Summer Salmon Fishing

Fall has come to the Pacific Northwest. Our dry summer is history. Snow is beginning to accumulate on the mountain tops and area rivers are rising. The latter fact is good news for our migrating salmon—many (though, not all) small headwater creeks now have enough cool water for these magnificent, iconic creatures to complete their egg laying journeys. Once the eggs are laid and fertilized, they rest in gravel bars all winter before hatching in the spring as tiny alevin with yoke sacks on their necks. And the great salmon cycle begins again.

As a keystone species (essential to the health of our region), nothing about the salmon/human interaction in the Northwest is simple. Their shrinking numbers depend increasingly on shoreline restoration. Unfortunately, lack of funding for habitat restoration is woefully inadequate. Couple that with the problem of stormwater runoff, dams on tributaries, and logging practices, it is a wonder that we still have a salmon run. According to Washington’s State of Salmon in Watersheds report issued January 2021, a trend of warming waters and habitat degradation are the principal problems. The report says that 10 of the 14 threatened or endangered salmon and steelhead runs in the state are not improving and five are “in crisis”.

So, why fish?

Fishing with my dad was one of the first ways I explored the natural world. When I was only six years old, we waded in cold Colorado mountain streams seeking the elusive native cutthroat trout. I loved the excitement, the connection to nature, and, of course, the camaraderie with my father. Fishing became synonymous with adventure for me. And it has remained so.

This drawing is up on my wall. I love the reminder of my dad’s spirit. He passed away in 2013.

However, fishing and fishing resources have changed dramatically over the 65+years since Dad taught me to fish. Yes, we had licenses and limits back then. And my family always ate the trout we caught. But now, of course,  the catch limits of every state have gotten stricter as the resource has dwindled.

In my home state of Washington, our Department of Fish and Wildlife is doing its best job to manage the salmon fisheries despite many challenges. So, I trust that my small impact on the fisheries IS part of a larger plan to keep a healthy fishing resource.

It thrills my wild heart to have a chance to “think like a salmon”. What is the right bait, the correct shore, the correct time of day, and the correct technique for safely landing them? Their magnificence connects me directly to the ecosystem and people of this land—both now and in the past. Also, by being responsible for all facets of catching, cleaning, and eating them, I have a much better understanding of my decision to remain a carnivore at this time.

Wearing my down jacket on an October morning, I stand on the empty shore of Bush Point. Looking across Puget Sound, I see the stately Olympic Mountains. Looking towards the Strait of Juan de Fuca, I can see the San Juan Islands and all the way into Canada on a clear day. I remember all those mornings of summer past— watching the arrival of dawn on the mountains or peering through the fog, feeling the camaraderie of my fishing buddies, and experiencing the occasional excitement of a tug on my line. It is a remarkable, expansive place to fish, even with the shoreline homes right behind us.

A quiet July morning fishing at Bush Point.

Another, not so warm, July morning fishing at Bush Point.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Salmon season on the west side of our island has been closed for three weeks now. It was a great season—the first time in four years that I caught my limit of two fish/day (once) and the first time my grandson caught a salmon. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates that nearly 2.9 million wild pink salmon(also called humpbacks) arrived in Puget Sound in 2021. There were other species, too—cohos(silver) and Chinook(king)—but the vast majority this year were pink salmon.

Our grandson with his “pink” salmon on a July morning.

Those millions of salmon streaming by the island are now inland on the last leg of their precarious journeys from the open ocean. How do they know which stream to return to? Is the water cold enough? Where have they been the last 3-4 years? Do they really care if my lure has Smelly Jelly on it? Why do they sometimes hit a pink lure and sometimes a chartreuse lure? So many questions, so few answers—just an ongoing exploration of curiosity and awareness.

Fishing with my grandson

In the tradition of family fishing, it is a great joy to me that our 16-year-old grandson, Jaden, loves to fish. Every single morning of his annual summer visit with us this July, he got up at 6 a.m. so we could fish for 2-3 hours. Unfortunately, his vacation occurred at the beginning of the summer run, so very few people were catching fish while he was here. But Jaden persisted. On his last morning, 30 minutes before we had to leave for the airport, he caught his salmon! He was getting high fived by all the guys on the beach—a rite of passage into manhood that could not have happened if only his grandmother was there.

Jaden’s salmon being admired by some of the “old salts” who fish Bush Point.

 My friend and skilled fisherwoman, Pip, is our salmon-catching mentor. Jaden followed her teaching: land the fish, give thanks for its life, and kill it quickly to eliminate suffering. He gutted the fish himself and later fileted it back at Pip’s fishing station. And he did not miss his plane! His persistence and determination were admirable.

Jaden fishing with Pip

Recording the date, type of fish, “wild” or “hatchery” on his fishing license. Identifying what you catch and being sure it is legal is important.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fileting the fish back at Pip’s garage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After he left, I joined Pip on the beach once a week. She who fished every day caught over 5 dozen salmon. My salmon card reported only six fish, but it was plenty to share with friends and put some into the freezer for winter nights when we need a reminder of summer’s bounty.

