10 awesome things from 2014

Why does it surprise me when each year is so different than the last? My days feel so linked by routine that I barely notice things are changing unless I look backwards. 

This was 2012.
This was 2013


And here are the 10 defining phenomena of 2014:


1. Nicaragua
We barely glanced at a guidebook before we left, we just went. We didn't kayak, work, teach or do anything useful at all. For the very first time, I drank coconut water out of a coconut. It was monumental. 

2. Reunion
In June, on the outskirts of Yellowstone, the Academy at Adventure Quest had its first reunion in twelve years. Everyone who showed up was happy and healthy, with good jobs and pretty spouses and lives still filled with adventure. For the very first time, we talked about what happened there, why the school dissolved. We had a memorial service and kayaked the Gallatin river. It was strange and wonderful and a little eerie, like we had all suddenly found ourselves in the same dream. But that's how it's always felt with that school. 

3. Riding on Trails with Women

Mountain biking was a new phenomenon to me in 2014. This year was all about the women I rode with. They were my trail guides and technical coaches, and they fixed my chain when it broke. They knew more than me and I liked following them as they darted through trees.

4. The Remodel


David bought a house with holes in the walls. It was filled with shot guns and assault rifles. We emptied it, skinned it, wrenched the carpet off of the floor. Our friends stopped by to pull out hundreds of staples. We yanked out appliances as if they were teeth and replaced them with new ones, bright white and shining. The painting was the easy part, the crumbling kitchen was not. For a while we had no bathroom and no shower, but the work we did was so satisfying that for the most part we kept very cheerful. By the end of the summer it was fit for living, with a polished wood floor and new locks on new doors. I've never done anything like that before.

5. Cohabiting 

After the floors were done, but before we had an indoor shower, I moved in with David. Since then we've been living out that particular portion of life that older people look back on with nostalgia- we filled our house with second hand furniture, we're always happy to see each other and we make our own broth to save money. I've never done anything like this before, either. 

6. The Obed
Where the climbing is so good that my friends make the trek all the way from Seattle. 

7. Chemistry
I will remember exactly two things from the basic chemistry class at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College: one, I got an A, which felt, as my friend So so eloquently puts it,  like "sweet revenge." Two, my teacher spoke with such a strong southern accent that when he said "Flourine" for the first time I burst out laughing. It sounded like he was demanding the attention of a surly waitress at a Waffle House. It was the only time I laughed that semester.

8. The team that couldn't win 
My fall league ultimate frisbee team had the big idea of donating a canned good to the food bank for every point that we scored. It was a hungry, hungry season for Asheville. On the field we were a weekly disaster with flashes of brilliance; on the sidelines this was the warmest, friendliest team I've ever known. We became the kind of friends who would plan a pizza night and then actually all show up. This was as novel to me as the coconuts. 

9. Roots
In my first six months here, I don't think I got it through my head that I was really going to stay.  I felt like a happy tourist, always a few weeks away from flying back to my apartment in Seattle. Then one day I had a house, and a student ID, and a boyfriend who speaks with a heavy southern drawl. The ribbons of trails that surround the town were all of a sudden familiar. Then, as if to drive the point home, I got a writing job as the 'local expert' of the outdoor scene here in Asheville; the organization is called Roots Rated.  When I go out exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains, bizarre thoughts float through my head, things like "This will be a good spot to take our kids in a year or so." 

10. Make more mail 
follow the make more mail initiative in 2015 on instagram @melinadream
I finally figured out the purpose of this blog. 

Speaking of. 

What's on your list from 2014? Tell me something new that you were introduced to in the past year, and you'll be entered to win this week's mystery prize. Which, I have to say, is so incredibly appealing that it's difficult to not open it myself and dig in. It will be the Best Thing Ever to find its way into your mailbox. And the brand 2015 Wilder Coast photo thank you cards turned out pretty well, too. 

Happy New Year my friends!! I can't wait to read about your phenomenal phenomenons. 

The Worst Journey in the World / drawing winner

I'm going to tell you what happened and I'm going to make it quick. I promise you, you won't want any more details.

Over the past week, I've enjoyed reading about why you love where you live. So much so, in fact, that I was inspired to knit your words together with mine, and write a whole post about all of us, scattered across the map, going about our happy everyday business. I asked for you to send me a photo of the place you call home, and I was rewarded with beautiful shots of snow and sunsets, street corners and oceans and outhouses. (That last one was from a Vermonter.)

