We snowmobiled 9 or 10 miles. I was in the lead and came around the corner to see the spire of Cathedral Peak gleaming in the midday sun. It wasn’t till later, on the way back, that I turned and snapped this photo. By then the sun had dropped toward the ridge and a thin layer of cloud filtered the brightness.

One of my favorite places to be is this wide glacial valley near the Cascade crest. The Cle Elum River is slow here, meandering through flat meadows fringed with dark firs and spruces. I’ve seen this place in the drizzling rain, in the hot sun through wave after wave of whining mosquitoes, in the brief colorful autumn of deep shadows and bugling elk. And in winter, when the trees appear to be brushed in ink against the pale meadows and flat sky. Today we ate lunch on the porch of the old cabin, basking in the warmth. I remarked on the silence, savoring the absence of any human clamor. Those moments must be treasured.

I’ve been thinking a lot about clarity these days, observing those rare times when the cold winter air snaps away any fuzziness. The sky and mountains seem to be especially clear and light, and the air seems to contain more oxygen. Lately the valley bottoms have been socked in with a dank penetrating fog, the kind of cold air that sinks and persists for days. It can be a week or two before I see the ridge on the other side of town. There is a blurry heavy feel to every day life, and the world outside the fog feels far away. Everything is obfuscated.

Like many people, I’ve been working through a procession of emotions and thoughts since the election in November. I’ve been shocked, despairing, unsettled, disbelieving, outraged, and occasionally amused into raucous laughter. American politics have been fraught with tension since the beginning of the republic, and the more I read of history, the more I believe it so. Tension between the interests of the individual and the greater good. Tension between the kinds of economy we could have. Tension between Puritans and the wild west. Tension between our values and those of other ideologies. I am a child of the Cold War and the protests of the 60s and 70s. I have witnessed turbulent times as well as relative peace and plenty. I understand that those in power will lie and prevaricate in order to stay in power, whether they believe their own lies or not. After September 11, 2001 the lies coalesced into a semi-cohesive version of reality. I remember laughing with my friends that “facts don’t matter”. Some people will insist that the earth is flat, that the Iraquis had weapons of mass destruction, that rape can be “legitimate”, that climate change can’t exist. It was easy to ridicule such ideas.

I’m not laughing any more. “Alternate facts” is another way of obfuscating, blurring, lying, creating a delusional reality. Besides obscuring the view of the big picture, settled fog has a way of stagnating the air and making it impossible for pollutants to escape. Pretty soon the air itself is toxic. It takes a major shift in the weather, a big storm to shove the fog and bad air out of the valleys. Then clarity returns for awhile.

In the meantime, we all need days like today. Days when we climb up out of the fog and emerge into brilliant light and clear air. Days when we can see, when it’s so quiet we can hear ourselves think, and when we can connect with a truth bigger than our own ruckus.

May you find clarity where you are.


A New Year

The problem with not posting for a long time is that the writer gets out of the habit of posting. The next blog entry is somewhat further down the list of priorities, and not as prominent in the tangle of things to pay attention to. I think about writing, but usually when I am doing something else. I believe that is called procrastination.

Anyway, the year has turned. It has never made sense to me to start a new year in the middle of winter. I am resigned to an arbitrary calendar, where days and months are made to fit into boxes. For me, the year really begins in spring, when living things wake up from winter’s rest. My sense of time runs along with the seasons.

I never make New Year’s resolutions. Such great ideas lose their luster after a couple of weeks, and the whole business falls through the cracks of life. Why set myself up for failure? If I feel the need to make changes, it’s often because something in my life feels out of whack. And I want to be in whack, in balance. Balance is a moving target, attained only to be knocked off kilter again. It helps me to think of balance as asymmetrical, rather than a relationship between two equal parts. This is a visual art analogy. One focal point may be balanced by several smaller elements elsewhere in the composition. The important thing is to keep the eye moving throughout the whole. It’s about the flow, rather than about the subject matter. For example, my day job is the weighty element in my life right now. Most of my waking hours are spent navigating through the shifting tasks and relationships associated with managing the field operations of a winter recreation program. This weight is balanced by little things like seeing the bright stars in the predawn sky, watching narcissi and hyacinth bulbs grow on a windowsill, preparing small tasty meals for myself, sleeping warm and well through the long nights after being in the cold outdoors. The activity and stillness in my days flows along in a seasonal rhythm. Home is for nesting and hibernation in January. I’ll consider being ambitious when the days are longer.

