In the gloomy Pacific Northwest, the first real hike of spring always feels especially restorative. After months of cold, dismal weather and crippling seasonal affective diarrhea (commonly abbreviated as SAD), I love getting some sun, fresh air, and colorful new bruises just in time for shorts season.
This year, my workplace is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, a historic piece of legislation that ensures at least some federal lands remain as hostile to my allergies and sense of physical security as Mother Nature intended. What, exactly, is wilderness?
A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.
Pretty poetic, right? Nicely done, Congress.
Anyway, one of my colleagues is attempting to visit each of the nearly 50 wilderness areas in Oregon before the end of the year. A magnificent goal that inspires me deep in my soul to sit back and watch HER do it.
However, a couple of weeks ago, I joined her (and her dog) in kicking off this folly 50 Wilderness Hikes Challenge with the Ball Point — Little Badger Creek Traverse Hike in the Badger Creek Wilderness. For the purpose of anonymity, I shall refer to this colleague and friend as “Marielle.” And to extend the veil of privacy to her dog, I shall refer to him herein as “Taz.”
Right. The hike. We left Portland bright and early to make sure we had plenty of time to get lost on the way there. And thank goodness for that foresight. Because we were too busy sipping our cafe au laits to bother checking if the access road was open. Which…it…was…not. So we took the very scenic route and almost managed to hit the trail before noon. Success!
The Badger Creek Wilderness is quite pretty. It features lots of things like trees and rocks. And views of trees and rocks on nearby mountains. But its main selling point is solitude. We didn’t see anyone else on the trail the entire day. Taz got to run free and we had the 9-mile trail all to ourselves.
It’s a pretty mellow hike. Long, but not too grueling. It helps that Marielle is a photographer, which provided plenty of excuses for me to stop and wheeze surreptitiously. The first half of the hike took us through meadows and some recent burns. At about the halfway point, we stopped to enjoy the view at a helispot originally used by fire crews. It was perfect for basking in the sun.
At this juncture, Taz seemed to be pretty happy to bask along with us, so we were lulled into complacency. Marielle and I were determining our next moves when Taz perked up and took off down the hill. He was out of sight in a cloud of dust before we realized what was going on.
Marielle called out and we saw his head pop up from behind a log. And then right next to it appeared a large, fluffy, black and white tail. Marielle and I looked at each other — I think with a shared sense of doom. I mean, on one hand, it’s kind of cool to see a skunk in the wild. On the other hand, no. God, no.
Here he is before the incident:
Taz came bounding back and threw his entire face region into the dirt. He spent a good five minutes writhing around trying to rub what is — let’s get real here — essentially butt oil, from his face and chest. It was hysterical. Until he tried to run to us for help and comfort. Then it was our turn to dance around like maniacs to avoid contaminating our kneecaps. As a general rule, if it can be squeezed (or SPRAYED for fuck’s sake) from an anal gland, I would rather not have it on or near my person.
How was Taz? Traumatized, I think. But mostly unharmed. Now, I’m no veterinarian, but I AM a lawyer, and I was quite confident when I assured Marielle that no veterinary care was necessary.
You be the judge:
In all seriousness, as far as wildlife encounters go, it could have been much worse. And he really was OK. He spent the rest of the hike occasionally dive bombing puddles. And we spent the rest of the hike doing our best (and failing) to stay upwind.
The second half of the trail follows Little Badger Creek and features the ruins of an old miners’ cabin. We saw a lot of dead stuff on the trail and an impressive variety of shit — which, by the way, you have to call “scat” to sound more wildernessy. Pro tip. The last half mile or so is a bushwhack in the (one hopes) general direction of the trailhead. This was a great opportunity for me to put into practice my navigation, squinting and pointing skills.
We made it back to the car just as the sun was setting. After a quick stop for beer and pizza at Double Mountain in Hood River, we drove back toward Portland with Old Skunkface McGillicuddy chilling in my backseat. And, yeesh, as bad as the smell was outside, once we were cooped up in my car it was truly stunning.