Ann cleaning her female fish full of eggs back at her home.

Carrying the fish innards and unused portions back down to the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing is wasted when fishing. Within minutes of arriving to throw innards into the water, the gulls arrived. What the gulls don’t get, the crabs do!

Standing on the empty shore now, I marvel at the bigness, the mystery, and the excitement of nature’s cycles in my region. And, above all, I give profound gratitude for the privilege of living in a region that still has salmon runs.

 

 

 

 

 

2021 Summer Family Gatherings

If the summer of 2020 was the summer of cancelled reunions, memorials, and weddings, then the summer of 2021 has been the summer of resuming important family gatherings. As of this writing, vaccinated gatherings have felt relatively safe and so very imperative, but the rise of the Delta variant of COVID is beginning to cast a shadow on late August and autumn events.

After our mother died in October 2020, and we were able to have only the smallest internment service for her, my sisters and I began dreaming of a large family reunion to celebrate our mom and mark the passing of her generation as we four stepped into the role of elders. In this blog I record the absolute joy and privilege of a Brown Family Reunion/Memorial for our Mother that occurred in mid-June.

Our sweet mother, photo by Ann Linnea

My three sisters and I started planning in December 2020 before there were vaccinations. Two things seemed clear—it needed to be in Colorado where our family had vacationed for decades, and we wanted lots of outdoor activities because that’s what our family always did on those Colorado vacations.

The Brown Sisters: Kathy, Margaret, Ann, and Susie, photo by Joe Villarreal

We settled on Snow Mountain Ranch, YMCA Camp of the Rockies, and reserved lodge rooms for mid-June. It was a huge leap of faith. Spring came. Vaccines arrived. We got the shots. People began to register. Nearly every living descendant came—53 people, ages 1-76—from Florida, North Carolina, Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Colorado, Arizona, and Washington. We are a diverse lot—age, sex, race, religion, and political affiliation. We are united by our love for our dearly departed matriarch, our shared joy in nature/outdoor adventure, and loyalty to the values this family has practiced since Mom and Dad married in 1948. Time together helped us be our best selves.

How do you weave a diverse, far flung family together to pull off an event with such unity? You plan. You trust. You jump in and have fun together. For our family I think the shared outdoor adventures were key because that is the culture that our parents had set in place for over 50 years. And most certainly you need a measure of good luck.

A collage of activity photos is included below. We supported each other to participate in activities ranging from horseback riding to high ropes adventure to zip lines to bicycle riding to hiking to making crafts to swimming to  tubing to eating s’mores around bonfires.

The narrative I focus on here is the high adventure ropes course because it was an important event for my small part of the big family. My daughter wanted this listed on our choices of activities because we had done this type of thing when she was a child. “I have a fear of heights and I want to challenge myself,” she said.

On a beautiful early June evening several dozen of us walked or drove down to the ropes course. Located in a circle of pines in the forested mountain bowl of Snow Mountain Ranch, an event called the Giant’s ladder and the Leap of Faith pole were rigged by a group of young staff. We gathered for instruction.

High ropes courses are all about individual challenge with team support. Participants are carefully fitted into a parachute type harness and hooked to safety lines called ‘belays’ held by staff and team members.

Our 16-year-old grandson, Jaden, was one of the first to climb the 40-foot utility pole and jump off wearing his harness. After watching several other family members, including some that did not make it to the top but turned around halfway up, our ten-year-old granddaughter, Sasha, said she wanted to try. She harnessed up and reached for the first foot peg and slowly made her way up to the tiny wooden platform at the top to the cheers of dozens—most loudly her big brother. With hesitancy on that little swaying platform, she trusted her harness and herself to leap off. As her father said, “I felt like she left a lot of the anxiety from a year of Covid homeschool and little socialization up there on that tiny wooden ledge. It was very emotional for me to watch.”

Sasha determined to climb that pole, photo by her father Joe Villarreal

Sasha at the top preparing to maneuver onto the jump platform, photo by her father Joe Villarreal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sasha ready to leap, photo by her great Aunt Margaret

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“OK, now I have to try,” said my daughter. There is nothing natural about climbing to the top of a high, slightly swaying pole and then jumping off. It wasn’t easy for Sally, but slowly she climbed, carefully managing her hands and feet. The support crew of aunts, uncles, cousins, and, of course, her family encouraged her to leap and trust that we who belayed her would slowly lower her to the ground. Once on the ground she was in the middle of a hug from Sasha, Jaden, Joe, Nina, and I.

You did such a good job, Sweetie! Now I have to try, photo by Joe Villarreal

Sally leaping off the platform, photo by her Aunt Margaret

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After several more people and children climbed, Jaden wanted to try again. This time he had the goal of jumping off and catching the trapeze bar swinging seemingly just out of reach—something our young guide said less than 10% of participants accomplish.  The friendly crowd grew silent when Jaden perched on that little platform. It was like being a spectator at an Olympic event—we could feel the young athlete’s focus and concentration and did not want to interrupt it. With every ounce of strength in his young body he flew and caught the bar! Cheers, laughter, high fives . . . it was a raucous moment out there in the pines. Afterwards I reflected to Jaden, “If you focus yourself, you can do anything you want to. That was impressive!”

