River Solitude

Recently I warned locals about the high number of deer on the highway. I gave the location as the area around Eagle Falls, Boulder Drop, and Split Rock. It dawned on me later that I used the river for highway locations rather than mile markers.

Boulder Drop and Split Rock are specific spots on the Skykomish River that are well known to anyone who lives near the river. And it’s nothing new to use landscape as maps or guidance or to center someone on where they are in their world.

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The husband at Boulder Drop

The 13th of April was Sam Grafton’s 29th birthday. Those who read this blog know he is gone from our lives, lost to a kayaking accident. For his birthday we went out on a sunny and cool spring day to visit some of his favorite kayaking spots. There was still snow on the ground in areas and the old back roads were empty of people in these days of social distancing and self-quarantine. Empty except for us, on our river pilgrimage.

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Sam’s mother, when she invited me, didn’t give me directions by saying we were going up highway 2 and turning on a specific road. Instead, she simply said we were going to Top Tye.

From there we followed the river and streams to Log Trap and the Spout and Box Top. I had never heard of these places before as they are kayak routes most kayakers don’t attempt. But Sam did. He was one of only five to ever run Log Trap. A second is Rob McKibben, also known in the kayaking world.

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The Spout. Use the rocks on the far side for perspective how high and sharp the drop is. 

Not only is Rob an amazing kayaker, he was also our gentle guide on Sam’s birthday, leading us through the woods from one spot to another, telling us stories and bringing those runs to life for us.

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Log Trap to the right and Box Top to the left. Photo doesn’t show drop well.

 

It was a beautiful day that will become one of those gems in my memory. I am grateful Sam’s family included me, and so glad I gave the day to sunshine and woods and river and stories and friendship.

I came home and pulled up a YouTube video called ‘Tumwater Solitude: Sam Grafton Kayaks Wenatchee River Class V’ (link below). There’s a scene in the five-minute video, right about 2:25, that is framed from above so that nothing is visible except water and Sam. The river is a living force in that frame, whitewater foaming and rushing, and this little spot of green in the midst of all that power. The video is heartbreaking to watch, but it’s also beautiful.

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Log Trap. Again, the photo doesn’t give a good perspective for the size of the drop. 

Those few brief seconds encapsulate all that the river is and how it impacts us and forms our lives and marks our landscape. And how it forms our memorials, not just for Sam, but also for my sister, who loved the Columbia River in its wide-reaching depths. This coming weekend should have been her memorial, but it was canceled because of the limit on gatherings. We were to release her ashes to the river on that day.

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The Columbia

Two people important in my life, both deeply tied to rivers.

Those few brief seconds in that video encapsulate how Sam was part of the river. Not ‘fighting’ the rapids or ‘beating’ the run or any other phrase commonly used to show that someone ‘wins’ against nature.

He was just there, with the river.

We will reschedule my sister’s memorial and release her ashes and she, too, will be with the river.

And then both Jani and Sam will be with their rivers, forever.

Tumwater Solitude

 

Beginnings

For the past three years I’ve been writing a new story. I’ve mentioned it here a few times, but only briefly because I’m superstitious that if I talk about an infant story too much, it dies and I never finish it.

Three years. Granted, I’m a slow writer in the best of times. But this has been hard because I’m trying to stretch my wings as a writer and am not sure if I’m succeeding. This one has multiple perspectives and story lines. It’s darker than I’ve written before, and it’s scary. Well, my goal is to make it scary. I’m not sure it’s scary enough.

My editor has her fingers in the story now, and she’s challenging me to delete chapters, strengthen motivations, and work on the scene/sequel process. It became obvious the beginning was very rough and needed a lot of work. No surprise there because beginnings can be the hardest thing to write as they have so much to accomplish.

The idea for the story came from a news event, but I don’t think I could have written it without being in a darker place myself. Without saying, ‘these are the things I’m afraid of in this world’ and then trying to place those fears on paper.

Anyway, I am hoping to have the book available by the end of summer. Cover art is in the process and I’ll share versions here to get opinions. But in the meantime, below is the beginning. The prologue. It’s still in edit but I’ll share anyway. Comments, first impressions, and opinions are appreciated.

