn’t all that bad, it’s not Oregon, but it’s not all that bad. My youngest sister is getting married.
The future Mr. & Mrs. Shaffer, who went to high school together but never dated until they moved like 8000 miles away, were given a lovely “couples shower” [read: kick-ass party by the pool]. My aunt & uncle’s house is like a palace. Seriously, I got lost going to one of their seven bathrooms. Anyway, they were gracious enough to host the extravagant gala and it was a genuine blast. Save for one moment, I had a case of mistaken identity when I thirstily gulped what I thought was my nice citrusy and refreshing lemonade. Note to self, grandpa’s scotch can look a little yellow in the sun. I’m not sure what to do about the chest hairs that have since sprouted. It was supposed to be a surprise that I was flying in for the shower, but I am horrible, I mean absolutely horrible about keeping secrets like this (the good kind). So, I spilled the beans the night before my sister came home. No matter, we still had a fabulous time. The three of us girls stayed up late giggling way into the morning. Sisters are one of God’s greatest blessings. I could go on and on about this, but it is likely a chapter all in its own, as it should be. For now, just know that when I am with my sisters, somewhere the angels are laughing and reconsidering our applications for halos. Also, I was able to meet my new little nephew. The yummiest of all yums! Beau is Jen’s third little pickle and I could not get enough of him. I even changed a diaper, a dirty one, and only gagged once. He was like candy being passed around with everyone smooching his pudgy little cheeks or one of his three chins. With a new baby to celebrate and a wedding on the way, the air was ripe with love and affection. And I don’t care how old you are, no one is ever too grown up to forget the childlike glee that comes with getting hugs from Mom. I even let her braid my hair like old times. I may have even let out a purr or two. Family is undeniably the essence of a sweet home coming. Also, Torben slept in. You have no idea how monumental this is. There was a cool breeze flowing through the morning. The sky was overcast in a lulling way and after letting the dogs perform their early morning duties, we curled back up in bed without feeling guilty, without worrying what needed to be done, without anything other than each other and we slept…finally. I wonder if we are on the verge of something great here my friends. Would I be tempting mojo if I said I feel the forces of my life aligning?
Sometimes I catch a wayward glance and I hardly know who this man is anymore. Rather, I should say, I hardly know the man he used to be. Gone are the neckties and constraints that lead to rising blood pressure. The new and improved version of TSM goes naked in the forest, sings with the dogs and jumps off cliffs to swim in mountain fed rivers. I love this man, his laughter, and especially his new outlook on sleeping in :).
We explored Crater Lake as our last voyage in Oregon. Although I know we will some day return, I was a little sad to leave. This last exploration was a beautiful send-off. Crater Lake was formed after the cone of a volcano eroded. There is now an island of the volcano peaking it's head once again. After several hundred thousand years this baby has transformed into a visual masterpiece. The Native Americans who inhabited the area thought the lake to precious to look upon. It's deep blue waters look as if it holds a million secrets. Considering it's explosive history, I am sure it does. Feast your eyes on this lake of many blues 3,000 feet above sea level, and 1,900 feet deep. I had a date with a bear, a blind date. I didn't even know we were being introduced until I accidentally ate some blackberries which just happen to be his blackberries. Excuse me, Mr. Bear. He got a little bent out of shape about and it and threw out a little attitude. He could have just said, "Sarah, those are my berries," and cool, no problem, I would have left his precious little berries alone. But no, he had to get all riled up and growl like the king of the forest. If you ask me, it was a little overkill for berries, but it was his show, I didn't stick around to argue. After I returned to camp and counted all of my fingers, toes and blessings Torben & I collapsed into the picnic table outside of the camper. Beer in hand, we recounted our brush with the wild, and as if on cue, that large black bear waltzed out of the trees and began to help himself to a dinner of salmon, left in a bucket by fellow campers.