The timing was perfect. I was about to embark on my annual Christmas Expedition to the North: a 17 hour drive from Asheville to Vermont, just the dog and I, listening to audio books and eating a bag of snacks picked with careful deliberation from Whole Foods. The snack bag is a splurge, bought with cash from the AB Tech textbook exchange, a Christmas present to myself.

Because the journey is long and the days are short, I drive in darkness for the majority of the trip. Sometimes, sailing alone down interstate 95 in the blackness, a certain loneliness will seep through the car windows and fill the space around me. On either side of the highway, the land rushing by looks bleak and unfamiliar, occasionally illuminated by fast food restaurants. I begin to feel very far from home.
This year, things would be different. I heard from many of you who live in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland, and all up and down the Northeast Corridor. Now as I drive I can picture your bustling town just over the hill, the woods laced with running trails, your five roommates all cooking dinner together, and you at the grocery store, or at the late night coffee shop with your head bent over your work, drinking an Americano. Your words made the long road between my home and my other home feel familiar, friendly.

This year I broke up the trip into three days. I injured my back while putting my mountain bike on top of my car ("a bike accident that involved a car", is how I like to put it), and I can't sit down for long periods of time without pain roaring down my spine. My first stop is Durham, to pick up David's Christmas present I'd commissioned from his best friend, Ann. I planned to spend the night with David's parents, then drive up to Ithica to see my sister. On the third day I'd make the final push to Vermont.
The last week was a rigorous one as I doggedly tried to keep up with final exams. I had a test every day and ended up with straight A's, even in Chemistry, which I thought would do me in. So it had been a few days since I'd last posted. As I flew around the house getting things ready for departure, I tried to write something about the upcoming trip, cheerful sentences like 'the dog and I are about to do what we do best- drive!' But I couldn't swing it. Too many other things to do.

Finally, we pulled out of the driveway and made our first stop at Whole Foods.

I would tell you about all the nice things I chose to sustain me over the next three days, but it would make me too sad now. Let me just say this: I am so skilled at selecting road snacks that when I drove across the country, from Seattle to Asheville, I was never even tempted to stop for food.

When I left the store, the bag was heavy and I was brimming with optimism and holiday cheer. I sang along to the radio as we pulled onto the interstate. The dog sat upright in the passenger seat, smiling.

Then, not two hours into the trip, it hit me: this overwhelming feeling of exhaustion and the desperate urge to shut my eyes. I rolled down the windows to let the cold wind whip me awake. At 5:30 in the evening after a good night of sleep, this was completely out of the blue. Maybe it was the stress of exams hitting me after the fact, or the accumulation of medicines I'd been taking for my back.

By the time I made it to the Greensboro countryside to pick up Dave's present, I knew things were about to get ugly. This was no post-finals fatigue. I walked into Ann's house, and there on the mantle was the gorgeous knit piece that she'd dreamed up, designed and been working tirelessly on. She had put the final touches on the frame just a few hours before I arrived. As I stumbled in the front door she was holding her breath with excitement, anticipating my reaction.

"I think I'm going to barf," I said, and ran into the bathroom.
I threw up like, right after this.
Half an hour later, I was driving the winding dark road back to the highway, David's present carefully wrapped in plastic in the back seat. Ann had given me pieces of crystallized ginger and offered me a barf bag for the road. But for some stupid, illogical reason, completely unfathomable to me now, I'd turned her down. 

Twice on that country road I pulled over and dry heaved into the ditch, but nothing came up. I felt dread as I merged onto the wide, busy interstate. "Eighteen miles," I chanted. "That's all I have to do. I can survive for eighteen miles."

I lasted four miles. And then it was all happening. I tried to get off. I safely merged three lanes over and reached the off ramp but it was too late. I grabbed the only bag in the front seat- the one from Whole Foods full of my snacks and coconut waters, and threw up with a terrific slosh. The bag sat warmly on my lap until I found a gas station.

Crying and wiping my nose, I got out of the car and threw the bag and all its contents into a trash can. I bought a blue flavored Gatorade. I managed the rest of the trip to Dave's parents house without further incident, and that's where I am today. Marooned in Durham, too sick to continue.

As it turns out, David also got sick that evening, as did a number of our friends who attended the same company Christmas party last Friday. One that was richly catered by a local restaurant. "We never get to eat this kind of food," I recall whispering to Dave. "Dig in!"

