Sep 29 2010

So when did I start staring at mushrooms?

I decided to go for a trail run today since I haven’t been running lately and I thought I’d go run one of the dog mushing trails down from my home. Since the temperature has dropped all the trails are freezing up and traveling on them has become much easier, so the running options have improved by leaps and bounds.
After running the first mile and settling down my breathing relaxes and I begin to fade off in day dreams, then I had a realization. Since when did I care about when rose hips will bloom and how soon I can brew fresh rose hips tea? I stopped running one day because I saw a salmonberry plant good and ripe, snacking on it was quite a treat.

I found myself standing about twenty feet off of a trail staring down at a neon orange and red mushroom, just staring at the color, the gills, and stem. I stood there for what seemed like a lifetime admiring the shades of this mushroom. I couldn’t wait to get home and learn its genus and see just how deadly it was and yes, it can kill you, Amanita Muscaria of the Pluteaceae family.


I stop whatever I’m doing to stare down at tiny flowers that are an eighth of an inch in diameter, and I am fascinated by the symmetry and how delicate they are.
I spend hours walking in the woods around my home glaring at all the plants looking at their growth, studying moss on a fallen birch tree trunk.

There was a time when all things small were meant to be avoided, jumped, walked, ran over, evaded. Not because they’re small but because I had no appreciation for them, they were insignificant. What changed that now I have an appreciation for them? I am fascinated by falling tree leaves, how a plants leaves turn from green to red and die, yet remain beautiful throughout its life cycle.
Since the majority of my life is spent outdoors on trails or what have you these new trends of mine are centered on the natural world, which begs the question, if I was more urban oriented what would my new focus be, fall fashions, the new sidewalk construction?

I was at the turn-around of my run, a pond two and a half miles along the trail and resting, sort of taking in the silent beauty.
I walked on the frozen pond staring down through the ice, strands of grass rise up from the shallows encased in ice. The grass pokes up above the ice waving in the light breeze as if attempting to signal for help, to be released from its prison. Small bubbles of methane gas that were rising up from the soil have been trapped in the freezing ice looking like cloudy marbles in the ice that will be there for the next eight months until the ice melts and the gas is released into the air.
Kicking at the ice as if it will promote some kind of change I start laughing at myself. There I am out in the middle of a pond, two and a half miles removed from the nearest cabin staring down in the ice admiring the shape of a bubble.

It really was a lovely bubble, and the world around me was still and fixed. Cross country skiing on the dog mushing trails is a unique experience that I’ve found difficult to define. The minute I begin my first kick until I step out of my bindings hours later the moment is fixed, one fixed emotion in a time of movement. As I move through the world on the trail I consume the odors, colors, mood, cold, everything becomes a single experience that I absorb in every breath of my being.
As the time goes by there is no sense of the cold. The body warms up and dressed properly the cold is an afterthought and even enhances the experience. There is clarity on the trail, simplicity that cannot be defined by any other way except to say that once I’m on the trail regardless of the season the rest of the world no longer exists, and that is wonderful.

Self reflection, appreciation for what we have are qualities that are strengthened as we age I believe. As I get older I think that my attitude has changed with the experiences that I have gone through, the highs and lows of life shape how we think and with it the way we look at the world. It’s sort of like when I was younger and I hated broccoli, squash and brussel sprouts, well now I can’t get enough of them except for brussel sprouts, I still hate them.
Since our tastes change with age is it possible that our interests change as well? I know that we have different interests as we go along in life, what I mean is do we no longer like those activities or interests we were a part of when we were younger? Or is it that we have always had those interests but only now we are old enough to recognize these things.

As much as I attempt to come to grips with the changes I have gone through I can’t fathom why I choose the things I have just now become so enamored by. Why this or that catches my attention now might be nothing more than that it is new and different to what I have spent focusing on in the past. My attitude towards the world around me doesn’t feel any different, but then with age and maturity the subconscious might alter our interests and it can’t be seen or felt until we are drawn in, buying the reference books and staring down through the weeds at that glorious mushroom.