It is -6 degrees and snowing this night, dry sparkling crystals falling from the black of outer space. The world outside is quiet for the moment. Savor it. And Happy New Year.

New and Improved!

Long-suffering readers will notice a change. I’m sure there are questions. Here are a few answers.
Where have you been?!! Why haven’t you been writing?

I haven’t gone anywhere. I had surgery to repair a loose ankle ligament in March. By mid-September I was able to hike again, and returned to my place on the trail crew. Then I was busy catching up on all the things that had fallen by the wayside while I was gimping around. Now I’m ready to write again.

You’ve changed the name of the blog. What’s up with that?

It’s been on my mind for a long time to change the look of the blog to make it easier to read. When I started posting in 2007, I called it “Fieldwork” in order to tell stories about my adventures with the US Forestry Department (name of agency has been changed to distance my online presence from it). Over time, I found myself writing about all sorts of observations and reflections. The stories were more about my whole life than just about my job. So I decided to call the new improved blog “Ramekin Cottage”, after my home. It is here that all adventures begin and end, whether I’m out on the trail somewhere or chasing my hens around the yard.

Ramekin Cottage??!!!

Yup. Some friends insist that homes should be named. So in the past, I have lived at Filbert Park. Those friends live at the Spud Ranch. When I moved here, they asked what I was going to call the place. For a long time I didn’t know. The word “ramekin” popped up in conversation, and I thought That’s it! A ramekin is a small dish for baking individual servings of creme brulee, Greek potatoes or whatever. It’s apropos of nothing, therefore perfect for my house. And as for the cottage part, it’s not overly charming just small.

Are you still going to write about working in the woods?

Yes. But don’t be surprised to read about an assortment of other topics such as my experiments in micro-homesteading, books, art and other projects, feminism, growing older, the weather, memories, etc. Life is all of a piece, woven into a connected whole. I intend to write about whatever presents itself as a topic for consideration. I’m glad to have the company of readers–it’s always good to know what captures my attention may be of interest to others.

I’m looking forward to getting back into the routine of writing blog posts. I have missed the kind of focus and depth that comes from writing about the world. We’ll see where this goes. Continue reading “New and Improved!”

On Hiatus

Hiatus: any break, gap, or interruption of continuity.

Regular readers will have noticed that there have been no posts here for a few months. I’m taking a break from writing Fieldwork. Life has been different as I recover from ankle surgery. I am still not cleared to do trail work, but the time grows near when I will return to the woods. The blog will be updated when I have something to say. Right now I’m thinking.

Please stay tuned.

Humming Trees

My left foot is still encased in a fiberglass cast. April has been magnificent so far and I am determined to get outside to play in the garden. I stump around for awhile, then flop into the outdoor recliner and lean back. This takes the weight off my foot and tilts me toward the sky, where I gaze at the blooming maple tree. All those brilliant yellow-green tassels are flowers. What you can’t tell from looking at this photo is that the canopy of the tree is gently humming. It’s a low soft sound, which might be mistaken for something else. Lying on my back, listening, my eyes focus and then I can see the tiny shapes silhouetted–lots and lots of insects. They’re hover flies, and a few honeybees.

My honey bees have been quite active on these warm days, and male rufous hummingbirds zing through the garden as they establish territories. Butterflies and moths are starting to appear. Pollinators have been much on my mind since someone at work mentioned a website where you can submit photos of bumblebees for identification. It’s called While checking that out, I visited the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation where I learned about the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. Why not? I registered my garden, since it appears to be providing lots of pollinator habitat right now.

The arrival of honeybees in my life six years ago has been an experience in witnessing how connected all things are. As a beekeeper, I still have much to learn. They are alien and mysterious, but I’ve fallen in love with them anyway. All I have to do is provide flowers and water in the summer, and some sugar candy in winter. The hive is located in a place that receives morning sun, afternoon shade, and is somewhat sheltered from the wind. It’s tucked out of travel paths, but near enough that I can keep an eye on it. Henry, my big gray cat, spends hot afternoons in the shade behind the hive. My approach to beekeeping is pretty hands off. I figure they know what they’re doing better than I do. I don’t have any particular need to open the hive and look for the queen or see how much brood there is. Knowing how chemically sensitive honeybees and other beneficial insects are, I garden as organically as possible. By creating healthy soil and choosing climate-adapted plants, I rarely have problems that require chemical intervention. Diatomaceous earth takes care of the dreaded earwigs that devour my zinnia seedlings. Slugs are trapped with beer and aphids can be sprayed away with the water hose.

