Backpacker selfie

Backpacker selfie

I was nearly done with my hike when I realized I had no photos of myself in that beautiful wilderness. I had passed a couple of people, and any of them would have been happy to snap a photo, but by the time I remembered to document my presence there, it was only me. So I took a selfie.

At the place where the little road to the trailhead comes out at Highway 299 is a little ghost town of Helena, California. People still live there and are served by the U.S. Postal Service. The place was settled in 1851 to serve the miners in the mountains. Today there are several large, abandoned, and vandalized buildings left near the road.

Once a large and beautiful home

Once a large and beautiful home

My mother would have loved the pine cone wallpaper.

My mother would have loved the pine cone wallpaper.

The old post office building

The old post office building

Staircase inside the home

Staircase inside the home

On my way west along 299, the temperature dropped from 102 to 72 by the time I reached Highway 101 along the coast. I arrived at Tara’s dad’s house with some sunshine and afternoon left in the day. Feeling pleased to have found Humboldt County in sunshine (a truly rare event), I was happy that Tara felt like walking to the beach. We hit the Hammond Trail and passed the gorgeous country fields near McKinleyville in the flat lands around the mouth of the Mad River.

Once I heard it, I have enjoyed telling the story of the naming of the Mad River. In 1850 the Dr. Josiah Gregg Expedition was exploring, mapping, and documenting the area. Gregg, a naturalist, was also interested in cataloging flora and fauna. Their most important work was arguably the mapping of Humboldt Bay, large enough to accommodate ships that could serve miners and trappers of the region. Falling on hard times, the group had a dispute about the best way to return to San Francisco. Gregg could not bring himself to give up on the scientific work and insisted that they must follow the coast home, and continue to work. The larger group of dissenters argued that they would starve to death unless they made their way inland again. Dr. Gregg had a tremendous temper tantrum at the mouth of a river, as his companions left him and a few others on the shore. The Mad River was named in honor of that event. Dr. Gregg eventually realized he needed to move inland as well, and his group began heading toward what is now called Clear Lake. Sadly, he was starving to death at that point, and in his weakness fell off his horse and died.

After enjoying the beach in the waning sun, Tara and I headed back. The next morning we left early in order to make preparations for the following day’s celebrations: My kid turned 17 and was going to have a big birthday bash at the house. I can hardly believe my baby girl is 17 years old. Babyhood a distant memory, Tara is now strong and kind, thoughtful and helpful, smart and oh, so funny. I feel honored that I get to share in her life.

Fields and farmland near McKinleyville, California

Fields and farmland near McKinleyville, California

I'll bet one does not find many snails on the fence posts of Kansas.

I’ll bet one does not find many snails on the fence posts of Kansas.

Walking bridge over the Mad River, along the Hammond Trail

Walking bridge over the Mad River is part of the Hammond Trail

An abandoned barn along our route

An abandoned barn along our route

My Tara dancing on the beach

My Tara dancing on the beach

Purple flowers and grasses as lovely as any arranged basket.

Purple flowers and grasses as lovely as any arranged basket.

A hunter waits patiently in the field.

A hunter waits patiently in the field.

This heron is doing more aggressive hunting, as she stalks gracefully across the grass.

This Great Blue Heron is hunting more aggressively than the cat.

 

Thompson Peak as I slowly made my way closer to it.

Thompson Peak as I slowly made my way closer to it.

When I broke camp I had only a few miles left to go, but also the most difficult part of the trail ahead of me. Since I’m out of shape compared to previous years, I intentionally chose an easy trail. However, the last 2 1/2 miles climb nearly 2000 feet to Grizzly Meadows.

Steep elevation climbs bring the views and the waterfalls that make it all worth the trouble. In no time I was marveling at Thompson Peak holding court at 9000 feet among the shorter, but just as spectacular, peaks nearby. Glaciers on the north face are each noted to be 2 miles across, but the map needs some updating because the snow fields are now tiny. I could only identify one glacier, so perhaps the second is gone forever.

Two fabulously gorgeous and athletic hikers refilled their water bottles at China Creek with me. I contemplated the unfairness of it all: gay men can be some of the most attractive humans on the planet, and they get to hook up with each other. D’oh! They were planning to summit Thompson Peak the next day, and planned to camp at the Meadows with me that night.

Falls on Grizzly Creek

Falls on Grizzly Creek. What do you see at the bottom? That’s right: swimming pool!

Another of the many falls on Grizzly Creek.

Another of the many falls on Grizzly Creek.

“Somewhere between the upper and lower meadow, one of the most incredible mountain vistas I’ve ever witnessed comes into view.” ~Art Bernstein, in Best Hikes of the Trinity Alps

Bernstein was not kidding. This place is amazing.

This is what I go to the mountains for: jaw-dropping views.

This is what I go to the mountains for: jaw-dropping views. Grizzly Meadows in the foreground is surrounded by a shelf holding Grizzly Lake. Thompson Peak rises above it all. To see the falls, click this image for a larger version.

Pool beside my camp.

Pool beside my camp.

I found a place to set up camp beside a pool on Grizzly Creek at the base of the falls. My original intent had been to hit the scramble trail next, following cairns up the cliff. It would be another 1000 feet in one mile. At that point I was exhausted and simply didn’t have the heart for it. I had achieved 18 miles with no injuries, but I was wiped out. I imagined that a good night’s rest could give me the inspiration I needed, and spent the rest of the day playing in the meadow. I dropped my nalgene of wine into the creek to chill.

A doe lingered on the edges of my camp all afternoon. She was even skinnier than the other deer I had seen so far. I hope it means only that it’s early in the season, and not that she is starving.

After a good soaking in the pool beside my tent, in which I even unraveled my braids and let the water run through my hair, I felt good enough to climb over boulders and investigate the woodpeckers and snakes and other delights. In three days I had only one pestering blister, and I had to be grateful that I can still do this kind of thing, when many of my friends suffer with knee and shoulder and spine injuries that are forcing them to slow down in life.

In the evening I sat on a big rock in the center of the creek and let a refreshing breeze blow through my hair. I ate smoked salmon and cream cheese wraps and had a cup of wine. The chilled wine was so good I had a second cup. I had been planning to share the last of the smoked salmon with the gay men, who had camped at the lower meadows, but my hunger finally kicked in and I finished every last bit of the fish, down to licking my fingers.

