Goddess Body

And the first time you realize that you are the largest girl in the room
The first time you know that you are the outlier
You wonder, when people see you in a line up, how they’d identify you from the others
The full-figured one
They’d say (politically correctly)
The chubby one
They’d say (unkindly)
The thick one
They’d say (lasciviously)
The heavy one
They’d say (through lipsticked teeth)
The curvy one
They’d say (politely)
The fat one
They’d say (without a thought)
Or deliberately
Hoping to reclaim the word

I’ve never heard anyone say it to me
So it’s probably not fair to complain about

But sometimes, in the waiting room, before the audition
I only have to look around to know that I would be the reach choice
The fun flavor that they saw to try out what it might be like
To have a curvy girl play the role
To see if it could be believable
In the context of the story
That the love interest
The daughter
The friend
The twenty-something
The girlfriend
The sister
The fairy
Could have a body like mine

Would the audience buy
That there is a 25-year-old
With hips that sometimes push the boundaries of dining chairs
With thick strong german ankles
With soft round cheeks
And cream drop breasts
And a strong low voice
And a zip-fast mind
And a tender heart
Who is loving and loved
Who is open and afraid
Who yearns and strains and questions and hopes
Like other 25-year-olds?

And could it be believed
That this imaginary woman
Could be the object of affection
Or respect
Or notice
Or honor
Or desire
Or interest
Or wonder
Of the other character?
The male one?
Who needs only have a penis to be worthy,
To be believed?

The answer, more often than not, is

                                                                             

                                                            No

 

No, she could not exist
Her body is a goddess’s
Her body is a mother’s
Or a queen’s
And her face is just a baby’s.
And we cannot reconcile her assuredness
With her body’s invisibility;
And her soul
We cannot place at all
Because it is too large and frightening to be tamed
By myopic men who strain to see
A story that could hold her wonder.

Goddess Body

The Tiny Work: Groping, Grasping and Saving the World

On my first ever trip abroad, I visited the Natural History Museum in London. If you’ve never been, imagine the private study of Professor Aronnax mixed with a storage room in the Tardis. My companions and I ogled fossils and a disturbing array of taxidermy animals, pinching ourselves when we stumbled upon Darwin’s pigeons, a real Audubon print and a dodo skeleton. There was so much to see and to learn at the Natural History Museum, though for me, the most memorable learning came not from a dusty stuffed animal, but from another museum guest.

We were clustered around a booth to examine some minerals. The volunteer at the table explained (in the delightfully dulcet tones of a Londoner) how each stone had been formed and invited us to touch them. Just at that moment, I felt two hands on my backside, each cupping a generous handful of ass. It was just a split-second, not even long enough for me to make a protesting sound. Heat rising in my cheeks, I whipped around to face a little boy, probably about 7 years old, and his mortified mother. She stared at me with reddened cheeks as her grope-y son’s attention turned to inorganic subjects. ‘Sorry!’ she whispered, and turned away.

I think I mumbled, ‘it’s okay,’ before trying to return to my examination of the rocks. I could feel hot, sickly shame rising up in me, emanating from the imprints of those two tiny hands. I tried to excuse it as I worried a chunk of fool’s gold in my palm: he’s just a kid, he doesn’t know. No one else in the crowd had even seen or noticed. No need to make a big deal. After all, he didn’t mean it.

And maybe that’s true. But even at seven, 16 years my junior, young enough for me to have given birth to him, he already had the power to make me feel dirty and ashamed with just a touch. He had already received the message that in this world, women’s bodies are playgrounds for men. His mother apologized, but I wish that she had turned to him instead and asked him to make the apology. I wish she had had the courage to take him aside and firmly explain that women’s bodies are not his to grab.  I wish that she and I had been comrades in making this a teachable moment, offering this boy the tools and understanding to wear his masculinity differently, to grow up respecting others’ bodies, rights and safety.

But we didn’t team up. We didn’t say anything. Instead, we both hid behind our shame and stayed silent as the boy reached for two big, round handfuls of pyrite.


 

I recently attended a conference session on “Building a Sustainable Life as an Artist”, led by the brilliant and generous Andrew Simonet of Artists U. Andrew encouraged us to clarify our individual missions and to set personal, professional and artistic goals. He  invited us to consider the skills we already have as artists–creativity, problem solving, making something amazing out of very little–and how they can serve us in building the balanced life we want.

As I walked out of the room, I was spinning this information around and around in my head. My mission. That seemed really important. What exactly am I here to do? How do I contribute? How do I stand against the onrushing tide of darkness, when everyday seems to get worse around the globe? How do I ensure that my net impact on the planet is a positive one? What if my destiny is to save the world?

