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Monday, January 28, 2008

Snow Day

One of the cool things we learned to do in the Residential Program was called the Story of the Day. This is how my day went...

I started off feeling pretty content and thinking about all I have to do to be ready to move this weekend. There was about 3" of fresh snow on the ground here in Monroe, but the streets were not too bad, and once I hit 2o3, I didn't have any trouble...the pace was about 35 mph, and everone was driving sensibley. It doesn't often snow here in the valley, and I've seen a number of cars in the ditch when it does. On the news, I've seen the Seattle streets nearly closed by the number of cars that made it halfway up a hill, only to be abandoned when they could not go further...By Missouri standards, this morning seemed to be pretty mild.

I made it to Duvall and turned on to Cherry Valley Road and then onto Allen Street as usual. Again, it didn't look bad - I've driven up it in much worse snow and never had a bit of trouble...the Bravada has all wheel drive, and the hill isn't all that steep. I don't know what the difference was today, but I had to make 3 tries to get up the hill, then slide sideways around the corner and clipped the mail box at the edge of the parking lot.

My first wreck - unless you count the time I did $18.00 of damage to a guys car in the parking lot at Wal-Mart when I was learning to back out of a parking space. Luckily, Johnny and John W. (we also have John C. and John G., so it gets confusing) were there to help me out of the mess I'd gotten into. The landlord tells me it's happened before, and the mail box probably can be fixed really easily. As wrecks go, it was pretty uneventful, as was the rest of the day. I left early to get home before dark, and the highway was clear.

There's supposed to be a bigger storm coming in overnight, so I'm planning to use a different route to work, and park down the block in a level parking lot.

Once I'm in my new apartment, I can walk to work if I want, leaving my car in the garage...I'm really glad that I won't be navigating 203 in bad weather or after dark after this week. As much as I hate the moving process, I can't wait to get it done. I'll be giving up the bubble baths...unless I can figure out how to plug up the shower...Perhaps there's a story in here for another day.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Green Willies

I stayed out late on Thursday to learn how to do a Green Willie...Ok, so that didn't sound good. Let me explain. I was at the library learning how to tie some basic trout flies from Ron Torda, who owns the All About the Fly store here in Monroe.

I was in his shop this past spring to ask about buying a fishing license. He doesn't sell them, but told me where I could get one, and suggested some flies to use on spring trout in Lake Margaret. The Green Willie was one I bought. I did get a bite on it, the one time I've actually used my fishing license. But I got excited, and pulled the fly out before the hook was set. From what I learned on Thursday, there's a chance that it was a native Cutthroat Trout (Salmo clarki) that hit on the Green Willie.

I caught my 1st Rainbow (Salmo gairdneri) on a night crawler using a bobber and a plain old spinning reel on the Madison River in Montana the summer I was 13. My maternal grandparents took my cousin Jennifer (who was 16 and could help drive) and me to Yellowstone that August to meet our great Uncle Gerald and his wife Jean. I'd left my coat at home and fished wrapped up in a blanket off the bed in our motel room. We had the trout rolled in cornmeal and fried in lard, along with fried potatoes and onions, and hush puppies.

In southern Missouri, I caught a Brown Trout (Salmo trutta) from a pontoon boat while fishing with friends who live near Branson. It was too small to keep, and so I threw it back. Again, I was using a spinning reel.

I learned how to tie a woolly worm, then a woolly bugger, and a hare's ear nymph before I ever picked up a fly rod. I took the fly tying class at a Becoming An Outdoors Woman weekend, and the basic fly fishing class the next year. I'm not proficient by any means, and I've only caught a couple of Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus) so far, but I have a standing invitation to fish Lake Margaret. And now I know how to do a Green Willie.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Today's Rant Brought To You By...

Sometimes it just seems like stupid runs the world...I've missed 2 days of blogging and weather journals because I couldn't get connected to the internet at home. Now, I try not to abuse the computer at work, but I did check my personal e-mail find a message from netzero explaining that I couldn't get on the internet, and telling me how to fix it. Now, it did work, but if I can't get on the internet, how is an e-mail gonna help? In all fairness to netzero, there was a phone message when I got home. It told me to go on the internet - if I had another way to connect - and find the instructions for the fix. Technology...

The other thing I'm mad about is that I've found an apartment that's close enough to my job to walk to work, and the cat's welcome, and I can park in the garage, and it's really small, so it's $400.00 cheaper than where I live now, and the utilities are paid. So I gave the state-mandated 20 day written notice, and learned that what the state means is "20 days notice, unless you plan to move in the middle of the month". Unless that notice is given before the 10th of the month, they can legally make you pay an entire months rent. So, my 20 day notice had become a 39 day notice. But the rental office assures me that I'm good to move out by the 1st of March. Looks like I'll be paying 2 months rent for February, and I'm not happy about it. And this after the January 1 big headline on the local newspaper was about how hard (and expensive) it is to rent in Monroe because there are so few apartments and so many eager, willing, and funded applicants.