Jaden leaping from the platform, photo by his father Joe Villarreal

 

Jaden reaching for that trapeze, photo by his great Aunt Margaret

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He got it! Photo by his father, Joe Villarreal

 

 

 

 

 

Me watching Jaden fly onto the trapeze, photo by Joe Villarreal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was up next. Someone in the grandmother generation needed to do this! I made no attempt to leap for the bar—sure did not want to throw a shoulder out. But I found it fun to trust that harness and leap. And for sure the cheers from everyone were helpful. Once down and getting out of the harness, I admit to a certain pride in being called a “bad ass grandma” by one of my nephews.

My leap documented by my sister, Margaret

This was one of many events in our five-day gathering. All of them were focused on choice, empowerment, and team building. And all of them built a strength of togetherness that culminated in the final evening memorial service for mom.

The memorial happened the last evening in the chapel after four days of eating, talking, and adventuring together. The field of connection was strongly woven at that point. The service had participation from all three generations remaining in the Brown family. Our historian sister, Margaret, and her son, Frank, put together an amazing video of mom’s life with live footage of her talking. Each of us other three sisters spoke. Mom’s musical talent rested in her grandchildren, and they played the piano and sang with beauty—Molly, Anna, and Frank. Thanks also to Erica and Jaden for their heartfelt words. And thank you to our three cousins who came to represent the fact that their Aunt Astrid was the last of the Svedlund women. Not a dry eye in the room. A homespun service of great heart and meaning.

Photos of our time together

Horseback riding in the Colorado Rockies, photo by Ann Linnea

 

Hiking to the falls: Christina, sister Kathy, niece Erica and daughter Kinsley, sister Susie and Ann, photo by John Harrington

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making s’mores, bonfire created and tended by Joe Villarreal, photo by Ann Linnea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our oldest Zipline daredevil, Christina, photo by Joe Villarreal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flying through air with the greatest of ease, Christina, photo by Joe Villarreal

Eating in the dining hall—Kathy’s family, photo by Ann Linnea

The great grandchildren making their own evening plans: Riley, Mishayla and Jaden , photo by Ann Linnea

A surprise graduation party for Mom and Dad’s youngest grandson, Frank Jonas, photo by Ann Linnea

The whole family after an afternoon of summer tubing, photo by Kyle Unfug

Giving Away Grace

Giving Away Grace

Posted this ad on our local Drewslist (our local equivalent of Craigslist) this week:

Free: Aquaterra KAYAK

Grace: a stable, trusty paddle.

Paddles, spray skirt included.

Grace, the kayak that traversed 1800 miles along the shore of Lake Superior in 1992

This 17- foot, rudderless Aquaterra plastic sea kayak with paddle,
cockpit cover, and spray skirt to the person with the right story!

In this boat I kayaked 1800 miles around Lake Superior in 1992. We moved to Whidbey in 1994 and she’s enjoyed many pleasant hours in Puget Sound. As you can see, she is well cared for. But she weighs 65 pounds and when I kayak these days I find myself always opting for my lighter weight boat. Since she has a remarkable story, she needs to go to someone who really wants her. Also included, my story of that journey: Deep Water Passage, A Spiritual Journey at Mid-Life.

Please donate something to Drew. We do.

Ann Linnea 7/06/2021

The emails of interest began pouring in. In the next several days 19 people expressed an interest. Their stories were many and varied: “Need a kayak for my daughter so she can join our adventures. My husband would never buy himself something, and he works so hard. I would love a kayak for my wife and I take really good care of gear. I’d like to do longer paddling trips in the San Juan Islands. . . .”

On July 10 a young father from nearby Oak Harbor arrived with his 7 and 4-year-old sons with many adventuring tales and a firm commitment to tending old gear. He skillfully loaded the boat onto his sedan. As I handed him an autographed copy of Deep Water Passage, he shared that he has aspirations to write his own book. We shook hands and off he went.

Young father and sons ready to claim their new sea kayak

Grace loaded and ready to go to her new home

Here is the response I sent to each person who inquired about the boat:

Thank you for your inquiry about my Aquaterra Sea Kayak. Some of you shared stories about why you would like this 32-year-old kayak that carried me around Lake Superior in 1992. In the true spirit of Drewslist, I lined you up in the order of receiving your emails. This afternoon a young family in Oak Harbor with an excellent story loaded her up and took her into her next life. They were the first people to inquire about the boat.

Fellow paddlers on the sea of life, be well, keep your paddle in the water, and keep adventuring always!

See you on the water,

Ann Linnea

 

My greatest joy at this time in my life is empowering the next generation(s)!

 

 

The Organic Farm School

Multi-colored vegetables, goats, chickens, hogs, and fabulous young people learning to be organic farmers. What is not to like about this scene? For the past three years it has been my great joy to volunteer as an adult mentor at the Organic Farm School in the Maxwelton Valley of Whidbey Island.