Save the world. Okay. That’s a lofty goal. An embarrassing one to admit to, if I’m honest, because as Andrew taught us, it’s important to try to make your goals as specific as possible so that you can break them down into doable, tiny steps. Save the world is pretty general, and people have been trying to break down the steps for generations. Brilliant thinkers have devoted their lives to the task, trying permutation after permutation, plan after plan. So really, what can I do? Do any of my flailings and failings even matter?

I think this is my trouble with being an artist. It’s also my trouble with being a citizen of this Earth. Nothing I do feels big enough, important enough. I desperately, desperately want to matter, to have made a difference. I’m so focused on the intended outcome of my work–save the world–that I can’t see the tiny steps I’m making towards a positive future. And when the present moment is so terrifying, it intensifies the need to move faster towards the goal, to push harder towards more obvious progress. I have, at moments, allowed the smallness of my revolution to paralyze me. It has pushed me towards Netflix, towards the couch, towards the bathtub and the ice cream bowl. But when I do the work, the tiny work, the slow work, the one-on-one work, I lay the foundation of a future that I hope to look back from and chuckle, “Look how it all worked out”. And the tiny work needs to be acknowledged. Not just so that I can feel good about myself–although that sounds nice, and I’d like to do that–but so that I can keep moving towards the goal. Save the world.

The universe presents endless opportunities to do the tiny work. In my life, this is most often the chance to teach and mentor youth. For the last three years, I have worked with hundreds of students ages 2-18, mostly on theatre skills and creative drama. In every case, I have worked to create a positive, empowering classroom community in which all voices are valued and heard. The world hasn’t been saved yet, true, but I have helped the next generation of citizens to listen to one another, to say yes to different ideas and viewpoints, to work as a team. I have given them a taste of what’s it’s like to be seen and heard, making it harder for them to accept invisibility and silence. And I am proud of this work.

Since I claim to be proud, I’m not sure why I am so often ungenerous in discussing my career as a teaching artist. I talk about it like a consolation prize on the road to something more important, something that will change the world more profoundly and immediately. But the conversations we have with kids matter. Their learning matters. If I can see my teaching as a tiny step in my quest of world-saving, I can allow myself to celebrate what I’m contributing and to keep moving forward.

When the boy grabbed me in the museum, that was another opportunity for tiny work. His mom and I missed a chance to step forward towards the future we want for ourselves and our children. But I suppose, in writing this, I am reaching back towards that moment and using it to make this offer to all of you. There is huge, huge work to do. It really is life and death. But I can’t live up to those stakes in every moment. Instead, I suggest we take the opportunities that present themselves to do the tiny work, to teach and learn, to reach out and connect. Let’s inch things forward daily, so that when the big opportunities come, we are ready to grasp them with two open, reaching hands.

The Tiny Work: Groping, Grasping and Saving the World

50 Hikes: Wrap-Up


December, 2015. I’m sitting on the couch in Jenny’s apartment with a cup of tea in my hands. Our conversation has turned, as it so often does, to the meaning of our young lives. With the New Year fast approaching, resolutions are looming, and neither of us wants to miss a chance to profoundly alter the course of our existences with the perfect New Year’s goal.

We run through the commonplace options: Go to the gym more? Too boring. Write our memoirs? Too early. Be better at life? Too general. We’re running out of ideas and the tea is getting cold; perhaps it is time to let the resolutions go. Jenny idly flips through a book I’ve left on the table, one I picked up on a whim during my shift at the bookstore- Hiking Oregon: A Guide to Oregon’s Greatest Hiking Adventures.  The cover shows a verdant grove, replete with moss-covered stones, drooping ferns and a shy little waterfall, winking coyly from behind a tree.

“What if I do all of those?” I ask. Jenny loves the idea. We have both just read Wild, and are aware of the life-changing qualities of hiking excursions. She flips to the Table of Contents. There are 50 listed “greatest” hikes, along with another 30-or-so honorable mentions. It seems like a lot, especially for someone who dusted off their hiking boots only three times in 2015. Jenny wisely suggests I aim for 50 total, allowing for an average of one hike every weekend, with two weeks off for laziness. She even agrees to be my hiking companion for any excursion for which she is available.

Thus it is that 2016 is officially named The Year of 50 Hikes.


I never had a successful New Year’s resolution before my year of hiking. I gave up on so many good ideas by January 15th, unable to form a new habit or break an old one. I set out to do 50 hikes in 2016; I completed 42. Still, I’m counting this an unmitigated success; this resolution took me on a physical and spiritual journey that reshaped my relationship to the Pacific Northwest landscape, its history and my own human body.

