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Revisiting Lake Angeles

I always enjoy going back to places and revisiting them at different times of the day or year. I’m intrigued by how the same place can be so different and yet still be obviously the same place.

I tend to move my favorite green chair and ottoman from room to room as I learn how a house wants me to inhabit it. My favorite chair is the same/different place in each of the rooms in each of the houses I have owned since I bought it.

When I run, I run on trails (both paved and unpaved) that become very familiar through repeated visits. This little rise, that turn and the way it reveals a different view, this bunch of tree roots, that meadow, those rolling hills all become etched in my memory until I could run them in my dreams. I no longer have to look at my watch to know how far I’ve run; the trail tells me where I am. Yet even a very familiar trail can be a different place if run in the other direction or at various times of the day or year.

Now that I am beginning to do a lot of hiking, I feel a bit of a dilemma about placemaking along hiking trails. Some trails, like Hurricane Hill and Sol Duc Falls, are old favorites that I want to return to again and again. At the same time, I feel the call of new trails not yet seen. Which shall I do today? How should I choose from among so many potential new favorite places?

I am indeed fortunate to have too many options so near where I live.

The first mile of the trail up to Lake Angeles, to the place where the log bridge crosses the stream, has become a frequently visited new “friend” of a trail. The two mile round trip is an easy hour’s hike with an elevation gain of just under 1,000 feet.

Beyond the log bridge the trail is not so familiar. Back in May I wrote about my first visit to Lake Angeles, which is at the 3.4 mile point up that same trail. That hike was a rugged trek through deep snow, and reached an underwhelming end at an iced-over, fogged-in lake.

This past weekend I went to Lake Angeles again. This time it was sunny and warm, and the snow was completely gone. What I saw there was breathtaking. I was dumbstruck. This is what was lurking behind the fog of that first visit:

Those are waterfalls, multiple 100+ foot waterfalls, coming down those cliffs on the far side. It looks like one of those impossibly beautiful and probably fake places that show up on motivational posters. But it is real. And it is right here, not very far from my house.

The trail continues up to the top of that ridge, another 2,000 feet higher than the lake. My friend and I were tempted to start up that trail, but there is still a lot of snow up there. We’ll save that part for another day later this summer… and an early morning start for what will be a major adventure.

Meanwhile (despite the fact that I mostly blog about hiking these days) most of my energy is still focused on running, ramping up the distances and building my comfort level with running on rocky, root-filled ground. My excitement is building as the Alaska marathon cruise approaches. I’m still not completely comfortable with running two days in a row, but I figure my Alaska trail “race” experience will not be all that tough on my knees, what with the frequent stops for photo ops and all…

Those trails will take me to places I’ll most likely only see once in my life, so I’ll only get one shot at placemaking. I want to have enduring memories of the “where” and not just the “how fast.”

I shall be slow, happy, and present. Every step of the way.

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Right here, right now

I’ve been very busy the past several days, trying to meet short-term work deadlines and making other preparations for a few days of the luxury that I am now experiencing… a gift to myself of time, space, and the company of a community that is very dear to me.

I’m in a California coastal city for an annual gathering of students and faculty at the university where I did my PhD. Coming back here as an alumna, I don’t have to attend seminars or dissertation committee meetings. I can drink in the energy around me without absorbing any of the stress. This is one of the few places where I can talk about Dasein without getting blank stares in return. I spent some time in the bar last night discussing the finer points of a single essay by Heidegger, with a group of students who treated me like a rock star. I need this sort of occasional reminder that, in the arcane world of the academy, I can legitimately claim to be the global expert on one minuscule piece of humanity’s knowledge base. That’s very cool, on the totally cerebral plane.

Yet I’m also here to soak in the sight, sound, and smell of the ocean. I’m here to sleep in late and then go for a run along the beach. I’m here to practice this experience of being alive and present. Right here, right now.

So this is a short post, and I may not be able to respond to comments quickly. I’m going out now to walk on the beach and decide which direction I want to run. Or maybe I’ll decide to simply walk today. Either way, I shall have fun.

I shall have fun

Happy New Year! I truly believe that 2012 will be much better than the really awful horrible year that I have just put behind me.