Sunny day in early spring, courtesy of Organic Farm School

Baby goat, courtesy of Organic Farm School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Chicken tractors” protect the young chicks from predators, but can be moved daily for foraging in new places. Ann Linnea photo

The young people range in age from mid-twenties to mid-forties and come from all over the U.S. to join the ranks of future farmers focused on growing healthy food. It is a six-month, full time, intensive training. They learn soil management, seed production, marketing, and business planning through a combination of classes, field work, and community interaction. (The latter was challenging during the pandemic, but we shifted, adapted, and had a successful year with a smaller class in 2020. We are back up to full capacity at 12 this year.)

In one of our recent teaching sessions the students were each giving a 4-minute statement on why they choose to farm at this time. We were meeting in the open-air picnic shelter. The air temperature was 45 degrees F. and there was a light wind blowing. I found myself wishing I had donned long underwear. Even though it was April, there had been a morning frost.

Student working with seeds and seedlings in one of the greenhouse, courtesy of Organic Farm School

I was busy taking notes so I could reflect back to them the general gist of their statements. Every one of them was articulate about why they were choosing to farm at a time when the number of farmers in the U.S. is slowly decreasing, farmland is being bought up by big corporations, and U.S. Department of Agriculture policies continue to largely favor the “big farmer.”

Many of them spoke about wanting to change the way farming is done in this country. Some focused on wanting to learn essential life skills. Several referenced seeking a spiritual connection to the land. All of them were inspirational to listen to—courageous, taking a big leap of faith, working bone hard every single day. These are the people I want to invest in!

Transplanting seedlings from the greenhouse to the field, Ann Linnea photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The focus of OFS teaching by the farm manager, assistant farm manager, and the instructor is on regenerative agriculture. A shorthand explanation of that might be a farmer saying, “I focus on the health of my soil. If it is healthy, I am being successful.”

Regenerative ag farmers use a variety of techniques ranging from cover crops to crop rotation to no till farming to rotational grazing. In many ways they look at farming more like a 1950s farmer growing a variety of crops, not using pesticides or herbicides, having some animals as a source of manure and “tilling,” and planning to have a farm whose soils can support crop growing for generations to come.

Everyone learns to drive the tractor, courtesy of Organic Farm School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also built into the program is an emphasis on communication and interaction. The students host a farm stand, offer cooking and tasting sessions, and even Friday evening pizza oven gatherings. All of these programs involve community volunteers.

“Communication” is where my friend and colleague Sharon Betcher and I come into the program. We offer weekly supplemental classes, like the one articulated above. The umbrella title for our classes is “The Holistic Farmer. We, and invited community members, provide an hour-long session on topics ranging from developing working agreements, to a history of the area, to working with conflict and disagreement, to functional fitness, to civics for farmers, to ethics of slaughter.

Inside one of the large green houses, courtesy of Organic Farm School

We have a course outline for the remaining Mondays of this year’s sessions. We know the curriculum will need to be adapted as suggestions and needs come forward from the students. Like the soil, plants, and animals, like weather and seasons, change is the norm in this outdoor lifestyle. To stand alongside and contribute to this program is challenging, wonderful, and a great privilege. I come home with my arms full of very fresh vegetables, and my heart full of confidence in the future of farming.

Aerial early spring view of OFS, courtesy of Organic Farm School

Young hogs “tilling and fertilizing” a stretch of sod, photo by Ann Linnea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resilience

Recently we had the privilege of hosting our dear grandchildren for a week. Because of COVID and the fact that they live far away, we had not seen them for 18 months. The very first thing we did after getting our second COVID shots was to call our daughter and see if we could bring them here for spring break. Ah, the benefits of vaccination!

Sasha, Jaden, Christina, Ann and Vivi

Sasha, Jaden, Christina, Ann and Vivi, photo by Nicole Luce

There are so many memories from our recent week together: The joy of watching them play with the young dog they had never met as a puppy. . . their familiarity with rhythms from years past like planting peas . . . the fun of board games on rainy days . . .growing skill at helping in the kitchen . . . and their deepening ability to articulate themselves during morning check-ins.

Photos in collage below

In many ways it was not so different from previous years. Well, Jaden is now old enough to be driving us around! And Sasha is now old enough to sleep in her own bedroom. But the thing that struck me the most about being with them this time is their resilience.

Since COVID cancelled our annual spring break visit in 2020, they have had a year of school entirely on ZOOM. The vast majority of their time has been spent in a two-bedroom apartment or running errands with their dear parents. They have had very limited access to friends. And once our daughter found a new job which took her away from home, the two of them had to learn to take care of each other at a whole other level.

I am so impressed with both of them! What I see is how this past year has matured them—made them stronger and better versions of the selves they have always been. This, of course, is certainly a tribute to the fine job their parents are doing and the closeness of their family unit. But it also speaks to how adversity can grow our souls.

A lot is being written about “the lost year” of COVID for young people. I know there have been huge losses and challenges. But what I see in our grandchildren is strength and resilience. I am defining resilience as an ability to recover and grow from adversity. This is a skill that will stead them well.