The up side is that the place I'm looking at has a sweet sit spot, and it's in a quiet neighborhood where I can walk in the evening without being afraid of the neighbors. I came home yesterday to find a message from the local police warning me of car prowls in the neighborhood. That's on top of the drunks who threw up on my sidewalk at midnight while back.

And the thing that's really made me mad today? I got the clear impression driving home that my luck will change only when I am able to forgive the RB for leaving me in financial shambles. See, ya'll are not the first to listen to my rants today. And what came to me is this:
"Stop calling him a Rat B******d."

So, this is my public apology to my ex. I promise not to use that name in this blog any more. And that makes me really unhappy. Because I liked it.

I'm back on line, blogging and weather journaling- did you see that moon last night? I'm figuring out how to make this move without imploding. I'm expecting some good news in the
finacial department. And I hope the ex has a long and happy life. Amen.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Product Review: Kombi Gloves

Margaret asks what gloves I liked for winter fun here in the Pacific Northwest. The warmest ones I've used are some Kombi brand women's gloves I got at a local sports shop (Big Five) in the ski section. I got the women's medium size in the heavy weight, and they are marked "Watergaurd". I remember paying over $25.00 for them, and they were on sale. It's been a good investment.

Here are the things I like about them:
  • They fit my hands - I've had trouble finding gloves that fit well.
  • They are light-weight and attractive. If I could find a second pair in camo, I'd be tickled.
  • They are soft and flexible, which was a great help when bundled up for snowshoeing.
  • The palms are thin leather which helps grip the poles.
  • They have Velcro straps to tighten around the wrist so cold air and snow doesn't get in.
  • They are toasty warm even for long days outdoors. In fact, my hands will sweat if it's not cold enough to wear them.

There is one thing that I found a little annoying, and the label inside the glove warns about it. You do have to be very careful when removing them. The instructions say to pull each finger off individually, holding the lining as well as the outer shell. It's really easy to invert the lining, and it's a real pain to poke it back. However, if they sewed the lining to the shell, it would ruin their weatherproof function. This is a bigger problem when my hands are sweaty, so I only wear them when it's cold. They are the warmest pair of gloves I've ever had, and they are well worth paying more for.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Book Review: "Living Wild and Domestic"

It's an interesting experience to finish a book and think, "I could have done that myself." Of course, I couldn't have done it as well as Robert Kimber. He says things I think with far greater skill than I even manage to think them. I found his book, "Living Wild and Domestic - The Education of a Hunter-Gardener" at the library while browsing the shelves. It looked interesting, so I added it to my pile of take-homes. And read all the others first.

Rarely does a hunter express the dichotomy of loving to hunt while hating to kill with anything approaching Kimber's finesse. Anyone who hunts successfully knows the dilema. There is - or should be - a bit of sadness attending to putting game on the table. It's a serious thing to take a life, even when it's going in the stew pot. It's the same with animals raised for meat. To get dinner on the table, the animal has to die.

Even an unrepentant carnivore like me wants some vegetables to go with the steak. Kimber's wife is the gardener in his equation. It's been about 5 years since I've been able to plant a garden...I miss it. Growing your food makes you responsible for your dinner in a way that going to the grocer does not. The care put into digging, planting and tending is revealed in the harvest. The big thing I miss about Missouri is standing in the garden in the hottest day of summer with fresh tomato juice dripping off my elbow as I eat the first Brandiwine right there.

If you are concerned about your food, where it comes from, and how it gets to the plate, this is a good book to read. If you hunt and/or grow your own food (animal or vegetable) it will sort out your feelings about your actions. If you buy all your food, it might help you understand why some of us do it ourselves.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Lair of the Leopard - Day 1

I stopped under the carved leopard’s head just outside the canvas-covered doorway of Malalo Ya Chui and wondered what I’d gotten myself into. Once I stepped inside the rustic 8-sided structure I would be committing – really committing - to spending nine months of my life with whomever I found inside.

Coming here was an act of desperation. I had to make some major changes in my life if I was going to survive… changes that I chose instead of the ones that had been chosen for me. I wondered if I had the courage to do it. I was already late. Would it really matter if I just slunk off down the trail to the parking lot and left? I’d be out the deposit, but it wasn’t too late to change my mind.

