6/20/2014   To Spain  
Didn't sleep much on the red-eye to Paris but Air France served a tasty dinner and I watched a movie after that. In the Paris airport I found free wifi so answered marathon emails during my four-hour layover. The customs official at Bilbao waved me through when he saw my American passport, and thanks to Daniel's detailed instructions I didn't have much difficulty negotiating the bus system to San Sebastian. Daniel met me at the bus stop in San Sebastian at 6:30PM, 23 hours after I left Jackson.
After dropping my stuff off in his apartment (and I think I took a nap as well) we walked downtown for a delightful dinner of seven pintxos (pronounced pinchos, Basque for tapas or small courses) with three kinds of wine at four different bars/restaurants. Highlights were the beef cheeks and the Foie at the first place we visited, La Cuchara de San Telmo, and the cheesecake at our last stop, La Via. I wanted to try Pulpo and had some at Bar Zeruko, a brightly lit place with a brilliant array fancy pintxos on platters on the counter. The Pulpo was not particularly flavorful but the squid (Cimarrones?) with caramelized onions and the steak (Solomillos) were delectable. We tried two wines there as well,a light sparkling white wine called Txakoli and a mellow Riojoa (a bit of an oxymoron) named Mauro. We wrapped up the evening by sitting on the seawall sharing a glass of sweet wine from Taverna Gandarias. A dinner of pintxos is definitely not fast food; it was 1:30AM (7:30PM NH time) by the time we got back to Daniel's apartment.
6/21/2014   Mugaritz and Ulia  
Today we ate an epic lunch at Mugaritz, a top-rated restaurant up in the green hills above Astigarrera. Our repast consisted of 21 courses over four hours and cost 530 Euros for two of us with wines. Each plate was a meal in miniature, the intense flavors and varied presentations evoking a multitude of restaurant visits and the overall experience a playful adventure, an intriguing exploration of new and familiar flavors woven into themes appreciated not only with the palate but also with mind and heart. The meal was less pretentious than my description, btw. At some point during the meal each table received a tour of the kitchen; we talked with the chef de cuisine and were served savory marshmallows made with pig's blood when it was our turn. Though the menu was somewhat different for each table, about an hour in we all received a small pre-heated iron mortar and a handful of frozen vegetables to grind in it, thereby not only participating in the preparation of our own meal but joining with the other diners in making a clinking chorus reminiscent of the bells of sheep on the hillsides around us. Waiters then distributed an aspic cube to each of us turning our mortars into bowls for a light and savory soup. Several of the entrees combined flavors of earth with flavors of the sea - fish with mushroom threads, octopus tentacles with beef sauce, cod tongues with caviar and cubes of lard. Only one contained red meat - wilted flowers and lemon sauce on the equine equivalent of veal - delicious. Our waiters escorted us to outdoor tables for desert, the culmination of which was a seven-layer stack of chocolate treats representing the seven deadly sins. How did they evoke greed in chocolate? They didn't - greed was represented by an empty bowl.
In the evening we set out on a 7 mile hike over the stunning coastal headlands of Ulia just east of the city. On the way up we met a couple carrying binoculars so I had Daniel ask them if they were birdwatching. They were, and though they didn't speak any English, we conversed for ten minutes or so about local birds. They told us about the European Shags nesting on the rocks around the point and a peregrine eyrie nearby. They also showed me a free app on their phone - Aves de Espana. Though all the text is in Spanish it does also have the English names for the birds, along with a search function which might make it useful. They were taking a different route than we were so we didn't get to bird much together. Discouraged by all the songs and calls I didn't recognize I didn't do an eBird list at the time but later I realized I'd managed to identify most of the birds I'd heard and seen, thirteen altogether. Lots of Robins and Blackbirds, and hundreds of Yellow-legged gulls nesting on the precipitous green slopes below us. The descent into the fjord-like harbor of Pasaia at sunset (around 10PM) was particularly spectacular. We took a little passenger ferry across to the village of San Juan, a cluster of old multi-story stone houses clinging to the steep shore, lining and sometimes spanning the single main street along the harbor. Rather different from the coast of Maine though we did split 3 lobsters (of sorts) for dinner. The claws were skinny as straws but the tail meat was delectably sweet. By the time we finished supper it was after midnight and the thunderstorm that had earlier threatened to dump on us had finished dumping and moved on. We were too late for the ferry and bus so had to take a 20 euro taxi ride back to San Sebastian. During the ride Daniel chatted comfortably with the taxi driver; he's become essentially fluent in Spanish and has picked up a little Basque as well. By New Hampshire time we went to bed reasonably early.
Another coastal hike planned for tomorrow, followed by dinner in and an early bedtime for a change.
