Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sailors take warning

I remember hearing, for most of my life, the saying, "red sky at night, sailor's delight; red sky in morning, sailors take warning." This is what the sky looked like this morning when I left for my Saturday walk. Then the sun came out and it was cold but really sunny and beautiful. Now, however, at noon, the skies are beginning to cloud over and rain is forecast for this evening. And it's supposed to continue into tomorrow evening, right when all the kids are supposed to be out on the streets having their trick-or-treat fun.
One of the ladies brought her dog in costume this morning. It also helped to keep him warm (or even hot). He didn't seem to mind, anyway. Afterwards, I headed over to the Farmers' Market to have my favorite Ethiopian breakfast. It's made of lentils, cabbage, carrots and potatoes spiced with turmeric. I had to ask because I thought maybe it was saffron, which also turns veggies a yellow color. Some information about turmeric from Wikipedia:
Turmeric is widely used as a spice in South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking. In Nepal, turmeric is widely grown and is extensively used in almost every vegetable and meat dish in the country for its color, as well as for its medicinal value. In South Africa, turmeric is traditionally used to give boiled white rice a golden color.
This food is served on teff, a strange spongy kind of bread, and the whole meal has become my favorite food at the market. It turns out that teff is a kind of wheat widely cultivated in Ethiopia and Australia. We don't seem to grow it much here, but traditionally Ethiopian food is served with the bread, which is torn off and used as a kind of edible utensil. I use a regular fork, though. You can see the teff bread behind the closed container.
Under the covered section is a chicken dish that I don't eat, but these veggies and lentils can be made more piquant with the addition of the green stuff in the jar in the back. I'm not sure what it is; at first I was hesitant to use it, but now I add it onto everything. After buying a couple of delicata squash, I headed back home. Now I'm beginning to see the "red sky in morning" turn the beautiful sunny day into the harbinger of rain, rain, and more rain. I'm in the Pacific Northwest, after all.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Snowshrooms and Sasquatch

Today only seven of us diehard Senior Trailblazers showed up for the hike to what was advertised as the "Middle Fork area." It was raining when we woke up. And rain was forecast for most of the day. (Actually one other Trailblazer showed up but promptly left before we decided where to go.) Nobody really wanted to go on a hike around town, because none of us were truly ready to give up on the High Country. After a fairly long discussion, we decided to head up the Mt. Baker Highway and go up to Church Mountain, for our third time this season.
We hit the trail by 9:40 am without our rain gear on, as it was only spitting very lightly when we started out. Of course every one of us was prepared to throw on plenty of rain gear, but it wasn't really needed. I began to notice a preponderance of mushrooms of every sort, pushing up through the ground with little heed for the mulch and leaves on top. This picture looked to me like just the sort of place a leprechaun would love to inhabit.
Our hike started out at 2,300 feet elevation, through yellow leaves and occasional low light shining through. I managed to keep our hike to a slow crawl as I would spy more and more mushrooms to photograph. There was such a profusion, and my friends began to discourage me from taking more pictures so we could actually make some progress up the steady grade. We climbed through 17 switchbacks on our way to the meadow.
At about 4,300 feet, we began to see evidence of the recent snowfall here in the High Country. It was very wet snow and would have been perfect for a snowball fight, but we kept climbing. The trail is very good, with nobody ready to turn back. It wasn't even lunchtime yet! But the higher we went, the more snow we encountered.
By the time we reached the meadow and 4,800 feet of elevation, it was snowing, and we were walking through snow up to the top of our boots. In some places it was even deeper. Here's Mikey Poppins with his umbrella and shorts while the rest of us are donning our coats, gloves and winter hats. Mike, Earl and Fred are already thinking about lunch. Since it was breezy and NOT WARM here, we retreated a couple  hundred feet and stopped for lunch. In no time at all, we were all very cold and ready to head back down.
I managed to get more pictures of the myriad mushrooms on the trail (more of which are available if you click on the "Trailblazers Fall 2010" link in the right-hand side of this blog) as we descended out of the snow back into more hiker-friendly terrain. I noticed that Fred kept hanging back, but as we descended further, I wondered who had joined our group:
He looked vaguely familiar, had picked up some shrooms, but I really didn't recognize him. It was a Sasquatch from the Pacific Northwest! Okay, I'm new to the area. When someone suggested this was a Sasquatch, I said I didn't want to hurt anybody's feelings, thinking this was the name of a PNW tribe, but it's the name of BIGFOOT here in the PNW!! Then he revealed himself as none other than FRED from our group. You can easily see why I was fooled. But I was even more fooled when I realized I didn't know who Sasquatch is. That link will tell you, if you don't already know.

