Partway through this morning I delivered a glass of water upstairs to Oliver Fern during the second hour of another one of those marathon FaceTimes for which he and my mom have become quite famous, he paused his reading to her of James and the Giant Peach, noisily gulping from the recycled jam jar like an impatient point guard during a timeout, while I pulled open the blinds and curtains of his dark, faintly odorific bedroom (he’d gleefully, quite diabolically farted under the covers in order to strategically repel me) for scant light, the view of Madison Valley below was a misty one. He declined my request for him to get dressed but it was impudent of me to press the matter owing to the grand tradition that it’s important to get away with certain hell when your grandma’s involved. Besides, I noticed my mom was sewing in her pajamas. Those two are birds of a feather so I quietly saw myself out.
At the time, I was on the verge of finishing Upton Sinclair’s landmark novel The Jungle by lunchtime, having gotten temporarily delayed last night when I had to borrow Adam’s e-reader upon discovering pages two hundred and fifty-three (and two hundred and fifty-four) missing from my musty 1963 edition. It was deliriously fortunate the Seattle Public Library had an electronic copy available otherwise I was poised for a conniption fit the likes of Rumpelstiltskin. Reading this masterpiece of that muckraker extraordinaire still raises hackles particularly since those eminently disposable Lithuanians, Bohemians and Poles in Chicago were my relatives. That lot fared at least marginally better than Blacks brought up from the South by the trainloads to serve as scabs in the stockyards, only to be cut loose and beat over the heads by ruddy-faced Irish policemen (we’ve come so far yet so……….very little). The triumphant screed of socialism at the end is laughably tidy that it’s no wonder Sinclair was utterly bewildered most of America missed his main point but if it’s any consolation for the long-dead author, I’ve taken to newly appreciating the labors of our very own delightfully pontificatious, hardworking city councilmember socialist-in-residence who has always gotten exceedingly high marks from me for pissing off the Chamber of Commerce, in spite of the infuriating minor habit of completely ignoring those constituents from Council District 3 who voted her onto the City Council, to begin with. Upsetting the apple cart takes up a lot of energy. At any rate, Adam’s halfway through Stephen King’s The Stand, the disturbing premise (a pandemic) of which I was completely unawares until this morning. Ugh.
Speaking of lunch, I made the boys sandwiches with applewood smoked turkey and slices of Colby jack cheese but unfortunately the watermelon (first of the season, last one left in the crate) I picked up yesterday is in quarantine for a day or two so I cut up a Honeycrisp apple for the four of us. Their mom was late for lunch, she was tied up on an hourslong call with a mansplaining jerk blaming her for half the world’s known ills but we gave her a hug when she came out (granted it was that instant before compartmentalization) which is one of the perks of working from home provided you’re capable of mentally blocking out the sometimes-constant melodious beeping of buttons on a microwave oven by a pack of hungry, culinary-challenged baboons, as it were.
The boys spent most of today recovering from our Tuesday exploration in the Cascades. Adam’s reading one of the seminal books on the haywire Shackleton voyage while Oliver Fern had his nose buried in this household’s dogeared, infamous Jokelopedia book. The grocery shopping got done by me this morning, getting in and out of the store quickly as possible was good for loosening up the stiff, creaky parts. For the second week in a row we got up to a pretty little lake. Unlike last week, our destination had only recently melted out so it was too icy for swimming, akin to electroshock therapy but sure enough the boys went in. The day was split into two parts, later we walked higher on the quiet mountainside which was blanketed in places by remnant winter snow. I spent some time instructing the boys about evaluating the hazards of crossing steep springtime snow. Oliver Fern is a loosey-goosey seven year old so we mostly took advantage of creative detours using safe run-outs on drier ground with veggie belays but the boys did test their mettle here or there when I felt the consequences of a slip or fall were fairly non-injurious. In search of the elusive tarns (years ago I admired them from a nearby rocky summit) several hundred feet above, the adventure seemed ended by a mildly hazardous, hanging snow bowl which seemed crossable except Adam felt a little spooked (caution is the better part of valor and he has the makings of a good mountain traveler if he stays interested in the years to come). As we backtracked I was overcome by a premonition about the rugged terrain above: We picked out a forty five degree angled draw which was enticing for the waist-high stunted firs which served comfortable belay. Grabbing at the elfin trees, we crawled seventy five slippery feet straight up, to the reward: An elegant mezzanine of tarn, wildflowers and frogs!
