Monday, November 8, 2010

same as it ever was

Life has a funny way of disorienting you. It can grab you, blindfold you, spin you round, and shove you forward in directions unknown. Then you remove the blindfold and look around wildly at your new reality and maybe there's a moment of confusion or even mild terror. But you stop. You take a deep breath. Maybe you close your eyes, count to ten. Then you look on your new surroundings with new eyes and you smile and you think, Yes. I can do this.

Realizing I am going to be a father soon has been one of these disorientating moments. Not in a panic-laden oh-my-god-what-am-I-going-to-do kind of way. Nothing so dramatic as that. Just, you know, a little dizzying.

Don't get me wrong. I'm extremely happy and excited. Whenever I look over at the ultrasound photo taped to my cubical wall--the one showing a clear profile of my baby with what looks like a subtle smile on his or her face--a warm feeling of love wells up inside my chest and into my throat.

As happy as I am, let's be honest here (nothing wrong with that, right?). It's a frightening thing, learning you're now going to be one hundred percent responsible for another human being. One who starts out so fragile and dependent on you for its very survival.

The strange thing to me is how I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the big picture. Not the birth, or the feeding, or the diapers, or the long hours and lack of sleep. I'm strangely not bothered by these things one bit. It's looking beyond all that. It's daydreaming of this new person becoming a kindergartner, a teenager, a high school student, and so on. It's the very idea that I have invited another person into my life. It's a commitment that goes beyond any relationship you'll ever have.

They are a part of you, always.

Again, I don't mean to sound apprehensive. I'm not. I just can't help but dwell on these things. My mind is a whirlygig of swishing and spinning thoughts, flying past each other and sometimes colliding in bright bursts of colorful worry.

Silly, I know. Sometimes I just have to process and work through all of my fears and self-doubts until I reach a conclusion on the other side. In this case, my answer is simply this: This new person, this baby... he or she will have a firm hold on my heart and I won't have a choice in the matter. So quit worrying and enjoy it, jackass.

I blame nature for allowing me the time to dwell. While the mother has--at least biologically--an instant bond to the child growing inside her, the father waits. He waits to finally see and feel this new person who has stubbornly remained tucked away for so many months.

For now, I have this ultrasound photo. I swear he or she is smiling.

I know I am.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Stars, Ice, and Impossible Beauty: Backpacking in the North Cascades

[Photos HERE]

Lake Ann is not a big lake, but what she lacks in size she more than makes up for with her grace and charm. She's also a calming force and an escape of sorts, from the surrounding drama of our main star, Mount Shuksan. When Shuksan is not fogged in it seems to spread itself across the entire sky. When it begins to feel like too much, one can simply turn around. Ann is there.

Fairly popular among day-hikers, you'll see everyone on this trail from hardened mountain lovers to families and even white-haired grannies. That said, it's not exactly an easy hike. At 8.2 miles and 1,900 feet of elevation gain (both round trip), Lake Ann is a bit more of a day hike than I'm usually up for, so, to those grannies who actually get there and back in a day, much respect.

As for my friends and me, we decided to backpack in and stay two nights at the lake so we could do a day-hike to the Lower Curtis Glacier on Mount Shuksan.

We began our hike on Friday afternoon, Labor Day weekend. The sun was shining and the sky was clear. A more perfect day simply could not exist for hiking in the North Cascades, where everywhere you look there are craggy, snow-capped peaks vying for your attention. As we set off on the trail with our heavy packs, we were almost giddy with excitement. Unlike a lot of trails you'll find, this one actually drops in elevation by about 900 feet from the trail head, winding its way through lush forest and eventually landing in a gorgeous little valley where dogs and humans alike may cool off in the many creek crossings. Views of Mount Baker and the surrounding mountains kept us stopping often for photos.

Another crossing and the trail then moves back into the trees, winding its way along the toe of the Shuksan Arm before bottoming out again at a junction where one may choose to go straight for Lake Ann, or turn right for a trail down the Swift Creek Valley to Baker Lake. From this junction, the trail climbs and climbs and climbs. We navigated switchbacks, scree fields, and the seemingly never-ending 1,000-foot slog up an exposed ridge, sucking water like crazy from our CamelBaks.

As we reached the saddle and looked down at shapely Lake Ann, we felt very happy we'd soon be ditching all the weight on our backs. After descending about 100 feet to the lake, we made our camp at the south end, near the outlet of the lake. Evening was setting in and it quickly grew much cooler out. Campfires are not allowed out here, so we wanted to set up camp and get to cooking our dinner to warm up, but Mount Shuksan was not making it easy. The evening light seemed to change the mountain every few minutes. We’d stop whatever we were doing to take more photos and gaze, open-mouthed, at the alpenglow lighting up this colossus of rock and ice dominating the sky.

After dinner, we sat atop our rocky point, sipping Irish whiskey and making casual conversation. We tipped our heads back, watching the stars appear. When it had grown completely dark, we unclipped the straps of our seats and lay back against the granite. The sky now directly above us, we were like children. The Milky Way spread itself across the sky in a dense band of light. Not much was said, save for an occasional remark on the beauty of this place and exclamations over shooting stars.

Eventually, the chill got to us and we turned in. I lay in my sleeping bag, in my little tent, reading Lonesome Dove (not a smart book to bring backpacking, for its size and heft--but I couldn’t stop myself from packing it) and as I began to feel the weight of sleep coming on, I happened across these words: "Augustus lay back, his head against his saddle. It was a clear night, the stars just beginning to appear." I laughed a little at the coincidence. I switched off my headlamp, closed my eyes, and slipped away to the sound of the lake's outlet babbling at my feet while glacial waters roared down the mountain above me.