My Missouri eyes had not yet adjusted to the intense greens of the lush vegetation that surrounded me. I didn’t recognize many of the trees or plants. The giant Western Red cedars (Thuja plicata) looked familiar, if much larger than the cedar trees of home, and I saw Maple-like leaves, but the trees, Vine Maples ( Acer circinatum), were different from the Maples I was familiar with. The mosses and ferns were foreign to me. Even the birds I heard calling in the forest were not the birds I knew. This place was a jungle to me.

Then I remembered the reason I was here…To learn about new things and places... To expand my paremeters...There was a welcoming wood smoke wafting up from the center of the roof, and I reasoned that the people inside must be much like me…Who else would sign up for a naturalist training program? Knowing only that told me that I had more in common with them than I had with the majority of the people I’d ever met. I was going to be alright here.

I looked to the leopard for confirmation. Lair of the Leopard - that’s what Malalo Ya Chui means. It’s located on the property called Linne Doran, or Pond of the Otter, in the Cascade foothills near Duvall, Washington. I had enrolled in the Residential Program at the Wilderness Awareness School. I was 2000 miles from home…and closer to Home than I ever had been.

The leopard was silent, letting me choose. I chose to go in. The moment I lifted the canvas to enter I knew I’d made the right decision. I can’t explain it. It just felt right, and good, and comfortable. The gut feeling I’d had when I’d stumbled on to the school’s website returned with a power that took my breath. This was where I was supposed to be now, this year, this class. This was where I needed to be. A thought came so fast and hard that I could not disbelieve it. “This is where you can heal.” Intuition is something that I had come to respect the hard way. I am a believer. I entered the lair.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Sun Does Shine in the Pacific Northwest

Today I'm thankful for sunshine...and for my cat, Clara, who is being very affectionate right now...and for my friends here, and back in Missouri...and for family in Arkansas, Okalahoma, Missouri, and Wyoming...and that my co-worker's baby girl was born safely on Thursday...OK, so I probably did that backwards, but the sun was beautiful today. I couldn't find my sunglasses, but that's OK, too.

At WAS we started every day of class with some version of the Thanksgiving Address. It's a good way to start any day, and I try to be mindful of my many blessings. Some of my classmates in the Residential Program had a tough time with the generally cloudy weather here. The California folks, in particular, seemed to hate the dreary days and the rain. I like it. One of my biggest migraine triggers is sunlight bouncing off chrome and mirrors. I love being able to drive without worrying about that.

Although it does rain often here, it's usually not raining very hard, and I hardly ever hear thunder or see lightning. I have seen hail a couple of times, and sleet, and snow...but compared to Missouri weather, it's generally pretty mild. I appreciate the sunshine, and know that tomorrow it will probably be overcast and/or raining to some degree. I won't waste time tonight looking for those sunglasses, because it will likely be a few days before I'll need them again. And thats OK with me.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Of Formerly Stray Cats, Target Balls and Arkansas Pecans

This is the story that my friend Margaret asked for early on in this blog. For her, I'll retell it. Rest assured that no cats were injured and no target balls broken...

In the fall of 1999, the RB talked me into building a house. I thought it was a bad idea for a lot of reasons, the least of which being that the little voice in my head was screaming, "Don't do it!" And that's a story for another day, because if I get off on that trail, you will never know what happened with the move things along, I'll just say that the house was built and we moved in over Labor Day weekend of the year 2000 with our 3 older Brittany Spaniels. And God started to send stray cats to the door. In short order, I'd taken in a beautiful Siamese cross female I called Clara, and her half-brother, a sleek black shorthair I called Gus.

Never, never start to name stray animals after characters in a large book. Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove" has a cast of...well, lots of interesting characters. Before I was done, I'd fed half of them in feline form.

Time passed, and the cats had their surgeries and grew to young adulthood. The dogs adjusted, and my sister's family came up from Arkansas to visit. Susan brought me a Wal-Mart bag full of big Arkansas pecans in the shell, which she gave me as an afterthought as they were packing the car to go home. I sat the bag on the table and said goodby to my sister and her family. I should have taken care of the pecans, but the mail had come and I had a big envelope from a guy named Ralph Finch.

To explain that, I have to tell you that I like to think of myself as a target ball collector. I have 2. What's a target ball? Think Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, and Capt. Bogardus (and if you know who the Captain was, we really should talk). In their time, they were the champion target shooters. And what they most often shot were blown glass target balls. Not a whole lot of them survive, and all but the plainest bring good prices on e-bay. I got my first, a 3-piece unmarked amber one, at a local auction. One of the guys bidding against me gave me Ralph's name, as he's the editor of "On Target", and a respected authority on all things relating to target balls. I'd sent Ralph a check and a request for back issues of the magazine, and that's what was in the envelope. I wanted to sit down and read at least one issue before cleaning up.