None of us knows what the future holds for our beloved children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, family friends, and neighbor kids. We wish we could have a crystal ball that told us what is coming so we could help prepare them to create the world they want. But we don’t. We must simply love, encourage, and support them to the best of our abilities and resources. And then we must step back and trust their incredible youthful spirits.

I trust Sasha and Jaden’s spirits even more after this recent visit. May I have the privilege of being with them for many years to come.

Morning wakeup and conversations

With Jaden as my ally I am SAFE!

Neighborhood work party with Sarah

Jaden at the wheel

Playing at the beach

Wrestling on the floor with Vivi

Ann and Sasha baking

Writing our note in the bottle

Inserting note into the bottle and sealing with beeswax

Football player Jaden getting ready to throw the bottle into the outgoing tide on a very chilly morning

Many games of UNO

Sasha planting peas

 

Give the world a week of wonder

“The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you
Don’t go back to sleep!

Rumi

Every year, April 22 is designated as Earth Day… As though every day isn’t earth day? What do we think our lives depend on the other 364 days of the year? Of course every day is earth day, but like many other humans, I can get distracted and take all this life support for granted.

  I am fortunate enough to live in a place where Nature is very much my neighbor; where tending yard and garden very much part of my daily life and the dog gets me out morning-noon-evening in every weather offered up. I write with a desk that faces a view of mountains and sea that after a quarter century still thrills me morning by morning. It is easy in this environment for me to stay attached to Earth. But I have not always lived here.

I was born in west central Montana, a landscape of boxy buttes, rolling prairie and cultivated wheat fields. I remember asking my grandfather on one summer visit, “Why didn’t you keep going until there were more trees?”

We lived in New Jersey and Illinois (remembered only through a few remaining black and white photos) and then when I was five, moved to Indianapolis, living first downtown with grass in cracked sidewalks. When I was six, my parents bought a tiny house on the edge of the city (then) inside a flood plain, across the street from a sycamore tree I loved to climb, and a bike ride from a creek full of crawdads and polliwogs we carted home in mason jars.

When I was nine, we moved to the edge of Minneapolis, a half-acre yard with 23 oak trees—too many leaves for even four Baldwin children to rake!

After college, I lived in San Francisco in a communal Victorian tucked under the elevated freeway, with no outdoors tolerable at all. And over the decades, I’ve traveled and lived many places—a list fascinating to me, but probably not to anyone else. And every place I go: there is nature.

Nature is present: it is to me to look for it, notice it, nurture it, and humble myself before this huge gift of which I am one miniscule breathing participant. So here comes Earth Day, and the question of how to honor the gorgeous complexity that is life surrounding.

For the week of April 18-24, I am going to start each day sitting on the front porch of our house—at the edge of whatever weather the spring wants to offer up—watching the mornings rise and writing in my journal. I may ramble off on stories that reside behind the above sentences; I may ruminate on the scene before me; I may enter a territory of meditative surprise. I invite you to join me.

This April, some  people are emerging from pandemic isolation and some are going back into isolation in response to viral surges. Whether opening or closing the doors and windows of our lives, we are living at the beginning of the “Next Now.” We should not go back to sleep. There are so many variables and unknowns in our situations, but our one shared constant is that we are all living embedded in Nature. And we need to find ways of more respectful living forward.

I know some things that I can do to make my lifestyle more sustainable… but I am not the authority: I dedicate this week to listening, to reflective inquiry, to translating the breezes of dawn into messages that help me live more honorably connected to the planet.

The page is blank and waiting.

My cup of tea is brewing.

The new day dawns.

Spring is Coming!

I have lived in the northern part of the northern hemisphere my entire life, including 15 cherished years in Duluth, MN where snow can arrive as early as October and leave as late as May. So, I know the length and breadth of winter—and, I do not think I have ever been so eager for spring as I am this year. After a year of Covid winter, I am ready for some thawing, some blooming, and for sure, more joy!

It has been a very long year for everyone. There has been much suffering, ambiguity, frustration, adjustment, upheaval, and insecurity. Yikes! We have had no visitors inside our home. Our tiny, socially distanced gatherings occur under the patio heater on our porch on days with little wind or rain. We still walk hiking trails here with masks on. All of my family connections, friendly outreach and community meetings have turned to ZOOM. We last saw our daughter, her partner, and the grandchildren in October 2019. And I know these stresses are small in the scheme of things. We who are the middle class retired have been inconvenienced, but not bearing the brunt of disruption. We have stood by to assist others as best we can. We have a home, heat, enough to eat, relative health, love. AND— I am ready for some opening up!

Tea on the porch under the patio heater with neighbors

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How can I tell? Well, my moods are as variable as spring weather. Valentine’s weekend we had snow at our house, a rare sea level occurrence. I got to ski down our street and make a snowman! It was great fun.

Ann skiing down the gravel road in front of her house

Ann making a snowman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then in perfect Seattle snowstorm fashion, it all promptly melted in three days and the inexorable, erratic march of spring returned. Immediately, I was out in the garden turning over the winter cover crop. I walked over to our neighboring farm to get my garden seeds. The next day the sun came out and I got so excited I nearly planted grass seed in the thin spots in our front patio yard until I read the package which instructed me, “Seed when the air temperature is 60 degrees F.(15.5 degrees C.)” More waiting!