It was a great day, with more than six miles in our High Country, with snowshrooms, Sasquatch, and weather better than we had hoped for!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Random acts of kindness

I was turned on to a wonderful blog the other day by Linda at A Slower Pace. She wrote about an Oregon physician, Jill Ginsberg, who began a blog last month after deciding to honor her mother's memory by giving away a $100 dollar bill to a stranger every day during the month of October. She is unsure how or whether to continue her blog after the month is over, but I was so fascinated by the idea and her story that I went back and read every post. She calls the blog (at least for now) My Month of Hundreds.

Every single entry has been interesting. She is a good writer and communicator. Jill calls herself a "fifty-something physician" who inherited some unexpected money from her mother and wanted to do something special with the money to honor her. The story was picked up last Sunday by OregonLive.Com and now Jill has become something of a celebrity. The link takes you to the article and to some of the comments left by readers. What surprises me is how many people seem to think this is a terrible idea; some even find it reprehensible, which flabbergasted me.

It has also made me think of how a random act of kindness can be construed, or misconstrued. I've done my share, brought flowers to a friend for no reason, given money to a homeless man on the street, or befriended a stranger and given them food and other sustenance. I haven't done it for awhile, but I notice that since reading her blog, I look at the people on the bus or in the coffee shop with a different eye, wondering how each one of them might act and feel if Jill were to walk up to them and give them a C-note.

Thinking about these unique and individual lives, who are precious to their loved ones, and hopefully to themselves, makes me realize that we are each separate and connected at the same time. Although I don't know any of the people on the bus personally, I could sit down and start a conversation at any time. I usually follow the custom of taking a seat on the bus with nobody in the seat next to me, until all the spaces are taken and someone needs to sit beside another rider. If the bus begins to fill, I always pick up the packages I might have placed next to me so someone can sit down. I fantasized this morning about Jill sitting down next to me and offering me a $100 bill in honor of her mother. How would I feel?

It's interesting to wonder whether I would feel honored or somehow seen as needy. That money would certainly not change my life (and would probably be spent on a pair of cargo pants at REI), but some of the people who get on the bus at the Lighthouse Mission might not feel the same way. Jill embarked on an adventure that has changed quite a few lives already, her own included.

If you want to be inspired or have time for a good read, I highly recommend My Month of Hundreds.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Fall at the Market

You know you can click any picture to enlarge
Visiting the Bellingham Farmers' Market in the fall is a different experience than in the summer: even though it will remain open until the Saturday before Christmas, the kinds of merchandise and the types of produce have changed a great deal. Here you see some Brussels sprouts trees for sale, gourds, pumpkins, potatoes, squash. All of the luscious fruit and most of the veggies, except for a few wonderful hothouse heritage tomatoes, are gone until next year.
Many of the outside booths have moved inside, where overhead heaters become places for people to congregate. Vendors are beginning to market their wares to holiday shoppers, with all kinds of homemade soaps, creams, jewelry, and the like. I was simply mesmerized by Margot Bianca's wonderful handmade batik display. I spent quite a while looking through her bandannas and table runners.
Each one is unique and beautifully finished. After perusing them all, going through and looking at each one to see the differences between them, I chose one. It was not easy to do! You will be seeing this bandanna around my neck on upcoming hikes.
Visit Margot's Etsy website here
And then, just when I thought I had finished looking at the wonderful batiks, I saw on the way out that she had another entire table of silk batik scarves and runners. Although I didn't buy that beautiful grey and white silk neck scarf, it was only because I had run out of money. I will bring more money next time I visit the Market and maybe this one will still be available.
As the season changes from the bright colors of fall to the more muted colors of winter, this scarf will probably be warming my neck, if there is any justice in the world. It was hard to leave the sunshine and clouds of this glorious Saturday to come inside to write on my blog, but now that the wind is picking up and once the rain that is forecast to move in tonight arrives, I'll be happy to visit all my blogging buddies and hang out inside curled up in front of my iMac.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Rainbow Ridge 2010