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Sep 26 2010

Changes

Yesterday it was 65 degrees and sunny, not a breeze in the air and beautiful. Today I woke to 20 mile per hour winds and 36 degree temperatures. It has gone from a lovely fall to the precursor of a wicked winter. So went the leisurely strolls down the trail in short-sleeved shirts and baggy shorts. Now it is thick pants, long-sleeved shirts, jackets and hats.

Golden leaves clinging to withered branches have been torn away and left to rot on the hard cold ground. Gusts of wind come up and blow the leaves away leaving the ground bare, as if a giant invisible broom has come along and swept the leaves away.


Reflection of summer has turned to remembering winter and what comes with it, mainly brutally cold mornings and the futile attempt to wake up in the morning and get out of bed.
Coffee tastes better in winter for some reason, maybe because it’s so cold and the coffee is so wonderfully hot. Trudging outside has become a long chore of putting on several layers of clothes, thick socks, Sorel boots, good gloves and a healthy hat. Then once dressed I’ll head out for the couple of minutes of exposure and face freezing fun.

Perception is very unusual in winter. When I have to go outside to take out the trash or shovel snow it’s numbing, bitter, and the cold seeps into my bones but if I am heading out to go skiing on the trails below my home or maybe go for a run the cold feels differently, friendly, familiar, almost warm in its welcome out in the world of winter.
The sun is already dipping lower on the horizon and its fading warmth is becoming noticeable. The sunlight entering the windows once a dominating light billowing into the house has become a soft glow on the walls as an afterthought.

Change is on its way and with the weathers transition comes the domestic conversion from the pleasant warmth of summer to the dark days of winter. Out come the thick blankets, flannel sheets, and all those knickknacks of clothing that are mandatory in the coming time.

As I watch my dogs fur thicken in preparation for the cold I slowly change my attitude, welcoming the relentless, long winter. I am planning my treks and adventures to come, saying my goodbyes and best wishes to the sun that has been so good to me through the last five months. Now I admire the waning light as it reflects off the spruce trees needles and the glow of white bark of the birch trees. I am looking forward to the snow that will settle on those same branches and bring the beautiful contrast of white on green.

Changes for a new season and new opportunities are here, and with welcome anticipation I sit staring at my ski’s waiting, waiting for that snow to fall down and fill in the trails so I can once again drag myself out into the world of winter and savor the freedom I crave.

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Sep 23 2010

The Longing

Each day that I distance myself from the trail the further the trail distances itself from me. I have been on trails so often that I can close my eyes and imagine myself there, the smell of decay on the floor of the woods, the trees, moss, water, and plants.
I can see each step, the moss and small plant life collapsing beneath the weight of my feet.
Time doesn’t have much meaning on the trail, no timetables or schedules really exist there. I can just go until I feel like stopping and relax, or maybe stop and camp for the night. Each day on the trail is a new day and the experience changes with every moment, I open my senses to everything that the trail has to offer.

Everything I need for my survival is in my pack, and since my foraging skills are somewhat lacking, I am required to get my food from the hiking store like most other people. If I had to actually kill something be it out of hunger or self-protection and actually manage to kill the creature without injuring myself, I’d probably end up burying the poor thing in the ground and slinking off into the shadows like a criminal attempting to disappear after committing a crime.

The further along you go on the trail the more deeply you become adapted to the environment to such a point that nothing really matters anymore beyond the trail in front of you and what’s around the next turn.
I’ve realized that as the years go by and I spend more time on the trail that the destination isn’t as important to me anymore, but that it is the experience as a whole that is what makes this place magical.

I was recently out on an old hunting trail that meanders across the valley from my home and realized after a time that this trail I was on will link up with another trail called the Nugget Creek trail.
This trail has become a hunting trail during the summer months but was originally a miners trail used to gain access to the west side of the valley via Ester Dome. A creek called Goldstream Creek has carved a deep cavern through the valley limiting access to this side of the valley. As it is the Nugget Creek Trail is my favorite winter ski trail and I ski it almost daily during the long winter.


