The further we walk on this pilgrimage, the more I see reasons to pause and treasure an awareness of the moment.
“Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.”
“Feistiness might be a heck of a lot more use than beauty.”
—Ali, the Mindful Gardener
“Beauty ain’t always little, cute colored flower. Beauty is anything where people be like, ‘Damn.’ ”
Recapture the childlike feelings of wide-eyed excitement, spontaneous appreciation, cutting loose, and being full of awe and wonder at this magnificent universe.
Each day we walk.
Each day brings…
Our side trip to the ruined castle of Belorado brought an awareness of the ephemeral character of human buildings and the timeless essence of nature.
From sweeping vistas of verdure to the intense focus of a bumblebee harvesting pollen, opportunities for a pause in our walk abound!
One hot day we climbed a ridge, to be surprised with an Oasis del Peregrino. Trees cast needed shade across dusty ground, and many peregrinos (pilgrims) had used their rest time in creative ways!
Those hot, dusty ridges separated major watersheds. The Ebro River with its tributaries brought water to the Mediterranean Sea. The Tagus and Douro river systems flowed into the Atlantic Ocean. A few meters of land provided welcome shade and laughter to me while quietly directing the course of trillions of water droplets! With silliness on one hand and awesome forces on another, who can resist the invitation to enjoy life?
I end this post with ten seconds of wind in the grass and a mosaic of blooms.
“Hola!” I called cheerfully to a woman on her balcony. Jay and I were crossing a plaza in the town of Nájera, ready to begin another day of walking the Camino de Santiago.
The woman leaned over her railing and gestured urgently. “Seguir la flecha amarilla en la piedra!”
‘What did she say?’ I stared blankly upwards.
The woman repeated, slightly louder. “Seguir la flecha amarilla en la piedra!”
The only word I had caught was “piedra”. Thanks to teaching a fourth grade unit on rocks and minerals two decades ago, I knew “piedra” meant stone. But which stone? What did the woman on the balcony want me to know?
As Jay and I looked, the woman’s arms waved, her face full of earnest purpose. She repeated her phrase again and again, the volume of her voice rising, as if understanding were linked in direct proportion to the amount of sound being issued.
I looked around desperately. What was she trying so assiduously to communicate?
Suddenly, my eye alighted upon a boulder behind us. A large yellow arrow, painted across its side, pointed left. Understanding dawned.
“Follow the yellow arrow on the stone!” The lady above was showing the way out of town!
Laughing, I waved and nodded, pointing to the arrow.
“Gracias!” Jay called, as we turned.
The lady on the balcony smiled, “Buen Camino!” Once again, she had put wandering pilgrims upon the straight and narrow.
So, how does one follow a 1,000 year old trail? The Camino de Santiago is well marked.
Not content to rely solely upon shells and arrows, we bought the guidebook by John Brierley, which has excellent maps and tells a little of the places we pass.
Because we’ve hiked (and been lost) often in our lives, we also bought the Guthook app for the Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances SJPP (St Jean Pied-du-Port). This app, on my phone, showed the Camino route with a blue dot signifying our location. It worked even in airplane mode with no wifi. Jay and I found it most helpful in the large cities, where old, winding streets sometimes made me wonder if my feet were headed the same direction as my face.
Finding our way has been only part of the pilgrimage. “Buen Camino,” the standard greeting between pilgrims, would become an empty phrase without a slight understanding of the sights we see. Jay has carried the following ebook.
Oftentimes, the sights which attract my notice and imagination aren’t listed in any guidebook or map. And so I close this post with a few of the unique and beautiful sights we’ve encountered these two days.
While still in the hospital, I asked the question uppermost in the mind of every injured hopeful thru-hiker.
“How soon can I start walking again?”
I was delighted with the physical therapist’s answer. “You can walk every day, at least 30 minutes a day. Don’t overdo it, get plenty of rest as well, but walking will help you.”