6/22/2014   Jaizkibel  
We spent a lazy day in the apartment. Instead of going for a hike we went shopping at the local market and bought an intriguing variety of cheeses and meats for lunch. It was a delicious lunch - Jamon deIberico (ham), Cecina de Leon (cured beef), Quince preserves, a nice and dry yet inexpensive Cidre (hard cider), a couple stoneware cups of Cuajado (sheep's milk yogurt), two soft and one hard cheese whose names I never knew and a plate of steamed zucchini (fresh and less than a euro/kilo) along with a loaf each of seed-encrusted whole-wheat bread. Afterwards though, we were catatonic for several hours so we didn't catch the train to Irun for our hike until after 6PM. Daniel selected the hike in part because we passed through a marsh where he knew I'd enjoy seeing the birds. I did, delaying our start up the ridge by another 20 minutes or so. Fortunately birds were scarce later in the hike, particularly after the fog closed in on us, so we made it down to San Juan (again) before dark.
Once back at Daniel's apartment (via ferry and bus, and just ahead of yet another rainstorm, I downloaded and installed Aves de Espana. Should be very helpful on our long hike tomorrow.
6/23/2014   Aizkorri-Aratz Parque Natural  Aitzkorri topo map
If you have a car you take a more direct route up the mountain but Daniel and I took the train from San Sebastian past his school at Andouain, past the dramatic peak of Txindoki which we hope to hike tomorrow morning, past aging factories and through dark tunnels and ever smaller towns on up the river valley to Brinkola. "Are you sure?" the ticket seller had inquired when Daniel asked for two tickets to Brinkola. Attaining the summit of Aizkorri from Brinkola requires a long traverse across limestone crags and alpine sheep meadows once you gain the ridge, and few people go that way. Having only the train for transportation, Daniel plotted out the route in Google maps satellite view and did the hike last March when mushy snow and still-intimidating cornices forced him onto the rough limestone, slow and difficult going but he nonetheless made it all the way to the top. And back in time for the 6:18 train.
We made the train but not the peak. It had been sunny and warm, a cloudless morning, when we started up. We followed a paved road up past meadows and small groves of trees to a reservoir, crossed on the dam and followed logging roads up into the woods. The native forest had probably been mostly hardwoods dominated by oak and chestnut but much of the lower hill country has been planted to small groves of pine with some plantings of larch and Douglas Fir. Up near timberline gnarled and stunted beeches form enchanting green groves; surely pagans could be forgiven for thinking that was where their gods would choose to dwell. As in the Lakes District in England the tree line is probably artificially low due to years (centuries?) of continuous browsing by sheep; a few trees and shrubs (hawthorne, beech?, juniper?, gorse?) still hang on in rougher crags.
Birds were singing in the woods - Coal Tits, Iberian Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Chaffinches along with some Robins, Blackbirds, Firecrests and a Short-toed Treecreeper or two. Though there were probably a few I didn't recognize but I managed to identify thirty species and submitted the first checklist ever for the area, which was already listed as a hotspot with eighteen recorded sightings, apparently from last winter, despite not having any checklists. Aves de Espana, by allowing me to search for birds by their English names and then play their songs, really enhanced my birding. Up on top raptors and corvids were numerous, mostly Griffon Vultures and Alpine Choughs but I also saw my first Egyptian Vultures and a Black Kite, and some Red-billed Choughs were hanging out with the flock of Alpine Choughs. Both Tree and Meadow Pipits were singing their aerial display songs over the pastures and we flushed Black Redstarts and a Wheatear from in the rocks. We saw butterflies too, at least six kinds mostly down in the woods though most of the flowers were up in the high country. They were numerous up there and we saw at least twenty different species despite the intense grazing pressure from sheep. Wild thyme, white fleabane, yellow buttercups and cinquefoil, white pinks, a pink penstemon and a yellow and orange pea were all common. Few flowers were more than a couple of inches tall. We passed an occasional clump of green-flowered Hellebore, their leaves mostly reduced to filagree (by insects I assume; the sheep don't seem to touch it). Up in the crags we also found an orchid with a spike of pink flowers, a very fragrant yellow Erysimum, and some flowering Pinguicula, perhaps the same species that the boys and I first saw on Big Snow Mountain in Washington some years ago.
The terrain up high was rather odd. The range is basically a single ridge is composed of layers of massive limestone dipping steeply to the south-southwest with a single layer several hundred feet thick forming the spine of the ridge. The thinner layers below it apparently vary in hardness; softer layers are capped with meadows out of which the harder layers protrude in long parallel lines of outcrops. Sinkholes form pits scattered all across the range, some a couple hundred feet across and fifty feet deep, others as small as five or ten feet across and a few feet deep. Pits in craggy areas are lined with fallen rock but in meadows, they're carpeted with close-cropped grass and often shelter a clump of stinging nettles in their depths. In aerial photos taken in early spring, the pits stand out as circular or crescent-shaped spots of snow.