3 days later turning over the winter cover crop in the garden

Neighboring Deep Harvest farm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I laughed out loud at myself. Geez, it IS only February, and the temperature has not even gotten up to 50 degrees F yet (10 degrees C.)! So, I restrained my optimistic impulses and strolled around the yard appreciating all of the blooming plants that came through the snowstorm in great beauty: Hellebores, heather, and Pieris. I do feel lucky to live here.

Blooming Hellebore in our February backyard

Blooming heather in our February front yard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A couple of days later I was walking with our puppy on our favorite trail in the state park. “Oh, my gosh!” I exclaimed aloud to little Vivi. “It is the first salmonberry flower in our park! Spring IS coming!” My steps on the muddy trails became ever lighter.

Salmonberry bud about to burst. Once they do, the incorrigible rufous hummingbirds arrive from their long migration to begin their incredible summer lives in the NW.

 

 

And yesterday we got our second COVID vaccination. It does feel like slowly, slowly the door of possibilities is beginning to open. My daughter and I immediately made plans for the grandkids to come up for spring break. I was so happy that I cried. Yes, we still have to be very careful—need to get COVID tests, need to fly with cautious protocols, need to keep masking up in public. But spring is coming. Warmth. Possibility. Hope.

Decades ago, I worked as a newspaper reporter in northern Utah. I was the cub reporter. One of the more seasoned reporters I looked up to very much, Jim Godbold, said he heard I was from Minnesota. He then proceeded to tell me the story of his year working at the Minneapolis Star and Tribune. “Coldest, most miserable year of my life,” he said. “But when spring came I was more creative than I have ever been. There was such a release of my energy as things began to thaw. I couldn’t believe it. Haven’t experienced it since, but I never forgot that feeling.”

That is exactly how I am feeling at this moment. Spring IS coming. (Honestly, to my Minnesota and Canadian friends, it WILL come.) The Earth’s signals do not lie. They may taunt us, but they do not go away. Lighter weight jackets can come out of the closet. Mittens and scarves will soon go into storage. Masks will still be with us for a long time. But somehow the necessary changes we face no longer feel as daunting.

In 1732 the English poet, Alexander Pope wrote, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” That’s me. I wish he was around this spring, I’d give him a high-five and a hug. Masked, of course.

 

 

 

 

Blooming where we are planted

In spite of catastrophes and crises, our beautiful island is in full-out spring. Blossoming, which began in February with Hellebores, and crocuses, followed by daffodils and rows of ornamental plum trees, is rolling through peak rhododendron season, and here come the tulips! Lifting our gaze from the television or other devices of dire news, our eyes fill with color, and we dip toward one flower and another like bees nosing for scent. Surely amidst all this generosity of Nature, we can rest in beauty for a few moments.

For myself, Nature is my greatest solace, and as life in the world of human concerns wobbles and shakes, I practice slowing down to really let Nature nourish me. I need nourishing. I need to drink green thoughts, to sip respite through a straw of flower stem, to roll in clover with my puppy for the silliness of it, and to savor the gifts of sunrise/sunset and another day—rain or shine. I bring bouquets into the house. I hug a tree—it’s not contagious.

So many issues in the wider world continue to concern us and disrupt our routines: the environment, politics, economics, and pandemics. Over the winter months and into spring, we have been made aware of our vulnerabilities and interconnectivity on multiple levels. And some of our routines needed interrupting, shifting, realignment, or letting go. The world is not as it was: the world is as it is. We are in the “Roaring 20’s” in a new century and much of what the 1920’s set in motion in society, we in the 2020s are now facing in terms of consequences. These consequences are unavoidable: they are corrections of course that demand redress.

When threatened by contagion, as we are right now in response to Covid-19, it’s easy to pull back and away from one another. We wash our hands more diligently. We replace hugs and kisses with friendly gazes and smiles at what we hope is a socially safe distance; we keep our hands off doorknobs and handrails, and wipe down public spots, but we still need to stay in community, to stay resilient. This is a moment to do whatever we can in our individual circles to be sure we know where and how everyone is. My texting outreach is going up: maybe I can’t help directly, but I can let someone in self-quarantine know I am checking on them, can put food on the doorstep or play “words with friends” on our phones. I can reach out to a niece in Milan, to a brother with compromised lung function, to neighbors I haven’t seen in a while. Just send love—it’s the right kind of contagious!

There is no escape from these times: we must bloom where we are planted and take charge of the quality of our lives by keeping our hearts open to beauty and to one another.

 

 

Lights out!

On December 20, 2018, I was home alone with the dog (Ann was in Minnesota) when Whidbey Island was engulfed in a storm of sustained winds 50+ MPH. Trees fell, but not on our house, power went out for 3-5 days depending on the neighborhood. So while waiting for electricity to resume, I had a chance to renew my survival and emergency skills.

Driftwood plowed off the road, Keystone Spit Rd.

