It’s a Sign

Like many Americans, hubs and I made the pilgrimage to the holy zone of solar eclipse totality, neatly bisecting our country on August 21st, 2017. Newscasters had assured us during the weeks leading up to this that traffic would be a snarled mess. Drive times were expected to triple. A week’s worth of provisions was highly recommended.

Hubs was really looking forward to the trip. I was along for the ride. Pups was just happy to be there.

We headed out on Saturday morning, intending to travel three quarters of the way to our chosen destination and crash at a friend’s place. We would tackle the last part of the journey, sans dog, in the wee hours of E-Day. Hubs had wisely decided not to share with me exactly which wee hour we would be departing. That information was classified as Need to Know only. We both understood it was for the best.

Less than an hour into our three hour journey, I saw a freeway sign declaring,

ECLIPSE AUG 21
TRAFFIC TO OR
EXPECT DELAYS

So far we had been spared any unusually heavy traffic, but I knew that our miles were numbered. So did hubs. I wanted to get a photo of this sign to put in my “Eclipse Album,” which would take up precious space on my Google drive and never be viewed again. I was too slow, though. The sign passed before I could even open the camera app. No worries. It was a long drive; I knew there would be more opportunities.

I was right, there were more opportunities, at least four, maybe five. Each time either I saw it too late, or I didn’t have my phone (which is my camera) at hand, or I couldn’t get the app to cooperate in time, or there was a truck between me and the sign at the crucial moment.

Eventually, the signs changed to:

ECLIPSE AUG 21
EXPECT
HEAVY TRAFFIC

Around the same time, I began to realize that this casual snapshot had turned into an obsession, not just for me. As we neared our exit, we approached a perfectly placed sign, directly over the center lane. As luck would have it, traffic began to thicken at the same time, creating the ideal situation to grab a perfect photo. I could have gotten it, too, if I hadn’t put away my phone. I just missed it.

I didn’t even have to ask. Hubs offered to get back on the freeway in the opposite direction and come around again so I could get a second chance at it. I accepted that offer. For the next several minutes, my phone never left my hand. The camera app was open and I snapped a random photo every few seconds to make sure it didn’t get bored and go to sleep on me.

We circled around and approached the sign, both of us on high alert. Traffic wasn’t thick enough yet for us to stop, but I had plenty of time to line up the shot as we rolled slowly under it. I snapped several just to be safe. Mission accomplished, we continued on to our destination, satisfied that we had finally captured that pesky sign.

That evening, I scrolled through the photos to choose the best one, but they were all about the same. Glaring orange fragments of letters were scattered across a black background. Some shots showed most of a word, with the rest scrambled. Others were just digital chaos.

I took it as a sign.

Independent Women

“Let’s go camping,” she suggested, out of nowhere.

“Okay.” Why not, I thought. It was early in the season and still chilly, but we were feeling restless from the long winter spent indoors.

Soon my roommate and I were searching the deepest, darkest corners of every cluttered closet in search of enough second-hand gear to get us through the trip. Food wasn’t a problem, since we didn’t eat back then. Our nutritional requirements were simply graham crackers, marshmallows, and a chocolate bar or two. Camping essentials.

Using our Tetris skills, we maneuvered our supplies into what was left of the trunk. An impressive sub-woofer already claimed much of that real estate. Task complete, we cranked up the stereo in her little red Celica, pulled away from the curb, and left our dreary brown rental house behind.

We were heading off to play at Mount Rainier, but our adventure really began when we left the house. This would be a unique adventure for us. Usually we were part of a larger group with children or boys or parents. This time we were independent women. We took our time and enjoyed the ride. We found a convenience store along the way where we spent most of our cash on a bundle of firewood and a couple of bottles of Boone’s Farm, sangria flavor. The last of the necessities.

Heavy metal music exploded from the speakers as we rolled over the curving mountain roads watching the trees go by. With no cars and no buildings in sight, it seemed we had the entire world to ourselves. We amused ourselves on the journey by laughing at the unfortunate graphics on the “Watch for Falling Rocks” signs, pulling over to check out the teeniest tiniest wild strawberries, and endlessly repeating our inside joke, “Shut up and look at the trees!”

We had no specific campground in mind, just something cheap with available sites. We cruised right by the first few we came across, assuming they were full and/or expensive. We continued down the highway looking for something a little more remote, thinking our chances of finding a campsite would be better.