The following morning was eerie. We were completely fogged in so that you couldn't even see the other side of our little lake. As we ate our breakfast and cleared our heads with hot coffee, we could feel the sun fighting to show itself. It never completely cleared up, but that was fine. The constantly shifting dance of sun and clouds throughout the day kept things very interesting. We were just happy it was not raining.

Once we were powered up and the sun was peeking through, we decided to set off for the Lower Curtis Glacier. I stuffed my pack with just the essentials (water, snacks, first aid kit, warm hat, extra layers) and off we went.

If our map was correct, the glacier is less than a mile from Lake Ann, but it took us over two hours to get there. To be fair, part of this is due to the fact that we stopped to take pictures every ten steps, but it's also because this is no walk in the park.

After angling away from the lake, we landed in a creek basin where everything suddenly felt very prehistoric. Above, the fog moved in and out of massive rock spires, while at our feet we walked among beautiful alpine flowers, wild blueberries, and lush, bright green ferns surrounding enormous rocks. The trail then climbs numerous switchbacks toward the Fisher Chimney, a popular climbing route for those planning to summit Mount Shuksan. As we continued, the glacial water rushing down the mountain became extremely loud, while far down the valley, Baker Lake came into view. By this time, I was wearing every piece of clothing I'd packed with me. After crossing a couple of tricky and steep rock gullies, we arrived near the edge of the glacier. One more scree field and we were there.

I was on the glacier before I knew I was on the glacier. Carefully placing each step, I started to notice more and more ice between and underneath the rocks. A little further and there was no mistaking it.


Standing on top of the Lower Curtis Glacier, looking up at the craggy pinnacles surrounding the Upper Curtis, and across the snow and ice-filled cirque of Mount Shuksan was, well, very affecting.

We didn't have a lot to say.

Getting there: From Bellingham, take the Mount Baker Highway (State Route 542) east about 60 miles to the trailhead (parking lot on the left, about 1.5 miles beyond the Mount Baker Ski Area). Call ahead to the Glacier Public Service Center for trail and weather information, (360)-599-2714.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Well Hello There, Summer

Summer appears to have finally arrived here in the Pacific Northwest. I say finally, as it is June 24th, but this is the way it is most every year. Summer weather really kicks in around the end of June or beginning of July. Most years, June is a time of gray skies and a restlessness that fills the air we breath.

After a long, dark, and soggy winter, we want to be outside. We ache for the sun, to feel her warmth on our bare arms. To feel her rays invigorate us in the morning and leave us drowsy and smiling at day's end.

Summer is here. So bring on the spontaneous barbecues, afternoon bike rides, long lunches away from the office, and campfires under dark starry skies, in the company of friends.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Welcoming the New Year from the Rose City

Portland, Oregon. The Rose City. Home to wonderful music, divine beer, and lots of facial hair.

In some ways Portland is a lot like Seattle. They both share a distinctive Northwest culture (perceived or real?) of bookish organic farmers sitting in a cafe, enjoying soy lattes and vegan muffins while agreeing with everything on the Huffington Post.

In other ways, however, Portland is very different from Seattle. It's smaller for one thing. It's not as geographically strange, so it's easier to get around. There are more strip clubs. It's actually soggier if you can believe that. And it's far more lumberjack-y than Seattle. Everyone there dresses like a lumberjack. And has a beard. Even the women. Kidding, mostly.

Anastasia and I love Portland. We've made five trips down there so far--a few times with friends and once we took her parents to McMenamins Edgefield Manor (Disneyland for adults). It's a great little city to get away to every now and then. And now that we're pretty familiar with the place, it's just as fun to go and explore new areas of town as it is to revisit those restaurants, bars, and shops that we've enjoyed on prior visits.

So when we were thinking of things to do for New Year's Eve this year, Portland fit the bill nicely. After working a half-day Thursday, Stasia and I bused down to King Street Station and hopped on a Portland-bound train. Note: It doesn't get much better than sitting back on a train, sipping red wine, watching the trees, water, ships, and farm houses pass by.

We didn't really have a plan for New Year's Eve. We had dinner reservations, but beyond that, we'd be celebrating the new year wherever we happened to be when the clock struck.

Walking around the east end of the Pearl District, we found a lot of bars and clubs, but many of them had people lined up at doors through which heavy bass music pounded mercilessly. We looked at each other knowingly, took a sip of our Metamucil and continued walking until we happened upon a corner bar that looked quite welcoming with its warm atmosphere and copious Christmas decorations.

Turns out, it was a gay bar. Stasia called it before I did, but by the time we'd found a booth and ordered our first drinks, it was pretty obvious. Thing is, it was far more laid back than most gay bars. Imagine if CHEERS was a gay bar. That's how this place was.

We thought we'd have one drink and then maybe see what else was down the street. Then we decided to have a second drink. By then the bartender was my best friend because his drinks were strong and not overpriced. About half an hour to midnight we relocated to a table closer to the bar and, therefore, closer to the celebration.

Another drink (or two?) and we joined the rest of the crowd with the countdown, followed by countless horns, balloon-popping, and other noise-makers. We had a blast and were quite happy with how we rang in 2010.

Here are some other things that happened:

We went to a Wisconsin-themed bar called Saraveza. Great beer selection.

Stasia had a custom cone of yarn spun together at Yarnia.

We found a place that apparently sells FRESH HAIR, which is marvelous. BECAUSE I'VE BEEN LOOKING.
A crazy magic door appeared in a cafe men's room. I DARED NOT ENTER.

A drunk woman stopped and peed in the middle of the sidewalk as we passed by.


Thanks, Rose City. See you next time.