The falls from Grizzly Lake

The falls from Grizzly Lake

Peaks around Grizzly Meadows

Peaks around Grizzly Meadows

This is the last mile of trail. Bernstein writes, "The trail's slope occasionally exceeds 100% and approaches infinity in a couple of spots." Ha, ha.

This is the 19th mile of trail. Bernstein writes, “The trail’s slope occasionally exceeds 100% and approaches infinity in a couple of spots.” Ha, ha.

I looked at the cliff in front of me and… felt dismay. I could not summon the spirit to climb. Though I would be able to leave the pack at the bottom, I still didn’t have the heart to go on. I suspected I wouldn’t feel any different in the morning. I was so tired. It was so hot. And I was alone. I yearned for the enthusiasm of a friend to bust out with a smile and say, “Come on, Crystal, let’s go! You can do it!” But the deer was only interested in my leftovers, and the couple were conserving their energy for the next day’s climb. It had been nice to relax for hours, and I went to sleep feeling good, despite my misgivings.

The next morning the only thing on my mind was going home. I watched the orange sunrise light up the peaks and then drip down the steep slopes. I put my leftover oatmeal on a rock for the doe. I wished the guys a good climb as I passed their camp (btw, gay men are still gorgeous, even when you catch them brushing their teeth in a creek). Before the sun even touched the meadow I was on my way out. I took more photos.

I turned around to take one last look at the trail through the Meadows.

I turned around to take one last look at the trail through the Meadows.

Gray squirrel looks at me

Gray squirrel looks at me

Ponderosa pine cones

Huge Ponderosa pine cones

The remarkable bark of a Madrone tree.

Remarkable bark of a Madrone

indian paintbrush

Indian paintbrush

It took me two days to get back to the trailhead. I was disappointed to have been so close to the lake and then let it slip away. But by then I had other things to be excited about, because once I got out of the mountains I would be heading to the coast to pick up my kid from her dad’s house. Instead of thinking of my missed opportunity, I thought about how great it would be to see Tara again.

Let me tell you, on day five this sight was aaaaalllmost as awesome as Grizzly Meadows:

Lonely Dragon Wagon 2 at the trailhead.

Lonely Dragon Wagon 2 at the trailhead.

Yes, I’m a nature girl, and yes I love the modern world. I’m a woman of complexity, what can I say? The Jeep seemed the epitome of luxury, with cushioned seats, AC, and satellite radio. I admit the stereo was blaring The Prodigy as I wound my way back out of the Alps, grinning.

 

A butterfly examines my glasses while I splash in a creek.

A comma butterfly examines my glasses while I splash in a creek.

My destination at the end of the trail was 18 miles from the trail head, so I spent most of my vacation hiking. Lucky for me, when I have a camera in my hand, there is never a dull moment. My journey began in my last post. Day two I woke beside the North Fork of the Trinity River, and continued my trek. I was deep in the forest at this point and had no panoramic views. Instead I got personal with the world beside the trail.

One thing I love about heading in to the higher elevations during the summer is that as one climbs, the season goes back in time. In other words, I walked into Spring in the mountains, when it was the middle of Summer in the valleys. The farther I walked, the more I was surrounded by wildflowers and insects very excited about the wildflowers.

I also found bushes loaded with berries – ripe near the beginning of the trail, but still green or not yet formed at the end of the trail. What a plethora of berries this time out. Gooseberries, thimbleberries, dewberries, and Oregon grape (didn’t eat those!) all tempting me along the trail.

Fat and succulent gooseberries, looking so much like a pie-to-be.

Fat and succulent gooseberries, looking so much like a pie-to-be.

With my experience in backpacking, I could safely estimate that my pack weighed close to 6.8 thousand pounds, so I was looking for excuses to stop walking. I found that wildflowers provide a legitimate reason to stop. I also incorporated some good stretching and balance exercises, when I’d crouch down for a better angle or place one toe on a rock, or lean down a slope, or climb up a slope…. because all of these activities are required for photography. :-) Every movement is more of a challenge when you’re loaded down with weight.

thimbleberry

thimbleberry

dewberries

dewberries

The heat continued, day after day, and all during the nights. It was too hot to eat, and thus prevented me from relieving the weight from my pack as I intended. Typically, all the hard work of a hike makes me ravenous, but not this time. I removed every factory-sealed airtight container of food and cached it along the trail under a pile of rocks {it was still there when I came back out, and I carried it all home with me!}.

butterfly

Arizona sister

moth

I couldn’t identify this one, can you?

Certainly I ate when I could, and I gobbled the berries. Gotta keep the energy up! I’ve mentioned my taste for good food on the trail, and that is part of the reason why I had so much weight. I refuse to bring freeze-dried packets of food products. I had oranges, broccoli, and onions, and an avacado. Peets coffee, hard boiled eggs, and homemade cookies for breakfasts. Curry, soup, pasta and rice for meals. And wine for my evenings.

Nine miles from the trailhead I came across the Jorstad Cabin. The place takes one back in time, to look at it. Click here for more photos and some information behind Willard Ormand Jorstad’s cabin. He built it by hand in the 1930s and apparently lived here till the 1980s mining for gold. He also constructed a huge stone oven on the property, that now has a large campfire pit in front of it and is obviously used often by hikers when campfires are legal in this wilderness.

Cabin built by Willard Ormand Jorstad out of Douglas Fir.

Cabin built by Willard Ormand Jorstad out of Douglas Fir.

I can't tell you how deeply this image pulls at my heart. The canning jars and rusted pots out in a ramshackle shed because the house is too small, are a mirror of my childhood in north Idaho with my mom.

I can’t tell you how deeply this image pulls at my heart. The canning jars and rusted pots out in a ramshackle shed because the house is too small, are a mirror of my childhood in north Idaho with my mom.

This handsome buck in velvet enjoys some grass at Pfeiffer Flat behind the cabin. In the West we call this a 2-point. I learned in the East he is called a 4-point.

This handsome buck in velvet enjoys some grass at Pfeiffer Flat behind the cabin. In the West we call him a 2-point. In the East he is called a 4-point.

