Cloud and Dazzle

The Northwest has been dazzling me lately. My God, what a place! Is it me? The light switch in my brain has been clicked back on and now I can truly see where I live? Is it spring, everything coming alive at once and bursting and buzzing, the fat fluffs of pollen that swirl in the air like snow?

It's none of these things. It's just this place.
For memorial day, rain threatened the entire state, but Rip and I and everyone we knew took our chances. By Saturday evening we were three pitches high on Castle Rock, surrounded by cool air, beneath silver clouds that had not yet broken open. Up there, overlooking the now-green Leavenworth and the white raging Tumwater, we talked about important things: dinner, and what type of cookie we might buy for the fire tonight, and whether or not marshmallows were in order.
The free campsite at mile 8 was brimming with people, completely overrun, but we snuck through the woods in the dark, Rip carrying me on his back over streams, and found our friends Molly and Chris and Max. They'd saved us a spot in a patch of lavender colored wildflowers, and built up a big fire. Rip played his guitar. Just a few feet away, down a deadly sharp bank, Icicle creek roared with its springs surge, molecules of water that were once deep snow on the sides of Stevens Pass, and I dreamt, somehow, about water. 
In the morning the rain came, so we hauled off to the Cafe down the road to wait it out and search through the books for routes that might possibly be dry. We waited and waited. The Portland boulderers gave up and went into town to drink beer. We refilled our coffee cups a fifth time. And then we went home. In Sultan we drove through a panoply of weather- a flurry of pollen, rain showers, sun bursts. The rocks in Index were drenched.  
That night, Will came home. And the rain kept up, and the Northwest continued to dazzle. For a kayaker living in the desert for the past year, Will did not complain about the rain. We walked outside for hours. We sat inside a crowded restaurant and drank white wine and saw a late showing of the Great Gatsby. 
The week wore on, Will was gone again, and the days marched by nearly as fantastical and color drenched as the Great Gatsby had been. Even sitting in my nearly empty apartment, mid week, working away on very dull tasks, I caught myself staring out the kitchen window, at the lime green leaves in my neighbor's driveway bowing under rain drops the size of pearls. I was having a hard time focusing, a little bit transfixed by the world.

I think it was that night that Chris and Molly had a bonfire. I held on to the cool neck of a bottle of wine and leaned against the broad shoulders of my old friend Seth, who just today left me for Alaska. I got loopy on woodsmoke, mist and alcohol and spotted a boy through the smoke who I'd once treated pretty bad. Seth said I should apologize and I did. He said I should write about the apology, and I probably will. 
Too much water and woodsmoke, absolutely too much fresh air rolling off the sound (but unarguably the perfect amount to drink) even perhaps too many late night cherries (it's cherry season) but something made me wake up sluggish and slow and heavy in the head the next morning.   I was mostly worthless most of the day and this frustrated me to no end. It wasn't till late in the evening, around sunset, when I finally got a grip on myself and took the whining, restless dog to the beach. 

There, just me and the dog, I was treated, completely undeserving, to this sunset. 
We are so lucky to live here. I hope these weeks keep rolling in, wave after wave. 

(Welcome home, Molly and Chris!)

Statues in Ritzville and other fine things

(For Zen Ben, of course.)

When I was a teenager climbing in Vermont, my first partner was named Ben. Ben was a sweet, soft spoken boy from the town up the road. He drove a tiny rattle trap car, and together we would drive around the green mountains looking for new cliffs to explore. We'd bushwack to the base and he'd lead us, pitch after careful pitch, using a handful of silver iron nuts. Then we'd sit at the top and watch the sunk sink over our home state, and then pick up and figure out how to get down. I was fifteen and he was sixteen.

One day he told me about a bouldering spot he'd discovered in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. "It's like.....Shangri-la up there," he said shyly, eyes on the road. "Do you want to go with me?"

I'll never forget the revery in his voice as he said that. To a young Vermont climber, nothing held the promise like a seemingly endless field of boulders, deep in the splendid Whites, with nobody else around.

But I never made it to that field with Ben, and then he took a long fall in Colorado, about 800 feet, and he left us too early.

Whenever I find myself standing at a new crag, in a valley I've never been to before, I always think of Ben, driving down highway 89 whispering, "It's like Shangri-la."
Two weekends ago I found myself in such a place- Post Falls, Idaho on a misty day with Lisa, Amber, and Jake. There was a torrential, unrunable river to our right and to our left, a crooked path running past route after bolted route of beautiful, empty rock. We had the place to ourselves for the weekend, and with no one to fight over rocks with, we were lazy. In the mornings we slept in for hours, made coffee and drank it by the lake and cooked breakfast. So much better than the usual pop-tart-and-Via-coffee-now-go-stake-out-your-climb approach.
I led all the climbs that weekend. Jake's new, Amber's in an ankle cast and Lisa was in a grad school haze. So we'd agree on a route and I'd climb up, slowly, my mind blissfully empty, calculating only the very next move.

Jake Cooper Photo
I've had so many teachers in this sport, but for now there are no teachers. I don't mean that there is nothing more to learn- nothing could be farther than the truth. There will be more leaders, they always show up when you need them, they'll push you and take you much higher than you've ever been, and on walls so big and grand you never thought to even consider touching them, but lately it's just been me, not afraid and not crazy, climbing what I can and not thinking about the rest.
Amber Jackson Photo
That is, until I saw this project and I knew I'd fail, and fall, a lot, but at the same time I knew it was mine. My big, fun, swinging clean fall project of early summer. Nothing I could throw up the first time, but a very good reason to come back to Idaho. 
Amber Jackson Photo
Amber Jackson Photo
Amber Jackson Photo
We had big plans on Saturday night. Spokane has a redneck bar with a mechanical bull, I'd packed my cowgirl boots, and we'd also spoken of a fire right on the lake. We brought marshmallows in anticipation. But we were so tired after dinner, the climbing and the beer and the general laziness had rendered us completely useless, so we lay on one bed together, the four of us, and we drifted off to Jake's stories. 

The bull, the pile of driftwood on the beach, just more reasons to return. 
Amber Jackson Photo
This winter I struggled to find enjoyment doing anything. I tried. I pooled together the things I loved, I spread them around and then stood back and stared flatly, feeling nothing, wishing I could just go back to sleep. Apathy, the hallmark of depression, life is a long dull road that just keeps going. Winter in a dark and wet city. 

Now, at the dwindling end of May, I find I need very little to feel content. The other day Seth brought me coffee in the morning. The night before we'd had some wine perhaps, and I was sort of crawling around the house, searching for my wallet, and then giving up with my head on the kitchen table, the one I found on the roadside after my roommate took all the furniture. I called Seth and told him I'd pay him a million dollars if he brought me some coffee, and he did and now I owe him a million dollars. The first sip was so delicious I felt this overwhelming sense of joy, more joy than I'd felt for the past six or so months, and I almost burst at the seams. I was on a work call and had to mute the phone so the person on the other end wouldn't hear me laughing. 

Sometimes I find myself laughing when I'm doing the dishes, I don't know why, but it's better than being too serious I suppose. 