I also received advice on eating, another topic dear to a thru-hiker’s heart. The hospital dietician told me in order to promote the healing of so many broken bones, I should consume approximately 2,000 calories including at least 130 grams of protein each day. I devoured this many calories each day on the trail! It seemed incredible to me that laying around, healing broken bones, would require as much energy as hiking ten hours per day!
After leaving the hospital, I did find myself taking frequent naps and eating often. During the first few weeks of recuperation, my eyes refused to play nicely, each insisting that her view of the world was most important. My beleaguered brain would usually give up and show double vision. This, combined with shaky balance, created many spills in the kitchen. The great thing about wiping up a spill when one has doubled vision is that one only needs to wipe half of what is seen, and suddenly the whole spill is gone!
Walking became a major source of relaxation for my soul. Of course, walking in a neck brace could be a little tricky. It’s impossible to see ones feet. The ability to balance came and went for no apparent reason. Holding Jay’s hand solved my erratic balance. It also provided much needed support whenever my enthusiasm for exploring overcame the stamina of my healing body.
Our explorations were short at first. It took fifteen minutes to slowly and carefully creep to a fountain just a quarter of a mile away.
This fountain at Seattle University remains a favorite destination!
Often after enjoying the fountain, Jay and I would swing by a dog park. Sitting on a comfortable bench, we delighted in watching deliriously happy dogs run around and around!
We also discovered St. James Cathedral, home of a huge pipe organ dating from the early 1900s. I enjoyed the beauty of the cathedral, its thrilling organ music, and the time to listen for that still, small voice inside my soul.
St James Cathedral
As bones slowly knit and stamina increased, outings became more adventurous. One day we took the monorail to Seattle Center.
My very first time ever on a monorail!
Outside the Seattle Center, we discovered an interactive sculpture called Sonic Bloom, five “flowers” towering forty feet high. Motion sensors set off harmonic notes when each metal flower was approached. Jay and I immediately participated, reveling in the sequence of harmonies. With a few more friends, I’m sure we could have composed an impromptu tune!
We also discovered two paraboloidal dishes, set approximately 60 feet apart beside a busy and very noisy street. The instructions directed me to whisper into a designated focus point, and Jay would be able to hear it far away at the other paraboloidal dish. The paraboloid shape launched sound waves from the focus point and aimed them across incredibly noisy space to be collected at the other paraboloid. Jay’s disembodied voice emerged from the focus point, a clear whisper in my ear! I was amazed!
As the pain of my injuries faded and I became stronger, I did not think of myself as a convalescent. I felt I had improved greatly, striding down sidewalks holding Jay’s hand. However, Reality raised her head the day Jay and I were passed by a man in a wheelchair. Perhaps my vision of myself was a bit skewed by hope.
The night of September 10, I peacefully drifted to sleep in our tent, anticipating 20 more miles of nature’s beauty before our next town stop.
As far as my brain was concerned, I woke from that night to find a nurse putting a finger bowl in front of me, urging me to clean my fingernails. I looked around fuzzily. Obviously I was in a hospital. I’d been hiking without a shower for five days, so it made sense that my hands and fingernails were not up to a hospital’s standard of hygiene. My sense of humor rose to the surface. ‘A finger bowl?’ I thought. ‘Is cleanliness that important here? What would they say if they could see the amount of grime we are exposed to on the trail!’
It took a bit for me to get the events of the accident straight, including the fact that, unbeknownst to my brain, I had been conscious and lucid for hours.
Human brains are truly amazing. Reaction to extreme stress varies from one person to another. I am grateful that PTSD is more widely acknowledged and better understood now. I have total amnesia of the 36 hours after the accident. My brain only decided to check back in when my funny bone became engaged! Jay was also reliving the nightmare at odd times, many things acting as triggers.
While at the hospital, we requested and received some very good advice from a therapist. She told me not to stress about the amnesia, it was a common reaction. She told Jay that his “flashbacks” were also a common way for his brain to try solving the problems the accident presented him. She told us to take charge of our brains. Later, when we found ourselves in a safe and secure place, it would be good for us to discuss the details and the feelings from the accident. But while we were still in the accident’s aftermath, it was important to compel our brains to stay in the present.