As cats are apt to do, Gus decided to get on the table and investigate the white bag...and he managed to loop the handle over his head, which scared him. I heard him hit the floor with a yowl, immediatly followed by the thump of the heavy pecan bag. Before I could drop the magazine, Gus had made 2 circuits around the dining room/kitchen/living room, and had bounced off the big picture window before heading down the hall to hide under the bed. The bag flew after him like Superman's cape, slinging pecans every which way.

Gus eventually came out from under the bed and allowed me to remove the tattered remains of the bag from his neck. He stayed off the table after that. Every time I vaccumed, I found pecans. When I moved out a couple of years later, there were still a few under the couch.

Clara's sitting by the door looking out the glass as I write, but Gus disappeared into the forest not long after I got to Washington. She hasn't said what happened to him. Always the adventurer, I expect he tried to make friends with a coyote or a bobcat... I searched for him for many weeks but never found any sign.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Product Review: Atlas Snowshoes

For the 4th or 5th time I went to my knees...the snow, which was around 20 inches deep made for a soft landing, but also complicated getting up. It took some practice before I learned to use the poles to pull myself upright. Snowshoes, I found, are a lot like have to keep the tips up or you'll fall. And they don't keep you on top of the snow, but instead of falling through to past my knees, I only sunk to ankle depth.

I put a lot of thought into buying my 1st pair of snowshoes. We got our winter gear list in early December, so I had time to shop around. I'm a traditionalist, and like the way the old fashioned leather and wood variety look. But in the damp Pacific Northwest, they aren't very practical. I knew I'd have to settle for a modern metal and plastic pair. I had no idea how many brands and styles of snowshoes there are!

First, I read all I could about the art of snowshoeing...even back in Missouri I thought it sounded like fun. Once I figured out the key to choosing the right pair, I started to narrow the field. Here are the 2 most important things to know before your buy snowshoes.
  • How much do you weigh - and how heavy will your pack be? Snowshoes are rated for a weight range, and the more you weigh or carry, the longer the snowshoe should be.
  • Will you be snowshoeing on groomed trails and level ground, or will you be going off trail over uneven terrain, or will you be making your own trail on steep and/or dangerous terrain? Again, there are snowshoes for each degree of difficulty.

Given that my weight plus a full pack would run about 170-180 pounds, and that while we would be off trail and in the mountains, we were not likely to get into seriously dangerous terrain, I wanted 27 inch women's snowshoes for moderate terrain.

After studying several snowshoe company web sites, I decided on the Atlas Elektra 927 with poles and a carrying case. This brand boasts what they call a "spring-loaded suspension" which I felt would be gentler on my old lady ankles. They also have a binding that's easy to cinch and easy to remove. The women's style is a bit narrower than the man's style which makes for a more natural gait. They have toe crapons and a heel cleat for traction. The Aluminum frames are sturdy but light weight, and the Neytex decking remains flexible when cold. The 927 is rated for moderate terrain and a weight range of 120-200 pounds. The poles are 2-part and adustable, and the carrying case keeps them nice and neat for travel, and is ventilated so they dry well.

I ordered them from L.L.Bean at the sale price of 179.00. They were delivered promptly and served me well on our winter camping trip. I would recommend them to weekend and beginnig snowshoers. The value for the price is very good. I expect to use them for many winters to come.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Odds and Ends

I forgot to mention that I chose the Very, Very Berry fruit infusion last night...delicious! I'm going to have another cup right now.

I'm doing pretty good on my resolutions...I've only missed one day of posting here, I'm keeping my weather journal every day, and I've stopped reading a book after only 17 pages! I could do better with the bubble bath and the wine.

I've talked with Mom, my sister Susan, and friends Madonna (Lowell, not the singer), Cheryl, and Filip this week...some of them 2-3 times.

There's a women's hiking group that I'm going to check out tomorrow after work.

Don't Discount What You Do

I had decided that I wouldn't send my sister any more coupons. For some time I'd been taking the coupons from the Sunday paper that I didn't use and mailing them to Susan every Monday. She lived near Bakersfield, California at the time, and it seemed like a waste of my time and 2 stamps to send them. I doubted she got that much use from them, and it was a pain to mess with them. So, I wasn't going to do it anymore...until I got her phone call.

At first, I couldn't tell if she was laughing or was the former. Here's the story she told me.