We reached the ridge at a large flat meadow, a pass between peaks named Arriurdin and Artzanburur on the map. Two trails cross there. We hiked up to a meadow band just below the crest of the ridge and followed it east over gentle terrain to an imperceptible summit named Aizlear from which we could see three higher peaks ahead. The weather was changing and the second two peaks were partially obscured by gray stratus. The first of the three peaks was a blocky gray crag named Andreaitz which we avoided by following a trail through the rough limestone capping the ridge. It dropped quickly into a vast meadow on the south side of the ridge. We traversed up to a low saddle in which a small herd of friendly horses grazed next to a big green sinkhole. From there we could see the second peak, an sharp crag at the top of a long sloping meadow. We considered bypassing it on the right but the meadows on the north side of the ridge were extremely steep so from the top of the meadow we scrambled up into the gray rock. A small group of friendly goats met us there and posed for photos with us.
At the summit of the peak, named Arbelaitz on the map, we stopped for a quick lunch while we considered the daunting prospect of traversing the rough knife-edge ridge between us and the fog-shrouded summit of Aizkorri. Tall cumulus clouds to the south shaded the valley below and fog played around Aizkorri, a kilometer to the east but only fifty meters above us. Even as we ate lunch the largest of the clouds overshadowed us and began spitting big raindrops. We both had doubts about continuing but I nonetheless led the way another fifty yards or so forward until the first thunderclap turned us back. Had we caught the train an hour earlier we probably would have been on Aizkorri when the storm developed and would have had to beat a hasty retreat far down into the valley then climb back over the ridge again in fog and rain. The fog closed in behind us as we dropped off Arbelaitz and shrouded our route all the way back to the big meadow at the top of the mine road. It cleared there briefly, long enough for us to have another quick lunch looking down over the valley to Brinkola and beyond to misty hills partly shrouded in stratus. The rain, though light, never quit and by the time we crossed the dam a kilometer from town the ridge where we'd been was completely obscured. We ran much of the way down and caught the 6:18 train with eight minutes to spare.
We were grateful to have caught the 6:18 train; had we missed it we'd have had to wait in the rain for another hour or more. The heavy cloud cover gave the feeling of dusk even though the sun wouldn't set for another three hours. Here and there along the way in towns as well as in the countryside we saw small plumes of smoke rising, and even open fires bright yellow-orange in the dim afternoon light. Probably not coincidence that it falls so close to the summer solstice. That explained the marching band down by the church later that evening in San Sebastian when we went in search of pintxos (pinchos) for supper. All four of Daniel's preferred places were closed for vacation, a breather before the summer busy season starts. We ended up at Atari Gastroteka. The food quality was uneven despite their being on the recommended list from Mugaritz. The seared tuna accompanied by sweet and sour cucumber was delicious but the tuna with olive and green pepper, with all ingredients straight out of a can, was not and the Foie was uncomfortably accompanied by vanilla cream and strawberry jam. The grilled bread pudding desert was quite good but as we left one of the servers ran out after us with a second desert in hand, claiming we had ordered it. That was embarassing particularly given the honor system by which those places operate, but our server vouched for us that we'd ordered only one desert and that we had paid in full for all our food.
6/24/2014   Punta Pikatxia  
My last day in San Sebastian. Daniel was teaching, his last day at school, in the afternoon so we got out in the morning though not on our intended hike up Txindoki because the mountains were socked in clouds. After dithering over breakfast we decided to hike back up to Punta Pikatxia, the first promontory east of town, because I wanted to go verify that the cormorants we saw on our first day out actually were European Shags. Some people visit churches while traveling abroad but I prefer Shags.
Attempting to get down to the point, we explored some of the smaller trails that branch off the main trail. Some led only to secluded little picnic spots tucked away in the thickets but eventually we found the route down to the point, and even better little "picnic" spots. Unemployment among young people is very high in Spain so unable to afford places of their own, or even shared with friends, many live with their parents. Privacy, particularly for sexual trysts, is at a premium and we speculated that that might be the reason we passed so many little picnic spots hidden in the bushes. Some even had little piles of condom wrappers by their entrances. Fortunately all were unoccupied at midday on a Tuesday afternoon. The very best spots were down on the point, enclosed by colorful hedges of pink hydrangea and opening out to the ocean for spectacular views of sea cliffs with Yellow-legged Gulls wheeling overhead. Getting there wasn't easy; the trail skirted precipitous overlooks and meandered through old stone forts, but the destination was worth the trouble.
