In Love with Life

 photos by Eliza ❤

Some will die in hot pursuit
And fiery auto crashes
Some will die in hot pursuit
While sifting through my ashes
Some will fall in love with life
And drink it from a fountain
That is pouring like an avalanche
Coming down the mountain

– Butthole Surfers, Pepper

I realized again this morning, while listening to that song, that’s me.  I fell in love with life, I drink if from a fountain, pouring like an avalanche coming down a mountain. It shows in everything I do, in the boundless energy the universe provides me to live this one beautiful and precious life.

People tend to burden themselves with so many choices. But, in the end, you can throw it all away and just make one basic, underlying decision: Do you want to be happy, or do you not want to be happy? It’s really that simple. Once you make that choice, your path through life becomes totally clear.

– Michael Singer, The Untethered Soul

Do you love life? I mean, do you really, really, really love life? Do you drink it from a fountain, like an avalanche pouring down a mountain?

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Eliza and Luna, loving life ❤

Or, do you only love life when you get what you want from it? It’s relatively easy to say you love life, when you just got that promotion at work, or a new house or car, or someone loves you deeply.  What if someone runs into that new car on the way home?   What about when our many expectations are not being met? Can you still be happy and love life?

If the answer is ‘no’, then your love and happiness with life are conditional.  More troubling, if you goal is to be happy, they’re conditional upon the actions of others and events pretty much completely outside of your control. Other people have a persistent habit of doing things that we don’t expect, and no matter how much we try to influence others (or even manipulate them, in the more extreme case). You cannot control what they will say or do.

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Bayocean Spit in Tillamook, OR

If the answer is ‘yes’, then your happiness is unconditional. You don’t need others to meet your expectations to be happy.  You don’t need reality to match your preconceptions to be happy.  Choose to be happy. Choose unconditional happiness.  Escape the tyranny of mind and its multitude of preferences, expectations, and choose to love your precious, beautiful life, dancing on the big blue ball, hurtling through space.

It’s your choice, no one else’s. Namaste, beautiful beings!

The only permanent solution to your problems is to go inside and let go of the part of you that seems to have so many problems with reality. Once you do that, you’ll be clear enough to deal with what’s left.

– Michael Singer

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Luna totally gets this 

 

I watched her glide into the gentle arms of the lake

I watched her glide into the gentle arms of the lake

One-hundred and sixty-two feet deep, under blue skies, she rests

Tall mountains tell you of her strength

Cool waters tell you of her calm under pressure

Tall pines embody the life force she gave me, bringing me into this world

An Osprey with her bounty, shared with her young, recalls the nurturing she gave so freely

Compassion, empathy, kindness, all carried forward

She rests now

Why can’t my heart?

#whenyourmomdies

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Eagle Creek Redux

I laid on my stomach, arms spread widely, grasping desperately for anything to stop my slide toward the cliff edge.  Rocks fell behind me, making ghostly sounds as they struck trees far below.  I thrust my fingers into the root ball of a shrub, slowing myself, but not stopping my progress toward oblivion.  I was falling, out of answers and options. As I slid, I looked back over my shoulder, I thought, ‘I’m going to die. Who will tell my Mom’?

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That’s me up next to Rigby, five minutes before I fell, April 30, 2017

Still on my stomach, looking left and a little upslope, I spotted a small oak tree, and I gave up my grip on the shrub that was slowly pulling out of the ground, and I leapt for it, making a last-gasp effort for the little oak.  I got several fingers around the base of the trunk, and rolled to my left, rocks now falling in a steady stream a hundred feet or more, down into the forest below.  I hung in place with one hand gripping the tree, having arrested my fall for the moment.  After several minutes, I swung my body so I could get both hands on it, and pulled myself out of the slide path.  I’d survived, if I could get off the rock pile and thirty meters back up to the ridge.

