Archive for October, 2011

The Great Seattle Gargoyle Hunt – #5

No one has submitted the correct answer for GSGH #4 yet, but it’s time to move on. For the fifth installment of the Great Seattle Gargoyle Hunt we take a break from lions and go looking for a humanoid head. I would rate this one comparatively easy, so I expect it to go soon. For rules of play see the first entry, here.

Where is this grimacing fellow? Use the comments to submit your answer. Happy head-hunting!

Gargoyle #5


Note: This is another of several pieces that I have written about my experiences in Ohio, starting with “Shooting Emma“. For the other posts in the series click the Category drop-down menu and choose ‘Ohio’.

On a cold day in January when snow lay over the land the sheriff of the next county to the north phoned the Ranch and asked if we could take a one-footed goose. The bird had gotten caught in some kind of jaw-type animal trap, and the foot had been severed either in his trapping or his freeing. If we could take him and would be willing to come fetch him, we could have him, otherwise they would have to “destroy” him. Uncle Bill asked me to take this quest.

Ponies in snowfall at the Ranch, late 1991 or early 1992.

We put a cage from the barn into the pickup — a large cage but one that would still fit into the cab — and I drove up to where two rural highways met and found the sheriff pulled over and waiting with a Canadian goose in his car. We put the goose in the cage and the cage in the cab. On the way back to the Ranch, the goose rode quietly in his little cell in the passenger seat. He could not stand up because of his injury, but he kept periscoping his neck upward until he could see over the dashboard or out the side window, and he was obviously intrigued by the sight of the world racing by so fast. I imagined he was confused, since he knew he was not flying but it probably looked to him as though he was.

The highway here rode along the backs of some high ridges, and as we drove south and east the moon came up a pale pink in a deep blue winter evening sky.

I named him Groucho. We put him in a small circular pen under the stand of pines next to the ranch house where he would be safe from predators. He liked to stand on his single foot and hiss at people.

Besides Groucho and myself, other broken and lame individuals found their way to the Ranch. Sometimes it seemed that that’s all we were, a collection of hurting, wounded souls who tumbled or staggered in there with some story in our heads about what we thought we were about, but really our deeper longing was for healing and nurturing and to find community, to belong somewhere and to be able to contribute.

One day a few months earlier a young man maybe in his early twenties with a likeable drawl but an irritating aura of phoniness had showed up at the stable and allowed we could call him Tex. Was looking for a place to work. Knew horses. Bill never turned down volunteer labor, so this young man came to live with the other Gentlemen of the Mill, as the Georges and I called ourselves. But no one ever called him Tex. We learned his name was Hal and so everyone called him Hal, which suited him better than Tex. He was full of b.s. and I felt sorry for him. He seemed to know even less about horses than I did. He was a little guy with bad teeth and bad eyes so bad that he wore thick glasses that made his eyes look huge (the way my glasses do now only even moreso). They made him look shifty.

Woods at the Ranch during a snowfall.

I felt like I knew Hal’s pain. He wanted to fit in and be accepted and respected, and he put on an air of confidence, rather like I did, but honestly, every time he opened his mouth he said something that irritated someone or made him seem more like a goofball. Maybe I did, too, for all I know, but with Hal it all backfired on him. He liked to employ his drawl to say charming things to the women on staff, but they and even some of the older female campers told me they were creeped out by him. I found myself defending him. At least, I kept reminding people that we were supposed to be a Christian community where love was the overarching principle, not blame and gossip. But people abused him, complained about him. He quickly became a kind of punching bag. Arden and Bill gave him crappy jobs to do and seemed to deliberately keep him away from the stables, which was fine with me because horses sense vibes and I couldn’t afford to have anything wacky going on while we were putting six-year-olds on ponies.

Hal complained to me about how he was treated by the other staff, but his car had broken down and he had few options. He told me he’d leave if he had anywhere to go and any way to get there.