She had been working in the livingroom by the open window. That's how she heard Bryan's conversation with the mailman. My nephew had been sitting by the mailbox so that he would be first to see my envelope. He took it from the mailman's hands and told him what an important letter it was. "It's from my Aunt in Missouri," he explained. "She loves us and sends us coupons so we don't starve."

Now, my sister's kids were not going to starve without the weekly envelope from me. But to this day, even though Bryan is an adult with a family of his own, I still send my sister coupons.

You never know what it is that you do that is the most important thing to someone else. What I saw as unwanted coupons were a love gift to my nephew. Sometimes we never hear the story and so never know what a difference we make in someone else's life. But I'll bet there's some little thing that you do which means the world to someone else. Keep sending out your coupons.

I had a lovely surprise dinner out with Pam today. She's an elder at WAS, and a tracker, too. I shared this story with her today. She's one of the people who have made a difference for me...her gifts are many, and she shares them generously with everyone she meets. Pam, thank you for sharing your "coupons".

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A Package From Home

I was a little late getting home from work today. A note stuck on my door greeted me...I had a package waiting in the office at my apartment complex. It was raining big fat, cold drops that bordered on slushy. What could be worth sloshing around the corner for? I wasn't expecting anything and Christmas and by birthday had passed.

Of course I did slosh over to the office. I had not 1 but 2 packages waiting for me. The first was a small green and white box from The Swiss Colony. I remembered that Mom had asked me at Christmas time if I had received one from them, but I had forgotten all about our conversation. The cheese and sausage made a nice accompaniment to my homemade soup.
I called to thank her for it - the 3rd time I've spoken to her in a week.

The 2nd box was from my friend Cheryl in Butler, Mo...the place I'd called home for nearly 30 years. She had stuffed it full of cookies, candy, a pretty tea cup, a calendar, and in a blue bag, I found 3 packages of tea from Whittard of Chelsea! I made another call.

I've had my soup, cheese, sausage and crackers. The dishwasher is running. I have my chores done...I also have a book waiting, and water on for tea...Here's the I have the Cinnamon and Orange Rooibos, the Very, Very Berry Fruit Infusion, or the Blueberry and Yoghurt Fruit Infusion? I'll let you know tomorrow.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Tracker in Training

"I can track deer and turkey and horses," my sister reports that Andrew told her. "Do you know how to do it? You look for foot prints and poop. Poop is what they ate a while back"

You know, he's exactly right. Andrew is my sister's grandson, and my great nephew. He turned 5 on the 5th of January. I think he has a great future as a tracker.

In the Residential program we would spend hours looking at tracks. No pile of poop went un-analyzed. We measured, sketched, and wrote in our journals. I think it's kind of funny that Andrew knows instinctively what we spent most of a year studying.

I'm glad that he has the opportunity to play in the woods, and to study in his 5-year old way things like tracking deer and turkey and horses. He's one of the luck kids who gets to follow his passions...I have dim memories of sitting by a Groundhog (Marmota monax) den in the field by our house when I was about Andrew's age. It was near the fence that separated our farm from the neighbors peanut field.

My brother Jim and I would spend hours waiting for that Groundhog, or Woodchuck to come out. It never did...I imagine that our shadows fell over the entrance as we sat much too close.

Mom would pack a lunch for us and send us off the quarter-mile or so through the field to sit where, I realize now, she and the neighbors could both keep an eye on us. It kept us out of her way, and out of trouble. For me, it was the place I started to learn the skills of a naturalist. My brother? He's a biker dude and machinist in Oklahoma City. He lost his enthusiasm for watching large rodents as soon as he discovered wheels.

For Andrew, I pray that he always has tracks to follow, and never looses his interest in - well, poop. I'm doing my best to be a good long-distance mentor to him. I think it's time to get him started on "Kamana for Kids". He's starting school soon, and I worry that he will lose interest in outdoor things when he's surrounded by kids who wouldn't know a deer from a turkey from a horse.

It's a big responsibility, passing on the stuff I've learned at WAS. And it's exciting to think that at least one little kid can talk to me any time about tracks, and poop, and the wonder of the natural world.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

How Book Club Saved My Sanity

I had a nice walk in the rain this morning. I went over to the library to pick up a copy of "Cold Sassy Tree" by Olive Ann Burns. It's the February book club selection at the Monroe Library, and I've decided to give them another try.

I went last November because the Bates County Bookies had already done "Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson. It was one of our favorite books, and I thought that it would be a good introduction to the local book club. I wasn't ready for the change...although the ladies were nice and the conversation intelligent, I felt like I was betraying the Bookies. I wanted Cheryl, Sally, Jennifer, Candi, Linda H., Diane, Melissa and Donna...I wanted home-baked treats, tea, and the easy camaraderie of old friends. And they didn't serve snacks - not even tea.

