Monday, October 8, 2012


This weekend, I had the pleasure of hiking to the top of Shriner Peak in Mount Rainier National Park.  The colors were popping and the views spectacular of the surrounding peaks.  Winter didn't even hint of being around the corner.  Of course, the tower at the top, as always, brought excitement and curiosity.

Fire towers have long been a source interest; especially as I write guide books and climb up high to vistas where they once stood.  To learn more, I contacted Ray Kresek and purchased his book Fire Lookouts of the Northwest.  I'm having a hard time putting it down- oh the stories!

Most were built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) in the '30's, in the era when the 'green army' of Roosevelt's backcountry carpenters set out to learn skills and gain employment by improving upon public lands.  Originally, the fire towers were used to keep an eye out for storms, and report lightening strikes and fires by landline telephones.  After World War II, they became vistas for enemy surveillance.

Washington State originally had 639 fire look towers.  Due to destruction, less than 200 remain.
Many of these firetowers have been hit by lightening at least once, sometimes twice in one summer. Did you know that all of these towers had a solid copper lightening rod at the top, connected to wire that extended from the peak, down all four corners and downhill to dissipate the zap?  Staffers of the towers would hunker down on "hot seats" or "fire stools" which were small seats whose bottom feet were insulated by old-fashioned telephone insulators.  During a storm, the staffer would stand on the stool, sometimes for hours, especially when they needed to use the a landline phone or radio.  Bravely, they stood as thunder shook the landscape, hail pounded the structure and lightening struck tree lines all around the windows.

These old towers inspire such joy to so many people who hike to heights to see them, and the views that they share.  Each one is a piece of history and a glimpse into our past.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

who i've become

The sunny days just keep on coming, one after the next.  It's “Summer Overtime”, as I like to call it.  Thinking back to my childhood, there are only a few times I can remember Septembers and Octobers being so bright, warm and wonderful in the Northwest.  Even the trees are slow to turn this year, as if they too, are refusing to let go of the season.  It’s been fantastic and has helped me get very close to reaching my hiking goals for my new book.  Despite the warm weather, the elk bulls are out bugling down the trails, hollering for mates and chasing elk cows around backcountry meadows.  Rivers which usually are roaring are just trickles, dew clings to the fall foliage until the warmth of the day dries the leaves and sunsets burst with brilliant colors concocted from smoky air mixed with low-sun hues.

My feet have never looked so bad, my backpack has never been so dirty and my legs have never felt so strong.  There were times when I doubted this goal was obtainable, then complete joy when I realized it was.  There were times when I felt lonely (up with a twist of isolation) mile after quiet mile.  
There were times, deep in the forest, when my shoe’s laces broke, when a crown popped out of my mouth, when I struggled to find the trail through brambles of berries which cut up my legs, and when my inner peace was disturbed with the shot of adrenaline caused by flapping birds.  Then, there were the times where I sat in subalpine scenery listening to ravens clack and call above me, watching mountain goats  graze in green meadows below, with views all the way to the heavens. Or when I questioned my ability to put into words the serenity of sitting completely alone, in perfect stillness, by an alpine lake surrounded by jagged snow capped mountains.

This has been a journey of seasons, of inner strength, of education, of gumption, and stamina. It’s solidified my choice of freelance writing; a perfect career move.  I’ve reached out and embraced fall, while still stuck in the wispy-cloud moments of summer.  This experience has stuck to my soul like sap on a trekking pole.  As it comes to a close, I’ve come to realize, it’s simply, who I’ve become.

the beautiful shores of Little Cougar Lake
brilliant leaves
goodnight Mt. Rainier, goodnight creatures
who are blessed to live under your powerful shoulders
I knew there would be cows.  Yes, I knew, but I went anyway.
I'd been down this road before.
And met this cowboy, who was rounding them up.  Suddenly I wasn't afraid.
Tex had my back. Mama's DO let your babies....
They were, however, standing on the trail. But these weren't vindictive
and did not give me stink-eye.
They starred at me from Conrad Meadows.  Curious.
I left the cattle and wandered into Goat Rocks where I met this guy.
The very low Rimrock Lake
I bamboozled a hiker friend to join me on the Three Peaks Trail.
Having a pulse within shouting range was refreshing.
To eat or not to eat?  There's only one way you know if
you've eaten a bad mushroom. 

Packwood Lake
the "lady of the flies"
Big bull in the fading light. Long lens, big tree