This area used to be filled with gold miners. Their work is clearly evident in piles of tailings and overburden as tall as me and 100 yards long, left behind from years of placer mining. The workers created a network of steep, narrow channels to divert creeks and thus do the work of separating the gold. These channels remain gashed into the mountain beside the trail. I assume the miners used sluice boxes, which are long trays with small ridges or mesh across the bottom. As the rushing water carries rocks and minerals through the box, the heaviest particles drop out – ideally the gold – and get caught in the riffles. As I hiked, I saw that rusted pipes and rare pieces of machinery still lay strewn about beneath the brambles.

That’s all I did that day: walked and thought and looked at stuff. Oh, and I played in the water a LOT! Carrying a 6.8 thousand-pound pack when it’s Hotter than Hades and dozens of creek crossings with delicious clear pools filled with Brook Trout has only one possible conclusion: swimming.

Many creeks and photographs later, I found a shady spot beside an unnamed creek that dropped into Grizzly Creek, and set up camp for my second night. First thing that morning, two young guys who were scouting deer in preparation for hunting season came by as I drank my morning coffee. I had not seen another human being the rest of the day.

goldenrod in the sun

goldenrod in the sun

tiger lily

tiger lily

 

 

 

 

 

 

A skink sunbathes on my overturned water shoes.

A skink sunbathes on my overturned water shoes.

The Canby ferry, M.J. Lee II, on the Willamette River.

The Canby ferry, M.J. Lee II, on the Willamette River.

Seems like I subconsciously invite adventure into my life. Sure I plan things to do, but so often mishaps along the way turn into side stories and discoveries I would have never anticipated. Such is life with Crystal.

For starters, I planned an ambitious foray into the Trinity Alps Wilderness to coincide with picking up Tara from her dad’s house in McKinleyville, California. The Alps are in northern California between Mt. Shasta and the ocean. I packed the Dragon Wagon 2 (My Saturn Dragon Wagon recently deceased as I mentioned in my last post) and got a late start Saturday (also mentioned in my last post). Heading south on I-5 and just outside of Portland I got stuck in traffic. A fire truck was making its way across the four lanes into the fast lane and as I slowed to allow it to pull in front of me the lights came on. Finally, people began moving out of the way like they’re supposed to do on the Interstate. If only I had rotating lights on the Jeep…

So I’m keeping my distance, but gosh traveling behind a fire truck with its lights on goes smoothly. About 10 more miles down the highway, traffic was getting really really jammed and only then did the light bulb go off over my head. Bumper to bumper in a four lane highway in the middle of a Saturday, fire truck with lights, “Oh! An accident!” Rather than be trapped on I-5 for who knows how long, I pulled off at the next exit and moved over to Highway 99 to parallel the Interstate for awhile and come back later.

Following signs to Hwy 99, I suddenly found myself on the second surprise ferry I’ve stumbled upon along the Willamette River! Finding these tiny vessels incorporated into the Oregon highway system is such a delight to me. I rode the Canby Ferry among families playing in the river on the very hot day, and though I knew I was losing precious travel time, the discovery was worth it.

Next I was tooling through the darling town of Aurora, thinking it looks like a New England village, with its oddly-shaped central square surrounded by ancient houses converted into antique shops. I made a mental note to come back and investigate the place for a future hometown. Funny how being reminded of New England tugged at my heartstrings. I never realize how deeply I’m attached to something till it’s gone.

I stopped for the night in Medford, and as I unpacked I noticed I had left my hiking boots at home! My memory is so unreliable sometimes! I was too far to turn back and without boots there would be no hike, so I decided to buy new boots. I pulled this same stunt last year, and it would be my third pair of hiking boots. {don’t mind that sound, it’s just me slapping my forehead with my palm.}  Medford had an REI that opened at 11am, but I was chomping at the bit by 7:30am, already breakfasted and pacing, worrying how I would salvage my trip since there were no more cities ahead, in this very rural part of the country. I couldn’t stand waiting and got back onto I-5, changing my route to go through Redding, CA. I crossed my fingers it was big enough to have an outdoor store.

The volcano Mt. Shasta, rising in front of the sun at a rest area in Weed.

The volcano Mt. Shasta, rising in front of the sun at a rest area in Weed.

I had to stop in Weed because, of course, my friends were teasing me about heading eventually into Humboldt County, a land famous for marijuana production, and on the way passing through the town of Weed. I marveled at the show-stopping Mt. Shasta, then felt a pang of worry and regret as I saw that there is hardly any snow left on its slopes, so early in the season. People (and ecosystems) who live in high deserts depend so profoundly on deep winter snows to carry them through the summer.

In Redding at 11am, I took the highway exit for “Tourist Information,” and followed signs to a parking lot. I asked the first person I saw if there was an REI in town. Nope. Looking around myself, I realized I was in some sort of a celebration. There were families everywhere, a farmer’s market in the middle of the parking lot, laughter all around me. I followed the general flow of people down a path, through some trees, and viola! This striking, sparkling, white and blue glass walking bridge opened up before me. I was standing in a gorgeous plaza with a tall and stunning museum/Peets coffee shop/Tourist Info station. This center of art and architecture and public access was having a 10-year anniversary celebration, and people had thronged there to experience it. And not just any coffee: my favourite coffee! How lucky am I?

Sundial Bridge at the Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding, California.

Sundial Bridge at the Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding, California.

There was a Big 5 Sporting Goods just a couple blocks away (so close! I lead a charmed life), and the tourist info guy swore they would have a selection of hiking boots. And they had some on sale for $19.99, which is crazy cheap but I thought if they really are cheap and wear out in a week, then that’s all I needed anyway. While I was there I asked if they had any water shoes, which they did of course, on sale for $9. And after 20 minutes I was heading due West on Hwy 299, into the mountains, and counting my blessings.

I turned off 299 and my excitement grew as my Jeep climbed higher into the mountains on a twisty one-lane dirt road to the trailhead. A couple of deer grazed near me as I loaded up my backpack, and with a thrill and heart pounding with happiness, I hit the trail.

A deer watches me with curiosity, and perhaps a little hope that I'll spill some food.

A deer watches me with curiosity, and perhaps a little hope that I’ll spill some food.

