Anniversary 2016

Longtime readers know that Matt and I save up all year for our annual getaway to Lake Crescent (home of the chair on the shore that I have declared my official happy place). We like to stay two nights so that we have at least one day where we are on the peninsula all day.

Clearly we haven’t yet tired of Lake Crescent (perhaps because there was that off year where we didn’t reserve in time and ended up at its sister facility, Lake Quinault) but the tricky part of returning to the same vacation spot every year is not taking the same pictures of the same stuff every year. But I enjoyed the challenge. This was also the first year I shot pictures entirely with a phone (baby’s first smart phone) and not the little old digital camera we received as a wedding present nine years ago.

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The view from the porch of our cabin just after check-in. We got cabin #21 again.

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Breakfast in the sunroom on our first morning. Omelets, fruit, potatoes, very sweet butter, jam, amazing English muffins, very good coffee. Seriously, I don’t know what was up with those muffins, but they were fucking awesome.

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Look. At. The. Color. Of. This. Water. I did not use a filter on this image. This is actually what the lake looks like from the Spruce Railroad Trail on the north side.

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Cool rock formations on the Spruce Railroad Trail.

L: A tree etched with lovers’ initials and other graffiti on the Spruce Railroad Trail. R: Naked madrones on the Spruce Railroad Trail.

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We thought that this massive, flat rock in the middle of the Spruce Railroad Trail looked like the ideal place for local witches to get together. (My mental image includes both athames and Starbucks, because this is the Pacific Northwest – although there isn’t a Starbucks for an un-fucking-believable 20 miles.)

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Albino slug???? We thought at first that this might be a super-duper light-skinned Banana slug (Ariolimax columbianus) but it was not the right shape at all and completely free of spots. It was, however, the right shape and size to be one of the more common Black slugs (Arion ater). Wikipedia makes it sound like white Black slugs are totes normal, but trust me, as a Pacific Northwestern native and a lifelong gardener I have seen more than my fair share of slugs and I had never seen a white one until this moment.

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Lake Crescent, afternoon of day two, with little white caps and a steady breeze.

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Churning water at the side of the MV Puyallup on our ferry ride home. I love this color.

— Amanda

(not) Wordless wednesday

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[If you ignore this paragraph then this post is still wordless. Sorry I haven’t been posting much. This has been the longest radio silence on this blog since its inception in 2008. I don’t have a really good excuse: just the 24/7 distraction of the puppy and a bad case of the winter blahs. But spring is on its way, action has been taken against the other causes of mopiness, and soon I shall be writing again (both here and on my goddamn book). If nothing else – there’s always Camp NaNoWriMo to look forward to! So anyway – these pics are from a Forest Service job that Matt is bidding on. It’s a campground on a glacial lake. You can see in the second shot that the trees they want removed are marked. This place is beautiful!]

— Amanda

The Great Christmas Tree Hunt of 2015

Black Friday is my least favorite day of the year. Not because of the crowds – I don’t go shopping – but because of the snow, the ice, the altitude, the cold, the snowmobiles, the sheer bloody terror. On Black Friday we have The Great Christmas Tree Hunt. I married into this unholy ritual. What was I thinking?

Since time immemorial (that is, since whenever it was Matt and I started dating 10 or more years ago) I have had the screaming shit frightened out of me the day after Thanksgiving by the combined efforts of my husband (who fears not death), Matt’s family, Segelson ridge, frozen precipitation, motor vehicle failures, and reckless off-road driving.

The rules are:

  1. No one goes up the mountain until everyone is assembled. The party must advance as a convoy. Departure time is annually announced as 9:00 am but is usually not achieved until closer to noon as not all parties are A) dressed, B) sober, C) present, D) answering their phones,  E) other, as applicable.
  2. No one goes home until everyone has a tree. Sounds easy, I know, but some party members (who will not be named, to avoid legal repercussions) fall in love with and order cut and then, on closer inspection, despise up to five trees a year. (You can’t take a tree off the hill without a permit and there’s just one permit per household so the ones this person dislikes must be left behind.)
  3. No one can go home until at least one vehicle has been seriously broken in some way or has slid completely off the road (all four tires must be off gravel and a tow with a chain is required). Viable options I have witnessed include: A) fuel line disconnection, B) transmission line disconnection, C) punctured tire, D) severed brake line(s). I know from experience that regardless of precipitation, windshield wiper failure is not an acceptable breakage. (“Stick yer head out the window.” “Tie a stick to one of ’em and push it with yer hand.”)