The Bookies began the same summer my ex left. Cheyrl talked me into going to that first meeting. Book club gave me a reason to leave the house one evening a month at a time when I would have rather not gone out. I made new friends, we read some good books - and a few stinkers. I started to heal, and to build a life as a single person. Part of the appeal was the food! The Bookie who had chosen the book would bring treats - often homemade, and often following the theme of the book. Since "The Devil in the White City" was about the World's Fair at the turn of the century, we had Juicy Fruit gum, popcorn, iced tea and lemonaide - fair food mentioned in the book!

As I started to explore making changes - ones that I chose - the Bookies offered encouragement and practical advice. I knew that I wanted a different job, but saw my lack of a college education as a huge barrier. It was a Bookies field trip to the Cheesecake Factory that led me to believe that I still had a chance to do something different. A lucky seating arrangement put me at the table with Donna and Georgeanne. Those lovely women took the time to ask me about my dreams, and to assure me that I still had time to make them come true. They told me bits of their own stories, encouraged me to look for a classes that would move me closer to what I really wanted, and gave me tips on financing an education. By the end of the meal they had me convinced that I should go for it! I still wasn't sure what "it" was, but I knew I was going to start looking for it.

I'm going to start "Cold Sassy Tree" tonight. I'll have to call the library to let them know I'll be coming to book club on Tuesday, even though I couldn't get that book. Who knows who I'll meet there. Perhaps my next mentor will be there...or my first student...

Friday, January 4, 2008

Tracking Myself

I stumbled on to Tom Brown, Jr's book "The Tracker" back when it was first published. I can trace my path from where I am now right back to that book. It's a convoluted trail I've left. I almost never take a straight path to anything.

In his wonderful book, Tom tells the story of being mentored by a friend's elder Indian grandfather in the art of tracking - and the art of living. It's an exciting story, and I remember reading in People Magazine some time later that he was holding tracking classes in New Jersey. I so wanted to go spend a week in the woods with Tom Brown, Jr.

I'm a hunter...always have been, always will be. I could see the practical applications of learning from the master. My ex, the Rat B*****d, thought that he could teach me everything I needed to know about tracking. And his outdoor skills are pretty good. He doesn't have a clue about the true art of tracking.

The first time I realized that I was on the way to reading the woods, we were hunting whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in western Missouri. It was cold, the wind was blowing, and the deer were not moving much. Needing to walk to keep warm, I followed a deer trail into the deeper into the trees along the dry creek bed. Soon, I was on a reasonably fresh deer track. The regular pattern of hoof prints suddenly changed - in my imagination, I saw the deer slide to a halt, then jump several feet to the right of the path and kick up mud as it ran away...I wondered what caused the deer to bolt. It didn't take me long to locate the largish canine tracks - to this day I can't decide if they were coyote or farm dog - which intersected the deer trail. I laughed out loud when I "saw" the whole event as if I'd been there the moment the deer realized it was being stalked by a predator. That's the moment I became a tracker.

Since then, I've followed all sorts of tracks, hoping for a similar experience. By reading more Tom Brown, Jr. books, and those by Paul Rezendes, James Halfpenny and others, I taught myself the rudimentary skills of tracking.

In June of 2006 I was on-line looking for a list of Tom Brown books to give to the ladies who were going to be taking a tracking class that I was coordinating for a Women In the Outdoors day. I never did find a definitive list, but I did keep running into links to the WAS web site. It wasn't until early July that I e-mailed for information...I was intrigued by the Residential Program, which offered tracking as one of the skills of a naturalist. Of course, there was no way that I would be able to do it...I was too old, to broke, too out-of-shape, and too timid.

Check back to see how I changed my mind and came to Washington.

Note: I didn't see the swans today, but Alexia, our office bird expert says that Trumpeters are more common than Tundra Swans here...

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Abundant Blessings

This was a day of many surprises...the first being the 3 swans I saw flying in a low formation just south of Monroe on highway 203. I can't drive and take notes at the same time, so I'm not certain which species of swan, only that they were very large, white, and had really obvious black bills. My feeling is that they are Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator). Perhaps tomorrow I'll get another opportunity to check for the yellow spot near the eye which would make them Tundra Swans ( Cygnus columbianus). What a cool birthday present! I remembered to be grateful.

I've come to expect cool things on my birthday. I saw the swans last year, too. Only instead of going to work, I was headed back to the first class after winter break. And once, 5 or 6 years ago, I went out to the car to scrape ice off the windows in order to go to work at the hospital, and saw the largest meteorite ever streak across the early morning sky. I read that the eastern US and Canada should be able to see the Quadrantid meteor shower in the early morning hours...I wonder if my meteor was one of those?

