A Bear Story

I did something I’ve never done before: I went hiking alone in Grizzly country.

I took my camera and, with no other hikers pushing me onward, my hike was pretty much doomed. Rather than hiking the 5 miles I’d planned, I spent about 3 hours loosing myself to photography without covering much ground.

At one point, I found myself panning with a flower that was whipping around in the wind, shooting a fly acting shockingly like a bee. I suddenly realized I’d been sitting there for more than 45 minutes.

That’s when I decided I needed to make some tracks. No sooner than I’d gotten some momentum going, I ran into a man hiking the opposite direction who told me he’d seen a grizzly about 10 minutes back on the trail (or 2 hours in photographer time).

I was both excited and worried. I was alone and had no bear spray. Neither condition is recommended in grizzly country. But, the man said the bear was far from the trail and distracted by the huckleberries that were in peak season.

I went on. Minutes later, I encountered a couple singing loudly. A sure sign of a bear sighting! Sure enough, they too had seen a grizzly a few minutes back. The moment they shared this information, I looked up and said, “Oh, look, there’s one now!” A grizzly had just crested the ridge above us and was headed in our general direction, although still 200 yards away.

I immediately did what any photographer does and grabbed the camera with my longest lens on it and started firing. Except, I was so excited I failed to read my meter and had to readjust and shoot again. As I fired off 3 more shots at good exposure (but with a heck of a lot more motion shake than usual), the bear started running towards us.
“And now he’s running towards us,” I said to the couple. The woman immediately asked her husband if the safety was off their bear spray can. I suggested we start backing up slowly.

The bear was closing the distance at a pace fast enough to scare the life out of anyone experiencing a grizzly running towards them for the first time.

We moved slowly for a few steps, and then more quickly, soon walking at a fast clip while glancing over our shoulders and talking loudly. When we passed trees that were between us and him, we lost sight of him (which was almost scarier).

We never saw him again. I suspect he was running towards a huckleberry bush that happened to be in our direction. However, it was scary enough that I decided to hike out with the couple and call it a day.

It took us 20 minutes to cover the distance that took me 3 hours on the way in.

My only regret is that I didn’t stay long enough to get a better shot.

The Great Atlanta Shutdown

Since I don’t have any photos ready to post and it’s currently 1:27AM, I am resorting to sharing a few iPhone images I took from inside my rental car on my way to the Atlanta airport a week and a half ago.

I made a colossal error in judgment.  I knew that Atlanta had gotten into gridlock a week ago last Tuesday.  What didn’t occur to me was that they might still be in gridlock the next day.  When my flight from Chattanooga to Atlanta (on the way to Orlando) cancelled, I thought it was perfectly reasonable to rent a car to drive the 100 miles to the Atlanta airport and catch my flight to Orlando.  I wasn’t going into downtown Atlanta, just around the outer belt.  How bad could it be?

All went smoothly for the first 55 miles–it took about an hour to get just over half way to the airport.  Then, everything came to a full stop.  I spent the next 5 ½ hours trying to get to the next exit, which was about 3 miles away from where I first stopped.

At first, I thought patience was best.  I turned off the car to save fuel.  I sat in the midst of what had become a semi parking lot.  We all sat.  Then we sat some more.  A man on a bicycle appeared–he rode between the rows of parked cars for no apparent reason other than, perhaps, to be able to tell the tale of how he rode on the freeway.

Then the ATVers started buzzing by on the side of the road.  They were having the time of their lives.  The rest of us were sitting.

As calm and patient as I was feeling, the growing realization that I was going to need to heed the call of nature sometime within the next hour created a new sense of urgency–the clock was ticking.

I drove on the shoulder.  I hate this.  But, driving on the shoulder in order to exit the highway is really a favor to all.  One less car stuck on the road.  I got within a half mile of the exit when suddenly we all came to a stop yet again.

Eventually, after a man walked down to the ramp and determined a route through the parked semis to access the ramp, a line of us followed an SUV through gaps between trucks, weaving our way through until at last we were free.  It took another 3 hours to get to the airport over the back roads.