Perhaps the most obvious benefit of the hiking journey was the opportunity to explore so many of the distinctive landscapes this region has to offer. As my Instagram feed so beautifully reflects, these hikes encompassed coastline, desert, pumice field, temperate rainforest, river gorge and grassy plain. The variety of environments available within a few hours drive of Portland is staggering. Each one offers unique beauty, but the coastal hikes were my favorite; I love the smell of the ocean and the hardiness of plants and trees that refuse to give in to the punishing sea winds.

Each trail offered insight into the formation of this land I call home. The eruption of Mt. Mazama 7,700 years ago led to the the majesty of today’s Crater Lake. The land bridge over the Columbia River collapsed in the 1450s, but we still call our gorge-spanning bridge “The Bridge of the Gods” in its honor. The more I walked the trails, the more geologic time took shape around me. In the face of such tremendous age, my human life seems impossibly short and insignificant. To some, this might be discouraging. To me, it’s enormously freeing. When compared with mountains, my troubles are less than molehills. I’m just another animal scurrying across St Helens’ side–a momentary itch, a passing tickle. The sense of being small in vastness is a sensation I have come to know well this year, and to cherish.

As I became more connected to this landscape, I also learned to respect and admire the people who lived connected to it before my ancestors ever touched this continent. Again and again on my journey, I encountered the presence of Pacific Northwest Tribes in the names of landmarks, in museum displays and guidebook passages, and on the Makah and Warm Springs reservations. At the Maryhill Museum in Goldendale, Washington, I pored over hundreds of finely woven baskets, beaded bags and vests, intricately carved tools and other cultural treasures of the tribes of the Columbia Plateau. I was filled with wonder, admiration and sadness for the skilled hands that could weave so tightly, hands that held the knowledge of generations, hands that had their possessions, their home, their way of life ripped away. Throughout my year, I brushed up against the edges of the powerful civilizations whose lands were stolen to become my outdoor adventure playground. It kindled in me a desire to learn more about our Native brothers and sisters, not only as historical figures, but as important members of our nation and as leaders in the fight for environmental justice.

I often say that as an Oregonian, I have moss on my heart. At the end of this year of hiking, I feel more in love with the outdoors than ever before. After every hike, I returned to my apartment lighter, more hopeful and more alive than when I left. In the summer, when I was hiking most frequently, I experienced my body as a strong, powerful vehicle, able to carry me to remarkable places. I also felt more connected with my hiking companions, finding that conversation flowed easily over the rhythm of our footfalls. After a year of hiking, I can close my eyes and call up astonishing vistas–sunset over Crater Lake, the blasted vastness beneath Mt St Helens, the Milky Way over Cape Alava . It’s not overstating to say that the Great Outdoors have made me better, healthier, more whole this year. And they have asked nothing from me in return. In fact, spending time in nature has brought my attention to the many ways in which I actively contribute to the destruction of these landscapes I love. The Year of Hikes firmly reminded me of my obligation to care for our landscape and to reduce my impact on our planet. I must be brave enough to live differently  on the Earth, so that I will be able to revisit these trails in 10, 20, 50 years.

The last consequence of my resolution is the one I least expected: this blog. I’ve always enjoyed writing. The struggle to put words to what’s swirling around my skull is a challenge that I dearly love. It has brought me tremendous joy to craft these posts and to share the journey with you.

I don’t have a resolution for 2017 yet. There are ideas that are percolating, but nothing has risen to the surface yet, and I feel that to try for The Year of 50 MORE HIKES would be forcing it. Still, the hiking habit has formed, so I know I’ll be hitting the trail often this year. I’d love for you to join me. I know a lot of neat trails around here.


THE YEAR OF 50 HIKES

BY THE NUMBERS: 

Total Hikes: 42

Total Miles: ~156

Longest Hike: 10 miles

Top Five Hikes (In No Particular Order): 

Ozette Loop, Olympic National Park, WA

Boundary Trail on Johnston Ridge, Mt St Helens National Volcanic Monument, WA

Cape Lookout, Three Capes Area, OR

Garfield Peak, Crater Lake National Park, OR

Mosier Plateau Trail, Mosier, OR

Companions (Thank you to each one of you for being a part of this journey): Alec, Jenny W., Rachel, Maddy, Grace, Nik, Dad, Sean, Emily, Zak, Becca, Madison, Mom, Alex, Nate W., the Bridesmaids, Morgan, Brian, Ted, Alexandra, Brent, Jenny B., Lisa, Matt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

50 Hikes: Wrap-Up

Sonnet MMXVII

I spent the last four weeks studying Shakespeare’s plays in Lenox, MA at Shakespeare & Company. It was a life-changing experience, and deserves its own essay on this blog. But since I am not yet ready to process and share all that I learned, I’ll start with a tiny sliver: a sonnet that I wrote for Inauguration Day.

