Food

When we were little, food had so much impact on us kids, as I’m sure it did for many.

I remember my youngest sister forced to sit alone at the table after all of us were gone, because she couldn’t gag down the liver and onions. She couldn’t leave the table until her plate was empty.

I remember if you spilled milk into your plate on accident, you still had to eat the soggy food.

I know all of this came from the generation my parents grew up in and that my mom came from little. I know also it came from having to feed five kids on a limited budget. Nothing could be wasted or thrown out. I have so much respect for mom, there at home, three meals a day. Her canning, the 50-pound burlap bags of red potatoes and lentils.

I remember commodity day. I swear it was dad’s favorite day of the week because in the commodity box would be a huge block of REAL BUTTER.

When my parents retired, they volunteered at a local food bank. Every Friday they came home with boxes and mom would radiate relief. Cans on the shelves, meat in the freezer. It was like commodities day all over again. Mom told me once she volunteered at the food bank because volunteers got first choice. I also wonder if she volunteered because it allowed her to feel like she was earning the food she brought home.

She also came home with stories. People had to sign up, provide identification, and provide proof of their low income status. Mom would tell stories of people who were humiliated. Or people coming through that drove fancy cars or wore nice clothes and how she felt they were lying. That they were taking food from those who really needed it.

Fast forward to a few months ago when I was talking to a neighbor about a local food bank. She said I should pick things up because they had such a surplus. I told her we didn’t need to do that. She said it had nothing to do with income levels; that question wasn’t even asked. She told me they received funding on a point system and the more people that came, the more points they got. Points allowed them to continue providing for the community. She said it helped them out if people came.

Recently I had a day off when her food bank was open. I thought I would go, be counted so they got some points, and do my part to help her out. I figured I would pick up one or two things to look like I was legitimate. In other words, I’d fake it so they could count my household and help others.

When I got there, there were rows and rows of food. One family was leaving with a cart piled high. One woman was going through a huge case of tomatoes, picking out a box full and talking about canning sauce. Other than that it was just the volunteers.

They were so excited to see me. I signed up, politely followed their directions, and picked up a loaf of homemade sourdough bread. A volunteer pushed a cart over to me. Another said ‘oh, you have to take some of this!’ Another said ‘come back to the freezer and get some meat!’ A third put a box of donuts on the cart, along with spinach and squash and…more and more.

I kept telling them ‘no thank you’. I finally confessed that I didn’t need anything, I’d just come to get counted so they could get points.

They then told me they had so much left over at the end of the day that they fed local pigs and chickens and horses.

I came home with a few boxes and lots of guilt. Some of the things were well past their prime, like corn that was tough and woody, and spinach that was slimy. But those things were in boxes that had been pre-made by someone and sealed. The things the volunteers pressed on me were fine. Mom and dad would have been thrilled.

In one way, a part of me was thrilled, too. Free food! I can stock up the pantry even more! Canned soups and rice and beans and flour and…it was like grocery shopping without having to pay for anything.

And in another way, I was extremely uncomfortable and guilt-ridden. I still am, today, which is why I’m writing about it. I’m not sure I’ll go back. I’m going to make donations, though.

Rain

We live in a temperate rain forest. Which, of course, means it rains a lot. I remember one year when it rained ninety straight days. Some hated it. Some felt they were mildewing. But I loved it.

I love a hard downpour that drenches everything, that soaks through your hair instantly so you can feel the tiny rivulets running down the back of your ears and neck. The sort of rain that means business and lets you know it.

I love soft rain that mists everything and takes a long time to soak in. I love its gentleness as it sifts over ferns and earth and sits on your shoulders like silvery spiderwebs.

I love how rain allows you to do nothing but sit by the fire with a book, with no guilt.

I love the sound of rain, on roof, under car tires, on leaves of trees, on my skin, my thirsty skin that soaks it up to feed my soul.

So this has been a hard summer. We’ve never had such heat or so many days without the rain we are famous for. I see the parched earth, the stressed trees, the bony river with its skeleton of rocks jutting up through the thin skin of water.

Fire danger is, of course, extreme right now. I think even people who hate the rain are watching the sky for mare’s tails of clouds, hoping to see the streamers drifting in over the mountains.

I know I am.

The wild animals are coming down from high places sooner than usual because there is no water up in the alpine rivers and lakes. We’re used to bears coming through as they get ready for hibernation but this is sooner than normal. Fledgling birds and baby squirrels are dying as they fall out of nests trying to escape the heat. It’s heartbreaking and I fear this is a sign of times to come.

This baby was rescued.

For now I’m sitting in a room with the blackout curtains closed against the heat, looking at photos of water. Craving damp and cool and moss that is green and vibrant rather than brown and parched. Craving a roaring, whitewater river, full of returning salmon.

And a sky full of rain.

Lookout Point

This hiking trail is a bit difficult to find. It’s listed in some trail guides but it’s mainly used by locals. And rock climbers are always in the area although I’m not sure many of them use the trail itself. I’ve been up the trail three times for fun and once for no fun at all when our dog got stuck. This past weekend my husband took three friends up there. I was careful not to give them my opinion of the trail beforehand as I didn’t want to color the experience for them.

View from Lookout. You can see Mt. Index and Bridal Veil Falls, which is another challenging, but beautiful, hike.

Many locals love that trail, my son included. In spite of the steepness, it’s normally well worth the hike for the views from the top of the trail, which are beautiful.

Looking down on the North Fork Skykomish River.

Of the friends who went with my husband, one got sick and had to turn back. One walked that friend out of the woods and then decided to wait at the base of the chute, which is the last three hundred feet or so of the trail. My husband and our friend Dan went all the way to the top. This was more challenging than normal because there has been a slide down the chute.

Looking up from the base of the chute.

So yes, it’s a beautiful hike. Yes, it’s typically difficult, especially the chute. But those aren’t the reasons why I haven’t been up that trail for several years.

Our son, at the top, several years ago.

Those who know me personally know that I’m not a superstitious type. Okay, I might be a little superstitious about writing, but mostly I’m a pretty pragmatic person. I don’t get scared often. But Lookout Point just creeps me out big time.

I’ve never had an emotional reaction to a place like this and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it. But every single time I’ve gone up that trail, I have had a strong thought in my brain telling me I’m not supposed to be there. Have you ever had a moment when your neck hairs stand up and every instinct is telling you that you’ve just made a big mistake? That’s me on that trail.

It’s not the difficulty level because I’ve been up it before. Granted, I doubt I could make it up there now. I’ve done it before and even on the somewhat easier lower portion of the trail, I’m still scared of it.

Our friend, showing the steepness of the chute.

When I wrote This Deep Panic and was trying to imagine the fear characters would feel out in the woods, alone and vulnerable, I dipped into my feelings about this trail. So in a way, the trail helped me with writing.

I strongly believe I am not supposed to be on that trail. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s honest.

Now that there has been a slide in the chute, I have an excuse to say no if anyone invites me to go up Lookout. I won’t have to admit that the place scares me. It’s such a weird thing because, if you know me, I absolutely love the woods. The forest is my home space.

Just not that tiny piece of forest. That trail up Lookout? It doesn’t want me there for some reason, and I plan on listening and honoring that. Even if it does make me sound a little loopy.

I certainly don’t need to go back up it in order to write more scary scenes. My memory will work just fine.