So we all ended up with food poisoning. But I am the only one who ended up with food poisoning at 70 miles per hour.
For more photos of this girl and this dog and all the fun they have, find me on Instagram @melinadream


****
This week we are taking a break from the giveaways, for reasons that should be apparent. Next Monday we'll be back with a Christmas Mystery Prize (or two).

Until then, I'll be inching my way up North, slowly and less exuberantly than I'd intended. I look forward to that moment when I can sit down at the Cafe in White River Junction, Vermont, watch the snow pile up and type out the post about Home with all your words and photos.

Thanks to everyone who entered the drawing. And thanks to Appalatch, a company of true integrity and talent. The winner of the Custom Fit Sweater is....

Congratulations Grace! I understand that love of change- Vermont has four distinct seasons and the years felt dull without them when I moved away. Minneapolis sounds lovely, and you seem to be in good company- there were a wealth of comments from some very content people in Minnesota. Please email thewildercoast@gmail.com and we will get you all sorted out.

Thank you everyone for reading and writing. The make more mail initiative has been a smash hit so far! I hope you're having a safe and warm Holiday, and I'll see you back here in a few days.


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 mostly photos report on Squamish

My final year at my beloved and beleaguered high school, the Academy at Adventure Quest, I lived out of a tiny, bright orange, one person tent. It was really no more than a bivy sack with a single curved pole that kept it suspended above my head by a few inches. Most nights I'd drag my sleeping bag outside and sleep under the stars, but when the weather was bad I'd lie on my back in the tent,  staring up at the orange nylon, listening to my discman and eating squares of Black Forest chocolate. I was an extremely content in there.

We spent our final semester in New Zealand. There were only eight of us kids by that point, the school limping towards towards the cliff of its unsettling demise. We were six boys and two girls, and by this point in the year, the boys had turned mean.

One week we did a trek in the Southern Alps. It rained all day, every day. We camped the second night on a hilltop overlooking a massive blue and white glacier. A fierce storm blew in that evening, kicking up wild winds so strong they ripped my English teacher's tent in half. She staked the shredded corners to the ground and to her ankles, and lay splayed on the ground for the duration of the night, a human anchor.
My little tent was stuck to the earth by five tin stakes. Each time the wind blew them out of the ground, I'd hop out and try and shove them back in, but it was no use. The rain fly flapped loudly, like a lose sail. Inside the tent, the fabric pressed so tightly against my face I could feel it against my nose and mouth. It seemed as if the whole thing was going to lift off the ground and blow into the glacier, taking me with it.

That night, I was not content sleeping alone in my tent. I was tired and almost frightened and everything was soaking wet. I remember that the splendor of the storm, the adventurous thrill that should have consumed me at the moment, was lost in a dismal sort of loneliness. The howling winds made it sound like I was the only one on the planet.

What a completely different situation it would be if I had a girlfriend lying next to me, and the two of us were trying to hold down the tent, and if we went sailing over the cliff into the ice, at least we'd be shrieking together. Sleep was out of the question, so I tried to write in my journal. With all the melodrama of the sixteen year old girl I was, I wrote "I'd give my right eye to have a friend with me right now."

I was thinking about that night last week, when Amber and I were falling asleep at the climber's camp beneath the grand wall in Squamish, BC. Our two dogs were curled up at opposite ends of the tent. The climbing that day had been phenomenal, perfect cracks and clean faces, but I'd been fighting off thoughts of Andrew the entire time. The sight of the big walls he'd told me so much about made my stomach flip with the memories of our multi pitch days together. That part of me, the part still tethered to him in my mind, is a real fucking bother.

But finally, after a very lively evening, I lay in the tent next to Amber and the memory of that night in New Zealand came bubbling up. We'd been talking for about an hour in the dark, and I felt a sudden stab of affection for her, of pure, almost giddy gratitude. The connection between old boyfriends (and all the rejection and unworthiness that comes with them) and climbing is dissolving, and once again the sport is starting to belong to me and my friends and the girls I would have, apparently, traded my eyes for twelve years ago.
::::
We went to Squamish! Four people, three dogs, three crash pads and one car. We left on Thursday night at 8:00pm, were hopelessly lost in Vancouver by midnight on the dot, passed out at the camp site by two in the morning.