One silent snowy day Hal was assigned to accompany me to chop down some trees in the woods near the Brick House. I had been taught that very autumn how to drop a tree safely, how to make my cuts so that it would fall where I wanted it, adjusting even for any breezes that might be tugging at the tops of the trees that you might not notice at their feet. Hal kept up a nonstop chatter in my ear about how he knew a better way to do this, and general stories of his exciting life, most of which I figured were tall tales. The insulating snowfall — which covered the sawdust and fallen trunks immediately so that in a few minutes it looked as if nothing had happened, as if the trees had fallen long ago in another time — made his voice seem closer and louder. I liked working outside in the cold and the quiet, but with Hal peace eluded me even in this snowbound wood. I finally told him that if he’d just shut up and do what he was asked to do without so much bragging and arguing things would probably go better for him. That was the day he told me that his father had thrown him out of a window onto the front lawn.

I once took Uncle Bill aside and busted his chops after he badmouthed Hal in Hal’s absence but in front of the staff. I didn’t often confront Bill directly, but I was seething with anger over it. Bill took the remonstration graciously because by then he knew I didn’t blow steam over trifles, but it was too late. One day shortly after that Hal got his car started, took several quarts of oil from a case I had bought for Little Nemo, and made his break, left without a word or a note. I couldn’t muster any ill will toward him. There was a lot of trash talk and “good riddance” when it was discovered that he’d bolted, but I felt we had failed Hal rather than the other way round.

I can’t remember if it was before or after Hal left, but a rumor went around that the police were looking for him, and some thought that he’d been using the Ranch all along just to hide out. I thought, who of us isn’t hiding from something here? In fact, I had begun to wonder if it wasn’t time for me to leave and face whatever part of my life I was running from.

Snow on the dock at the lake in Lake Pasture.

Groucho the Goose was definitely not hiding out. He had been up stumping around on his peg for some time and by February he was eager to get out of his pen. He could hear other geese down at the lake through the crisp winter air and he wanted to join them. Uncle Bill wanted to keep him fenced in. The bird made a handsome addition to the Ranch’s menagerie. Someone uttered the opinion (or hope) that he might simply fly out of his pen, but Bill said he’d never be able to, he wouldn’t have enough runway to get off the ground and over the fence in such a small area.

We could all see that this was true, but we underestimated our avian thrall. One day some of the younger campers were watching him because he was making a lot of honking noise; it was suddenly time for him to go and he knew it. They saw him open his wings and run awkwardly at the fence, then as the air accepted him into itself he simply curled his trajectory and spiraled up and out over the fence and was gone.

The Great Seattle Gargoyle Hunt – #4

Here is the fourth installment of the Great Seattle Gargoyle Hunt. For rules of play see the first entry, here. Those who have won before may play again but I won’t be able to cough up more than one limerick per individual.

This is another medium difficult one. Again, you can see this on Google Street View if you know where to look for it.

Where is this lion? Use the comments to submit your answer.

Gargoyle #4.

GSGH Pre-Post Announcement

Marni recently alerted me to the fact that for those readers of this blog who don’t check it every hour (what? really?), trying to compete in the Great Seattle Gargoyle Hunt (GSGH) is prohibitively difficult. By the time such long-interval visitors find out there’s a new chase on, it’s over. I didn’t want to use a blog post to do this work, but I also didn’t think it would be cricket to just email Marni when the game was again afoot. I love Marni as a long-cherished friend but this is serious; limericks are at stake. And since I couldn’t email everyone — because I only know who a few of you are — in the end it seemed to me this was the only way to give everyone a heads up.

So I think that I will post new gargoyle photos on Thursdays, and I will even go so far as to say that I will post them on Thursdays at 9 o’clock post meridian. Not every Thursday, mind, but some Thursdays. This Thursday there will be one. I will try to post right at nine, but I have children that have long bedtime routines and I am forgetful, and those two statements aren’t necessarily related except that they are both excuses.

So look for a gargoyle this Thursday if you’re participating in the GSGH. Those of you who couldn’t care less about the GSGH, note that I will still be posting other things whenever the spirit moves me, so check back as often as your own groove dictates.

Schooling flatlanders in the mountain ‘hi’


— Traditional Northwest native greeting

I saw two bald eagles circling above Mercer Island as I drove through on the freeway Saturday. While always a welcome sight and a joy, this would not normally be worth writing home about. After all, they live there and I have seen them before. Mercer Island’s original nesting pair of eagles are locally famous, not least because the 300-year-old Douglas fir tree they live in long marked the center, legally among bipeds and unbeknownst to the raptors, of a zone in which no heavy construction might take place (lest their habitat be jeopardized) and also the center of a controversy about the existence of that protected zone, which represented a class A bummer for the people who wished to develop the property the tree stands on.*

Plummeting into the fog wall.

