Friday, June 27, 2014

Summer Camp

I wasn't always someone who went camping or hiking. In fact, if you'd asked me ten years ago, I would have raised a quizzical eyebrow at you and suggested a walk at the arboretum, or a city park instead, with a definite destination for coffee and buns and maybe a bookstore in sight.

It wasn't that I didn't love being outdoors, I did; walking endless miles (so long as they were within city limits), exploring forests and rivers, enjoyed foraging for mushrooms an berries in the suburban woods and escaping to the solitude of the Finnish summer isles, but for much of my life, I preferred cities. The glow of lights, the possibilities and excitement of them, the sound of something always happening, even if it was in the distance and I was safely tucked away in my room, most likely reading. I was also definitely not "the outdoorsy-type" and most of my childhood memories with camping, wilderness and hiking have the distinct tinge of hilarious-in-hindsight misery to them.

The idea of being uncomfortable on purpose was completely lost on me in my teens and early twenties. I don't know if it's a common hippie-kid experience, but giving up hot running water and indoor plumbing for a lark seemed fairly stupid to me. Having escaped a life in cold water, unreliable wood heat and outhouses, I was never eager to re-create it for an adventure.

Had I lived somewhere where nature experiences were scarce, I might have sought them out more, no matter the potential discomfort, but in Finland nature is always right there, waiting for you on your stoop, just lurking right in your backyard, trying to push in from the edge of town. If you want to go to the woods, you can do so very easily, because the woods are everywhere. The landscapes have an unassuming beauty, but they're also pretty monotonous; thousands of lakes, endless forests, mostly thick and dark evergreens. It wasn't until my early twenties, when I first laid eyes on a truly primeval forest that I discovered that I'd basically grown up in what's possibly world's largest forestry experiment: an entire country of second -and third-growth forest.

Living in a small town surrounded by an army of trees as far as the eye can see and lakes seemingly blocking every exit, I dreamt only of big cities, of Paris and Hong Kong and Tokyo and Buenos Aires, anywhere with an underground and loud sirens and strangers. The last thing I wanted, was to go somewhere even more backwatered than where I already was. Cities seemed wild to me, unpredictable, mysterious, full of native flora and fauna to observe. The actual wild places, seemed boring by comparison. At sixteen I moved out of home to live in the biggest city Finland had to offer, at nineteen, to the biggest city in Western Europe.

And while I often yarned for wilder places and sought them out in the English countryside, in Scottish highlands, in the Finnish berry patches, I would have described myself as an urban person, someone only interested in nature as a concept, something to conserve, something to look at, something I knew I wanted to exist in the world, but not necessarily spend a lot of time wading through, muddied and mosquito bitten.

So what happened? Well, for one thing, America happened. The moment I set my sights on the mountain vistas, 1000-year-old trees and misty beaches of the Pacific Northwest, the wilderness downtown was never enough again. It was here that I saw my first mountain, my first truly open ocean,   experienced real awe over a landscape, instead the mild delight I was used to, looking over a Finnish lake view.

And, more importantly, this guy happened too. Charlie grew up going camping and got into hiking in his twenties. At that time he spent a lot of his time outside and before moving to the country, getting out in the wilder lands was a big escape for him. When I met him, one of the first things we did together was to go on a tip to the North Cascades. A Washington native, he has spent his whole life accumulating knowledge of this bio-region and going out in the mountains and woods with him was really eye-opening for me. He really loved those places. And he really knew them. They were like a part of him, his psyche, something that I had never really considered before.

Up until that point my love of nature was very abstract, the way it often is for us city-dwellers: I knew nature was important, good, beautiful, all these adjectives, but it also made me feel like I didn't exactly belong.  Our first real camping trip together, I suddenly understood how it feels to be at home outside. Not just outside of your house, out of the city,  but out of your "normal" life. How when we have the opportunity to worry only about fire and food and staying warm, we connect with this part of ourselves that gets pushed back behind all of our modern conveniences and worries. How being hungry and cold and uncomfortable clears your head.  How being in nature, makes you a part of it and how this is the perfect introduction and conduit to meditation, because eventually, without distractions beyond the movement of the sun and the tides and the occasional bird, or deer, you stop thinking and just start being.

These days, I'm often the one demanding that we back up our rucksacks with trailmix and beans, our big, impractical sleeping bags, our thinnest notebooks and drudge out somewhere for days and days of unwashed glory and damp socks.

I now think of camping and hiking as going home to ourselves, of recalibrating our compasses to figure out where our true north lies.