My pack was heavy, and the temperature was in the 90s, so my happiness was a bit dampened pretty early on. Barely a mile or two on the trail, and I came to a wide river crossing and got to use my new water shoes. Perfect! I waded across the North Fork of the Trinity River and my spirits soared. What a beautiful, beautiful country. How spoiled I am to live luxuriously enough to leave everything behind me (poor kitty, I hope you have enough food) and walk into the woods for days, just for fun.

From the middle of the North Fork of the Trinity

From the middle of the North Fork of the Trinity

Five days on the trail is the longest I’ve ever spent backpacking, but as far as I’m concerned, there really isn’t such a thing as too long in the wilderness. There are things a girl can do to make the most of her trail time, however. Mainly, she can pack better than I did. I carried too much weight and it made me slow on the trail, and made me feel discouraged in the raging heat.

To overcome the challenges to my joy, I splashed in streams every chance I got. Despite drought conditions in California, this section of the Trinity Alps is loaded with water, cool and refreshing and invigorating.

Naked spikes of trees from an old forest fire crest the peaks.

Naked spikes of trees from an old forest fire crest the peaks.

A natural life cycle of a forest includes fires.

A natural life cycle of a forest includes fires.

I climbed higher and had some nice views of the mountains, all showing evidence of a huge fire that burned through here years previous. Blackened tree trunks were so prolific along certain sections that I could still smell the charred remains.

The sun dropped in the sky, but it remained in the 80s and I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep, so I kept going for awhile. Every time I stopped for a rest I would pull out my trail map and do calculations for how long it would take me to get to my destination: Grizzly Meadows, 18 miles from the trailhead. The trail was in great shape, and the few trees fallen across the trail had luckily landed in ways that allowed me to easily climb around or over. I didn’t meet a soul on the trail, which was part of my plan for hiking during weekdays. I’m a person who tends to think intense thoughts and I often don’t have the patience for it. So I push the thoughts away by keeping activity and sound around me. In the woods there are not enough distractions to avoid my thoughts, and so I get to be healthy and engaged with life, and I have the time to process ideas.

Eventually fatigue won out and I pitched the tent, rubbed my sore shoulders, took a quick dip in the river, and turned in for the night.

My shadow in the setting sun.

My shadow in the setting sun.

Tara and me at the Keller Auditorium during intermission for Once.

Tara and me at the Keller Auditorium during intermission for Once.

It’s time to catch you up on many little things I have neglected to blog about in the past month. It’s summer time and I have had a lot going on!  Please do not feel obliged to go through the whole thing unless you’ve got an easy morning to fill, while accompanied by a large cup of coffee. It’s not only for you that I write, of course. My blog is my journal, and its alternate purpose is to entertain me on days when I want to reminisce and to be used as a reference when I’m trying to get my facts right (harder and harder as the years go by…).

My kid had her last short haircut at age 4. She has had long, flowing, cascades of blonde hair down her back ever since. That is, until the beginning of June when she made up her mind to get it cut short, and dye it dark brown. We were both in shock for 36 hours or so (she didn’t want to go to school the next day), and then we fell in love with the look.

At least a decade ago, I found some to-die-for Cat Eye glasses in a bin of old glasses at Goodwill. I was looking for an accessory to a Halloween costume. I pushed out the coke bottle lenses and have used them now and then for  years. As I told blogger friend Boomdee a little while ago, I finally did what I’ve been wanting to do all that time, and had my own prescription put into them. The optometrist who checked them out for me confirmed they are legitimate antique frames, possibly 60 years old. I have been having a blast wearing them.

Pre-show performance of Once, with audience members onstage enjoying live music from the actors.

Pre-show performance of Once, with audience members onstage enjoying live music from the actors.

Tara’s recently been keen to experience Broadway, so we went to see the show Once. I didn’t like it, but I think she did. The music was wonderful, inspiring, impressively played live on stage in every scene. But the story was so very sad. Like Fiddler on the Roof, it began heartbreaking and just got miserable. I had broken up with Arno only one month earlier. In fact, these tickets were my birthday gift to him, but he couldn’t go because of his son’s graduation ceremony. So seeing a love story where nothing works out was lemon juice on a cut. Many people have said “Oh, just like the movie!” But I had never heard of the movie, and I can’t say if they are the same. Nothing can compare to seeing people on stage though, or to the effect of raw emotions washing over you when you’re in the same room with people battling through their own agonies.

Movie poster for the Cherokee Word for Water

Movie poster for the Cherokee Word for Water

We went to see a great documentary called The Cherokee Word for Water. From the website: “The Cherokee Word For Water is a feature-length motion picture inspired by the true story of the struggle for, opposition to, and ultimate success of a rural Cherokee community to bring running water to their families by using the traditional concept of “gadugi” working together to solve a problem.” And it was a love story of when Wilma Mankiller (future Cherokee Chief) and Charlie Soap met and teamed up to make this project happen. Mankiller died in 2010, but Charlie Soap was able to attend the showing of the film. It was humbling to be present and to experience his passion and hear his words, when he participated in the question and answer session afterward. Go see this film if you get the chance!

Seeing Disneyland this spring put Tara in a mood for theme parks, so I agreed to take her and her friend to Enchanted Forest; Oregon’s home grown Disneyland. I won’t say a ton about it, because Enchanted Forest deserves its own post for the real estate of all the photos. Enchanted Forest was created by a man with a dream to create a theme park based on children’s storybook tales and nursery rhymes. We saw representations of Hansel & Gretel to Alice in Wonderland to Rip Van Winkle and Pinocchio. All the original versions before Disney got ahold of them and morphed them into cartoon characters. There are a few rides that were actually pretty fun.  And no lines!

Wicked witch at Enchanted Forest

Wicked witch at Enchanted Forest

The very next day I drove Tara to California to spend some time with her dad. Dennis is a Harley man, and unfortunately wrecked his bike pretty seriously and is laid up for a time. Even more unfortunate is the fact that it’s his second bad wreck in two years. This time he broke his hip, so he was not able to drive up to Oregon to get Tara.

