Beezley Hills

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I wrote (and photographed) this for the Washington chapter of the Nature Conservancy last year. This event is coming up again soon, and we need it more than ever. The proposed federal budget for 2018 cuts billions in funding for conservation, climate, and scientific study in general. This sort of program – generating bipartisan, urban-rural, hunter-conservationist engagement – is a great example of how we are stronger together.

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Everyone who loves the outdoors interacts with it in different ways. Some of us go out to shoot with cameras; some of us, to shoot with rifles. Some shoot wildflowers and landscapes, some shoot animals, and some shoot glass bottles. All these activities intersect on the Beezley Hills preserve in Eastern Washington. By day, Beezley Hills is an expansive steppe; the sprawling sagebrush reaching to the sky in all directions, dry ground under foot. In the spring, it’s home to dozens of wildflower species – balsamroots bowing their golden heads in the breeze, sprinkled with the purple of phlox and shooting star, followed by lupine and camas. In the fall, home to a hunting tradition that precedes the preserve’s TNC days.

Several times a year, local hunters are provided the opportunity to learn more about the preserve, and the chance to take care of it – in exchange, they get hunting rights on the land. When we’ve seen what kind of conflict can arise from “othering” in states like Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, a project like The Nature Conservancy’s Hunter Steward program is heartening. It shows us that there are environmentalists, and there are hunters, and there are both. Conservation is as simple as that: people who love the land take care of it, no matter how they use it.

So, on a warm sunny Saturday in April, you might find a few of these dedicated stewards, bags in hand, picking up everything from broken glass bottles and beer cans, to burn piles and even car frames. Hopping out of their pickup in between clean-up sites every time they see a bit of roadside litter. Finding hidden treasures among the trash – a marble, a usable car part, a coin. Every once in a while, standing up to take in the never-ending sky, or the mountains, or the perfume of sagebrush. It’s all in a day’s work on the Beezley Hills preserve.

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Here’s the original post on the Nature Conservancy’s website: http://www.washingtonnature.org/fieldnotes/2016/4/12/hunters-become-stewards-at-beezley-hills

 

 

Enchanted

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There is nothing that delights me like a dewy web against the damp green forest. Enchanted when its diminutive architects make the beads of glass dance in the pale winter sun – may they take comfort that in lieu of food, they have captured the stars in their nets.

A Taste of Ecuador

blog, food, pnw & travel

Ten years ago this fall, I – freshly graduated from high school – flew to Quito, Ecuador, to teach English at an orphanage. Ok, well, really, I was getting out of my hometown, making my mark, immersing myself in language and culture, learning something new about a corner of the world far, far away from my tiny Eastern Oregonian hometown. Teaching English at an orphanage was just my means to do this.

This year I’ll be looking back: posting emails from a decade ago, and reflecting on my experiences from a much older, wiser perspective (riiight).

One of the lasting impressions I have of Ecuador is the food – it was quite good, and there was such a lot of it! I didn’t take photos of much of it while I was there (this was pre-Facebook/Instagram me, I wasn’t properly trained yet), so I am working on some watercolor sketches of different foods to fill the void! For many years I had no idea how to recreate the recipes, and had trouble even remembering some of the names, but a couple of years ago I found a fantastic blog called Laylita’s Recipes, where she writes detailed recipes, accompanied by mouthwatering photos, of all things Ecuadorian. I’ve used her Colada Morada and Guaguas de Pan recipe several times! In case you’d like to try some of these out, I’ve linked to her recipes – she’s pretty good about suggesting alternatives for some of the ingredients that aren’t usually available in the U.S.

My typical day in Quito would start with coffee, butter on fresh bread my host mother had picked up on her run that morning, fruit juice, and whatever else she felt like making (she herself was not big on cooking, and the maid/her cousin didn’t show up until later) which was sometimes pancakes. We’d come home for lunch, which would be soup – usually fish- or chicken-based. I think people in the coastal towns typically eat more fish than Quitenos do, but we had it on occasion. My host family, even though they were considered “rich” by Ecuadorian standards, had a chicken coop out back, and my host mother stretched and chopped their necks herself. Then she or her cousin would pluck all the feathers out. After soup would come a solid meal: rice, beans, more bread, and some sort of meat – again, usually chicken or fish, with some beef. This was also the standard meal for dinner. I don’t really remember specific kinds of meats or soups, though I do vividly remember a chicken soup that had a chicken foot, claw and all, sticking out of the top of the pot. The foot was the special part of the meal, and was offered to we guests before family. I don’t remember who got it, but it sure was NOT me.

