When snow comes peeking in the window.

Snow window

We had a major winter storm blowing for most of this last trip up to the family cabin. I’m guessing there was only a couple feet of new snowfall but fierce winds blew it into big drifts and that’s what caused all the fun. We do so LOVE weather, the hubster and I! This is a view through a back window. The door, just a couple feet over, is completely blocked and will just have to wait till spring thaw to open again.

Winter is our favorite time of year to vacation up here, which some people understand completely and some people never will. I think it’s similar to dog people and cat people. The guy who’s getting ready to replace our fence down in Boise was excited and congratulatory when he found out we were up here during the storm, while a friend from L.A. just shakes her head and says, every single time we come up, I wouldn’t do it. I’d freeze to death. And yet she skis (in winter, on snow!) so I’m confused. What’s the difference? Is winter not just as cold when you’re hurtling down a mountainside at 30 miles an hour? In fact, isn’t it even colder with the wind chill?

People. Personally, I don’t think we’re anywhere near as rational as we like to think. More like big bundles of unconscious bias in fact, overlaid with a very thin veneer of reason which is of course the part we preen ourselves on and strut about holding up to one another because it makes us feel so special.

 I do it myself. Which is totally ridiculous, I know, but it can’t be helped. Oh well. We humans are just so incredibly absurd and vulnerable, y’know? And there’s so much to love in that.

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The Camera Phone and the Dilettante Photographer: Part 2

In Part 1 I think I mentioned that I’m a little fixated on skyscapes. (I’d probably be fixated on starscapes, too, but night photography requires a level of skill that is clearly, judging from the deplorable quality of my photos, lacking.)

Most of the great skyscape photo opportunities I get are from the front deck of the hubster’s family’s cabin in Stanley, Idaho. It’s a breathtaking view and, as far as results are concerned, highly ego inflating. You can’t take a bad picture from the place, you just can’t. I challenge anyone to try. It’s a favorite playground for the Northwest weather gods who are forever romping around, rolling in from one end of the valley or the other, or spilling over and between the mountain peaks, or rising up from the early dawn river as fog, or shooting down between a crack in dark clouds as ethereal, roving spotlights. It’s amazing and kind of spellbinding. The first time I ever visited the cabin I just sat at the front window staring outside for three days. (It was also the first time I ever met the hubster’s family who, fortunately, forgave me. They’re pretty proud of the place.)Carpe Musings

Shaw mesa winter storm lighting

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Shaw mesa dramatic storm front copyTired yet? But I have so many more. Sigh.

These last two were taken by the hubster. The first is morning fog filling up the deep valley between the mesa we perch on and the mountain range on the other side:View this morning B copyAnd the last is…well, we have no idea what this is. It’s a phenomenon we’ve only ever seen up at the cabin this once. It was a column of light that shot up unexpectedly from the setting sun. It was HUGE. The photo doesn’t capture that part. And most odd, lasting about two minutes from the time we first saw it.Morning light column over Sawtooths copySorry for the enormous size of the photograph. WordPress changed the download media feature while I was gone and I haven’t figured out how to resize yet. As mentioned…dilettante. 

The only other time I’ve seen this column of light was on the morning Obama came to Boise to speak while campaigning for his first election. It shot up into the sky from behind the Boise mountains directly over the Taco Bell Arena where he was scheduled in an hour’s time and, between you and me, I think it was an expression of total Idaho flabbergast. A Democratic presidential candidate campaigning here? It was as astounding as if a migrating flamingo had been blown off course and landed in one of the ponds over in Katherine Albertson Park. Even the sky was surprised at such a turn of events and it shot up a great big exclamation point of light before it remembered itself and regained its poise.

I would love to know what causes it though. Any ideas?

copyright 2016 Dia Osborn

The camera phone and the dilettante photographer – Part I

I come from a long line of woman photographers, one of whom was even talented enough to earn money at it around the turn of the last century. (That would be great great Grandma Atta, who was also an avid fisherwoman with scoliosis who used her crutches to swing over streams and keep her hems dry, and who also, BTW, divorced a difficult husband in an age when that just wasn’t done and raised three girls on her own. I would love, love, love to have known this woman but must settle for her genes instead.)

And while the family photographic enthusiasm has continued unabated through the generations, the skill seems to have peaked with Atta so that the ratio of good pictures to bad has steadily fallen. Which is a bummer for me and my brother since we’re the family photo archivists who have to store the vast cache of pictures and slides for their historical value, no matter how bad they are.

How many sunsets, Grandma? Really?

Fortunately for the children that will follow me, though, things have gone digital and it’s now easy-peasey to delete the hundreds of bad photos I have to take in order to get one that’s at least semi-interesting. And since, like my mothers before me, I favor taking pictures of landscapes and objects rather than living, breathing family members (reducing the genealogical value to pretty much zero), it’ll also be easy-peasey for said daughters to store everything on a single thumbdrive that can then be easily overlooked in a box and accidentally tossed without every having to feel guilty about it the way that I have.