On the way, something strange happened with my Saturn Dragon Wagon. It’s been the Dragon Wagon ever since I lived in California and forecasted weather at the National Weather Service office in Eureka. I had personalized plates that said “DRAGNZ” because I love (and collect!) dragons. The boss’s husband gave the car her nickname and it stuck. I love, love, love my Saturn. Dennis and I purchased it brand new in 1998 because Tara’s car seat wouldn’t fit into my Mustang anymore. Like so many parents, I had to give up my sports car for the kid. Anyway, with and without embedded car seats, I’ve taken that car to surf beaches, to alpine trailheads, on no less than 4 coast-to-coast moves, and many shorter moves in between. She’s started up without fail every morning in Vermont’s below-zero winters, and never ever died in Nevada’s 110 degree summers. As we climbed a hill outside Grants Pass, Oregon, she gave a great shudder and the Service Engine light came on.

Earlier, the metal band holding the muffler had rusted through and the whole apparatus rattled whenever the car vibrated, so as the shuddering continued up the hill and down into Grants Pass, it made a metallic rattling that sounded much worse than it was. It was nerve wracking. Long story short, we made it to California. I was staying the night with my longtime friend Margaret whose boyfriend works at a dealership with a great service department. Sam insisted that I bring it over first thing in the morning. After awesome personalized attention, Sam began listing all the things that needed to be repaired. He estimated it would cost $3000-$4000. “Crystal. I’m sorry, your car is just not worth it.”

New Jeep with the Saturn Dragon Wagon humbly in the background.

New Jeep with the Saturn Dragon Wagon humbly in the background.

Well, since I was trapped with an old, broken dragon at a dealership, you can guess how the story ended. I’ve known Sam for years, which eased my worries about being forced to buy a car in the spur of the moment. I wasn’t able to get my perfect choice of vehicle, since I needed something available right there, right then. I think I’m going to end up loving the new Jeep Cherokee though. Especially if it gives me 16 years like the Saturn did. In honor of my old girl, I shelled out the clams to get personalized plates, and I think I can even spell DRAGNS with an “s” this time.  I’ll post a photo when I get the plates. If my first choice doesn’t work, I want UKTENA, the Cherokee winged serpent.

I haven’t mentioned the Jeep online yet, because I’m embarrassed of my conspicuous consumption. I’m never the kind of person who purchases to just to look good or have the newest thing, but you wouldn’t guess it from seeing me in the Jeep. Aside from the great cargo capacity and hatchback which will be so useful with all our camping, the technology makes my inner Geek Girl so happy. It’s from a different planet than cars in 1998. This one has a ginormous touch screen in the center of the console, to control radio, separate driver’s and passenger’s climate, apps (yes, apps) and whatever else. I can answer my cell phone through the steering wheel – built in hands-free! It’s got a back-up camera, how brilliant is that? I start the dang car by pushing a button as if I’m Jane Jetson. All the ISB and SD card ports are built in. And BEST of all, at the credit union the other day, I tried to lock my keys in the car, but after I closed the door, it went “beep beep beep!” and I was able to open up the door and grab my keys before it locked. Whew!

Summertime is beer season! I sampled the latest local microbrews.

Summertime is beer season! I sampled the latest local microbrews.

At the orthodontist, Dr. Angle (great name for a teeth guy, huh?) decided my teeth are organized enough to finally switch to Invisalign. So off came the braces. Yay! Yay! I’m not done with my orthodontia, of course, because I still need tweaking by the Invisalign appliances. But now I get to take them off to eat and to brush my teeth. No more torn up mouth, no more avoiding carrots and apples and corn. No more picking nuts out of the metal for two hours.

Part two of very cool orthodontia story: Invisalign are clear plastic shells that fit around teeth and hold them in place or move them. The shells are built on a plaster cast of my teeth. I asked Dr. Angle how Invisalign can move my teeth if they are built on where my teeth already are? He said the original cast is made into a digital image in a computer which he can then manipulate by a millimeter here or a millimeter there. Then a new cast of teeth is built in a 3D printer, and the next set of clear plastic shells is created off that. Wow! Technology in my face!

View across the Snake River from Pa & Chelle's house.

View across the Snake River from Pa & Chelle’s house.

On the 4th of July long weekend I drove to see my Pa and Michelle on their place on the Snake, south of Boise. It may very well be the last time I visit the Trulove River Rat Rest & Relaxation Ranch. They have decided to sell it because it’s just too much neverending work and money to maintain. Pa & Michelle have worked hard to be able to retire, and they should have the chance to enjoy it now, not spend most of their time saving every penny for the next catastrophe, or spending their free time doing repairs. Much as they love their oasis in the Owyhee desert, they have decided to give it up.

The visit was a good one. Pa’s health is much better than last time I visited, which was good for my soul to see. My visit was long enough to really spend some good time with them, talking, joking, sharing recipes and talking about the future. Pa showed me his winged archer avatar in his online gaming world – a truly fascinating place. It reminds me of the incredible depths of story and artistry of the world my friend Vlad spends time in. I joined Michelle on a morning walk and we talked about some common history, which makes me understand better why I love her so much. Michelle also joined me again on a trip to Map Rock, the Shoshone petroglyphs I wrote about in 2010. I was hoping that in sunset light I could get the images to show up better this time, but bright sunny skies aren’t conducive to displaying the basalt carvings. I’ll probably make this a separate post too.

Saturday afternoon I managed to squeeze in a quick trip across the river to Boise to visit my brother Eli and his wife Addie, and get another good look at my growing nephews, Parker and Paxton. I am crazy about this family. Salt of the earth people, I’m telling you. In my next life I want to come back as them.

Brand new rings signalling a brand new chapter in life!

Brand new rings signalling a brand new chapter in life!

July 7th I was able to join two dear friends of mine as they were married in a hot air balloon! I got to meet their parents (and a niece and a brother), and all of us shared a blissful morning ride soaring over the Willamette Valley packed with vineyards, hops fields, and acres of Hazelnut trees. Oregon’s state nut is the Hazelnut (and I thought I was the state nut…). My friends are both enormously sweet, shy, thoughtful, gentle, hardworking people. It must be so hard to find a match when you’re a quiet and shy person, and thinking that makes me so glad they found each other. I am tickled to death that they are married, and so very deeply honored to have shared the morning with them.