Out on the point I photographed gulls diving on Daniel and got a few distant Shag shots as well. They were European, and not the Great Cormorants which are (maybe?) more common in the area. Thanks to Aves de Espana and eBird, I was able to confirm that the little brown birds singing in the bushes were Melodius Warblers, another new species, but I wasn't able to get any photos of them.
I'd hoped to go back after lunch but was too tired. When Daniel got back we ate supper out on his balcony, a less elaborate affair than our lunch the other day but good to share one more meal together, and good conversation. I don't think we've ever shared such comfortable and personal conversation as we did during this visit. I didn't want to come to Spain but I'm so grateful that I did. Daniel has been a gracious and thoughtful host, and being with him has brought me more joy than I've felt in a long time. The birding (54 species), the hiking (42 miles) and the food have all been wonderful but the best part has been just the time we've spent together.
6/25/2014   Home  
I didn't dread returning home the way I sometimes have but it was a long trip, some 28 hours door to door. My plane was late leaving Paris but fortunately the flight to Seattle from Boston was delayed as well; otherwise I'd have missed it. I slept from Bilbao to Paris, read a book on my Kindle from Paris to Boston and slept again from Boston to Seattle. My ankles were swollen for the next two days. Compression socks might be a good idea next time.
7/04/2014   Marathon Planning  
A week to go, and we haven't started packets, or chili; we haven't received our permit to use the parking lot at Twin Falls Middle School, nor do we have buses lined up. I sent out email to some of the volunteers yesterday but have assigned only a quarter of the positions so far. Not looking forward to the next week but probably won't do much until after the Cook Park marathon on Sunday.
Did Mt Si with Rikki and Robert yesterday. We walked all the way up and ran most of the way down, about 3 hours altogether to cover 8 miles. The sky sprinkled us with little raindrops now and then but the temperature was about right. I enjoyed the flowers - red Paintbrush, yellow Arnica, pink Fireweed, magenta Penstemon and blue Lupine - scattered among the rock outcrops below the haystack (the summit crag). I scrambled to the top of the haystack despite somewhat dysfunctional arms then found the descent scarier than I'd remembered but made it down OK. Rikki and Robert waited for me at the base. Gray jays escorted us from the summit back down into the forest.
Afterward I had lunch with Rikki at the North Bend Grill. She's on the committee to put on the Tunnel Lite marathon so I briefed her with an overview of the significant tasks involved and some of the finances. Putting on the marathon requires permits and insurance, volunteer coordination, runner list and email management, food shopping and preparation, aid station staging and setup, checkin, finish area setup, course and finish area cleanup and post-race results and followup.
I spent much of the day trying to reconcile the taxes and fees per runner with the amount Databar charged us, and wasn't entirely successful. Outside heavy rain fell for an hour or two several times; Tim reported at one point that this might be the most rain ever recorded on a single day in July in Seattle. Good excuse not to go running though in the evening I attended a free outdoor Shakespeare play in Lynnwood anyway. The show would go on rain or shine, their website said, and it did. The crowd was a quarter the size of the group that gathered in a sunny park in Edmonds where Ali and I attended the same play last week. Tall firs enclosed the little amphitheatre in Lynndale Park and the benches were still damp though overhead the sky had cleared. The players were no less engaging but the event seemed to lack the slapstick energy I remembered from last time. Perhaps it was I who lacked energy; when I got home I was too tired to make myself supper. I'd put off eating during the day too, intimidated by the effort of preparing lunch. Fixing food and showering are difficult with my weakened arms.
I remembered part of a dream from last night:
Susan and David and I were on the dirt bank of a stream and in the still water at our feet was a ahallow square tray like those in which young plants are stored. A couple dozen foot-long fish like trout were packed loosely into the tray. They were lazily swimming in place but were on their backs, bellies up as if they were dead. I wondered what type of trout they were and watched until one turned on its side. Seeing the golden-brown flanks and scattered red spots I concluded that they were brown trout. Next to the tray in the water was a much larger fish, almost three feet long, lying on its side with its head near us. I thought was a salmon because of its silvery color though it was long and lean with greenish blotches on its sides like a pickerel or muskie. Parts of its gills were disintegrating into white threads but the fish seemed healthy and its flesh was firm and strong. David grabbed it in front of the tail and lifted it out of the water. As he held it I was thinking that I would need to dress it out now that he'd caught it, but then I saw that there were bloody marks all along its belly as if it had already been cut open.
