Archive for ‘Observations’

I’m a Pomeranian!

Since I was adopted it has always been a guessing game as to my ethnicity. Using my basic physical characteristics combined with where I was born it was presumed I was Scandinavian with a touch of German. I was born with red hair (which turned blonde when I was a toddler), I’m relatively tall, with a wee bit of a temper.

Fast forward to the miracles of DNA testing. I just received my results tonight and it turns out I am less than 10% Scandinavian and roughly a quarter Germanic. However, the majority of my heritage is centered on the south shore of the Baltic Sea, an area known as Pomerania (from po more, Slavic for “by the sea”). Fascinating!

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My Old Stomping Grounds

At the end of October, I zipped up to Olympic National Park to revisit the rugged Washington coastline where I worked for two summers during college. My first full day in the park was limited by heavy rainfall, entirely normal for that time of year. 

Imagine my delight the next morning at the intermittent sunshine and sporadic sprinkles. There were only a few cars in the Cape Flattery parking lot when I pulled in. Wanting to make the most of the agreeable weather, I grabbed my camera and jacket and hit the trail. It had been ten years since my last visit and I was eager to see if my memory served.

The timing of my visit helped me avoid the crowds of summer and, as anticipated, I had the overlook to myself. As I leaned against the railing, my thoughts wandered back to my two prior visits. In 1995 I focused on the geography of the point, proudly standing on the northwestern most part of the contiguous United States. In 2008, I watched Tufted Puffins dive and surface with multiple fish lined up carefully in their beaks.

This time I had no expectations, just content to experience whatever magic nature had to offer. South of me a Bald Eagle soared, riding an updraft of wind that swirled up the cliff face. West of me, a Sea Otter surfaced in the choppy waves. Floating on its back it devoured some sort of maritime snack.

Though it wasn’t part of my original plan, I was excited to explore another nearby trail. I parked between two other cars at the Ozette Loop trailhead of Olympic National Park around 2pm. The Ranger Station was closed for the season so after availing myself of the outhouse I wandered over to read the information in the kiosk. The kiosk was full of the standard cautions for backcountry travel: warning black bears live here, recent cougar sighting, stay on trail, pack it in, pack it out, be prepared, etc.

Armed with my jacket, camera, and essentially useless cell phone, I hit the trail. As the trail narrowed into a raised boardwalk I realized that it could be tricky when it came time to pass other hikers. A half mile in, rustling in the bushes caught my attention, and my heart sped up. I was about to have a close encounter of the animal kind.

I figured it was too noisy to be a cougar, though it could easily be a bear. Halting, I scanned around for a broken branch or anything else I could use to defend myself. I sighed with relief when elongated tan ears poked over the top of the bushes. Deer. Quietly, I grabbed my camera, snapping a few shots of the mom and fawn.

I laughed out loud as I clomped along the boardwalk, realizing that with all the noise I was making there was no way a cougar or bear would come anywhere near me. When clouds darkened the sky I decided I’d pushed my luck far enough so I returned to the parking lot. A Ruffed Grouse popped through the grass along the roadside to wish me farewell.

The next day I drove around the rest of the Olympic Peninsula before angling southeast through Olympia. I overnighted in the quaint little town of Tenino on my way to Mt. Rainier National Park. I knew my access to the park would be limited by snow. In a way, that made sense to me since my summer stint working at Paradise Inn in 1997 had been a short one. Tahoma stayed hidden behind the clouds so I headed home.

Overall, a pleasant weekend exploring my old stomping grounds. 

Mild November

Spent an unseasonably sunny and calm afternoon wandering along the beach. I prefer to head out about an hour before low tide for a few hours of bimbling.  As the ocean recedes it deposits or unveils treasures and today’s ebb did not disappoint.

My first treat was a mini-pumpkin. It was in great shape with just a smidgen of paint remaining from the previous owner’s efforts. Next up, in a neat trick of erosion, I found a rockfish. Not an actual Rockfish (which are delicious, by the way) but a chunk of mudstone in the shape of a fish.

Sanderlings bustled along the tideline, frenetically prodding the sand in search of food, leaving behind cool designs in the sand. Activity increased as I neared the tide pools. While all the other Sanderlings were earnestly searching for dinner, one hygiene conscious Sanderling took a advantage of a small pool of water.

Sanderling Bath Time Video

Nearby, Western Gulls were fighting over, and feasting on, fresh caught crab. While the gulls were otherwise occupied Sanderlings would dash in and abscond with crab crumbs – cheeky little buggers.

Crab Feasting Video

Other gulls were more interested in escargot for dinner. How to crack through a hard shell when lacking opposable thumbs? Drop it from on high. It was easy to pick out the tink, tink sound of snail shells hitting the rocks and bouncing, even over the dull roar of the ocean.

This evening’s sunset arrived about a quarter to five. I lingered to snap a few photos before the chill in the air encouraged me homeward.

