Yosemite. Wow.

I woke up in my dump of a quaint little motel to discover that I did, indeed, have a view of Mono Lake, if I was willing to venture out onto my sagging balcony. I decided it would be better to explore the lake from solid ground, but that would have to wait for tomorrow, because today was dedicated to Yosemite, a place I have wanted to see for my entire life.

First, I ran across the street to the Mono Market to stock up on a few provisions, and then went next door to pick up some coffee at a place called, I kid you not, “Latte Da”. I love it when businesses have a sense of humor.

When I was about to start on the day’s adventure, I decided I needed a drink of water, and grabbed the nearest water bottle. When I tilted it toward me, I discovered that the lid was not screwed on, and I proceeded to pour the water down my face, chest, and lap. And it had been sitting in the car all night, so it was ice cold. Who needs coffee? I was officially awake.

I was sensing a theme in Lee Vining, California. Yesterday, I mentioned getting drenched by a cruelly-angled shower head. And now this. Between these insults and the profusion of Trump signage, I was really starting to take issue with this little town.

Onward.

On the way to Yosemite, I was seeing smoke on the horizon. And a lot of fire devastation. I hoped that this smoke would spare Yosemite Valley. But as you can see from this picture of me, compared to a picture taken from the same rock by someone else a few years earlier, it was not to be.

Regardless, the word for the day was WOW. Even obscured by smoke, the grandeur that is Yosemite beggars the imagination. Bridal Veil Falls, El Capitan, Half Dome, Glacier Point… all are beyond my abilities to adequately describe.

I must have taken a thousand pictures. I hoped to capture the iconic image of Half Dome glowing orange with the sunset, but I could barely see the sun. Still, I wanted to capture this entire place and take it home with me. I wanted it to be mine. But just as with words, pictures do not do it justice. And the beauty of national parks is that they belong to all of us. That’s what I love most about them.

I was actually rather fortunate, because Yosemite wasn’t nearly as crowded as usual. They are limiting access due to the pandemic. If you don’t have a preregistered pass these days, you’re out of luck. Thank goodness I did my homework, or I’d have been at the gate in tears.

As with so many of the places I’ve visited on this trip, Yosemite is designated an International Dark Sky Park. With that in mind, as I exited the park that evening, I came upon an area that wasn’t smoky, so I parked my car beside a lake, opened the sun roof, tilted my seat back and just gazed at the universe. I reflected on all the beauty I had seen that day, and all the beauty I was seeing at that very moment, and realized that I was very fortunate indeed.

Life is truly a gift.

Enjoy my pictures from the day!

There are a lot more tales to tell about this trip, but I’ll try not to post them daily, so as not to put off those who aren’t interested in travel blogs. So brace yourself for a good month of every other day adventures! I’ll try to link them together, so that you can start at the beginning if you find yourself in the middle and want to read the whole saga. Here’s a link to the first post in the series. Here’s a link to the next day’s adventure!

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Once Upon a Time, Not Long Ago…

I know you’re still young, and can’t remember a world that wasn’t like the one that we have today. That’s entirely the fault of human beings, and I’m really sorry for what you’re missing out on. I hope someday you grow up to make the kind of differences that we adults have failed to make for you.

Once upon a time, we could breathe the air without a filter.

Once upon a time, the sun was so bright that you couldn’t look directly at it.

Once upon a time, you got to see the full face of everyone you encountered, and that made it a lot easier to know how they were feeling.

Once upon a time, there were things called concerts.

Once upon a time, you could see the stars.

Once upon a time, kids your age enjoyed riding bikes and playing little league.

Once upon a time, you could travel to other countries.

Once upon a time, people could hug one another.

Once upon a time, people actually went outside on purpose, for pleasure. (You’d have loved camping.)

Once upon a time, there was a thing called democracy.

Once upon a time, the rivers weren’t choked with algae.

Once upon a time, we didn’t fight over water.

Once upon a time, people got together in large groups for school and just for fun.

Once upon a time, the world was a lot more populated, and maybe that’s where everything started going wrong.

I’m so sorry. We have no excuse for what we’ve done. I wish you had had the chance to know the world the way I remember it. You deserve so much better.

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This Feels Like the End of the World

The west coast is on fire. Fortunately, none of those fires are very close to Seattle. Yet. But all that west coast smoke got blown into the Pacific Ocean, hit an induction current, and headed right to Puget Sound like a freight train from hell. We now have some of the worst air quality on the planet. Poor Oregon has it even worse. I’m struggling to breathe.

The day before yesterday, when I got home from work, I was coughing, my heart was pounding, and I had a headache. Air matters. I kept having to fight down a panic attack when I felt as though I wasn’t getting enough.