Still. Worth it. There are few things more satisfying than a long hike on a sunny day — even with a skunk encounter. (However, I wasn’t the one who had to spend another several hours once home trying to decontaminate my dog.)
In case you are wondering, to remedy the oppressive smell, I wiped down my car with vinegar. After which, my car smelled like musk and old pee. Sort of comforting in a my-college-boyfriend’s-fraternity kind of way. Still, not ideal. So I bombed the car with an entire box of baking soda to try and absorb the offending scent molecules. Now my car both smells AND looks like a fraternity coke party. I mean, I assume.
Canine PSA Sidebar:Hey, dogs? Yes, all of you. Come here for a second. There’s something I want to tell you. Are you listening? Ugh. Your balls will still be there for gentle tonguing when I’m done bestowing this very important advice. Give it a rest for a second. No? What if I told you I have a delicious meat-based treat in my pocket? OK, now that I have your attention: Beware of the scary black and white stripey kitties. For real. That is all. Also, there is no treat. Unless you want this used, wadded up piece of Kleenex. And no, that is not a tiny golden raisin.
Though birdwatching isn’t part of my official job description, I’ve come to see it as a critical skill in my line of work. I spend a lot of time out in the field where I engage in game-changing activism like looking at grass. But I also spend a lot of time engaging in activism to protect the bajillions of birds that migrate every year along the Pacific Flyway.
This means I am frequently in the company of avid and accomplished bird watchers. As I mentioned in my post about attending my first birding festival, there’s a lot to admire about the birding community. Plus, it’s a challenge. I’ve met folks who can identify birds by a silhouette far overhead. Or completely unseen, just by a unique call.
And anyway, birds are pretty cool. They do all kinds of things I wish I could do myself. Things like flying. And eating worms without throwing up. And tactical aerial pooping above crowded music festivals.
Now that I’ve established myself as a novice birder, where to begin? My eyes don’t focus very well on quickly moving objects — a problem for an aspiring birder. (It’s also why my World of Warcraft career was cut tragically short.) I’m going to need this whole thing broken down step by step.
I’ve put together a basic field guide for myself and other aspiring birders. Hopefully these tutorials will give you a few key bird identifying tips for your initial forays into the wild.
These post-Percy Jackson revelations are from Facebook chat. But, whatever.
I just got Mom to admit that we are really demi-gods and she married Dad so his stink would cover up our godly aura from all the minotaurs and crap that want to kill us. I totally knew it. My dad’s Apollo. Yours is Hades. Obviously. Sorry.
P.S. Let’s run away together and live out the rest of our days in a tropical paradise.
OMG. I just KNEW there was a reason I’ve felt different all my life. And it makes my fling with that centaur SO much less weird. Not that I owe anyone an explanation for that. We had something special. I was like, reverse cowgirl tonight? And he totally laughed. I’ll never forget those magical moments.
This long holiday weekend, I was faced with a choice between two very different activities: 1) ValenTango (I know), a tango festival here in Portland, and 2) Winter Wings, a bird watching festival in central Oregon.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why would you want to be pressed up against a bunch of dancers in thrall to beautiful tango orchestras when you could be outside with a bunch of retirees getting pelted by freezing rain to maybe see some birds doing some stuff? Well. I’ll tell you why!
…Hold please…let me just check my notes…
Oh yes! Because 2014 has thus far been a period of big, uncomfortable transitions and trying to get back in touch with who I am and what I want. You know, details.
So, I decided to do both. Binoculars by day. Tango stilettos by night. Like a schizophrenic crime fighting superhero. Minus the crime fighting and the superpowers.
This suited both my current state of mind AND my self-diagnosed ADHD. (Side note: I am also suffering from the lingering effects of my self-diagnosed necrotizing fasciitis. Please send donations in my memory to the U.S. Department of Education Student Loan Collections S.W.A.T. Team.)