“It just occurred to me that nobody knows where I am right now,” she said when Trent Reznor paused for a breath between songs.

“Huh. Same here. We can call once we know where we’re staying.” I wasn’t too worried about it. We both had cell phones.

The trees scrolled by on either side and the music raged on as our search continued. There was no hurry. I had never been this far down the road before and it felt like we were circling the mountain with a subtle but continuous left turn. As I was enjoying the scenery, deer began to appear between the woods and the highway. We idly speculated why there were suddenly so many of them as we began to count the sightings. Eventually we realized the approaching dusk was bringing them out to feed. We needed to find a place to spend the night soon or we’d be caught in the dark.

We pulled into the next campground, the signage so subtle we almost missed the turn. Gravel crunched under the tires as we made our way deeper into the campground and found the registration box. For ten bucks we could set up camp. A quick scan left and right revealed no signs of human life, only deer. This was probably the most peaceful spot on the whole mountain. We had found the perfect accommodations.

The light continued to fade as we selected a level grassy site near the river. I erected the tent, pleased to find that we had brought all the correct poles. We briefly scavenged for kindling, then wadded up pages from a Little Nickel paper for fuel. She built the fire using a tepee method she had learned when she was a Campfire Girl. The technique worked beautifully and the fire caught on the first try.

With our chores now complete, all that was left for us to do was relax by the fire, admiring our work. It’s empowering to be self-sufficient. We had all our needs covered, no men required. Licking melted marshmallow from our slightly grubby fingers and sipping Boone’s apple wine, we watched darkness fall. Everything had come together perfectly for this impromptu adventure.

The sound of moving gravel intruded on our silence as another car rolled into camp. It must have been close to ten o’clock by then. There were plenty of sites available, but I did not envy them trying to set up camp in the dark.

It was time to turn in, so I took the flashlight and went in search of an outhouse. I found one not too far away and the soft glow of our fire led me back to our campsite.

“Did you notice anyone else come in?” she asked.

“Just that one car. Why?” The only sound was the flowing river. She would have heard a car come in just as clearly as I would. We both knew no one would arrive here on foot.

“That poor guy is supposed to meet his girlfriend out here, but he had trouble finding it. He thought she would be here already. He tried to call her but his battery is dead so he came over to see if he could borrow a phone. I checked mine but there was no signal out here. I checked yours too. Nothing.”

“That’s right, we were going to call when got here! I totally forgot.”

“Yeah, that’s what I told him. We were so busy setting up camp before dark that we forgot to call anyone. I guess we couldn’t have anyway, because of the signal.”

I couldn’t believe what I just heard.

“Let me get this straight. In the five minutes I was away, a strange man drove into this remote campground with an unlikely story about meeting someone and you told him that we were here alone, nobody knows where we are, and our phones don’t work? Tell me you’re kidding.”

“Oh, I didn’t think of it like that. I guess I did.”

We had both seen more than enough horror movies to know how this would end. We were going to die here. She had always fantasized about getting eaten by a bear, while I had assumed I would be murdered by my ex-husband. Neither of us had ever seriously considered meeting our end in the axe-murderer scenario which we now faced.

There was no sense in wasting supplies, so we finished off the Boone’s as we silently contemplated our fate in front of the dying fire. Later, cowering in the tent while waiting to be murdered, I wondered if maybe the deer would come to our aid. With no personal experience to draw from, we could only speculate about the attack to come. Would he charge the tent with a sharp object? A blunt object? The peaceful meadow we had chosen to pitch the tent in would muffle his footsteps. Perhaps it wouldn’t be like that at all. Maybe he would attack us one by one as we ventured to the outhouse. There were so many possibilities. I no longer felt empowered and self-sufficient. It suddenly didn’t seem like such a bad idea to bring a man along, even if we didn’t technically need him for anything.

Silence, but for the gentle sound of the river flowing behind us. We laid awake as minutes stretched endlessly into the night. Then came the sound of crunching gravel carried across the stillness. A new car was making its way slowly through the campground. It passed our tent, then came to a stop. A single car door opened then closed. We heard friendly sounding voices, one female.

It was hard to believe, but our stranger’s far-fetched story must have been true after all! We could finally drift to sleep, comforted by the knowledge that we would live to see another sunrise.