“When you begin to feel stressed, or your brain begins to tramp a circular path, you can force it to stop by finding something in your surroundings that takes your attention. Stay in the present. Even if you just look for five red items in your environment. It’s important to stay in the present until you’ve had some time to heal.” The therapist’s words stayed with us.
Another wonderful help was an email to Jay from his sister, Nancy. She gave him a tremendously superb list of things to do for me and for himself.
Of course, the hospital personnel had done a number of vital things to me before awakening my sense of humor with a finger bowl. They had stitched my neck closed, restored a good bit of my lost fluids with an IV, and determined the presence of a small bleed in my brain, a pseudoaneurysm in my carotid artery, a bruise on the right side of my brain, eight broken bones in my face and a shattered left jaw, as well as an occipital condyle fracture (a fracture of the bones where the spine joins the head). The jaw bones required surgery, but the (now stopped) brain bleed and the occipital condyle fracture prevented surgery. The doctors finally determined that I had to wait for the occipital condyle fracture to heal and get off the aspirin that had been prescribed for the pseudoaneurysm, then I would require reconstructive surgery to put my jaw back together. I also had extensive bruising both on my face and inside my mouth, causing swelling which led to temporary problems with swallowing and breathing. That tree branch had a lot to answer for!
Jay and I cannot say enough good things about the staff at Harborview Medical Center. Nurses and doctors both explained things very clearly and listened and responded to our concerns. Several of the nurses also listened to my flights of whimsy as my beleaguered sense of humor struggled to stay with me.
Many specialists were involved in my care. One nurse taught me how to swallow with the very swollen throat. An occupational therapist made sure I could walk. Jay was given lessons in the care and changing of my neck brace. A physical therapist checked my ability to turn in a circle, climb up and down stairs, squat and stand without use of hands. As I obediently struggled to stand up from a squat without pushing off from the floor, my sense of humor observed, “you couldn’t even do that reliably before the accident!”
On the last of my five days at the hospital, a speech therapist was tasked with checking my cognitive function. I was asked many basic questions such as my current location and the date. Then I was instructed to listen to a story and retell it. The story was a very simple but unbelievable tale of a woman who lost her purse in a store, only to eventually get it returned by a little girl. I couldn’t resist giving my opinion of the events in the story as I retold it. The speech therapist was not impressed. Later in the cognitive test, I was asked to remember and retell the story. I did so, with even more embellishments. I could see the speech therapist did not appreciate it when I went “off script”, so each time I would reassure her, saying, “I know, that wasn’t part of your story.” When I finished, I tried to explain that I had been raised by an award-winning storyteller, and I couldn’t just leave the story in its implausible simplicity. The speech therapist wasn’t listening at that point. Instead, she gave a little talk concerning how Traumatic Brain Injury can cause a person to have difficulty in focusing on a story line or task. She conceded that I perhaps showed awareness of my inability to focus when I acknowledged that my asides were not part of the story. She also said that if my family thought this behavior was normal, there wasn’t as much concern.
“She’s been that way always,” Jay told her.
“She’s always done that,” my sister, Helen, added.
A few minutes later my son, Daniel, walked in and was told that the speech therapist was testing me by having me retell a story. “Oh boy,” he said with a little shake of his head. Everyone laughed. The speech therapist finally relaxed a little, saying she liked the way our family interacted in this situation.
Jay requested help from our son and sisters early in the hospital stay. We remain very grateful for their prompt and loving response.
Our son, Daniel, was the first to arrive, his smiling face making my cup of joy overflow. Daniel brought Velveteen, his childhood toy, as well as our duffel bags of non-hiking clothes. Velveteen has had decades of practice at banishing nightmares, and he truly helped me stay “in the present” for the duration of the hospital stay. Daniel’s quiet common sense often meant that he had taken care of something before it could even be noticed, much less become a problem! His practical help and effervescent sense of humor were the perfect medicine!