Telling my friends to stay back and not trigger another slide, I inched my way so slowly back up to the ridge top where I’d fallen from.  Moments before, as I’d turned a corner near the top, all the rock I was scrambling on had slid out from underneath me, sending me toward an unsurvivable fall over a hundred foot cliff.  When I neared the top again, strong arms pulled me over, where I collapsed, sobbing uncontrollably in the aftermath. I’d almost died, and my psyche was utterly traumatized by the experience.

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Eagle Creek Trail with High Bridge in the center distance, April 2017

We were in Eagle Creek, before the fire, nearly two years ago this week.  We’d left the trail above High Bridge, turning to the West up a long ridge off-trail toward the Tanner watershed and Dublin Lake.  It was an eleven-hour odyssey, worthy of its own telling.  We finished before dark, twenty-plus miles and over five thousand feet of elevation gain that day.  That night, the nightmares started.  In my dreams, I’d not stop falling, and I’d see my body lying at the bottom of the cliff, third-person view.  I died over and over again, every night for a month.  I’d wake up shaking, covered in sweat, every night, until I didn’t want to sleep anymore.

Six weeks after my fall, I’d been experiencing intermittent pain in my lower right abdomen, near my beltline area.  I finally woke up one night in June in excruciating pain.  Another Emergency Room visit, where I passed out repeatedly from the pain despite the strongest IV pain killers available.  I’d had undetected internal injuries, and now a serious infection.  Finally I had relief with a nerve-blocking agent injected directly into the nerve bundle. I was so sick.  I had to cancel out of my Mt. Saint Helens Climb, my week-long backpacking trip to the Enchantments, all gone as I went on a month of forced rest.

Later that year in September, the Eagle Creek fire burned almost fifty thousand acres on the Oregon side of the Gorge, including Dublin Lake and Tanner Butte.  We will likely never do this route again, the fires having destabilized all the steep slopes in that area.  Because of the fires, I’d never been back to Eagle Creek since that day, the trail remains closed to the public, with arrest and steep fines awaiting those who would test the closure.

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Aerial view of Dublin Lake after the Eagle Creek Fire.  It’s really sad up there now.

Now, I was back.  Since 2017, I’ve been a volunteer with the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA), working in the burn area of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.  We had crews working in Eagle Creek, down from Wahtum Lake to Seven Mile Camp last Fall, but a trail running fall and injuries had kept me away, until last week.

I’d signed up with a PCTA work party to work clearing trail between Fern Creek Bridge and High Bridge, about four miles in from the Gorge trailhead. Other volunteers had carried temporary planks in prior weeks, so we could cross the compromised Fern Creek bridge somewhat safely, one at a time.

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Fire-damaged Fern Creek Bridge with temporary planking screwed down tightly 

Our goal was to remove all the logs and clear a path to High Bridge, so it could be safely evaluated by engineers from a contractor engaged to replace both bridges.

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Fern Creek bridge from the trail, pre-fire 2017

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Fern Creek same viewpoint, 2019 post-fire.  Amazingly, the tree to the left, right on the trail, didn’t burn completely.

I was working with a chainsaw crew of three, our mission to remove as many logs as we safely could. It’s significantly dangerous working cutting blowdown in Eagle Creek, there are unsurvivable drop-offs right off the trail in so many places.  We worked on a four-log pile near High Bridge with no room for error.  If you tripped, fell, or got snagged on something going over the edge, it would be your last series of mistakes. It takes a lot of focus to ensure every step you make is a safe one.

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Eagle Creek, April 2019 

Walking in, past Punchbowl Falls, over Sorenson Creek, I felt a wave of familiar memories.  Hiking in a rainstorm here, three years ago, possibly the wettest hike I’ve ever done with water cascading off the cliffs down onto the trail.  My first trip to Tunnel Falls and the ‘Vertigo Mile’, where the trail is blasted out of the cliff wall, as are many sections of Eagle Creek Trail. Hand cables line multiple sections, giving you a little more security. Much of the trail was blasted out of the Basalt cliffs back in 1915-1919, and was immediately popular, with 150,000 visitors in 1919 alone.  The views are spectacular, no less so now after the fires are out.