The experience of driving past hundreds of abandoned cars, some of which were sitting in the middle of traffic lanes, made me feel like I had been transported to the middle of a sci-fi thriller movie set.  Unfortunately, I also felt like part of the cast.

 

Gratitude

“. . . in this huge mound of data there was also story after story of men and women who were living these amazing and inspiring lives.  I heard stories about the power of embracing imperfection and vulnerability.  I learned about the inextricable connection between joy and gratitude. . .”

“Without exception, every person I interviewed who described living a joyful life or who described themselves as joyful, actively practiced gratitude and attributed their joyfulness to their gratitude practice.”

-Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

And so, in honor of what may be the most important holiday of all, allow me to practice:

I am grateful for the mountains.  I have stood on top of Mauna Kea and watched the sunset from above the clouds.  I have hiked the ridges of the Canadian rockies amongst the Big Horn sheep.  I have climbed Half Dome and slept on Cloud’s Rest in Yosemite.  I have crossed the Continental Divide, and skied more mountains than I can remember.  I have hiked 14,000 feet up Mt. Albert, called in a mule deer with the scent of blueberry pancakes in the San Juans, watched hoarfrost form on the Blue Ridge, and watched mist rising off the Smokies.

The mountains bring me home.  They remind me my feet are on the ground–and that they can take me to amazing places.  The mountains teach me I am small and my problems smaller.  They fill me with calm and inspire me with wonder.  I am grateful for the mountains.

I am grateful for the trees.  I have gulped their oxygen in moments of panic as well as intense exertion.  I have sat silently and listened to their songs.  I have climbed within their swaying arms, held high and safe above the ground.  I have showered under them, swung from them, curled up in their shade for an afternoon nap, and frolicked in their brilliant leaves.  I have witnessed their generosity–Pileated Woodpeckers tucked into a cavity, baby trees suckling on the corpse of a former giant, Bloodroot springing from the rich nutrients of rotting leaves.  Trees connect me to the air and root me to the earth.  They remind me that great strength sometimes comes from flexibility and patience.  I am grateful for the trees.

I am grateful for the oceans.  I have bobbed along the surface in a quiet cove, peering at the underwater marvels through a snorkel mask.  I have floated for miles with the tide on a flimsy blow-up raft, I have kayaked with green sea turtles and swum with wild dolphins just by chance.  I have watched the sun sink into its nightly bath and watched it rise from the sea, fresh and new again.  I have eaten from the bounty of life the sea provides.  The ocean buoys me up, pushing me to the surface, reminding me I can float.  It soothes me with its endless rhythm and delights me with its underwater surprises.  I am grateful for the oceans.

 

Many Views

A common expression in corporate conversations is “taking a 30,000 foot view” or some such derivation that might also be expressed as “looking at the forest instead of the trees.”  Often, the follow up comments include something along the lines of, “but the devil is always in the details.”

When you look at a map, you can lay out a course that takes you in the most direct line to where you want to go.  But when you get on the road, street signs are missing or roads are closed and sometimes you find yourself well off-course in spite of your plan.  Even with technology, sometimes the GPS thinks a private road is a public one and advises me to drive through locked gates.  As it turns out, the most direct route is often not the easiest.

On my recent trip to Portland, we went on a little venture to the Washington coast and Astoria, Oregon.  We stopped at overlooks, visited lighthouses, and went up to the Astoria Tower.  Each of these vantage points provides a different view.  The ocean forms waves that slide smoothly up onto the beach while they batter and splash against craggy coastline cliffs only a hundred yards away.  From our thousand foot view (give or take), neither looks particularly harrowing or dangerous, but because we’ve been up close to both situations, we can readily guess which one would be the best place to, say, try to land a boat.

I am reminded of a presenter who once talked about the tendency to rely on historical information when deciding what to do next.  He said, “you can’t drive while you’re looking in your rearview mirror.”  I’d like to think we all check our mirrors every once in a while.  Without metaphorically checking our rearview mirror, we might think we could land safely amongst the rocks.  And without a map, we might not know if we went 100 yards further, we could land smoothly in the sand.

