Where do I go to celebrate a milestone? A national park!
Spring wildflowers may be long gone from my part of Washington state in July, but in the mountains, they are just starting to bloom. On Thursday, I finished six weeks of radiation therapy for breast cancer. On Sunday, my husband and I caught an early ferry from Whidbey Island to the mainland and then drove two hours to Mount Rainier National Park. We had the whole day ahead of us to see flora, fauna, and mountains! With so much park to explore, we stuck to the Sunrise area in the northeast section.
Our first stop was Tipsoo Lake parking lot, the starting point for the Naches Peak Loop Trail. The avalanche lilies at the trail head looked like a field of stars, guiding us into this national park of wonders.
The guidebook said the loop was three miles long, rising to 5800 feet altitude. Still recovering from radiation, I wondered if I could make it around Naches Peak and have enough energy to enjoy the rest of our visit. Some of the trail was rough with plenty of rocks to negotiate. Our walking sticks came in handy. With a new view or lake around every bend, it was not difficult to keep going.
We also went to Sunrise and hiked on the Silver Forest Trail, stopping to hear the song of the White River along the way.
Our dinner at the Alpine Inn of salmon for me and a Bavarian pho for Donald was just what we needed to replenish ourselves.
I also got to ring the bell in the Crystal Mountain tower to mark the end of cancer treatment. A milestone truly celebrated! As if to renew our spirits even further, we saw a family of silver foxes playing near the Inn. How charming they are with their dark fur and white-tipped tails.
Nature knows what I need and is always conspiring to make me happy. My realist side acknowledges that this place I treasure is home to an active volcano and can be dangerous. Yet I agree with John Muir on this, that every location has its hazards. As Muir wrote, “Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action.” It is a healing place for me, with a radiant power all its own.
The very first Japanese Americans to be rounded up and sent to internment camps were those on Bainbridge Island, Washington. Armed soldiers forcibly removed more than 200 islanders of Japanese descent, most of them American citizens, citing Japanese American Exclusion Order #1. Many of the people had homes, farms, and pets that had to be abandoned or left in the care of sympathetic neighbors. The internees could only bring what they could carry.
In our long history of immigrants coming to this continent, different groups have received different types of treatment. Bainbridge Island provides a bright spot in a dismal history of outright racism towards people of color. Though the government identified this ethnic group (but not Germans or Italians in America) as a security threat, most of the people of the island chose to see their Japanese neighbors as friends. Islanders remained friendly with the “excluded” population before and after they were sent away, often protecting their property for them throughout the three years they were gone.
The beautiful wooden wall built in 1998 includes the names of every man, woman, and child taken away March 30, 1942. Colorful origami cranes are tied here and there along the 276 foot-long contemplative walkway. It leads down to Eagle Harbor where the Japanese people were herded onto a ferry and then a train to be taken to Manzanar and, later, Minidoka internment camps. My husband’s parents were similarly incarcerated during WWII and I’ve written about my mother-in-law’s experience in a previous post. We could see that this cedar and granite wall was created with love and respect, just as the local editor during the war regularly included stories about the Japanese Americans missing from the island community, using the power of words to maintain human connections.
It’s three days since Aretha Franklin died and I’ve got her CD playing in my Forester. I drive from the mini-peninsula of Port Townsend across the tip of the broader Olympic Peninsula, singing to the firs and hemlocks, “You make me feel like a natural woman…” Oh, yeah, tree friends, wrap me in moss and slap me with river spray! Get me back to nature, baby. I turn onto Hurricane Ridge Road to go to the famed lookout point at the road’s end. This is both stupid and obstinate because there’s no view to be had. But I want to get outside and it’s on the way to, well, outside.
We moved recently and I’ve been inside unpacking boxes or out foraging thrift stores and garage sales. Although it’s gratifying to create a new home, I need a change. Western Washington is up in smoke from wildfires in Canada and elsewhere and we’re advised to stay inside and certainly not exert ourselves in the polluted air. My plan was to go on a leisurely beach walk with friends, but that isn’t enough for me. I want out and I want to go alone.