The weekend in Idaho was pure contentment. I felt like Ben in a field of boulders, smiling up at the sun, with no reason to hurry.
On the long ride home, we got a little lost and ended up in a ghost town. There were statues of people on the street, doing everyday things, waiting to cross the street, leaning against the library, conversing silently with other statues. But we were the only living people. Maybe a few months ago I would have sided with the statues- pretending, stiff, appearing like a whole person but on closer look, just an effigy. Those days are gone, for now, and after a half hour or so of wandering we all loaded back in the car and made a beeline for the highway, Jake bought us some marshmallow bars and we sang little mermaid songs all the way home.
That's right, we did. Listen, I'm not cool. I'm not one of those really cool outdoors people. I really don't fit in with the scene at all. But still, we have so much fun being here, doing what we do the way that we do it.

the little fellow on the beach

We were down at the beach, having just about the finest picnic a girl could hope for, and the boys were talking about airplanes. They were sitting there talking about airplanes and tracking the airplanes that flew across the sky. I wasn't listening, I prefer boats to planes, I was looking out over the water. It was a grey evening, coming on the heals of an equally grey day, and the couple of fires that smoldered on the shore made it smell like autumn and New England.

But there we were, at the Northwest edge of the Northwest corner of the country. Jake and Seth and Tyler were wearing flannels and wool hats in mid May, after all, and we were all gazing at the black outline of the olympic mountain range as it melted against the sky in the twilight.

I've now lived here in Seattle longer than I've lived anywhere else.

When the sky was clear of planes, we poured wine into coffee mugs and went for a walk down the beach. That's when Tyler spotted a little seal swimming to shore. It was swimming like mad. We were all laughing because it's funny to see a seal gunning it towards you in the water. And then right in front of our eyes the little guy put both flippers on the sand and started wiggling up onto land.

I used to work as the most uninformed naturalist Glacier Bay has ever seen, but I do know there are some pretty strict laws when it comes to getting close to marine wildlife. But this guy was coming to us, determined, flopping and struggling through the sand until it was directly next to Tyler's feet. So Tyler bent down and Jake just happened to have an old fashion disposable camera in his pocket, and together man and seal posed for a photo.

Then the little critter turned around, pulling its smooth round body through the sand with tiny little flippers, and it slipped back into the water and disappeared.

We were all sort of speechless until Tyler said, "That seal literally came up on land just to give us a thumbs up!"

So we returned to our picnic and ate some sandy milanos, and nobody had much to say, and life was good.

Sea Baby

It was time to take a trip alone, so the dog and I set out to the North, headed towards the Straight of Juan de Fuca. It was just past tulip season, but the drive to Anacortes was beautiful enough to crush on the heart of two creatures thinking of moving away.
We took a long ferry ride, and because of the canine we were banished to the unheated outskirts of the vessel. The cold made us slightly drawn in and contemplative. 
When we reached the town of Friday Harbor, on the island of San Juan, we were greeted at the terminal by a blond birthday girl named Jen. Jen writes Baby by the sea, (careful not to sink too far into her photos, you'll have a hard time emerging for a few days) we've never met, but I'm learning that doesn't really matter. Jen's a New England born writer, and so am I. She knows everybody on the island and drinks and desserts are forever on the house. We sat watching the sun sink as she ate oysters and I drank three rounds of island margaritas.   
That night we lay on the floor of her wide open, book-lined living room, listening to vinyl and talking about writing. We were old friends who haven't seen each other for twenty eight years (or more) so we had a lot of catching up to do. 
The next day was Saturday, and it was raining on the island. I walked with her family to a T ball game for her middle girl, Lucy. 

As the morning progressed, I looked around and categorized my surroundings in my head, as I find myself doing a lot these days when I'm untethered and deciding. 

Life on the San Juans felt verdant and safe and idyllic, so similar to my own childhood in Vermont. I hugged my sweatshirt tight around my body as the rain got heavier, standing there alone amongst all the couples who looked like me, and dressed like me, their six year olds running bases and toddlers crawling through the damp grass.  

I looked at all the fathers in their Patagonia fleeces and Pacific Northwest beards, standing patiently near the playing, hauling little bodies in the right direction as kids flew in random zig-zags around the bases. The fathers made me at once hopeful and morose. This type of men, are they born or created? Did they always want this, or did it just happen, did they wake up one day on a little house in the Pacific Ocean with two kids and a wife and wonder how they got there?  

Is a good life the result of extremely hard work, or does it just happen, and the best you can do is stay out of the way? If you know the answer to that, please let me know.
Jen and Luke, with Betty and Lucy and Olive and the dog in tow, took me around Friday Harbor, the early summer farmers market, the anchor-and-crow themed coffee shop and the secret rooftop with a view of all the boats. This is the town where the Endeavour docked a year ago and I spent the whole day leading passengers to the dentist after all their teeth cracked at once, bizarrely. 

The biggest medical issue you'll run into on a ship could be dential, the Alaskan Paramedic had said when we'd lived in the snow in Leavenworth, and how right he'd been. 

Five months later the Endeavour was back in Friday Harbor, all teeth in good condition, and the crew ran around, euphoric, back home in Washington (how we love Washington!) the season over, the days easier. 
At the end of my stay, Jen and I drove out to the coast and went for a run. I chased after her. She took me to a secret beach and we gathered sea glass; she found a giant piece of blue, which is getting scarcer and scarcer to find where I live.

I'm getting lots of requests for blue, and I could never say no, and I could really use some myself as well. If you know of a place frequented by Vodka swigging sailors who throw their empty bottles into the ocean, please let me know.  
I said goodbye, and the dog and I ran last minute onto the ferry, and we crossed the chill waters again. Then, because I'd been thinking about Connor and the Alaskan paramedic, I drove to Bellingham for the night to see them both. It was the Alaskan's last night before he left for a stint on a boat somewhere off of South America, and Connor's last weekend before he got back on the Endeavour, headed North to Friday Harbor, through the straight of Juan de Fuca to Alaska. 

Boats keep taking my friends away!

Sometimes I want to go away too, but where would we go? Washington is a cold paradise laced with friends and islands and rocks, what could be better?

 If someone knows to the answer to these questions, please let me know.  

Spring Update, Beach Magic

The iron sky winter is melting into a spring that is bright and cold, full of early lilacs and already the biggest full moon I've ever seen rise over this city. I'm happy these days because I like my job; the constant fret of money worries has been suspended, at least until this time next year. There is a crisp satisfaction to paying the bills on time, perfectly, little rows of numbers marching neatly down the checkbook.

Over at Fisherman's Terminal, crews are returning to the boats, they are crowding the Highliner after work, they are charting their course back to Alaska, happy to be back sleeping in tiny berths with their friends. Part of me remembers the camaraderie, forgives the drudgery and forgets the long days, and wishes I was returning with them for another season. Sometimes I join them for cans of New Belgium Shifts or bottles of Amber Ales, brewed in Juneau, but we live now in such separate worlds I don't always have a lot to say.  Which is okay, I've learned recently that if I just shut up for a moment, people will tell me some interesting things.
I have been getting rid of a few of my possessions,  just like I said I would, and as my things go I feel an emptiness in my head and in my chest as well. There is nobody to think about for now. That's good. It allows for freedoms. The days of the week skip from one to the other, with not much to worry about except what to eat and what to write, and occasionally where to go.