On the 20th, at 11:30 EST, we gathered in a rehearsal room and spoke about our dreams for the world and the actions we would each take to reshape the future. I shared the poem below, a mourning thought that formed itself, unbidden, into a sonnet. To me, it is a reminder of the daily work that I must do and what’s at risk. It’s not cheery, nor reasonable, but I learned at Shakes & Co how powerfully urgent Shakespeare’s sonnets are when spoken from true desire to communicate. And I do want to communicate, desperately. So here it goes:

SONNET MMXVII

Do not line up to watch him take the stand,
And drink the poison dribbling from his tongue,
Do not line up to watch the flames be fanned,
And hear our nation’s death knell being rung.
And when the deportation plague takes shape,
And when our landscape bleeds her final drop,
And when we watch our constitution’s rape,
Do not line up and wait for it to stop.
Do not line up in hope of safer times,
For falling in ensures that none our coming,
Do not line up, though Freedoms turn to Crimes,
Stay out of line and let them hear our drumming.
For no orange devil will make my world his toy,
So long as my heart knows the beat of joy.

 

Keep fighting, friends. Let your voices be heard.

 

 

 

Sonnet MMXVII

Hungry to Volunteer in Portland, OR?

Too busy to read my feelings? No worries! Just scroll down for Organization List!


I’ve been feeling very fearful over the last few days. Like so many in my family and my community, I’m frightened about the trajectory our nation may take over the next four years. And I’m sick to my stomach over the violence and hate crimes that have already begun.

These are big things, much bigger than I have ever had to wrap my head around before. I keep hoping that some trustworthy person–preferably a wise and witty Jon Stewart-type–will tell me what to do and how to move forward and confidently say to me that if I just follow these certain steps, it will all be fine. No such person has come forward. There is no certain set of steps. It will not be fine.

And yet many frightened, confused people around me are trying things. They are taking actions, starting somewhere. Because they know that just waiting to see what comes is not an option. We have to be ready. We have to hold each other up.

Anyway, you’ve heard it all before. I just want to offer what I’ve been working on tonight. It’s an incomplete list of organizations in Portland that are already working on some of the issues that I am most concerned about in this political climate. I have included links to their “Volunteer” or “Get Involved” pages, where you can sign up to join them in their essential work. You can also donate. I’m sure there are many other worthy orgs out there that need our help, so please comment below if there are others you’d like people to know about.


Environmental Issues:

Civil Liberties & Human Rights:

Racial Justice

Women’s Health/Reproductive Rights:

Gun Violence Prevention:

Education/Working with kids

Find Lots More


There are so so so so so many more organizations working on these causes and more. This is just a start, a jumping off place to find the spot where I (and I hope, you!) can be most useful in this time of need. Please comment or message me to let me know of other local organizations or chapters I should add to the list. I look forward to working alongside you for a safer, more just, more inclusive, more sustainable community.

 

Hungry to Volunteer in Portland, OR?

50 Hikes: September/October Edition

Reader, I’ve let you down these past two months.

Not on the hiking. September and October hiking was tremendous, a glorious finale to a great summer and an auspicious beginning to the fall. September saw my first solo hike and my first backpacking trip. Along the trail, I connected with my brother Ted (whose adventurous spirit initially inspired the 50 Hikes journey) and with a dead sea lion. So Fall has been great. But I have failed you by not reporting on any of these adventures as I have so faithfully done throughout the year. And now we are through October, and I have yet to pause and reflect on the state of our journey together, physical or digital.

It’s been a busy few weeks. Autumn is always full of possibility. With a school teacher for a husband, you never leave the school year calendar behind; Labor Day marks the new year to me in a way that January 1st never will. This fall, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be in a married partnership and have begun to dream and plan on possible futures for the Sweeney-Chase family. Some options I’m considering:

  • We move to the English countryside, where Alec coaches boy choirs to greatness and I write critically-acclaimed historical fiction for teens.
  • I pursue a degree in Environmental Law and become a bad-ass ocean advocate who bends governments to my will in defense of our precious undersea landscapes and occasionally teach university students at the college where Alec runs the choral program and debuts all of his choral compositions.
  • We relocate to Southern Oregon, where I become the greatest thing to ever happen at OSF since John Tufts and Alec teaches at Ashland High School and all the students love him so much that on his birthday they do a flashmob for him in Lithia Park.
  • We travel the world and see all of it and somehow we afford it and it is the best and we post all the pictures and everyone is like, “Damn, they are well-traveled and in love.”