As we stood on the grounds of the Astoria Tower, I imagined Lewis and Clark for a second time that day.  I imagined being the creator of the map for previously uncharted lands.  I imagined explorers standing and staring at the river below as it makes its final turn before colliding with the Pacific Ocean.  I wondered if they were able to predict how long it would take to get from where they stood to the river shore.  I wondered how many surprises they encountered once underway.

I suppose life has not changed much if you look at it from 100,000 feet.  In spite of the myriad of gadgets that make navigation easier, we still must each create our own map for our lives.  The endless number of choices we now face can overwhelm even the most intrepid explorer.  When you come down to the 100 foot level or so, the main difference between then and now is probably that we do far more exploring from a seated position.

Dismal Nitch

This week has been another vacation week (I got a bit behind on using my vacation days this year).  This time, I left Pat and Tisen at home and travelled out to visit family in Portland, Oregon.  Portland is one of my favorite parts of the US–this is a trip I look forward to every year.

While visiting the Oregon coast, we stopped at Dismal Nitch across from Astoria, Oregon.  Dismal Nitch is an easy rest stop to access these days–a long, long bridge from Astoria to Washington makes it a really interesting drive with fantastic views.

But, when it was named by the Lewis and Clark expedition, it was no picnic.  Traveling by boat, the craggy harbor became a dangerous place for the explorers and their team.  They were stuck out in the rain for 6 days, waiting for the weather to clear so they could safely navigate the rocks and other hazards that have made this area among the most dangerous waters in the country.

I pause as we stand along the fence at the rest area, looking out at the Cormorants, Seagulls, and Pelicans.  The face of a seal suddenly pops through the surface of the water.  I stand there wishing I had my 100-400mm lens.

And then, it occurs to me, I feel mired.  I think about Lewis and Clark sitting in that same spot, cold, wet, and probably hungry.  I think about them bobbing about on rough seas and waiting out the stormy weather.  I wonder if they felt it was hopeless.  I wonder how long they were prepared to wait before making their move.  I wonder if they saw seals and pelicans and thought of them as signs of hope.  All of this flashes through my mind as I realize the difference between me and people like Lewis and Clark is that they took the safest course for the duration of a storm and then moved on.  I seem to confuse safety with long-term direction.

I took some photos of the dismal nitch.  The clouds gray and swirling above relatively still water created a nearly monochromatic scene.  I stared out over the waters, hiding the dangers of shoals and debris that had sunk more than its share of ships.  It looked so peaceful.  Tranquil.  A cormorant stood on the stump of what might once have been a pier, spreading its wings and flapping them.  He couldn’t wait for them to dry so he might fly again.

Perhaps we are all like the cormorant.  We dive in, get wet, and then have to hang out and dry out before we can jump back in.  Perhaps some of us have to hang out longer than others before we’re willing to take the next plunge.  I metaphorically flap my wings and wonder just what kind of drying time to expect.  By my count, they’ve been drying for at least 8 years.  I find myself wondering if the Cormorant ever forget how to swim.

Meet Up

Surely this is Olympus?

Surely this is Olympus?

Today was full of nostalgia.  It started off with a visit with friends.  One of those friends is a young woman I’ve known for 23 years now–since she was 7.  I didn’t realize I’d known her for 23 years until we sat down and figured it out over breakfast.  But there I was, flipping back and forth in my mind between the 7 year-old Karen the day I met her and the 30 year old wife and mother sharing breakfast with me.

Karen and Chris

Karen and Chris

It was the first time I met her new daughter, just born in March.  She’s a happy baby.  Smiling and cooing and doing cute baby things.  I will have photos from today eventually, but I need to get them downloaded and post-processed first and I forgot my card reader–I’ll have to find one tomorrow.