Last year when we did this hike to Rainbow Ridge, I fell in the slippery mud on the way down and managed to make my shin into mincemeat. Today, however, as fourteen Senior Trailblazers began our hike to the ridge, it had been rain- and snow-free in this area for at least a week. Therefore, everything was quite a bit drier than last year. Witness our clear blue skies, and what Mt. Shuksan looks like from this side. I almost didn't recognize my old friend from over here.
One of the things that makes this hike so special is that after hiking through mud and roots and a pretty terrible trail, after a 70-mile drive from Bellingham, the incredible views you get from the ridge are spectacular. Baker Lake is in the picture above with fall colors in the foreground, and Mt. Baker in the background in the picture below. But you can also see that the clouds have begun to move in. It was a sunny hike to the ridge, however.
With Mt. Baker in the background, Frank who is now 80, is in the foreground showing that he's still got a year or two (or ten) still in him.  The hike up to the ridge was better this year than last, when it had snowed and made the trail even more slippery and treacherous than today. No mishaps at all!
We went farther along the ridge this year, and here I got a great view of Rainbow Creek, with fall colors and an old tree that was only missing an eagle's nest to be absolutely perfect. The dropoff from the ridge was steep enough to make me a little nervous; Al was holding onto my camera strap as I leaned out as far as I could go to get this picture.
Here is our beautiful lunch spot, surrounded by amazing views, a nice breeze and a temperature close to 60 degrees. Several times on this hike I was contemplating the end of the season, and thinking it could not have been more perfect than this hike together. Next week we begin our hikes around Bellingham. Now, not to lessen the actual experience of getting to this amazing location, which was hiking through mud, roots, steep terrain, and the occasional slip, here's a picture of what the trail looked like in places, for us to gain the ridge:
If you can believe it, last year was even wetter and muddier than today. I just had to show you one of the more icky spots. That said, if I see another chance like we had today to hike up to Rainbow Ridge, I'll do it. With my trekking poles and my hiking buddies, I feel a whole lot more secure. What a great end to the 2010 season of High Country hikes!!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A very special day

Because of the next few days of forecasted weather, Al of the Senior Trailblazers sent out an email asking if anyone would be interested in taking a rather long trip on Tuesday to the North Cascades National Park, a good 90+ miles south of us. Since our regular hiking day is Thursday, not many people answered his email. But I did, having missed out last Thursday because of illness. Fred and Mike, two more Trailblazer regulars, joined Al and me on this absolutely magnificent day. The sign at the trailhead gave us a good idea of what we might be able to accomplish: a fairly easy hike to Cascade Pass, and then we hiked from there up to the Sahale Arm, up a ridge that follows a trail to the Sahale Glacier.
The initial part of the hike took us up 36 switchbacks and a long gentle slope to Cascade Pass. The entire mountain range we saw is dominated by this beautiful Johannesburg mass. We also saw Sahale Peak and glacier, as well as Boston Peak, many new (to me) vistas. When we reached the Pass, we had a wonderful view at these mountains as well as access to several trails.
Fred and Al arriving at Cascade Pass
After a short rest, we headed up Sahale Arm, an old prospectors' trail. After a steep climb of around 800 feet, we saw the cirque of Doubtful Lake (a strange name, it is definitely a lake) and looked down into the Stehekin River Valley. You can sure tell that the area was carved by glaciers, as many are still around. We looked across at Inspiration Glacier, which can't be seen from the Pass. Here's a picture of Doubtful Lake.
Although you can't see it here, the lake has several waterfalls heading into it, but you could hear them very clearly. The day was bright and sunny with a light breeze, almost perfect hiking weather. Al and I rested and had our lunch while Fred and Mike decided to hike on to the end of Sahale Arm to the glacier, with an agreement that they would head back to join us by 1:30 or so. After we ate lunch and had rested a bit, Al and I walked a little ways further along the Sahale Arm trail. We saw Fred and Mike in the distance, standing in one spot for a long time, and then they headed back to us earlier than planned. This is why:
We learned that this big bear (VERY big, more than 300-400 pounds, they estimated) was in the trail ahead of them. Not having been spotted by him, they watched him in amazement for a long time. Of course I wasn't there, and they had no camera with them.  By the time they had reached us and told us the story, we got out binoculars and saw him on the ridge. I took this picture with my telephoto, and we discussed going back to get better pictures, but this was as close as I wanted to get. At one point, Fred and Mike were within 250 feet of him!! I have one more picture that shows him:
Isn't he beautiful? And scary?? Wouldn't you go the other direction? I sure did. However, this was just about the most perfect day I can remember in awhile. I am tired, but not terribly so. We hiked nine miles and gained 2,700 feet in elevation. After we drove down the road to Concrete (yes, there is a town named Concrete), we stopped at Annie's Pizza Place for dinner together. We left town this morning in the dark and arrived home in the dark, but what a day we had in between!
As you can see in this picture, the colors are still vibrant, if not as abundant, and if we can have a day even HALF as wonderful on Thursday as today was, I will be a very happy and grateful Senior.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Feelin' groovy