A man wearing dark blue clothing appeared on the bank above us. Afraid that he might be a game warden I tried to explain why David was holding the fish. Feeling bad that David might get in trouble, I told the man that I'd asked David to pick the fish up and that he had done so, but the man wasn't a game warden and didn't care that we had the fish. I wasn't sure that the fish was edible so David took a piece of it, perhaps the tongue, to taste. It was whitish and rounded and rather hard so David held it and used his front teeth to scrape something dark like chocolate off its surface.
I understood the dream once, but have since forgotten its meaning, other than that it had something to do with my death, and how David might be coping with it. The trout in the tray looked dead but were still alive. The salmon was likewise in a state somewhere between dead and alive. David sampled it but would presumably find it distasteful since he does not like chocolate.
8/16/2014   Kaleetan Peak  
Another test for my declining arms - can I still scramble up Kaleetan?
Tim and I set out around 9:30 and figured we'd be back by 5:30 in time to meet friends for dinner. That's about how long it took the boys and I to do the hike last time. We hiked up into the overcast at Hemlock Pass after humid two hour hike, the air neither cool nor warm. I carried only a pint bottle of water and expected to find numerous small streams in the upper valley but only two were running, up at the head of the valley. I refilled my bottle there with a little thrill at drinking directly from the stream. Maybe I'll get sick and die.
A crowd was camped at the lake, most of them on the far side. We continued to the second lake and followed a track along the left side, the hard way. Wet too, from fog-dew on every twig and needle of the scrubby hemlocks blocking our route. The clouds began to break up above the lakes and we even glimpsed the peak now and then. The sun even came out while we ate lunch. We sat on a crumbling boulder the size of a small house in the middle of the valley and watched the fog tangle with the trees on the slopes of Denny Mountain. I had a pickle sandwich; Tim had bread and smoked cheddar cheese which he shared with me. It smelled a bit like the smoked squid we carried with us as we hitchhiked the length of Nova Scotia after my time in Newfoundland.
Tim suggested we ascend by way of Melakwa Pass so we traversed talus and a little snow to get up there at the head of the valley and peer over the other side to still-ice-bound Little Chair Lake. The summit of Kaleetan Peak was in the fog. We followed a track up the ridge from the pass, then up a steep gravel and heather slope to a little gully up to a little pass - the same route I'd taken my very first trip up Kaleetan back in 1982 or so, and never found again. From the little pass we traversed more steep gravel at the foot of the summit cliffs to reach our usual route, a steep but easy scramble up stepped ledges to the summit ridge. The gully scramble to the top of the peak was similarly easy, with clumps of yellow cinquefoil to brighten the way.
We waited on top for the fog to clear and it eventually did. Though we never saw Snow Lake we did glimpse Frozen Lake far below us, and then a few hazy peaks off to the south and west, Granite and Pratt perhaps. Descending via the ridge route we strayed a little too far onto mossy ledges while detouring below the first high point on the ridge, slowing our descent for a couple hundred feet. Though the view from the 5700' point was better than on top, the mosquitos were thicker too so we didn't linger long. Nice flowers along the talus on the descent to the lake. My legs began to get more tired than I expected on the hike out. Tired legs could mean more rapid progression of ALS which could cut my already-short life expectancy in half. But scrambling up Kaleetan was still well within my abilities ten days short of a year after my initial death sentence.
8/17/2014   Fremont Peak  
Co-led a nature walk to Fremont Peak lookout near Sunrise in Mount Rainier National Park today. Not wanting to drive up alone, and figuring that David would enjoy the hike, I invited him to come along. Then figuring that Susan would enjoy the outing as well I invited her too. When I showed up in Auburn this morning David was ready. Susan was not. We arrived 45 minutes late at Sunrise but managed to catch up to the Audubon group within an hour or so. They immediately suggested I take the lead so as to point out the birds, and I immediately remembered how much I don't enjoy doing that. There were few birds but we did manage to see some Mountain Bluebirds and an American Dipper so the birding wasn't a total bust. I also picked up my first of year Northern Goshawk. We flushed it from a tree near Shadow Lake and it flew directly away from us but its body was clearly too large for a Cooper's or Peregrine and the wings too short for a Red-tail. Stiff wingbeats, strong rapid flight. David thought it was gray above too.
Susan, David and I ate at Jacksons on the way home. My seafood linguine was forgettable but I ate too much of it nonetheless. Very tired.

My alarm interrupted a dream this morning.
