Walking for Blackberries

Sharp flashes of brightness hide behind branches and foliage. Shining in the sunlight, the fruit lay dark against the green leaves of the hillside vines. Wild blackberry harvest is coming.

Being new to this area, I hadn’t known exactly what would spring from the vines I had been walking by for almost five months. First, I saw the woody clipped vine, then small new green buds, then tangling arms of leafy berry vines. Knowing USA’s Pacific Northwest is famous for its berries, I hoped for the exotic salmon berry. But I also knew that blackberries were better at growing in the wild. Then, as I saw the black globs mounting bigger and more numerous against the vines, I knew I could celebrate the abundant blackberry, tart and sweet.

But I didn’t know the berry-picking etiquette in this neighborhood of hillsides owned by everyone. For several days on my walks, I watched people inspect the vines. A few days later, the first neighbor returned with baskets. A day after that, I counted eight different pickers taking berry bounty from three different areas of hillside vines. On my next walk, I brought along my own small basket.

I knew to be careful. As a child, I had picked wild berries in the hills of the Northern Sierra Range in California. As an adult, I savored the Southern Sierra mountain berries. The vines guard their sweet fruit with hairy stickers that sting with more fury than their size should be able to hold. Did I see my neighbors wearing gloves? I should have remembered that little trick to berry-picking. But my small supply of fresh-picked berries gave me only one sting. I escaped home with a nice supply of shining blackberry harvest. Berry, berry good.

Today, I walk again along the sidewalks that border the berry hillsides. I haven’t brought my basket, thinking that berry harvest is a rapid season and I may have missed my chance for a second pick. I turn onto a slightly different path than my usual and begin a walk around a gravel section of a neighborhood park. There are vines alongside the path here, and I notice the dark berries have been harvested. But as I walk closer, I also see that a second offering of green globs hide behind the leaves, waiting to ripen. Berry goodness will deliver a second offering, just one more welcome to the neighborhood.

Walking small

An American friend who lived for years in India tells the story of her first successful experience wearing a Sari, the traditional Indian women’s clothing. She was tightly wrapped into the fabric by a Sari expert. When she complained that she couldn’t walk in such a confining garment, the expert said “Take smaller steps.”

I am living this advice right now. It might be a philosophical outlook on life, or a good recipe for putting one foot in front of the other. No matter how I look at the moral of this small story, it fits. My walks now call for smaller steps than I am used to. Even the territory I cover is small compared to walks I have taken in the past.

I take a step and appreciate things I wouldn’t have seen five months ago. I remember the place where the bunnies hide, where to get the best view and how to avoid the crack in the sidewalk from all the past times I have come this way. I know how fast the plants grow and where the roots of the biggest tree loop over each other in a braid. Smaller steps give me the chance to be grateful for some simplicity in life and the fact that I can still get up and go.

There are so many things to look at when I am looking for details. Just three feet away hovers a huge bumble-bee-like creature. Its chubby body stays suspended mid-air. Two tiny frogs jump out of the wet grass, and bounce into the weeds. Weed or unknown local plant? Or both? If I study the growing things for a moment or two – or three –  I can activate my memory enough to investigate with my northwest plant guide when I get home. It’s a luxurious feeling, taking my time and slowing my steps.

 I notice I am measuring in units much, much less than a mile. In front of me is a curving stone path and I wonder if I can build something like that in my own yard. Three paces uphill and I see the berries are ripening on vines that have been growing since early spring.

Maybe I can even have a walk in my mind, and maybe that can be enough. So many great walks are there for the imagining. Or even remembering. Inside my head is a mental recycling plant that lets me enjoy rambles twice. In fact, it’s a good investment: Next time I go on a walk in a new place somewhere far away, the routine won’t be such a rusty old process.

Is your walk philosophical, real, or a nice blend of each? Is it long or short, and does it change with the seasons? Stepping out of our usual habits isn’t all bad – it’s something to think about next time we put one foot in front of the other.

Long walks or short, large steps or small, it’s up to each of us to keep going in our own way. Maybe we can’t make the Saris of the world adapt to us, but we can do small things to adapt to the world. If I can hear a great story from a friend along the way bringing me laughter and making me think, all the better.