Now wandering along this trail without the snow covering the ground has allowed me to see things I have never been able to see before. As I turned a corner that leads to the Nugget Creek Trail I found an old miners pit. A miner would dig into the soil until he hit the perma-frost layer, then he would fill the hole with timber and burn it out until it melts some of the perma-frost. The miner would then dig out the melted soil and continue the process until he gets below the frozen gravel and soil. This pit was about six feet in diameter and full of water but the timber was still there, patiently waiting to be lit and do its job. I felt like this guy just all of a sudden said to hell with it and abandoned the effort all together.

Just about a hundred feet up trail and at the junction of Nugget Creek I found his camp. Two nearly decomposed dog kennel’s sit there, one with no roof and the walls collapsing in on itself, the other fairly in one piece but slowly being swallowed up by a spruce tree. The miners trash, cans, coffee pots, broken bottles, and fuel cans lay about recklessly dumped down a small slope away from camp.

I never think about whose feet have created these trails and paths before me in the last hundred years that non native Alaskans have lived in this valley. It didn’t occur to me until now that these trails I play on during the winter and summer, were trails that provided a lifeline for men and women who worked and died here trying to provide for themselves, and usually that effort resulted in failure.
So here I am looking over the remnants of their inhabitants and it leaves me a little sullen and contemplative, as if I was studying a tombstone I’ve discovered at some long-lost grave site.
History on these trails are as important to me as the nature itself is. Learning about the world around me helps me understand with a greater appreciation for the gift it truly is.

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Sep 19 2010

Running From The Weekend

One of my favorite events to run is the Equinox Marathon, even though I’ve only ran it once I realized what a special race it was. I ran the marathon in 2008 and finished it respectably in a flourish passing some guy with about 200 yards to go in a mad sprint that I later would discover intensified the destruction of the cartilage in my right knee. During the winter I went through the pleasure of treatment including steroids, cortisone injections and physical therapy, this also meant the I wouldn’t be running at all in 2009.

Fortunately I have a fall back, cross-country skiing and that allowed me to still get my sports fix and not think about my lack of running. I spent a year wearing a knee brace and was scared to do anything without it. Finally in early spring of 2010 I tried running again, just a short three-mile jog to see how the knee held up and it was fine, a little sore with a half mile to go but it showed promise. I started running each with a little at a time until I was ready to really train.

Within a couple of months I was able to lose the brace all together and begin racing again. I ran four or five shorter races and for the first time in two years I had the marathon in my sights, but sadly I would fall victim to an awful summer flu bug that would first take me out of a wonderful 16.5 mile trail race and then an 8 mile trail race. The final stroke came when I recovered from the flu and began training again, I succumbed to yet another virus that I contracted from coworkers working sick. I missed a half marathon that I use as  a stepping stool to the marathon and lost out on about three weeks of much-needed training.

That second illness dashed any hopes I had of returning to an incredible race experience and I vowed to myself that I would bury the memory of the marathon deep inside of me, pretending that the race never existed. As the days passed I managed to forget all about the race and went on with my life, until yesterday.

While on the way to the store I passed a large pullout that is along the race course and there were many cars in it, and as I traveled down the road I began to see a runner here and there, flag people, yield to runner signs and people on the side of the road. It finally dawned on me that it was the marathon.

I felt so alone, so left out. I felt like a kid who wanted to go to a friend’s birthday party but was the only one in the neighborhood that wasn’t invited. I felt like I was missing out on something special and I wanted to be a part of it. When I returned from the store I went for a run on a local trail, pretending I was running a portion of the race but about two miles in to the run I caught my foot on a tree root, spun around and strained my back. With each stride came a sharp pain from my pelvis, I was cursed, prohibited from experiencing in any way the feeling and pleasure of running in the race. I tell myself that there is always next year, but in my mind I know that this year was supposed to be the year and it wasn’t.

All I can do now is face the facts that summer is over and with it the end of the racing season. A new tomorrow is coming and with it winter approaches and skiing will dominate my life. So now I’ll put this horrible experience behind me and believe as I have in the last two years that spring is only eight months away and I can set my sights on the marathon once again, maybe next year is the year after all.