A number of my Missouri friends e-mailed with birthday greetings, and my Washington friends provided cards, a balloon, chocolate cake - with a tall tapered candle, noise-makers, and sprinkles. All the staff in our office at noon sang to me and shared cake. I got homemade granola, good chocolate, and other gifts. Ellen tells me that it's an auspicious year- 7 x 7 - and that big changes are in store for me.

I stopped at the library on my way home, picking up a handful of books on loan and a few more off the sale table. In the short time I was inside the sprinkles turned to rain and I hurried home to my warm apartment and my cat. In the mail I found a birthday card from my Aunt Irene in Springfield, Missouri, and a box from my Mom in Violet Hill, Arkansas. She and my sister Susan had filled it with books. Mom sent the "National Audubon Society Field Guide to Mammals", one of the field guides that I did not yet own. It's a beautiful book with cool photos, many of them the small rodents that are so hard to identify. I've been puzzling over some photos I took in Idaho this summer, and hope to figure out just which ground squirrels I got pictures of. I'll let you know. I called Mom to thank her, and we talked for half an hour.

I've already put on my "comfortable" clothes and am going to pick a book from the pile on the living room floor. Last night I finished Elmer Kelton's "The Pumpkin Rollers" and am ready for a new one. I'm leaning towards a library book - "How I Write" by Janet Evanovich. Her Stephanie Plum novels crack me up. I expect her writing advice will be sound, and you may benefit from it as well.

I put the tea kettle on for a cup of decaffeinated Celestial Seasonings sweet coconut thai chi tea. They didn't capitalize the name, so I won't either. It's a nice, spicy tea that will go well with a book - and the chocolate. I'm taking the book, the tea, and the cat to the bedroom. We'll talk again tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Resolutions I'm Keeping (I know it's just the 2nd)...

Just in case you are wondering, I did get Mom's birthday present in the mail today...and I'm writing every day...and I'm going to go take a bubble bath and drink a glass of wine right now.

Listen to the Voice...

"Do not go up the hill. Do not go up the hill. Do not go up the hill."

It's hard to explain that there's a very persistent voice hammering inside your head, telling you not to do the thing that everyone else in the van wants to do. I knew that we would be going up the hill just as soon as the guys finished putting the chains on the tires. Monarch Ski Resort was our destination, and we had missed 1 of our 3 skiing days because of high winds. The lifts had been closed, and we were forced to spend a day visting Royal Gorge, and the Great Sand Dunes. Even those side trips had gotten us into trouble. Tip: When the locals look at you like you are crazy for taking the rural route through the mountains, you should probably turn back. They know the snow plow doesn't go all the way to the other side.

Here's another tip: If the snow is blowing so hard that you can't see the highway, and there are no cars comming down the mountain pass, chains on the tires are probably not going to be enough. We had stopped at the pull-out just opposite a hotel at the southern end of Monarch Pass, and only because of the warning sign that chains were required to continue. The chains went on, and the guys climbed back in the van and buckled up.

"OK, if you are going to go up the hill, at least go to the bathroom first." Now, I talk to myself a lot...but this command was comming from somewhere deep inside. I could not ignore it. My traveling companions were not happy that I climbed out and trudged across the highway to use the facilites at the hotel. I took my time getting back in, and we had to wait as 2 vehicles passed us.

We hadn't gone a mile when the wind picked up and snow started to blow in every direction. Dale was a good driver, and he was going as much by how the road felt as by what he could see. It wasn't safe to stop, and we couldn't see where we were going. Even the kids were quiet as we inched up the incline. Just as suddenly, the wind died and we could see the road- and the white pickup and the little car that had passed us. They had stopped in front of first thought was that the state of Colorado had really odd ideas about where gaurd rails were not needed, because there was not one on the opposite side of the highway, and it was a big drop.

That's when we saw the out-of-controll Dallas-bound Greyhound bus bouncing off the rock wall that edged our side of the road! The truck started to move to avoid the head-on collision. We watched the passenger jump out the door and get pulled underneath the front wheel...the snow was deep at the edge of the road, and he was thrown out to the side. The bus did hit the car, which started to slide back toward the drop.

By the grace of God, the bus and the car stopped crosswise of the highway...the jumper walked away from the accident, and we eventually got to the ski resort. I didn't ski...and I balked about getting back in the van to go down at the end of the day.

I've often wondered just how that day would have played out if I had not insisted on making the pit stop...I'd like to say that I've always paid attention to the voice. Many times I've heard it, and have chosen to ignore it. I've often paid for my reluctance to insist that my "gut feeling" could be right. I'll have more on that later.