Just spit-balling here.

Anyway, it’s all happening. It’s fun and scary to dream on the life I want to build with Alec (and our new furry feline friend Frida). So I’ve let the blogging fall by the wayside for a bit. But I am back, baby, and I have some hikes to tell you about. Here they are!

1. Wahclella Falls

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I did a lot of waterfall hikes with my folks as a kid, but Wahclella Falls was new to me. Located just past Exit 40 on the Columbia River Highway, this 2-mile out-and-back hike is perfect for that quick waterfall fix.

We visited on a Friday in early September and were pleased to find the trail almost completely deserted. When we arrived at the falls, we had the whole view to ourselves. It’s quite a sight: the two-tiered falls plunge 350 feet into an elegant, moss-covered basalt basin. A bridge allows for easy crossing of the stream below the falls, and on a warm day, swimming or splashing in the pool would be a definite possibility. We were too chilly to hang around for long, so we took some pictures, basked in the mist and the majesty and then headed onward to take in a late lunch at Bridgeside in Cascade Locks (formerly the one-and-only Char Burger. The food is the same and the racist branding has been adjusted for the better).

TRAIL STATS: 

Miles: 2 miles

Difficulty: Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Views: Very nice. I regret to say that I am getting a bit cavalier about waterfalls after viewing many of them this year. But this one is rad, don’t get me wrong. Bring a non-PNWesterner here and ask them their opinion. They haven’t been so spoiled by abundance. 🙂

Overall Rating: ***

 

2. Multnomah Falls

multnomah-falls

As a woman, I am often fearful to do things by myself. It’s a bummer, because I actually love being on my own–exploring places at my own pace, taking quiet moments to read and reflect, being my own company now and again. But in public spaces, being alone is a bit complicated. I find myself playing a real life game of PacMan, changing routes often to dodge distant ghosts who seek to interrupt my quest for life’s delicious cherries. Unfortunately, some people–some men–just go out of their way to make women feel unsafe when we’re out alone. Whether walking the streets of downtown Portland, or hiking the trails of the Gorge, I find it’s best to be prepared. Of course, hiking alone has a whole set of non-human concerns as well. There are the dangers of falling or the potential to get lost or injured without a partner to seek help. So this year, I’ve followed the old adage and been diligent about seeking out companions for my hiking adventures.

But the allure of getting out there on my own, experiencing the solitude and invigoration of a solo hike, has continued to call to me. This month, I decided to do it, and to start small. I chose Multnomah Falls, the best-maintained, most populous trail in the Gorge.

I opted to do it on a Friday morning at 8:30am. It’s a great time to visit this attraction; there are still people around, but it’s easy to park and you can actually get a decent photo of the falls without a billion sweaty tourists in the foreground. I recommend taking the trail up to the viewpoint at the top of the falls. Once you hike past the bridge, other visitors thin out tremendously, allowing for a very serene (and steep) trek to the top.

It was a lovely little adventure, and I’m pleased to report that I felt safe the whole time, from both human and non-human dangers!

TRAIL STATS: 

Miles: 2.2 miles

Difficulty: It’s steep, but well-maintained. Just bring some water along.

Views: Make sure you lean over the edge of the viewing platform a little bit (don’t worry, mom, I didn’t lean far) so that you can see down to bridge. It’s a new, spine-tingling perspective on the falls that just adds to the appreciation of their height.

Overall Rating: ****

 

3. Starvation Creek

starvation-creek

All the signs at Starvation Creek claimed that the trail had reopened three days before we attempted to hike there. Still, the rain-splattered construction workers were startled as we passed by, and let us know with a wink that “if anyone asks, we told you it was closed”. We were hungry for a hike, and no amount of mixed messages or wet weather would deter us.

Twenty minutes later, I was feeling slightly deterred by the downed trees and washed out trail, by my guidebook’s confusing instructions, by the muddy ground underfoot and the steep drop-off to my right. This trail is a dud, I thought, wiping the salty mix of rainwater and perspiration from my eyes.

Ten minutes after that we reached the viewpoint. The gorge stretched before us, shrouded in mist and bruised clouds, all grey and blue and vast. This trail is amazing, I thought, retrieving my iPhone from nature’s pocket (AKA my cleavage) to take a photo.