Unless, of course, we got eaten by a bear.

Wonder Woman Movie Review

Superheroes aren’t really my thing. At least that’s what I thought. That’s also what I told the hubs when he asked if I wanted to see the new Wonder Woman movie. But then I got to thinking about it and realized that most of the movies I’ve gone to see in the last year or two were superhero movies. Come to think of it, that’s practically all I see. Now to put this in perspective, I exclusively see movies with hubs (aka I have no friends). He has been enjoying the recent surge in comic book hero movies and we find it mutually beneficial to go see them together. He needs a date and I need to get out of the house now and then. Win win.

I may as well add in here that I do remember watching Linda Carter kick ass way back when and I even saw some animated stuff when I was a kid, but I saw a lot of t.v. in my youth so that in and of itself does not make me a fan. I also must disclose that I have a strong aversion to nudity. Based on my earlier exposure to the Wonder Woman character, this was a concern for me. Sorry to have to break it to you like this, but I am a middle-aged woman, not an adolescent boy. So, boobs are not a driving force behind my movie watching choices.

Still, I found the previews compelling. I thought the WWI setting was an interesting choice. I had also heard on the radio (because the promo tour is in full swing right now) that the movie was not only featuring a woman main character, but was also directed by a woman. I’m conflicted about this. Neither of those things should matter, but now that they have been identified as anomalies, we suddenly need to take sides. As a woman, the socially responsible thing for me to do would be to support my sisters and go see the film whether I want to or not. The mere fact of this kind of pisses me off because I suddenly feel I’m being manipulated.

We went anyway. The movie had been out for a week by the time we saw it but there was still a bit of a line for it. We got decent seats but the place really filled up after we settled in. A few thousand previews later and the show began. It was interesting right from the beginning. We were introduced to the island of Amazons (strangely nowhere near the Amazon river) and had a glimpse into Diana’s (Wonder Woman’s) formative years and the control freak mother who raised her. Then she met a man and all hell broke loose. While that’s true, it is a little misleading. I will admit that this is the storyline for almost every story written, but in this case it truly is unique. I enjoyed the whole two hours or however long it was.

I found the setting original, the supporting lead engaging and believable (this IS fantasy land, so why not), other casting was spot on, and there were several moments of insight into modern life that Diana’s character was able to view with fresh eyes and appropriate humor. If you should choose to see it (or already have) know that I particularly enjoyed her views on the watch, marriage, and sex. Speaking of which, remember my aversion to nudity? Not an issue in this movie. For one, the costume was thoughtfully designed in Spartan warrior style and stayed put in combat. For another, there was a moment of romance, but the powers that be felt that our imaginations would be just as effective as a play-by-play. If only others might learn from this wise choice…

It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns, though. There was one pesky inconsistency that even hubs noticed. Early in the film we see Diana trying on different outfits in an effort to blend in. In that scene she struggles with some high heels. Well she must have had a miraculously short learning curve for footwear because she is fine in a later scene at a black tie event as well as in big wedge heels for a major fight scene at the end. In the latter one, they appear to be part of her everyday battle-wear.

In the end, this movie was a win in my book. I did not leave wondering why I came at all and did not for a moment regret my decision to spend two hours watching it. Even hubs had good things to say about it.

Author’s Note:

My blog has awakened from its long winter nap!

I’ve decided to add the occasional review to this blog and here is my first one. Maybe it will help you decide whether to see it. If you already saw it, tell me what you thought of it in the comments. What else would you like to see reviewed?

Curtains

A warm foot gently touched the cold oak planks. The big toe blindly tapped around, searching for the fuzzy slippers she kept beside the bed. Prize found, the day could begin. She lifted her head from the pillow, face puffy from sleep, blond strands defying gravity. Her companion had left quietly in the early hours without disturbing her. All that remained as she rose to stand was a rumpled duvet over creased sheets, topped with two cratered pillows. She shot a brief, longing glance at the mess and headed for the hallway.

Slender arms slid into plush periwinkle robe sleeves and reached for the doorknob in one fluid motion. She shuffled across the hall and reversed the action, hooking the robe on the back of the door as she pushed it closed. Each day began the same, the routine burned into her muscles through years of repetition. Fan on, window open, toilet used, towel placed on the counter; check, check, check, and check.