Wherever we live, the modern conveniences of our lives are at risk! We watch the news of floods, hurricanes and tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, fires, winds with a kind of morbid fascination—unless these events are disrupting/wrecking/ending our own comfortable lives. We need different kinds of emergency preparedness and social/spiritual resilience for each of these scenarios. My responses during and after the storm are an invitation for you to identify your vulnerabilities and design your own plan.

Get water: When winds came up and lights blinked, I ran a 3-gallon bucket for flushing and set it in the shower near the toilet. I filled a soup pot with 1-gallon of drinking water and all other water bottles in the house. In our earthquake supplies we have additional reserve supplies of water. (We also have 250 gallons in a hot tub that could be shared and/or converted for multiple uses by camp filters.)

Preserve food: We always keep 2 blocks of ice in our box freezer to turn it into an ice chest if needed. Once the power was out, I arranged frozen food and ice and covered the freezer with a feather duvet and wool blankets. (I took out and ate ½ pint of ice cream as precautionary measure!) Fifty-six hours later when power returned, everything in the freezer was still frozen except some bags of blackberries. I also got a camping ice chest in the kitchen with another block of ice to store refrigerator things like milk, mayo, and fresh veggies to use daily.

Stay warm: I chopped a lot of kindling and filled the wood bin by front door. Our wood stove kept the temperature in the living room at 62 Fahrenheit (16 Celsius). I lived comfortably in sweaters, put two duvets on the bed, drank lots of hot tea, soup, ate well because I could match light the propane stove top. Several neighbors were toasty by their propane stoves or fireplaces—very helpful to have alternative heat source! And it helped enormously that outside temperatures were in the mid forty-degree Fahrenheit range.

Prepare for darkness: We have little solar camping lights that I made sure were in the windows charging up. I also used candles, both flame and battery operated. I wore a headlamp as a necklace and beamed my way around the house in the evenings. This time of the year we have 16 hours of darkness.

Check neighbors: Some of ours had generators they hauled out on the second day. Some had no back-up heat and were shivering in place. I talked to the new folks about not flushing (water won’t flow uphill to your septic field, and the pump between the tanks is not working) and answered any other questions gleaned from our 25 years living here through power outages. Just talking with neighbors helped them not feel so isolated and encouraged some to pull out extra blankets and clothing. Others left for relatives’s and friend’s homes or mainland motels.

Communicate: Create a little texting group and keep track of one another to encourage resilience and safety, share information, and support a sense of community in place.

Wait out the storm: the only thing more dangerous than living under 150-foot-tall conifers is driving under them! On the 10-mile main road that feeds into our 25-household community, there were 20 trees down over the road and 3 or 4 of them on hot wires (until the wires broke). The wind blew hard for 9 hours, and then abated at dark—very dark, very quiet. Starry night and Solstice full moon.

Once the practicalities were in place, I could practice living with this event at multiple levels, so here are two more suggestions.

Look for surprises and stories: The headquarters and WiFire coffee shop of the local telecom company (Yes—Whidbey still has a locally owned/operated phone and WIFI company) ran its mega-generator and served as a community hub for recharging devices, being on-line, getting warm, and getting espresso and baked goods. The camaraderie was magic: island folks showing up to share stories of how they made it through the night, where the worst of the tree damage appeared to be, what roads had been cleared, what stores were open. Everyone had access to free WIFI and electricity. A conference room had 40+ people in it. The line-up for coffee was 30 minutes with plenty of hugs and hellos. Collective hosting emerged, honor systems engaged.

A community communicating–thank you Whidbey Telecom.

One woman told me, “I found a laptop in the parking lot last night. Someone leaving in the dark, I’m sure, disoriented by all this, set it down to find keys, drove off…I turned it in to the desk here and hope the person wasn’t too panicked and got back here to pick it up.”

A man said, “You think taking car keys away from your aging parents is hard—this is the storm we finally had to take mom’s chainsaw away! She’s always prided herself at being able to saw her way out of her driveway, but she really doesn’t have the strength to safely heft that thing around anymore.”

Participate in the sacred: Two friends host an annual Solstice Ceremony that has come to serve as a spiritual marker in the year. I called at 4:00 PM as the winds died down and the host said he’d driven several routes and laid out the safe byways to their home: the party would go on in candle-light. I put on a sweater that highlighted the jeweled tones of my headlamp and headed off into the dusk, glad to be driving while I could still see the wires and leaning trees along my way. About 45 people showed up and stepped into the glowing feast of food and fellowship.

We held a Solstice ceremony with everyone clustered in the living room. We became collective prayer. We prayed for the world. We prayed for three among us currently fighting brain cancer. We became a peer spirited voice of quiet insights offered to the candlelight center. We anchored one another in a ritual of nonsectarian spirituality that shimmers in me still.

Morning prayer light, dawn in the dining room.

Saturday night the lights flicked on, the furnace kicked in, the clocks blinked awake, and with a sigh of relief I resumed modern living—the lessons in that are the next blog.

