Thursday, July 28, 2016

Hiking the Dolason Prairie Trail in Redwood National Park

            The Dolason Prairie Trail begins high and ends low, and so, of course, it returns from low to high. Thus is contrast determined as the theme of the trail.

            From enclosed forest canopies we entered the open meadows of Dolason Prairie, once a pasture for Dolason’s sheep.

 Sloping steeply down the mountain, it gave the sheep and maybe more importantly the shepherds and now hikers stupendous views over the mountains of the Coast Range­. We crossed the meadow in the light of an overcast sky, then reentered the darkness of the forest. 

            Human history contrasted with evolutionary history. The Dolason sheep shed, now on the registry of historic places, stands empty but not dilapidated. At a break in the woods on the other side of the Dolason Prairie, pearly everlasting, a Cretaceous-era flower was in bloom.
Under the redwoods farther down the trail, carpets of tall, waving ferns catapulted us into the Carboniferous Era. I half expected to find ghosts of twenty-inch lizards and dragonflies with 30-inch wingspans scuttling and flying through the ferns.
            At one step I would come across something familiar – St. John’s wort, a hard fungus I see frequently on tree trunks in my own woods – and at another step I would find something mysterious What made those clumps of dirt amidst the sorrel? 

What were those indigo-blue berries? Why were they so bright, here in the dark green forest?
            Beauty from the hand of nature was all around us. Then suddenly, miles beyond the Dolason sheep shed, beauty from the human hand made a startling yet fitting appearance: a wooden bridge high over a small brook splashing through roots and over rocks into little emerald pools in the dark shade of the redwoods. If only all structures created by human beings were such an enhancement of the natural beauty around them.

            We encountered the big and the small – sweeping views and the minutia on the forest floor; the giant redwoods and a flicker flying among them. We walked past upright redwoods magnificent in their structures, 

and fallen redwoods showing the deep red wood within the bark carapace.

            And then after all that earthiness came water. I knew the trail ended at Redwood Creek, but what I had envisioned was something like Emery Creek, which we crossed on the beautiful bridge. What I found was a large, open gravel bar where a river-size creek made S-curves against the woods on the opposite shore. The current was slow, the river deep enough to swim in, and the people far enough down the river that my hiking partner and I were alone on the bar. Before taking the long trail back up the mountain, I took to the water.

Thursday, July 21, 2016


            Yesterday was my birthday, and it was all very wonderful  – out to dinner in Jacksonville and then off for a backpacking trip to the Russian Wilderness Area this morning – but the real glow still lingers from my Alice-in-Wonderland birthday party two years ago. It was a mad-as-a-hatter good time thanks to everyone who came and everyone who helped make it such a splendid success.
            The invitation announced that I was turning 70 years old on July 20 and then said, "What?! I must have fallen down a rabbit hole!” (It's still the feeling I get.)
            The day before the party my out-of-town guests and some other friends and I set up wickets for the croquet game my son created. Here are the Wonderful Weeding Woman Wicket, the What! Wicket (in the shape of a question mark), and the World Wide Web Wicket.

Among others were the Loud Wicket

and, my favorite, the Walking Wicket. 

The next morning I put on a white dress and the Queen of Hearts crown my daughter-in-law made for me (with a red shawl till the weather warmed up).

Everyone else wore white, too, by suggestion of the invitation.

They looked beautiful, flitting around the woods, looking for rabbit holes.

The Mad Hatter had left plenty of hats for people to put on.
The invitation had also suggested people bring their own mallets and balls for the croquet game. They were every bit as good as Alice's flamingo and hedgehog:

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of croquet on a mountainside.

The Mad Hatter dinner was a potluck picnic with music provided by Ela on his Stamenphone, Wonderland music if ever there was such.

After dinner there were toasts and speeches

and “The Ringing of the Bell,” my reading of a list of highlights of my life, with Ela ringing the bell from my great-grandfather’s foundry at every year, by which number of rings we could all feel how long seventy years is. My brother held the bell.

Then I selected nine women friends to be my court to help me carry the tarts I had made in the weeks preceding the party – 95 tarts, eleven different kinds – down to the guests. “Here come the tarts!” Ela announced as the ten women in white made a procession from the house to the picnic area.

The crowds waited eagerly as the court posed for pictures.
It was, all in all, a frabjous day. 

If you don’t believe me, take a look at the video Ela made.
the password is:

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

House series #13 The Kitchen

         If we think food is important, it seems we would pay attention to our kitchens. But historically that isn’t true, since kitchens of the wealthy were run by servants, and houses were designed by men of a higher class who knew nothing of kitchens – and little, perhaps, of the women who worked there.