People who don’t keep bees can still do a lot to help pollinators. Avoid monoculture, both in your own outdoor environment and in your food choices. Plant a diversity of shrubs and flowers (including natives), minimize lawns, let some of the vegetation be wild and less-tended. Avoid pesticides and other garden chemicals. Do your homework. If you purchase plants from nurseries, make sure they are grown without the use of neonicotinoids. These are a group of systemic insecticides which remain in plant tissues, including pollen. Very bad for bees. Neonicotinoids are also sometimes used on hay. There have been reports of composted horse manure containing neonic residue, which contaminates gardens. (See, everything is connected!) Pollinators require water. I’ve seen bees landing on plants after I’ve turned off the sprinkler. They will also drink at puddles, bird baths, and swimming pools.

Lying there on my back listening to the maple tree hum, I am able to put aside all these concerns and worries about the messed-up world. I will do all I can in my small way to help these creatures thrive. But it is also necessary to marvel at the sheer wonder of flowering plants and pollen and how plant success is made possible by flying insects. (And birds and bats.) Amazement is a counterbalance to the uncomfortable knowledge of just how fragile the web of life is. Which leads me to the most important thing I have learned from bees so far…when I squat down in front of the hive and watch them coming and going, each of them doing her job, I know that their business has nothing to do with me at all. Or any other human, or any of our works. How marvelous to not be as important as I think I am.

Casting About

castfootMy latest adventure revolves around decades of being bipedal. The human body is an amazing organism, but it’s not designed to last forever. I’m talking about wear and tear on the joints. I feel fortunate that no bones have been broken in my travels (except maybe for one or two that didn’t slow me down much). But at the age of 56, I am experiencing a cast for the first time in my life.

After the past couple years of managing to hike, ski, and clamber around, my left ankle was so wobbly that I wanted to find out what was wrong. I have vivid memories of each time it has rolled to the outside, leaving me lying on the trail faster than I could blink. It’s not a good feeling to know that I could fall down miles from anywhere and find myself unable to walk. (Which is the case all the time, but more likely with an unreliable ankle.) Why risk it? In the immortal words of those hardy souls who have gone before me: “I might be getting too old for this sh*t.” So off to the orthopedic surgeon I went. He discovered that my ankle ligaments were intact but stretched like an overused piece of elastic. An easy fix–he tightened them up. That was eighteen days ago. On Day 9, I went back to the doctor to have the bandages and sutures removed and was fitted with a fiberglass cast. There was a wide choice of colors to choose from. In the end I made a conservative decision to go with good old blue, a color I can live with for four weeks. When I need more color, I can embellish it myself.

Life has slowed waaaaaayyyy down as I recuperate. My needs are simple, and I can walk enough to take care of myself. Friends are kind enough to bundle me in their car to take me on an errand or two. But mostly I am at home, reading, quilting, scooting around the garden on my backside to pick weeds and debris. This past week the spring weather has been so glorious that I can lie on a reclining chair outdoors, drowsing like a cat in the sun, listening to birdsong. My energy level fluctuates as the body goes about its mysterious healing processes.

I hope to be cleared to do trail work in June, but for now I wait. Before I know it the cast will be off and I’ll be able to drive again. Physical therapy will start, and I’ll be able to do more in the garden. I’m surprised to feel patience with all of this. It will get better, and when I hear the mountains calling me, I’ll be able to answer, “Yes, I’m on my way.”

Spring Has Sprung

My colleague Jon is fond of repeating: “You know what they say about the weather around here…if you don’t like it now just wait five minutes.” That is the perfect description of March in the Pacific Northwest. It is very early spring here, which means most of the snow has melted out of the yard and occasionally there is a burst of birdsong from the trees. But there can be a white squall of whirling snow or a bone-chilling downpour in an instant. Big billowing cumulus clouds with dark purple-gray bottoms pile up over the ridges, dump some rain, then dissipate in a blast of wind.

But, oh, when the sun shines! The warmth penetrates skin and brightness lifts the spirit. My boon companion, being feline, takes full advantage of sun spots. He stalks in from rain storms with spiky fur, demanding that I turn off the shower. But a bit of sunshine mellows him right out and suddenly all is well in the world.

I’m pretty sure I heard the soft chirp of a bluebird the other day. Snowdrops bloom, and crocus appear where snow flattened their slim leaves. From now on, the rush toward spring accelerates. But just to make sure we don’t take it for granted, just wait five minutes. The weather is bound to change.