I spent the first part of the long weekend at ValenTango — an annual festival that brings together hundreds of dancers from all over the country for six days of nonstop dancing. I walked in, took one look at the scene, and felt overwhelmed. I tend to get dry mouth and diarrhea shy and intimidated in big groups — especially when I feel like I have something to prove.
In my early days of tango, I might have let this negatively impact my experience. Instead, I focused on dancing and reconnecting with old friends. I went a bit easier on myself and didn’t feel compelled to dance until my feet were but a few disintegrated bones covered in bloody, blistered skin flaps.
After a couple of days of dancing, I trekked out to central Oregon for Winter Wings — an annual festival that brings together hundreds of birders from all over the country for four days of nonstop birding.
I don’t know shit about birds. But I like being around people who do. Birding takes the kind of patience and quiet that I would like to cultivate in myself. Plus, it’s a great excuse to get outside and stare meaningfully into the distance.
On one birding field trip, I found myself on a bus with twenty retirees and one 11-year-old. I was frustrated looking out the window, because I couldn’t make out all the birds that the others were able to identify. All I could see were seemingly empty marshes and grasses.
But then we got off of the bus and I looked out at the “empty” marsh — this time with binoculars. I was shocked. I saw four bald eagles flying overhead. A golden eagle swooping down to catch a coot in its talons. Two harriers sparring. A red-tailed hawk perched in a tree. A great horned owl hiding behind a branch. And what must have been thousands of swans and geese swarming in the distance.
The 11-year-old jumped up and down next to me and said, “Oh my God! Everything is happening!”
And he was so right.
Maybe tango and birding are an odd couple. But they both have things to teach. Tango is teaching me to face my discomfort and fear so I can connect with myself and others. Birding is teaching me that even when things look bleak, if you look closer, everything IS happening. (Yeesh. Thanks for the life lesson, Kid Genius.)
My four-inch tango stilettos have gathered a fair bit of dust over the last several years. So, I was nervous last week when I strapped in for a night out on Portland’s notoriously rad tango scene.
I had no idea what to wear on the non-feet parts of my body. Pants? Skirt? Dress? How tight is too tight? My friend Angela helped me develop this easy guide: VPL (visible pubes lump) = too tight. Noted. Caftan it is!
Despite my nerves, I had a fantastic time. I eventually relaxed enough to focus on details like, for example, adequate oxygen intake. When I’m tense, I have a tendency to hold my breath, and then I end up doing this panicked, wheezy panting thing directly into my partner’s ear. Yes. Well. Tango IS the most sensual of the dances.
I’m trying to revisit and devote time to the things that have become part of my identity over the years. The hard part is finding a healthy balance with all of the other things that are important to me. Tango is only a part of my identity, after all. Please consult this handy chart for reference:
In my early 20s, I was obsessed with tango. A night not spent dancing was a night wasted. I wanted to be the best. I pushed hard. I burned out. I wanted balance. So, I got married and stopped dancing entirely.
Riiiiiight. OK, so maybe that was a bit too far in the opposite direction. Moderation has never been my strong suit. She says, vigorously resisting slipping into a juice fast-induced coma.
I returned to tango in my mid 20s. However, I only made time to dance once — maybe twice — a week. This did not jibe with my simultaneous desire to be one of the ultimate-extreme-badass-stiletto-wearing-gazelle-type-dance-goddesses.
In my late 20s, I danced sporadically. My attitude was basically, if I’m not going to be the best, what’s the point? Add a relationship with a non-tango dancer, and it was pretty easy to let the whole thing slide. (Side note: Being in a relationship with a tango dancer doesn’t necessarily make things easier. It’s a different set of problems. Namely, being in a relationship with a dancer.)
