Thursday, September 29, 2011

The View From Here

Park Meadow is a lovely spot in the Three Sisters Wilderness, popular with horse riders and hikers and along a well-trod trail. My friend, Gayle and our equines Jeep and Danny, had our second go today of finding this mountain paradise.

Danny, Gayle and Jeep

We went down the wrong trail, twice in two visits, consulted guide books, asked a mountain biker who had a map and found a spot with cell phone coverage to call Gayle's friend. How hard could it be to find a very large, popular alpine meadow?

Pretty hard, if you're not paying attention.

We did eventually end up in Park Meadow, and filled our vision with the mountains we daily look at from a distance. We were the only visitors present, a sure treat on a splendid late summer/early fall day. (Contented sigh.) There's not much more that can be said. If you've ever immersed yourself in a wild place, you'll know what I mean.

Broken Top in the background

As we headed down the trail toward home, I was mesmerized by the flopping of Danny's ears in time with his hoofbeats. I got to thinking about our experience and wondered it there is some sort of life application to go with it. It was a pleasant thing to do on a peaceful afternoon in the deep silence of the forest.

So here's what I came up with...

First off, if you're going somewhere that's a destination for many others who share your passion, follow their footsteps. We headed off on a trail today with a marked absence any other hoof prints and the significance of that didn't occur to us until we were down there a ways. We did this twice! When we finally got on the right trail, it was obvious that many other horses trekked there.

And  don't depend entirely on what others tell you. It's one of the common-sense rules of wilderness travel to carry a map, but we didn't. We figured we wouldn't get lost because we were on well-marked trails and knew how to get back to the trailhead. If'we'd had a map, we'd have seen the bigger picture. Especially today, when I remembered to bring my glasses.

Finally, realize that signs won't always be in the right place. At the place we turned onto the wrong trail, there is no sign for Park Meadow at all. That certainly was an annoyance, but we didn't need to depend on a marker. If we'd been following those hoof prints, we'd have been ok.

In this case, the destination was way more valuable than the journey. Sometimes it turns out like that.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Graduate

Ben has been attending an institute of higher learning, better known as Pet Smart obedience classes. It was one of those impulse decisions - I went in there to get some dog treats and came out with him signed up.

But it's turned out to be a really good thing. I started clicker training him but soon discovered that learning a technique from books and the internet isn't nearly as effective as being in a real, live, noisy, full-of-distractions class.

And what place is more distracting for dogs than Pet Smart? It's like kindergarten where the teacher says yes, you can touch, smell and taste everything. And if you don't make it to the bathroom, we'll clean up after you and won't be mortified with embarrassment.

Well, not quite, but it seemed like that the first time or two we entered the store. Even today, after 6 weeks of lessons and homework, Ben burst through the door barking and pulling on the lead and acting like he'd never been out in public before.

But he soon settled down, did the required tasks and came away with a certificate and a photo.

I can't believe I have a photo of my dog wearing a hat...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Pausing for a Poem

I recently went on a sojourn to the North Cascades in Washington State, to attend a writers retreat at the Environmental Learning Center of the North Cascades Institute. Sounds kind of tree-hugger, doesn't it?

It didn't matter to me if we hugged trees, as long as we could write. And write we did! My brain, feeling like its been in a holding pattern for the past couple of years, nearly exploded with the words. By the end of the first day, not many of the words made much sense, but that's what revision is for, right?

The Learning Center is on the shore of Lake Diablo, with several snowy peaks sticking up around it. Its a great place to write from if you want to be inspired by nature. I like that the focus of the retreats is about gaining inspiration from creation, though they wouldn't put it in those words!

Turns out I was the local hero too - I was the last person to sign up, just a week or so before the retreat, and they'd been about to cancel it because of low numbers. But my registration saved the day! So we were an intimate group of eight, with two instructors. Ana Maria Spanga taught memoir/essay and Tim McNulty got us writing poetry.

Now, poetry is way low on my list of creative things to do, down there with painting portraits and arranging the linen cupboard according to thread count on the sheets. A bad experience in grade school put me off poetry for life, or so I thought.

Poets can be made, we learned. There are actually steps you take in crafting a poem that result in a meaningful string of words. Who knew (well, I suppose poets do but I never bothered to listen.)

We did some work in the classroom, doing a few mental exercises to get in touch with all five senses. I suppose it's a bit like those things actors do to get into the scene -it looks (and may sound) way weirder than it really is. Tim talked about being attentive, observant. All good, practical stuff. Hmm, maybe this isn't too liberal-hippy for me after all.

The afternoon was spent outside on one of the lovely trails used by the Learning Center. Armed with our notebooks and pens, water bottles and hats, and liberally doused with bug spray, we headed off to attentively observe and write it all down. At this stage I was still feeling a bit clunky with my word choices and imagery. Kind of like being a hiking boot lined up next to a ballet slipper. But here's what I love about these kind of things, especially ones held out in the wilderness - everyone has insecurities and it ends up being a supportive and safe place to share.

There was a bit of nature-inspired tension too - we briefly shared the trail with a mother bear and her cubs.

 They'd been in the area all season, not causing any trouble (very good bear security prevails at this place.) It satisfied my curiosity about what it would be like to meet a bear in the woods. A heightened awareness of where you're standing (behind the person who'd had many encounters with bears is a good place, I learned), appreciation for a wild animal doing her thing, and relief when she moves off and you can proceed down the trail again.

It didn't really add anything to my poem but sure made for a good photo op!

You can stop reading here if you're one of the great unwashed who don't read poetry, like I was before this retreat and still am if it gets too introspective. But I want to share my poem . It was quite cathartic. (I love that I can use that word in a sentence and its appropriate.) The hang-ups are gone. What a sweet surprise.

A silver glint sparks.
A rock lies upturned beside the path,
  moss on its back.
Tipped by a careless boot, perhaps?
A rock undisturbed long enough to sprout moss.
 Turned over, it still glimmers
  Moss can't hide the sparkle.

My last poem penned in grade school. Mumbo-jumbo about summer sounds,
  the awkward ending, "and crickets sound like sleigh bells too"
a host for moss growing on my creativity.

A small rocky cave appears.
What hides there? A bug? A skittery rodent?
 A perfect metaphor?
Come out into the light.
Sparkle, catch my attention.
  Don't let the moss take hold.