The picture-taking wasn’t very good because of high clouds combined with the extraordinarily intimate confines of our magical alpine shelfspace, such stilted photography is always disappointing at first but the boys’ glee was consolation and besides I did get a couple of cool videos for their grandma, of them ticklishly wading in the icy cold tarn. Here’s a token look at the hillside above the tarn, I urged the boys to stay put so I could look around (they were all too happy to indulge this request, already sans shoes and socks). This subalpine scene is highly representative of many of our sheltered, north facing aspects in the Cascades above 5,000 feet, right now. I was hoping to find another, bigger melted-out tarn up here but it was just a snowier version of our Shangri-la. Somewhere beneath my snowy footing a creek gushed downslope. A good cue for retreat.
I’m still not sure how much exploring in the mountains we’ll do this summer. On the approach hike, in the morning to the lower lake, we were cursed with the worst luck in that we would arrive simultaneously with several unusually large parties, extended families thoroughly disorganized, strung out along the trail and panting for breaks in the heat. No one was wearing masks. While we cordially but swiftly overtook everyone we met along the path, it exacted a price this hot day. The three of us commiserated as to the acute sensation of suffocation underneath folded-over handkerchief face coverings. I worked diligently to keep Oliver Fern hydrated. So far this summer the utilization of masks or thoughtful social distancing in confined, albeit outdoor spaces (such as narrow trails on steep hillsides with nary a place to step aside) by fellow mountain travelers has been quite hit or miss. People look at us like we’re Seattle snowflakes and I want to explain we only cover up for close encounters of mankind, that the handkerchiefs are mostly fashion props way out here. There’s a cottage industry of mask psychology which has erupted into prominence in the quest to solve the puzzle of American selfishness and stupidity.
Until a few months ago I had no idea lawn bowling existed in Woodland Park, this discovery was made upon improvisation of our walking route away from the crowded west shore of Green Lake where walkers, joggers and overly-friendly wiener dogs have a tendency to aerosolize in the afternoons past the acceptable carrying capacity of fresh air. After detours through several alleys, we climbed the grassy hill on the north border of Woodland Park and there it was, the most improbably-placed, immaculate bowling green which might have evinced an air of refinement were it not for the cordon of chain link fence which gave off the aura of prison yard. For the less genteel, there are even horseshoe pits that resemble a golf driving range in miniature. On the other side of the bowling green pictured here is that grassy hill we climb(ed) and beyond that stand of trees one would find the south shore of sprawling Green Lake. Dunno why lawn bowling brings to mind ruthlessly bratty John McEnroe, it’s obviously a completely different sport than tennis. However, the two activities merge for me, bringing to mind the preppy country club set although truth be told, in Seattle, bowling greens are just as likely to be culturally appropriated by thoughtful hipsters at Jefferson Park, as populated by fuddy dudsters sporting white Dockers. But hands up here because I’m not viciously impugning the sport, really I know nothing about it except the ball is referred to as a “kitty” and that’s funny because the next door neighbors’ cat just meowed from the front porch. He looked up at me and panicked, we have a bad relationship. I’m standing in my closet with my little window propped open with one of Oliver Fern’s comic books, I’m getting the most amazing nighttime cross breeze. It feels like it came straight from the Chocolate Glacier.