My sister, Helen, was the next to arrive. She found a furnished apartment just four blocks from the hospital where my three care givers could get much needed sleep. She also took over night duty by my bedside at the hospital. (Jay had been awake nearly 48 hours by the time Helen arrived!) Her medical knowledge helped Jay not to miss anything important that the doctors told us. She also was an excellent advocate and facilitator of information between the many medical teams involved in my care.
After I was released from the hospital, Daniel and Helen returned to their normal lives.
Jay’s sister, Nancy, arrived next. With her home health care training, she was a huge help as we adjusted to living in an apartment. Nancy assisted with my personal care, such as showering. She brought comforting reassurance when helping Jay with the daily change of my neck brace, a four-hand job. She quickly helped us fall into a schedule which included lots of sleep and a daily walk for me. She also provided a blender, such a practical and necessary gift!
When it was time for Nancy to return to her own family, my friend and sister of my heart, Linda, arrived. Linda is a veterinarian, so once again we were able to benefit from specialized medical knowledge. Linda’s visit helped me transition to doing simple actions for myself. Mostly, we were blessed with her unique and fun point of view.
Sixteen days after the accident, our last helper went home, leaving Jay and me on our own in the big city of Seattle! My convalescence continued…
The Cascade Mountains, part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, form a steep, rugged, often snow-covered barrier along 700 miles of the western “backbone” of North America. From Mt Lassen in northern California to the confluence of the Nicola and Thompson rivers in British Columbia, these mountains have been forming for the last 7 million years.
The Columbia River breaches these mountains in a grand east to west sweep. Eight hundred years ago, a landslide of gigantic proportions temporarily dammed the river here. The Native Americans have a story of being able to cross this huge river, dry shod, upon the “Bridge of the Gods”. The landslide dammed the river for quite some time before eventually succumbing to the relentless workings of water and gravity prevailing over rock and stone, collapsing the ancient Bridge of the Gods.
Epic rapids formed here, making an abundant fisheries for the Native Americans. Though the Cascade Rapids were drowned when Bonneville Dam was constructed, several native tribes still use fishing platforms when salmon and steelhead are running.
Pioneers, fur trappers, and explorers used the Columbia River in the early 1800s. They found the Cascade Rapids to be a great hindrance, requiring an arduous five mile portage. A historical sign describes it better than I could.
Eventually a canal with locks was built. The project took 21 years, and the locks were used for 42 years before being replaced by the railroad. A historical sternwheeler offers tourists a dinner cruise. The railroad is also still quite active, carrying countless boxcars of goods along a river that has been a gateway through the Cascade Mountains for thousands of years.
The PCT crosses a modern bridge, still called Bridge of the Gods, here at Cascade Locks. After almost two weeks off, Jay and I will start hiking north from here tomorrow.
I’m looking forward to our re-entry into forests and mountains. But it was good to take some time today to reflect upon this place where ancient natural forces met in an awesome display of power.
The downed tree effectively obscured the trail for several yards, draping green branches across the path in tangled extravagance.
As we edged around its top, Jay exclaimed, “Look at these cones!” He brushed the tips with an exploring finger. “They’re soft! And look! The cones are growing upright, even though the tree is laying on its side. What kind of tree is this?”
Leaving Jay to identify the tree, I walked the length of the trunk. Looking back from the root ball, I was startled at how far away Jay appeared. This was one tall tree!
“It’s a Pacific silver fir! It can spend up to a century of its life as a sapling, but eventually it will outcompete the Douglas fir and hemlocks to become the dominant tree species. The cones grow upright at the very tops of the tree, and they disintegrate up there, they don’t fall to the ground.” Jay caught up to me, phone in hand.
“That explains why I haven’t seen bunches of cones laying around!” I shared a grin with Jay, happy in newfound knowledge.
The trail clung to the ridges most of the day, contouring back and forth across the tops of the mountain arms, only gaining and dropping a few hundred feet. On the windward sides, fresh breezes cooled our faces and effectively banished our winged escort. But on the lee sides of the ridges, swarms of enthusiastic blood suckers vied for our attention, urging us to increase our pace again and again.