This feeling of being unmoored, of sailing along alone and in peace, will probably last about as long as the temporary break in my financial worries.  I'm enjoying them both while I can.

Jesse and I had a beach picnic last week, the laziest of all social engagements, yet still all the organization I could muster. I slow-cooked a brisket all day while I worked from home, and Jess brought bread and tomatoes and beer. We invited everyone we knew and gave them about five hours warning, knowing that if no one showed up we'd still have a nice evening.

But they did show up, not many people can resist the water after a day as warm and clear as that day had been. They came and went, bringing beer and dogs and bicycles; they said hello, sat for a while or stayed all evening. We were treated to a deep hued sunset and a beach full of fires and paper lanterns drifting North towards the Straight of Juan de Fuca.
If I left, the way I left last year on the boat, I would miss all this. I'd miss Jesse, and the sound, all the dogs and all the bicycles. Yet still I find myself tapping my foot under the table, when I'm at home and it's only me, looking around the room in the silence, not entirely trusting myself just to sit still for a moment.
This post is dedicated to Megan and Cary.

Tieton Photobook

I don't trust myself around boys. I let them do everything. It's a bad, bad, bad habit. 

I sit back as they lead the climbs, coil the ropes, start the fires, plan the routes. When I was working at New River Academy I let them load 17 kayaks on top of the van every morning. I'm serious, I don't think I loaded one boat during a paddling road trip that lasted a year. I figured, what the hell, they're taller than me, they're stronger than me, they're better at this than I am, and they don't mind. 

But what do I do when the boys evaporate? Because let me tell you what I've learned: Boys. Evaporate. 

Lisa and I went climbing in Tieton this past weekend, just the two of us. She set up the tent by the side of the road while I got the fire started. I put up slow, halting leads. We learned which cracks lurked with rattlesnakes and which buzzed with wasp nests. Tieton is not for the faint of heart. 

The routes we'll frequent this summer may look different than last year; not so big or majestic or tricky or rugged. But we'll get there, or somewhere close enough, we'll inch along. 

Here are some photos from a weekend where there was nobody taller, nobody better, nobody stronger, nobody more capable than us*. Here is what we did ourselves. (Oh, and as it turns out, when there is one of you climbing and one of you belaying, you can't get too many climbing pictures.)
*Except Jeremy Park, who we keep running into. He's everywhere. And so handsome! 

all in a week

1. eleven girls drinking barley tea at the spa. 2. bluebird days and 60 degrees at the summit. 3. tights and boots weather, my favorite. 4. my boat world girl on a wet, wet powder day. 5. my view every morning. 6. ski day with the boy who does not sugar coat his advice. 7. dinner party in our little house. 8. my office at the ski lodge. 9. the friday powder day grin. 10. sessions with my dream team trainer, Ren. 


On Sunday there was an enormous inversion and the world flipped on its head. On top of the mountain the weather was warm, sixty degrees and blue, while below the normally tepid city froze stiff and smothered in fog.

On saturday I was nearing the very bottom of things, curled up on the kitchen floor in the early afternoon, my head filled with black sand. Then the world did its somersault, and suddenly I was on top of the mountains, looking down at the city as if it were a little map. Suddenly I was okay again.

It was jarring.

Standing on the summit on Sunday morning with a friend, I didn't feel sad. The air was soft and warm and light. My lungs expanded as the weight of the black sand disappeared from my chest, they unfurled like the white wings on a hollywood angel. The snow was old, and it gleamed under an icy crust like meringue. "Such terrible conditions," said everybody. Our skis hissed through grainy piles of snow, like sugar.
On the last run of a long day, I started to think about the workweek ahead of me. I dangled my legs back and forth on the lift, wondering if I'd end up at the bottom of the ladder again, back on the kitchen floor with the cat clock swinging its paw back and forth between seconds. Then I had a brilliant idea. I could just come back here. I work remotely, after all. Why not?

On the way home I called my friend Cindy. Her work is transportable too, and we're both tired of coffee shops and lonely at home. She agreed in an instant.
Morning comes, and we're out of the city before dawn. The inversion layer remains for a second heavenly day in a row and we spend the morning on the back side, neck deep in sunshine.

It is so warm that, pushing through a particularly steep run, heavy with spring slush, we become completely overheated. We stop in the trees, strip away the last of the layers and lie down in the snow. Face against the ice, back against the sun, it is intoxicatingly warm. I am feeling voluminous.

"Hey," I say to Cindy. "Maybe I'm manic!"

"I don't think so," she replies cheerfully. "I think you're just skiing."
Two days ago, my roommate came home in the afternoon and found me on the rug. She knelt down, a flash of black in torn stockings. "I think you should get up," she said gently. This alarmed me; she never sounds gentle. We've known each other since we were seven. "Maybe have some cereal?" She has great big eyes, like an owl, and they were focused on mine. I turned my face to look at the wall. The black sand shifted from one side to the other.

"Sounds complicated." I said.
Now here I am, I'm whirling down the mountain in the middle of a January thaw so warm it feels like I'm swimming. I'm all smiles and laughter and talking a big talk about new writing ideas, new publications, new articles, a book. I'm telling Cindy about seeing Andrew one last time, how I got bombed on martinis and cried at dinner, now I'm wiping my hands together briskly of all that, all better now. Turning to look at the bright dome of the limitless world, breathing deeply. All better!

(It's amazing what the sun will make you think.)
Cindy and I work for a few hours at the lodge, snap together a little office in seconds with coffee and chords and laptops. I squint at spread sheets in my ski boots; we are surprisingly productive. Then the sun drops behind the mountain, and the tiny disk of the moon slides up the side of the sky. We keep skiing into the night, a warm blue basin swimming with stars. I can't explain it, but I feel so strangely new. Like the beginning of someone.

Allow me to introduce myself.


Welcome to Vajanuary, the very special month I invented back when I was the only girl on the staff of an outdoors high school in South America, enduring a never ending onslaught of flaunted muscles, man-fests, bonfires, shirt-lessness and bearded men who were forever declaring their love for whiskey and driving with one elbow out the window NO MATTER HOW COLD IT WAS.
(Why did I leave that place?) (What is it with men talking about whiskey?)

Vajanuary was my antidote to this unending Movember- a month dedicated to spending time outside in the company of ladies, doing essentially whatever you want to do and ordering your drinks extra girly with a twist.  It's a holy month. And I began this year's in Missoula, where Nici and I indulged in all good girlfriend activities.
Late at night, we lay side by side on the living room floor and wrote, both pushing our deadlines to the breaking point. We were constantly interrupting one another's concentration with just one more thing- one more thing we have to discuss about writing or life before I swear, I'll let you work, and she kept putting a fresh martini in my hand until, sometime around midnight, I couldn't figure out what the hell I'd been sad about lately. Life was fantastic!

The thing is, at Nici's house, life is fantastic. I'm tossed awake up from a very peaceful sleep to Margot and Ruby jumping on the bed and pulling away the covers, and Andy puts a double espresso in my hand and then we go sledding. Sledding is followed by more coffee, and food, and card games and books and writing and talking and writing and talking. Then we go to sleep and do it all again.