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Eagle Creek between Fern Creek Bridge and High Bridge, April 2019 

Not yet into the Wilderness with its crosscut-only saw restrictions, we used chainsaws to remove log after log.  Most were a bit complex, having slid down the steep banks usually end-first into the trail.  Sometimes, you have to cut them multiple times just to clear the trail, as the log just keeps sliding down as you remove one section after another.

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Logs that just keep giving.  We left the largest for another day this week, to return with a longer and more powerful chainsaw.

Many of the burned logs fill with water, their ends opened by fire having burned off the root ball.  They literally spit water as you cut into them, and the pieces weigh so much more than normal, being utterly waterlogged.  We sent many torpedo logs over cliffs, down into the creek below.

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Well, that’s inconvenient. Yep, that’s the trail under all that debris

Rockslides are all along this section, and pieces of the trail have fallen or been knocked off.  Our little saw crew did a fabulous amount of work, the three of us removed twenty-three logs last Thursday.  The rest of the work party and two seasonal Forest Service employees worked on the tread, making safe passage over the slides.  The amount of work done by a dozen or less PCTA volunteers in a day is always so impressive.

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Lots of work left to do before this trail opens again 

For me, the day was very special.  There was no avoiding the memories of my fall, I had to accept some really hard lessons about avoiding exposure and scrambling.  I stood on the trail near High Bridge, looking up at the ridge we climbed two years ago.  It seems impossibly steep to look at it now, the understory, moss, and brush all gone.

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All smiles just above High Bridge in April 2017, you can see the trail below.  It’s a 3-4 hour climb to get over to Dublin Lake from here.

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Much of the ridge itself can be seen now, an ancient rockpile with its moss burned away.  In its current condition, I cannot imagine how it would be more uninviting.  Criss-crossed with burned fallen trees, dotted with rock slides, I think I’ll not take that route again in my lifetime.

I will come back, likely again and again, to work on this lovely trail so it may again be enjoyed by thousands of people every year.  I’ll come out for day work, then move to overnight weekend work parties when the snow melts out on the higher section.  I spent most of 2018 working in the woods, in the burn, helping to open the PCT and Herman Creek Trails.  The Forest Service is saying August for new bridges at Fern Creek and High Bridge, so it’s quite possible some portion of Eagle Creek trail will also reopen later in the Fall.  It will need more ongoing work as trees and rock keep coming off the steep slopes, but it will be a grand day when the temporary gates and signs come down, and everyone again can enjoy its incomparable beauty.

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Akhtar, Rigby and I walking back from the Tanner system to the Eagle Creek TH, April 2017. Thanks to Craig G. for many of the 2017 photos. 🙂 

Helpful Links:

Eagle Creek Hike:

https://www.oregonhikers.org/field_guide/Eagle_Creek_to_Tunnel_Falls_Hike

PCTA Volunteer Opportunities:

Volunteer

PCTA Mount Hood Chapter Eventbrite page for work parties:

https://www.eventbrite.com/o/pacific-crest-trail-association-mount-hood-chapter-15326589343

A really cool video showing a slide where we worked:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mind is where the soul hides from the heart

‘Please, I need a break from you!’, I tell her.

Silently she draws closer, ignoring my pleas.

‘I’m a mess already, I don’t need you!’, I tell her.

‘What about your mother, don’t you miss her?’ she coos

Feet of lead, I don’t move away from her, as I say ‘Yes, I do’

She draws closer, my heart screams ‘NO! Don’t let her in!’

As Grief wraps her arms around me, I wage another hopeless

battle against the tears, and my heart whispers, ‘Mom…’

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I miss you, Mom. </3

 

The Life You Save…

“…there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.”
― Mary Oliver

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top photo: South Summit, Table Mountain in WA State

bottom photo: Pacific Crest Trail, Cascade Locks, Oregon

What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

– Mary Oliver

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Luna approves of Dalles Mountain Ranch ❤ 

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The Balsamroot and Lupine blooming together, so beautiful!