What's your take on camping, wilderness and voluntary inconvenience?

ps. If you're on the fence about camping my last installment of this year's Solstice campout will be on Camping Hacks! Or if you're a master hiker-camper-packer-tracker, share your own.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Home Again, Home Again

We spent the week of Summer Solstice on a beach on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, surrounded by old-growth trees, the corresponding clear cuts, facing the wild, endless Pacific, watching the eagles, deer, fur seals, otters, jays, fellow hikers pass by. We hiked to swim in rivers and admire ancient rock drawings and stood unsteadily on the Westernmost point of the lower 48. (Oh, and had someone's ashes scattered over us!) We ate rice and beans, trail mix, bits of seaweed, salmonberries. Mostly we drank our coffee black and spent all day outside and with each other.

To say that it's a little hard to come back to the relative civilization of laundry, the internet, cars, phones, obligations, an abundance of food, weeds, 4th of July coming up quick and all the ferry lines and crazy times ahead, would be a massive understatement. It's a different kind of wildness. Of course, it's nice to be home, to see our cats, to eat vegetables, to weed our beds of cabbages and potatoes and beets growing huge. And I do look forward to checking in with all of you and if I owe you an email, please forgive me, I owe a lot of people emails.

There'll be a lot more posts about our adventures, but if you're interested here's something I wrote about why we camp from the last time we spent Solstice on the coast.

Now back to this reality.

Edit: When I first posted this the image above had a weird bad-photoshop sheen. Turns out that Charlie's camera apparently has a feature that photoshops your face. WTF. We only discovered this after transferring the pics onto the computer and flickr.  I figured out how to get the original version of the "beautified" image and am way happier to have that one up. I don't really want to post pics where I look like a video game character without big boobs. I can help it that is. But to see the creepy difference, you can check out the "improved" image here. That is not how I look after three days of camping, trust me. Who in the world would want a camera that does that? 

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Mid Summer Night's Dream

Happy Summer Solstice from a wild place! Hope you're exploring your wild, your community, your magic, your giant bonfire building skills...

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Run Away With Me

I used to be a little puzzled when couples said they were going on dates,  or "having date night". Not necessarily judgmental, but definitely puzzled. I used to wonder what was so wrong with their everyday lives together, that they needed to make these special pockets of time. Of course, even I understand that for parents of little kids "date night" might be the only way to set up alone time and perhaps busy professionals with 40+ hour work weeks, could certainly use some designated time away from other things, but overall, I just didn't really get the concept.

Maybe that's because dating has never really been part of my experience with boyfriends and partners, it's always been more about casual hanging out and doing random things together. Coming from a society with a lot more emphasis on equality between the sexes, the mere idea of candle-lit dinners and roses and whatnot, that the word conjures, seems silly and antiquated. Dates used to sound so forced to me, like "that supposedly fun thing we'll never do again". Honestly, I probably have some sort of bias against things that are supposed to be "romantic".

That is until we acquired our current, very busy, life. Frankly, being child-free, the two of us had, in spite of all of our varied projects, ample time to just be together.  Walk the beaches, row the waters, chat and watch movies and go mushrooming...

Now though, every day is filled with, if not work ("I could be working!"), then the chores necessary to keep life as we know it moving along: laundry, dinner, garden, animals. sweeping, correspondence, making and mending, gatherings with friends...

The things I consider romantic, are the little everyday ones, the kindnesses of back massages and unexpected pieces of buttered toast, finding the dishes done, or the gift of a cat plopped on your lap when you're feeling down; the mutual understanding of inside jokes that split your sides, sudden serious conversations in the breakfast table…well, the last few months, they've started slipping away. We see each other morning and night, we're tired, we're pre-occupied, we're always working.

So here I am, humbled, going on dates planned hang-outs, or as Jodi calls them "field trips".  Most of the time, we take off and hike out somewhere, sit on the rocks, watch the birds and the boats, the Olympics hovering on the horizon.

Instead of "romance", we're getting fresh air, quiet and, sometimes, companionable solitude. These outings are a way for us to run away for a while, take stock, get perspective.

And while I still think that the mundane existence of our everyday lives is where our happiness ultimately has to lie, I'm definitely learning to appreciate these little breaks from reality, where we can be carefree, observant and wild. If even for an hour or two...

How about you guys and your partners? Or are you single and if so, what do you think of "dating"? Am I alone in my date-hatin? 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Read Women And A Few Good Men, Too

In my last post about books, I mentioned that the British newspaper Guardian had recently launched a campaign called Read Women 2014 and that this fit rather well into my own reading agenda this year. Since we're entering the summer season, which is traditionally regarded as the great reading season, adored by all vacationers on beaches all over the world, I thought it would be grand time to talk a little more about reading.