Be…Curious

Last month I accompanied Lisa and fellow yogi Pryanka on a weekend jaunt to Bellingham, Washington. They were attending a yoga workshop and I went along to explore, because that’s just what I do.

I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. My last visit had been a short stop to catch up with friends back in 1999 and I don’t recall it being nearly as vibrant as it is now. Granted, a lot can change in nineteen years! I even like their marketing campaign which uses the first two letters of the city name to encourage visitors to Be…In Nature, Be…Amazed, Be…Our Guest, etc.

This time I spent most of my time in the charming Fairhaven Historic District. The afternoon we arrived, we tucked into a little cafe for an early dinner. Saturday morning, after dropping the ladies off at the yoga studio, I headed over to the Stimpson Family Nature Reserve near Whatcom Lake.

For those of who share my inquisitive nature, Whatcom is a Nooksack word meaning “noisy water”.  It was also the original name of the port town that became Bellingham, as well as the name of the northernmost county in Washington that abuts Canada, a mere 24 miles away.

The sun chased fog through the trees as I wandered the trails of the preserve. Though the ground was dry, it appeared the area had received rain recently. My eye was caught by an unusually colorful clump of mushrooms within feet of the parking lot. So, for the next four miles I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to photograph fungus.

As you can see, I didn’t get the best images* but I’m sharing them anyway to showcase the diversity I encountered. I don’t know enough about mushrooms to identify them or pick my own (besides the preserve doesn’t allow it) but it was definitely the season. In fact, the Northwest Mushroomers Association was hosting a Wild Mushroom Show the next day. I wish I could have attended, then I would’ve been able to learn the names of these. Instead, I made up my own names…

I whiled away the rest of the day basking in the sun and listening to live music at the Stones Throw Brewery Fall block party. They were highlighting beers made with several different locally-grown hops. And since I am a hop lover, it was a smashing afternoon.

For dinner we were joined by Lisa’s former co-workers, Janis and Valerie, for a delicious evening of conversation and comestibles. After their Sunday morning session we headed back south to Oregon. Thanks for Be…(ing) so welcoming Bellingham!

*Frustrating as all heck, considering they don’t even move (or at least, not quickly).

The End of the End

The final piece of my last month of summer was spent touring around Oregon with my dear, old friend Hector. I had the good fortune to work in his Food and Beverage department in the early 90s at Westward Look Resort. It was an excellent learning experience for me: I was young and impetuous* while Hector was a reflective and circumspect manager.

A couple events stand out in my memory: serving iced tea to Ted Turner and his wife Jane Fonda, and cleaning up after mob boss “Joe Bonanno’s” 85th birthday party. Though Hector’s hotel management career moved him around the country multiple times, we’ve kept in touch.

It was a treat to show off my favorite coastal haunts: Lincoln City beaches and tide pools, whale watching in Depoe Bay, touring the lighthouse at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, as well as checking out the sea lions and Rogue Brewing in Newport.

I especially enjoyed revisiting the Deep Blue Lake (my one and only other tour was May 2008 when the park was still buried under snow). Thankfully, the weather cooperated nicely for this visit. It was a lovely way to wrap up my last month of summer!

*Yeah, so other than my age I haven’t changed much in the last couple decades. Sigh.

 

Singular Moments

Singular moments in my life have left an indelible impression on my perspective. These instances may be buried by the detritus of everyday life, but they’ll never disappear. A sight, a scent, or even a sound can trigger these powerful memories.

During my recent trip to Glacier National Park, an event that occurred when I worked there twenty years ago bubbled up:

It was a hot afternoon, late in the summer, when six of my coworkers and I decided to go cliff diving. It was a bad idea for so many reasons. Not only were we breaking multiple park rules but we could’ve been seriously injured or even killed.

None of those pesky details mattered enough to stop us; we were heady with the hubris of our youth. I, at least, had a smattering of sense; I didn’t jump first. I waited to see others swim out safely before I took the 30-foot plunge.

I stood atop that cliff in my black swimsuit and solid leather hiking boots, swinging my arms, and psyching myself up. The sun warmed my shoulders and the breeze played in my long, blonde hair. With a now-or-never shoulder roll, I ran three steps forward and launched off solid ground.

08-1998 - Erin May - Cliff jumping, Glacier National Park, MT

Air whistled past my ears and I crossed my arms over my chest to protect my breasts from the coming impact. The sharp slap of the water on my rear shocked precious oxygen out of my lungs. Then I plummeted into the cold, glacial-fed lake. Short of breath and deeper underwater than I had anticipated, I struggled toward the surface. My boots felt like concrete blocks. My heart pounded. I was panicked by the time I finally broke the surface.

Gasping for air, I flopped wildly trying to find the shore. I slowed my strokes in the shallows to compose myself before joining my friends. Laughter chased off the fear. Invigorated, exhilarated, and thrilled to still be alive, we planned our next jump spot. We decided we’d stop back at the general store, motor inn, restaurant, and dormitory compound where we all worked and lived before driving to another cliff.