Although I’m a self-directed, goal-driven sort of person, for some reason I’ve never been one to make new year’s resolutions. I’ve never thought that just because we’ve turned a page on the calendar, I’m somehow magically going to overcome all of those bad habits and character flaws that in fact only become more deeply ingrained with the passage of time. I have learned that the experience of a major life transition is a truly difficult and painful journey. It is not simply a decision to “change” but rather a process of coming to accept that an old ME is gone and that I must work hard to become someone who can be renewed, different, stronger, and more resilient.

I have also learned that even though it is painful, it is also possible to imagine a better future, to describe it in great detail, and to somehow forge a plan — even if only one step at a time — for how to get from here to there. That’s how I completed a mid-life PhD. That’s how I went from not being able to walk without pain to completing four half marathons (so far). That’s how I learned to be a caregiver, even knowing that this was not going to lead to a happy future. This is how I am recreating my life now.

I spent the last few days of 2011 and the beginning of 2012 completely off-line. I’ve had four days off from work. I did not check my email or look at Facebook or this blog. I didn’t even run, although I walked quite a bit and I do plan to run again at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning. A friend came to visit at New Years, so I did not have to mark this holiday alone. I have had time to think about what is truly important to ME. As a result, surprisingly, I find that I do have a resolution of sorts… a very simple one.

I SHALL HAVE FUN.

I don’t want to waste another day, another minute, being miserable. Life is much too short for that. I shall focus on being present, as fully as possible, in the midst of every moment that I have. Yes, there will be times when I hate my job, when my knees hurt, when I am lonely, when I am pissed off at Kurt for leaving me too soon, when I beat myself up over things. But I’m going to make a conscious attempt to be present, enjoy life, and find some fun in every day.

So when I whine, will you please remind me that I have resolved to have fun? With your help and support, perhaps I can really make 2012 the year that Lori comes home to herself and knows that she really, truly, will be OK.

It’s a brand new day,
It’s a brand new day!
For the first time in such a long time
I know I’ll be OK.

~~ Joshua Radin

Here and elsewhere

This isn’t going to be one of those posts in which I whine about being somewhere and wishing I were somewhere else. I also won’t write 1,000 words — I promise.

I wasn’t sure last night whether my knees were ready to run again this morning. I didn’t leap out of bed in eager anticipation. I’d actually slept through the entire night, something I haven’t done in a while. It took me a few minutes to get going; I got started about ten minutes later than usual.

Then I went out and ran 4.09 miles and for at least part of that time I was… elsewhere. I settled into a comfortable pace that would have been impossible a few months ago. I barely glanced at my watch.

I do remember seeing a few people out with their dogs. I remember noticing the fresh snow on the mountaintops. I remember slowing down twice at corners to allow cars to pass… I keenly remember feeling the small draft of cool air that followed their passage.

At one point I realized that I must have forgotten to take one of my usual turns, because I couldn’t remember having seen that street. But when I got home and uploaded my Garmin GPS watch data to my PC, there it was on the map. I’d been on that street. I’d taken the exact route I’d sort of roughly planned, and my per-mile times were all within a few seconds of each other. I’m not entirely sure where my conscious attention was while I was on that street… it was elsewhere, or maybe it was nowhere at all. Maybe I was in a blissful zen running state of presence/nonpresence.

In any case, I came home awake, refreshed, exhilarated, and pain-free. I like that.

“Sightseeing” around the neighborhood

My self-created training plan said “4 miles at the crack of dawn” today, and the wind that has been blasting for the past two days finally relented, so I got up well before sunrise and went out the front door. It was light enough for me to see just fine, but as a precaution I put on my reflective vest and stayed on the quieter streets in my immediate neighborhood. The sun rose about 15 minutes into my 45 minute run, although I did not actually see it until 30 minutes in.

The houses here are more modest but still mid-century interesting. Over the past two winters here I’ve found a variety of shorter and longer loops through the neighborhood so that I can vary my routes from day to day according to how far I want to run and how unpredictable I want to be to anyone who might be paying attention. The biggest challenge with running loops is figuring out which way to turn when, so that I arrive back at the condo as close as possible to my planned mileage for the day. I did that rather well today, logging 4.07 miles.