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Sep 17 2010

Reflect

Fall has had the same impact on me that it has every year. I start slowing down a bit, watching the leaves fall from the trees, and appreciate how nature goes back to sleep. My summer is over, the racing season is finished. There is no need to push my training and no longer any sense of urgency. I can go out and just run for the love of running, no timing and no disappointments.
I run down the leaf covered trails hopping over tree roots smiling at the pleasure I feel being free.
When I walk down the road or trail I stop more often, staring at plants, maybe a high Brush Cranberry bush and marvel at how the leaves turned from a lovely dark green to an amazing rich red. I gaze into the birch tree woods, the ground gold with withered leaves and wonder what it will look like blanketed in snow.

I think back to yesterday’s summer and remember how green everything was, vibrant and alive. Squirrels are showing themselves less and less, the birds  no longer sing me to sleep at night. Now the world around me has become very quiet, the birds are silent now.

This time of year is great for hiking, trails that were concealed by water are now exposed and accessible. My day hikes get longer as I range further along trails that lead across the valley from my home.

I am so quick to discard one season for the next, thinking of what’s to come. Gone is the hot sun, the mosquitoes, and colorful flowers.

Yesterdays sweaty, dry backpacking trips will be replaced by long days of ski treks in the faded light of winters cold sun. The time spent outside around the house will go from hours to minutes, shuffling about getting chores done as fast as possible so I can get back inside to shake off the cold that was seeping into my bones. The weekly bbq’s and sitting on the deck reading will become fond memories of summer.

I mourn the loss of this season, and relish the coming of winter, fresh and new. I daydream about how wonderful my summer was and consider whether or not I took full advantage of every moment as best I could. Now I prepare for winter, putting away all those light summer clothes, and out comes the fleece pants and sweaters. I shelve the summer running shoes and expose my winter running shoes. I am beginning to stare at my skis now and thinking about when I’ll wax them for the first time this year. All the preparations for winter is starting to find its way on to my to-do list.

As I let my hair grow longer and my beard return to my sun-tanned face, I transform into the winter animal I become every year. I change as nature does, adapting to the season and getting ready for the splendor and beauty that winter brings with it.

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Sep 15 2010

Seasonings

I love this time of year, leaves blanketing the ground and painting the world in a golden glow wherever I look.
With trees shedding their leaves at a feverish pace, the air becomes more crisp, and nature settles in for the impending deep freeze. I walk slower this time of year, down trails around my home, taking in the sights and smells of change.
I’m always amazed how nature prepares itself for winter, the crisp evening air more prevalent during the daytime more so than just at night. The sun’s heat doesn’t seem to be as warm as it once was, as it slowly lowers its arch across the sky, and in a couple of months it will be gone all together for a time.

People are changing with the season as well. Some still clinging to their deluded belief that summer isn’t over and shuffle about still wearing short sleeve shirts and walking a bit faster from their cars into the stores in an attempt to avoid the reality that cool days are coming soon.
The more reasonable people have begun pulling out their sweaters and light jackets, they know it’s futile to fight the transition from summer to winter and have accepted it with silent surrender.

A sense of reflection always takes over me during fall, and it always has the same effect on me. I wander around in a trance like state saying goodbye to all my little friends that i won’t see again for the next six months. Grass, leaves, dirt, the sun, most of if not all of the creatures that call these woods I live in home. All these things are my summer companions that share my life experiences with me during my romping about out on the trail.
I’ll so miss the birds, the songs they sing at night, the awakening they give me in the morning. I’ll miss watching the Finches play and frolic around my home.
Soon the snow will fall, melt, and fall again in a vicious cycle until the snow sticks and covers up the summer world I’ve been savoring.
Fall is such a dismissed season, people stuck between summer and winter look at fall as a short time of pretty colors and falling leaves, all the while not taking advantage of the beauty that this short time provides us. Most people just go about their daily lives doing whatever it is they do. Some are ahead of the game, as more and more snow machines are making their way out of hibernation and on to trailers and the backs of trucks, heading to the local shops for tune-ups, and ready for winter.