That’s it! You made it to the end! I am planning a late start to my next adventure for the sole purpose of getting this blog posted (and putting some cards into the mail) because it’s about dang time I join my Internet community again. I love and miss you guys. In a few hours I’ll hit the road for California again, this time to one of my favourite places on the planet: the Trinity Alps. I’ll spend all week on the trails, battling poison oak and mosquitoes and sharp elevation gains, then I’ll head down to the valley again, good and stinky. I’ll go pick up my kiddo (prolly beg Dennis for use of his shower) and bring her back to Portland in time for her birthday, and her birthday present: another Broadway show. This time, the Book of Mormon. I am dying to see it!!

To my blogger friends: all your new posts are in my inbox, waiting for me to go read. I’ll find some time soon to discover what’s been happening in your worlds too. Till then, happy Solstice, happy Ramadan, Happy Independence Day, and Bastille Day, and… well, you get the idea.

Mt. Hood from I-84 in the Columbia Gorge

Mt. Hood from I-84 in the Columbia Gorge

For me, leaving something in the rear view mirror is more than symbolic. Or, perhaps I should say the symbolism effects actual emotional distance to match the increasing physical distance. In my past I have made a point to watch a place recede as I drove away, to reinforce for myself the fact that I was leaving it behind.  I was reminded of that Friday when I left Mt. Hood behind me as I drove east on I-84, heading for my dad’s house near Boise.

You’ll need some background before I can tell you what happened to me Friday. Then you’ll understand how it was cathartic watching the snow-capped volcano shrink into the distance, having less and less of an impact on me. Like my relationship with Arno.

Maybe a few of you have noticed my online activity has dropped. It’s because my heart is broken and I’ve been in too much pain to interact. In May, just shy of our 3-year anniversary, Arno and I broke up. It was a loving, mutual decision, but a tremendously sad one. I said previously and I’ll repeat it: he’s the best man I’ve ever loved. Still, we shouldn’t be dating, and breaking up was the right thing to do. We had some awesome things in common: lots of energy, positive enthusiasm, wildly in love with the outdoors, relentless drive and responsibility for our own achievements, interest in travel, open minds, a love of deep conversation about challenging topics.  We had planned to get married – even shopped for rings – and had made multiple trips through the Hood River valley to find the best locations for where we would buy our future home together. We built much of our relationship in sight of Mt. Hood, and we even hiked on the mountain together. It’s no wonder Mt. Hood pretty much symbolizes Arno for me.

But we had at least one fundamental difference, and that was how much togetherness we needed. Arno needs a lot of high-intensity interaction. Crystal needs long stretches of total isolation. Arno enjoys lots of little touches, little “Hi, I’m thinking of you, I’m here, I love you” touches, like 30 texts a day (down from about 200 a day in the beginning, thank the gods). Crystal figures if she expressed her love on Monday, then it should hold the other person over till at least Thursday before she should have to think about reassuring her partner again.

We figured this out about each other early on, and set right to work on compromising. Arno worked really hard to give me space and not take it as a personal rejection when I asked for a day without him. I worked really hard to spend more time with him, to learn how to send the touches that he needed since we lived so far apart, and to learn to engage in conversation during moments that I thought would be best honored by silence. Over the years we grew frustrated and exhausted from working so hard, even while appreciating each other even more for the obvious work we were putting into it.

A month after our breakup, the ache inside was beginning to fade, and I was feeling better again. I must have been in denial. Tuesday, less than two months after we broke up, Arno told me he was dating again. The blow knocked me flat.

I thought I had been hurting before, but that news killed me.

I won’t go into details. You’ve had your heart broken before, and …it was like that. All day long Tuesday I was in shock, and ever since then I’ve been miserable. There’s nothing like hearing the other person is dating again to make it very clear that things are O-VER. There is no chance of any last minute miracle idea that will be our solution to making this work. I think it finally became real to me Tuesday that I have no more Arno in my future.

If he’s over me and has moved on already, then *I* want to move on. The knowledge that I’m still wallowing around in the pond scum of loss and pain in the face of his new relationship is totally humiliating. His readiness to date again so quickly (He reassured me that he didn’t start looking till after we broke up. “Start looking?” He had time to recover and “start looking” already?) makes me feel like a fool and doubt what we had.

That’s the cycle of thoughts I’ve had to endure this week. Yuck.

Friday morning I headed east into the Columbia River Gorge with a huge amount of trepidation because it was the first time I would be driving through Hood River since the breakup. Driving down the highway I kept thinking, “I am tired of being miserable. I want to let him go.”

But when I got to exit 62, and then passed it instead of taking it, I couldn’t breathe. Slam! The pain hit me again, and I bawled and gasped for breath as I drove.

One can see Mt. Hood for many, many miles in a rear view mirror, heading through the Gorge. I’d glance at the rearview, see the mountain, and feel an icepick in my heart. Or a boot to my chest. Or one of those dramatic metaphors that work well in YA novels.

And then something amazing happened. As I drove the mountain got smaller. And as that happened, the pressure came off my chest and I began to think a little more clearly again.

I reminded myself that we broke up for good reasons. And even though it feels terrible right now, I will find my happy spirit again. And as much as I shudder to even think about it at the moment, I will love again. In the mirror in front of me I watched that fabulous volcano I love so much, shrinking and fading as I thought these things.

I could see Mt. Hood from the town of Boardman, 100 miles after I had passed exit 62. By that time there was only a hazy tip visible of the snow-covered peak. No overwhelming obstacle, that’s for sure. Just a little hint of a mountain in the distance.

So the cure to my pain is to just keep going.

Portland Pride Parade 2014. The 44th annual parade celebrates legal marriage for same sex couples this year.

Portland Pride Parade 2014. The 44th annual parade celebrates legal marriage for same sex couples this year.

My Tara was in the parade for the first time this year! It was exciting to get ready and to show up early and wander through the staging area, which I haven’t done before. Tara had cut up her Madison High School Gay Straight Alliance T-shirt and made a really awesome shirt out of it. Sadly, it was cold and rainy before the parade so she kept a sweater on and I couldn’t get a photo of the awesomely creative dragon-spawn I call my kid. Even sadder: I never even saw her in the parade. She wasn’t with a float, just a group of kids, and I spotted her group as they were already past me, and I couldn’t pick her out. I am So Bummed.