The first few years I was dragged along attended this nightmare tradition there were snowmobiles involved. We convoyed up to the Sno-Park in trucks and then convoyed up to the cell tower on snowmobiles. Nothing could have prepared me for how much I would hate snowmobiles. A lifetime of riding bitch on everything from 2-stroke dirt bikes to chopped Harleys was insufficient preparation for the horrifying speed, the pitch and yaw, the painful stinging cold, and the nauseating view from a balls-out snowmobile piloted by a man who has already been legally dead once on a bright November day on a switchback on a 5,000-foot high ridge with not so much as a desiccated huckleberry bush to catch you if you roll or miss the corner.

This was the year I was finally going to weasel out of attending. The Great Christmas Tree Hunt is my least favorite day of the year (yes, after tax day and my pap smear). But it was Matt’s mom’s favorite day of the year (right after Christmas itself). And in July she died. And we all loved her like crazy (even me – not all mothers-in-law are evil). So this would have been the worst year to weasel out of attending.

So I didn’t. I went. And this was the first year that I bailed out of the truck before we “got to the trees.” (No really – that’s what they call it. Never mind the thousands of trees that we drive past on the 7 to 10 miles of Forest Service roads we lumber up to get to our destination. All that matters is the one species that the Finks crave: the Silver Fir. And they don’t grow below 4,900 feet above sea level.)

On the upside I didn’t puke this year.

I also learned something very valuable: if I bring chili and cinnamon rolls then next year they’ll let me out at the big Y (where it’s usually just muddy and not yet icy and snowy) and come back to get me and my food and fire when they’re done sacrificing timber to the great saw god, Stihl.

Noted. Perhaps I won’t weasel out next year, either.

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The view from where we parked. Off in the distance, appearing to float on clouds, are the Olympics! I could see my brother’s little neighborhood down in the valley.

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My favorite mountain: Whitehorse. This was our view on the way back down.

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Matt (dude), Jayne (truck), and my tree.

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Bobcat prints!

— Amanda

Anniversary 2015

You’ve waited patiently, and as of this morning I’m more or less caught up on chores and e-mail, so here it is: the image-heavy recap of our annual trip to the Olympic Peninsula. This year, as in 2013, we were able to get a cottage at Lake Crescent. Last year we went to Lake Quinault instead, because we didn’t make reservations at Lake Crescent soon enough. They are both incredible, both are in the Olympic National Park, and I highly recommend both, but for whatever reason we prefer Lake Crescent.

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Our 2015 cottage, #21, was next door to our 2013 cottage, #20.

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We spent a lot of time recuperating in the lodge’s main room after indulgent dinners. Those are Matt’s legs.

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Tipsy after-dinner selfie in the lodge.

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The lodge at night.

We ate like kings.

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Granny’s Cafe is one of my very favorite diners of all time ever, equal to Beth’s and the Iron Skillet. We ate lunch there both days we were on the peninsula. Both times I had a grilled cheese with tomato and a heap of sweet potato fries and both times Matt had a patty melt.

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Breakfast in the lodge on morning #1: I had the smoked salmon plate and Matt had the Lake Crescent Scramble.

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Dinner on night #2 in the lodge: I had the gnocchi with corn and caramelized onions and Matt had the slow-cooked pork shanks over garlic mashed potatoes. On night #1 I had the fried trout over mushroom risotto and Matt had an enormous bacon burger.

We saw lots of wildlife.

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On our first day, just after check-in, we ran into this guy so close to the lodge than you can see our new red and white truck in the background.