Rattlesnake Lake.

But it happens that these were not the only raptors I saw that day, indeed not even the only eagles I saw that day. The blue skies where I was on Saturday were cut by the graceful arcs and swift vectors of quite a few red-tailed hawks and at least two larger, dark-colored birds that I was told were golden eagles.

That the skies were blue was actually the most noteworthy fact of the day. I and my friend Scott had decided to get one just-us-guys-without-the-kids hike in this year come hell or high water. We were expecting high water that day in the form of more of the clouds and rain that had been dogging the northwest all week. On the way over to Scott’s house in Snoqualmie, in fact, I was not surprised when I entered a fog-bank that seemed to promise that I would not see the sun again that day. Scott and I knew we would not likely get another weekend day this year when both of us could leave our wives and young children to go scampering in the hills, so we decided to take whatever weather we were dealt. But when we pulled into the parking lot at Rattlesnake Lake the last patches of morning fog were drifting away on a slight Octoberish breeze from the south and the sun lit the lake and the flanks of Rattlesnake Mountain, the hike we chose because we are aging and out of shape and weren’t interested in killing ourselves.

In this photo from lake level, the foremost ledge looks higher than the back two but it is actually lower.

Rattlesnake Ledge is an outcropping of rock — one of three, actually — that juts from the eastern end of the mountain of the same name and affords hikers what I have always accounted a bargain vista. For a small investment of time and effort you can look out on a panorama that almost seems like the Pacific Northwest showing off. It’s almost hammy. The jagged peaks of the Cascade Range, often capped with snow, rise directly before you, and in the middle distance is a valley that you never see from any highways with an unbelievably large lake in it, whence comes the drinking water we townies take for granted. This is Chester Morse Lake. Directly below — almost you could toss a buffalo nickel into it, it seems — lies Rattlesnake Lake with its ancient treestumps breaking its surface, stumps so big around you could park a Volkswagen on them. To the right is an expanse of primeval forest stretching away as far as you can see to the south, where lies the old town of Ravensdale.

It has clouded up a little, but ace trailbuster Scott is ready to press on upward. Mt. Si looms behind.

Off to the left, brooding over the towns of North Bend and Snoqualmie, is the imposing mass of Mt. Si, named for Josiah Merritt, a legendary settler often referred to as “Uncle Si”. His cabin long ago sank into decay and was reclaimed by the moss and duff of the forest below his mountain, but I — among relatively few alive — know where it was; at least I did. I haven’t driven that road in many years, and development is so rife out in the Snoqualmie Valley that now I might not recognize the turn in the road, or the patch of woods if it still stands.

When Angela saw this she said it looked like I was Photoshop'd in, like I wasn't really there. I'm here to tell ya, I was really there. Chester Morse Lake is in the high background, Rattlesnake in the low.

When I was younger and hiked a lot I used to drive out to North Bend and scramble up to Rattlesnake Ledge and sit on the rock outcropping there like a desperado, thinking about life, praying sometimes, sometimes writing. There were never many people there, one or two other hikers at most. The trail at that time was not well delineated, but in parts was an organic network of nearly vertical dear tracks, and it was shorter then, too, making a fairly direct ascent to the left and up the ledge’s southern shoulder, which was mostly bare of trees. It only took me about 35 minutes.

Scott and I took our time this day, enjoying the rare freedom of being out and about without our kids (don’t get us wrong, we love being with our families, yadda yadda, & cet.) and involving ourselves in the kind of deep conversation that often happens between old friends on a hike. I have known Scott for more than twenty years. The trail is now longer, having had several of its switchbacks lengthened it seems to me, which makes it also less steep, and it circumvents the ledge’s once-bare shoulder for a gentler last leg (do I confuse body part metaphors? Very well, etc.). Though we were an hour getting to the ledge (joggers and people walking dogs passed us), it seemed like no time at all.

No quiet meditation here today.