And of course it’s copyrighted.

Prologue

The Hole in the Wall wasn’t really a hole but a dead-end shaft with a steel door that could be barricaded from within and locked from without. And the Wall wasn’t really a wall, but a granite mountain deeply fissured and hung with a dark and shadowed forest curtain. One that went straight up, creating a sense of severe vertigo overwhelming anyone leaning back, and back, and back, to see the top. Here and there, stunted fir and cedar and hemlock twisted and bent waiting to fall.

Occasionally the Wall would free boulders to plummet down and leave deep impact craters in the forest floor.

Few rock climbers, hanging with harnesses and bandaged knuckles, knew the door was there, far below them where the forest washed up at the base of the Wall.

Curtis Jonason locked himself in the Hole five days a week. Some days he imagined himself a climber suspended in the heights, able to see for miles, see the rushing white water of the Skykomish River, speckled with daredevil kayakers. Or to gaze down on the tiny, tiny town of Index, Washington nestled a mile off Highway 2 in the Cascade Mountains. But he wasn’t an adventurer. And he had long ago come to terms with the reality that his adventures were only found in imagination and books.

Instead, each day, in cold weather gear, he unlocked the Hole with his smooth scientist’s hands, slipped into the dark, and bolted the door behind him. There, he would spend fourteen hours alone burrowed into the granite, a small stream rushing under his workstation, a flashlight his only illumination.

Alone with his machines.

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Morningstar climbing route on a small portion of the Wall

Rain

If you live in the Pacific Northwest you have to align with the rain. If you wait for a day without rain you’ll never breathe fresh air.

Yesterday, my sister said ‘let’s go for a walk in the woods!’. Off we went. My sister, my nephew, my great-niece, and her boyfriend. We didn’t have wet-weather gear; my sister was even in open, sandal-type shoes. We came back soaked. It was a fantastic family get-together.

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The same sister, on another day when she said ‘let’s go for a walk in the woods’

At one point my sister commented on how the mountains were hidden in the clouds. I told her I prefer them when it’s stormy, when you just get glimpses of the high peaks. When they are fully exposed on a clear sunny day, there’s no mystery, no magic, no unanswered questions. No dreams about what might be up there, no possibilities.

In other words, no stories.

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Looking toward Mt. Baring

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Looking toward Mt. Index, with a hint of Bridal Veil Falls

Many years ago we lived off-grid and generated electricity from a water wheel. This meant never-ending maintenance of the pipeline, which climbed the forested ridge. Dad and I (and any visiting family members) spent a lot of time out in the woods in all sorts of weather. I remember one time when the pipe broke and spewed creek water all night. When we reached it, there was a thick frozen waterfall from a tree branch where the pipe had shot water. It was like the tree had become one with the creek.

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We’d be out there either wet or freezing. Trying to hold onto tools, pipes slippery/slick, glue too cold, dropped screws in forest floor impossible to find within ferns and needles and water. Sometimes, miserable, we worked in silence just to get the job done. Some times we told stories.

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I’ve lost many screws, nails, and even hammers, in places like this.

One time, the ground gave way beneath my dad and he broke his leg. It was challenging getting him back down the steep trail in the rain. There was cussing involved. And fear.

I have laughed in the rain, shed tears in the rain, spent wonderful moments with close friends (and family), and also moments of precious solitude. Water always seems to be there, in the form of rain or snow, or just the whitewater rivers and creeks.

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The power of rain and river

As much as rain is a part of my life, I love the ending, after walking in the rain. Coming home to a hot fire in the wood stove and a tea kettle simmering on the top. Stripping wet clothes from clammy skin, and leaving them to steam by the fire. Slipping off soggy shoes or boots and placing them as close as possible to the heat. And then holding slightly blue hands over that heat.

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Or like I did one time, backing up to the wood stove to thaw and getting a bit too close. Steam and smoke are close kin and look a lot alike.

But I love that contrast from stepping out of the rain and coming in to the dry. I love the feeling of having been out in weather and not only managed it, but enjoyed it. I huddle by the wood stove and clutch that mug of hot tea, letting the steam warm my cheeks and realize that the ending sometimes is the best part of the story.