One hour and three waterfalls later, we passed our construction worker friends again. They smiled at us. “How was it?”

“Awesome,” I replied, my mind already on hot tea, pizza and dry shoes.

TRAIL STATS: 

Miles: 2.5 miles

Difficulty: It’s probably very easy when the trail is being kept up. We did quite a bit of scrambling over trees and washed out places, so I’d call it moderate.

Views: The view of the gorge at the top of the loop is spectacular, especially on a stormy day. There is also a very small waterfall that you can walk right up to, allowing for a nice photo opportunity or cool-down spot on a hot day.

Overall Rating: ****

 

4. Ozette Loop, Olympic National Park

starvation-creek-1

Way back in January, at the genesis of this project, I wrote about my brother and his penchant for outdoor adventure. This month, I finally got to hike with him. Not only that, I got to share my first ever backpacking trip with him. Ted planned the whole event, carried most of the gear and introduced me to one of my favorite wild places I’ve ever visited–the Olympic Peninsula.

Up until last month, my understanding of Washington geography was that Seattle was at the top, but not quite as much at the top as Bellingham, which is basically Canada. There is also Tacoma, which is a place where people go to college and do cold-water diving. Tacoma is one of the cities that borders Puget Sound, a big tongue of ocean that juts in between Washington and Canada. Other cities that border the Sound are Olympia and Seattle. Washington also has big mountains, like St. Helens and Rainier, which are beautiful and located somewhere in the middle of the state.

(Are any Washingtonians throwing things at their screens yet? Sorry, guys. Just speaking my truth here.)

What Ted gently explained to me as we drove for 7 hours to get to our destination, is that Seattle is not anywhere near the top of the state, and that Puget Sound goes much further inland and South than I had imagined. The Sound connects to the Pacific via the Strait of Juan de Fuca and in the process, isolates a huge, rainforested section of the state, known as the Olympic Peninsula. This area is home to exquisite mountains, freshwater lakes, the town of Forks (residence of some famous fictional vampires), many national and state parks, several native american reservations and a very rugged coastline.

We were headed for Cape Alava, the westernmost point in the contiguous United States, where we planned to hike the Ozette Loop, a 9.5 mile triangle comprising 6 miles of rainforest and 3 miles on the beach. We had a permit to camp overnight on the beach, so were looking forward to an evening of sunset-watching, stargazing and crashing surf.

The Ozette Loop exceeded my expectations in every possible way. The forested legs of the hike are made up of a series of boardwalks, lending the trail a fairytale feel. When we emerged onto the beach, we could see huge rock formations jutting out of the ocean for miles to the north and south. All along the beach, seabirds wheeled in the air and scrabbled in the washed up seaweed for bugs. We walked a half mile north, and quickly came upon the perfect campsite. It was raised up a few feet from the beach, just past the tree-line. Previous hikers had gathered piles of buoys, rope and kelp and had left some unburned firewood in the campfire. As we set up our things, I noticed a pile of unidentifiable bones near the entrance to our camp–half of a skull, some ribs, palm-sized vertebrae, some strange, disc-like pieces–and decided to call our spot “The Boneyard”.

We took turns struggling to start a fire. The wood was damp, and we didn’t have much paper to use as starter material. We tore pieces off of our tide table, and I finally lit a whole booklet of matches on fire and tucked that into the center of Ted’s perfect pyramid of fuel. Then we had some dinner and admired the milky way before turning in for the evening.

In the morning, we waited for the tide to go out before heading south. We’d thought to explore an inviting island (pictured above) that is accessible on foot at low tide, but when we arrived, we spotted a sign identifying the spot as a Makah sacred site and turned back. The Ozette and Makah reservations border this area, and it’s possible to cross onto or through reservation lands without knowing it while walking on the beach. I found myself thinking a lot about the people who lived in this beautiful, rugged place before it became a playground for people like Ted and me. More than any other hike I’ve been on this year, I felt like an outsider.

The hike along the beach was a challenge. Tons upon tons of seaweed had washed in with the tide, bringing with it a host of jumping insects that loved to find their way towards my nose and ears. We kept our mouths covered and trudged along, calves burning in the deep sand. The best break came when we stumbled upon (almost literally, in Ted’s case) the Wedding Rocks, a series of 300-year-old petroglyphs depicting whales, boats, faces and, most famously, a wedding scene. It’s easy to miss them, as they are on the sides of tumbled boulders, some very faint and worn.

