Maple Pass Loop

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Mountain wildflowers, obscure peaks.

A lovely day-hike or a difficult trail run as I learned. From Rainy Pass Trailhead – out to Lake Ann, up to Heather Pass then on to Maple Pass and back via the knife ridge between Lake Ann and Rainy Lake. Over 2,000 feet gain in elevation and 7.5 – 8.0 miles. Lots of smoke but less than down in the Valley. Spectacular alpine scenery and wildflowers galore! Plus a good excuse to stop by the Mazama Store for a slice of pie and a coffee (or beer if you prefer).

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Smoke enshrouded mountains.
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Taking a break.
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Lupine loveliness with Whistler and Cutthroat Peaks in the background.

Written by David LaFever

Unobstructed Spirit

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Twisp River, mid-summer.

 

River gonna take me, sing me sweet and sleepy
Sing me sweet and sleepy all the way back home.

~Robert Hunter

I waded out into the flowing water, careful not slip on the slippery cobble of the river bottom, and stopped in mid-river to gaze into its clear waters. Staring into, nay through the water, I could see each and every rock and pebble as though looking through the clear, rarefied air. I was looking directly without the intermediary of flowing water with nothing to obscure my gaze. But if I cocked my head to the side, the angle allowed me to see the glare off the water’s surface and a thin veil of water-glare came between me and the rocky river bottom. I looked straight on again and there was nothing between me and stones; nothing except my thinking mind of course.

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We think of water as being blue because we have been taught to name it like that, to “know” that water is blue. Rivers, lakes, ponds and oceans are blue. We all know that, right? And because of this knowing, we usually perceive it that way too. Not only does our perception affect our cognition, but our cognition (what we think and know) affects our we perceive the world. This river was definitely not blue – it was multi-hued and calico like the cat I had been petting that morning at our friend’s house. Looking in directly, I could see greens, browns, whites, grays, and speckles. No blue to conceive of.

But there is a time and an angle when rivers do look blue (reflecting a blue sky) or green (reflecting streamside trees) or white (opaque with glacial melt). At times I can look directly and deeply into a river and other times when I see the world reflected like a mirror. At both of these times, if I don’t think too much, I see myself in the river. Do I see my true self or the narrow self that I all too often think I am? Can I see, as Han-shan wrote, that “the unobstructed spirit is clear.”

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A fisherman and the Twisp River in bright sunshine.

written by David LaFever

Cold, Healing Waters

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Glistening evening light of Wolf Creek.

Here is an excerpt from my journal from July 16, 2017:

I almost forgot to do my daily ablutions in Wolf Creek today. This is rare. I finally did them as the last rays of sun filtered through stream-side trees making the creek look like flowing mercury. I soaked my legs – knees to ankles, which are itching and oozing from an encounter with poison ivy near Twisp. There isn’t much of it around here but of course my skin found it. I had had a day dream of perhaps never getting it again but then again our dreams aren’t necessarily realty. The cool water of Wolf Creek soothed my legs by basically making the numb.

The creek was breathtaking and I paused to watch the water tumble over rocks, sending spray skyward, catching the last rays of sunlight and refracting the light into multitudinous sparkles. Each spray of water seemed to hang in mid-air like the sunshine created a net upon which molecules were suspended in animation for a moment before falling back into the flow to join billions of others.

I knelt into the flow, splashing water on my face and realized that ablutions is not quite the right word for what I was doing. Yes, it involved water and prostrations of a sort but I wasn’t cleansing myself in any deep sort of way. Namely, I wasn’t washing away sin but rather I was saying hello to the creek each morning. Its a greeting and a way of connecting with place and by doing so the true self that is not separate from place. So “good morning Wolf Creek. How are you today?” And thank you for your cold, healing waters!

The Newness of the Day

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Methow River at sunset.

I step out of the bus, into the full light of morning and I feel the sun’s warmth and energy on my skin. I wipe sleep from my eyes and then stretch my arms toward the bluebird sky. Grabbing my binoculars, I meander my way through a stony meadow, snaking my way around boulders and bitterbrush, serviceberry and choke cherry, heading towards the creek. As I slowly pick my way to the creek, I hear the songs of yellow warblers, cedar waxwings and others I do not know and the omnipresent background roar of the creek itself as it rushes down from glaciers high atop Gardner Mountain. I reach the tree-lined bank and take off my glasses as I crouch down to wash my face in the frigid water. This morning ritual of washing my face with cold water, awakens me to the day. I hear the whine of a mosquito and watch it alight on my forearm.

This is something I do every morning here and it now has become a ritual, which somehow makes it more than a random or careless act. In fact, I take great care with this ritual and even bow to and thank the creek and flowing water. Thanking it for what, I don’t know. Just thanks I suppose.

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Methow River at sunset.

These morning ablutions, create a sense of newness and renewal and I let go with each splash of cold water and turn towards the burgeoning day. This day is a new day and this simple ritual may allow me to step more lightly upon my way. What if each step was taken as a ritual? What if each place was seen as sacred? What if each moment was seen as magical and all people chosen? What would our days be like then?