Four days gave us just a taste of the unending sport and trad routes of that little town on the road to Whistler.  We even spent a half day engaged in the insufferable sport of bouldering. I'm really not into it, it's too hard and tedious for me, but my friends are obsessed, I don't know, they're crazy. But I will say they look good doing it.
This never happened.
Amber Jackson Photo
Things got real interesting when we roped up, as we didn't have a guide book, and when we did find a guide book we didn't know how to read it. We put up some ridiculous difficult routes. By accident.
Amber leading the 5.11d we thought was a 5.9
Sunshine taking a stab at the crux
The result
Me leading a 5.10d we thought was a 5.8 
Amber lent me her tights.
Like any climbing trip, the rewards...
I've been climbing for seventeen years now, in nine countries, and Squamish was some of the best rock I've ever put my hands on. 
As for everything else. Bolt by bolt it gets easier. That long night when I was 16 did not end up with me being swept alone into the blue glacier, and neither will this one. 

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. 
Mostly.
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.  

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! 

we all have one love story

Here is the abridged story of how I met Will.

I was standing at Lee's Ferry, the put in for the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River. It was February 2008, in the middle of a winter storm. Ice was lashing sideways out of the sky and the river was raging and loud.  I just stood there staring at it, thinking that I was absolutely going to die. It was my first river trip and I had no idea what I'd gotten myself into.

A boy walked up the beach and introduced himself. His head was bowed against the rain but I saw his eyes, which was all I needed to see. "Hi," he said, extending his hand. He spoke with a heavy Tennessee accent. "I'm Will."

I remember two things from this one moment. One, I was wearing a light blue cotton Patagonia hoody that was completely soaked. Two, as I shook his hand I thought, "Oh Will, it's on."
And it was. Will had these long eye lashes and he didn't say much. He saved a man's life on that  trip by pulling him out of the frigid Crystal rapids. Later that evening the man thanked him profusely as Will just nodded and looked at the ground. We were one mile deep in that canyon for an entire month. Huge rapids, flipped rafts, frostbite, hypothermia, sickness, drift wood fires every night, mind blowing stars, heart pounding hikes straight up and out, a million glimmers of moonlight on the river at night, the creak of ropes stretching against the tide where we'd lashed the rafts for the evening. Heart shaping, life wrenching stuff. As a writer I will never be able to do it justice. In all my adventures, this remains the biggest.

Will slept outside without a tent and after the second night, I thought I'd better sleep outside without  a tent. We spread out a tarp and slept on opposite ends of it. Each night we laid out our sleeping bags an inch or so closer than the night before. One particularly cold night I woke up covered in half an inch of frost feathers, his arm around, pulling me against him for warmth.
We didn't speak about it the next day. We didn't talk about any of it. Will is intensely shy. But it added up, the little gestures and long looks and walks we took, just him and me. Then one night around the fire he reached over and took my hand. It went better from there. I fell completely in love with him. He was on the fence, but I think he tended towards loving me, too. My friend Sarah died while I was on that trip. I cried and cried and he just pushed the hair out of my face and was quiet. He gave me his Nalgene of Whiskey for the night.

When I got terribly sick for a night he wrapped me in his sleeping bag and held me between his legs, his arms around me as I shivered uncontrollably. He washed my face for me, looked after me all night long.
When the trip was over we said goodbye in the middle of the desert with no talk of seeing each other again. In the covered back of a pick up truck, I stared at the stunted trees and swathes of frozen dessert flying by. It was polygamy county, truly the land of American outlaws. We drove to Vegas and Ammen threw up and I crawled into the hotel bed and tried to sleep.

Less than a year later I moved back to the East coast. I drove down to Boone North Carolina where Will was living. We took a trip to Kentucky to run the Russel Fork. It was late October. There was a party that night for all the boaters, with a huge bonfire and fireworks and real moonshine that tasted like maple syrup. Will hugged me and told me he was in awe of my creativity and that he loved me. I've never had a boy speak to me like that, before or since. We stared at eachother like two people with no idea what to do next.
The next morning he didn't remember a thing. There was a certain silence that crept over the rest of the trip like a frozen fog. I drove home to Vermont with a confusion that bordered on anger. We wrote letters back and forth. Real letters, and books, and photographs. He sent me crystals and rocks taped to paper with their scientific names written next to them.

About two months later, I took a job in Chile at the kayaking high school. I dated somebody else. Then one day I was sucked into an underwater cave and nearly drowned. I was very shaken up about the whole concept of kayaking and living and dying. I wrote Will about it the next day, fingers still shaking as they hovered over the keyboard, covered in bruises and abrasions.  From what I understand, he realized when he read that story that he really did like me a lot. But I had the job at the school, and even after a summer where I dreamt about Will three times a week, I went back back to Chile to teach for another semester.