My inner child was freaking out. “You’re gonna DIE!!!” “Help me!” I was on the verge of tears for most of the day. This feels like the end of the world.

Yesterday I brought a respirator to work. A respirator. And we thought masks were bad. I would never have predicted that I’d be relying on a respirator. This is not the world I had planned to live in. The smoke has blocked out the sun. It’s a perpetual twilight.

But with time to think, I was able to compare my situation to others. Not being able to breathe is terrifying. I thought of my late boyfriend, Chuck, who had to fight for every breath he took. When he was having a really bad asthma attack, he’d want me to put my hand on his heart and talk calmly to him, so he wouldn’t freak out. “You’re breathing. You’re breathing…” I can still hear myself saying it. I learned to say it even before I was fully awake. Now I get it. I get it, and I’m heartbroken at the thought of it.

I also feel even worse about George Floyd. Lying there in the street, being choked to death by a cop. He was looking at the crowd, who were desperately trying to talk the cop out of this, but the crowd, for good reason, was too afraid to physically intervene. How frightened and alone he must have felt as he died.

I feel for those in industrialized China who have lived with this air quality every single day for years. It’s a travesty.

I’m outraged for those prisoners in Guantanamo. Many are still there, and some have been waterboarded more than 80 times. What animals are we to do that? It has long been proven that torturing doesn’t yield valuable information.

I weep for all the people who have died of COVID-19, each one struggling for breath as they went. And they had no loved ones by their side to put their hands on their hearts and talk calmly to them. So much of this has been unnecessary.

Winter is coming and the fires will die down, but we’ll still have to deal with this pandemic. In the best of times, I struggle with depression during these Pacific Northwest winters. The isolation. Not seeing the sun for weeks on end. The raw, wet, unrelenting rain. Now add a heaping helping of COVID-19 on top of that, and I fail to see how any of us will make it to spring with our sanity intact.

Please, God, do not visit an earthquake upon us right now. I can’t take another thing. Stop 2020. I want to get off.

Stay safe everyone. Wear your masks. Wash your hands. Vote.

Me, just trying to breathe. 9/12/20

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My Summer of Water and Smoke

As I write this, I am so sleep deprived that I question my own coherency. But these moments can be a fruitful source of artistic inspiration for me. For example, today, driving to work in a total mental fog, it suddenly dawned on me that my summer has been entirely shaped by water and smoke.

I planned my vacation assuming that British Columbia would once again be on fire, and it would once again send its smoke down to choke Seattle like some toxic gag gift. Boy, was I ever right about that. By the time we flew out of Sea-Tac airport, the sky was already turning brown, and I was having trouble breathing. (Thanks, Canada.)

As we flew past Mount Rainier, the tallest thing in the state of Washington at 14,410 feet, we would not have been wrong to assume that it would loom over the landscape. But it was so socked in with smoke that instead it looked like a tiny island floating on a putrid brown sea. We were lucky to be leaving Seattle, because the air quality here that week was worse than that of Beijing. (Incidentally, poor Beijing! I’d hate to be the world’s poster child for air pollution.)

Arriving in the Sonoran Desert, we spent the week highly focused on what a valuable commodity water is. The very air around you seems to suck moisture out of your body like a vampire. And then a monsoon would appear, like magic, and transform everything, from the landscape to the flora to the temperature. Water, man. What a miracle.

The value of water was also brought home to us by visiting Biosphere 2, which was originally created to determine how we might manage to survive on another planet. The importance of moisture to sustain life could not have been more emphasized. And then we went to Kartchner Caverns, an unbelievably gorgeous cave full of amazing formations that were created over thousands of years by the movement of water.

From there, we went to Glacier National Park, which happened to be on fire, so half the park was closed off from us, and smoke was in the air. And then it wasn’t, due to a torrential, icy downpour which left the mountains covered in snow. And of course, every single feature of this stunning landscape was carved out by the movement of glaciers, which are composed of frozen water.

Water and smoke: the elements of my summer. I wonder what my autumn will be composed of. Surreal.

Mount Rainier
The tip of Mount Rainier.

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The Sky is Falling

I’ve been feeling a bit claustrophobic of late. Due to all the wildfires in the Pacific Northwest, I went about a week without seeing the sky. The sun and the moon both looked blood red from the pollution, and the smoke seemed to be pressing down upon us. I lost my mountain views at work, and in the little valley where I live, it seemed like a grey pot lid was sitting on the hills, closing us off from the rest of the universe.

Every day I’d come out to find my car coated in a blanket of ash. And at work, when I’d do my sweaty maintenance and then walk through these cinder showers, I’d wind up looking like a coal miner. Nothing quite like being coated with gunk to make your work day feel like it’s going that much slower.