Tara and my Uncle Jim in the staging area. She was between floats 50 and 51, and he was float 79, so even though the parade had started at this time, we were still at leisure.

Tara and my Uncle Jim in the staging area. She was between floats 50 and 51, and he was float 79, so even though the parade had started at this time, we were still at leisure.

Dancers with Maracatu PDX

Dancers with Maracatu PDX

Yup. It's Portland. It rained. But it didn't seem to damped anyone's spirits.

Yup. It’s Portland. It rained. But it didn’t seem to dampen anyone’s spirits.

She was so funny. "The rain is melting my hair!"

Lotta Marie Liquor was so funny. “The rain is melting my hair!” (it still looks great.)

Rainbow Balloons are required at Pride Parade

Rainbow Balloons are required at Pride Parade

We saw plenty of vuvuzelas this World Cup Sunday

We saw plenty of vuvuzelas this World Cup Sunday

Well, I could have guessed that Indians are proud, too

Well, I could have guessed that Indians are proud, too

I don't know who this guy is/ is representing, but he's awesome.

I don’t know who this guy is/ is representing, but he’s awesome. Look at the little tyke in the yellow rain slicker in the background.

Maracatu PDX had wonderful costumes

Maracatu PDX had wonderful costumes

Here's another couple of dancers from Maracatu PDX

Here’s another couple of dancers from Maracatu PDX

This fashion hasn't gone out of style yet, and probably won't.

Old fashions haven’t gone out of style yet, and probably won’t.

I got a kick out of the softball players, the Fairies and the Cubs

I got a kick out of the softball players, the Fairies and the Cubs

Things warmed up a little when this float came by

Things warmed up a little when this float came by

 

Ok, I’ll say it: this had to be a crushing blow to a dog ego, if there is such a thing. There were lots and lots of parade dogs this year, all decked in finery from pink tutus to monster costumes and rainbow clown collars. Oh, you poor doggies. I hope your people took you home and gave you bunches of love for putting up with our human silliness. :)

monster dog

monster dog

I didn't know their spots came in those colors!

I didn’t know their spots came in those colors!

Author: Julia Coates

Author: Julia Coates

I finally made it to another meeting of the Mt. Hood Cherokees. I made a point to go today because we had guests Julia Coates and Jack Baker, both At Large Tribal Councilors. And it’s the 175th anniversary of the arrival of Cherokees in Indian Territory following the Trail of Tears.

Julia has recently had a book published, Trail of Tears. (Check out her book at Powell’s!) I wanted to meet Julia because we’ve had brief email exchanges. I also wanted to hear about the book.

Aaaannnnddd, I did want to learn a little about what’s going on in the Nation. We’ll be voting for Principal Chief in a year, and there is Great Rumbling Afoot, and I wanted to try and educate myself a little before I vote. Not that I expected to get all the information I need, out of one visit from two people, but it is good to add this extra information to what I’ve been gathering.

Most of the meeting was focused on culture and heritage, which is what our At Large group is all about. Thank the gods our group leader makes an active effort to avoid politics, and re-directs us when possible, back to learning about being Cherokee and leaving the other stuff outside the door.

Today I learned new information about the Trail of Tears, the name given to the ethnic cleansing of American Indians from the southeastern United States to the present-day Oklahoma. At the point of bayonets, the first people left. By 1839, 46,000 Indians had left their houses, their farms, their possessions, their friends, even their savings, in Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Alabama, and other states all the way up to New England.

Cherokees accompanied other Indian tribes, up till then all of them at some stage in the process of learning the ways of the white people, attending schools, running businesses and plantations. All trying to find a way to maintain their culture, tradition, and languages, but in a way that made sense to the white colonizers.

That part I knew.

In having an intimate gathering with a woman who had studied and researched the Trail of Tears, new facts were revealed. I didn’t know, for example, that when the Indians were told that they had to give up their lands for white settlement, they took it to the Supreme Court. And Won! But President Andrew Jackson ignored the decision and kicked them out anyway.

Prior to the forced removal of Cherokees, the Army had apparently given them months of notice. The Indians were told to put their business affairs in order, to pack, and to present themselves to be penned up in stockades built just for them. I learned that it was one of the first known uses of the phrase “concentration camp.”

But the Indians were modern people and many of them educated and wealthy. And -just imagine how you would feel being told to pack up and move simply because other people wanted to build a settlement on your land- finding the whole idea preposterous, they refused to comply. While they understood that packing extra shoes and a coat and some food would be a good idea, since the Army was bound to show up any day, they also understood that making those kind of preparations would be a kind of complicity. In protest, in an inspiring display of dignity, they refused to prepare at all. Perhaps some of them held a feeble hope that soldiers would see how pathetic it was to boot a woman out into the street in a housecoat clutched by a toddler. Or how despicable it was to shoot a deaf man for not responding when he was told to move.

Apparently the obvious cruelty of enforcing the crime did not stop the soldiers from obeying orders.

After being rounded up in the concentration camps, the Indians were marched West. They walked to Oklahoma with only the clothes on their backs. They walked. The ones that didn’t die on the trip were at risk of dying from disease once they landed in Oklahoma.

The thing that struck me the most about Julia’s readings today was learning that the Indians had a warning, and yet chose to go on with their lives until the very last moment. She told of one woman who saw the soldiers coming with their rifles, and fed the chickens first. That is some kind of powerful force of will. It’s the kind of pride that takes ultimate courage. They couldn’t expect to be heroes you see. Chances were no one would ever find out and tell an individual’s story. The resistance of the people sent to internment camps in 1838 was pure, distilled integrity. A pact made within their own souls, or between a soul and it’s God. Incredible courage.

One more thing I learned (since I deal with pain by making light of it): I heard for the very first time about Uktena – a mythical Cherokee beast. It’s a dragonlike serpent with a crystal in its forehead. Since dragons are my totem, and my name is Crystal, and I’m Cherokee…I think there is no better mythical beast for me!

Num Num Num

Num Num Num

Arrow points to critter

Arrow points to critter

Guess who I spotted in my back yard yesterday in the full light of midday? A raccoon!

I grew up being told that a raccoon in the daylight is a crazy raccoon, so beware. It could have rabies, or at the very least behave erratically. So… I kept an eye on this one.