Mid-afternoon brought us to the shoulder of Cowhorn Mountain. We met a group of four hikers and one dog who had just climbed to the peak. “It’s great!” One woman assured us. “Definitely worth the climb!”
I eyed the knife-edged ridges above and shook my head. “You’re braver than I am!”
After contouring around Cowhorn Mountain, Jay and I stopped to consult the map. Ahead of us, the trail dropped about 1,000 feet in elevation, zigzagging downward towards a series of small lakes and ponds. Definitely mosquito territory.
I looked across the breezy ridge where we sat. “I know it’s early, but what about stopping here for the day? This wind feels lovely, and we have hiked 12 miles already.”
Jay grinned at me. “I’m in no hurry to meet the swarms waiting for us below. This looks good to me.”
July 7, 2018
As we descended into dense, well-watered greenery, winged denizens swarmed to meet us. Already clothed in rain gear and insect repellent, I gritted my teeth and batted at our admirers.
Bird songs echoed through the tree tops. I knew the haunting flute-like call of the Swainson’s thrush, but another common call was a mystery to me. The bird sounded as if it was saying, “Mc-BE-du! Mc-BE-du!”
“Listen!” Jay turned to me. “Can you hear our theme song?” Mimicking the pitch of the mystery bird, he called, “Mos-QUI-to! Mos-QUI-to!”
(Later, in the luxury of unlimited electricity and internet, Jay found the call, finally identifying the olive-sided flycatcher. I also learned that the Swainson’s thrush is sometimes called the mosquito thrush for its voracious insect appetite.)
Here are two sites if you’d like more information about these birds. Jay and I especially enjoyed the recordings of the songs in these sites.
Six miles of racing the mosquitoes brought us to the shore of Summit Lake. We stopped for a photo opportunity on a small peninsula.
A bird winged past me, landing on the shore, then hopping over a rock into the undergrowth. It bobbled and teetered as it walked, perhaps looking for food? I managed one quick picture before the bird flew off, enough to help me later identify it as a spotted sandpiper. Here is a link with fascinating facts (and a better picture).
The north end of Summit Lake had a stiff breeze blowing across. We gratefully stopped at the Forest Service campground, deciding to eat lunch insect free, even though it was only 10:30 a.m.
“Do you reckon we might get above the mosquitoes as we climb the shoulder of Diamond Peak?” Wistfully I looked at the far away peak.
“I don’t know,” Jay replied. “When I hiked this in 2012, I don’t remember mosquitoes. I do remember quite a few snow fields. It will be interesting to see what it’s like this year.”
Finishing our lunch, we girded up and dove back into the forest. Six miles later, we stopped at Mountain Creek to refill water bottles. At 7,031 feet altitude, this was the highest the trail would take us on Diamond Peak. We had only seen small patches of snow, and the mosquitoes had stayed respectfully behind once we had reached the mountain’s shoulder. However, stopping at the creek gave the little terrors free reign to attack as we busied ourselves with Aquamira and water bottles. Quickly we completed our chore and fled, hiking at high speed until we reached the next windy ridge top. Even there, a few extraordinarily athletic mosquitoes found us.
“This is crazy,” Jay observed. “Let’s just keep hiking until evening. I don’t want to stop for more than a moment.”
Another six miles found us physically tired and emotionally drained. Hidden Lake offered a campsite, with the possibility of a slight breeze. Gratefully, we turned off the trail and pitched our tent. Once again, my appreciation of our fabric abode soared as I climbed in, escaping the onslaught of bloodthirsty companions.
July 8, 2018
Morning brought a scant breath of wind across the water. I opened my eyes, enchanted to see a faint mist rising from Hidden Lake, disappearing into a cloudless purple dawn.
Then my eyes focused upon the undergrowth next to the tent. I watched in horror as first two, then eight, then a dozen, twenty, thirty mosquitoes emerged from under leaves and branches, making a straight line for the netting of the tent door.
A quote from Lewis Puller, one of the most decorated Marines ever, seemed appropriate here. “They are in front of us, behind us, and we are flanked on both sides by the enemy … They can’t get away from us now!”
