Wednesday, December 9, 2015

To hold a hummingbird

Thud. Traveling at an average speed of 30 mph, this little sweetie crashed into my window headfirst Thursday afternoon. Stunned and laying on the cement steps, she breathed, but didn't move. Fearing a predator would get her or that she would become cold laying unprotected in the rain, I realized I had to move her. Choosing the box my Aunt used to send my Christmas presents in this year for a refuge, I picked the tiny hummer up and laid her on a dishcloth to recover. Expecting her to struggle when I reached for her or moved her, I was careful to place her safely in the box before standing up. I didn't want her falling out of my hands and crashing to the steps again. As it turned out, there was nothing to worry about. She hardly seemed to register that human hands cupped her tiny body, and I moved her with ease. Not wanting to put any additional stress on her, I only held her for a moment, but I packed that moment full of love, and a prayer of sorts too. Please, little bird, live. Fly. Please go back to the yard and catch all the insects your little belly can hold. Please, sweet bird, please. 

I snapped two quick pictures pictures and let her be. Only time would tell. 

Twenty minutes later, I went to check on her. She still breathed, but she showed no signs of being able to leave the box or really, even moving. Only her chest rising rapidly, up then down up then down, proved she was alive. She was so small, too- no bigger than my thumb. I didn't notice that before. Briefly, I thought about trying to take a picture that showed, even for a hummingbird, just how small she was, but ultimately thought that a selfish thing to do. I already had two pictures and she was fighting for her life. I couldn't risk alarming her further for a third. Instead, I closed the box, and knowing she was safe, left to run some errands. 

When I returned home a couple of hours later, I went straight to the backyard only stopping to let the beagle out of her crate. Otherwise, the little bird, and for that matter, the entire neighborhood, would have been plagued by incessant barking and howling coming from the living room. I didn't imagine, after flying headfirst into a window at hummingbird speed, that the poor thing needing anything else contributing to what must already have been a very bad headache. So, the beagle and I went to the back together, and as soon as I opened the door, I saw it- a single feather dangling at the opening of the box. She was gone. Once again, she hummed. I hoped to be there when she left, when she soared back to life and flight, but instead, she left me with a different gift- the gift of a feather. A tiny, gray, tree-shaped feather. 

Later that night, my friend, upon hearing the story, said this: That must have been amazing. They're tiny right? And their hearts beat super fast? I can't imagine holding something so fragile, yet so strong. 

I imagined the hummingbird again in my hands, and the questions come easily: what else do I hold that is at once both exceedingly fragile and remarkably strong? Is it the fragility of the thing or its strength that requires more care? And do I truly honor these apparent opposites for the delicate and exquisite paradox that they are? Yeah, the questions come easily. It's the answers that prove difficult. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Last Backpack of the Summer

5 days, 61 miles, 20+ lakes, and 0 blisters. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015


There are wild places left to roam,
 Wild streams from which to drink,
Wild calls that sound the land,
and wild cries that must be heard. 
Protect what's wild, for all that remains wild in the land is all that remains wild in you. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Yellowstone At Sunset

The sun sets over Yellowstone,
but Yellowstone isn't going to sleep. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

October Lakes

We launch our boats on the edge of winter. Already, snow is in the mountains. But here, on this October lake, our paddles dip into a sun-drenched land and propel us forward at tiny speeds.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

On the Lookout for Lakes and Snow

Gassed up and loaded down, and bound for West Yellowstone, Montana. The beagle's driving- watch out! 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Timothy Lake in August

A few weeks ago, with the wind at my back and the paddling easy, I took off for Timothy Lake's northern shore in search of a small piece of beach and forest to call home for a few days. The north shore- far enough away from the campgrounds and most day hikers, but still on the side of the lake that receives long afternoon sun- seemed my best shot at having a quiet, campside seat to a wildfire-induced hazy and glowing sunset. I figured my chances were good; it was a Monday afternoon and the first day of school was coming up quick. The perfect time of year to launch a boat. 

A couple of sites due north had promise, but I paddled east along the shoreline. It seemed something better awaited. Waves splashed over my boat and I liked the sound of them breaking across the deck. A dog called from shore. Osprey whistled in the clouds. Below, the lake smelled of fish and mud and old minerals. The very scent of adventure itself. I was happy to still be paddling, and when a small cove with its rocks and tree stumps and little patch of sand appeared port side, I was even happier. 

In the wilderness, I try hard to Leave No Trace, and appreciate it when other people do too. Therefore, when I came ashore and saw not only a trace, but writing etched into the sand, I was a bit irked. I don't want messages from other people telling me what not to do and do and I doubt you do either. But I left the words there on the beach, and over the next few days, began to understand. In this summer of extreme fire danger, where wildfires have gobbled hundreds of homes and millions of acres, where wild animals have been displaced or killed, where more people than ever are accessing the backcountry, and we stand at a crossroads in terms of our planet and all who inhabit it, I began to understand that whoever wrote these words did so as a steward of the land. Inspired, I spent part of my last morning picking up garbage previous campers left behind, and before I left, I took a stick and carved the words deeper into the sand.

For without such wild and beautiful places, how can we relax like this? 

Jimmy Buffett would be proud. 

My campsite from the water. I had it all- a cove, a place to hang my hammock, a spot for my tent, an eagle's nest somewhere in the trees behind me, and a view of the sunset.  

However, I suspected it would be better from the boat. 

With the sun over the mountain, the evening's chill came on fast, and a critical error in judgement brought me to one of the coldest nights of my life. I'd forgotten my sleeping bag in Portland and only had a liner with me. I thought between that, my sleeping pad, and my clothes, it would be enough. As the night drew on, I found out how very wrong I was. Wearing every single piece of clothing that I brought, I remained miserable. My feet ached and eventually, I stuffed them into a ditty bag looking for any amount of relief. None came. Seemingly right above my tent, a great horned owl put on quite the show hooting and barking for hours. Any other night and I would have been amazed, but that night, I simply wanted that nocturnal bird to return to its nest and go to sleep, signaling dawn was near. I kept telling myself to just make it to morning, just make it to morning. I tried to make myself stronger by thinking of people who survived a night on Everest exposed to true bitterness and cold or my friend who ran the Iditarod last year. I knew she knew cold. It was a long night, but finally around 545, the sun started to rise and I knew, despite three numb toes on my right foot and very cold bones, I made it. However, it took me another four and a half hours before I dare felt warm enough to leave the tent. Luckily, I remembered I had two dog blankets and a sweatshirt in the car and after quite a few cups of hot tea, I paddled over to get them. The following night was much more comfortable.  

During the three days I was there, I had the finest of company- eagles, osprey, kingfishers, and more. One morning while in camp, I heard a familiar knock. Following the sound, I found a pileated woodpecker high in a tree. 

As I lay in my hammock, eagles flew overhead so low I could hear the flapping of their wings- light, like the sound of your mother's sheets blowing on the clothesline. And on the last morning, as I stood brushing my teeth, I heard the softest of sounds behind me. A visitor coming into camp...

She checked out my paddle,

and then my boat,

before disappearing into the wonders of her home. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Wallowa Mountain Backcountry with Dog

Wisdom enjoying a rest and the view from Polaris Pass 

Ready to cross more mountains

Did you spot the trail?  
Wildfires in the valley caused the strange sky below Wednesday afternoon around 4 pm. We were camped at 7700 ft and out of harm's way, but the wind blew smoke and a hot breeze in our direction. I woke the next morning to ash on my tent. 

Frazier Lake, forever a special place because of Dr. Bob Hall (see previous post).