Thank you, Ann

Walking the urban forest

It’s heaven-sent. During this time of boundaries closing tight, someone had the foresight to keep pathways open. A person I don’t know, about 20 years ago, designed an urban forest to help me today celebrate the natural world. More precisely, someone made it so the forest that was already here wasn’t swallowed up entirely by new homes. I am a lucky sort today, because that space is where my walk takes me.

The pleasure of being able to step from concrete sidewalk to crushed granite path into soothing coolness gives me a moment to pause. It’s a quiet walk, no others within ear shot. Perhaps it’s the time of day – mid afternoon – when every creature takes a rest.

Except me. With each step into the shade, the distant freeway traffic hum, the occasional whirr of small airplanes, the in-and-out of neighborhood inhabitants, all these usual every day sounds are muffled, then fade, then are gone. A simple quiet surrounds the magic of light passing through a split branch of moss-covered old pine, the tender changes in green from tiny leaf to stem to vine, and the delicate yellow and pink of blossoms I haven’t yet named.

The route is adventurous. The trail veers down and makes me evaluate my mountain climbing skills. It’s a mini-mountaineering escape in a twenty-minute time capsule. Other walkers have slipped, leaving their mud tracks in three-foot long skids. I decide to scoot over to the edge. I side-step my way down, cushioned by a layer of old pine needles, crushed brown leaves and the wisdom of being in my sixties with no desire to see if I can recover from a slide down 30 feet of forest. Luckily, this particular path is kind. It exits the forest onto a separate side street and into the neighborhood without needing a return hike back up the slick incline.

But not before I walk through the section I have named Fern Gully. How did these living things survive an ice-and-cold winter? They sit to the side of the trail, ferns more delicate than the tatted-lace doilies my grandmothers’ mothers used to make. Right now, just entering full summer, they have uncurled finger-tipped leaves with hairy undersides in shades of the forest that change as the sun passes by.

Now, the trail feels like the backward beginning of my stroll: into the full sun, onto crushed granite, then hard cement sidewalk. It’s easy to think that the walk, so simple and small, was just a mind’s adventure, just a moment to escape a worried planet. I wonder if I’ll be able to find these peaceful footsteps next time I need an escape. But I smell the lingering pine and cedar, and don’t have to look back to know it’s really there.

As my walk ends, I step through a baracade of trees that reach up 100 feet and into my backyard. The fat leaves of a tree I still cannot name hang down to shield the sun. Climbing onto the small hillside of my back yard, I am home.

Thank you, urban planners. You made today’s walk a welcome relief  in an up-and-down world.

 

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Walking around a lockdown

 

It’s time to get up from my old chair, step out from a front door that is new to me and take an everyday walk around a locked-down neighborhood. The neighborhood itself is beautiful, and wonderful to explore. We have hills to keep us in shape, streets to walk, and glorious weather from sun to misted rain. There is even a forested neighborhood park that makes me believe I have moved far away from civilization.

But I have moved to Olympia, Washington and straight into a stay-at-home order. Like most everyone in the world, I seek some sense of normalcy, so I continue my daily walks. Now, instead of new cities and countries and continents, I explore near-by streets, and if I’m lucky, a new path through the close-by forested park.

Today I head out through my backyard onto a cut-off hilltop that I have named Pixie Woods. A tiny grassy meadow circles a large water tank, and trees – probably a dozen whose names I do not know – grow everywhere. I look straight up from my footsteps and I see limb after limb and leaf after leaf and beyond that, blue sky. I look down to my shoes and see moss and lichen and ferns and hundreds of small growing things. They might be weeds, but are so delicate that I cannot imagine anyone wouldn’t want them growing in profusion, as they are doing now around each of my footsteps. I am from a place of perpetual drought, so the faint color in the pin-sized flowers make me feel protective – how do these fragile growing things survive?

I pass through the small park and walk on a main road that takes me up to the top of the hill I live on. Overlook Park is here. Today clouds near and far hide Mt. Rainier, an icon  I had assumed I would have visited by now, two months after I moved to this place where there is so much to explore, but not right now, not for anyone, including me.