 Living in a tourist destination and homesteading, doesn't exactly leave me with lots of time to read in the summer, but I've been finding thatreading a book really relaxes me when I need to unwind, in a way that watching movies, or reading things online does not. Watching movies, or TV shows can be intense and stimulating for me, and reading online is a sort of jumpy experience, careening from one source text to the next. Sitting down with a book on the other hand, is decidedly more about slowing down, focusing and letting go.

One of my summer reading rituals is re-reading Tove Jansson's utterly magical and heart-wrenching The Summer Book, but this year I can't seem to find my copy anywhere. If one of you bastards has it, give it back. I love that book. It's laconic and melancholic, yet filled with the kind of abundant joy in little things that a million lifestyle bloggers wish they could tap. The Summer Book, like all of Janssons oeuvre is at once wise and naive, those qualities embodied in turns by the two primary characters: a little girl and her grandmother.

I think it's impossible for me to overstate how important Jansson's works are to me, and in fact, for my family of two, my mother and I. She began reading The Moomin books to me when I was about two-years-old. We read them all, the novels, the picture books, the comics. We scoured art books for Tove's paintings and traveled far to see her miniature scenes, something I imagine was rather interesting for my mother, who was a set designer. When I got older, I read Jansson's books for adults, starting with The True Deceiver. It's extremely rare that you can transition from childhood to adulthood with an author.  In some ways Tove and her stories are part of our family lore.

When my mom said she was going to send me a new biography about the author, I knew I would devour it in one sitting, which is exactly what happened. Like many artist's and author's Tove Jansson's own life served as the mirror-world map of her works. It's always particularly interesting to read about her art outside of the Moomins and even her literary works. Her style of painting was in many ways way ahead of its time with her dreamy, other-worldly landscapes, depictions of women and queer people in the very center of paintings and her emphasis on the natural world.  The book, called Do Work And Love will hopefully be available to English-speaking readers in the next few years, because it's a fascinating look into the life of an artist so gifted and multi-talented that she could only rightly be called a genius.

If you haven't read The Summer Book already, stop reading this post right now and go get yourself a copy. I mean it.

Tove Jansson's works aren't the only ones I reread from time to time. In fact, if I like a book, I will keep rereading it, sometimes year after year. Unhappily for me, I'm rather picky about what I like and often don't particularly enjoy many of the books I read. This is especially true of fiction. Of course, there's something to love and admire in most every book, but often modern novels also leave much to be desired.

This was, for instance, the case with Jennifer Dubuis' Cartwheel, a fictionalization of the real-life case of Amanda Knox, the American student accused of murdering a roommate while abroad. It was an entertaining enough read, but had that oddly paper-y flavor of novels that try too hard to be literary, analytical, perceptive. The language had almost nothing going for it and over all, I would not recommend it, unless you're particularly fascinated with the case.

Reading experiences like Cartwheel sometimes make me turn to books I've already read and enjoyed, particularly because as we change, our reading of novels and non-fiction works we've liked also changes. When it first came out, I wrote a glowing review of Lauren Groff's Arcadia and though I stand by it and am wildly enjoying this book the second time around, I also happened upon a rather interesting discovery about research, fictionalization  and an author's imagination.

This time when I picked Arcadia up at the library, I also grabbed their copy of another old favorite read, Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin. If you're ever planning to have a child, I would recommend it. If you're not planning to have a child, I would still recommend it. Reading these two books side by side however, I discovered that much of the commune of Arcadia and particularly its inception is, if not  exactly lifted, then thinly fictionalized from Spiritual Midwifery. So much so that I can't believe I didn't make the connection at the time I first read Arcadia. Now, I knew from interviews that Groff had used The Farm, the commune that Gaskin and her community formed and continue to practice nature; childbirth midwifery in, as an inspiration, but I have to say that I was a little shocked by how much the two narratives resemble each other in the beginning of Arcadia.

Intertextual fun, my friends and a recommended companion read.

I don't, however, have any doubts about the vastness of Ms. Groff's imagination. It's is as bottomless as a lake filled with monsters of all kinds, rivaled in contemporary literature only by the alligator wresting mind of a certain "break-neck demon writer".

Having followed Lauren Groff and Karen Russell's careers as writers from their first published short stories onward, reading the latter's latest short story collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove, was deeply satisfying. Her stories are a little less whimsical and a little more grounded now, but still imbued with both magic and uneasy, deeply unsettling at times even. There's a lot of death and sadness in them, displacement and guilt and deep, subconscious desires under the masks of vampires, seagulls from the future and dolls representing sad, lost boys. Well, and then there's tailgating in Antarctica...

One of my long time summer "hacks", is reading short stories, instead of novels,
because sometimes it's hard to concentrate on a novel when there's so much light and activity all around you. A short story can be a complete, self-contained world you can enter and quickly exit again.