I get like this sometimes, when I’m hankering to wander and I’m not sure why. After the fact, I usually realize I was starved for a chance to catch up with Mother Nature and with myself. For me, that is best done in solitude (or with someone I know so well I can have lots of quiet time). So I don’t mind if I can’t see all the way to Mount Olympus, the highest (at 7,980 feet) of the Olympic Mountains. I’ll wave to Hera and Zeus through the haze.
Later I find a room for the night at Lake Crescent Lodge. I get some cauliflower curry soup and watch the sun set pink over the shrouded, ghostly hills. I feel lucky to be in this historic and, momentarily, peaceful national park.
Yet the sad truth is that the park, which sound tracker Gordon Hempton (whose book I described in a past post) identified as the quietest place he could find in America, is in trouble. The rain forests of the Olympic Peninsula are under acoustic assault and may not remain quiet for long. I’ve written our government representatives to try to keep it that way, without military jets shrieking overhead for training missions from Whidbey. There is more to be done.
Night dreams are an escalator down to my nether world and I head back to the woods as soon as I wake up. I am getting to that place of inner quiet.
My morning walk leads me to a mossy log where I sit for a while by the rapids of Barnes Creek. I seem to have the sacred space all to myself until I am joined by a companion in contemplation: a curious Douglas Squirrel joins me from the pew of her tree.
When I continue on, I am happy to also make some human friends on the way to Marymede Falls.
Then, inner haze somewhat cleared, it is time to go home. As the song goes, “I used to feel so uninspired… Now I’m no longer doubtful of what I’m living for.” Sometimes you gotta go out to go in, and get nourished by nature. And sometimes we have to speak up to keep the peace.
“Nearly all the park is a profound solitude. Yet it is full of charming company …with sermons in stones, storms, trees, flowers, and animals brimful of humanity.” John Muir (1838-1914)
Follow Sound Defense Alliance on Facebook and see their website for information about protecting the Puget Sound area from noise and other pollution.
How did I not know about the inspired and inspiring 2011 book by Patrick Ness? Inuit people sometimes call a storyteller isumataq, “the person who creates the atmosphere in which wisdom reveals itself.” That is what the author, and thereby the monster in A Monster Calls, does. He tears open the known world, at the worst time in a boy’s life, to make room for the kind of truth that leads to wisdom. Illustrated by Jim Kay and based on an idea from the late author Siobhan Dowd, the book won both the Carnegie Medal and the Kate Greenaway Medal, and then was made into a movie. Which is what brought it to my attention: I caught the last half of the movie on HBO and was enchanted from my first glimpse of the yew tree “monster.” (I love trees! Also, taxotere, the medicine from yews, helped me overcome cancer.)
In this book, Conor O’Malley’s mother has cancer and it keeps getting worse. Conor is beside himself and it doesn’t help that he is often visited at seven minutes past midnight by the yew tree that’s come walking down the hill from the cemetery, bursting into his room uninvited to tell him tales.
What he needs, Conor insists, is medicine to cure his mother, not stories. The monster tells him, “The yew is a healing tree. It is the form I most choose to walk in.” Yet the monster offers no clear answers to the boy, challenging him, “You still do not know why you called me, do you? You still do not know why I have come walking. It is not as if I do this every day, Conor O’Malley.”
“It wasn’t just to hear terrible stories that make no sense,” Conor says.
“Stories are important. They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth,” the monster says before departing in a gust of wind.
Without giving away the stories within the story, just know there are no easy answers here. The book, intended for “Age 12 and up,” has been lauded by many adults. What is life, at every stage, but a cycle of needing to hold on and having to let go? Between yew and me, I’m holding on tight. To life. This story, my story, and your stories are all part of the healing journey, to live life and to let go when the time comes.
When one’s world is torn open, one’s own truth can lead to wisdom and a heart that can be reconciled, if not consoled. In this book are words and pictures to tell the tale.
