“Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather, a room where I could retreat to who I really was.”
– Cheryl Strayed
Being alone is essential to me. Besides the fact that I’m socially awkward, overly earnest, usually serious, and generally not great company, I simply prefer to be able to hear myself think. My batteries wear down faster than an old iPhone in roaming mode, and they need long stretches of silence to recharge. I rarely pass up the chance to go to that place, that room.
As a woman, however, there are circumstances in which it seems impossible for me to feel comfortable alone. Anywhere at night, for example. Even if I’m in my own house (say my boyfriend went on his own weekend trip), I am hypervigilant, attuned to every tiny noise or flutter of light outside, real or imagined.
So why the hell would I want to go camp by myself, out of cell range in Gifford Pinchot National Forest — for two whole days? My dad, who’s spent many a night alone in the woods, always says “there’s nothing in the woods at night that isn’t there during the day.” Which may be true (though I did recently come across this article in the Atlantic), but it’s what isn’t there at night, namely, sunlight with which to see.
These are the best days of summer. Slathering on sunscreen and donning straw hats, braving the weather and bee stings to gather up baskets full of juicy purple treasure.
The heat radiates in jittery waves off the nearby pavement, hot dust clouding up each time a car passes. The berries, baking in the sun, perfume the air all around, and you pick and pick until you can’t reach any more without coming perilously close to meeting your end in the neverending tangled web of thorns.
By the end of the day everything’s stained a dark wine hue: fingers, lips, countertops, cheesecloth… And it’s all in the pursuit of that taste of summer: the blackberry.
There’s a little corner of the United States, the upper left one, that is a conundrum of precipitation. This corner (the Olympic Peninsula) is the part of Washington that looks like it’s being torn away from the mainland. Mount Olympus sits astride this peninsula like the queen that she is, watching the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Salish Sea to the north, and the Sound to the East. She is one of the rainiest places in the entire US, getting about 220 inches of precipitation per year. A few miles west, the town of Forks, WA (of Twilight fame) gets about a hundred inches fewer. Seattle, for comparison, gets an average of 38 inches of rain per year.
Tucked in the midst of all this drizzle, sits the town of Sequim. Pronounced more like a tentacled sea creature than a shiny adornment, Sequim gets a meager 16 inches of rain per year (Los Angeles gets about 15!) The reason for this is a rain shadow.
A rain shadow occurs when a mountain(s) blocks moisture from its leeward side. This is kind of what happens between the western and eastern sides of the Cascade mountain range, making one side a lush, mossy paradise full of magic and wonder, and the other side a hot, dry, dusty wasteland that’s baked or frozen brown three-quarters of the year (but I digress).
It’s Creative Monday again, and I was just about to skip it (I’ve been SO bad, lately!) when I had a sudden inspiration. So here I am, after all!
I remember the first time I read the word “licorice fern.” It was stamped clearly into the stone wall of one of the staircases at Multnomah Falls.
I had recently emigrated to the west side of Oregon from the high desert of the east side of the state, for school, so I was taking every opportunity of exploring the lush green land of my fantasies. The licorice fern was to become a major staple in my life, though I hardly knew it at the time. On this particular trip to Multnomah Falls I was accompanied by my dad, who was also glad for a change of scenery and came to visit me at school fairly often.
In 2018, it’s pretty difficult to imagine that there’s any chance in being unique. Most of the places on earth have been thoroughly scoured and studied and most of the species on earth have had names slapped on them.
I think I realized this as a kid, because I used to play a game with myself, which was trying to imagine who else had stood on the spot that I was standing. The more lonely the spot, the more fun the game, of course. Out in Eastern Oregon, it would be some pioneer woman on the Oregon Trail. On the coast, some explorer or cartographer.
In reading my journal and looking back on our trip, one theme jumps out at me: how colorful the Lofoten Islands were. One of the main attractions for us were the beaches: gleaming white crescents sandwiched between turquoise water and verdant stony mountains jutting into the sky. They were beaches fit to grace tropical islands, though the water was chilly, and the wind chillier. They were so quiet — the bays filled up at high tide, and snuck out at low, with nary a wave to announce it. I had a good observation deck from my perch on some boulders while we took photos of the purple sky on our first proper night in Lofoten. The light was different on every surface that night: easter egg in the sky, rose gold on the rocks, aquamarine in the water, until it got too dark to tell.
I had a lot of time to observe the red house on the hill above us as Jim, sporting a neon reflector vest, changed the front tire of our apparently-not-so-trusty campervan, somewhere in the inner Lofoten Islands.
Sitting in our campervan in row number one waiting for the Gryllefjord ferry afforded plenty of time for contemplation about time and place. We were taking the last outbound ferry of the season, according to the owner of the local supermarket.
I had the day to myself. Jim had gone off on another boat trip, but I elected to stay behind today. The boat yesterday didn’t agree with me, and after days of travel, hiking, and boat-tripping, I needed a day to just… be.