The dog mushing community has begun to make their presence felt as well. I’m beginning to see mushers out stretching their dogs legs “dry” running them by having the dog teams pulling the mushers on an ATV along the dirt roads and trails.
The excitement of the dogs can be heard and felt in their barks and yelps as they drive past, tongues dangling out the sides of their mouths, heavy breathing coming from out of shape lungs. Mushers standing on the pegs yell out “ha” and “gee”!
I get goose bumps every time a team draws near knowing what was to come. Most of the time it’s time to get out of the way, pull my dog of trail and pray the lead dog doesn’t turn on my dog in passing.
I think that it’s funny that I prefer to shoot photography in fall instead of summer, even though the opportunity to shoot in summer is greater with longer days, more plant life all in bloom. Fall is just so temporary in comparison to summer, it becomes a priority for me to get it all down on film so I don’t lose any of the magical splendor I witness.

But through it all the seasons will change, the tarnished browning leaves will fall, the grasses, shrubs, and trees will go dormant and sleep until spring and I’ll be left there standing in my cross-country ski’s smelling winter and glowing in the new freedom that winter has afforded me.

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Sep 15 2010

Going Home

Originally I was a Californian, and then I became a Las Vegan of which I was happy to be, and lavished in the baking sun of the Mojave Desert. Then it happened at great expense and to my own fault I became an Alaskan.
Though the decision to become an Alaskan was made fairly quickly, and without much thought, it was a move that had an incredible impact on my life.

For me moving to Alaska became a great pilgrimage, artistically as well as spiritually. I was deeply involved in my landscape photography and writing. I would feverishly hit the road attempting to photograph as much as my brain could absorb, completely unaware of how overwhelmed I had become by the world I suddenly thrust myself into. Gone were the great expanses of nothingness, micro worlds of fauna and nature tightly bundled in the desert to survive, exploded in savage freedom among the rolling hills and flat river deltas of Alaska’s interior.

I waited until my first winter to focus on my artistic mind, to narrow down the band width of expression that had become so jumbled in my mind.
With winter came the simplistic reality that I had been craving and began actually flexing my creative senses. Now it began to dawn on me that this is where I was supposed to be and vowed that in time I would open my gallery and write a book about what it is like to photograph in Alaska. So many books out on the shelves show all those wonderful images of Alaska’s incredible bounty of nature and wilderness without talking about the experience (both physical and emotional) and what it took to get those images.
I wanted a book that talked about the drive and less about the destination.

Then a life altering change took place that redirected the path I had chosen for myself, divorce.
Divorce removed all my artistic passion. My willingness to express any words on paper or shoot a single frame of film had drowned and sank into the depths of the depression I was experiencing. I was abruptly forced into enslavement in the common workforce of the everyday man.
Such a man, that I went to great lengths to leave behind, but there I was working two jobs seven days a week for a couple of years trying to make ends meet. Once the opportunity came to actually have a couple of days off a week I jumped at it and reveled in the time away from the drone of humanity.

In time I migrated further and further back into the wilds around me again, running the local trails, backpacking everything I saw.
The craving was growing inside me again. In winter I exploded with love for the world around me, passion welled up from within some lonely place in my body and oozed out in a rebirth that at times left me in tears.

Cross country skiing allowed me to travel further back on trails that few people if any travel when it’s twenty degrees below out, but I was breathing in the silence and emptiness of a place devoid of humanity. If and when somebody approached, another skier or (and most often) a dog musher the interruption was like a freight train blowing past me.
I started seeing things differently, in a way I haven’t seen things in quite some time. It even took a year for me to realize that my mind’s eye was looking at everything as an opportunity to photograph, that I was experiencing a want to describe what this world offers us if we just take the time to stop and stare at what’s in front of us a little longer.

Maybe I have become more mentally stable as time has gone by, separated further and further from that dark period in my past. Maybe my mind is forgetting the pain and returning back to me that person who I once was minus the whole marriage thing.
Time is affording me the opportunity to get back to the world I belong in, and if I don’t begin to place one foot before the other, I’ll lose the path all together, so here I go…….

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