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Kelley and I had the most beautiful, wonderful day walking on the big blue ball ❤ . Mt. Hood in the distance. 

Helpful links:

https://www.oregonhikers.org/field_guide/Dalles_Mountain_Ranch_Loop_Hike

https://gorgefriends.org/hike-the-gorge/columbia-hills-historical-state-park—dalles-mountain-.html

https://parks.state.wa.us/311/Columbia-Hills—Dalles-Mountain-Ranch

 

A Chainsaw is a Girl’s Best Friend

I carefully held the snarling beast in my hands, making precise vertical cuts to relieve side bind in a practice tree.  I nudged the tip of the saw in, avoiding the zone of maximum kickback around the top of the tip. Saw curls flying, I cut a little deeper at each pass, watching the log move as it gave up its compression bind.

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Working it with David Roe (Terry Hill photo)

I already had more than a passing acquaintance with the log.  We follow the U.S. Forest Service guidelines for OHLEC, a relatively new acronym describing how to approach and execute cutting a log (or standing tree, but we generally don’t do that in the PCTA).  The tree, felled by the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, was supported on three points, wedged between two other trees.  Working in a burn area, I’d determined hazards, plotted my escape route, and decided on a cut plan.  Trees held in unnatural positions tend to move a lot when cut, and if you don’t relieve tension and compression, you might have a bad day when you unleash all that force.

Working under the guidance of an expert sawyer, I finished my relief cuts, and lifted the saw high on the log on the center cut.  I worked it on the dogs (teeth near the power head on a chainsaw), slicing down through the log at full throttle.  When it finally gave, it still moved two feet away from me, faster than my eyes could register, as the other end dropped near my steel-toed Danner logging boots.

If I’d just cut that log from underneath and above without regard to the side bind and which side I stood on, the log could have moved even faster and farther, straight into my torso with more than enough force to crush me. Thankfully my expert instructor, David, had explained each step along the way and we worked very safely.

I was attending Trail Skills College, an annual event held in Cascade Locks by a consortium of Trail Stewardship organizations (PCTA, WTA, and others) over a three-day period.  Friday, I’d re-upped my First Aid and CPR for another two years in another course.  It was my first time taking first aid with an eye toward the kind of injuries we might see working on Trail Crews.  I finally learned how to use an AED and performed CPR practice on ‘Bob’, until my arms and abs were toast.

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Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up! 🙂 

Saturday’s class was Chainsaw 104, the most complete instruction on chainsaw operation, maintenance, and safety that I’ve ever taken.  We first learned all the parts of the saw, and how they worked. We broke the saws down into parts, learning how to change the bar, chain, air filter, and spark plug.  We learned how to fuel and oil the saw, how to clean and lubricate the clutch and bearings.  We covered different types of chains, and how they behave differently in use. After lunch, we practiced sharpening and reassembly.  I had owned my own 20-inch bar Stihl Pro saw years ago, and had never peeled back so many layers into how it actually worked.]

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Sharpening vise for chainsaw (Terry Hill photo)

Our last lesson was in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for chainsaw use, from helmets to ear protection, leg chaps, gloves, and face shields.  I’d brought my own, newly acquired helmet with integrated ear protection and face shield, and chaps.  We spent enough time on all the likely awful things that can go wrong, even if you’re following all guidelines. Chains can break, saws and trees can do unexpected things.

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A Chainsaw Surgical Team 🙂 (Terry Hill photo)

 

At the end of our class, all the saws were fueled, oiled, chains sharp and snug.  We were ready for some practice on Sunday.

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If you need to cut some logs, this group can definitely help out (Terry Hill photo)

Sunday threatened rain as we drove to Wyeth Campground for Chainsaw Practicum 297, our goal to work on logs near the #400 Trail.  After introductions, we split into three smaller groups.  Before we headed up the trail, we each started our saws to make sure they ran.