I’m afraid the enemy managed a few bites in unmentionable places before we were able to hit the trail this morning. Once we started hiking, we didn’t stop for six and a half miles, until we reached the luxury of Shelter Cove Resort and Campground beside Odell Lake.
We stopped at Shelter Cove, glad to escape mosquitoes and recoup after nine days on the trail. We had three more miles to hike in order to reach Highway 58, where Jay’s sister and brother-in-law would pick us up tomorrow for a visit with family and yet another week of cat-sitting. I was glad to spend the rest of this day enjoying the lavish wind and sun at the lake shore, as well as treats such as hot food, showers, electricity, and internet!
The importance of water is a lesson the PCT teaches again and again. Though this area boasts of many ponds, lakes, streams, and springs, the actual trail tends to stick to the tops of ridges, making for a very dry walk with steep side trips to fetch life-giving liquid. Thus, you can imagine our delight and appreciation this morning when we came across a water cache left by a trail angel named Devilfish.
Once again mosquitoes reigned as we hiked through the forest. “Just keep walking,” became our mantra as we swatted whining insects and applied repellent.
Mid-afternoon came, with heat and sun. ‘You can do it,’ I encouraged myself. ‘It’s lovely out here. This is just a few miles of discomfort.’ I swatted two more mosquitoes. ‘Okay, maybe lots of miles of discomfort.’
Just then, the trees opened up as the trail contoured across a scree field. Above Jay’s head loomed a giant pointed mountain with towers and castles off each side! Where had that come from? “Jay!” I called out. “Oh my gosh! What is that?”
“Mt. Thielsen,” came the matter of fact reply. “It’s something, isn’t it?”
Our map informed us that Mt. Thielsen was an extinct shield volcano which stopped erupting about 250,000 years ago. Three different ice ages had eroded the mountain, leaving the center of the volcano as an eye-catching spire. The thin, tapering pinnacle acted as a natural lightning rod, forming a rare variant of fulgurite (substance formed when lightning melts rock). Lathrop Glacier, just below the summit, gave mute testimony of long ago mountain-shaving ice age forces.
A couple hours after my first sighting, the trail brought us to the shoulder of Mt. Thielsen, with a beguiling breeze which blew away all traces of mosquitoes. It was an easy decision to eat dinner there, watching light and shadow chase across the surface of the mountain as clouds scudded high above.
‘Here we are, on the birthday of our country,’ I thought. ‘We haven’t spoken to another person all day. One state away, my best friend is singing in a chorus, listening to cannons firing, and eating chocolate cake surrounded by hundreds of other celebrants. All over the nation, people will be watching fireworks tonight. The thing is, I’m totally content with our light and cloud show! This scenery is truly incredible.’
“What a way to appreciate our nation,” I sighed in happiness. Jay grinned at me, silently agreeing.
July 5, 2018
We camped last night above Thielsen Creek, with a view of the mountain top from our tent door. This morning Jay woke me just in time to see the whole mountain awash with the alpine glow of sunrise. Later, as I braved mosquitoes to fetch water, I couldn’t resist one more picture of this incredible mountain.
In the early afternoon, Jay and I noticed a log with a rather large symmetrical pile of sawdust beside it. Intrigued, we stopped to watch.
A tiny fleck of sawdust caught a miniscule speckle of sunlight as it drifted onto the top of the mound. Fascinated, we leaned in for a closer look.
Dark movement in the hole above the pyramid of wood shavings caught our attention.
As we watched, we suddenly saw … carpenter ants! They were busily hollowing out this log, turning it into a catacomb of intersecting tunnels and passageways, making a safe nest for their colony. That pile of chewed wood had been placed there one infinitesimal fragment at a time. No ant had said, “Oh, this is too big of a job.” They’d just got on with it, busily making a place for themselves.
Once again I found myself lost in wonder, this time inspired by a small pile of sawdust. Truly we live in an extraordinary world, from awe-inspiring mountains to staggering examples of the minute. It is a privilege to witness this earth!
(Below is a 15 second video of the ants in action, from Jay’s phone camera.)