Monday, December 26, 2016


I have several friends who do not have pets, mostly because, they say, they travel too much. Some of  them really do travel. Others travel less than I do. I think they just like the idea of being able to pick up and take off without responsibilities, even if they never really take off.

I used to be like that, more by circumstance than desire. As a seasonal worker, I was never allowed to have pets in the bunkhouses, and I was on patrol five days a week anyway. When I finally got a kitten, I thought this was the best of both worlds. I could still travel if someone checked in on the cat, and I had something fluffy at home that always wanted to see me, unlike the bad romances I found myself in.

Dogs? Meh. They were cute, but they required a real commitment. I loved the ones I inherited by marriage, but they weren't really my responsibility. I could leave them behind. My friends who had dogs had mixed bags. For every dog that obediently trotted after us, there was the Problem Dog, the one that disappeared, got bit by a rattlesnake, or lunged at other dogs.

Cale has a skin condition where he is losing hair. He looks pretty cute in his ruffwear jacket.
But then there was Ruby. Now I get it. Talking about your dog to people who don't like dogs is probably as irritating as those who talk about their kids to childless people. But I do love having a dog on the trail. It bridges the gap between solo and accompanied. There are times I don't feel like taking anyone along, but don't really want to be completely alone.

Not that there aren't issues. Yesterday, on Christmas Day, foolishly left leashless, she bolted and was nowhere to be found. We traipsed the back streets to no avail. I decided to drive around in hopes of spotting her. Flashing red and blue lights ahead plus dodging cars led me to believe she had been spotted. Here came my puppy, cheerfully cruising Main Street.

"Dog in Winter Shadow"
"You know, this is a fifteen year commitment," a friend said when I got a kitten a couple years ago. A dog is even more of a commitment. For years I was bad at commitment. I couldn't even commit to a town, much less a husband or an animal. I think back to what a former bad romance told me: "I'm just wired this way." At the time I felt despair because our wires certainly did not cross. But now I know: people can change. I may no longer be my footloose self, but I have a lot more love.

Dogs don't pose.

Monday, December 19, 2016

skiing below zero

Mist rises off the lake.  The campground is deserted. Our fingers freeze as we step into our skis. The day before, at minus twenty, I punted and went to the gym. It was slightly warmer today, and I enlisted a friend who was up for the adventure.

We get a cold snap like this every year but people seem to forget it. They seem personally affronted by the temperatures. There are very few people out on any trails, even though the snow conditions are perfect. 

We glide along the deserted lakeshore and campground, speculating if this is the year that the entire lake will freeze and we will be able to skate. This used to be a regular occurrence, but has only happened once in the past seven years. 

Leaving the campground, we venture up into the summer cabins. Only a few souls live here year round: it is dark and frosty, suited only to a certain personality. I could do it, I think. 

We crawl up a snowy closed road, our skis protesting and sliding backwards. The water below us is encrusted with ice. The ski down is perfect, not too fast but not slow either. We have wings.

One of my hiking partners has moved to the Southwest, where she extols the warm days and the ability to hike year round (except perhaps at high noon in summer). While I am no fan of the cold, I think I would miss that incomparable warmth that comes when you have been exercising in it and you suddenly glow with self-created heat. I would miss skiing like this, in a world gone quiet and muffled by snow.

We see the car in the distance and I want to do another loop but with friends, you must compromise, so I do. Another storm is coming, promising much more snow. This is the biggest winter in years so far, but all of us are gun shy, remembering January thaw, flooding in February. Keep snowing, I think. Bring it, I think.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

When the snow is too deep for the dog....

Since we have All the Snow, I have been skiing for a week straight, completely ignoring the gym or running or anything else. My truck has been locked in 4WD for several days. I have had several ski outings with friends, breaking trail (nothing is groomed here) and other trips on my own. We are supposed to get another foot tomorrow. I am not going on my annual Grand Canyon backpacking trip this year, so here it is. It's been four years since I was home for Christmas.

The windswept and deep Devils View trail.
 We trudge along taking turns breaking trail, following blue diamonds. I realize I am skiing with three people who are all retired. I am the young one in the group. That's weird. Because they are retired, they don't have the same urgency to do All The Skiing in one day, but we do make two loops out of it. By the second loop, we can even glide. It's hard work, but I'd rather have this than a groomed, Lycra-clad playground. We don't see a soul on our trek.

I take T up high the next day when she wants to go low, and we are pummeled by stinging snow and wind. and must retreat to the place she wanted to go all along. And it's okay, another trudge through unpopulated woods, climbing over fallen trees.  The next day I travel high again, finding our track completely blown in. Ruby and I travel for a ways before I notice a strange phenomenon-the snow is too deep for the puppy! It is time to turn around.