That January I quit my job and moved to North Carolina.  Two years after meeting in the ice storm we were finally together. At first it was heaven, which is the way these things go. We were essentially snowed in for the entire winter. Even the grocery stores would close for days at a time. We had a wood stove and played endless rounds of backgammon. We listened to radio shows. I got into cooking.  I lost a little of my identity, maybe a lot, but not in a terrible way. Just in a normal way.
The only time we could get outside was to take long walks on the blue ridge parkway which was shut down due to snow. For my birthday, he collected river glass in a mason jar and turned it into lantern. I thought this was the most clever and romantic thing to do.
Spring cames and the rivers ran, and Will disappeared with them. But by now all his friends were my friends, and we had a good time. The spring was really pretty dreamy. There were days of swimming, cliff jumping, paddling trips around the Southeast, a trip to Georgia. Evenings around the campfire in the front yards, Friday nights sleeping on flat rocks down in the gorge and necklaces he made me from pale green river glass. I wrote all day at a coffee shop which was also a book store, and I was very very happy. Besides boating, I got very little exercise. I had horrific migraines which knocked me out for days at a time. He wasn't sure what to do with me during those times. He kayaked more and more, but it didn't necessarily make him any happier. 
Then I ran the Watauga gorge, the peak of my paddling career, such as it was, and we started fighting. Just a little. I'd turn my face towards the window of the car and hope he'd guess what my silence meant. That didn't work.

I wanted more. He wanted less. He wanted to travel and kayak. I wanted just about everything but.

And so it was over and I left. I drove back to Vermont, and eventually to Seattle. We saw each other once in Idaho, where we went camping at a very blue and secluded lake on the other side of a mountain of unstable rock. In the middle of the night I heard rock falling and in his sleep he reached out and comforted me. Other than that, he was gone.

And he really was gone for another two years. I'm not sure we spoke at all. He kept his word and traveled all over the earth running enormously dangerous rivers. I moved on with my life, got a job, and passed my glass heart out to a couple of men who either ignored it or crushed or juggled it with a few others. That's not the complete story though. There were some boys who became very close, very important, the boy at the end of the rope, the boy kissing me in triumph at the top of a cliff. But those, too, ended eventually.

Certainly Will and I both moved on, probably a dozen times over. But I kept collecting sea glass. Then he shows up in Seattle, and we're just like those kids at the bonfire in Kentucky, just looking at each other, with no idea what to do.

Vajanuary

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.

adventures of the paper heart (3)

I am a very vivacious and secure person with a stunning imagination and potential for creative thinking.  I know this because lately, I've been taking these online questionnaires about character traits and happiness and this is what they all tell me.

If you must know, I rank pretty low on modesty, humility, caution, prudence, discretion, spirituality, faith and sense of purpose.
I'm aware of this creativity, and how it's set me apart from some and brought me closer to others and steered me across the globe for the past fourteen years. It makes problem solving not easy but always interesting. The flip side to this vivid imagination, however, is that when life takes the inevitable turn for the worse, I am capable of crafting a perfectly designed, artful, sublime sort of sadness.

Unnecessary sadness, I think. I really commit to it, the first to dive down the rabbit hole, conjuring bad omens out of thin air, swirling consciously downward. I throw back a handful of the blue pills when all I really needed was one or two. I fill my whole self up with sadness and then tip over and pour it into the world around me. And then it takes a really long time to crawl out.

Which is why Ryan, who knows me very well, ripped me from that sad place just as I was beginning to wrap my knuckles around its handlebars and get a good grip. I was crying when he picked me up from my house and during that sleepless night in his guest room I was crying and when he hauled me into his car and drove East on 1-90 I was still crying. Seattle was being hosed by this incredible rainstorm with standing water on the highway and the white lights of cars all blurred and I saw my misery reflected in the rain and oh, what a lonely, achingly sad place!

As one might imagine, this type of gratuitous, head over heals emotion is exhausting and I eventually fell asleep, to the great relief of the driver, and when I woke up we were somewhere in  Idaho.

We continued to roll east, hour after hour, past larches flaming in gold and patches of mountains actually flaming in wildfire, churning heavy grey smoke into the atmosphere. The air was thin and brittle and chilly and burned a little in my lungs. The landscape was arid and open and so very different than the glassy, wet city we'd left behind us.