I am lamenting too much. In the midst of an earthly microbe showing us how powerless we are, everyone in my household is healthy. That, all by itself, should give me more comfort than I have ever deserved. Even the tiny weeds with their shy flowering bits should give me hope.

So, my walk is grateful. Really, truly filled with gratitude, even if I have to force it just a bit. Because day after day, the same walk can become boring in its beauty. Maybe I haven’t, by some good fortune, been infected with a virus, but I have always been infected with restlessness and that large failure of simply being human. My mind keeps craving a walk to Tumwater Falls, to Priest Point Park, and to the Nisqually Nature Reserve, all close-by but for now, off-limits. So I take a deep breath, and in good moments, am satisfied with the smallness of this neighborhood, beautiful and safe.

I walk back up to my new-to-me front door, and practice patience. This unknown home town will still be here in a little while, when it is safe to explore.

 

 

Finally, back with the worldwide walking group of the famous RJo!

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Walking with the PNW Ferries

 

Sometimes there is just too much magic in this world. How do people build the things they do? How do people think up what should be in any given place, and how do they convince other people to buy into their idea of magic?

That has always been my reaction to the ferries that people in the Pacific Northwest take as ordinary parts of daily living. I have known about these contraptions for a very, very long time. Maybe I even took one as a young child on a family vacation. But the fact that some people use this system of hollowed-out ships to go back and forth to work makes my mind go blank. Is this a good idea – strapping yourself and your vehicle onto a boat and floating out across unsteady water every morning and then turning around to do it all again before dinner in the late afternoon?

It makes me wonder about how we all arrange our everyday lives and how differently we adapt to our surroundings. The ferries in and around Seattle and the beautiful island groups of the Puget Sound area are an adventurous example of people adapting to the place they live. Today, my walk will be around the corridors of a boat designed for this special region.

We are taking our first ferry together, my husband and I, during the summer months, when tourists – like us – invade the PNW ferries to experience the beauty and the style of this unique place. We line up with a group of vehicles at 7 am for the 8 am ferry from Port Townsend to Coupeville. We are early because of our fear of missing the ferry, or of getting lost on the way from Port Angeles, or of getting bumped off our reservation by a multitude of other tourists who are earlier and more anxious to get on the ferry than we are. The online site for the ferry system has extremely severe warnings about getting to the ferry early – at leat 30 minutes ahead of time – and always reserving your spot.

Our drive from Port Angeles is beautiful – gracious views into the sound, faint sightings of Victoria, BC in the distance, and rich forests with generous grasslands. We are entertained by the sights and reach Port Townsend with plenty of time. We wonder how to do this ferry-thing. An hour of lag-time doesn’t seem like too much to figure things out. But there are road signs that we follow, and it all becomes a simple process. We spend a small moment wondering why we had made ourselves get up at the crack of dawn to get here. Still, we aren’t the first people in line.

More and more cars and vans and recreational vehicles arrive. An enormous 16-wheeler pulls in, then another. A fellow in a toll booth guides each driver to one or another of the eight – or is it nine?-  lanes. There must be an ordering or a logic to the system, but I am glad I don’t have to know it myself. We park where we are told to park, then wait with everyone else. People get out of their vehicles and chat, or sit in their cars, getting that bit of sleep that the earliness of the ferry had denied them. It is all very orderly and confident and seemingly time-worn. This may be my first adventure on this ferry, but other frequent ferry-goers give it all a feeling of calm and regularity.

A couple traveling on their motorcycles from Bremerton, WA tell us what to expect on our way to Friday Harbor today. We had begun to wonder if we hadn’t planned too much for this day, if we would really be able to go all that distance, getting off this ferry in Coupeville and driving all the distance of Whidbey Island, then through Fidalgo Island to the town of Anacortes where the San Juan Islands ferry departs, getting into another line like the one we were already in, and finally cruising all the way to the last stop on the ferry line. Would it all play out as we planned? The couple assured us that people do it all the time, even by bicycle. In fact, there are several people who walk onto the ferry by foot, obviously with a plan as to what to do when they disembark. It is all so new to us, and it is nice to have some of the Bremerton couple’s calm ease our nervousness.