I’ve written about my favorite birches, oaks, and redwoods, and even a post titled, “Have You Thanked a Tree Today?” Currently, I have another tree to thank and my gratitude reaches a new level, coming from the very marrow of my bones, even as that marrow struggles to make white blood cells. The leaves of Taxus Baccata, the European yew, are the basis of a drug called Taxotere (generic name: docetaxel) that is helping to save my life.
My Welsh ancestors may well have had such yew trees growing nearby, as they were favored in church yards. The toxic leaves repelled the cows, thus protecting the cemeteries from trampling. Nothing could protect the trees, however, from monarchs’ demands for springy yew wood to make longbows, depleting forests for 300 years until guns became the weapon of choice in the 1700s. But a few ancient yews, some more than a thousand years old, can still be found in the old church yards.
Now the trees contribute to my longevity as I take my chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer. Of the four drugs injected into my system every 21 days, Taxotere from European yews (or Taxol from Pacific yews) is most common. It is apparently a reliable and accurate assassin of cancer cells and has helped shrink my tumor to a fraction of its former size. Due to its’ effectiveness in treating various cancers, there is a rise in demand from pharmaceutical companies that could again threaten yew populations. After all, cancer drugs are lucrative business. For instance, the United States saw $3.1 billion dollars in sales of Taxotere in 2010.
I wish the trees, and all those receiving their medicine, well. Yeah, they inhibit all the cells in my body, even the good guys like white blood cells, from dividing and make me nauseous and almost bald. I’m as sick as a cow in a graveyard, but I plan to get rid of disease, recover from the side effects and surgeries, and live cancer-free.
As I said to my nurse during chemotherapy, “You’re giving me poison in order to save my life.” She said that’s right. Thank you, yews. May we turn your cytotoxic poison into medicine so we can stand strong and live. And may you do the same.
Before there were pantsuits, there were bloomers. Before there were female presidential nominees, there was Susan Brownell Anthony.
Susan B. Anthony was born in 1820 and grew up in Massachusetts. Her family, especially her Quaker father, Daniel, believed that everyone deserved freedom, education, and other rights, regardless of race or gender. So Susan received as much education as did the boys in her town. (On a personal note, Susan’s cousin, Sarah Anthony also received an education and in later years married my great great grandfather, Zaccheus Test.)
Inspired by news of the Seneca Falls, New York conference for women’s rights in 1848, Susan went to Seneca Falls herself a couple years later and met Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Amelia Bloomer, anti-slavery and women’s rights activists. They were both wearing bloomers! The outfits consisted of loose Turkish-style trousers gathered at the ankles and covered by a skirt that came down just below the knees.
Bloomers may not look comfortable to modern eyes, but they were more convenient than most women’s styles of the 19th century. A woman in America back then typically wore seven layers, including a corset to mold her figure and a skirt so long and full it made everyday movement such as climbing stairs a challenge. Women could never count on making full use of their hands, much less the rest of their bodies, as they managed their hoops and layers. Bloomers freed them up considerably.
In support of such freedom, Susan B. Anthony wore bloomers–for about a year. When her clothing attracted more attention and ridicule than her lectures about women’s rights, Susan went back to wearing her usual dark blouse and skirt, with her hair pulled back in a bun. That’s how we see her in the photograph that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Susan, wearing her most conservative clothes, decided to test the voting laws in a national election. It was illegal for her to cast a ballot for either Ulysses S. Grant or Horace Greeley, so she was arrested and tried by a hostile judge and all-male jury. As the New York Times reported, “It was conceded that the defendant was, on the 5th of November, 1872, a woman.” She was ordered to pay a fine and never paid it. She continued her fight for equality throughout her life.
Fourteen years after the death of Susan B. Anthony, women won the right to vote. The 19th Amendment passed in 1920 and stated, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” It was known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment.