And my God, but that woman makes a good Martini.
On Monday evening, Nici gathered up her girlfriends and we met a brewery for the things girls do best: talking. At length. About everything. Telling stories about ourselves and everyone we know. Leaving the table only to get another pint of beer, chasing it with red wine and the best burgers in Montana. Becoming louder, our laughter out of control, waving our hands around to get the point across.
No simpler way to say it: I love that woman and her sweet, chill, gorgeous family. I love the way she invites me so warmly into the workings of her household, the way she generously shares her friends with me around a wooden table covered in peanut shells, the way she gets me all liquored up on Montana Juniper and forces me to confront my fear of olives.

Happy Vajanuary! Are you celebrating?

notes from never land

1. I talk on the phone with Andrew, for the first time in nearly three months. I'm in the produce section of a PCC staring at a pile of oranges. It's fairly early in the morning. Because he used to be my best friend and I miss him and I haven't  heard his voice in so long, it is kind of a tough start to the day.

"Our breakup was hard for me, too," he's saying, "but I think I had a somewhat....different reaction."

"What do you mean?" I ask. I know exactly what he means.

"Well, I didn't need to escape to Montana."

I laugh a little. "I sure did."
2. I have been running away a lot lately. Picture a little kid running full speed, arms flailing, away from the blue cartoon dinosaur of sadness. That's how it looks in my head, anyway, although I have been told that my imagination is a bit, how do I put this, overactive. But it hasn't been the worst thing- not when there are so many tempting places to run away to.

My latest escape brings me back to Montana, to the cabin where I spent two weeks of rehab last November. This time I drive out, not to lick my wounds, but to celebrate Sebby's birthday party in proper form. The theme for the weekend is Peter Pan: pajamas, pirates, tinker bells. Never Never Land in big sky county- perhaps the greatest escape of all time.
3. The cabin that had been so quiet a few months ago, where I sat alone with my pile of books and busily stitched away at my heart, is now wild and loud, overrun with lost boys from Missoula. Their big, laughing, over-sized presence takes up every bunk bed and floor space, crowds into the snowy hot tub in a veil of white steam, falls asleep randomly on couches, circles the kitchen handing out beer and making coffee. They give out back rubs and tell jokes and keep us well fed.

4. The wingmen construct a tinker bell piƱata with the head of a doll that's been ripped free of its body. The doll head has a little speaker and laughs like a maniac when you whack it with a boom. There is candy everywhere.

5. This place is, essentially, an exhausting and absurd and slightly insane p-a-r-a-d-i-s-e for a girl who is running away screaming from a dinosaur.

(By the way, the lighting is really tricky.)
4. During the day we ski Big Mountain, and I write a couple of articles in the cafe down town while Lindsey reads a book across from me. Then the evening comes, and it's  off with the layers, the heavy ski boots, on with the pajamas that zip up the front. First we hit the brewery with the cowboys and ski bums; we try to mingle at the bar and keep a straight face. After the third round, we head further down iced-over Main Street to Casey's (only the hottest dance spot in Whitefish).

5. In the middle of the dance floor, I find myself transfixed. There is a woman who is dancing on a pole. She is dressed in black and twisting around and around. She is so beautiful to watch that I forget I am wearing my pajamas.

Eventually she catches me staring at her, and she smiles. She reaches her hand out and pulls me up on the platform with her. Without saying anything, it's too loud to hear anyway, she places my hands where they needs to be, hooks my leg around the pole and gestures for me to spin. Then she steps down and leaves me alone, and this is how I learn how to pole dance as a lost boy.

6. By Sunday morning, the weekend has devolved into sleeping figures curled into sleeping bags and piles of glitter on the floor. I tiptoe around them, searching for my keys, packing up my bag in the early morning silence. I'm back in the car, sliding on thick ice down the long dirt road from the cabin back to the highway, headed towards Missoula and Nici and her girls.
 7. I don't mean to ruin any surprises, but I do end up back in Seattle, and that thing I've been running from gets me. It gets me real good this time.

8. But first, Missoula.

The Pink One: A Love Story

We'd been at sea for four months, give or take a lifetime. The crew planned a midnight galley party on the night we were charted for Dixon Crossing, the rough expanse of open ocean that would take us into Canadian waters. It was The Big One.  We worked all evening to secure the vessel, plate by plate, glass by glass. We tied everything down and tucked away all the wine bottles. In the bridge, the radios squawked warnings of thirteen foot seas. 
The galley party was a costume party. One of the stewards drew up a poster on a piece of cardboard and tacked it up in crew quarters. Best costume gets a prize. A prize! The officers would be the judges and the captain herself would make the final decision.

Because we lived on our ship, the universe Endeavour, the very idea of costumes posed a serious challenge. We had only our stiff blue uniforms to wear, and very few other personal possessions besides that. Any new thing that wound up on the boat was coveted, it didn't matter what it was. Someone once sent me a package with a plastic drinking straw that looped around your eyes like glasses. The crew fought over it and by the end of dinner it was in three pieces.

All this to say: we wanted that prize.
So we docked in Ketchikan, Alaska, and raced into town to hunt for thrift stores until we realized we were in Ketchikan, Alaska and there were no thrift stores. Just overpriced kitch stores for tourists, and that's where I found her, forty dollars steep and pink-beautiful:
Much later that night, after the passengers were sleeping soundly and all the eggs put away, we crept into the galley and we danced. We danced a whole summer's worth of dancing, since this was the first party we'd had after four months of working 15 hour days and nights. We danced like sober sailors who were almost home.

Then we went into The Big One. The floor was rocking back and forth. The waves pounding against the steel bulkheads sounded as loud and hard as waves of splintered ice. We kept dancing. Some times we'd all go crashing against one wall, then slide across the floor and crash into the other wall.

Then the waves got very big indeed, and the ship lost an engine. The captain was on the radio and the engineers went scurrying from the galley to the bridge. We limped into Canadian waters at a pathetic 4 knots, and something was awry with our international papers. The captain and the mates had their hands full. The engineers were down below studying pages and pages of code in their party outfits.

There was no costume judging that night, and there were no prizes.

I felt mega-stiffed. Then the season ended, and the crew parted ways. And I was a lonely soul without them.

Some time later, after I'd lost my sea legs, my wingmen decided to throw a big party at their cabin in Montana. It was Sebby's birthday. The theme of the party was Peter Pan. "Lost boys. Eternal youth," said Ryan over the phone. "Have you any footy pajamas?"

This is when I knew the world was still looking after me.

I told him I was ready. I was ready for confetti. I dug up my Alaskan pink onesie drop seater, threw it in the passenger seat with the dog and we all three hit the road for Montana.

That's the story of how I found the Pink One. But it's not the end.

adventures of the canvas heart

Lindsey's left me for seattle. It's just me and the dog now, the dog is angry at me for some reason, she has her back turned. I pull off of state route 93 to take pictures because there is no hurry. I stop to pour more coffee from another little store because there is no hurry. I'm driving alone through Montana for no particular reason, at the beginning of the year, 2013, because there is no hurry.

The Treasure State

A few miles outside of Moses Lake, God tells us to go thrifting.