I hate it when my horizons shrink. It’s bad enough that winter is approaching, which here in the Seattle area means cloudy skies for months on end. (Time to break out my SAD light in order to avoid a deep, dark depression.) I’m starting to look at it as the price I have to pay for amazing springs and summers.

But as global warming advances, I suspect I can look forward to a lot more smoky skies in the summer, and either killing droughts or torrential downpours. I’m not sure if I can adapt to this new world. I worry for my grandnephews, who will have no memory of how things used to be. I worry for my friends in Florida, who will be chewed up and spit out by one hurricane after another until the whole state disappears.

This does not feel like the planet I was born on. And we’ve brought it on ourselves. Something has got to give.

Moon
The moon feels like it’s getting closer every day.

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Maybe If…

So I decided to go camping in British Columbia during the Perseids meteor showers. I love astronomical events of all kinds, but the Persaids is one of my favorites. And it was supposed to be particularly spectacular this time around.

I had been planning this trip for nearly a year. I had no idea that half the province would be on fire. Fortunately, the worst of it was far from our campsites, but the smoke… that was everywhere. I could tell we were driving through some spectacular views… but it was like I was looking at them through a shower curtain covered with lime deposits. Oh well. My imagination is nothing if not fertile.

Needless to say, though, this was cause for concern in terms of meteor viewing. Would we even be able to see the stars? I was having a hard time hiding my dismay from my camping buddy. He seemed unconcerned. When I asked him about it, he said, “You don’t have to experience everything, you know.”

Wow. I love it when a new perspective leaves me speechless. I sat there for a long time, thinking about that. I wish someone had said this to me years ago. Because it occurs to me that I spend quite a bit of energy trying to soak up experiences like a sponge. When I travel, especially, I try to do everything there is to do, because I might not pass this way again. Maybe if I push through this bit of exhaustion I can squeeze in one more thing. Maybe if I keep looking up, I’ll see those meteors. Must. Look. Up. This hypervigilance means that I have very few regrets, but it also means I experience more than my fair share of stress.

Martin has a point. What happens if I miss the meteor showers? Will I die? No. Still, I did spend quite a lot of time staring skyward that night and the two nights to follow. Turns out I could see the stars after all. And I think, but am not sure, that I saw some shooting stars out of the corner of my eye. I wasn’t sure enough to wake Martin up, though. So he slept on, peacefully, while I monitored the heavens for some spectacular sign.

And that pretty much says it all.

Image result for perseids

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Getting Older

Today is my 49th birthday. Happy birthday to me. Given that the average life expectancy of the white American female these days is 81 years, I am definitely on the downhill slope. And it’s a rare woman in my family who makes it that far, so I could very well be further down the slope than statistics suggest. Who knows? And that’s a very strange place to be, believe me.

So let me describe the landscape for those young people who haven’t crested that peak yet, and therefore have no idea what’s on the other side.

  • I have aches and pains that will never go away. Ever. Don’t do stupid stuff that will hurt your body. It adds up.
  • I have discovered that the quality of my friendships have only gotten better over the years. Nothing like the passage of time to tell you who your friends really are.
  • With each passing day, I care less and less about what people think of me, and you’ve never experienced true liberation until you know what that’s like.
  • I know myself. What a gift.
  • Looking in the mirror is more of a shock each day. In my head I still look like I did when I was 19, despite the constant contradiction of my reflection.
  • I’m tired all the time. I mean, all the time.
  • No matter how old you get, there will always be someone older who will laugh at you for feeling old.
  • I haven’t stopped learning, and I love that.
  • The older you get, the more people you will lose, so if you’re smart you’ll try really hard to let the people you love know how much you appreciate them every chance you get.
  • When I was young I always assumed that eventually I’d reach a place where I’d be established, and where there’d be no more need for emotional growth. Wrong.
  • I honestly don’t think I’ve become more forgetful. I’ve always been forgetful. It’s just that now I have a valid excuse.
  • I still get pimples. Anyone who tells you that you grow out of that is lying.
  • I’ve discovered that the best things you can do for yourself in the long term are stretch, floss your teeth, and don’t pass up any opportunity to have sex. Forget about eat, pray, love. It’s sex, stretch, floss.
  • For God’s sake, don’t smoke. The older you will pay a hefty price.
  • It’s really important to listen to your inner voice. If you don’t, you’ll usually regret it.
  • The more that happens to you, good or bad, the more perspective you will gain over what’s really important.
  • The older you get, the more society will put restrictions on what they deem to be acceptable behavior for you. So make an extra effort to be outlandish as you get older. Anyone with an open mind will find it charming. The rest of them aren’t worth your time.

birthday