The rock outcropping was crowded with people munching the sandwiches they’d brought and tipping back water bottles, fingering almonds out of plastic bags, taking pictures of each other with their phones. I think that years ago, the ledge was relatively far from large populations, and those who lived in the Upper Snoqualmie Valley were people who had always lived and worked there and would not be climbing up Rattlesnake every weekend. But now the upper valley is populated by hundreds or thousands of young families new to the delights of their natural surroundings, and for these people Rattlesnake is an amazing view just a few minutes’ drive from their homes. And with a trail that has been “civilized”, it’s no wonder the rock looked like the checkout line at REI.

A chilly breeze blew off the lake below, and after taking some nourishment we decided to explore the trail that continued up the spine of the mountain, a trail that, surprisingly to myself, I had never before taken. We stopped a few minutes later at a second rock outcropping, from which vantage point I took a photo of the first.

View of the first ledge from the second.

Then we continued further upwards to the third, a veritable aerie atop a sheer cliff, whence I snapped a shot of both the first and second ledges.

View of the first and second ledges from the third.

It was here at the third ledge that we saw the many hawks spiraling far below, yet very high still above the trees, and espied the large dark birds that a fellow hiker identified as golden eagles. I feel blessed when I see large birds like eagles and hawks and ospreys. I am probably a birdwatcher and just don’t know it. We spent about an hour up there, long enough on an autumn day to see the feel of the light change from morning light to afternoon light. The sun had emerged again from the morning clouds while we were at the third ledge and it stayed out for the rest of the day.

On the way down the trail, we passed many many people who were on their way up to the first ledge. Observing the protocol that has been an unwritten rule around here for as long as I can remember, Scott and I said “hi” to every individual hiker we encountered and to at least one person in each group (I usually hit the first and the last if they’re densely clustered, each one if they’re spread out). Less than half of them seemed to be expecting a salutation, and although most returned it, a lot of them seemed a little thrown and some even seemed annoyed, and there were a few who didn’t even look at us but trundled past us without a pause in their intergroup chatter.

This narrow gray bird is nor hawk nor eagle, but it held still long enough for me to photograph it. I have no idea what it is. A jay?

This garred me greet. I have been hiking these hills for decades, and when I was coming up (or going down, badda boom!) you always said hi whenever you encountered another hiker. You didn’t ask yourself whether you wanted to, or whether the approaching forms looked like they might be the kind of people you would want to hang out and play Scrabble with. You just said hi. It was a courtesy, and more than that, it is simple acknowledgement that you are on a mountain, or at least in the woods, and that it is these people who will share water or rope or a jacket with you or haul you out if you get into trouble. It’s a pledge of montane solidarity.

Scott and I took the challenge of educating the steady stream of people by example, greeting every hiker we met, whether they acknowledged us — or even noticed us — or not. We met our match in the guy who passed us talking on his cell phone a few paces ahead of a woman and young boy, whom he seemed to have forgotten about and who trudged solemnly along in silence. I didn’t know whom to feel sorrier for, them or him. In the end, him, because he seemed to be under the delusion that he was communing with the outdoors and with his family, while they at least knew their reality and were able to absorb their surroundings. She looked up and smiled when we said hi.

Another one of my happy place photos. I'll go there in my mind when it's still raining next June.

I thought about the lousy statistics we were reeling in. With so many people passing you the other way on the trail, maybe people didn’t feel the same bond of fellowship as when they only encountered very few souls. Maybe it seemed silly to them to say hi so many times in a row. But I think, too, that I’m just getting older and finding myself increasingly out of step with a culture that values only electronic connections, not spontaneous in-person ones. I would say “their loss”, but it’s mine too, because I have a [n/perhaps romantic] idea that people on trails in my beloved Pacific Northwest are ipso facto cool people, the kind of people I would at the least want to exchange a smile and a word with. I can be ignored on any old sidewalk in downtown Seattle.

I wonder if the amount of time we spend watching faces on screens desensitizes us over time to our innate attraction to real faces that are actually nearby. I wonder if we are in fact beginning to see the entire world, wherever we go, as pixels.

*I don’t know how the story of the Eagle Tree ended because I can find nothing besides an application from 2007 for permission to build a walkway in the wooded area where the eagles have built three nests since 1994, and a website for “Friends of the 300 Year Old Eagle Tree” that has not been updated since 2008 and whose last entry suggests that the “friends” were losing the battle against the developers.


The Great Seattle Gargoyle Hunt