I took this picture of these pumpkins at the Farmers' Market a week ago. I am amazed at the variety of pumpkins out there these days. And yes, I'm feeling MUCH better today. In fact, a small contingent of my favorite hikers will be heading out tomorrow for an early week hike, and I begged to go along, feeling the need to get some wilderness under my feet.

What do you think of these weird pumpkins? The warty one on the top looked deformed to me, until I noticed a whole lot of them around the market stalls. I don't know the name of it, do you? The one directly in front, kind of flattened, is called a Cinderella pumpkin. Can you imagine a carriage and team of horses? The frog also didn't need his shade, it was overcast and threatening to rain.

My ear is much better, so don't worry about me. I won't be doing anything tomorrow to endanger it, like I did last Saturday. But I do have to say I am so happy to have had the chance to get my knees in the breeze last weekend, this next one looks like a washout, and the season is definitely winding down when the sun has set by 6:30 pm. Once Daylight Saving Time is over, it will be dark by 5:00 pm. Or earlier. We are still losing about three-and-a-half minutes a day up here.

I had a Sharp-Shinned Hawk come onto my porch a few minutes ago, looking for a tasty treat. It was amazing how quickly the birdies disappeared en masse. I have a couple of Northern Flickers that are about the same size, but these birds know a hawk when they see one. They don't fly away from the flickers, but the front porch was deserted for a while when Hawk showed up.

I have noticed that the traffic on my blog has slowed to less than half of what it was a year ago. Is it because I'm writing on here less? Sometimes I ponder the meaning of blogging, and other times I just can't wait to say hello and see what all my virtual buddies are up to.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

I couldn't help myself

Christine, me, and Linny at Skydive Snohomish
Even though I am still recovering from my cold, I got a call from Linny that she and Christine would be out at the Dropzone at Snohomish on Saturday and would I like to join them for a few jumps? Well, when I got the call on Friday, I was sure I wouldn't be joining them. But since I got a wonderful massage after my workout on Friday and a good night's sleep, this morning when I woke, I figured it was at least worth a trip 75 miles south for the possibility of a jump or two. After all, it has been three weeks, and the season is closing fast.

Linny was really surprised to see me, after I had left her a voice mail with a message that I would try but made no promises. This morning I felt so much better that Smart Guy and I headed to the DZ in hopes that I would be able to make at least one skydive before realizing I was really too sick. Linny got Christine and me to join her on the second load of the day for a wonderful three-way skydive that will live in my memory for a long time. I then got myself on a jump with Hank, a fun guy in our age range, and after packing and getting ready for a second jump, I found myself on a fun two-way with him that had every sign of me being completely well. But on the descent in freefall, my ears complained and when I opened my canopy, oh my, I realized it was NOT okay. Felt like an icepick in my right ear. After landing and thanking Hank for the wonderful jump, I asked Smart Guy if we could just go home.
Well, he still had to find out from Linny what the best way would be for him to wash his rig. Here she is telling him all the secret stuff about how to get it clean (Woolite, Spray-n-Wash, soaking in the bathtub). She used to wash her own rig every winter, but now it's only now and then. After hearing all the important parts, I asked if we could go home so I could hopefully recover from what was probably a bad idea. My croaky voice had returned, my ear ached, and I was so tired I couldn't even imagine why I thought I was well enough to do this.