As she reached for the soap scum covered chrome levers to start the flow of water, she was struck with gratitude that there was only one small mirror in the room and it was at face height. In the winter, her people glow like florescent bulbs. Each summer they glow bright pink. She recognized that these were sights best left unseen.

Tiny porcelain squares stretched six feet up the surrounding walls as she stepped into the old scuffed bathtub. Originally white with sage green veining, the tiles had the perfect texture to appear cold and smooth, while quietly collecting layer after thin layer of dulling soap particles. A pink obtuse scalene decorated the basin near the drain, where the resurfacing film had pulled up. She had ceased all attempts to scrub it clean long ago, after realizing her efforts were only making it worse.

Chilly air slithered through the window, raising goosebumps. She welcomed the too hot drizzle that leaked anemically from the shower head. She had never noticed before how much this resembled a grave. Moist green walls, six feet deep, weak yellow light only halfheartedly reaching for the dank corners, it was creepy.

Even the shampoo and conditioner were green. How had she never noticed this before? It didn’t really matter. In ten minutes she’d be out of here, sipping coffee, hair wrapped in an over-sized fluffy towel. Shampoo in, shampoo out. Conditioner in. Her mind began to wander as she lathered up, the to-do list growing in her head. When she reached her prickly leg, she realized she wouldn’t be able to put off shaving for another day. Clearly she had already avoided that for too long. She let out a heavy sigh as she reached for a razor of uncertain age. One more thing to do. Why couldn’t women’s legs be naturally smooth and hair free, just like men imagined they were? Is there some evolutionary benefit to furry legs? If so, she couldn’t imagine what it might be.

Task completed, she returned the purple razor to the rack and was pleasantly surprised to notice that at least one thing in this dreary place wasn’t a sickly green color. With a faint smile she reached for the face-wash, also green. She always saved that for last because she liked to keep her eyes closed until she had a chance to blot the water off her face. When she didn’t, she invariably got irritated eyes from soap or wayward eyelashes. Almost done now, just a quick lather and rinse.

Then, without warning, the attacker reached out and grabbed her leg. She fought back, but was at a disadvantage, naked and wet, with a face full of soap. Her skin crawled under it’s clammy grip, her heart was pounding. She pushed and kicked but it wouldn’t retreat for more than a second. It felt like there was nothing solid to connect with, to fight against. Her mind raced, trying to come up with a strategy. There was no time for rational thought. She thrust her lathered face under the stream of water and simultaneously kicked out with her freshly shaved right leg. It silently crawled over her smooth skin. This was it. Do or die. She attacked in a frenzy, scratching and kicking and tearing for all she was worth.

Suddenly the sound of the running water echoed too loudly in the small bathroom. Her heart pounded. She was freshly showered, but felt thoroughly disgusting. Opening her eyes she took in the carnage. Half in and half out of the tub, sprawling limp and lifeless onto the water soaked floor was the vile scum that would torment her no more.

What a way to start the morning. She was definitely awake now. She toweled off and added to her mental to-do list. Clean the bathroom, replace the dim light bulb, and, of course, she was going to need a new shower curtain.

Author’s Note:
I hate shower curtains. Now you know why.  🙂

For those of you who do not suffer from this, please know that the struggle is real. The problem is that the extra hot air inside the shower (too hot water) loses out to the cool air outside the shower (chilly air moving through the open window) and eventually the curtain gives way and forces itself on the unsuspecting bather. My position is that shower doors should be the standard and curtains should be for windows only. Plus, they’re easier to keep clean!