Turns out this bandit-faced critter knew exactly what she was up to.

I have an enormous cherry tree in my back yard. The fruit is beginning to ripen and a lot of cherries have been dislodged in the wind and rain during the last couple weeks, and have fallen into the yard. The raccoon was out there eating cherries! Now, who wouldn’t agree with her?

Before I knew it, she was heading up into the branches of the tree in an attempt to get choice cherries. I confess I did not know raccoons climbed trees. I went out to capture it with my camera.

The raccoon is eyeing me warily, wondering whether to continue up for more cherries, or to climb down and escape. I must not look very scary, because she went back to climbing.

The raccoon is eyeing me warily, wondering whether to continue up for more cherries, or to climb down and escape. I must not look very scary, because she went back to climbing.

Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs

Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs

America, you piss me off sometimes. I feel like a parent who knows how much greatness her kid is capable of, and yet must watch while that kid takes the lazy, irresponsible route.

I work for VA. Not in a position of any influence, I work amongst thousands of other anonymous civil servants who take our responsibilities seriously. We endure the often ridiculous demands of the D.C. Central Office of the Department of Veterans Affairs, because when we are able to contort ourselves into their expectations of us, they leave us alone to do our jobs. If we check the boxes and count the beans the way Central Office wants it, the end result is that we get to serve, and educate, and literally change lives for the better for our favourite group in the whole world: U.S. Veterans.

Until yesterday, the Department of Veterans Affairs had a good leader in Eric Shinseki. Not a perfect man. I’ll tell you from experience that under his watch we were worked very hard while under enormous pressure. I am not kidding when I say at times I wavered between fearing I would get fired and plotting how I would quit. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some stressed out VA employees who cheer his departure. Shinseki is direct, and sincere, with high expectations, and he makes decisions and then follows through. It was usually hard to comply, but in 5 years we did some impressive things in VA. Improvements I am proud of.

The fiasco regarding VA medical facility waitlists that has shocked the nation has been identified – by Shinseki himself! – as systemic. That is ugly to hear. Painful to consider. Embarrassing. Inexcusable.

What I found most interesting about this whole ordeal was that my strongest reaction has been to feel deep regret that the employees of VA medical facilities have been under so much pressure that they had to lie to save their jobs. See, what makes my reaction different from a lot of you is that I’m not instantly thinking of the vets. I give the better part of my life to vets, I *am* a vet, I don’t need to prove my patriotism to anyone.  The story I see is one of oppression in the workplace.

I think Secretary Shinseki would have been the man to get to the bottom of the problem. The work he already did to begin addressing wait list problems was lightning fast (by government standards). He knows the Agency, he knows how we keep it running, he knows what we’re up against. Now that he knows that some parts of it are infected with lies, he would have been ALL over that. Dr. Foote, now known as the whistle blower, also felt that Shinseki should stay onbronze side

HOW will forcing his resignation and bringing on someone who doesn’t know what’s going on fix anything? How will Sloan Gibson merge into this breakneck pressure we’re already negotiating within? The pressure of eliminating the backlog of disability claims. The pressure of getting veterans quick appointments. The pressure of constant media disdain and misleading news headlines.

You bastards, whoever you are. Go ahead and pat yourselves on the back for forcing Shinseki to resign. By implying that this could be a partisan issue, and by directing your fury at the Secretary, you have successfully allowed the public NOT to have a discussion about how to fix the problems. You have hurt veterans more than you know.  Your demands should have been to insist that the Secretary fix the problem, not for him to leave. Now the sheep among us will think something was done to address the problem, and that the problems are as good as fixed.

We missed our opportunity to do the only thing that really would have helped the situation, which is to have public outrage centered on how we got into this mess. Members of our U.S. House and Senate were screaming to take down Shinseki, but they cleverly did not clamor to hold themselves responsible for providing the funding to increase VA medical facility size and staffing to fix this problem.

Just think about it sensibly. The reason why a hospital can’t bring in a patient is either because there is no room, or there is no doctor available to see the patient. Can’t you see that firing people is not going to fix the problem? Isn’t that obvious to anyone but me?

That’s why I feel such empathy for the employees at the medical facilities identified. I can imagine how dreadfully stressful their jobs must have been up to this point. And now some of them have been fired, adding insult to injury.

Possibly the first person to attempt to change things at the Phoenix VA facility was Dr. Katherine Mitchell, who contends that after confiding in hospital director Sharon Helman, she was subsequently disciplined and transferred. She then tried to confidentially complain again, this time to the Inspector General, but instead of being touted a hero, was put on administrative leave and threatened that she may be held accountable for violating patient privacy by her allegations. The one who finally got this recent ball rolling is Dr. Sam Foote, who first retired, then took on the role of whistle-blower. These are only two people, but the environment is made very clear to me: if doctors – the power elite  of hospitals – if doctors’ complaints are met with disciplinary action, then there is no hope that a complaint will be taken seriously from the scheduling clerk who answers the phone and handles appointments. In fact, it’s pretty clear that anyone who resists the system can expect to get fired.

Have you been spouting off about the integrity of those VA employees? Well ask yourself if you’re willing to get fired today. Are you? It is another example of asking the victim to be the one responsible for changing their environment.

When this nation found out what was happening to our veterans, having to wait so long for an appointment that they missed critical care, and in some cases may have died while still waiting, we were right to be astonished and offended by the news. Our next step should have been an outpouring of support to the hospitals, asking them “What can we do for you? How can we help?” And most of all, we should have all apologized for ignorantly allowing them to suffer for so long. Newspapers and television networks could have used their fabulous investigative skills to root out VA facilities that were finding ways to succeed without lying, and to identify proposals to improve the system that no one was taking seriously yet. Reporters could have spun the story so that the American public learned that our representatives in Washington, D.C. had been the source of the edict to get vets into facilities in two weeks or less, but had not provided the financial support necessary to make it happen. We could have begun campaigns to let Congress know that we love our vets so much, we want them to approve a VA hospital budget that will actually allow us to take care of them the way they deserve to be taken care of.

When faced with a critical decision to make, our country’s leaders copped out and picked a scapegoat on whom to blame their problems. American citizens, we are bad parents of our government. They will never learn to live up to their potential if we don’t teach it to them.

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