Wednesday, October 28, 2009

One last list

I'm at a national wilderness meeting and have to give closing remarks. I fell back on my list idea. This is the last one (maybe):

What I Learned from Wilderness

1. Embrace change. Stand-replacing fires sweep through the forest like a broom and leave space for new growth. The same happens during a lifetime. Trust in the process.
2. Be resilient. Old roads grow over; cabins fall down. The wilderness endures despite how we trample, trammel and abuse it. Know that no bad situation lasts forever.
3. Cultivate patience. Think in geologic time. Breathe.
4. Depend on others. Wilderness is a web of interdependence and that makes it stronger.
5. Flow like a river. If you can’t move a boulder, find a way around it. Dare to make a new channel.
6. Self-prune like the ponderosas. Get rid of excess limbs that weigh you down. Pick a few important things and stick with those to carry with you.
7. Provide refuge. Lend a hand, a shoulder, a shelter for those in need.
8. Play like the bears. Slide down a snowbank; chase your buddy around, wrestle.
9. Try again like the salmon. Keep jumping up the waterfall even if you think it looks impossible.
10. Be majestic. Inspire others. Know your own power and beauty.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The end of an era

I finished my book. really, really finished it.

It feels like the end of a marathon, or a really long epic hike, like the alleged short cut that Ed convinced me to take in the Sierras. Up and down, over passes, he extolled how much time we would save. It ended up being twenty miles, but we found a beautiful teardrop lake I named after myself.

But I digress. The book is done! Well, maybe it will never be a book. But it felt like something I had to write. I hope it honors Roger and all the others who dragged a drip torch and held the line with me.

Back to the kayak story idea now.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

What I learned from the swamp

Since a lot of people liked my list about bears, I thought I would do one about the swamp, aka the Fakahatchee Strand. A strand is a drainage slough in case you were wondering. This one is located in south Florida, a jumbled wonderful wilderness that drains into the Big Cypress swamp.

1. Be who you are. The swamp doesn't pretend to be anything than what it is-a humid, dense, poison ivy filled, wet jungle.

2. Keep your secrets. Some of the rarest orchids, ones that bloom once a year, are only found here. But you have to work to see them and you might never find one. That's what makes it so great when you do.

3. Endure. People have paved it, hacked it, filled it, drained it. But the swamp always wins in the end.

4. Be open to possibilities. In the swamp, inches determine what grows. You can move from a hardwood hammock to a cypress swamp in minutes.

5. Be a safe harbor for those in need. The swamp harbors the endangered Florida panther. There are only fifty left in the world. Without the swamp, they would be extinct.

6. Wait out the bad times. The swamp fills, dries up, fills again. Eventually the rains come; they do every year.

Monday, October 12, 2009


I have been absent from my blog because I have a request from an agent to see a book proposal for my little kayak ranger stories. I am stuck on one of the sample chapters. I had written it before but now I find it horribly awful. So here I sit. I can remember this particular day so well. Hunter and I were flying for the Civil Air Patrol, trying to find a missing plane. It disappeared in September, an unsettled and murky month when things can go either way. You can wake up and the day is scrubbed clean, unfamiliar sunshine reminding you why you live in Southeast Alaska, or you can draw an unlucky card and the wind blows with no mercy, rain falls sideways, and fog coats the peaks so you could swear they don't exist.

The plane had taken off two days before and never made it to its destination, Baranof Warm Springs, on the other side of the island. It's only fifteen miles away, but it is a jumble of peaks, glaciers and bottomless lakes. You can hike it, if you have good knees and an iron will. But you can't usually fly it in September. Instead you have to take the long way, fifty miles around by the ocean.

Ken, who has been flying for forty years, said that he thought they had cartwheeled into Deadman Reach, that the wind could slap you down and you could not recover in time. He said that once he had found himself flying upside down there. Other people swore they were on land, that maybe Erik had gotten confused and flown into a dead end. For a long time we hoped they were alive.

Divers went down but couldn't find anything. If it was down there, the plane could have tumbled along the ocean floor for miles. But no wreckage was ever found.

I remember wanting to see something so badly. We circled styrofoam on the beaches and sheared off trees in Duffield. But we never found a thing. It was hard to come back with nothing, and even harder to realize that we would never, ever know what happened.

Anyway, I'm trying to write about it, but the words don't want to come. Sometimes I think that things need to simmer for years before they can be written. For now I'll just eat Halloween candy and hope for a muse.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

first snow

It is October third and it is snowing! The mountains have disappeared behind a curtain of white. Up at Hurricane Creek it was falling so fast that my footprints were wiped out in minutes. On the way back down the trail I took a wrong turn and froze for a minute, wondering. Below me the river flowed on. It's that feeling you get on the edge of being lost: This doesn't look familiar. Quick inventory: no matches, no phone, no plan left with friends. Then the scenario: Runner vanishes in snowstorm.

It wasn't long before I remembered that this was the side trail that I had noticed on the way up. But winter gives the mountains an edge that is easy to forget in summer. Living here, far from the ocean I had left, I had let my guard down a little. These mountains seemed tamer, gentler somehow. Here the bears stayed complacently in the woods. There were trails, many of them, all nicely cleared. There were other people, toting backpacks. It seemed like a watered down wilderness, a wilderness without fire.

But that isn't really true. There are just as many ways to get in trouble here, though perhaps not as spectacularly. Recently Search and Rescue carted a woman off Ruby Peak; she had gone up in shorts and became hypothermic. Another woman whined that she could not make it back from Ice Lake. People swan dive off their horses on a regular basis.

We're under a winter storm warning. I hope all the people in tents up there are prepared. Just last week it was in the seventies. I'm glad I'm in my house, watching the snow, but a part of me wishes I were up at some high lake, watching the world change.