That was 96 years ago. What will you wear to the polls on November 8 of this year? I’ll be wearing jeans and using a ballot with the name of a woman running for President of the United States. A woman wearing a pantsuit.
My new favorite place! As Grace Swanson explains, Langley, a beautiful, sleepy village by the sea, is full of interesting people, critters, and places. Discover some of the things that make this town truly unique. 1. Bunnies Galor…
Spring in downeast Maine is slow to arrive. Arctic currents swirl in the Atlantic and frequent rains dampen visitors’ spirits. In spite of the warnings in the guidebooks, my daughter and I took a chance and booked our stay in Bar Harbor for early June. Some restaurants, such as the highly recommended Burnt Tree in Otter Creek, don’t even open their doors till mid-June. But it was the best time for our schedules, so off we went!
We got lucky. The weather was kind to us and the people even kinder.
We stayed at Acacia Inn, fed well every morning by Anna and Ralph, and wandered from there to the water’s edge. When it was low tide, we walked from the town of Bar Harbor to Bar Island, both named for the sand bar that appears and then disappears between them every day. Beyond the spruce forest on the island, we came upon a field bursting with spiky lupine flowers, as if Miss Rumphius of children’s book fame had been there spreading seeds.
We purchased our $25 pass for Acadia National Park at Hulls Cove Visitor Center, good for seven days. A group of Corvette drivers had made it their destination for the day and departed as we arrived, engines purring. Perhaps they were acknowledging, as we were, the centennial of the National Park Service, 1916- 2016.
From Hulls Cove, Stephanie and I went straight to the highest point on Mount Desert Island, Cadillac Mountain. We parked our rented Ford Focus and hiked to the bare, rounded peak of pink stone, a type of granite named for the mountain. At 1,530 feet, we could see for miles in all directions and noticed Bar Harbor and Bar Island to the northeast. Clouds shrouded the Porcupine Islands beyond.
At Jordan Pond, two Mi’kmaq men wove ash strips into baskets and a lone beaver wove sticks and branches into a home. Stephanie and I both tried our hand at the former but left the beaver to his own business.
For five days we explored the sights, sounds, and smells of this eastern national park, driving on the Park Loop Road and hiking on the (vehicle-free) carriage roads and trails. The Ocean Path took us from Otter Cliffs to the pounding waves of Thunder Hole and, eventually, to Sand Beach. Though the water was a chilly 48 degrees, we waded in the surf and let the coarse sand buff our feet. Our longest hike was the Triad Trail, taking the better part of a day and rewarding us with the woodsy scent, peace and quiet that come from wilderness, far from the popular paths.
Returning to Bangor for our flight home, we went to a Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band concert at the Cross Center. Ringo wore a red and black plaid shirt like the Paul Bunyan standing outside the building. Even my favorite Beatle was part of the Maine mystique as he drummed us out of our reveries of nature, back to our cities of Chicago and New York.
Some of my favorite characters are trees. With Earth Day (April 22) and Arbor Day (April 29) coming up, I’m thinking of arboreal authors and their tales of trees and people who live in them, from Tarzan to the Swiss Family Robinson. Trees have played important roles, if only in the background, of many terrific books.
As much as I loved Mary in The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, I never became much of a gardener. I loved Sam Gribley’s home in a tree far better. Mary cultivated the titular overgrown garden at an old Yorkshire mansion and made it her refuge, sharing it with the invalid, Colin. Sam, on the other hand, ran away from his family’s New York City apartment and lived in the woods of upstate New York with a falcon in My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. That’s the life for me, I thought when I read it in fifth grade at about the same age as the woodsy character, Sam. I was a tree-climbing girl though not as experienced at living off the land as Jean Craighead was. She grew up in a family of naturalists and her first pet was a turkey vulture. She gave her main character many chances to use survival skills, from harvesting wild foods to hollowing out a tree with fire to make a home.