But actually, I had two wonderful skydives to add to my memories, and now I'm home writing about it. And tomorrow I will rest, I promise! However, next week I might be able to get two hikes in before calling it a season...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

No hike today

Instead of hiking today, I am nursing a cold I seem to have picked up in the past couple of days. It started out with a very scratchy throat, cough, and a general feeling of malaise. But I did think it was getting better, and I even made plans for the hike today.

But last night, I woke several times with a very sore throat and lots of congestion, making my desire to go along on the hike with my friends seem a whole lot less appealing. Plus the possibility of rain was the clincher, seeing as it would not be a good idea to make myself sicker. So I reluctantly stayed home and thought about my usual Thursday post and what I would write about instead of posting lovely pictures of my day's journey into the mountains. Today might be the last time for our visits to the High Country, as this front might bring enough snow for us to start our hikes around town. Today is our last scheduled trip up there anyway, but if the weather cooperates we might make it one more time.

I have to reluctantly conclude that my little one-legged chickadee has been recycled, as he has not appeared in the last two days. I suspect that the fluttering wing he needed to use to compensate for the recently lost leg was enough to entice a raptor to check him out. If by some chance he does return, I will rejoice and let you know right away. But the signs are not good.

On a positive note, however, I watched the miners in Chile yesterday, being pulled out of the ground and was able to celebrate along with the rest of the world at their amazing rescue. It was horrible to contemplate them being down here for several more months. The fact that everything proceeded with such speed and competence was an inspiration to me: a situation that seems entirely hopeless can actually have a good outcome, given enough ingenuity and perseverance.

I have purchased a set of snowshoes so I can hopefully take advantage of the forecasted snow this winter. We have a moderate to strong La NiƱa in progress, which usually brings the Pacific Northwest more precipitation and colder temperatures during the winter. Although I am not looking forward to the moderate temperatures leaving town, I had so much fun using (and breaking!) Al's spare snowshoes that I had to buy a pair for myself. They look just like this picture, MSR Evo 22's in a nice sedate blue.

As you can see, today's snowshoes bear little resemblance to the old ones that looked to me a whole lot like a tennis racket, and using these strapped onto my regular hiking boots are very easy to use. If I have the chance to be in deep powder I'll need a pair of tails added onto them, but it's not that likely in this area. Last year we had what is affectionately known as "Cascade cement" and expect that to be more like what we'll have this year. But you never know.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

One legged chickadee

Taken from vtpeacknik's Flickr photos
I haven't yet been able to get a picture myself of my little one-legged chickadee, but he looks just like this one. I couldn't figure out what the little guy was trying to do, the past few days, fluttering his wings and huddling on the ground with the sparrows. At first I thought he had a broken wing, but he can fly just fine. Then I figured out that he has lost a leg somehow. He can drink water and hang with his one leg upside down, just like this one, eating at the upside-down feeders normally visited only by the goldfinches.

At first I thought he was trying to nest or something, fluttering over the flower box in an unusual way, until I called Smart Guy over and we watched him for awhile, realizing that he can fly just fine, eat suet and drink water out of the birdbath, too. On the ground he balances by fluttering the wing on the side where the leg is missing, which seems to have been lost recently. On a tree limb he leans onto his breast but hangs on the branch pretty well. I put some sunflower chips into the flower bed and he found the stash tonight.

It's been a difficult day bird-wise, with a very hard strike by a goldfinch on the living room window. Although I've got lots of markers as well as reflective stickers on the window, which may keep the number of strikes down, it doesn't eliminate them. The finch lay stunned on the front porch while we put barriers around it to keep the interest of predators away. I didn't have much hope, but after about an hour the bird began to look around and finally flew away. Often they have sustained brain damage and don't survive in the long term,  but I can hope it will be back at my feeders tomorrow. It is a handsome bird and there's no way for me to know it from the others.

Upon looking on the internet for information about one-legged chickadees, I found that it is a fairly common sight at feeders around the country. If you're a chickadee and you have to lose a limb, a leg is probably the easiest to adapt to. I guess I should name it (I'll say it's a male but I have no way of knowing) and wonder if "Peg Leg" is just way too obvious. Or maybe "Peggy"? I'll be watching him to see if he keeps coming around and will be putting out some extra food for him. Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Social Network

Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) and Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg)
I went to see the new movie The Social Network yesterday. Yes, I am a member of Facebook, along with 500 million other people, it turns out. I have spent the last couple of hours reading about this fictionalized version of real people and how Facebook has become such an integral part of many people's lives in such a short time. It was created in 2004 and has made many people, notably Mark Zuckerberg, billionaires.