Fish was cooked whole, and the eyes considered delicacies. The first time we had fish, the eye creeped me out, and after I had eaten the rest of the fish, it was still there, watching me. You know who else was watching me? My seven-year-old host sister. After a few minutes of me staring at the fish eye, and it staring right back, she asked if she could have it. I agreed, and she excitedly dug that sucker out with her spoon and chomped it down. I am in a constant state of almost-vegetarianism.

On a happier note, my host family had a fig tree in their back yard, which ripened just as I arrived, so one of the first unusual dishes I experienced in Ecuador was Dulce de Higos: a decadent softened fig in syrup. This dish was quite a process to make (I’ve made it a few times by myself since I came back). After the figs are plucked from your backyard purchased from the store, you make a deep crosscut into the stem side of each fig. Soak the lot of them in a pot of cool water for a whole day, then boil them in a ton of sugar and spices until the figs are completely saturated. Then serve them with a thick slice of queso fresco.

Dulce de Higos (figs in syrup) recipe here.

One of my favorite foods in Ecuador (besides coffee and fresh bread) was the maracuyas. There are a couple different kinds, but the ones I loved were large golden orbs — you cut them open to reveal a fleshy midsection, and protected inside, a pulpy mass. Dozens of pitch-black seeds, each encased in an ochre blob of goo. I realize I am probably not selling you guys on the maracuyas with this description, but they are heaven, I promise. They’ve got a tangy bite and a rich, exotic flavor. The “passionfruit” juice they sell here does NOT do the fruit justice. And the seeds are lovely and crunchy (yes, you eat them, too!) Maracuyas were one food that I hadn’t eaten since I was in Ecuador, until I discovered, just a few weeks ago that Ellenos Greek Yogurt in Seattle has a lovely passionfruit-laden yogurt that is perfection. Maracuyas are also great for juice – just blend the pulp and seeds until liquefied, and then strain the seed dust out. My host brother Jonathan and I made about 20 lbs of juice for the kids at REMAR one time – it was so delicious. They are not frequent in the U.S. – part of this is that they are seasonal, unlike oranges or mango, now. They are in season through the fall, into December. But you can order them through Amazon (of course, right?)

Speaking of juice, it was a big deal in Ecuador. At least in my host family’s house. Every day there was a different kind of freshly made juice at breakfast — maracuya, guava, papaya, mango…

On the drinks theme, one drink I hadn’t remembered until I was going through Laylita’s website was hot chocolate — with cheese. It’s not that much different from (real) hot chocolate here in the states, but in Ecuador they serve it with a lovely lump of white cheese at the bottom. It sounds gross, I grant you, but it’s so good. Just a spot of gooey saltiness to cut through the sweet chocolate.

Another unique Ecuadorian recipe was Colada Morada — a traditional drink made for the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Difuntos). To make it, you simmer blackberries, naranjillas (oranges), blueberries, strawberries, and whole spices (like cinnamon and anise), blocks of cane sugar, and a tiny bit of blue corn flour into an almost soup-like potion. It is strained and served piping hot and alongside Guaguas de Pan.

Guagua (pronounced WAH-wah) is a word in the indigenous language of Ecuador – Quechua (KEH-choowah) – and it means “little girl.” So these are “bread babies.” They are mildly sweet breads, shaped like swaddled babies and decorated with thin frosting. On Dia de los Difuntos in Quito, Colada Morada and Guaguas de Pan were being served all over the city — mostly at carts in the graveyards, where people were gathered to celebrate dead loved ones. While it does not get quite “cold” in Ecuador — even Quito, at 10,000ft — the hot drink and bread is nice in the cool November air.

November 2nd is coming up! Laylita’s Recipes for Colada Morada and Guaguas de Pan are here.

