Being Human (A Travelogue) Part 1

We left for camp in the afternoon, just in time for the rain to come down. Upon arrival we were greeted by two jays cawing and showing off as we set up our tent. The rain mellowed for the time being, but it would return later in a fury. The campfire made it through the worst of it, somehow, and gave us just enough time to cook up a couple of hot dogs before having to spend the rest of the night hiding out in the tent.

On talking about the trip and what we’d hoped for, I said that I only expected the unexpected, and hoped for a little luck. It became a sort of mantra, as the rest of the trip had we not been with this idea we could’ve easily been disappointed and then mired in our miserable nature, lacking an open mind to keep us going to the next unfolding of events.

We had planned a hike early the next morning to climb to the top of Norse Peak, a peak on the Cascade Range, on the east side of Mt. Rainier. A difficult hike that does not see much traffic and is said to give views of the Cascade Volcanic Arc including, Mt. Hood, in Oregon, Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Baker, and even sometimes, Mt. St. Helens on clear days. Our directions however, were not as clear and included a trip down a road that we couldn’t find. After about an hour of searching we decided to give up, unwilling to travel much further from camp. We settled on a spot we had seen on our Amazon fire screensaver, Tipsoo Lake near the crest of the Chinook Pass. We knew it to be a scenic stop but were unsure if there would be a trail or not. So after looking over the area we found a trail head post for the Naches Peak loop trail.

peering over Tipsoo
watching the stillness
travelers mill about

In front of us an older couple of ladies, friends, chatting about the last time they made this hike, behind us an Asian family, who perhaps, like us, weren’t sure what they were getting into, but were willing nonetheless. As we meandered up a rolling hill, which the couple ahead of us had already crested and disappeared, we found a spur, a thin trail with a bit of overgrowth (which always calls our name) so we detoured to try to get lost from the business of the main. We had all day so why not. After just a few hundred feet we arrived at a fork, straight ahead was a downed tree over the path, so we headed down the even thinner path, with even more overgrowth. Only after a few hundred yards the trail came to an abrupt end. Startled by the end and looking only down at my feet I was hit with a shock of disappointment. But in the same moment I looked up and realized the end of the trail was the beginning of an unfettered alpine meadow.

At our feet
butterflies in grass
sipping morning dew

A few steps in to get a better look at the hillside canvas and we noticed dozens of butterflies in the grass. After closer inspection there were probably more, and about four or five different varieties. Lavender butterfly, cream butterfly, orange and black speckled, yellow butterfly, and they were dancing their dance at our feet, they were riding the breeze two hundred feet in the air against the backdrop of noble firs.

where is this dream place
—butterfly valley

A streak of grass had been flattened, perhaps by lucky fellow explorers, to a crag of rocks just up the hillside, so we meandered our way to it, to take out the binoculars and have a snack, to enjoy the breeze and the cool morning calm.

in your eyes
tears
at the inexplicable

who better but us
to be invited into
butterfly meadow

alpine breeze through
noble firs, oh look
a mountain hemlock!

We found a piece of the brittle rock to have been crushed and just underneath ants moving their larvae to safety. We lingered and laughed. We thought to make our way to another outcropping a couple hundred feet further up the hill where we ran into a few piles of scat here and there, suddenly an awareness of our awkward humanness bubbled up and it occurred to me that perhaps that grass had been flattened by another kind of traveler and so we decided that we should leave the pristine place as untouched by humans as we found it and decided to go back the exact way we came. Lucky to have been invited, unsure how many have come before.

clumsy humanness
forbids me to go further,
good luck mountain ants

We walked away with smiles and excitement. The trail was much emptier and before we knew it we came up to HWY 410, with a nice little footbridge overpass. For a while now we have talked about backpacking through the Pacific Crest Trail together. And that all of this hiking and camping could, in fact, be preparation, if we stuck with it, and if conditions are right later on in life. Maybe when I’m retired (which I won’t be), and he needs a break from the family (kids, I tell you, where they get these things…) And so knowing that the PCT is in our backyard we have searched out hikes that connect us with it, which is another reason for planning the Norse Peak hike. So after crossing the bridge we saw the sign that we had least been expecting, but had been so hoping to see.

Encapsulated in a Moment

She took our picture for their facebook page. For a moment I thought about the outcome; I pictured the picture posted, I pictured scrolling through their facebook page and seeing the pictures of past customers, and realized that this picture, in this moment, might as well be any one of those already posted.

encapsulated in a moment
a life in pictures

Hidden Track

Of the two giant Douglas-firs that are on either side of the church I take my dog to on our evening walk, I have definitely become more a friend of one than the other, though both of their years are probably measured in centuries, one I walk by and have a chance to explore, while the other is usually just a silhouette in the fading evening light. The only way to measure their growth, as far as I can tell, is by judging the distance of a massive limb to the nearest star.

We’re here such a short time,
the cotton candy vendor yells,
enjoy it while you can!