We're driving from Seattle to White Fish, Montana, and Lindsey needs a pair of brown cowgirl boots to match her dancing dress.  She's wearing a pair of bright red ones right now, extraordinary shoes, but they're not working for her. "I need brown." She laments. "Desperately."

She types in "thrift" into her phone and exclaims at the results. "Moses Lake is a town of thrift shops! Georgie's Gently used. Salvation Army. Good Will. Bargain town. BARGAIN TOWN??" She looks at me. "We. Have. To. Go."

But we can't go to Bargain Town because we need to keep chugging east down on 1-90 at full speed to hit Lookout Pass in the daylight. It's still hundreds of miles away and the weather is deteriorating. 25 degrees and snowing. In the back seat, the dog is snoozing.

Then we run empty on gas, and we pull off the highway into an old Conoco station. We're blasting our Montana Road trip theme song, Where Have All The Cowboys Gone and I leave it playing as I fill the tank and chip away at the thick crust of ice and dirt on the windshield. That's when god steps in and the car dies. It just dies. I turn the key and there's nothing- no click, no strain of engine turning, no effort.

"This doesn't make sense!" I say out loud. "I took this baby in yesterday for a complete check! I fixed a bunch of shit and they gave my car a glowing review. Look!" I fish around on the floor for a piece of paper, ball it up in my fist and wave it around. "Here's the receipt- everything I fixed. Two hundred bucks!"

But the car is dead. It appears non negotiable.
We skulk into the convenience store. Two small girls, one in bright red cowboy boots, one in bright blue sneakers. We stand in the middle of the store and utter the words I'd hoped to avoid having to say in a gas station in Eastern Washington. "Help. We're stranded."

The men in the store are cowboys- the hats, the jeans, the belts. "We've found where all the cowboys are," Lindsey whispers to me. "They're in Moses Lake and they're 70 years old."

No one in the store has jumper cables, which surprises me, and I don't have jumper cables, which doesn't. But the men fashion some out of some old wires and cables and touch them to the battery while I hover in the background, ready for an explosion. My car reluctantly coughs to life.

"Sorry girls," says the man with a heavy country accent and eyes uncomfortably close together. "Got you started but your battery is shot. You need a new one if you want to get anywhere."

"Or!" I counter, detecting the makings of a delicious misadventure, "We could just keep the car running between now and Whitefish. Never turn it off!" In my head, it sounds completely doable.

The cowboys shake their heads collectively. "Can't do that," they said. "You'd have to keep the car running when you stopped for your dinner. You'd have to sleep in it." One of them takes his phone outs and dials an auto shop in town. "We got two pretty girls here from Seattle, they need your help."

Lindsey says, "Thank you!"

I say, "I don't understand! I fixed this car yesterday!"

And we drive away, following their directions, into a town that does seem to be made entirely of junk stores. And car stores. We're weaving in and out of traffic, I'm too afraid to slow down or pause at a red light.
The men at the shop pry out the old, corroded battery like a bad tooth.

Lindsay says, "thank you!"

I say, "I don't understand, I got the car fixed yesterday."

The man in the jump suit said, "Honey, take a look at that thing. They didn't check nothing."

"Here's the good news," says Lindsey, "We're only a mile away from Bargain Town!"

"Oh boy!" I say. "Bargain Town! Bargain Town here we come!" We're so glad that god stepped in and stranded us in Moses lake, Washington.

But the old man give us a grave look. "No no. Don't go to Bargain town. Don't do it. It's-" he pauses here, grasping for the right words. "It's the worst place in the world."

The younger guy nods solemnly. "It's the worst place."
Now we don't know who to listen to- god, who had stranded us in town to go to Bargain Town, or the men of batteries-r-us, who fixed our car.

We compromise with Georgie's Gently Used, but Georgie, apparently, had never used any brown cowgirl boots. Then we book it into Idaho, and a few hours later crawl over the icy curves of Lookout Pass. We got through in the last few minutes of twilight. Then it is completely dark. We listen to Where Have All the Cowboy Gone again.

The Johnny Cash Cover band is just starting into Ring of Fire when we finally push through the doors of the Great Northern Brewery in Whitefish.

"Five dollars," says the man at the door.

"I don't have any Cash." I say, and then say ha! and crack some Johnny Cash joke. He doesn't smile so I change tactics. "Buddy we just drove from Seattle and we broke down and here we are so you'd better let us in. "

"How did you break down?"

"Dead battery."

"That barely counts," he says, and our friends show up just in time before I clock him. They pay for us, and they buy us whiskey sours.

There is dancing and there are cowboys, younger ones than the cowboys of Moses Lake, and they stand in the bar's shadowy corners and watch Lindsey and I as we dance to Folsom Prison, arms around each other, she in her bright red boots.

Whistler Blackcomb

As it turns out, I survived the blizzard and the bad roads; my bus pulled safely into Logan airport around the same time a tour bus outside Portland, Oregon skidded on an icy patch of highway, crashed through a guard rail and killed nine people on their way to Vancouver, British Columbia.

I was on my way up to Vancouver the next morning as well. My plane landed in Seattle at midnight and I slept a few hours in the new house, still unpacked, unfurnished, the heat not yet turned on. In one month I've slept there only three times. I packed a bag in the still-dark morning, throwing piles of clothes across the bare floors- base layers, jackets, down vests, clothes to sleep in, clothes for nights out in Whistler Village, sparkly things for new years, three different pairs of boots. A passport. Books. Sometimes, when I head off on a little trip like this, I'm not really sure how long I'll be gone for.  
With coffee and the radio for company, I drove North on quiet roads, past Bellingham, through the Canadian border and up the long, winding, snow-swept road to the behemoth peaks of Whistler and Blackcomb, arriving just in time to miss the last chair. Thank God. By that time, six hours of heightened awareness on narrow roads later, the caffeine had worn off and all the airports and interstates caught up with me, and if there is anything more stressful than driving through the manic, olympic-rings-soaked Whistler Village with an extreme need to pee with no parking and no bathrooms and lots of haphazard snow-stoned pedestrians clunking slowly across the road in ski boots, I hope I never experience it.

Ah, but all the tension disappeared the second I found the yurt, in a patch of woods decorated in white christmas lights. I helped myself to some of the bourbon and gin and half eaten cake that covered the one table, and then I collapsed gratefully in my sleeping bag next a wood stove and sunk into a beautiful nap. And when I woke up, the boys were home, back from the mountain.
Curry is through-and-through Alaskan. He's friendly and flannel clad and (devastatingly handsome) and always finished his sentence with 'do you want to come along?'

As in, "My university friends and I are going on our annual whistler trip before new years, and we're staying in a yurt, do you want to come along?"

It was a no brainer. There's nothing cozier than a yurt, and nothing happier than falling asleep in one after a hard day skiing and an easy night drinking beer. At the end of one of the most tirelessly adventurous years of my life, finishing off its final days with such style was perfectly fitting.

