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.

Homeless

During my lunch hour I did some walking meditation and happened upon a park. Licton Springs used to be a little bit bigger, and noisier, before the construction of the I-5 corridor. Apparently home to a natural spring, which seems to be the source of the small creek that cuts through the small park. But when one gets to the source of this natural spring they find a small sign commemorating its contribution to the community, as well as a concrete bowl for the spring to swell up in and flow from, nearly overtaken by blackberries and alder branches, and of course trash and other signs of outdoor living.

Under the cedar
Hidden path bends
Homeless encampment

By the Moonlit Pond

The frogs are enticing you tonight as you step out the front door
You can hear them from a quarter mile away. Usually they sing you to sleep,
But tonight they are cooing and purring, drawing you in to their wonderland.
Standing in the soft yellow phosphorescent street lights of the parking lot 
You realize that if you cross the threshold there may be no coming back.
The chain linked barrier between man and nature hidden in the shadows behind the Twin Cedars
The pond, though in the middle of the parking lot, is veiled to keep the threat of 
Nature, the threat of life without convenience, hidden from our psyche.  
Creeping between the cedars with feet just too heavy, they become wary.
In the silence you realize what it would look like to walk by someone like you. 
Knelt over and slumped, worshipping, or perhaps taking a shit, hiding from humanity
But before your self conscious completely takes over They give the all clear. 
rrrr ib.   rrr  ib.  ib. ibit-ribit. ribit. ribitribitribitribitribit. 
It’s a welcoming party. A celebration.  They brought you here. 
Soon the noise is deafening and your thoughts, preconceptions, notions are all drowned
In the leafy, moonlit pond. 
From a distance Their chorus sparkles like crickets, with rhythm,
But up close you can hear individual riffing and singing and sometimes screaming
Live-it. Live-it. Live-it. 
Rrrrr-ah. 
Wawa. Wa. Wawa. Wa. 
Which roughly translates to live your insights,
Trust yourself and 
Align your actions with your realizations.
Like a schoolboy, you smile
and no one is around to see it.




for enquiring minds

(For optimal affect read in a teenager’s voice)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herping

Journey to the Deep Midwest

I recently traveled to Illinois to visit family and help my grandpa move from his assisted living facility back into his own house. That is a move not many people get to see, he had been through a lot since the time he left his house, which he left due to an injury. In and out of hospitals and nursing homes he managed to get himself back into the house he bought with his wife after returning home from WW II.


Driving to the airport
Under 4 am moonlight,
Windshield wipers

And wet pavement

With the winds
go the cherry blossom petals,
standing at the departures terminal.

We left the gate without too much of a big deal made of the whole thing, which in these situations is exactly what you’d hope for. The views were grand, especially with the sunrise perfectly in line with our flight time. It occurred to me that these views should inspire poetry, as they are views the ancients would have climbed for days, climbed the highest peak around, just to see such a similar sight as we, who sit with our heads buried in screens for constant entertainment! Though our experience didn’t yield the wind blowing mist in our faces and the smell of cedar wood and moss, it still provided me with much inspiration for poetry.

Pink sunrise 
Clouds form lakes in valleys,
Misty mountaintops.

If I were single, and sat between two beauties, I’d probably sit in silence, all the same. I used to feel a compulsion, driven by the awkward feeling of silence, to create conversation. Now though, I know my role and won’t beat myself up for any missed opportunities, or accuse myself of dullness.

Instead of asking to excuse me,
I’d rather nearly piss my pants.


Departing Denver
In an afternoon dust haze
Clouds and mountains indiscernible
Other than inky feathered daubs.

From Denver to Moline, Ill such a small plane that I sat in a row with a single seat, while the other row only had two seats! A girl, about the same age as my daughter, sat with her dad across from me. They were visiting family too. Moments after take off she became restless.

She cares not for her fathers comfort,
ah the consequences of love!

I’m pretty sure that if it weren’t for landscaping the only trees I would’ve seen are oaks. They are massive and quite intimidating. Here, in the pacific northwest, we have the Oregon oak which doesn’t enjoy the same stature as the oaks of the Midwest. Probably due to the variety with which it has to vie against. I didn’t have much time to spend with them, but it was clear that this was Their country! so it was very refreshing to see in the very corner of mom’s backyard a hemlock gracefully curtseying at the stand of oaks in the ravine.

Somehow 
In the land of the oaks
I found my friend

the hemlock

Going through a drawer of old papers and photos:

Under sepia photos
And pale dusty papers,
A picture of my kids


While moving my deceased grandmother’s recliner, which she bought and the next day passed away in…

perfume lingers
on the house cat’s recliner

On the last day of the trip we had more idle time than that of the previous days and so some things that had been building up had the chance to come out.

Grievances aired.
Grandpa sits in his recliner.
Legs folded, stock returns in his lap,
Powdered donut on his lips.


As the trip started I had a lot of poetry coming up and I really wanted to write this travelogue in the style of haibun as made famous by Basho, (especially since I was reading Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Basho on the flight out) but as the trip went on and the responsibilities grew I was unable to write down as much as I wanted and so was left with quite a few poems from my departure journey and really not much else. As I read what I had I felt a sense of incompleteness from the original intention. However, I still want to share what I have and practice the craft so I decided to put it together and just make the notation that it’s not the full journey in many ways; I wished to express the depth in range of emotions and experiences that such a trip provided. Nevertheless this attempt still, hopefully, took you on a journey.