Saving the World

I did not go to yoga class this morning. I didn’t go yesterday either. I briefly contemplated this lack of self-care as I sat in my light-filled, cinnamon-scented kitchen, savoring each gooey bite of warm cinnamon roll. Pristine slices of bright green honeydew melon watched the carnage from the side of the plate. It was obvious they weren’t in any immediate danger.
It was an electronics filled morning. The wall-sized television in the living room provided a constant stream of one-sided conversation. Much like that one friend who won’t shut up, but rarely says anything memorable. The TV cannot be seen from the kitchen, so my laptop and phone kept me company on the table, providing the visuals I needed to distract me from confronting my poor choices.
Some guilt must have seeped through the electronic barrier I had put in place as protection from my thoughts, because an hour later I found myself pulling the locked door closed behind me and walking down the driveway, right past my car and onto the sidewalk. Apparently, I was walking to work today.
It was a good day for a walk; the weather was improving, but not yet hot. I looked like summer in my fashionably cuffed jeans, black leather Mary Janes, and bright white tee-shirt with just enough decorative trim to pass as work appropriate. I carried my shiny black crocodile-patterned designer handbag past the construction on my street, turned the corner, and headed two blocks over to the slightly nicer neighborhood on the ridge. That’s where I encountered the first human beings I’d seen all day. We greeted each other with tiny waves and quiet hellos, although we did not know each other.
I continued along the ridge to the staircase most recently made famous by the muggings of school children by an as yet un-apprehended thug. A fellow area resident had thoughtfully hung a plastic grocery sack at the corner of the railing at the top of the stairs to collect trash in. As I passed, I noticed that there was much more debris in the general vicinity of the bag than actually in the bag. It crossed my mind that I had misidentified a ghetto basketball hoop for a trash bag.
I found myself fantasizing about what I would do if confronted by a mugger, as I picked my way gingerly past the broken glass and abundance of discarded tall boy beer cans littering the stairs. I’m not great at shutting up. I’m not great at tolerating injustice. On the other hand, pain and/or death do not appeal to me. I consider this question regularly when I descend this staircase on the way to work. I still do not have an answer.
I emerged from the staircase without incident, then pressed the button to activate the walk signal just before the light changed. Perfect timing! I always feel like I’m somehow on display when I have to wait at that corner for the light. Only I wasn’t really just in time, I guess, since the “Don’t Walk” signal continued its red glare. I defiantly crossed anyway.
Working my way toward the uphill portion of my commute, all I could see was the trash edging the sidewalk. More beer cans, a flattened straw summer hat, an old sponge, the ubiquitous cigarette butts, more broken glass, this city dweller detritus did nothing to brighten my walk. Did no one take pride in their neighborhood? Was I the only one who didn’t want to live in a dump? I did not belong here, surrounded by garbage, in my chic outfit and designer handbag. These thoughts swirled in my brain, dampening my mood.
Approaching the corner where my ascent begins, I saw a pedestrian across the street. He had almost reached the corner where children congregate in cooler seasons to wait for the school bus. He looks just as out-of-place as I feel, carrying with him an industrial looking orange dustpan and broom. He stops at the corner and begins to puts his tools to use.
In the last ten minutes, I had been discouraged by my surroundings and increasingly disappointed in my neighbors. During those same ten minutes, one of my neighbors had found opportunity in those same surroundings and taken action to benefit his neighbors. I was grumbling about the state of the world while he was saving it. I realized in that moment, to my dismay, that I’m part of the problem.

Memories of Al

I knew of him for several years before we officially met. I was just a kid, really. He seemed so exotic and worldly back then. We had just one class together in high school but neither of us paid much attention to one another. Our relationship didn’t get serious until college, when I found him in several of my classes. Truth be told, I sought him out, choosing at least one class each quarter where I knew we could spend time together. His mysterious complexity intrigued me, such a contrast to my youthful innocence.

One would think that we’d be friends after all the time we’ve spent together over the decades, but he’s become my nemesis. Each time we’re together, all the old hard feelings are set aside as we begin to get to know each other again. A month or two passes and it seems like things will really work out this time. I try hard, investing time and energy. The more I try, the more distant he becomes. It seems unnecessarily complicated. Next come the misunderstandings, hurt, and confusion. Frustrations build. I don’t know what to do, so I try everything. It’s too much. Everything’s wrong. Eventually we part with feelings of disappointment and inadequacy. Each time, the same. As time passes, the scars fade. We reconnect, continuing the cycle. I see it. I know it. Yet I keep going back.

We’ve been apart for several years this time, but I know he hasn’t really gone anywhere and neither have I. I tell myself that I can get along without him. I am strong and independent and resourceful and clever. My life without Al is peaceful and satisfying. I don’t need the stress, tears, and self-doubt that our encounters create.

Truthfully, I hate him. I also need him. While I have attended several colleges and have accumulated more than enough credits, I have never asked any of them for a degree. They have each accommodated me by not providing one. The single remaining obstacle to completing the college degree I began all those years ago is Al G. Bra. Until we reach an understanding, Al and I, there will always be that bit of unfinished business. I must reluctantly admit that we’ll likely meet again someday, continuing the familiar, tragic cycle.