Since I don’t have new photos to post, I thought I would take a trip down memory lane from the last time I saw my friend and her husband.  It’s hard to believe it’s been 3 years since I last saw them.  We went hiking with them in Montana when Pat and I were out for a visit.

IMG_8111One of the things Pat and I did while we were in Montana was take a helicopter ride over Glacier National Park with some other dear friends who accompanied us on part of the trip.  We flew over the mountains, above the clouds that surrounded the peaks.  I think of these photos whenever my young friend talks about her job.  She’s a paramedic and flies on life flights over the same mountains I paid to see.

I sometimes visualize her in an emergency medical chopper over these same mountains.  I am part jealous and part afraid.  Such beautiful sights so often, and to get paid to see it to boot!  On the other hand, it seems like such a dangerous thing to do, rushing out into this unforgiving landscape in a tiny helicopter to try to save someone.  I am impressed all over again every time I think about it.

Sun breaks through

Reconnecting with this friend and her extended family (4 generations were at breakfast together) reminded me how wonderful family is.  I found myself missing my own family as well as this adoptive family I was able to spend the morning with immediately upon leaving.

I started winding through history, remembering cute things Karen and her twin sister and younger brother did when I spent 2 summers babysitting them.  I also remembered all the hard times having this group of people in my life helped me through.

I managed to slip back into the present moment enough to enjoy one of the nicest parts about meeting the whole family:  getting to watch Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, Great-grandma and Great-grand dad all making faces at the newest addition to the family.  They were all adorable in their face making approaches.

No--we are not climbing that

Good Eating

The moon over Nice as we entered the restaurant for dinner

The moon over Nice as we entered the restaurant for dinner

After the first long day of the conference in Monaco, a group of us made our way back to Nice for the evening. One of our group was familiar with a restaurant in Nice where he had had his anniversary dinner a few weeks earlier.

He was an interesting guy.  An American fluent in several languages in and of itself makes him an anomaly.  Reminds me of the old joke:  What do you call someone who speaks 3 languages?  Trilingual.  What do you call someone who speaks 2 languages?  Bilingual.  What do you call someone who speaks 1 language?  American.

He was living in Europe for about the third or fourth time and moved from groups of people from Italy to groups of people from Germany to groups of people from France with an ease that I envied.  Going to dinner with him was an experience.  He was able to understand food in another language.

An old church just outside the restaurant in Nice

An old church just outside the restaurant in Nice

Translating a menu is one of life’s biggest challenges.  Unless the exact same dish exists in one’s native country and the person who translates knows the correct name in both languages, most translation is lost.

Even when I hadn’t forgotten 90% of the French I once knew, I couldn’t understand a French menu.  I knew if it was fish or chicken or beef, but not what they did to it.  When I started learning Italian, I didn’t even get far enough to determine whether I was ordering tomato soup or tomato sauce (that led to some interesting surprises).

Sitting with someone who could actually understand and describe what a dish was was quite refreshing.  Although, in the end, after much discussion about the menu, we decided to order a 5-course chef’s pick dinner.

Waiting on the train the next morning in Nice Ville train station

Waiting on the train the next morning in Nice Ville train station

This turned out to be a great decision.  If I were a food critic, I could probably describe the meal in terms that would make your mouth water.  Since I am only a food enjoyer, I can only say that each course seemed to get better.  However, 5 courses is a lot, even in France (where the portions are smaller than in the US).  By the time we were done eating, I felt like the easiest way back to my hotel would have been to have someone tip over my chair so I could just roll my way down the street.

As it turned out, I might have been right.  There were no taxis to be had and we had 4 people going to 3 different destinations.  In the end, the two colleagues going to the same place were driven by the owner of the restaurant while the 3rd colleague walked me back to my hotel where a taxi had been ordered to meet him when available.  We sat in the lobby a long time waiting for that taxi–it was after 1AM by the time it came.

I was very happy I’d planned to take the train to Monaco the next morning–it gave me 2 extra hours of sleep.

The sun setting behind office buildings at the end of the day in Monaco

The sun setting behind office buildings at the end of the day in Monaco