         Since I built my old house myself, I knew well the woman who would be cooking in its kitchen, but a one-room cabin leaves little room for kitchen design. It might have looked like a kitchen from one perspective, but not from the perspective from which it shared the space with a couch and, up the ladder, a bed. It had no electricity, and the propane cook stove and sink were in one room, the pantry around the corner, and the propane refrigerator on the back porch. In winter, the pantry became the refrigerator and the wood-burning stove the cook stove. In summer the kitchen made a setting for a tea as elegant, or so I thought, as any at Monticello.

         My son, who designed the kitchen in my new house, also understood well the woman who would be cooking in it. He had enjoyed her cooking all the years of his growing-up and knew the difficulties she had had cooking in her old kitchen. He asked her what she would want in her ideal kitchen.
            The list was more indicative of the shortcomings of my old kitchen than a description of an ideal kitchen, but in the end I got pretty much my ideal kitchen: plenty of counter space, cabinets built from pine milled off my land, lazy-susan shelves in corner cabinets, shelves for cookbooks, easy communication with guests, a place for poring over recipes, which I had originally envisioned as a big easy chair next to the stove but which turned out to be a little rocking chair instead. It serves the same purpose as the easy chair – I sit in it to read recipes or to read or write while I am tending a newly built fire – but it’s better than the big overstuffed chair because I can move it with one hand to sweep the floor or to make room in the kitchen.

            My house is far from a one-room cabin, but the kitchen is not a separate, enclosed room, either. It’s a space at one end of the main part of the house with plenty of light both from its own north-facing windows and from the south-facing windows at the other end of the room. 

Because the wood burning heat stove is a part of both “rooms,” I can cook on it in the winter. I have “room to roll out pies,” “a table for eating,” and “space for cake racks, cookies cooling, etc.,” all envisioned in my ideal kitchen. 

            The cabinets were built by a friend, who used a design copied from an heirloom wardrobe that belonged to the wife of my guitar teacher that the cabinet-maker had used for their kitchen cabinets. The wood for the cabinets came from the same pine tree, milled here on this spot, as the wood for the walls in the adjoining living-room. I have an electric stove and oven, which, though not as cute as the little antique propane stove in my old house, is more reliable, easier to use, and capable of holding more than one cake pan at a time. My mother’s copper tooling plaque hangs on one wall. A printer’s drawer from my father’s shop hangs on another. The refrigerator sits in the pantry, behind a closed door, where its noise won’t bother me. 

            I spend a lot of happy hours in my beautiful kitchen, my ideal kitchen, designed by someone who understood the woman who would cook in it.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Swimming through Stars

            When I visited my son on Vashon Island over the Fourth of July weekend, he told me, Friday night, that we were going on an unspecified adventure and to dress as though for canoeing. However, when we left the house at 10:00 that night, I noticed he didn’t bring the canoe with us.
            Just at the edge of dark we parked at a beach on Quartermaster Harbor and walked up the driveway of Fat Cat Paddle Boards. There I learned the nature of the adventure: to paddle into the bay to see the bioluminescence of the Puget Sound – the emission of light by otherwise-invisible marine organisms.
            I tugged myself excitedly into the wetsuit I was given, then followed Ela, four other adventurers, and Reed, our guide, down to the beach, where we climbed onto our paddle boards and paddled, under a dark sky and over black-mirror water, into the bay.
            Lights of a few houses glowed in the distance. Occasionally the beam from a car’s headlights glinted beyond the bay. A small yacht lay at anchor in front of us, barely visible in the dark, barely rocking in the windless sea. Scattered stars shone between hazy clouds. Seven silhouettes of stand-up paddlers drifted slowly over the dark, silent water.
            Reed told us to swish our paddles in the water. When I did, I gasped. Hundreds of tiny sparks swirled around my paddle. I was enchanted, but when Reed said, “The real thrill is to be in the water,” I slipped off the board into the darkness below me, where I found the real enchantment,.
            I swirled my arms, and bioluminescence swirled like sparks. I kicked my feet, and the sea lit up as though I had disturbed a nest of lightning bugs. It was like swimming through stars. It was like kicking sparks from burning logs. It was like creating Van Gogh’s starry sky with a sweep of my arms or conducting a silent orchestra with a magic baton, Tinkerbell’s wand: music transformed into light. I kept my begoggled face underwater to see the lights more sharply. When I stopped kicking and came up for breath, everything went as dark underwater as the sky overhead. I did surface dives, swirled my arms, kicked my feet, marched in place, conducted my silent orchestra, swam through galaxies, fireworks, twinkling lights by the millions, and brilliantly glowing, billowing, underwater clouds.
            I have had many spectacular swims – in the full moon in Maneaten Lake, in the tannic-acid-brown Manatee River at midnight in Florida, with icebergs in Yosemite, with whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez, at 11,892 feet in the high Sierra, for half an hour in the azure waters of Crater Lake, at sunrise and sunset and every hour in between on both sides – but the most magical swim of all was that bioluminescent swim in underwater galaxies in the Puget Sound. 

(If you're interested in experiencing this for yourself, here's the link :