Whistler is the grand mal seizure of the ski area world. Huge. Complicated. Completely overwhelming. It's two mountains, Whistler and Blackcomb, with a jaw dropping, record-breaking, cross mountain gondola between the two. We took it first thing to get over to Blackcomb glacier for my inaugural Canadian ski run, and I was very grateful that on my growing list of fears (other people's bad weather driving, drowning, avalanches, multiple sclerosis, olives) heights is not included.
The trip was perfect. It was all my favorite things crushed together: bright layers of warm Patagonia, clean snow, endless runs, mountain sunsets, cheap burgers, amber ales, good sleep, and spending time with these two dudes who knew each other so well they all but spoke their own language. I love watching boys who really love each other interact. Always have.
On New Years eve I said goodbye to the Canadians/Alaskans and drove down to Bellingham. All the radio stations were playing their top 100 count downs and I listened to the same five songs over and over, singing out loud and drinking triple shot americanos, bodily exhausted but lit up with post-skiing cheerfulness. (Try as you may to be hipster but it's always these overplayed pop songs that become the anthem of the year. It just happens. Go with it. Let that ship carry your body safe to shore and then call me, maybe.)  

Only once on the drive South did I turn my head to consider the empty passenger seat, and realize that the adventures are different now.  Now they are all mine. It's good and it's bad.
And this was the my last one of 2012.

Avalanche One

Randall Tate Photography
And now for a good old fashioned adventure.

Randall and I left Seattle for Bellingham before 5am, and were eagerly anticipating the sun rising for the journey. It never did, and we ended up killing time in a Fairhaven coffee shop, and then in the American Alpine Club classroom for the first hour of lessons before the world lit up even a little bit.

Randall Tate Photography
We stayed in that classroom till 5pm on Friday, except for a lunch break where we drank absurdly sized margaritas which nudged me into a pleasant and warm state of mind for the remainder of the day. Randall and I shared our classroom with eleven others- including a Whitefish pro, a couple of good looking mountaineers and four relatively young, incredibly enthused, Boeing employed snowboarders who I began referring to in my head as simply "The Stoked." We learned all about avalanches and their foundation of snow science: fern, aspect, the avalanche rose, terrain traps, convexity and trigger points. It was the most fun eight hours of EMT continued education credit available.

For the next two days, we carved pits into the snow with shovels and saws and toured the back country of Mt. Baker. At the time, Baker had the most snow of anywhere in North America, although I'm not sure how long that lasted, because Friday night Stevens Pass to the East was buried at a rate of about two feet in an hour, and The Stoked were bemoaning not being there. I'm not sure what we could have done with anymore powder, however. As it was there was already too much of it.

We took turns breaking trail, thank goodness, but either way all movement was exhausting. If, during transition, I placed a single boot off the skin track, I'd fall up to my neck in snow. It would take a day's ration of energy to swim to the surface and right myself. Skiing downhill in untracked powder was a wild rush, and mentally taxing only because the fear of falling translated into the fear of writhing helpless in the snow, carving an ever deepening hole, for an embarrassing long time, for the snow was feather soft and endlessly deep. Other than that the days were peaceful, snowing consistently, a completely quiet, cold world which I observed from the depth of four hooded jackets and the pink-tinged blur of fogged goggles.

That particular avalanche class, although not our first choice (our original class, a yurt trip powder cat trip, was cancelled because of dangerous conditions) was a momentous occasion as we shared three days with Lyle, who I've since come to know to as Lyle Who is All That is Man. Lyle is a mountain guide, a structural firefighter in Seattle, and a former Alaskan longshoremen fishermen. Had he also been a pediatric surgeon it would not have surprised me the slightest. He spoke very quietly and politely, almost as if he were trepidatious of being the center of attention, which is funny because Lyle should be unsure of nothing, ever. Randall and I loved Lyle. 
Randall Tate Photography
The other instructor was a man named Dustin who very much looked the part: he had cheek bones chiseled from ice and stained rose from the wind. Dustin was very quick to make a joke, and brush off the dust from my sweater when I dropped it on the ground, and talk with great about the 'suffering' of guiding on Denali. Randall and I both know the outdoor guiding well, and we felt very fortunate that we avoided entirely the douche-baggery we both slightly expected from our instructors. They were in fact very patient and cheerful and certainly most enjoyable to look at. 

That weekend we stayed at the Mountaineer lodge, which shown warm-bright under a heavy frosting of snow. We shared the lodge with The Stoked and also a handful of similarly windblown and healthy young skiers and three snowboarders who had an affinity for curling up in slippers near the wood stove with their nose in guide books, discussing with great revelry their most recent trip to Peru. (Or perhaps it was Patagonia. Or Perugia?) When I went to bed at 10pm they were thus engaged and when I woke up at 6 there they were, in the same positions, with the same boundless enthusiasm, as if they were barely aware that sleep as a state existed in the first place, much less that it was considered a necessity by some.

That lodge, softened by snow, warmed and lit, was even more dreamy that weekend because, as luck would have it, it was was 'decorating' weekend. The round old woman who ran the place announced at Saturday breakfast that there would be party that evening with 'cake and punch' and that we were all to partake in decorating the place for Christmas.
And so we found ourselves, after ten hours of pushing through relentless powder, skinning up and gliding down hills and chopping countless pits into the drifts, presented with glitter paint, brushes, and an entire window each on which to paint. True to her world, the round woman baked nut cookies, a strawberry cake iced with cool whip and a bowl of Hawaiian punch mixed with ginger ale that when added up, although sickening with regards to sugar accumulation, created an atmosphere so wholesome and sweet I nearly died.
For a little while it was completely quiet as all of us painted on our panes of glass, everyone in sweaters and long underwear, deeply concentrated. The Stoked surprised me by painting four separate lovely designs, mountains and skiers and one Santa Claus surfing a wave, done up in marvelous detail. A family with two tiny red haired girls climbed up on furniture and painted a snowman three panes high. The only window that did not register close to outstanding was that belonging to Randal and I, but mostly me; I'd painted a house floating on the black sky outside the window, and a few small stars and snow drifts, and then I'd lost all inspiration. I'd have filled the whole thing up with snow but the children had all the white paint and weren't giving it up, so I filled the rest of the window with blue. All Randall really added was a stencil of a pine tree in the middle of the air, and everybody asked if our house was a tribute to the Sandy flood victims, which was never the intent.
I slept very well at the lodge, the strain of snow struggle tugging my body into a white, heavy underworld. Randall on the other hand had a different story to tell and claimed that I snored. Which is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard in my life, since I'm a crystal quiet sleeper. Snoring drives me crazy and I would never do it.
Randall Tate Photography
So Randall said he'd video me the following night, and he did. But I refused to listen to the playback the next day in the car because it would crush me and my pristine image of myself. He let it rest for a few days and then ambushed me: along with some photos, he emailed me a sound file: he claimed it was a song he'd heard and thought of me. The song was called Sweet Dreams (in hindsight, did I really not see this coming?) and I literally thought, "How sweet of him." I opened it up and it wasn't a song at all, it was a soundbite which I quickly destroyed.

Aside from that, I can't say the weekend could have at all been improved. We are all Avi I certified now, with Randall and I a few hours closer to continuing our N-EMT registration for another two years.

It concluded, as all good things do, with pints of porter at a ski bar with an overcrowded table and seven hungry souls ordering plates of hot food and talking about upcoming adventures. I challenge you to find a worthy weekend that does not end in such a manner.