That is where my recollection usually fades, but while driving Going to the Sun Road this summer, I saw the pullout where we parked two decades ago and the rest of that afternoon zipped into focus:

Cars parked along the road were clues that something wasn’t right. Park rangers allowed us into the compound since we were staff, but the main parking area was cordoned off.

We scrambled out of our cars to find out what was wrong. Ruth, who worked in the general store, explained that our parking lot had been cleared so that the helicopter bringing the doctor could land. Peering over her head, I saw a man lying on the pavement. My vision shifted as I disassociated. Everything else that day I perceived through a hazy lens.

I watched my boss, Jaime, and a park ranger take turns performing CPR. They were sweaty and visibly exhausted. According to Ruth, they’d been at it for fifteen minutes by the time we arrived. As the excruciatingly long minutes ticked by, it became more and more obvious that it was a lost cause. My father was a firefighter, so I knew even if they had managed to resuscitate the man the odds of him walking out of the hospital hovered under 20%. Yet, as is protocol, they continued mouth breathing and chest compressions until a legally qualified medical practitioner could certify time of death.

It was devastating but I couldn’t tear myself away, so I stood there in that hot parking lot in my swimsuit and hiking boots. Ruth needed to talk; she had sold a bundle of firewood to the man and his wife, who were celebrating their anniversary with a camping trip to their first national park, but on the way back to the car, he dropped dead of a heart attack.

Dimly, I noted the woman sitting frozen on the nearby steps. We honored her request to be left alone. In the background I heard my friends chattering as they headed out to continue their adventures. They may as well have been talking in a foreign language; it meant nothing to me any more. In fact, I was furious not only with them but with myself. How dare we foolishly risk our lives when it could be snatched away at any moment!

Thump-thumping signaled the arrival of the helicopter. The rotors never stopped turning; the doctor hopped out, assessed the body, filled out paperwork, and hopped back in for the return flight to Missoula. The body left in the parking lot was now enclosed in a body bag; life-flight was no longer necessary.

The frenzy over, our attention turned to making arrangements for the survivor. Since the couple had flown into Great Falls a few days before, it was imperative to get them both back there. Wanting desperately to do something, I volunteered to help. The newly widowed woman was understandably in shock, so Jaime drove her in his car and I followed in their rental car.

After settling her into a hotel, it was close to midnight when we climbed into Jaime’s car for the three-hour drive back. We didn’t speak at all during the entire trip. My day had been filled with a gamut of emotions, there was nothing to say. I stared out the window at the stars sparkling in the blackness and vowed to live my moments fully since there were no guarantees.

The Middle of the End

As I mentioned previously, my last month of summer was adventure-filled. The middle part was spent revisiting a place I had worked 20 years ago, Glacier National Park. I was accompanied on this trip by my BFF, Lisa, who I met while working at the aforementioned park all those years ago.

Though many things could go wrong on a nine day road trip (bad weather, car trouble, stress-fueled fights between friends, eaten by bears, etc) it was epic! Honestly, (the weather was sunny and in the mid 70s, my little Prius zipped along, Lisa and I handled each others idiosyncrasies, and none of the bears we saw were the least bit interested in chewing on us) it was epic.

Add in all the other wonderful experiences: catching Petty Fever at the free Pig Out in the Park festival in Spokane, two stops at Moose’s Saloon (for pizza and a pitcher of Moose Drool, natch), watching grizzly cubs romp around their huckleberry-munching mom, seeing a moose pee in the lake from our kayak, fantastic scenery, smoke-enhanced sunsets, and the cool people we met along the way – yeah, it was epic!

Tom and Deb, the retired couple that hiked with us one day really stand out in my memory. When Lisa and I mentioned that we worked in Glacier 20 years ago, Tom replied with, “What, they didn’t have child labor laws back then?” Charmer!

All in all, an epic adventure.

 

 

The Beginning of the End

Whew – my last month of summer was crazy busy! It began when my Aunt Polly came for a weeklong visit (her first trip to the Pacific Northwest). The following week I attended two workshops at the Sitka Center for Art & Ecology, volunteered at the Lincoln City Cultural Center, and donated blood. A few days later my BFF Lisa and I drove out to Glacier National Park (where we met while working during the summer 20 *gasp* years ago). It was a packed eight days, full of great memories and new adventures. A day after our return my old friend Hector from North Carolina flew in for a quick visit which we divided between two beautiful bodies of water; the Pacific Ocean and Crater Lake.

Since my return home on Saturday I’ve been appeasing a crabby cat, doing laundry, and trying to catch up on all that I’ve neglected. I also have a bazillion new photos to sort through. But I’m not complaining, it was a wonderful way to wrap up the last month of Summer!

Too many photos to share at once, so I’ll start with the ones from the beginning of the end (my aunt’s visit):