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Hey, it runs even after I took it apart and put it back together the day before! (Terry Hill Photo) 

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Obstacles on the way to work (Terry Hill Photo)

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That’s what we call a ‘complex’ log problem across the trail.  We did not cut these logs on  Sunday, due to the degree of hazard, including triggering another rock and landslide. Some problems do not have immediate solutions. We cut steps into the logs with chainsaw and axe to make them easier to cross for hikers. (Terry Hill photo)

David, our instructor, selected our work area and started asking questions to gauge our baseline knowledge. I’ve done a lot of crosscut logout work parties, so none of the questions about the logs were new to me.  Throughout the day, David gave me more and more complex problems to solve, ramping up the difficulty to see where I was.

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Our private lesson (Terry Hill photo)

The biggest difference between using a crosscut vs. a chainsaw is everything happens in real time with a chainsaw.  With a crosscut, you can hear feedback from the log, feel subtle shifts through the saw, and see it move (usually slowly).  Cutting with a chainsaw, you’re through so quickly, you need to be more attuned to the feedback and visuals.  Having a motor adds convenience to techniques like offside cuts, where you cut vertically across and down the log to avoid standing on the business side of the tree (the one that moves in a bound log).

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Practicing a ‘V’ cut for a high log, so as you cut from underneath and drop it, it won’t let go all at once due to top bind. You can lower it pretty as you please cutting from underneath. 

My last log of the day was much harder to read, definitely side-bound as evidenced by the long curve of the log, but very hard to tell what else was going on. Sometimes logs are twisted under load just resting, or when you release the end with the root ball, they can suddenly roll at you.  As I made my five side bind relief cuts deeper, the kerf (the slit made by cutting with a saw) opened at the top and closed on the bottom, telling me more about what it was likely to do upon release.

I finished the top cut and the log still moved suddenly several feet away from me, a consequence of being bound up between several trees.  I expected and predicted the behavior, so it wasn’t a surprise.   David complimented me on my feel and technique, telling me that cut was a classic certification problem used on a ‘B’ level sawyer cert.

I’d refueled and added oil twice already, and five hours of cutting was taking its toll on my grip, my forearms, and my focus.  We wrapped up our day, packed up our saws, and headed out.

Tomorrow, I’ll be heading out again with a PCTA work party, into Eagle Creek Trail from the Gorge end.  Other volunteers have carried temporary planking three-plus miles in so we can (safely?) cross the Fern Creek Bridge, and remove logs with chainsaws, between there and High Bridge.  I’m so fortunate to have had this training, and the opportunities to use it.

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Eagle Creek Trail before the 2017 fire, near High Bridge

It will be a long day, hiking in with saws and supplies to feed them, and removing so many trees.  I could be out skiing, hiking, or snowshoeing somewhere else, but I wouldn’t miss this opportunity to give back to the places that have given me so much joy.  This is the work that will, along with many other days, get the trail opened again in 2019.

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Newly open trail makes me feel pretty happy at Herman Creek Bridge, June 2018 (Kate Curry photo).  I walked across this bridge carrying a load of tools so many times the prior six months. 

I wouldn’t miss that for the world.  Last year I spent weekend after weekend working with the PCTA on the closed PCT and nearby Herman Creek Trail, which reopened finally on June 15th, 2018.  Kate and I took two ‘Victory Lap’ tours of the PCT/HCT loop, a lovely longish day hike at ~26-27 miles and 5700′ e.g.

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Looking back at the PCT from HCT in the late afternoon

Next September, I hope we can do the same, but loop up Eagle Creek then down the PCT.  Then do it again in the other direction, just for good measure.  It will be glorious.

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Hiking until dark, and then some (Kate Curry photo) 

Helpful Links:

Eagle Creek to Wahtum Lake Hike 

Pacific Crest Trail Association Volunteer Information

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