Author’s Note:

Here’s another little story for the Geist Postcard contest. I just can’t seem to keep myself from submitting. Surely, they’ll cut me off soon.

This was actually a very hard story for me to write because it has been a sensitive topic for me for many years. The story is simple enough, but there was a lot of real emotion to get through as the words appeared on the page.

I found this photo on the Mental Floss website. This was the caption:

Getty Images

1955: A student leafs through a book in the Bennet Library at the Wyoming Seminary, a prep school in Northern Pennsylvania.

Blood Moon

Finally relaxing into the sofa cushions, wine glass rising toward my lips, my gaze floated across the clock on the mantle. “Shit!” I leaped up and ran the three short steps to look out the living room window.

“What?” he wondered, turning to look. “That full moon is tonight. Do you think we missed it?” We had heard about the upcoming meteorological event on the news for several days. It was supposed to be the coolest thing ever. Blue moon, full moon, blood moon, harvest moon, and eclipse all wrapped into one amazing event. This happens infrequently, just once every 20 years or so.

He sprang into action, pulling on shoes and running out to stare up into the night sky. Although it was a clear night, the moon was hiding from us. Maybe we should drive around looking for it. We had both been looking forward to seeing this, so it was worth trying to catch the end of it.

I turned off the oven, leaving the chicken pot pies inside, as he took the dog out. We left the lights and the TV on as we dashed out the door wondering where we should go to see this marvel. We live on a hill, but there are houses and street lights all around. I had an idea that we could park at the community center on the next hill over. The large parking lot would be deserted this time of night and we would have a clear view in several directions.

We pulled out of the driveway and headed down the street; he drove while I swiveled my head, searching. Almost immediately, I spotted it. It was so low on the horizon that the house next to ours must have blocked the view from our yard.

We weren’t too late, after all! We raced up the hill and pulled into the empty community center, parking sideways across two spots for the best view. And what a view it was. Several shades of orange competed for space on the enormous, slowly disappearing disk.

As we watched, another car pulled into the lot, clearly doing the same thing as us. A man got out and took some photos. This was a perfect spot to view it from and we were surprised more people weren’t there. Minutes passed and the eclipse progressed. We felt lucky to have caught it. He turned on the radio and we both took some pictures with our phones, although we couldn’t capture the enormity of what was happening. We sat quietly and watched.

The other car drove off while we watched and waited. The moon was still there in all its reddish-orange glory. Still big. Still eclipsing. As I was witnessing this rare, spectacular, beautiful event, I was horrified to find myself hungry and bored.

“Want to go?” he asked. “Yeah, I’m done. Let’s have dinner.”

The moon, looming vibrantly overhead, watched us go.

Author’s Note:

This happened on September 28, 2015. In writing the story, I hoped to convey the urgency, the frantic search, the subsequent joy, and the ultimate boredom. At least we aren’t the only people unable to appreciate nature’s beauty for more than 15 minutes at a time.

My current favorite contest (Geist Postcard) extended their deadline so I wrote up one last story to enter. The maximum word count was 500, so this just fits.  I’m sad to admit that there is some satisfaction in knowing that all these stories will be read by a professional in the writing business. As contest entries, they are no longer just letters on a page, they have evolved into shared stories. No, it really doesn’t take much to please me.

Frostbite

In the early morning darkness, the rest of the city dwellers were snuggled under their warm duvets, dreaming of large, expensive, espresso drinks. The deadbolt slid into place and we dashed through the 32 degree air and packed ourselves into the idling car. Our many layers of clothing protected us from the shocking chill. Snow was expected at our destination, with a high of just 20 degrees. As the city slept, hubs and I were off on an exciting new adventure.

Although hubs was the one who signed us up for the 90 minute guided snowshoe trek at Snoqualmie summit, I was the inspiration for the idea. Snowshoeing had been on my list of things to try for the last three or four years. I had tried other snow sports. I once rode a pair of skis down the bunny slope at Crystal mountain, past the ski lift, and as dozens of pairs of eyes followed, finally came to a stop by crashing into the closed back doors of the lodge. Two years ago I spent an entire morning diligently and methodically leaving deep tailbone impressions every few feet in the freshly fallen snow at Mount Baker, my feet securely strapped to a rented snowboard. I was amazed to find I could still walk after that particular adventure. I was, however, unable to sit. It was my fondest hope that snowshoeing would be different.