It all goes according to plan. The sun shines the entire way. We have views of mountains and views over waters, and views to towns along the way. Our usual sense of travel confidence returns as the day goes on. By the time we reach the Anacortes Ferry and take our place in line, we feel like we know what to expect and expect it will all go smoothly. It does, and we spend a calm and pleasant night in Friday Harbor, before returning on the ferry the next day, like pros who know much more today than yesterday.

Mostly, we now understand the logic behind this magical system of delivery. It would make no sense in most places in the world, but somebody with an incredible sense of planning and insight figured out the perfect way to get from one place to another in this area of spectacular sights and unique inventions.

Walking a rainforest trail in Olympic National Park

 

A rain forest in the Pacific Northwest of the USA? Washington State is far from the tropics, and I have always associated rain forests with equators, hot weather and steam. I plan a visit – laced with a good deal of skeptism – after our romp around Hurricane Ridge.

Twenty minutes down the mountain we drive from the snow-crusted high-altitude of Hurricane Ridge. The Olympic National Park guide promises a rain forest walk close by. What do they mean, I wonder? Are they just tickling my fancy? Why am I wearing a jacket to a rain forest? There is still a layer of snow on the underside of my tennies. I think a public affairs person has gotten a bit over-enthusiastic with the details of this brochure. Rain forest? We’ll see.

I have to settle for the small rain forest walk near the Hurricane Ridge Visitor’s Center just outside Port Angeles, because the roads to the park’s Hoh Rainforest are still closed because of snow. Snow. I am still suspicious that winter weather and ferns can co-exist. We’ll just see.

We park at the visitor’s center lot and follow a racing group of twenty-somethings who are chattering with excitement. Where are they going in such a hurry? Why the rush? They are pursuing the call of warmth and hanging vines with greater confidence – and enthusiasm – than I. They must be rain forest believers, and I decide I want to believe, too. They scoot up and over fallen logs and along a creek in their race to touch this natural dream. Perhaps they are hurrying to follow another hiker’s spotting of a drip off a fern in a gully of steam. There might be one, just one, in this lip of a forest off a road to ever-lasting snow.

The young people scurry on, taking a fork in the pathway toward a work camp. I decide they already know much about this area, and take on their confidence for myself. If they have found a rain forest here, then I might also. I stay on the path that promises ferns and mist and hanging moss.

Up and down into the ravine, the old growth begins to show itself. Slips of sun bring warmth and shy rays of brightness. The green of the plantlife and the cozy red-brown of the mulched ground lay around me with the comfort of cool mists and soft light. It isn’t a hot rain forest, but here it is, with its light-hearted coolness splattered about with fresh but humid air. I seem to walk through one after another – first cool mist, then sun-warmed air. No wonder growing things do their very best work here. It’s soothing and quiet and just exactly right in its temperate comfort.

I am happy enough to slow down and take in what nature is providing right up close: ferns, lichen, moss hanging from trees, cooling steam rising from a downed lodgepole pine as the sun warms the bark. Proof of rain forest.

I am convinced. Maybe it’s not exactly the biome I used to teach my third-grade students. But it is magical and it is here, unbelievably close to snow in the early summer of the Pacific Northwest.

 

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Walking Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park

Snow in June. The possibility hasn’t crossed my mind. At my comfortable Central California home, snow never falls, even in January. As we drive from Port Angeles to Hurricane Ridge in Washington State’s Olympic National Park, there it appears atop the higher mountains that begin to come into view. Then, as the car climbs, more snow appears in patches near the road. And finally, snow makes changes to my plans, as I compare my mesh-topped tennies to a foot-high mound of glistening cold white along a marked trail.

We park at the Visitor’s Center, and wonder at the snow abundance. It stands in three-foot high arches over the trail we want to walk, sits on the meadow in large football-field-sized spreads, and has not yet dropped off some branches of the tallest lodgepole pines. Snow does not fall during our walk – but the white coating is all around, because it had obviously fallen all winter long, then stayed.