Where does that leave me in terms of work/life/love/boogie balance? Some considerations:
The good: I spent one blissful New Year’s holiday in the Netherlands for a 36-hour tango marathon. I danced with folks from all over the world. It’s really a beautiful thing to connect with another person without the benefit of a shared language. It may be the sleep-deprivation talking, but that experience was fucking primo. A highlight of both my tango and non-tango life.
The bad: I have actually had another human being’s sweat in my mouth. As I recall, my head was positioned under my partner’s chin, and he’d worked up an abundant man sheen. To my horror, I felt a juicy droplet fall on my forehead. It slowly rolled down between my eyes. I shook my head to fling it away from my face region. But it only rolled faster toward the tip of my nose. I curled my lips to blow some air upward, forcing the drop back. He probably wondered if I was having some sort of localized head seizure. And it was all for naught. That sweatball rolled right onto my curled lips and INTO. MY. MOUTH.
In between those two ends of the tango spectrum, there is great music, lively conversation, community, real connection and opportunities for self-expression. And I don’t need to be the best dancer on the block to enjoy those things.
I’ve recently had reason to examine how I let fear influence the way I talk and think about my circumstances.
A little over a year ago, I took the big step of leaving my 9 to 5 office job. I took another half step forward when I landed a part-time gig at an environmental nonprofit.
Enter fear and doubt, my old friends. My crummy, passive-aggressive, vindictive friends.
Instead of taking the next big necessary steps forward, I got scared. I went from confident and optimistic to cowering and negative. Fear influenced my dialogue — both internal and external. Then I was shocked (and in a twisted way, vindicated) when my fears became reality.
It hit me how directly my choice of words and thoughts are related to outcomes — in all areas of my life. Applied to my career, here’s how this dialogue evolves:
Step 1 — Making shit happen
I say: Hello! I know what I want. I want to work for this environmental nonprofit. I have a lot to offer. I believe that you should hire me!
I’m thinking: I know what I want. I have a lot to offer. I deserve the chance to go after what I want. Let’s do it, Me, you big lug! Huzzah! Whoops, I hope that dried booger wasn’t fluttering around my nose during the whole interview.
Likely effect: She knows what she wants. She has a lot to offer. She is a delight and, frankly, we are mesmerized by her inner beauty and outward radiance. (Ahem. Right.) Let’s hire her!
Step 2 — Still in fighting form
I say: I’m here — let’s do this thing!
I’m thinking: I just took a big step. Whew! It’s a new chapter. Let’s do this thing!
Likely effect: She’s here — she’s going to do this thing!
Step 3 — Fear induced self-sabotage
I say: I’ve got my foot in the door and that’s progress. But there are a lot of challenges. I’m not sure I fit in.
I’m thinking: Hmmm, the reality of this is much different than the fantasy. There are things about this that I don’t like. I’m not sure I’m good at this. What if they don’t like me?
Likely effect: Maybe she’s just settling in. But she never accepts our lunch invitations. Perhaps she wants to be left alone.
Step 4 — Down the rabbit hole
I say: I hate them. This sucks. I’ll never have any opportunities here, so why bother trying? I just have to stick it out until I find something better.
I’m thinking: I don’t think I fit in here. I’m not good at this. I made a mistake. Oh God, why do they hate me?
Likely effect: She is both unproductive and uncool.
Followed to its logical conclusion, this line of dialogue will lead to my slowly checking out, creeping one foot out the door, and then leaving for greener pastures. (Ha! As if. I know by now there’s a hot, moist pile of dog shit hiding on every patch of grass.) That, of course, is assuming I don’t get fired first.
It’s time to change the dialogue.
Step 5 — An alternative
I will say: Hi. Sorry I was being such a brat. Please permit me now to dig in and be awesome in your general direction. Excuse me? Why yes, I have been working out. Thanks for noticing.
I will think: As kids these days are wont to say, you only live once. Maybe twice. Three times MAX. But, you might come back as, like, an oyster or a garlic press. So, embrace this second chance to do it right. Buck up, doofus.