Platanos refers to bananas — both sweet and plantain in nature. The sweet kind are frequently used as desserts — fried or flambéed with some sort of alcohol, usually — and the plantains are a major staple in savory lunches and dinners. They are made into chips, cut up into soups, and fried every which way. My favorite were the patacones – sliced up, fried, smooshed flat, and fried again, with a dash of salt. Also good were Bolon de Verde, which were fried green plantain balls, usually filled with cheese!

On the subject of fried carbs, let me tell you about yucca root, a most delicious, earthy starch. I’d only really heard of yucca being used for weaving fibers, etc, and not for eating, but when cut into strips or chips and fried, it turns into a dirt-flavored french fry. I mean this in the best sense – those of you who like the dirt-flavored Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans will know what I’m talking about. It has a richness and depth to the flavor that potatoes just can’t quite capture. Try it for yourself, here’s a recipe. Or you can check the hot bar at Whole Foods, they have yucca fries every once in a great while.

I had the hardest time tracking down what is called the “ice cream bean,” aka Monkey Tamarind. I think in Ecuador thy also call it pacay (pah-KAI). I only had these once, in Mindo. They were so good, and they were everywhere. Someone told me they were called “guanabana,” which they aren’t, actually. Which probably hindered my google searching from the get-go. Guanabana is something entirely different, of course, and since it and the weird description were all I had to go on, I didn’t find this bean until this year. Ice cream beans grow in large, green bean pods on trees near the Amazon (funnily enough, you can also order them through Amazon). The kids playing in the street in Mindo were just picking them up off the road where they had fallen, and off the trees, easy as you please. Inside each green pod was a set of furry white beans. Yes, furry. The texture was, I’m going to say: moist cotton candy? Not sticky, but somehow wet AND fluffy at the same time. This was – believe it or not – the edible part. After you suck the white fleshy part off, you’re left with a large, shiny black bean. I don’t remember them tasting of vanilla, but apparently they taste so much like it to other folks that they were named for it (ice cream!)

I am really tempted to buy an ice cream bean tree, now. But given my experience with house plants, it’s probably not a good idea to spend 70 bucks on one…

That’s all the food I can remember for now. Hope you guys enjoy the recipes!

 

 

 

 

Annette Lake & Knowing Less

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I’ve often heard iterations of the phrase “the more you learn, the less you know” — if you’re human and you speak English, you’ve probably heard it, too.

I suppose there are as many ways to interpret the phrase as there are letters comprising it, but the way I see it is that one who is completely ignorant cannot even have a grasp on the scope of any particular base of knowledge. The further you sail away from the embankment of ignorance, the more connections you make, and you realize that everything is more more intricate and complicated than you could have imagined.

I am reminded of this thought with every new plant I commit to memory in my newfound appreciation for botany and plant identification. While I do surprise myself with how much I retained, trailing my dad (who is a real biologist) through countless woods as a kid, for the most part I stepped into the forest for a hike and thought in terms of “trees, ferns, and moss.” But the more I discover about the latin names of each plant, the groups of species and families, the more I come to the conclusion that there is a hopelessly oppressive number of unknown entities that I walk past with each step on a walk in the woods.

Yet I am certain that I will never exhaust the wealth of this knowledge, and this thought comforts me. For as certain as I am that there is no end to my education in plants, I am just as sure that my curiosity is endless, too, and that makes for a lifetime of interest.

 

clockwise: Columbine, unknown mushroom, Athyrium filix-femina (Lady Fern), Vaccinium deliciosum (Cascade blueberry), unknown white flower, Vaccinium membranaceum (Tall Huckleberry), Dicentra formosa (Pacific Bleeding Heart), Rubus spectabilis (Salmonberry), Trillium ovatum, Maianthemum stellatum (star-flowered Solomon’s Seal).

For example of crazy intricate, complicated knowledge: the common plants salal, blueberry, huckleberry, manzanita, and kinnikinnick all have maddeningly similar flowers and leaves (and berries), so if you think you know one (like I did), then you constantly misidentify all of them. As I probably have done, above.

#VoteYourPark This Weekend!

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Hey all! These next few days encompass your last weekend to #voteyourpark on National Geographic’s website.