We finally made it to Sand Point and the trailhead back through the forest, where one last delightful surprise was waiting. A freshly-dead sea lion, flesh still intact, lay in the sand, directly below the entrance to the trailhead. Suddenly, the large vertebrae at the Boneyard made sense–Sea Lion remains! Naturally, I had to touch it (when else would I get the chance?). The fur was coarse and wiry, stiff to the touch.

We hiked back through the forest, exhausted and elated. Thankfully, Ted is a skilled photographer and captured our journey in some gorgeous images that I hope will convey the wonder and wild majesty of this place. Get out to Ozette, everybody. It’s absolutely worth the drive.

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The boardwalk leads through the rainforest.
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Our view from camp.
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Finally, a successful fire! (No need to worry about us, Jack London. We’ve got this.)
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In the morning, we set out again.
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The adventurers!
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Wedding Rocks!
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Standard view at Cape Alava.
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Dead Sea Lion!
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Goodbye for now, Ozette loop!

TRAIL STATS: 

Miles: 9.5 miles

Difficulty: Easy. Make sure you pay attention to the tide, though. Some of the headlands are only passable at lowtide, and the scrambles over them are very steep. Also, don’t forget that you need a permit for this one, so stop by the ranger station first!

Views: Don’t ask me. Just look at Ted’s photos. Also think about the last time you clearly saw the Milky Way. Go go go!

Overall Rating: *****!!!!!!!!!!

 

5. Cape Flattery

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So you just finished hiking the Ozette Loop and you’re on your way back to Seattle, but you’re just not ready to be done with this remarkable scenery. Good! No need to stop there! Turn your car around and drive Northwest. Stop when you hit the corner of the continental United States. Congratulations, you’re at Cape Flattery, our nation’s NW-most point.

You are also on the Makah reservation, home to the Makah tribe, a vibrant whaling culture that once hunted and lived on all of the lands around here. Now, they live in Neah Bay, a small town on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where they have fought hard to continue some of their traditional whaling practices and preserve that aspect of their culture. (For more information about Makah Whaling, click here.)

If you wish to visit Cape Flattery–and I recommend it–make sure you purchase a Makah Recreation Pass at the Neah Bay Museum, the general store or one of the other locations listed on the tribe’s website. It’s just $10 to buy, but you’d be amazed how many visitors chose to go without one and to participate in their own small way in the exploitation of Native American lands. Don’t do it. Buy the pass.

The Cape trail itself is very short. It features boardwalks similar to those on the Ozette trail, as well as a variety of viewing platforms from which visitors can gawk at sea caves, migratory birds and offshore islands. At some point, the Makah arches that support this Cape will collapse back into the sea, so get out there and take a look before they go! (Probably not in our lifetime, but hey, whatever gets you out the door.)

Also, keep an eye out for whales as you drive alongside the strait. We pulled over to watch a pod of Gray Whales on our way out of town, and it was pretty magical. Sometimes, when I feel bad about our world, I remind myself that I get to share the planet with whales. That usually makes me feel a bit better.

TRAIL STATS: 

Miles: .75

Difficulty: Easy. But remember to buy your recreation pass!

Views: Thrilling. The ocean is powerful up here.

Overall Rating: ***


And that’s it for September and October. Two months and 14 hikes to go! I hope I can make it. If you and I haven’t hiked together yet, let’s get out there on the trail. See you in December!

50 Hikes: September/October Edition

50 Hikes: August Edition (Or, the month we got married and everyone moved away)

As I lay in bed last night, I was marveling at what a full, rich summer this has been. I hadn’t thought that anything could compare with the majesty of the summer of 2015, when I traveled across the world to see things I had only dreamed of–the Alhambra, the Sagrada Familia, Benedict Cumberbatch in real life. Last summer opened my eyes to the enchantment of travel. It instilled in me a desire to push myself, to experience new places and meet new people. It was an extraordinary experience, and I fully expected it to be my best summer ever, or at least to hold the record for quite a while to come.

But this summer, I concluded drowsily, may have been even better. This summer, I fell in love with my home. I reveled in Oregon’s majestic natural beauty and took advantage of the short distances to beach, mountain, lake and forest. And I fell in love with my community–all of my friends and family, many of whom came together this past month to celebrate and support as Alec and I tied the knot.

I’m sure there are lots of reasons people choose to have a big, fancy wedding. For me, the planning held absolutely no allure. I struggled to make the wedding a priority in my to-do list, and I resented being asked about it by well-meaning friends, as though they were needling me about my unfinished homework assignment. It  wasn’t until the Big Weekend of Parties finally came, and everyone had gathered, that I discovered that for me, the wedding was about bringing our community together. It was our one big chance to throw a massive party for the people we love from all over the country and the world, to introduce them to each other and then dance the night away. And, of course, a rad opportunity to wear a big dress. So this month, I stopped grinding away at my career and questioning my life choices and focused on intentionally loving and being with the people around me. And it was absolutely beautiful. The sweetness of our time together was enhanced by the knowledge that several of our wedding party would be moving away at the end of the month to pursue new adventures, so I am all the more grateful that we had the Big Weekend of Parties when we did.