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There were lots of ducks, as usual. This little one, who still had tufts of down on her neck, seemed to like us best.

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On our second morning we saw this raccoon sneaking from porch to porch across the front lawn, hunched over and furtive, like he was coming home late from an illicit Dumpster party.

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There were plenty of my favorite (very judgmental) Douglas squirrels.

And, of course, there was the lake itself and the mountains around it.

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A rainbow in the morning mist on day two.

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The dock and Pyramid Peak as seen from our favorite Adirondack chairs.

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Crepuscular rays busting through the cloud cover in the morning.

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From a distance the lake is a dark teal color. But if you lean over the water it is crystal clear down to about 60 feet.

— Amanda

Going to my happy place

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Our chairs as seen from the breakfast room. Chairs in the lawn are largely blocking our chairs from view. I didn’t know I was going to have such fond memories of chairs, so I was taking a picture here of the lake and mountains.

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Our chairs as seen from the sunroom. Our chairs are the ones fortuitously lit up by the sun.

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Our chairs seen from a different part of the sunroom on a different day. I had no idea those chairs were in so many of my pictures.

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One of our duck friends at the shore.

When you are stressed or scared you are often advised to go to your “happy place.” Until recently this advice was useless for me, a habitual panicker, because until just a few years ago I didn’t have a happy place.

We don’t have a lot of money and we don’t get a lot of time off. Matt works two jobs and neither are terribly lucrative. So we just get one week off a year and if we want to go somewhere we’ve got to save up for it. So it had better be worth it.

We take this vacation annually on the week of our wedding anniversary. It falls on the week after Labor Day, when the weather is still good but the crowds are thinning and in many places fall rates have kicked in. Originally the plan was to stay somewhere or do something new every year. We went hike-in camping, we went on epic road trips, we stayed in some extremely nice hotels on islands and lakes. But in 2013, at the recommendation of an old Sunset Magazine write-up (the source of inspiration for many of our trips) I booked us a lakeshore cabin at Crescent Lake owned by the National Parks Department. By the time we’d been there just a few hours we were so besotted we declared that we could very happily come back to this place every year. So that was the new plan. But last year I booked in April instead of February and there wasn’t a single room to be had! Clearly, the secret was out! We opted for the next best thing, Crescent Lake’s sister establishment on Lake Quinault. It was pretty goddamn nice, too, but . . . just not Crescent Lake. I don’t regret going to Lake Quinault by any means – we had a fabulous time – but I do wish I had made our booking earlier so that we could have stayed at Lake Crescent again. Lesson learned, I booked in February again this year, the very day that our tax return money was deposited. And we got a cabin at Crescent Lake.

Enough self-congratulation. The point of this diatribe is that the first time we went to Lake Crescent was the first time I achieved true empty mind meditation. It was also the second time in my life I can remember being really, truly inside a moment of time, living without doing anything else – not narrating in my head, not making a mental note to do something later, not comparing this moment with any one of the almost 17 billion moments I had already experienced – in short, not running any background programs.

Prior to this moment the closest I had come to real mindfulness was a brilliant stretch of minutes I will likely recall on my deathbed, in which Matt and I were winding around Chuckanut Drive on a beautiful day with all the windows down and the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” blaring on the stereo. We had just been to my favorite junk store and we were on our way to Village Books, no doubt. But I don’t remember. Probably we had overdue bills and a sick cat and a moldering house at home. Probably we would come home to the darkness of returning to jobs we hated. It might be we were spending money we should have put towards those bills. I know we didn’t have current insurance on the car. I’m sure the car was knee-deep in trash (I only cleaned Gertie once a year). But all I really remember is the flickering light coming through the madrones, Mick Jagger’s voice in our ears and the smell of the tide at the base of the cliffs. I can replay it infinitely in my mind’s eye like a perfectly looped gif. And every time I do I get to replay the feeling, too. The weightlessness of being truly carefree with my favorite person in one of my favorite places. Reliving it sometimes makes me giddy (especially if I overindulge) but at the time I did not feel silly or heady or rushed or overwhelmed. I simply was.