Susan and I were walking through the countryside, in the winter I think. We passed through a farmyard where I took three pieces of chalk. Two were shaped like a section of aluminum gutter filled up with water, a few inches long and flat on one side. One was white and one was blue or black. The third piece was brown and shaped like a piece of ice frozen in a paper cup. We walked down a gravel road which was icy; for fifty feet or more I was able to slide freely on the dark ice. At a T intersection we turned left onto a paved road. As we walked along I used the longer blue chalk to draw a zigzag line on the pavement. The line looked black in the dim evening light. Suddenly I realized that the chalk that I'd absent-mindedly picked up belonged to the farmer and that he would need it. I told Susan to go ahead while I ran back to return the chalk, then I would catch up to her.
On my way back up the gravel road it was dark and a large farm tractor was coming down the lane, its headlights filling the narrow passage between tall hedgerows. A little afraid the tractor would see me, I found a place to step off the road by a door through the hedge. The tractor passed by without noticing me. Back at the farm it was daytime and summer and the farmer and his wife and adult son were looking for the chalk. I put the white and blue pieces on the top rail of the fence at the entrance to the farm yard and started back down the road, keeping the round brown chalk for myself. Then I realized that I had no use for it and that the farmer did, so I went back to the farm even though that would delay my catching up to Susan. The farmer thanked me for my honesty or integrity in returning the chalk then added, laughing, "But if you hadn't I'd have had to kill you." We both knew he wasn't entirely kidding but I felt good anyway, having done the right thing.
On the way back down the gravel road I slid on the ice again, this time managing to keep sliding all the way down to the paved road, partly along on a line of pale green ice in one track of the lane. I didn't see Susan on the paved road, which ended abruptly at the fenceline of another farm. I saw a track leading off to the right from the end of the road and considered following it. Susan called "I'm over here, P", confirming my guess as to which way she'd gone. She hadn't gone as far on her own as I thought she would have in my absence but she had moved ahead even though the way was unclear. She was on the other side of a barbed wire fence so I found a place to squeeze under it. The bottom strand of wire was pale green and densely barbed but I only got caught in one place and unhooked myself easily. The ground was dusty with blue-green weeds about 8" tall which I didn't quite recognize. We continued until we reached a barn. It was dark out but when Susan opened the door there was a light on inside the barn. We had just stepped inside when my alarm went off.
The setting of the dream is England - the countryside, the lane framed with hedgerows, the zigzag line marking areas of the road where cars should not stop. The time frame is long - seasons change, days and nights pass. The chalk refers to a time in childhood when I was myself, a dim memory of finding chalk hidden away in the barn in Jackson perhaps. I left Susan to return to myself and it was the right thing to do. The paved road ends, our marriage ends, but the dream itself ends on an optimistic note, that Susan and I continue on together in some way, through the barbed wire and the darkness.
8/24/2014   Story Workshop  
At the suggestion of a friend I signed up for a 4-day story workshop at the Allender Center, which is affiliated with the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology.
Preparation for the workshop consisted of writing a story about a painful event from our childhood. I chose an incident in which dad asked me to buy some bread then got irritated when I was intimidated by the crowd in the bakery and failed to carry out his request. Here's my story:
Dad was probably irritated that morning when he stopped at the bakery, gave me a couple dollars and asked me pick up a couple loaves of bread.
The bakery was a small house little different in size or appearance from its neighbors, like them set back a bit from the street with a rickety picket fence out front enclosing an unkempt yard. There was no sign; people just knew that the blue house with white trim on Alder Lane was Pennel's bakery. The front room was made over into the shop with a yellow counter across from the front door and wooden cooling racks behind it.
I'd been there once before to buy bread with Dad but that time there was nobody else in the shop. We'd just walked up to the counter where Dad had told the girl that he wanted one of the large loaves on the rack. She'd slipped the warm brown loaf into a paper bag and handed it to him. He'd given her a dollar and we walked out together. This morning was different.
It was Saturday morning and we were on our way to Bonne Bay for a family weekend. Mom rode in front with Dad and we kids filled the back seat. We were going to ride a ferry and have lobsters outside on the pier for lunch. I think we were in a hurry; perhaps that was why things had felt a little tense before we left the house. Dad didn't really park the car out front this time; he just stopped in the street. He gave me two dollar bills out of his worn brown wallet and told me to go inside to get the bread. Some kids would have been proud to do something grown up like that but I was a little scared.
I was just a kid, maybe nine years old. The bakery room was full of people, all grown-ups. There were men in blue jeans and t-shirts and women in short-sleeved dresses. Some of them were talking to each other but most were just waiting. I was too small for them to notice me, too small to see past their elbows. Afraid to ask if they were waiting for bread, I just waited too, standing by the door at the back of the crowd, savoring the fragrance of fresh bread wafting through the room. "It'll be just a minute now" announced the girl behind the counter.