Shock does not being to describe it. As we spoke to other campers, who also had front row seats for the event we learned a very scary thing. The park owners are feeding this bear (could be bears, not really sure!?). Every night they fill the bucket, and come cocktail time its a park wide event to watch the bear have dinner. Our RV is 20 yard away!!!! Does anyone see a problem with this???? It would have been a great little nugget of information at check-in: "Hey, welcome to the park, you're at site #103, the trash cans are to your left, and oh, by the way, our resident bear will be visiting tonight and every night. Keep your dogs and your kids on a short leash." NOOOOOO, they told us to take the trail to the river! That damn trail is a freakin red carpet to their front door. That's where we met the first time! Ok, I will take some small amount responsibility for that encounter, the park did post this sign and I did have to step over a large pile of scat on the trail. I'm a slow learner. Oh, I shit you not, as I write this passage, he is back again and some stupid lady thinks this is the appropriate time to water the flowers 20 feet away. Good grief. She would not make it in Torben's club. Did I tell you he founded a club? He is the self-appointed President for Coalition of People Who Make Sense. It was created during a rather comical and frustrating leg of the road trip. I nominate this lady for permanent exclusion. Any objections?
In an effort to return to Zen, I'll focus on earlier today. The day seemed to glide by effortlessly. The morning began with a light hike through the Fern Canyon on California's Northern Coast. They filmed part of Jurassic Park here! It was such a magnificent way to start the day, the air was crisp and fresh and the gully was seductive with the sunlight streaming through highlighting patches of green all up the canyon walls. The ferns hung with five or six fans and the gentle breeze caused them to wave as we walked by. Ever gotten a wave from a forest full of ferns?
It tickled my inner joy spot. The hike ended on Gold Hill Beach. Upon entering the park several cars were turning around and leaving, complaining that "it was packed". Yes, we thought so too. I doubt I will ever see a stretch of shoreline so pristine and untouched by human hands. There were two sets of footprints going in, and we made two more going back out. The only other beings we saw were a few birds flying out to sea, and a family of seals playing in the surf. One was adorably curious, it kept surfing the wave and looking at us. I think he was just showing off. The waves themselves put on quite a show. Their chorus of crashes against the beach was deafening; the overflow of bubbling salt water crested over the natural hill and soaked my shoes. I've never been so happy to have cold wet feet.
We opted for lunch at home and a little playtime with the kids near camp. Although given our experience last night, my Mama bear senses were on high alert. Our guys were so happy to romp in the sun and cool weather. After belly rubs all around we set out for the second half of the day. Which, believe it or not, nearly exceed the first half, by about 1,000 years. Let me introduce you to one of this planet's oldest inhabitants...Redwoods.
Groves and groves of Redwoods are speckled throughout the already lush coastal forest. Redwoods are also known as Sequoia's, named after a Cherokee Indian Chief who first put the language into written form. Not surprisingly, Torben felt right at home. He is after all, Cherokee (on his Mother's side). And the only thing he loves as much as the animals are the trees. I loved watching him wide-eyed like a kid on Christmas morning. It was beautiful. The trees weren't so bad either. Actually, they were sensational. It is hard to fathom that some of these trees established their root system before Christ walked on this earth, and they are still standing today. It felt celestial in a very earthy sort of way. The trunks are so wide it is nearly impossible to photograph one wholly. They stretch so high with their leaves in the clouds. In fact, most of the rain is absorbed through the leaves and the forest floor is pretty dusty, giving the lower plants a ghostly like appearance. There is definitely a feeling that resonates while walking among the hollows of the trunks. Like a calm, steady hum, that invites one to slow down such that a single breath seems like eternity. It was fodder for a lot of pensive activity for my little mind. The trees which die and fall become the base upon which newer trees grow. Often other trees and animals (we saw elk horns, seriously) can become "absorbed" within other trees, and they all kind of melt together and keep growing. The cycle of it all was impressive. As sad as it is to see a mammoth 1,000 year old tree fall, it provides such a beautiful basin for new life to begin. It almost seems as if the new life and the old life are intrinsically tied. After all, the newer trees were bore from the seeds of the older trees. I bet these groves could run their ancestry line back to the beginning of time. That thought just made my reference to old and new obsolete, if you're shaking your head, I am too. What if it all started with just one seed and is the same tree just recycling itself? What if all life is like that, cyclically connected? What if everything that was, is in everything that is? The beginning of existence present in this very moment? Time ceases to be relevant. In it's place blossom new profound possibilities. I'll let you chew on that for a while, I know I will.
Thank you all who have shared your thoughts in response to these postings. We treasure your comments. Please, keep them coming!! Until next time, be well my friends.


  1. Wow. You weren't kidding about the length of the post. But I made it through. Love all the pics.

  2. I truly enjoy reading your stories and your pictures are beautiful.