Pearly Gates

We had one final adventure before the good weather left, and a lot of other things went with it.

It was a few day's after Lisa's birthday, and we invited her and Colt to climb with us for the weekend in Leavenworth.

Andrew and I did a lot of secret preparations for this trip. We packed all these extravagant snacks and microbrews and whiskey and the good coffee, and a big card with a snail on it and overpriced shower gel in a colorful bottle as a birthday present. We debated over dessert options and settled on a big chocolate cake, and Andrew was very intent on their being candles. I remember thinking that this was good- having a boyfriend who was excited to find the right candles to put on my best friend's surprise birthday cake. This was a very good thing.
The weekend weather was beautiful, although the land around Leavenworth is on fire and so the valley was filled with a heavy bluish haze and the air was thick to breath. On Saturday we hiked a brutally steep, sandy approach to the Pearly Gates wall. Such a lovely name for a wall. Such a demoralizing hike.
The day was brisk with the unmistakable chill of early winter, and in the evening we found a free spot to camp off of the road, built a fire and pulled on down jackets and hats and gloves. Lisa cooked for us over the camp stove while we drank beer and laughed hysterically for an hour or two before launching into those conversations you can only have with your very closest people, and only by the side of the road around a campfire.

Then Andrew and I stepped away and put the sparkly 2 and and the sparkly 8 candles into the cake and lit them and came out singing. The four of us ate the entire thing and then crawled away towards our tents for the night. We fell asleep immediately in long underwear and fat down sleeping bags, the dog at our feet.
Sunday Morning in Leavenworth means one thing- the cafe on Icicle Road where every climber in a fifty mile radius begins their day. We went for coffee and breakfast and saw twenty five different friends from the city, all out to capture what could be the last dry weekend of the year.
The day turned out to be hot. Andrew wanted to climb everything. Lisa and Colt wanted to leave early and get margaritas. There were wasps on the rock. We took photos:
At the end of the day, Andrew and I climbed four pitches up what was probably the most technically fun piece of rock I've ever been on. It was face climbing and I felt like I flew up behind his ever strong and solids leads. The views from up there were stunning, hazy and golden, but the only picture we got was a victory shot of us when we finished, dirty and tired in waning light. As we descended in twilight the colors around us deepened, and the mountains and trail turned blue, then silver, then completely dark. The air tasted like a wood smoke.
I'm writing this all simply, because it was simple: the four of us, sitting exhausted in town drinking basil margaritas with rope-blackened hands, making plans for the next trip, Lisa already typing a grad school essay with her laptop on the corner of the table, my hand on Andrew's leg, mind wandering towards my new job, my new house. All of us happy, all of us going in a good direction. So simple.  
                                                    Happy birthday, Lisa love!!

That time we didn't go rock climbing

Let's back up a few weeks. September was a rushing train, a country music metaphor of speed. And now that it's over I finally get to write about it. I get to write about it sitting down, drinking Fuel coffee and wearing a dress- three things I haven't been able to do all summer.
In the four days between the boat and Ireland, Andrew and I went backpacking up to Mt. Thomson. He was taking a weekend off from climbing because the man is going. off. with. the. climbing.

I loved this trip because we did it in our own style. We slept in, lingered at the local market for good camping food, left town at 2pm (way late), hiked up in the settling mist and cold and darkness. Headlamps lit the way for each step.

The instant we set up the tent and lit the stove, the rain vanished and the stars came out and with them a gigantic moon. Even the smoke evaporated. (Washington is on fire right now). It was as if the whole thing was an elaborate set up by the Washington Board of Tourism.

The next day was gorgeous. Sunny and clear and warm. Andrew scrambled part ways up Mt. Thomson alone and I stayed in the valley with my head hung because I felt terrible.

I keep getting sick lately. Never sick enough to keep me at home, but always sick enough to complain about it and be asleep by 10pm- (way early.) I think I've run myself a little ragged.

Anyway. This was a good trip. We haven't chosen backpacking over climbing in ten months, since we biked out to Goldmeyer Hot Springs. I loved it. I love Washington.

The Repositioning

The Southbound trip- the Reposition, as it's called, when the ship goes back to her home harbor- is when the whole season snapped into place for me.  We went everywhere, from Glacier Bay to Gloomy Knob, Lamplough and Bay of Pillars to the ice fields of La Conte and the Salish Sea. The crew gathered closer, and we spent more time with each other, any time we could, but especially late at night, after the ship was asleep. We had a dance party in the galley as the ship rolled through the huge waves of Dixon Crossing, we filmed a movie- all of us- we were let lose in Ketchikan and Petersburg to spend time with each other out of uniform, away from work and the passengers.
We got by on less sleep and more vitamins, B-12s and adrenal pills, nicotine vapor sucked from electronic cigarettes. The energy was somehow both manic and sustained- we kept it up the whole trip, bouncing around the ship like bunnies, prone to loud, tearful fits of laughter, never flagging. The rumors of gale warnings and big seas for our open crossings kept us fueled by excitement, the miles rolling beneath us bolstered us, each one taking us closer to home.  
Professionally, the ship ran like clockwork, like the swiss rail system.  The deckhands, engineers, mates, stewards, guides- everyone had the place on lockdown. Even when we lost an engine and crawled through British Columbia at 3.9 knots, even when half of the occupants onboard got taken by a fever, even when we rerouted to Petersburg, throwing off our whole meticulously planned schedule, because a man had a terrible infection which was preventing him from breathing- nobody on the outside would have realized that anything was wrong. We worked diligently, and cheerfully, and collectively we ran with whatever needing running with.
At the beginning of the two week trip, we dropped anchor in Pavlov Harbor for a whole day, meaning kayak trips and leading hikes in the rain from 8 till 6. My trip came home after crew dinner. Someone had saved me a plate and I ate it on the fantail with Conner, both of us standing up, still wearing our drenched clothes, listening to the engines firing up. We were going to cruise all night which was good- everyone slept well while we were underway.
 It took me one minute and forty seven seconds to eat my dinner. I was in a hurry because in just a few minutes I was to give a presentation, one that I was always excited to give:  Expedition Photography. I loved this presentation because I created it out of photos all shot in Southeast Alaska, and over the course of the season it had evolved into a photography workshop in the field and a workshop around the boat. I'd co-led the workshops with National Geographic photographers we'd had as special guests onboard, and they all had good things to say about it. But the best part was how excited the passengers would be afterwards, always asking questions and wanting all the buttons to be explained on their cameras. I'd catch people for days afterwards, crouching down on the bow, trying to get a shot of whales framed by the holes cut into the sides of the boat, just as I'd instructed them to.
I had just enough time- if I hurried- to change costumes and be presentable. I ran down to my room, peeled off the wet guiding clothes, buttoned my uniform and tucked it into the dress pants, switched the extra tuffs for the nice shoes, dried my hair with a towel. Then, still at a run, through the watertight doors that have to be unbolted and then sealed shut behind you, up two flights of stairs to lounge.