There were no gardening crews out today (although I do see them frequently in this neighborhood), but I did see two people walking dogs and one older gentleman moving right along on a bicycle. I was looking for the roadrunner that hangs out at one of two adjacent houses with especially nice desert landscaping, but he was a no-show today. I did see and hear several ravens, a bird I’ve always especially enjoyed, so it was a good morning’s wildlife viewing. When I got back, only a little later than usual for work, I ate my fresh-picked grapefruit and felt healthy and reasonably happy. Running is good for me. Too bad my knees won’t let me do it every day.

It’s been interesting to get to know the neighborhood and watch it change. As a resort/seasonal destination, this area was hit hard by the real estate collapse. Some houses look more rundown now than they did two years ago, while others have been bought and restored or updated nicely. Overall I think the neighborhood has improved, but it could be my perception of it that has changed as I’ve become more comfortable with it.

The view from my running feet is so different from what I see from a car. I doubt I would have noticed the recurring roadrunner appearances if I were driving that particular street several times a week. I might have seen the ravens but I wouldn’t have heard them. I probably wouldn’t have paid attention to the gardening crews, or to the people who get off buses from outlying towns to walk or ride their bikes to their jobs as housekeepers and bus boys. All of that is hidden from the tourist’s view of the retro-chic downtown. So while I love running through the more affluent neighborhoods past world-famous houses, I’ve also come to appreciate my immediate neighborhood because it shows this city as an authentic whole, as a real place where people live and work and accidentally create roadrunner habitat. I rather like seeing it that way.

“I am as you see me and I belong here.”

I was thinking about architecture the other day. Architectural theory played a big part in my dissertation on the experience of being in a place, as how can one have an experience of being in a place without having places, whether natural or built, in which to have one’s experience?

I love modern architecture, especially of the mid-20th century variety with its flat roofs and blank street faces opening to walls of glass and and inside-outside views to the rear. I was re-reading some passages in the book Thinking Architecture by the Swiss architect and architectural theorist Peter Zumthor, in which he quotes and openly credits the philosopher Martin Heidegger’s concepts of building, dwelling, gathering, place, and space. This was the “missing link” for me as I attempted to form connections between complex philosophical concepts, their realization in architecture, and the lived experience of those of us who dwell within built places.

In the brief quote referenced in the title of this post, Zumthor is speaking on behalf of a building, imagining how it sits and feels at home in its surroundings:

To me, the presence of certain buildings has something secret about it. They seem simply to be there.We do not pay any special attention to them. And yet it is virtually impossible to imagine the place where they stand without them…. They give the impression of being a self-evident part of their surroundings and they seem to be saying: “I am as you see me and I belong here.” (Zumthor, 2006, pp. 16-17)

I like this quiet statement of confidence and at-homeness. It is a seemingly simple yet consciously composed sense of presence, self-acceptance, complete and coherent in itself. “I am as you see me and I belong here.” To me this is the ideal, the essence, of being in a place. I strive to feel this way in my skin. To varying degrees, I feel it in my two homes, very different yet born from the same aesthetic sense. I can feel completely at home in either place while I am there. Sometimes I feel torn between the two places, which represent two quite different ways of being in the world. My heart belongs to the Pacific Northwest, but I have to say I appreciate having the option to go elsewhere when the winters get too dark, cold, and damp. It certainly is easier for me to go out the door at dawn to go running when the sun is shining and I have no worries about ice underfoot.

I belong here… but can a bi-platial person ever fully belong to either place? I wonder.

Practice

Just a few brief thoughts tonight, because writing is a practice, and like any practice it requires conscious, regular attention.

I had some errands to run this afternoon and found myself downtown with 30 minutes before my next appointment. I might have driven around aimlessly. I might have gone home, only to sit for 15 minutes and then go out again. I chose instead to go to City Pier, park my car, and walk slowly out to the end of the pier and back. I was wearing my Five Fingers shoes and I noticed the difference in feel between the hard, flat asphalt and concrete of the parking lot and sidewalk and the slightly softer wood timbers of the pier. Each wood beam, although visually on the same plane as all the others, had its own angles and bumps, each one asking me to pay attention. The pier took on a life under my feet, which I’d had no idea was there before today.