As this thought lingers a moment in my mind, I become reabsorbed by the rushing water and noise of Wolf Creek. Before turning towards the possibilities of the day, I pause a moment, bow and thank the creek for always being there – refreshing, cleansing and invigorating.


Written by David LaFever

 

Relax Completely

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The rare Methow River fairy captured at long last on film.
Let go of thousands of years and relax completely.
Open your hands and walk, innocent.
~ Shitou Xiqian (8th Century Chinese Zen Master)

 

Out for a bike ride, I headed up Wold Creek road past where it turns to dirt, on over a rattly cattle guard and turned around at the second cattle guard. From there I left the road behind for mountain bike trails, both single track and old roads. I had climbed some hills, sweat forming on my brow even in the chill of late evening air, and now had the joy of descending, winding my way down to the river. After going through a couple of cattle gates, I found myself on the banks of this magnificent river who had turned a pewter silver in the quickly setting sunlight. The color of liquid mercury, coming from the river reflecting the clouds, reflecting the already set sun. There were holes in the cloud layer through which I could see the tops of clouds glowing pink and peach in the westerly light. It was breath taking and like an idiot I stood there in amazement trying to capture  and hold on to what I was seeing.

Later, as I pedaled up the driveway past marmot rock, whose namesakes were surely underground sleeping or doing whatever marmots do in their burrows (having a bit of tea, perhaps), I was suddenly struck with a realization that caused me to relax completely and smile. “You can’t hold on to anything,” the universe seemed to be shouting at me. Not the sunset, not the river, not my daughters, not my wife, not my health and certainly not my life. Definitely not my hair, which is already leaving me, and not my cares. I can’t hold on with these ridiculous words nor photographs nor memories; not with who I think I am, who I tell myself I was nor who I want to become. There is nothing to hold on to and no one to do the holding anyway.

With that flood of understanding, I took off my biking shoes and felt a deep relaxation that I had not felt for days. I let go of everything, for a moment, and rested free in this world.

Into The Wild West

 

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Photo by Jimmy Zammar.

In that land we led a free and hardy life, with horse and rifle.

~Teddy Roosevelt

We arrived a week ago in the old western town of Winthrop, Washington in that valley that will be our new home. If you want to say it correctly, its “Warshington.” We are excited to be here but it still feels a bit like we are visiting, rather than living here. Our first weekend, we had friends visit which was a great distraction from all the work that we still need to do on the bus. Plus we could not get into a storage unit for a few days and therefore the bus was full of our belongings (yes, simplicity is a main reason for living in the bus, but we are not about to get rid of all of our camping, backpacking, fishing etc gear) and we needed to clear it out before we could start living in it.

With our friends, we cooked and talked and laughed and hiked up Lookout Mountain. The wildflowers both down here in the valley and up in the mountains are amazing.

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Photo by Jimmy Zammar.

We took in the views of distant snow-capped mountains, drank in the beauty of wildflowers and ultimately our path was blocked by snow so we did not make it all the way to the top.

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Photo by Jimmy Zammar.

A wonderful weekend spent with close friends was the perfect way to begin our new life here in the Methow Valley.


written by David LaFever

What Then?

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The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.

~Richard Bach (“Illusions: Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah”)

She seems to be languishing, a body that was once full of vitality is now spent and she is exhausted, too weary to stay upright. I stand by her side, watching and wondering what to do, what to think. Standing mid-stream, water flowing all around, I see her struggle against the current and then succumb to its power and downstream she goes. I watch as she is pushed by the rushing water, knowing that she will never swim this far upstream again. She doesn’t have the strength. This is likely her last day and her tail, well-worn and white from digging redds (gravel nest), indicates that she has already spawned and will soon die. What then?

We are taught that death is something to fear not something to celebrate and we often act as though it is not natural. There are times when we admit that it is inevitable but we still seem to believe that it is something that will only occur in the future. But what if there is no future, only the eternal now? What then?

I think of my mother, dead now more than four years, whose birthday it is (February 1st). She would have been 69 years old, far older than the three year old salmon inhabiting the creek with me today. I remember being with her during her final days, how thin and frail she was but there was still a sparkle in her eyes, when the pain wasn’t too great. So too with this salmon – still facing upstream and swimming against the current (a sparkle in its flesh) – until she can no more, and then letting go and floating downstream. Is this what happened with my mom, did she let go and float on? What then?

Farther upstream I meet a salmon carcass, bright red spawning colors and monstrous kype (hook-like tip of jaw) indicating a male. My field partner and I collect it and notice its bright eyes. It did not die long ago. We take our field measurements, mark it with a jaw tag and then put it back where we found it before continuing to wade upstream. We soon find another carcass, this time a female and haul her out of the water for measurements. Her mouth and gills are covered with caddisflies, who, protected within their stick and leaf homes, are devouring her skin and flesh. This very flesh, full of important marine nutrients, becomes caddisfly, bear, huckleberry and redwood. The caddisfly will soon be eaten by this mother salmon’s young fry that in another three years may be right back here again, continuing this cycle of life and death. Each nourishes the other in an endless dance that we need not be afraid of. We are in each other just as salmon and caddisfly, bear and redwood are in each other. This ever-flowing river of arising and passing, passing and arising will lift us free.


By David LaFever