Amazingly, my moment at Crescent Lake two years ago was even better. It was about 8:00 am on our checkout day. It was already late morning for us, but most vacationers were still asleep. We had had the breakfast room almost entirely to ourselves. On our way out of the lodge we hit the bar, which at this point in the day was just warming up the espresso machine. We armed ourselves with thick mochas, wrapped ourselves in sweaters, and commandeered two Adirondack chairs just feet from the lake on the pebbled shore. The chairs were grey from sun but smooth from wear, like driftwood. Our coffee was fragrant and hot but not as fragrant as the clean, wet smell of the lake as the mist burned off to reveal the nearly vertical, densely forested wall of mountain directly opposite the lodge. Ducks – female mallards – waddled around our feet and in and out of the quietly lapping, razor-thin edge of the dark water.

We sat there a very long time. I don’t know how long. I didn’t have my phone on me. We finished our coffees (and I am a very slow drinker), and the sun heaved itself up over a peak behind us, and the ducks swam off to the other side of the dock where other people were starting to stumble about, and the mist was just a memory.

But while we were there, before the coffee ran out and the people broke the long note of near silence and the ducks gave up on us, I managed to truly, completely, (and without intending to) utterly clear my mind. I wasn’t thinking “this is so fucking awesome,” or “shame we’ve got to leave all this in a few hours,” or “damn, that was one hell of an omelet,” or “I should go get the camera.” Unlike on Chuckanut I did not even think “I will remember this forever.” I didn’t think. No thinking at all. Nothing went through my mind. Nothing. I simply sat and experienced. I was my five senses and my autonomic functions and nothing else. No worries, no coherent thoughts, no judgments, nothing. And it was incredible.

So now when I’m at the dentist’s and I’m tipped back in the chair with four hands and a rubber dam in my mouth and I suddenly forget how to swallow and I want to flail and gurgle, and I feel the carbonation of hyperventilation starting to boil in my blood, I shut it all down and sit my ass back in that Adirondack chair at Lake Crescent. By the time my doctor can ask me if I’m OK I’m already peering through the mist, and I can feel the warmth of my mocha in my right hand and the ridged grain of the chair in my left and the cool, damp morning air through my jeans. And I just give her a thumbs up.

We check in again in 14 days.

— Amanda

Two waterfalls in one day

On Sunday I joined my husband’s family on not one, but two hikes to spread some of his mother’s ashes. I hadn’t been on a hike since our anniversary so it’s a good thing there weren’t many airborne bugs, because I walked the whole way with my mouth hanging open. You would never know I am a lifelong native of the Pacific Northwest. Get me in a forest and I turn into the double rainbow guy. “Oh my god, a tree! Another tree! Look at that rock! Look at that river! Oh my god . . .”

We hiked first to Boulder Falls,

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And then to North Sauk Falls.

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Frank (L) and Matt (R) shown for scale.

— Amanda

The 2015 Deming Log Show

You missed it. It was the second full weekend in June. But you should go next year. You really should. This was my 6th year.  If you remember enjoying the county fair but hate how noisy, gross, expensive, alternately commercial and broke-down, and boring it has become, you might like the Log Show. It’s got all the small town pageantry and field day feels you remember. Damn good food, reasonable fees, clean and plentiful bathrooms, buttloads of unique entertainment, gorgeous setting.

Look at these pictures and see how cool it is.

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Dominating the grounds outside the arena is this Skagit yarder. In the winter it is strung with lights to look like a 100-foot tall Christmas tree.

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There are dozens of cool trucks competing for various prizes. The grille on this one caught my eye. My brother’s truck wasn’t there when I was or I would have taken 3000 pictures of it, instead.

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Horse and carriage rides around the grounds (which also house several baseball diamonds).

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Some trucks arrive loaded to compete for Best Load of Logs. This is the one I was pulling for. If I had had the guts to get on the back bumper that middle log would have come up to at least my shoulder.