About this surprising bowling green, the boys are far more interested in the mountain bike trails which criss cross the woods in the north end of the park here although it would be a little tricky with the homeless encampments which have proliferated in this particular area, seems like it’d be rather insensitive to ride too close to someone’s tent. There are more visible homeless around Green Lake than I can remember, last winter there were usually at least two or three tents in the copse of trees across from Beth’s Cafe. Today after lunchtime, Oliver Fern came down the hill with me to pick up my newly refurbished bicycle. It’s official: I now have the ugliest bike in Seattle. The refurbish cost more than I paid for the bike twenty five years ago. Ordinarily such an investment wouldn’t have made a lot of sense but test riding new bikes isn’t as fun as usual. In addition, bicycles are a far more valuable commodity these days although it’s a seller’s market for used bikes and plenty of people are wheeling and dealing. I’ve gotta feeling when the pandemic is over there’ll still be a lot of new riders (which is a wonderful thing) but also quite a few shiny bikes for sale when people go back to their cars and gyms.
Oliver and I whooshed home on the bike path through the Arboretum, we were warm and sweaty after the climb up the hill (I walked my bike but Oliver zig-zagged his way up the street). We lay in the sun on the back porch. Hours ago in the morning we had a couple of terrible rows, he and I. Now I looked upon him with deep love and contentedness. He was the unwitting beneficiary of an outpouring of regret and affection, readily accepting as he was of those two ice cream sandwiches which I offered to him there on the porch. Vanilla ice cream dribbled down his chin as reality faded into the pages of Runaway Ralph, a story about a mouse who leads a secret life zooming around on his motorcycle.
Last night I finished Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It wasn’t on my list of things to read but Adam was at such an impasse last week for a book to move onto and being that I hoped he’d tackle something with import, he was intrigued when I explained to him The Road might be a little disturbing, he couldn’t help himself. What this has to do with me is that after several days I regretted him starting The Road, it seemed like a poor choice for a twelve year old during a worldwide pandemic and Donald Trump presidency but he was a quarter of the way with no turning back and when he was done I decided I should go right after him so we could process the story together.
Before The Road he read Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, the book which I’ve always believed to have singlehandedly set in motion during my grade school years, that wanderlust and longing to see someplace new which ultimately led to moving across North America to the Pacific Northwest.
Speaking of wanderlust, on Saturday, for the first time in three months we ventured beyond the city limits. The boys’ mother took just her second or third day off from working, in that same span of time. We got up to our favorite easy place to reach in the mountains that are real mountains, the rugged kind of place that gives one the shivers on a stormy day. It was a good day to be up there, because fewer people. Fewer people because it got stormy later. Everything was preternaturally green, the trail was brushy with vanilla leaf and ferns, it reminded me of how bare and brown it was the last time we went walking in the mountains. We had a very late lunch by the river. The boys went downstream to play but after a spell they came back through the brush, pulled off a sneak attack, pelting (just) me with juicy salmonberries. They’ve been putting up with me all these months at home. It was almost meditative, the sound of the river and the salmonberries: Plunk. Plunk. Smoosh. Plunk.
I took my camera with me hoping to shoot some scenes for black and white but it was terribly gloomy, we were walloped by a dark wall of rain on the return walk. Each of us had sopping wet feet. Oliver Fern loves mud and he was……muddy, too. I’ll try to share the picture I took when I was getting lashed by the storm, I loved the way it was going to look (in my mind) but it was too gray (which is what we live with here for nine months out of the year, or so it seems like sometimes) there was no contrast whatsoever and my family had deserted me as I stood like a maniac on the upturned roots of an enormous, fallen Doug fir. You could say I was a poor imitation of John Muir. Balanced precariously on the top edge of the enormous, spiky root ball, it wasn’t until I looked down that I more fully noticed winter had washed most of the soil and gravel out of the roots, it was mostly clay. Getting down is always harder than going up. When we got home I spent what seemed like an eternity ringing out our wet gear, hanging it in the bathroom to dry.
Part of the alley behind Beth’s Cafe is painted a bright blue like the Dalmatian Coast. Our house is blue, I used to drive a blue Toyota truck with a head gasket problem, my raincoat is blue and so are my eyes. Currently I don’t own any bluejeans, only black jeans which are all worn gray and threadbare but I do have a pair of blue sneakers.