We stopped at a gas station, a building in shambles, Ryan bought a grape soda as a breakfast drink and the attendant had no teeth. It was there that I unlocked the door, fell out of the car and started to feel better.
For a week, Ryan and our friend Sebby, who lives in Whitefish, continued the process of picking me up and dusting me off. And they did a remarkable job of it.

I love the practical problem solving strategies of men, which differs so greatly from the nurturing instincts of women. They approached me as something broken, but like anything broken I could very well be glued back together by following a simple set of instructions. "Fix it, fuck it, or punch it," is a term I've heard them use before. There was no sitting around wrapped in blankets talking it out, no agonizing hours debating the meaning and merits hiding behind every word in every conversation.

Part of this is due to the fact that Andrew and I broke up very cleanly. But amicable or not, my paper heart still repulses at the idea of he didn't want me. And thank God, the boys left me no room to wallow. They talked entirely in movie quotes and refused to indulge me in the circle-talking of the recently heartbroken. "What do I do now?" I'd ask from where I sat, sunk into the booth at dinner, suddenly overcome by a fog of sadness.

"Shoot the hostage, take him out of the equation!" they'd say, and laugh, and go on talking about whatever they'd been talking about.

The self-pitying observations and pointlessly nostalgic comments did not interest them and after a few days they stopped interesting me, too.
I spent the daylight hours alone, working at my computer at Montana Coffee traders, the cheerful hub of the town decorated in white christmas lights. The cafe saw a steady stream of patrons, all the men were handsome in ski hats and all the women wore sweaters and vests and tights and boots and I looked exactly like them. I spent hours of each day in that place, half working, half watching.

In the evenings the two boys collected me from town and brought me to their luxurious gym. They taught me their grueling core workouts and their weight workouts. We swam in the pool and sat in the sauna. They took me out to dinner and forced me to order something other than soup. One evening I ate half of a hamburger and Ryan said, "Oh, hey, welcome back to life!"

At night we made bonfires and kept a fire in the wood stove and soaked in the hot tub under a bright white spray of stars and blowing snow squalls. We cooked food and watched movies and played board games.
What I really loved was the bars. The bars of Whitefish are full of skiers and country boys, sweatshirts and Carharts and patagonia jackets and old men playing ping pong. Everybody has a beard. I'd go alone or with the boys or with my friend Lauren, a tall, gorgeous butterfly of a woman who laughed loudly and knew everybody. I'd go to the Great Northern or the Brewery or the Palace. After only two days out there, I started smiling at strangers, gauging their reactions, basking in my complete anonymity yet undeniable power of being a girl in this wild place. People either ignored me or smiled at me, introduced themselves or didn't. After a few evenings I started learning their names, nodding at them when they got their coffee in the next day.
And I felt okay. I felt happy, actually, but mostly I what I felt was a staggering relief at having escaped. Even thinking about the confused cells in my body doing the wrong things at the wrong time was okay with me. It didn't scare me so much.

The only time that big ball of sadness lodged in my throat threatened to rear up and choke me was when I thought about returning to Seattle. The new house, shabby and unfamiliar, the wet weather, the dark afternoons and terrible traffic. I knew when I went home I'd have to cope with missing Andrew, and it would be my job to grind through that sadness and face the winter without him.

A week went by, and when Ryan was getting ready to drive home I told him to leave without me. I packed up most of my things into his car and said goodbye to my dog. They drove away early in the morning, and I bought a bus ticket to Missoula to go see Nici, my old friend whom I've never met.
It feels like Nici brought me back to myself, but that's not entirely true. What she did is show me that I'd never really left in the first place.

I still have not gone back to Washington.

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.

Photo Book: Wild & Dismal

As far as I'm concerned, you can never be too melancholy or too bored as long as you have your camera with you. I think most photographers would agree with me that the camera becomes something of a comfort object; when you're too tired to face the world, you can sort of melt away behind the lens. 