Hubs and I arrived early, even after detouring through Starbucks for some caffeine and breakfast sandwiches. We had found the roads clear of both cars and cloud droppings. It was early enough in the day that the skiers hadn’t arrived in full force yet, so we were able to park fairly close to our destination. With about an hour to kill, we sat listening to the radio for awhile as the parking filled in and a wider assortment of skiers than I would have imagined emerged from the various vehicles and made their way to the slopes. The thermostat in the car said 17 degrees; I was not eager to leave the car, despite my layers (15, to be exact). Hubs was getting restless, though, so he broke the seal on our warm sanctuary by opening the driver’s door and going around back to grab his gear. I was waiting until the last possible moment to leave the car and felt the temperature plummet as he stood there with the hatch open. I wasn’t thinking happy thoughts.

“Oh. Shit.” It isn’t often that he swears, so it must be something important. Was the car leaking oil? Fuel? Did he park in front of a fire hydrant? Or on top of a bunny? “What?” I asked, growing concerned. It was his ski jacket, still casually draped over the small couch by the window in our toasty home, that was the problem. His Under Armour shirt was nice, but it couldn’t protect him for 90 plus minutes in 17 degree weather without a little assistance from another layer or two. What to do? We still had twenty minutes. Enough time to make our way across the street to the ranger station, but not nearly enough time to go home and retrieve his jacket. I suggested we reschedule for next weekend. After all, I had waited years already and the mountain was unlikely to go anywhere in the next 7 days.

Instead, we made our way quickly to the shop at the base of the ski lift and frantically shopped for a new coat. After searching the racks and undressing a mannequin unnecessarily, we headed to the counter with a new ski jacket. A quick potty break, and back to the ranger station we went. We were the last hikers to check in, arriving with just a couple of minutes to spare.

This introduction to snowshoeing hike was more popular than we had anticipated. The compact ranger station was crowded with at least 20 people. Expectant snowshoers were spilling out into the parking lot. Approximately one third were children. Our guides were already working the crowd, learning names and gauging experience so they could tailor the hike for today’s group. We all gathered around as best we could in the cramped space and listened to the guide give instructions on how to work the snowshoes and where we would be hiking. I found their choice of snowshoes quite clever. All were the same brand (MSR) and style, with no left or right to worry about. There were two size options, children’s and adults. We collected our allotted two and made our way out to the parking area.

As a group, we made our way across the road and walked along the shoulder for a quarter mile or so before climbing up snow stairs onto the top of a berm. Suddenly the snow flocked forest stretched out before us. Well hidden beneath our feet was a parking lot. Three seasons out of the year this was an access point for those hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Not today, though. Today it was a big puddle of fluffy white crystals, eight feet deep. Cross country and snowshoe tracks radiated from our little group and meandered through the trees. We donned our gear and, after a brief tutorial, we followed the most prominent path. There was no danger of becoming misplaced. Our entire group was sandwiched between two guides, both outfitted with enough gear to spend the night should the need arise.

Our guide was lively and animated. It was clear that he loved his job. We kept a leisurely pace and stopped frequently to learn about the trees and wildlife. Slightly rolling terrain and windy paths kept things interesting, but not strenuous. Along the way we identified cedar trees, Pileated Woodpecker holes, bunny tracks, and predator tracks. We also had a point to point race and practiced walking backward in the snowshoes. Both were as difficult and funny as you might imagine.

As we hiked deeper into the woods, the sounds of civilization faded and we were presented with stunning scenery. A light snow had begun to fall as we worked our way into the woods. Crossing over bridges made of snow, we admired the Seuss-like shapes of trees burdened with accumulated snow. The guides pointed out hazards such as signs of avalanche danger and “tree bombs”. These happen when a snow laden branch releases its load all at once on an unsuspecting hiker. Tree wells are another hazard. It was hard to remember that we were hiking so high up from the ground that what looked like trees were actually just the tree tops.