In a tragic, true tale, a young woman named Sara sought out her favorite tree, known as the Senator, and built a small fire there one January night in 2012. Sadly for her and the world, the fire spread and she accidentally burned down the 3500-year-old bald cypress, the largest tree east of the Mississippi. Writer Julia Shipley asked Sara if she’d been inspired by My Side of the Mountain when she got in the habit of visiting the Senator and sitting inside it. “No,” Sara said, “But do you know The Giving Tree? That’s one of my favorite books and that’s how I look at what happened.”
Sara had been addicted to meth for eight years and getting in trouble for incinerating a national treasure forced her to get sober. “Basically the tree saved my life,” she said.
Shel Silverstein’s book, The Giving Tree, is for all ages, showing how a tree can nurture and support us throughout our lives. Silverstein’s simple drawings convey a human lack of reciprocity that could be shameful yet is somehow touching. The trees give so much to us and now and then we pause and notice and appreciate it.
A 1942 book called Tree in the Trail charmed me in my youth with its Native American version of reciprocity with a cottonwood tree and how such a tree could “witness” 224 years of history. But reading it now I cringe at the stereotypes of Indians, Spaniards and others depicted by Holling Clancy Holling.
A better source for Native American stories about trees is Keepers of Life: Discovering Plants Through Native American Stories and Earth Activities for Children by Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac. They write, “Living in balance, in many Native North American cultures, means to live within and honor the circles of life. A circle of giving and receiving becomes part of our relationship with the natural world when we take only what is necessary to survive and return the remains of plants and animals to the earth with gratitude.”
A Seneca thanksgiving for trees is included in the book, ending with “Let us put together our thoughts that we will always be grateful” for the medicine, firewood, and other gifts of trees.
As for picture books, The Happiness Tree: Celebrating the Gifts of Trees We Treasure by Andrea Albin Gosling and illustrated by Lisa Burnett Bossi is lovely in every way and suggests values we can learn from the trees. For instance, a White Pine stands for courage. The last page recommends, “Plant a Happiness Tree on Arbor Day.”
Another good one for Arbor Day is Janice Udry’s A Tree Is Nice. Marc Simont’s illustrations show the many things children like to do among trees. My favorite is, “We can sit on a limb and think about things.” The book won a Caldecott award.
I’ll end with a quote from a 2015 novel for young adults, Trampoline, by Robert Gipe. An edgy book about a strip-mined town, the main character fights for her life in a devastated landscape. Yet she finds renewal in her Kentucky hills: “The trees and the roll of the earth held me up like the ridge holds the cloud from passing so it can pour down rain. The vines and the rabbits and the squirrels and the orange lizards out on the rocks after a storm–all those things I’d forget when people dragged me down–I needed them close and always.”
“If all the plastic in the last few decades was clingfilm, there would be enough to put a layer around the whole Earth,” said paleobiologist Jan Zalasiewicz, quoted in this month’s Economic Times. “We now make almost a billion tons of the stuff every three years.”
Not only have we “shrink-wrapped” the Earth in plastic, we’ve paved and entombed huge portions of it in cement. More than half of all concrete ever made was produced in the last twenty years. Our construction and convenience products are taking over the world, with only 25% of ice-free land left in its natural state. Rates of wildlife extinction are rising.
British geologist Colin Waters, co-author of a Science article on the subject, says, “What this paper does is to say the changes are as big as those that happened at the end of the last ice age. This is a big deal.”
Scientists are discussing whether we are in a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, defined by human activity. Just as the Holocene Epoch can be seen in Earth’s sediment as the end of the last ice age, humans have, in a very short time, created sufficient significant markers to call for the naming of a new epoch. Some say it started with the Industrial Revolution while others mark its beginning with the presence of isotopes, measurable all over the planet, from nuclear weapons testing after WWII. Plastics and concrete are other lasting markers.
Remember looking at layers of sediment in geology class or while visiting someplace like the Grand Canyon? It’s awesome to realize we are looking back in time at evidence of events long past. Future generations, if there are any thousands of years from now, will be able to look back at what we left behind and measure time as well. What will they think of the choices we made?