Then I heard Dad growl behind me, his voice sharp with irritation. "What are you doing here? I sent you in to get some bread. Give me the money." Before I could explain that we were waiting for the bread to come out, he was pushing forward through the crowd and up to the counter. "Two loaves please", he barked.
"Yes sir", replied the girl at the counter. "But would you like a cinnamon roll too? They're just now coming out."
"No, just the bread", my Dad replied. His voice was nicer though, not harsh the way it often was with us.
I hoped he would get a cinnamon roll but when he turned back towards me holding the two bags of bread, his lips were tight. He didn't look at me, just strode past me and out the door. I followed quickly behind him, my face flushed. It felt like everyone was looking at me. The car was still running out in the street. I made sure to climb in the back seat before he could slide in behind the steering wheel. I didn't want to keep him waiting. As we drove off Dad muttered to himself, but loud enough for all of us to hear "I don't know what's so difficult about buying a couple of loaves of bread."
Mom looked straight ahead. No one said anything. When Dad was upset no one wanted to get his attention; no one wanted to be yelled at. My sister looked at me with sad eyes, like she did whenever Dad was angry at me. Maybe she thought I was a failure too. I just looked out the window and wished that Dad had never asked me to buy bread.
Is it true? In fact, no. I had to make up all of the details. In spirit though, in feeling, in effect, it was very true, so true that I'm still uncomfortable ordering a drink at a crowded bar. I still expect to be criticized for taking too long, for not speaking up, not being assertive enough, not being "big" enough. Moreover that image of my father is indelibly stamped on my picture of God. Like my father, God has given me tasks that are too much for me, then condemned me for failing to do them.
I had no idea what to expect at the workshop. What we (70 or so attendees) got...
9/02/2014   Ocean Shores  
Great day of birding today. got out on the Game Range at 8:30 after stopping to use the porta-potties at the beach access for Damon Point, where I misidentified a juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird as a female Bobolink. What can I say? It was backlit. Though rain had been forecast, the morning had dawned clear and the sun was bright in the east.
I met a photographer at the east end, taking pictures of a group of Greater Yellowlegs, but he soon wandered off. continued west towards the salt marsh, not finding much besides the Yellowlegs until reached the far side of the mudflats. Another photographer was tromping around out in the mud, intent on something between us which turned out to be four Pacific Golden Plovers, three molting adults and one bright buffy juvenile.
I digiscoped a few shots then flushed a small group of medium-sized shorebirds from the salicornia/marsh grass. When I relocated them I confirmed that they were Pectorals, except that one seemed different. No streaks on the breast. I didn't recognize it and suspected it might be the Ruff reported a few days earlier, except that the legs appeared greenish-gray rather than yellow. I got a few distant photos then left the birds to go retrieve the other photographer to see if he could confirm the ID. His name was Greg Thompson, and he was shooting with a Canon 800mm lens. He been looking for the Ruff and was grateful that I had found it. We followed the birds around taking photos. Several times they came within 20 feet of me so I got nearly full frame images with the 80-400. Greg must have done well indeed with his 800.
The birds flew across the channel and it started to rain. Back at the east end of the mud flats I was counting ducks when I spotted a different sandpiper. It was one of the previously reported Stilt Sandpipers and it allowed me to get quite close as it foraged near both a Greater and a Lesser Yellowlegs. I took lots of photos. It was only my second Stilt Sandpiper and my best views of a Lesser Yellowlegs.
The rain had tapered off and the sky was already beginning to clear as drove over to the jetty. I'd hoped to find the reported Ruddy Turnstone there but though walked all the way out to the end of the jetty it did not make an appearance. There were hundreds of Sooty Shearwaters coursing south about a quarter mile off the jetty and several Black Turnstones and Wandering Tattlers among the big rocks. I also picked up my first of year Common Murres . That made 259 species in Washington for the year. The Ruff was the big deal though, my 599th North America life bird.
I woke up from a rather vivid dream last night.
In the dream I am lying on the stage during a play. The setting seems to be like the Jackson town hall where we had school plays when I was in grammar school. I came up to the stage to fix something I think, then the play started and so I lay down on my stomach on the floor with my knee up as if I were sleeping in an attempt to get out of the way or not be seen by the audience. I am wearing my dark blue wedding suit, the one I wore when I was married and in which, as Susan and I used to joke, I will probably be buried. The play consisted of two men, both bearded, dressed in the style of the 19th century photos and standing in a rather cramped library with bookshelves, a desk and file cabinets. One of the men was tall and might've had a name like Larson; the other man was shorter and stockier with a full salt-and-pepper beard. They were debating something, I don't remember what, and they completely ignored me even though the taller man had to walk around me because the stage was narrow and I was in the way. At one point he paused near me and used his toe to close a file cabinet drawer which was partly open, in the manner of someone idly fiddling with something while he talks. The stocky man mostly just listened.