Our destination and turn around point was a wide meadow of fluffy, untouched snow.  Our group spread out and pictures were taken as snow angels were created and snowballs flew. We had worked, now it was time for some play. We had perhaps ten minutes to explore the meadow before gathering ourselves together for the trip back. Along the way, we saw a few other groups out snowshoeing as well as some cross country skiers. Most seemed to be having a good time and some stopped for a brief chat with the guide or, in one case, hubs. One of his co-workers had been snow camping the night before with some friends and we passed them as they were snowshoeing out.

All in all, we had a great time and it felt like it ended too soon. Towards the end of the trek, as the group spilled out onto a wide trail from a narrower one, one of the guides suggested that hubs and I take the 4 hour adventure. We had not discussed it between ourselves, but we were both interested. My fingers were frozen, though, so I need to pick out new gloves first.

By the time we made it back to the car, it was pouring down snow and the roads were covered and slick. We had arrived just two hours earlier. Traffic was moving cautiously as we worked our way to the freeway and headed back west. Just a few miles later the roads were clear and the sky was sunny and clear. It was a great way to spend a Saturday morning. So great, in fact, that we spent the next Saturday morning there as well, on the four hour snowshoe adventure.

Author’s Note:

The photo above is of the group that went on the 4 hour tour the following weekend. Hubs and I are on the right.

Somewhere in the middle this converted itself from a story into a journal entry. I feel like it had a strong and interesting beginning, then became a bunch of boring chronological facts. I may revisit this later, working for a consistent voice throughout the story.

Laundry

He’s proud that he can do his own laundry. What that means to him is that he knows how to operate the machines. The piece that is missing is the actual caring for the fabrics to keep them looking better, longer. Her neatly sorted clothing items crumple in fear of what might happen if they were to inadvertently consort with his jumbled mass of assorted textiles. Shoved in the front loader and left forgotten for hours, or days; developing that distinctive Pacific Northwest mildew fragrance. An hour or two in the dryer might kill some of the odor, then they can look forward to deep creases forming new permanent patterns on the various fabrics. Rescue from that cold round prison coming only when the dryer is needed for something else.

Gently stepping over the male ego, careful not to disturb it, her laundry loads grow gradually smaller. This allows space for his mistreated garments to enjoy a better life, by ones and twos. An alternative to his misguided display of domestic prowess takes shape. A new hamper quietly appears, replacing his and hers, and the battle is won. Their laundry, now liberated from fear and mistreatment, flourishes under her attentive care.

Author’s Note:

Hi, honey. I have no idea where this one came from. Honest. 🙂

 

Friends

Hers was a whirlwind romance ending in elopement. He was quiet, solidly built, kind of bookish, and charmingly gullible. Growing up in his parent’s bakery, he had developed impressive skills in the kitchen. Those skills are what eventually attracted his wife, who has no cooking skills to speak of, but has always been a sucker for pastries. Together, they love to entertain. She flits around filling wine glasses and cleaning up after guests, while he creates the meal.

My husband and I shared many meals with them over the first few years of their marriage. They also became our favorite traveling companions. We’ve enjoyed chocolate croissants in Switzerland, Lamingtons in Australia, steins of beer in Germany, and s’mores on the beach in Hawaii. Life was pretty sweet for all of us.

Several years into their marriage, the trouble began. It started with a seemingly innocent 30 day challenge for avoiding alcohol. Next came challenges for sweets, or fitness, or whatever food was being demonized in the news that month. She could take or leave the fads, but he tried them all. Then he came across a book that changed everything. Sadly, my husband and I didn’t pick up on the warning signs right away. Even if we had known how serious this would eventually become, I don’t know for sure that we could have headed it off. His own wife couldn’t stop him.

My best friend, who had cleverly married the son of a baker, has suddenly found herself in a gluten-free marriage. There are currently no signs that this situation will improve. I know how hard this must be for her, so I remain supportive by providing cake on our birthdays and sending her boxed, shelf-stable bread, when I can find it.

But secretly I giggle at the irony. Because really, that’s what friends are for.

Author’s Note:

This one may look familiar if you’ve been following along. I had just entered a story in the 12th Annual Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest by Geist magazine, so I had short, short stories on the brain. Flipping through some of the stories on this website, I found What Friends Are For and realized that all the background information I had provided in the opening paragraphs was superfluous. I hacked and chopped until this story was half of its original size, then entered it in the postcard contest as well. It reads much better with this edit and I’m beginning to wonder if including too much background information is a quirk of mine that I’ll have to watch out for. Time will tell.