Mountains & Marmots

If you’ve been reading my blog throughout my adventures of the past year, you  might remember this post, in which I miss being able to walk in the woods. In which I confess that I am sometimes a Nature Girl. In which I lament the lack of forests and trees and other green things, wetted by that misty temperate rainforest rainfall unique to the PNW.

My reunion with my homeland has been sweet. I’ve been getting into the woods whenever possible, my current love of dirt unparalleled by any of Past Anne’s love of dirt (absence makes the heart grow fonder). So, when a good friend asked if I’d accompany her and her friend on a 4-day backpacking adventure, I said YES!

I’m kind of a poser of a nature lover, because before this trip I had never been backpacking. We went camping and hiking a lot when I was a kid, but never without civilization or a car pretty close by.

The hike in was fueled by that beginner’s energy — the excitement of doing a New Thing. We went 2-ish miles the first night, having started around 3 PM…and just as we’d gotten camp set up, it rained. As I was a wilderness noob, I had already changed into my sleeping clothes, and they got soaked. Oops…




The next morning, we went on a day hike (and hung everything out to dry…). It connected with the PCT, and I thought of both Wild (my favorite book of last summer) and some friends that are currently hiking 3,000 miles of it, from CA to WA (west coast best coast).

IMG_5492Then, we continued on to our destination for two nights– Goat Lake. We could see it, very far off in the distance, the whole time we were hiking. Just as we thought we’d mistaken our destination, we rounded a corner and saw….



And a lake!



Goat Lake was aptly named, it seems. We also made some marmot friends.


We then found a cool campsite, though the view was obscured by clouds. On the first night, it looked like this:


In the morning, I woke up, stretched, and saw the sun shining through…it had been nothing but windstorms all night, but I guess they’d blown the clouds away. This was the same view, the next morning!


Heyyy Mt. Adams, nice to see you. We day-hiked from this idyllic spot and were rewarded with a panorama including Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood (peeking out from behind), Mt. St. Helens (slightly flatter, since it erupted many moons ago), and Mt. Rainier. Here’s me and our first glimpse of the mountain:



It was magnifique!

We went for a glacial swim that afternoon, which shocked and refreshed in equal parts. But, I could only stay in for about 5 minutes before my toes started going purple…

We were later joined by my friend’s friends and their 4 month old puppy Anton, who was so tired after his first 6 mile hike that he lay down and promptly fell asleep. He provided entertainment for us when he woke up, and decided to investigate everything with the enthusiasm that only a puppy possesses. I took him on a walk later, which did nothing to calm him down. He was a hit with the other campsites. Here he is, hunting marmots:


We hiked out the last day, almost 6 miles, with a few stops. There were no bear sightings, but the sun managed to burn my neck to a crisp, so I was eager to get to the cars and head home!

One thing I wasn’t (that) eager to get back to: my phone. Disconnection felt good. The world became more physical and immediate and my head became uncluttered by anxieties about other people. The only things I thought about were getting from one place to the next, making dinner, washing dishes, how to efficiently pack my things. Of course my mind wandered, but it was not distracted by buzzes, beeps, or notifications.

This is the main perk for me of being so far out into the wilderness– getting in touch with my animal instincts, and being able to wander. I am by no means anti-technology, and I think it’s fun to be in touch with people.

But I am definitely also incredibly pro-walks in the woods, to find a little peace away from the busy world.


Mountains & Marmots

Getting Dirty in the Woods

This morning, I went on a walk. It’s been raining a lot in Val, so my attempt to walk around the lake (yep, there’s a lake) was thwarted by multiple impassable mud puddles. In one of my attempts to cross a more reasonable one, I looked at my shoes and had a series of thoughts.

Oh, my new shoes are already muddy.

I never see French girls with muddy shoes.

Why can’t I keep my shoes clean?

Between this morning and now, I haven’t solved the mystery of why French girls don’t have muddy shoes, or at least not the ones I see walking around the city. They have city shoes and woods shoes, maybe?

Sort of in conjunction with this, last weekend I saw the movie version of the book Wild.

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Lille was showing it in VO (Version Original, aka not dubbed in French), and a group of friends and I went as our Saturday afternoon activity. I left the theater feeling inexplicably gutted. It was one of my favorite books of the summer; I read it while on my uncle’s family’s ranch in Montana, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it even when I put it down. I think the movie had such a profound emotional impact on me because Cheryl, and the movie itself, are from my neck of the woods. Literally, I have hiked parts of the PCT on family camping trips and regularly visit Portland, her last stop and current home, to see some of my best friends. Reliving the story reminded me of family and nature and extreme emotional journeys and personal growth.

When we were on that trip in Montana, we went on a family hike that ended with pouring rain and pelting hail as we madly dashed to the cars, soaking wet and covered in mud.

When I looked at my shoes this morning, I thought: I miss getting dirty in the woods.

I’ve been feeling persistently homesick since I returned from winter break. Maybe it was the holidays, maybe it’s the January blues, maybe it’s because this is about the halfway point of my adventure, but I feel like I’m in the “confronting deeper issues” dip of the culture shock curve.

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I’ve never thought of myself as a nature girl, but everything is relative. Relative to the extreme outdoor enthusiasts of Whitman’s OP, where nature is a temple and/or second home, I maybe don’t qualify for the “Nature Girl” title. Relative to my students and a lot of the people I meet in Europe, I feel like a total tree-hugger. I love the smell of trees, and moss, and rotting things in old growth forests. I love how fresh the air is. I love seeing the occasional slug sliming across the trail. I love marveling at things that sprung out of the earth that are so beyond humans, that preceded and will outlive us. I love getting dirty, and sweaty, and sore, and wearing my REI boots and bright green LL Bean fleece and ratty blue jeans.

And, more abstractly, my self-concept has always included deep roots. I pull everything I do and think from a central, grounded, internal source which I take care to cultivate. I am Anne, the tree.

Sometimes I think coming here was me branching out, and other times I feel uprooted.**

Being planted — putting down roots — brings comfort, safety, certainty. I miss my earth, I miss my ground. I don’t feel entirely like I can plant myself here, or, for that matter, anywhere. I might be floating around for a while. It makes me afraid to make connections, afraid to really mentally plant myself because I know I’ll have to uproot once again. I try really hard to cling to my center, but sometimes it escapes me. Right now, it’s much easier to feel lost than it is to feel rooted. I’m more unsettled than grounded.

As a personal development nerd, I read a lot about growing up. I think it’s supposed to feel like this.

And I guess, whether I can feel my roots or not, they are inescapable. I must be nourished, watered, and cared for somehow…and growing up and out from somewhere.

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** Isn’t it interesting that so many emotional metaphors can come out of the image of a forest?? Language is cool.

Getting Dirty in the Woods