The play ended and a few people clapped. There were quite a few empty seats. When people started standing up I too stood up and walked out into the crowd and sat down in one of the seats, which were small as if made for children. Then Susan came over to me. She had been sitting in the back of the room with some friends. She asked me if I would go over to her friends and explain my situation or perspective to them. Since I didn't know what she had told them about our separation and divorce, I wasn't sure what to say so I asked her what she wanted me to tell them.
9/14/2014   Tunnel Lite Marathon  
I didn't have much to do with putting this one on. Sabrina, Bill and Susan were the heroes of the day. Sabrina was the acting race director coordinating volunteers, following up all the loose ends, making sure that everything got done. Bill set out the course last night, then picked it up again this afternoon. All the aid stations were in the right places and they had the right mix of Gatorade and water and no one ran out of cups. There were a few glitches a check in. Bill forgot to bring the drop bags up from the storage place, so we made do until Susan brought some from Safeway. The volunteers and the first bus all arrived before Sabrina showed up with the check in tables and materials. The Porta potties were on the wrong side of the restroom building so the runners had to run around them. But the two starts were both on time and everyone showed up had a bib waiting for them. Sabrina even had a volunteer reminding people to display their Discover passes so no one got ticketed.
It was cold at the start, only 39F. I got there around 6:15 having brought Shelley Curtis from Seattle and picked up Eric bone at Garcia. I helped mark drop bags and hand out shirts. At one point I had to use the Porta potty, and when I was done I couldn't fasten my pants so I just took them off. Fortunately I was wearing my running shorts underneath. To warm up again I took a 10 minute drive in the Subaru with the heat on full.
I started with Leslie but ended up running through the tunnel with Hope Fox at about an 8:45 pace. At the exit I waited for Leslie and we ran together for several miles then I picked up the pace to keep up with Larry Qualls. I pulled ahead of him after the 10 mile aid station but he caught me again at Garcia and left me behind around mile 15. I was starting to get pretty stiff and tired at that point, and from then on I couldn't keep up with anyone around me though I mostly kept on running. Leslie passed me around mile 23, and a mile later I caught up to Jules Mann with whom I walked and ran to the finish. My splits were 2:02 and 2:39. I felt pretty good about that first half. The second half on the other hand almost persuaded me to stop running marathons.
Susan did the food again and as usual, it was great. The chili was delicious, the watermelon refreshing, and the mixed nuts with cashews and Brazil nuts, classy. I didn't feel too well though. I mostly just wanted to sit down. I visited with wild Bill and Gary fresk and other people there; it was a cheerful and happy party on a warm summer afternoon. Susan had invited Gary and Udell to help out and it was nice to see them again. Someone brought up the idea of the ice bucket challenge and barefoot Jon and I volunteered. Gary and David took video while barefoot Jon and I yelled. It was one of the big galvanized tubs full of ice cubes and water that had been used to chill the drinks. Afterwards Monty and I showered in the left over drinking water. I wasn't much help taking down canopies and backing up food; my arms can't take much of that, but I stayed until the end. Bill and Sabrina took everything over to the storage place; the boys and I loaded the signs and cones into my car, and everybody but Susan and me went home. We had a comfortable dinner together alone at the North Bend Grill.
9/15/2014   The Day After  
It felt as though almost every part of me was sore this morning when I got out of bed - neck, shoulders, upper arms, middle and upper back, sides, legs and calves. I hope the soreness is simply a result of running 25 miles at a fairly hard pace after three months of not running more than a half-dozen miles hard. Whenever I get sore now though, I have to fear that it may be due to muscles being weakened by ALS. That is no doubt the case for the soreness in my upper body. Regarding my lower body though, I haven't run more than 80 miles in a month since April and have historically not run well on less than 120 miles a month. I should probably up my training and see how it goes.
With Lynn today I talked about two dreams, the one about the bearded men from a few days ago and one this morning which went like this:
I am playing happily with the boys in a mostly empty room with wall-to-wall plush off-white carpet, perhaps like Gibson Hall. The boys are young, maybe under six years old, and I am on my hands and knees with them. I need to urinate, and for some reason I don't want to go out to the bathroom, so I look for a place in the room and I stand up and go in the corner. Then Susan comes in the doorway, and there are two puddles of dark yellow urine in the carpet right in front of her. She steps over the first one and I'm hoping that she won't notice them but then her heel lands in the other puddle. She notices and I'm both ashamed that she stepped into my urine and afraid of how she will react, but the dream ends.