The lounge was full of people drinking cocktails and playing card games as I prepared it for the presentation, pulling down the screen and closing all the blinds. Just as I hooked up the computer and was about to begin, the Captain radioed me to get down to a guest's cabin immediately.
There in the room, lying propped up in his bed, was a man with severe dyspnea, gasping for breath, his skin pale and feverish. In an instant I switched modes, had the trauma kit and the oxygen brought to his room. I uncoiled the tubes and cracked the tank, watched as relief spreads through his whole body and his blood oxygen saturation soared back up. I took his history, his pulse, listened to the wheezing in his lungs, struggled to find a blood pressure. He needed to get to a hospital, that much was obvious. Just how we would get there from here was a matter for the captain.

Someone asked if I could still give the presentation- everybody was still sitting up there, waiting to see it.

It felt like a movie; I pulled the stethoscope from around my neck, peeled off blue exam gloves and reached for the microphone. I was soaring on adrenaline, proud of myself for having done right by my instructors and used my medical training correctively. I did no harm! I crowed to myself, first rule of EMTs! I actually helped somebody who was very sick.  The presentation went perfectly, the questions finished up one minute before dinner, dinner was called, and my day was essentially over.
The days flew by like this. Not always so dramatic, but all full of tasks that felt meaningful and fun and if they weren't, it was just more to talk about late at night as we painted our toenails in the laundry room. Mornings on the water, afternoons on the glacier, evenings on the bow watching humpbacks bubble net feeding only yards from the bow. I took hundreds of photos, led each hike and paddle without incident or accident or injury. In the later part of the trip, a flu ran through the crew and the passengers. It was a nasty flu which presented with red runny eyes and a deep, rattling cough. I went to their rooms, took temperatures, doled out medicine, lay cold cloths onto  foreheads. One woman was so sick that I checked in on her every two hours, although I could really only offer Theraflu and tea. A few days later, when she was feeling better and able to walk around the ship, she and her husband beckoned me into their room, where she handed me a necklace of beautiful, multi-colored pearls as a thank you.

I wrote honestly about how much I struggled with everything at the beginning of the season, so I know you'll believe me when I say that I got very good at my job. I took great pride and delight in it.

Tuesday, two days after we arrive  home. The ship is docked in the port of Seattle, next to the quiet, empty Wilderness Explorer and great steel crabbing boats and fishing vessels of Deadliest Catch fame.  The guests are gone, the crew party is over, the laborious tasks of washing and packing and putting all the expedition gear into storage is gone. Down on the main deck, someone is hammering iron covers over the ships windows, preparing it for its rough journey down south to Baja.
I'm sitting on the sun deck, the last minute of my last hour of employment with this company, listening as the guy reads my end of season review in third person.

Effort, he reads. Melina did not show much effort onboard. If she had showed more effort, she would have been a more complete team member.

It goes something like that.

The guy has considered me worthless since the beginning. Back then, when I didn't know my port from starboard, I very nearly let him convince me that I was. But, due to a great many people, friends and strangers and crew members and their tireless encouragement, and their own candid stories of struggle and perserverence, I stayed on. Gradually, I grew much, much stronger and much better at my job. I took interest, then entertainment, then pure curiosity in the outright condesension of the guy. I took notes- today he walked out of the room as I was speaking. Today was my mid-season review, he stood up when it was my turn to talk- "I'm distracted-" he said, and walked out.

This shitty end of season review is no surprise, nothing I hadn't seen coming.

He continues reading about my lack of effort, my needed extra direction, my need to channel my creativity into something more 'relevant.' My mind is half listening, half wandering. I think, very calmly, very collectively, about what reaction I should have when he was finished.

There are two stories being told here. And in this version of the story I'm worthless and stupid and I just don't believe it.

I don't believe it, and I don't care.

The second the guy is done reading I pick up the pen, sign my name and stand up. "Do you want to chat about any of this?" He asks, obviously confused, expecting a fight. I say no. Because there is no point, absolutely no point in spending one more instant with this person, someone who seemed to find no value in everything I take pride in. Signing that document means nothing to me. It is not an admittance to laziness, not a resignation, neither defeat nor triumph. It is nothing.

And then I leave. I put my bag over my shoulder and run down the gangway to the other side of the dock, to the bar for a final beer with my crew mates, the best of the fleet, my treasure. The sun hovers low to the West and the windows of the boats bobbing at the dock glint gold, sparkling, like an entire city lit up at night.

I'm still out here

It is my last day in Juneau. The weather is starting to turn, it's September, it's not summer anymore, and now when crew members leave the boat for vacation, they are not coming back. The season is ending- today marks beginning of our two week Southbound voyage back to Seattle. Back home.

But for now, home remains the Endeavour. Actually, to be more specific, home is the crew of the Endeavour. I could be on any vessel on the sea, at any port in the world, and as long as I was with this crew, I would be home.
It's cliche, it's terrible, it's a fucking travesty, truly, to be so sentimental, and I'm feeling the collective slap across the face from every writer out there who is worth their salt; but in this quick, crystalline moment- a coffee shop somewhere in Southeast Alaska with the wind blowing through the door and my ship pointed homewards- I don't care. This crew, we love each other, and there is no other way to put it.
This sentimentality is gutting my writing style, but it's worth it. It's worth it because I'm happy, and the ship is fun, and the work never stops, ever, but it's studded with these ice-pure moments where look after one another so naturally, so instinctively, it's as if there never was any other way.
Our final tour around Juneau was a fun one- sunshine, good natured Australians, whales breaching through Icy Straight, bears fishing in Iyukean inlet fifteen feet from my kayak, polar plunges off of the stern. One morning Conor and I went tidepooling at Port Houghton and found watermelon colored anemones and fat, red-spined sea cucumbers and enormous purple sea stars all undulating back and forth in the water. We had started the morning with espresso from the bar, adrenal pills from my stash and vitamin B-12 from one of the stewards and maybe it was just a little too much natural energy, we were laughing so hard we could barely talk, and we had all our guests laughing and marveling at the weird-ass mollusks and gorgeous, grotesque intertidal things, and we kept saying "we have to come down, we really need to come down a little-" but we just couldn't.  
After the beach, I got in a small boat with the second mate, Jordan Davis, and we took off looking for whales but we found none, just some screaming eagles and an osprey and a few porpoises. Merril had loaded our boat with Chai tea and the sky was so deeply blue, the day wonderfully warm, and Jordan and I kept everybody laughing and this buoyant mood kept going....and going.....and going. And it didn't end till all the guests walked up the gangplank in tears this morning, and Jordan left too, done for the season, and it was very difficult for me not to cry watching him go, because I've grown so deeply fond of him, and as much as I swoon for the whales and the sea stars and the wolves howling on the beach, there nothing compared to the Conor Adams and the Meril Clarkes and the Jordan Davis's of this world.
But hey, it's time to go now. At this morning's crew meeting, Captain Jill leaned back in her chair and said, "What the hell, let's take her back to Seattle."

We're going home, boys! Pull the anchor and all that. I won't be writing for another two weeks, probably, but I'll be thinking of you guys, all of you reading this- all of you who have sent mail, who've called, who are waiting back in Seattle, all of you who sailed with me and left the ship too soon. I'll be thinking of you all the time. In fifteen days we'll be sitting around a table at Fishermen's terminal  sharing a round. I can't wait.

But I haven't let boat world yet. Not yet.

I'm still out here.