Moondoggie

Walking the dog, down the same sidewalk we take every night, back home. Down the side street that forms a T with the main street that we walk along a grey Chrysler, windows tinted, rolls, slowly, up to the intersection about ten yards too far back and comes to a complete stop. The green Lexus is parked in the usual spot on the side of the street, about thirty yards in front of me. Somehow I catch a glimpse of headlights way down the street, passed the crest of the hill. The Chrysler creeps forward, next to the stop sign and stops again. Headlights and the faint sound of a blistering engine begin to crest the hill. The Chrysler creeps forward and angles for a left turn, nearly into the street. I see it all in my mind, yet I keep walking toward it. I see the T-bone, and the aftermath play out in a millisecond. My angle never changes no matter how slow or fast I walk, I’m always going to be right in the path -the rollover, slamming into the green Lexus, glass shattering… hopefully everyone has their seat belts on. Does it matter how fast the Chrysler pulls out? or is it like hitting a baseball? In the same instant that he begins to turn he stops short and the Jeep flies passed. No time to check if seat belts are fastened.

moondog…
the taste of canned green beans
in my nose

Tusk Fish

Actions serve to
support the reward—
tusk fish


We watched a documentary about ocean life and one feature was about the tusk fish. This guy goes around looking for this specific type of clam. He is the day laborer of the sea, he literally picks up pieces of sea junk and moves it out of the way, he bashes into coral and things to get to this little clam hiding underneath it all. He takes the clam back to his pad of coral and bashes it relentlessly against the side of coral. Over and over, slipping out of the grip of his mouth, flinging his neck to bash this clam, in this labor intensive effort. Finally after some time he gets it, and in no time he scoops it up and off he goes, presumably to find another and do it all over again.

What struck me was how perfect a metaphor this all was for my actions. How much energy does this guy use searching, finding, digging it out, and bashing it? I wonder if the whole process isn’t just supporting itself, perhaps had he evolved to eat some easier to get prey he would be a different species all-together. How much energy do I use to get to the reward of pleasure? To have the illusion of security, of changelessness? Am I just a recycling of energy, pursuing the same subtle reward, investing in thoughts and emotions and experiences to drive me forward and support my well-being? How easy will this house of cards crumble, when any one thing is out of balance.

So much time and effort is spent in this balancing. Moving from one area of thought and opinion to another, tidying up, arranging, making everything nice and neat so that I can be happy.

It seems everything has something waiting to eat it up. Everything supports something else. What is it really that my actions support? If this ego is a myth, and my actions are serving as support for it’s construction, what is waiting to swallow me whole, to sniff me out, uncover me, bring me out into the light of day, bash me against some undying surface, and eat me alive?

My actions
and the ends they support
are swallowing me whole


Thimbleberry

After a few Google image searches and intense back and forth about the nature of this strange yet familiar fruit and its edibility…

You said don’t, so I did -thimbleberry.

Tincture

We are all but a tincture within the alchemy of consciousness.

A Tincture is the essence of some thing. An infusion from the other side, the unknown, the formless. Basho dedicated his life to the tincture of poetry. Einstein to the sciences. What about you? The essence is something that predates you, or me, and it is you and me. Art; poetry, painting, acting, music, hell even the salesman, the sciences, usually it brings joy, which is why we follow it, but it can also bring hell. What about emotions? Those are innate as well and you could certainly say that an emotion is the form that an essence takes. Part of the process is the discovery of what it is that takes you away. Then the other part is accepting it. Giving yourself up to it. I’ve spent so much time carving out these places of self, these self identifiers, laying down markers with material things. Though all of these things can only, eventually, bring me to a place of selflessness. When we are dedicated and focused, where do we go? Do we become infused with the thing we are dedicated to? In death does consciousness turn back into the essence which we’ve spent the most time investing in?

In truth I am not any one thing,
I encompass all things
Some are remembered from Aeons ago
Others forgotten entirely
Crushed under the weight of my ego.

I have the capacity to turn like the wind
To change course, in the split of a hair.

With my head in the clouds
And my feet off the ground
I look upon the blue convex horizon
And find that all the gods of old are dead.

But the daisies still pierce the ground in May

Junco

I’ve heard this bird song outside my window for a while now, but have not been able to put a face to the song. In the afternoon it sort of resembles a phone ringing. In the early morning hours before the sun it sounds like a bird snoring, if birds snored. Yesterday I finally saw her sitting at the tip of a fir branch singing her hazy melody.

When the junco sings, 
She sings with her whole body.

Out Back

The other day I learned about anger with compassion. There’s less passionate intensity, and more understanding. It’s easier when you’re having a conversation, than when something just happens to you, like getting hurt. But it’s to the benefit of everyone to learn the skill.

Out back
Strawberries have taken over
And not a single flower

Sequences in Acts

I’ve been making it a habit to give my pooch a little extra love and appreciation on our afternoon walks. Usually I give him a good rub down when we get to the grassy field at the church, on the corner down the street. Tonight the clouds pass on a conveyor belt and the immensity of the sky is quite clear. I try to let go of any notions about myself and just focus on giving, he deserves it, though it usually doesn’t last long. Brief moments answering the Immediate Question with an act of giving instead of taking. It doesn’t matter where, it doesn’t matter when.

Even here
One can experience the infinite
Even here.


*The Immediate Question is quite clearly Now. If life were a series of questions in each moment, asking you for your attention, where would you give it, and how well could you give it. What is this moment asking of you, right now?