The movie is based on a book by Ben Mezrich, The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal, which apparently doesn't have much to base its facts on other than the collaboration of Eduardo Savarin, who comes across in the movie as being pretty much shafted by Zuckerberg. But apparently that's what happened, as Savarin has now been given a very handsome settlement and has been added back onto Facebook's site as one of the co-founders, after his lawsuit against Zuckerberg.

Whatever. The movie itself is not really about Facebook, but about Mark's genius and the interplay between three people: Mark (played incredibly well by Jesse Eisenberg), Eduardo Savarin (Andrew Garfield), and Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake). If Eisenberg doesn't receive an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal, I will be really surprised. He is unforgettable in this part. When I looked up Zuckerberg on Wikipedia, I was also struck at how much they look alike. I wonder if Zuckerberg talks and acts like Eisenberg did in the movie.

Sean Parker comes across as a real slimeball and Justin Timberlake plays him masterfully. I can't believe that he is really like that, given what I've read about him, but in the movie he is pretty sleazy and a really unpleasant individual. The movie may take liberties with real people, but it sure makes for an absorbing film experience. My favorite site for reviews, Rotten Tomatoes, gives the movie a 97% freshness rating, which is amazing. Obviously I wasn't the only one who liked the movie. And I can't imagine my life without Facebook.

One reviewer, Linda Cook on the Quad City Times, says it well:
It’s incredible how Facebook has become such an integral part of the lives of millions, and at so many levels — from those who check in once a month or so to those of us (and admittedly I’m one of them) who log in a couple of times daily. And it’s fascinating how such a relatively new development now has a “historical movie” dedicated to its origins.
I find it wonderful that I can keep tabs with all my old friends in Boulder, that all of my skydiving friends and acquaintances for the last twenty years, my family members (every one of my siblings and most of their offspring are on Facebook) show me pictures of their exploits and tell me what they are doing on a regular basis. And our vocabulary has definitely changed when someone asks you to "friend" them you know they are talking about on Facebook.

If you see the movie, I'd be interested to know what you think of it. I found it worthwhile just for the entertainment value, and not having been one of those aware of the origins of the phenomenon, I was also fascinated that it managed to make writing code and computer programming exciting.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

We found our thrill

...on Blueberry Hill! Today sixteen Senior Trailblazers headed up to Canyon Ridge, which we have christened Blueberry Hill because of the incredible profusion of blueberries, which we managed to consume until our fingers and mouths had turned several shades of purple. Although they were not as sweet as last year's crop, there were so many of them! And the fall colors, as you can see here, were just outstanding.
If you enlarge this picture, you can see that the red leaves are hiding a spectacular number of blueberries, and if we had not had a destination, we would probably have made ourselves sick standing around and eating them. As it was, we tore ourselves away from the berries to obtain our high point on the ridge below. You can easily see our trail leading to the top of that hill.
I know it looks like I fiddled with the color on this picture, but I didn't. This is what we saw today. Although there were high clouds, we could see Shuksan and Baker, even if partially obscured by clouds, and the Canadian and American border peaks. We could have hiked down a short ways and found ourselves in Canada. In fact, on the way back down to our cars, we saw three Border Patrol personnel heading up the trail. When we stopped for our lunch break around noon, you can clearly see the Canadian and American border peaks in this picture.
The rounded peak in the middle of the picture is the American Border Peak, and the one to its left is the Canadian Border Peak. The border itself is between the two. Those high clouds you see here were with us for the entire day, keeping us cool but dry. The weather for the next few days is expected to be much wetter, as well as windy, so we were all pleased to have our usual Thursday hike, seeing the beautiful fall colors while staying dry. It was just great! Here we are heading back down to our cars after a wonderful day enjoying the High Country.
I have lots more pictures, some of the gorgeous Shuksan and Baker, that I'll add to my Trailblazers link on the right-hand side of this blog, but I don't promise to do it before I've had my dinner and wine. Maybe tomorrow morning before heading to the gym... It was another magnificent day with my BFFs, and there were three new (to me) Trailblazers with us today. The more I think about my choice to retire here, the more amazed I am that Bellingham is so perfect. I am truly blessed.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

When the frost is on the pumpkin

This morning after my workout, I walked to the Community Food Co-op (which I do most days) and saw their outside display of pumpkins covered with water. I assumed it was frost that had melted from the rising temperature and sunshine. But it only got down to 39 degrees (above freezing) and the dewpoint was also 39, so what I'm thinking is that this is dew, not melted frost. Oh, well, it's close enough to being frost to make me feel the changing season.