What’s at stake? $2 million in preservation project funding for the parks with the highest votes. Of course I’m going to plug MY local parks here and try to convince you all to vote for San Juans or Mount Rainier, BUT really, I won’t get mad if you choose your own local park instead. 🙂 Just get those votes in (daily) by July 5th!

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Which park is nearest and dearest to your heart? Tell me in the comments below.

Olympic National Park: Shi Shi Beach Backpacking

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Question: Why do people love backpacking so much? And why haven’t I done it yet? Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, it’s more than a little silly that I haven’t gone backpacking before. I’ve tent-camped a hundred places, hiked a hundred more, but never the two together.

My encounters with backpacking have been purely anecdotal. My friend Danielle goes backpacking all the time, and even met her boyfriend on the trail. Half of the people I follow on Instagram go backpacking, or at least take photos of themselves with backpacks, outdoors. I read Wild. You know.

It seemed like such a hassle. You have to get a special backpacking backpack, and a tiny cooking set, a special lightweight tent and sleep pad, and a compression sack for your sleeping bag, among other things. After the fourth visit I figured that REI pretty much invented backpacking to keep themselves in business. I am definitely looking forward to that dividend next year.

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bleached skull at the north end of Shi Shi – guess the animal!

Once we’d stuffed everything into our bags, we weighed in — me at roughly 30 lbs, my boyfriend, Jim, at almost 70. We both had our cameras and telephoto lenses, plus he had other lenses, and a tripod. I think he was taking Wild a little bit too much to heart. I told him he had to choose a different name for his pack – Monster was already taken.

Then there were the logistics of getting there. Jim decided he wanted to hike at Shi Shi Beach, his reasoning being that it’s one of the most photographed places on the WA coastline. That seems like the opposite of a good reason to me, but I agreed anyway. So we sailed across the Puget Sound on the ferry, and stayed at a trusty Super 8 in Port Angeles.

 

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On the way, we discovered that we had to get a bear canister for our food (bears? at the beach?), an Olympic National Park hiking permit, and a Makah Tribe Recreation Pass. At the Wilderness Information Center, we learned how to pronounce Shi Shi Beach (she? shih? shy? you guess!*), found out that our bear canister was actually just for raccoons (disappointing), and got our permit and tidal charts. Then we were on our way to Neah Bay, where we’d get our recreation pass.

Neah Bay is always a depressing little town, to me. I feel like it’s caught in between its two cultures: there are majestic carved poles, and signs in native languages, right next to scrappy trailer parks with faded American flags in the windows. People probably wouldn’t pay it any attention if they didn’t have to get recreational passes to visit the beaches.

Now we were done with logistics, it was time. With nothing left to do but to put our packs on and walk, we headed into the forest. How far was four miles, anyway?

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Far enough. My favorite part was watching everyone trying to pick their way through the vast swaths of trail mud without getting muddy. You could tell some people had been resourceful — a flat-ish log bridge here, a mat of sawdust there. Some people tip toed around the very edge of the mire, some went well off the beaten path to avoid it completely. And others (like Jim) had clearly just marched right through the middle of it. “F*ck it,” I think was the term used to explain this type of decision.

But easily the most difficult obstacle for us was the steep path leading down to Shi Shi beach – we had to almost rappel ourselves down, using the handy ropes tied to the trail. We met several lovely people at that very spot who commended us on our choice to backpack in. In that moment, I didn’t appreciate it.

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We had finally arrived! After a short break, in which I found at least six hermit crabs in beautiful shells, we continued on. We still had almost two miles to go along the beach to get to where we wanted to camp, but somehow having the ocean on your right makes it easier to trudge with a 30-lb bag on your back. Picking up shells with said backpack, however, was very awkward – I think I have plenty of practice now for when I am old, or pregnant. We did not regret bringing our heavy telephoto lenses, though, as we got some whale-watching in. We counted at least seven whales in the area.

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Our camp spot was perfect – the far end of Shi Shi, just before the Point of Arches. We were alone with the sea. We pitched our tent just under the tree cover and explored the tide pools and took pictures of the rock formations at Point of Arches; like so many rows of typewriter keys among the reflections of the sky. After nightfall we burned damp logs until they ran out.

