Land of Gray

Semi-submerged log in Lake Washington at St. Edwards State Park.

Semi-submerged log in Lake Washington at St. Edwards State Park.

The Pacific Northwest is known as a land of green, but in the deepness of winter, I sometimes feel grey is more appropriate.

I mean it as an observation, not a judgment. Grey is beautiful and varied. In high school my absolute joy was black and white film photography. The silver compounds in a sheet of photo paper can synthesize what sometimes feels a truer vision of the world. The essence of objects is demystified through disassociation from their colors, their true forms and place shown by their relative values.

The sky in winter is perpetually gray, with blinding brightness bursting forth along the horizon below the cloud layer. Lakes turn silver, reflecting the gray. Weathered trees in the water seem colorless, existing in form and shade only, tintless.

The dimmer light of our short winter days desaturates the greens of the trees, naturally giving the world the look of an old-fashioned Instagram filter. Winter feels muted, hushed, in the uniform light. Shadow and highlight are not so different. Differences are obscured.

The constant mist of rain shrouds colors further. Larger raindrops fall, silver to white against the darker earth.

A Lull in the Storm

A calmer afternoon at the lake. I wished I had my camera today, but instead decided to paint the sky with words.

I ran today at sunset down by the lake near my house. The sky was heavy with blue-violet clouds, complacently holding their rain after seeping all morning. Unfriendly waves assaulted the beach, sprinting from far across the lake. White frowns topped each pulse of water. A steady breeze accompanied the waves, pushing them, racing them? The sky and water were nearly the same color, but the jagged water seemed angrier, though the sky held promise of storms to come, the memory of storms past. The urgent wind, not cool, not warm, cautioned me that the storm was not past, not fully. Incongruously cheerful kites pulled kitesurfers roughly across the waves, stretching their arms in their sockets.

I ran further along the shore.

Golden sunbeams oozed through the dark clouds, staining the closest with a light wash of brightness and rimming them with white. A flock of small birds swished back and forth before settling on the water. Warm orange with a fading dream of coral conquered some of the airier, lower clouds. Yellow-orange shifted abruptly to indigo a third up the dense cloud bank like winter was plunged into the essence of summer. Golden threads of cloud hung like harp strings across a blend of blue and amber. Far away, the palette merged, the blues and yellows nearly indistinguishable.

I paused to watch the water.

The water reflected the sun’s fading warmth, black ripples marring the sheet of gold where the waves tilted towards me. An eagle harassed the flock of birds, swooping once, twice, three times, pushing the flock apart like a breeze scattering leaves. Each time the eagle pulled up, taunting the smaller birds like the rain clouds taunted me; the storm was not over, the danger was not gone. The lull in the storm was only a reprieve.

The Joy of Backpacking

Tracy backpacking in Kahurangi National Park in New Zealand in 2005

Backpacking is miserable, but I can’t get enough of it. If I could spend the whole summer out in nature on the trail, I would. It’s mentally and physically challenging, every day facing:

  • blisters, aches, and pains from your feet to your back;
  • long slogs up steep slopes that demand your mental fortitude to persevere;
  • flavorless food in various textures of mush;
  • cold fingers and cold feet;
  • heavy loads that never seem to lighten;
  • chafing straps and the constant battle to settle your pack comfortably, switching the weight from shoulders to hips to shoulders;
  • the risk of injury or getting lost without anyone to help you, demanding your constant focus;
  • finding and hand-pumping your water (I know, this doesn’t sound like much, but I find it’s a total pain in the ass).

So why take on the misery of backpacking? The challenges are worthwhile for the perception switch to the rhythm of the trail, the simplicity of trail life, the satisfaction of self-sufficiency, the beauty of the landscape.

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Appreciating Pacific Northwest Summers

Rainstorm moving in over the Hood Canal

Rainstorm moving in over the Hood Canal, August 2010

Summer is officially here!

But as I write this, the sky is a dripping white ceiling of clouds, and the rain is forecasted to continue for days.

When I was growing up, summer meant sweltering heat, sundresses, water gun fights, lemonade, sunburns. Since I moved to the Pacific Northwest, where the summers are notoriously mild, I’ve adjusted my expectations. After three summers, I’ve realized that I shouldn’t expect hot or sunny days until July. We Washingtonians love to lament our lack of a summer. But there’s plenty to appreciate about our cool Pacific Northwest summers.

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