Bad phone picture, but you get an idea. Even the dog gave up.

I snicker as I see my co-workers on the west side excused from work for 1-3 inches of snow. We don't get any such exception.  I also don't feel jealous of my friends who don't live in snow. I need a change of pace and activity every year. As much as I love hiking and running, it is good to change things up, to challenge myself in different ways. Besides, skiing is about the best workout there is.

The puppy and I trudge back to the car. We are the only ones on the trail. It would be hard to give this up. Even for the Grand Canyon. It will be there next year.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Notes from the deep end (of the pool)

There is a whole culture to lap swimming that I never noticed until now, even though I used to go regularly when I lived in a town with a pool. The serious people, the ones who go all the time, bring little carpet remnants to stand on while changing back into street clothes. They bring locks for the lockers. They have their own lane! (One time a woman saw me approach an empty lane she was heading for and actually said, "No! Oh no!" I backed off to a different lane).

I'm an opportunistic swimmer now, since the nearest pool is 75 miles away. I go when I have dentist appointments or when some other reason compels me to be in town. The pool I haunt is nice because it is never crowded. You never have to do the dreaded circle swim (you find out how bad of a swimmer you really are when you have to sprint to stay in the circle). I have never had to split a lane. Instead, it is usually me and a handful of older ladies.

"Swimming is SO BORING," other people say, but I don't really find it so. I like the meditative state that long runs, hikes or swims can bring. I feel like people are used to being constantly entertained and distracted but there is value in free thought. You can definitely get into free range thinking while swimming. You know, sometimes it is good to be bored.

I took this image from the City of LaGrande Webpage. Don't go in lane 1, whatever you do!

As I swim, I see two guys doing pullups on the diving boards. Other people, less serious, hang on at the deep end and talk. A woman does the butterfly, the hardest stroke. There's a woman jogging down the lane. I swim a mile and all the hard things I have been thinking evaporate. I am left with a clean slate.

Do you swim? Ever fought anyone over a lane? Circle swim, yes or no? Can you do the butterfly?

Sunday, December 4, 2016


I'm a planner. I'm not as much of a planner as some of my hiking buddies are. I don't plan ahead on how many liters to carry from each water source or where I will camp every night. But I do like to have a basic plan in place. Unlike the guy we met on the PCT last year, who cheerfully admitted to "winging it" (and thus accepted our gift of Wing It as a trail name), I like to have a general idea of what my life will look like a few months down the road. I think this springs from being a seasonal park ranger for years. We boomeranged across the country every few months, enroute to a new bunkhouse, never certain exactly where we would end up. It was fun, but definitely had an expiration date.

So since I now have no idea where I will be living in six months, I can drive myself crazy with Zillow in selected cities, gazing in terror at a house I might have to sell, or backing away from obligations. That's not a good path to take. I am practicing living in the moment. It's not an easy thing for a planner.

Fortunately, winter arrived, bringing with it activities I had not done in a long time. I met T slogging up the ski track I had laboriously punched in after we got a foot of snow today. "I forgot how to ski," she moaned. I feel the same way. It is always learning things over again.

 One day I snowshoed up to the politically incorrectly named Papoose Lake, carrying my skates in a backpack. Though a few inches of snow covered the "lake", the skating was fine! A multi-sport day is just the thing to remind you to stay in the moment.
Okay, so it is more of a pond, with a few obstacles.
 Another thing that helps is to have a puppy. Dogs truly live in the moment. They don't ponder the possibility of life changes. They are just happy to experience what is going on now.
Ruby is six months now and getting very dark. I tell her not to get any darker! But it is interesting to see what she is becoming.
I was deliberately vague in the last post about why we are going to move. It is a result of the declining budget for the land management agencies--apparently people are recreating even more but Congress does not recognize that fact. I will extend the same invitation I have for years: President Trump, come backpacking with me for a week. No cell service, and yes, you have to carry your own stuff. See how changed you are when you come out. Strangely, no presidents have taken me up on this. I wish they would. Not that I would really enjoy spending a week with a politician, but because I think they are so removed from nature that they really need to be reminded.

But I digress. I will continue to unplan as much as possible. A big snow dump? Grab the skis, even though I had been planning to hit the weights. My friends are going to the Grand Canyon after all? Maybe there's a way to meet up with them. Eat kibbles with abandon! Okay, maybe that is going a bit too far. But you know what I mean.