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In the end, I learned that probably what had kept me away from backpacking all these years (hard work, planning, and determination) was exactly why people love it so much, and why I am going to do it again and again. If that is what it takes to get me at the end of a beach with a glorious tide pool at my front door, I’m in.

 

*Shy!

 

 

Remembering Rachel Corrie

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It’s been 13 years since Rachel Corrie was murdered in Gaza while protecting Palestinian homes from demolition.

In the ensuing time since her death, she’s become a beacon of humanitarian work for people all over the world. She’s been a personal hero for me — I’ve admired her courage, her writing, her dedication to helping marginalized people, no matter what it took – including her life.

When I was in high shool, I thought someday I would be some iteration of Rachel Corrie: a fearless journalist covering the injustices of a war-torn Middle East, or a Peace Corps volunteer, guarding wells for refugees or something.

I haven’t become any of that, and in some ways I feel as if I’ve let Rachel (and my teenage self) down. I still reflect on her life on each of her death days – I even went to the ten year memorial in her hometown of Olympia, WA. But I’ve been procrastinating building on her legacy, and I’ve been shying further and further away from the type of person Rachel seemed to be.

So this March 16, I am going to honor Rachel’s memory by trying to get some of that courage, idealism, and desire to help people back.

I would also like to thank Bill Jolliff for his inspiration in fairly* quiet revolution – how to say your bit when you’re more inclined to write songs and articles from your local coffeeshop than to stand in front of the bulldozers themselves. His ‘Ballad of Rachel Corrie’ was my first introduction to her story, and I’m sure it’s reached many others through him, as well.

* he does play banjo, after all…

Note: Now it’s March 17, so I’ve even procrastinated finishing this.

In Pursuit of Smart, Not Happy

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There are many ways in which I feel alienated from the rest of my human peers. I love Hillary Clinton. Literally everyone else in the world seems to hate her. I don’t like dogs, and that’s “weird.” I actually prefer salamanders. Like, if everyone who has a dog had a salamander instead, I would be so much happier.

Which brings me to my main point: the world of the internet reeeallly wants everyone to be happy. Above all else. No matter what. And I don’t get it.

You start typing ‘secrets to…’ into Google and the first autofill is ‘happiness.’ It’s everywhere. In Time, Cosmo, Huffpost, Mindful, and here and here and here and here – the Google results for ‘happiness’ are endless. And they are full of advice like, ‘cut out the people in your life that don’t bring you happiness,’ ‘stop being hard on yourself,’ ‘don’t dwell on the negatives.’

Every day on social media I see memes like these:

If you’re not happy, there’s something wrong with you. Guys on the street tell you to smile (I know there’s a whole other sexism thing on here, which will have to be another blog for another day) no matter that it’s your face and your state of mind in question. Coworkers tell you to quit complaining. Friends tell you to “let it go.” You have a negative opinion about climate change? Or loathe the fact that half the people in the country support a bonafide lunatic asshole in the presidential election? Or think that people who don’t vaccinate their kids are willfully ignorant and dangerously irresponsible? Keep it to yourself. Live, and let live. Certainly don’t bring it up on, say, Facebook. You shouldn’t argue on Facebook, they say. Just post pictures of — you got it — puppies. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

Because these things do not lend themselves to being happy. And, to a seemingly large percentage of the world, being happy is the most important thing you can possibly achieve.

I want to change that.

I want people to have purpose. I want people to feel fulfilled. I want people to do things that matter — on a small scale, and a large scale. I want people to seek knowledge and share it. If these things lead to happiness, or make people happy in their pursuit of them, great. I just don’t understand the sacrifice of everything else in the pursuit of simple happiness.

I know ignorance is bliss, but we can’t always take that to heart. We cannot abandon knowledge simply because it sometimes bears bad news. We cannot ignore problems because they make people uncomfortable, or because the solutions will make some people unhappy. We cannot pretend that everything will be fine just because we want it to be. We must do that which makes us squirm, that which is extremely difficult. It’s how we grow. And the point is, these things have their own merit, and we don’t have to justify them by pointing out that their outcomes make us happier in our growth.