Now September is dawning and those planes have flown, and it’s time to tell you about last month’s hikes. These hikes were all vehicles for celebrating friendship. Two were goodbye hikes–last hurrahs with Jenny and Maddy before they moved–and one was an element of the best bachelorette party of all time. Here they are for your enjoyment!


 

1. Boundary Trail on Johnston Ridge (Mt. St. Helens)

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The landscape around Mt St Helens gave me the heebie-jeebies. It’s not to say that this area isn’t beautiful. It’s exquisite. But the beauty of Mt St Helens is unlike anything I am used to in the Pacific Northwest. It’s open, barren, blasted. Only 36 years ago, the ridge Jenny and I hiked on was slammed by pyroclastic flows that leveled trees and claimed the life of vulcanologist David Johnston, for whom the ridge is now named. All along the trail are massive stumps, all that remains of the forest that was ripped away in mere seconds. The mountain is huge in the distance and this hike offers arresting views of its majesty. (A word to the wise, though–put on your sunscreen before you get out of the car. Once you see the mountain, you’ll get all excited and awestruck and forget to protect your pasty pate. Don’t end up a crispy husk like Old Joellen, kids.)

TRAIL STATS: 

Miles: 5 out-and -back, for us. There are many extensions to this hike that I’d like to try though!

Difficulty: The trail is quite flat and generally easy to navigate. There is one spot about 2 miles in where it narrows considerably with a pulse-elevating drop-off, but if you can get past that, the best view is waiting for you on the other side. Worth it.

Views: Helen is a sexy, sexy lass. (Paris thought so too, and look at all the trouble that caused.)

Overall Rating: *****

 

2. Latourell Falls

 

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Latourell Falls is a nice, easy Gorge hike, featuring two lovely waterfalls and a short drive from Portland. These apparent strengths become weaknesses in the summer, though, as they encourage crowds and their associated noise and garbage. Still, the waterfalls themselves are worth your time, especially because they feature some very photogenic basalt formations. Maddy was able to catch several Pokemon along our route as well, so for all of you budding trainers, this could be a great place to hatch some eggs as you hike.

TRAIL STATS:

Miles: 2.3 mile loop!

Difficulty: Easy.

Views: It’s strange how the beauty of the Columbia Gorge can start to feel routine. I would call this standard Gorge excellence.

Overall Rating: **

 

3. Tiny Trail to the Cowlitz River (Packwood, WA)

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Of all of the amazing natural places I’ve been able to visit this year, Packwood is definitely in the top three. This unassuming little town teeters on the edge of Mt. Rainer National Park and is a stellar locale for hiking, swimming and bachelorette parties. My bridesmaids and I discovered a trail behind our cabin that led down to a quiet beach* on the Cowlitz River, complete with waterfall and friendly snakes. We spent a lovely afternoon swimming and sunning ourselves and returned to the beach at midnight to watch the Perseids meteor shower. In the morning, I went back on my own to watch the water and write my wedding vows. It was a pretty magical 24-hours.

The trail was only .25 miles long, and I wouldn’t know how to direct you to it if I tried, but if you ever do find yourself in Packwood, click your heels three times and whisper “There’s no place like Laura Beach” and maybe the path will present itself. If not, I’m sure there are any number of enchanting trails to entice you.

*which we christened “Laura Beach” after my super-awesome sister-in-law

TRAIL STATS:

Miles: Umm… maybe .5 miles round trip? It’s not the journey on this one, it’s the destination.

Difficulty: The trouble will be finding it again.

Views: Did you see my rad iPhone picture above? Yeah. That.

Overall Rating: *****!!!!!!!

 


 

So just three hikes in August. Of course, the big adventure of the month was not a hike. It was the first step on a life-long journey of marriage to my hiking companion, my font of wisdom, my source of silliness, my tired teacher, my pancake chef, my biggest fan and my bearded beauty. He’s a really great one, guys, and I am pleased to report that marriage so far has been exactly the same as it was before, but with exciting new lingo that makes me smile whenever I say it. Husband. Wife. Mother-in-law. Husband. Husband. Husband.

See you in October!

 

 

50 Hikes: August Edition (Or, the month we got married and everyone moved away)