End of Part One

 

 

Rocks of Ages

I’m walking in a narrow riverbed, wearing special river boots and feeling my way carefully over rocks hidden under murky water. I am carrying a hiking stick, probing for balance. Above me, cliffs soar 1500 feet revealing a slit of morning sky. I place my hand along the sandstone walls of the slot canyon, touching what was seabed 61 million years ago. Touching what water can do to rock. Touching a strip of smoothed rock-face about shoulder height, burnished by hundreds of thousands of hands just like mine, pressing skin on stone.

This is a hike called the Zion Narrows, where the Virgin River flows through Zion National Park in southern Utah. It is a spectacular end-of-summer adventure that Ann and I have been training for by walking Whidbey trails for months: increasing distance, hours, weight in our backpacks. We ride the first park shuttle of the day and arrive at the wade-in point, in the middle of the park about 7:30 AM.

People dwarfed by canyon walls. Zion Narrows.

We will stay “in river” for over nine hours, walk over 10 miles, and alternate between moments of utter aloneness with Nature, and navigating around clumps of people in various stages of appreciation and athleticism. People come from all over the world to do this hike and the languages that stream by us babble like the river itself. There are many families, mid-life and younger parents, teens and toddlers, some younger grandparents. I would say I am the elder here—except that is a ridiculous, egocentric, anthropomorphic comment when walking along these cliffs comprised of sedimentary deposits of unimaginable age.

In the National Park Service brochure, it is written: “These rock layers hold stories of ancient environments and inhabitants very different from those found in Zion today. In this distant past, Zion and the Colorado Plateau were near sea level and were even in a different place on the globe—close to the equator. The rock layers found in Zion today were deposited approximately 110-270 million years ago, and only in recent geologic time uplifted to form the scenery of Zion National Park.”

And I am a seventy-two year old human-being walking in the floor of the canyon, pressing my palms onto the skin of the rock, awash in awe and wonder. I am humbled by the beauty, and calmed inside the incomprehensible bigness of this story. Truly, Earth is the planet of the stones.

Moving slowly, deliberately upriver, I am held in a beauty that allows both gratitude and grief to rise. Gratitude that the canyon is still protected; grief for most everything else, especially that other Utah canyon lands are being auctioned off by shortsightedness and greed to the oil and gas industry. The mantra, “forgive me, forgive us,” wrenches through my heart…but just as quickly the thought races back, “What humanity has done to the Earth is not forgivable. It is not even appropriate to ask such a thing of these stones.”

Forgiveness is a human issue. Inadvertently or intentionally we trespass on one another’s trust. As we become aware of our transgressions, most of us try to be accountable for harm done, we practice making amends, learn to ask to be forgiven, and to forgive. We ask this of one another. We ask this of institutions because corporations, churches, governments, and militaries are all run by people. Forgiveness functions at the scale of human flaw, human harm, and human capacity for recovery.

Zion Narrows–high noon

The stone I am touching is outside this drama. I am standing under a cliff that does not register my presence: forgiveness is not the business of these stones. They are invulnerable. They are the body of the Earth. I am the disposable being here. My species is so young we are not even embedded in the geologic layer. And when this era crumbles to dust, what a layer that will be: landfills, atomic waste and nuclear warheads, mountains of plastics, tumbled skyscrapers, rusting vehicles, the bones of billions and the Sixth Great Extinction. But the cliffs will take it all and press it down and make more layers atop us.

Geologists have named and chronicled these layers: the Carmel Formation, the Temple Cap Formation, the Navajo Sandstone, the Kenyeta Foundation—representing several hundred millions of years of compression and upheaval. The waterfalls seeping out of the sandstone have been a thousand years in the making, since an ancient rainy day drove droplets into the top layer and they filtered down and down and down. Purified, they fall on my uplifted face. The earth has cleansed it all—whatever happened then, the stink of dying mastodons, the rotting seaweed of a long gone sea, and whatever happens now and tomorrow—eventually we all become a chapter in the story of the stones.

I stand in a moment of profound recognition: human beings cannot destroy the Earth. I kiss the cliff walls with unbounded joy, with the certainty that this rock will survive.

The land I live on, my island in Puget Sound, is an old river delta made by glacial melting 10,000 years ago. It is young and unstable, the layers loosely packed and crumbling back into the sea. It rests on the edge of deep coastal fault-lines.

This land I visit is old, weathered, wise even. It transmits endurance. Standing in place. Allowing wind and water to shape it. To sustain joy in these times is a matter of what I identify as source, as ground. I pause here: feet in the river, hands on the stone, sun and shadow all around me.

Stilled.

It is still true that beyond the canyon walls humanity is busily destroying the biosphere that makes our version of life-on-Earth possible. It is still true that the foundational question of life on Earth at this time is whether or not we as a species will rally ourselves to correct our relationship with Nature. It is still true that the answer may be no: or that our systemic tampering with biological and geological energies is beyond our capacity to correct to our liking. It is still true that how we have treated one another, and how we have treated the species that companion us, and used the resources offered us, is unforgivable and has grave consequences that are all coming due. But in this moment I am just a tiny desert lizard licking the water of life off the rock walls. I am in sunshine. I am home. I surrender to what is.

Canyon lizard–the weeping rocks, near entrance. All photos by Ann Linnea