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Over in the antique machines area this steam tractor was chugging away manically beside some drag saws and hit-and-miss stump pullers. Attached to the long drive belt was a shake cutter. This thing was kind of terrifying, as it was essentially a half-size locomotive, lurching and shuddering. The whistle was so human and desperate-sounding that it gave me goosebumps. The stack blew smoke rings.

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The arena itself, one of few permanent log show arenas worldwide and one of (if not the) biggest is about the size of a AAA high school football stadium.

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I look forward to the barbecue all year. As always, I got the salmon. As always, it was perfect. Also shown: baked potato, garlic bread, baked beans, coleslaw, extra sauce. Not shown: 100 napkins, fruit punch.

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Matt opted for the Combo 2: chicken and roast beef. (And potato salad because he is morally opposed to coleslaw and all other cabbage products.) They gave him half a whole chicken because they thought he “looked like he could handle it.”

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This was the biggest friggin’ loader I’ve ever seen outside a mill yard. Look at the guy standing by the fence. He’s just ten feet from the tracks and he looks like a toddler.

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Opening ceremonies: all the contestants and the past presidents (in green shirts) line up for photos, announcements, and the National Anthem.

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Speed climbers! One of my favorite events and one that goes on throughout the day. Children and amateurs compete as well as world record holders.

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For scale, here’s the same shot, zoomed out. The spar poles are 90 feet tall. These amateur climbers will go only to the green line at 70 feet. But they will do so in seconds.

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SPOILER ALERT: Every year a professional log show clown climbs one of the spar poles, hooks up to a safety line, and proceeds to scare the ever-loving shit out of children and newcomers by juggling, dancing, and doing handstands. At the end of the act both he and his stuffed owl, Spot, are “shot” by a jealous husband. This clown is the son of the clown who did the show (and others) for 35 years.

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The grounds are littered with cool stuff like this stump chock full’o old chainsaws. There’s a working blacksmith shop, retired equipment from the days of oxen and old growth, and shrines to fallen men.

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The show is a benefit, so it gets serious at times, but mostly a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor prevails. There are lots of signs like these strewn about.

The whole name of the game is The Deming Logging Show For the Benefit of Busted Up Loggers. When my oldest brother’s leg was smashed in the woods when he was still a faller (the crew member who actually cuts down the trees) Log Show money helped pay the bills to get him, literally, back on his feet. Since 1963 the show has raised money through sales of admission tickets, food, souvenirs, and by auctioning donated items (like firewood, sand, and gravel) to help loggers who get hurt on the job.

In the events, actual loggers young and old, both solo and as teams, do the kind of work they do every day (and, in some cases, like single and double bucking and the standing log chop, work their grandfathers did) but at top speed. There’s axe throwing, log rolling (in a purpose-built pond right in the arena), relays, speed cutting competitions, trailer backing, truck loading, you name it. Some events are a little more loosely based on the practice of logging, such as ma and pa bucking, in which husband and wife or father and daughter duos race to cut rounds with old fashioned cross-cut saws (also known as misery whips).

And then there’s the infamous hot saws. Hot saws are the whole reason some people come to the show. According to the program, the hot saw competition “has the least number of rules of any event in the Log Show.” The objective is to cut a round as fast as possible. You can use whatever kind of equipment you like as long as no more than two people are required to operate it. The usual suspects range in size from my brother’s triple snowmobile motor through Harley-Davidson engines up to small and big block Ford and Chevys and one Land Rover. The noise is indescribable. The speed is incredible. The ungodly shriek of that little snowmobile motor makes children cry (which, of course, makes me grin).

The final event is an epic tug of war: children versus loggers, with a maximum combined weight of 1500 pounds of people and gear per side. As far as I know the loggers have never won, but I often take this opportunity to scamper out to Karl and zip away into the cooling, golden evening, windows down, warm breeze in our sunburned faces, cruising down back roads, bursting with good food, covered in sawdust, waving at the cows in the fields.

— Amanda