I will say that when I was investigating WAS, I had the good sense to follow what my gut was telling me. I have not regretted my decison to do what felt right instead of what seemed sensible. Comming to Washington was the first thing I ever did without a plan - and a backup plan. It's working out so well that I don't make plans much anymore. I just try to trust that my intuition will lead me in the direction that I'm supposed to go.

Much to my surprise, intuiton is part of the lesson plan at WAS. It's good to have personal experience validated. I am learning to trust that the voice will be there when I need it...and I don't plan to make it "yell" at me anymore before I pay attention.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Many thanks to those who have taken time to come read my blog, and to those who have left comments. I thought you might like to know a bit about my friends.

Margaret, it' great to hear from you! I'll tell the cat story another day...I'm laughing too hard to type it in right now. Margaret and husband Gary rescue abused horses...good work, guys!

Filip is a dear friend I met on the first day of class at WAS. He and Jenn are wonderful people who lead exciting lives, so check out his blogs, too. He's the one who will correct me if I mis-identify anthing in this blog...I'm counting on him for that.

All I can say about Annonymous is that he/she has good taste. I hope you check back often for updates.

Welcome 2008!

I've decided to start keeping a weather journal again. The journals were an important part of the WAS experience. At least 3 times a day, I would log on to the local weather report and take notes, then journal what I observed about the weather, and how animals, birds, and even plants reacted. After graduation, I got lazy, and haven't kept one since June.

At 8 am it's 36 degrees, the humidity is at 80%, and the sky is light, with high, streaky clouds. There's a brisk breeze bouncing the tree tops around. We are under a wind advisory until 10pm. There's a bit of snow on the mountain peak that I can see from my front window. I love living where the mountains are close enough to see every day. Stevens Pass is 40 miles to the east...if I were a skier, that's where I'd be today.

Some years back, we (the Rat B*****d and I) went to Colorado with friends who had access to a cabin near Monarch Pass in the Sangre de Cristo range. The Wet Mountain Valley is still one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. There was a small ski resort called Conquistador at the little town of Westcliff. The first year was a spur-of -the-moment thing. We took group lessons and I stunk. I struggled the whole weekend to stay upright on the skis, and found the ski lifts to be a really scary experience. Conquistador was on the flight path of the Air Force Academy, and planes would zip just over the tree tops at high speed, flying so low that the pilot's faces were visible for the fraction of a second that they were overhead. When sitting on what amounted to a moving, suspended park bench, I swear I could see them smile.

The most interesting thing I learned about skiing that first year was that the young, good-looking instructors gave the private lessons. I started saving money right away so that I could get a day's instruction the next year. On our next trip, I happily paid for a day's lesson...her name was Monique, and the guys all thought she was very attractive. I know that she earned her money that day. I lost count of how many times she picked me up out of the snow, and how many times she drug me off the ski lift and out of the way so the next person wouldn't run me down. At he end of the day we were both exhausted...but the last run down the mountain (green bunny slope) was amazing...By being slow, I was the last person on the trail, snow was falling, and it was absolutely silent. That was the only good ski run I had in 3 years of trying.

The next year, we had a horrible experience in a white-out on the road, and I never put on skis again. I'll tell you about that in a later post on inutition.

6:30 pm- I'm home from my part-time job at Ben Franklin's here in Monroe...the wind is still gusty, and the area remains under an advisory. I can't see stars like I did last night...the sky is hazy, the temperature is 37 degrees, and the humidity is 75%.

My Favorite Fiction Authors and Books

  • Suzanne Arruda- the Jade del Cameron mysteries: "The Mark of the Lion" "Stalking Ivory", "The Serpent's Daughter", "The Leopard's Prey" and "The Golden Cheetah"
  • Ken Goddard - "Balefire" and others
  • Stephen White - the Dr. Alan Gregory books are all great. "Kill Me" is my favorite.
  • Harlan Coben - anything he writes is great
  • Elizabeth Peters - Amelia Peabody mysteries

My Favorite Nonfiction Authors and Books

  • "Coyote's Guide to Connecting With Nature" by Jon Young, Ellen Haas and Evan McGown- 2nd edition coming soon!
  • Gavin De Becker - "The Gift of Fear"
  • "Deep Survival" by Laurence Gonzales- the best survival book I've ever read! Not a how-to, its more of a who does,and why.
  • Candice Millard - "The River of Doubt -Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey"
  • Anything that starts with "Peterson's Field Guide To..."
  • Tom Brown, Jr. - "The Tracker" and others
  • Mark Elbroch - "Mammal Tracks and Sign" and "Animal Skulls"