It's also effective in social situations when you don't want to make small talk. Secret's out- half the time I'm standing at the edge of a party with my back against the wall, frowning at the view finder in concentration, my camera's not even turned on. I'm just trying to avoid talking. (Oh, and one more thing- about a third of the time I was 'taking a picture with my camera' on the boat, I was actually clicking around my email, begging for a flash of service out there on the ocean. It happened occasionally.) 
Of course I neglected to bring my camera to Ireland, even though it's the most wild and dismal and gorgeous country (an excellent trifecta for photography) because I didn't have to time to pack. Anything. It was crushing to walk through the haunting fields of nettles and sheep, the dizzying little convenience stores of day-glow candy and the town full of old stone and dark pubs without it- I was constantly thinking about angles and lenses and framing. I did, however, have my phone, and so I captured Ireland the best I could, and instead of brining home one thousand rich, saturated shots on my computer, I have one hundred little tinted, filtered squares on a phone screen:


I've been getting a lot of questions lately about storytelling and what kind of stories I told. I'll get into that in the next post. For now, I'm too busy coughing and complaining about the wicked cold I must have caught on the airplane. Avoid me. 
  

Brilliant

A few days after I got off the boat, I went to Ireland. Suddenly, I no longer worked on a cruise ship. Instead I was a professional story teller. For a week.
The day I was to leave Seattle, I slept peacefully through my flight to Chicago, having misread my itinerary. I begged and cajoled with delightfully accented Aer Lingus employees, shelled out a whole lot of money, wept at the counter at Sea-Tac until they grudgingly allowed me onto the next flight without the requisite 90 minute early arrival for international flights, raced through security, last one on the flight, dashed through Chicago in a cartoonish frenzy until I finally slumped, a deflated balloon, into my seat on the flight to Dublin.

A cheerful "Heading to Ireland, wish me luck!" Facebook status masked the whole thing and nobody knew what a terrific ball of incompetence I was. Facebook, you little wall of white lies, you're so magical. The little back of seat entertainment system cheered me immensely, I watched a dozen movies and all was well. Except for that, with no time to pack, I had no clothes or shoes or books or anything, no toothbrush. I'd stuffed a suitcase with whatever had been lying on the floor of Andrew's garage which turned out to be a lot of long underwear- useless.
Then came rainy Dublin and the first radio interview, many teas and jogs around the block to keep myself awake and I finally ended up in Dungarvan, where I succumbed to a fierce case of jet lag and overall jet-confusion.
Each day I woke up deep into the afternoon, completely sideways in my big white hotel bed. I wasn't alone- my sister, Anna, and her Italian guitar player Danielle and his friend Drea were sharing a guest cottage with me.
Thank goodness, because I was a helpless being with no clothes and I was never certain what day it was. Each afternoon, I'd dress out of my sister's suitcase, stab myself in the eye with an eye pencil, wander into a cafe in town and prepare for my performances by jotting down notes and drinking strangely thick cappuccinos and trying to pep-talk myself out of nerves.
The writing calmed me down, but nothing soothed me like walking alone up and down the streets of  Dungarvan. A cold, wet, autumn wind breathed through the streets where bright, multi-colored shops piled up against one another like dominoes. The houses looked like music boxes. To get from one part of town to the next you walked across the cobbled town square and through dark alleyways lined by crumbling castles. There were tiny boats moored at the edge of town, and the pubs were all named The Anchor and Lady Belle and The Moorings.
A walk to the outskirts of town brought you to a checkerboard of green fields and purple thistles that rolled straight into the ocean, and in the distance glowed the pointed lights of town so small and insular that the kids all grew up speaking only Irish. I'll admit, even though I've been to Ireland before, I didn't really know that Irish was a language that people spoke. I thought people just sang it.
Anna and I explored together when we could, both of us kept very busy with the festival and interviews and me being asleep until after noon. She sang during opening night of the festival and I sat with her backstage with a few other musicians and the Irish storytellers. I drank as much wine and French cider as possible and tried not to think about the next day, the first of my four shows. My stomach tightened at the thought- what if nobody shows up? I forbid Anna to attend, wanting to save her the disappointment of seeing me perform to an empty room, if that was the case. It very well could be,  I had no idea, and neither did the festival director, who was tall and very serious, a notable genius who may have lived inside of a grandfather clock. He had taken a great chance by inviting me, and I so very much wanted it to work out well.  
At the very least, I assured myself in the black painted backstage of the town theater, I got myself here, and that is worth noting. Somehow my writing and my incessant need to tell stories got me all the way to Ireland and even paid me to be here, even though I almost blew it at the starting gate and I don't have any underwear.  All I can possibly do now is to tell an entertaining story and that much- even if I'm a whirling ball of incompetence in all the other things- that much I know I can do.