It was a perfectly calm, nearly 80 degree afternoon. I stood at the end of the pier and watched the Coho ferry coming in. I noticed the ship’s red-and-white reflection in the water, ruffled by its own wake.

I walked back to the base of the pier, where the water is only a few feet deep and I could see the bottom near the mouth of Peabody Creek. I noticed the small waves that found their way into that far corner of the harbor. I noticed the way the waves broke up the sunlight and created moving patterns of bright light across the seaweed and rocks on the bottom. I watched that moving light for several minutes.

Then I walked back to my car and drove on to my next errand. I felt refreshed, calm, and grateful for the few moments I had created for walking and paying attention.

Life is a practice, and moments are what we have.

Moments of pure perfection

I ran 10 miles yesterday morning, per my plan. I was recovering from a headache and didn’t feel 100%, so the last few miles got a bit tough but I still managed to finish a bit faster than my goal pace. I was tired afterwards and allowed myself the luxury of a long nap later in the afternoon. My knees felt a little achy last night but by this morning I was fine, no knee pain or muscle soreness at all. I may be finally reaching a state of fitness such that I can go out, push hard, and not be totally wiped out for days. This is a good thing, given that I expect to run three half marathons over the next five months. I won’t have room for days or weeks of slack time for recovery between races.

Even though I had to work hard yesterday, I still took the time to look around and enjoy the beauty surrounding me. I happened to hit the waterfront trail during an incoming tide with decent-sized surf, and I gratefully absorbed the “WHOOOSH-crack-crackle-crack” sound and energy of the waves hitting the rocky shore and then rapidly receding. I saw six female red-breasted mergansers swimming in tight formation, with no males or babies in sight — I guess it was “girls’ day out.”

Today was “girls’ day out” for Cathy and me, as we decided that a trip to the Hoh rainforest and out to the west coast was just the thing for such a lovely late summer day. The Hoh is considered one of the “must-see” places in Olympic National Park, as it’s deep in the heart of the rainiest part of the rainforest. We walked both of the short loops that start at the visitors’ center, about 2.4 miles total. There were lots of people, mostly Asian families, but we had a few moments when we were relatively alone and could simply listen to birds and the river. There is a much longer trail that would have taken us well away from the tourists, but we had additional plans for the day. Besides, it turned out that the Hoh isn’t any more spectacular than other places in the park that are much closer and more accessible… to those who know where they are (and I’m not telling you, not here). The Hoh may have a larger percentage of truly huge trees, and it has some bright grassy meadows. These natural clearings are due in part to the grazing habits of elk (they eat the seedlings of anything that might become large, which make certain open spots tend to be come more open over time), but we didn’t see any elk today.

These meadows create wide-open views of both solo giant trees and “colonnades,” which are astonishing formations of trees that grow atop “nurse logs,” or fallen trees. As this photo shows, some of these latter-generation colonnade nurslings are giant trees themselves.

After our walk we enjoyed a picnic lunch bothered only by a few curious bees, and then headed back out toward highway 101 and points further south. We stopped briefly at Ruby Beach, which is one of the most photographed locations in the park, but it was so packed we had to park the car way up the road and could only catch a glimpse of the sea stack and beach through the trees. So we continued south to the beachfront Kalaloch Lodge.

Kurt and I had visited Kalaloch at least twice, but we’d somehow managed to miss seeing the LODGE, and I honestly thought the resort consisted of a small store, a few beach-front cabins, and the beach itself. The lodge’s restaurant, with its stunning outdoor deck, came as a complete surprise to me. Given Kalaloch’s reputation as one of the best storm-watching sites on the Pacific coast, we were thrilled to have bright sunshine, a light breeze, and a temperature of perhaps 60 degrees. We sipped our beers, enjoyed a light meal, looked at each other and agreed, “This is a perfect moment. We must treasure moments like this.”

So we did, and so we shall. I’m truly beginning to see that life is lived in moments — and that some of our moments can be rather awful — so the thing to do is to be fully present in those perfect moments, feel them, experience them, and then try to create the conditions in which they might appear again.