Mine may be a small walk, but the views are large. Snaggle-toothed mountains rim the horizon to the south and east. North and west celebrate the vista toward the Pacific Ocean and the expanse of water between Port Angeles and Victoria, BC. What a treat it all is, and I am once again amazed at the sights we can see if we just get up and go.

I cross over one of the snow spills that covers the trail. Close up, the icy mound is crystaled and gives way easily. It’s not yet warm enough to coax the snow into melting just because it’s June, but even though it holds together in a cold hillock, and even though it covers the trail, there are signs it won’t last forever. For one hint of warmth, the sun bounces off the clouds and the surroundings, a promise of warmer weather. At least I hope it to be.

But not yet will anyone see that change, and certainly not me today. The sun is muted by a cloud as I reach the next snow-covered portion of the trail. It is too deep and too wide to cross. My walk reaches the turn-around point. Going back, I take time to watch creatures on the ground, in the trees and overhead.

I especially like the Olympic Marmot. At first sight, from very far away, I think the creatures are foxes because of the red flash of their tail as they run. I pull out my binoculars and compare them to the diagrams at the visitors’ center. Definitely marmots. Deer are everywhere, and I have to remember that I should not approach them. They, of course, have not read that park regulation, and approach me regardless. Along a paved road heading back to the visitors’ center, I have to race-walk away to keep the deer from getting closer than the Park Service thinks is safe.

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Wiser people than I would have studied-up ahead of time, been more travel-savvy or known to pack snow shoes. But somewhere along the way from wanting to control everything in life and now – older and more understanding of life’s serendipity – I have tamed my need to know everything. Plan better? Why? When even the mule deer cheer my arrival, unannounced, unstudied, willing to take whatever comes. My mesh-covered tennies will survive.

 

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Walking Oslo, Norway

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Some of you may remember that I, a girl born and raised in California, spent a year in Ukraine. It is a lovely country with wonderful people, but it is cold in winter, and winter is very long. It’s the kind of cold that Californians like me simply do not understand and seldom can tolerate. I certainly had my fill of cold after one year and was quite happy to go home.  And now, I visit Oslo.

It is often cold in Oslo, and was during our visit. One thing that surprised me about this city was the abundance of nude statues. I’d heard of the very famous ones in The Vigeland Park.

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Circle of friends

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The Monolith

But others were in evidence all around the city. Every time I saw a nude statue, I thought, “Burrr. Someone put a coat on them. A scarf. Mittens. A cap with ear flaps.”

There is something about cold climates that make me very one-minded. I was glad to see the many sights of Oslo. The downtown square is beautiful and the walk to the park is invigorating. There are nice places to shop. I bought fleece-lined slippers.

There are many lovely neighborhoods,

and walking streets to enjoy, as long as you have the proper outer wear.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that as happy as I was to be in Oslo, I was just a bit happier when we left.

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This is me in Oslo. Do you see the ear muffs? I wore triple layers everywhere. The hood went right back over my head after the photo. Next up, St. Petersburg.

The passage to Oslo, Norway

img_3414So, all I did on this part of the journey was walk around the ship.

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But what a beautiful walk it was.

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Many ships were tagging along, as ours was following others ahead. A popular route into Oslo, no doubt.

I spent hours on the deck, as the ship slowly passed the sheltered bays and the isolated towns.

Buildings along the seaway varied from quite old to colorful to ultra-modern.

Some towns were accessible only by water craft. Others were linked to Oslo by a long winding highway. On a busy trip with a packed itinerary, it was pleasant to just sit and watch the peacefulness pass by.

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Next up, Oslo Norway. Put your coat on now.

 

Walking Copenhagen, Denmark

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Not Copenhagen

You’ll simply have to take my word for it. I visited, twice. I walked and enjoyed. But what memories I have will stay in my head, for the phone that captured the memories crashed and shattered.

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Also Not Copenhagen

What happens when the things you plan for don’t happen? If you are lucky enough to have only a broken phone with lost photos, you rejoice and travel on. For now, I would like to refer you to Anita’s wonderful post on Copenhagen. If you haven’t yet read it, you should!

A Hop-On, Hop-Off Boat: Cruising the Canals of Copenhagen