We are losing three-and-a-half minutes every day here in the uppermost left-hand corner of the United States, just a little south of Vancouver, BC. The days are now shorter than the nights, and you can feel and see the change of season everywhere. It's October, after all, and even if there wasn't frost on these guys last night, you can bet it won't be long now. I love this time of the year. The sky seems bluer in comparison to the bright leaves, and the crisp bite in the air is exhilarating.

I've got juncos returning to my porch after being gone all summer. They must be migrating south, although some stay around all winter. Maybe this is as far south as they go. They have joined my usual goldfinches, chickadees, nuthatches, flickers, downy woodpeckers and sparrows. I'm sorry, but to me those sparrows just have no redeeming qualities. Those people who brought them over here from overseas (to control insect pests) in the 1850s couldn't have foreseen how adaptable they are, or how quickly they would crowd out native species. I end up feeding them, too, since they don't care how I feel about them and travel around in rapacious flocks.

The other day when I was filling the black-oil sunflower seed feeder, I was getting ready to hang it back up on its peg when a nuthatch landed on the feeder inches from my face. I was still holding it. He seemed to be looking right into my eyes, showing no fear or skittishness. He waited for me to say something and I told him how much I admire him. He said, "tsip tsip tsip" to me, took a sunflower seed from right under my nose and flew off. Although I don't speak nuthatch, I think he was saying thank you.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Halfway to Heaven

My sister Norma Jean knows that when I lived in Colorado, I had spent quite a few years climbing Fourteeners -- peaks at least 14,000 feet high -- before becoming distracted by my obsession with skydiving. She read Halfway to Heaven and told me how much she enjoyed the book. Although she has no interest in climbing any of these herself, it entertained her and retained her interest because of the great writing style of the author, Mark Obmascik. He gives a little description of himself on the book jacket as being "fat, forty-four, father of three sons, and facing a vasectomy" when he decided to try some male bonding with his son by hiking a peak together.

And then, in what he describes as a fit of insanity, he decided to try climbing all fifty-four of the Fourteeners in one year! Only a select few have accomplished the feat. The book tells of his adventures.

Some of the reviews call it a "hilarious midlife picaresque" or an "oxygen-deprived romp," or a "coming of middle-age adventure story." These descriptions are all true, and I've enjoyed the book a great deal. Obmascik's way of writing captivated me from the beginning, and since I've climbed several of these peaks myself, I was interested in finding out how he dealt with the difficulties I also faced. Climbing some of these peaks is simply dealing with hiking up several thousand feet of elevation gain while at altitude. Most start somewhere above 10,000 feet and you just grunt and sweat and keep going until you're at the summit.

Obmascik tells in his chapter on "Gravity" about one guy he climbed with who "has only six more Fourteeners to go, but they are all either hard physically, or hard technically, or simply hard both ways. Now that silver has completed its hostile takeover of his scalp, he wonders how many more hard peaks his legs can withstand." No kidding.

It's true that there are some hard and fast rules that everyone who is successful at climbing these peaks follows: you start really early, before dawn, get up to the summit before noon, and climb back down by early afternoon. In the High Country, thunderstorms are a real danger and build almost every afternoon. Most fatalities in Colorado are from falls or lightning strikes. I've been in a few sticky situations myself. On my other blog I wrote about some dumb things I did while learning the ropes.

Here in Washington state, all the hikes I do are tame in comparison to Colorado's Fourteeners, but people still die from falls and from getting lost. However, we start our hikes from somewhere around 3,000-4,000 feet and climb up to 6,000 or so, maximum. Big difference. I'm not sure how I would fare if I tried to climb Fourteeners today.
If you read about Mark's adventures in his book, you wil definitely be entertained. The Cascades, for me, are exciting enough, and beautiful, to boot. This picture was taken last Thursday on Ptarmigan Ridge, and I feel the same wonder and challenge from them today that I got from Colorado's Fourteeners thirty years ago.