Of course, when the right novel comes along you can whip through it in a day. As I suspected, Hannah Kent's Burial Rites was such a novel for me. It's in fact the perfect summer read, if you don't mind spending a summer's day in grip of an Icelandic winter. Dark, brooding, desperate and melancholy, Kent's debut novel is nothing if not a triumph. And I'm not just saying that because Jennifer Lawrence is signed to star in the movie adaptation. While most reviews of the book are a little skeptical, but none can deny that Kent pulls off an ambitious feat. If you're gonna read women this year (and you should!), read Burial Rites.

Speaking of the right novel coming along, I finished Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 sometime in April, about a week after I'd started it and should really get it back to my sis who lent it to me, but honestly,  I keep going back to it and re-reading sections. This novel is so rich and bizarre and has so much language that attracts the atavistic sense of story, especially when the author suddenly switches gears and writes about "the Little People", literal small creatures with a kind of a hive mind and passage way into the world trough the mouth of a dead goat. There's much intertextuality in this book as well, though often it's the clumsiest part of the narrative, it's also, like the entire book, oddly compelling.

Now, I've never been a Murakami fan, let alone a fanatic and the only book of his that I've liked before is Norwegian Wood, often considered by enthusiasts as the "square" Murakami novel. Having only read some of his early works, IQ84 kind of blew me away. Now I'm going to have to give Kafka On The Shore another chance.

As for other men, in my book pile Derrick Jensen is ever present. I mentioned A Language Older Than Words in my last post and I'm also reading Dreams, though now that summer is here, they're both slow going.

Another great reading "hack" for summer is, of course, poetry. Like short stories, poetry collections, chapbooks and anthologies can be read in small increments or devoured whole. The other morning I found to my complete delight, Ms. Andrea Quinlan's latest chapbook from Birds Of Lace Press The Mysteries Of Laura, in my mailbox. There's honestly nothing better than a package full of words. Not only did Andrea gift me with her poems, but she wrote me the sweetest card, including the kindest words you can ever tell a writer: "I hope to read your book someday."

As a little teaser, Andrea kindly allowed me to reprint one of her poems here. If you're intrigued, you can purchase her collection from BOL, for the low, low price of $5. So much pleasure for so little dollars.

The Gothic Novels

Laura read all the novels
That girls her age were forbidden to read
All the classics of Gothic literature
"They are dangerous."
"They will ruin your health."
"They could even jeopardize your chances of a good match."
These were the chastisements 
She heard when she was caught with the books unaware 
And they were snatched from her hands
But already she had devoured them by moonlight,
By candlelight,
Hidden in secluded corners of the house
And leafy bowers in the grounds,
These warnings had come too late.
Already she had been woken in the night by strange cries
Taken with fainting spells,
And forced to rest in a room filled with violets.
Already she had received mysterious signs,
Dreamt of people she had never met
And strange and gloomy places she had never travelled.
Now, when she sat with her family at the dinner table,
There was a glint in her green eyes.

©Andrea Quinlan 2014  "The Mysteries Of Laura"

What are you reading this summer? Favorite short story collections? Female authors? Any Murakami fans out there? What did you think of 1Q84?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Thin Black Line

Out here, summer is suddenly in full bloom: strawberry season just started, the ferry lines snake up past the terminal to the hills, Gemini parties fill each weekend, bees are swarming (I have to remember to put up my swarm hive!), hay pollen is making everyone miserable…

I was doing so well before hay-fever set in, or at least managing the demands of summer life with some modicum of control, but now that I have to actually sleep several hours a night, things are falling by the wayside. For one thing, it would appear that I can longer compose, nor take a decent outfit shot and the world will forever be ignorant what I'm wearing these days. Alas.

My neighbor Irene's garden which already looks like Eden, is about to burst in even further bloom, singularly rivaling the city of Portland in all it's floral glory.

Our next door neighbor's two sows each gave birth to a little of piglets, and the "wild" turkey mama who's been hanging out in our yard had four tiny turkeys in tow the other day. I dare you to try to find something more adorable than a baby turkey.

My own garden is doing well, though hand-watering it is setting some limitations and I think I planted my broccoli starts right at the wrong moment.

Speaking of Portland, I don't think I ever showed you guys my two latest tattoo additions: the dark of the moon and a thin band for my wedding ring, which I can no longer wear because so many of my jobs involve using my hands.

I may have made it a little too thin, and not taken into account that I heal fast, but scar really easily, because what is a tattoo but an injury your skin tries to scar over…

Either way I'm going to have to get it touched up pretty soon.

With all this summer time madness, some people still manage to sleep 'till the sun goes down.

Oh to be a cat on summer's day...