Scientific innovation for the sake of scientific innovation is great. Calling out ignorance for the sake of keeping things real is important. Hanging out with people because they challenge you makes you a more well-rounded person. Paying attention to politics makes you a better voter. Dwelling on our mistakes helps us to correct them in the future, and being hard on ourselves pushes us to be the best that we can be. Society is built on so much more than individual pursuits of happiness — it’s built on doing the hard stuff.

This is not to say that you should hang around with people that suck you dry, emotionally. This is not to say that you should only obsess over what’s wrong in this world. This is not to say that you should never be happy. But if you aren’t, don’t think of it as such a failing. There are many other things to be proud of and to seek, in this world, than happiness.

Deception Pass State Park

blog, photography, pnw & travel, Uncategorized

In case you have never yet heard of Deception Pass State Park on Whidbey/Fidalgo island in NW Washington, let me enlighten you. It is one of the most engaging hikes I have ever been on, and I’ve now been there twice in a month! It’s not difficult, only reaching about 500 or so feet of climbing, and the mossy, forested trail overlooks the Puget Sound most of the time.

The first time we went, I had Jim and my sister, Mary, with me. We forgot our Discover Pass, and in answer to whether or not we should purchase a $10 day pass, Jim said, “Nah. We can just dispute the ticket by putting our pass number on it. I did that at such-and-such a place and it was fine.”

So we just parked and hiked. Here is what we saw:

It was a perfect day: overcast, recently rained, cool but not blustery. There were plenty of overlook spots, and places that went down to the water. We explored (or tried, anyway) a sea cave, but the tide was coming in, so we couldn’t get there.

One of my favorite things about this hike is that you’re free to wander. There were very few railings, and you could get right up to the cliffs and look over. I’ve lived near the Pacific coast my whole life and I’ve never seen live bull kelp – still attached to the bottom, not washed up on shore like so many gullwhackers in Mariel of Redwall. It seemed like Ireland (or what I imagine Ireland to be in my head) up top, green and grassy, misty and rather morose (in a good way).

There are also a lot of madrone trees up here. It was pretty surreal – we are used to seeing them in hot, sunny, (mostly) dry Southern Oregon, and they don’t grow up past Eugene area, really. And then all the sudden, they pop back up in the rainy, cold, mossy Northernmost tip of Washington!

There were also tide pools on the north side of the hike – we hiked south first, then looped back to the parking lot and went north. I collected a ridiculous amount of rocks and shells, and poked a number of sea anemones. One tiny, iridescent shell caught my fancy, and I tucked it in my palm with the others and headed up to show my sister, when I felt a little tickle, shrieked, and flung the lot of it onto the beach. After gathering them back up, I discovered this coveted little shell was already taken!

You may be wondering how our “Nah we’ll just dispute it” ended up. Let’s just say this was a very expensive hike, and bring your fricking Discover Pass or pay the extra $10.

Anyway. On our second trip, Jim and I took his parents, and my mom (and our Discover Pass!) on this hike the day after my birthday. It was a lot windier, and pretty rainy that time around, but still beautiful! I tried to take some different photos. The tide was low, so we made it to the cave! This is my mom at the cave. We saw at least four banana slugs out, some pretty flowers, and more tiny crabs!

This is a beautiful hike, a quintessential NW trip, and I encourage people to go there. Just not too many people, ’cause I wanna hike there with no crowds. 🙂

Long Time No See!

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Hello everyone,

I guess I’ve been off the blog horse for a while – I’ve been reading lots of books, crafting, volunteering, hiking and visiting friends and family, prepping for Jim’s parents’ visit, Wintergrass, and planning my birthday!

Meanwhile, the world has gotten interesting. The daffodils are up, the cherry blossoms are already waning, and half the people in this country are still denying climate change. Speaking of change: Hillary has surged ahead in the primary, and Trump is using his genitals to prove that he can run this country better than anybody else. I can’t wait.

Anyway. Over the next few days I’ll get some photos up from our hikes the last few weeks – by the way, feel free to check out my instagram for lots of photos! – and generally update the blog. Thanks for checking in.

 

Cheers,

Anna