I’m a big, big fan of digital.

Anyway, I’ve been collecting a variety of snapshots on my camera phone for a while now and lately wondering what, oh what, to do with them? Then, today, I found a blog post on the site of one of my favorite bloggers, Coming to terms with my iPhone – Part I over at Rangewriter – What Comes Next?and suddenly I remembered that I, too, have a blog! Cobwebby with neglect, true, but still, a blog. So I, too, can post my photographs online where they’ll be stored…nay, immortalized…forever and ever, despite any deplorable lapse in appreciation or taste on the part of my careless, self-absorbed, future daughters.

(Then again, is a little bit of guilt really so bad?)

So here’s one taken late last winter when the water levels in Lucky Peak reservoir were still quite low.

Lucky Peak Beached boat

Whoops. Did somebody forget something?

And then here’s another shot of Lucky Peak reservoir on a weathery sort of day, also last winter. (Where my grandmother loved sunsets, I love blustery skyscapes…which also all tend to look the same after awhile, as you’ll probably notice in future posts. Consider this a disclaimer.)

Lucky Peak dramatic lighting

copyright Dia Osborn 2015

Editor’s note: I got a photographic editing suggestion from Rangewriter (who’s a serious photographer BTW)!! Time to step up my game a little and try something new.  Here’s the beached boat again only with a little less sand to cross to get to it. Easier. (Like feet, like eyes I guess. Makes sense.)

Lucky Peak Beached boat

Selfie in Hells Canyon

The hubster and I spent most of last week in Hells Canyon tent camping for the first time in decades. (It went well. Fantastic in fact, so we’ve decided to plan another trip.) While hiking on one of the trails through the gorge below the dam we got a wild hair and took a selfie…mainly because it’s the only possible way we were ever going to get a shot of both of us in the same frame. It was fun and, surprisingly, turned out halfway decent considering we’d been camping for four days with accompanying grime build-up.

Here it is.

Cal & Dia on Snake River Canyon

Truly though, the surrounding scenery looked better. For example:

The canyon

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The snowcapped Wallowa Mountain range

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A wild rugosa in bloom

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Cascara sagrada leaves (from the tree whose bark gives us the active ingredient in ExLax. Gaze and be grateful.)

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Our campsite (just prior to departure so sans tent, etc.) with Sherpa Pepe and the Kayak Twins

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And an alpine rock garden on top of one of the many peaks

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Did I mention it was wildflower season? It was wildflower season.

We also saw a couple of mountain goats, nesting bald eagles, and a brown bear but alas, being no wildlife photographer, I was unprepared and missed the opportunities. Oh, there were also bats. And a head full of ticks…no, two head fulls…but we were way too frantic trying to rip them out again to even think about taking pictures. No rattlesnake sightings though, even though the canyon is full of them, and thank God for that.

copyright Dia Osborn 2014

Today I am…

Today I’m both a little fearful and a little in love.

I’m a little fearful that I may be bad somehow…a sneaky shadow from childhood no doubt, still creeping along the ground of my life trying to keep a low profile.

But I’m a little in love with my snail shells, too.

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Snails and I also go back to childhood, only in a better way. I used to spend hours and hours with these tiny friends of mine, placing them on the palm of my hand to wait however long it took until they finally worked up the nerve to peek out again…oh-so-cautiously…checking to see if the coast was clear before spilling out to explore my hand.

Honestly the level of trust required for that really knocked my socks off.

I used to find these companions in a thick groundcover of pickleweed growing on the semi-desert hillside behind our house. My snails loved the succulent jungle it provided and I’d go out on the back patio alone to pick the slimy, slug-like creatures off the leaves and cradle their impossibly fragile shells in my hands, waiting for those two graceful antennae to reappear and wave around, reaching, feeling for something…anything really…to touch. They didn’t seem to care what.

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I was fascinated by their antennae and the way they looked like they belonged underwater, slow and undulating and tube-ish and transparent. They reminded me of the multiple tendrils of sea anemone, how they drift in ocean currents, only my snails antennae waved gracefully all on their own. I thought…and still do…that it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

They were also one of the most vulnerable creatures I’d come across. Their squishability was breathtaking to me, their supposedly-protective shells totally useless, which I still consider odd and unfair and a little deceptive from a destiny standpoint to the point where I feel a little betrayed for them.

Which is why their willingness to reemerge over and over again, no matter how many times I touched their antennae and drove them back into their shells…mostly gently but sometimes a little harder, a tap, to find out just how long it would take them to try this time…blew me away. They never gave up, these ridiculously flimsy creatures. Never quit trying. Never spiraled down deep into their shells saying Fuck it. Who needs this shit? I’m staying put.

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Their curiosity won. I used to watch them for hours, secretly longing for their kind of snail-trust. I was over-the-moon smitten with these guys.

Which is why I eventually carried a handful of them into my bedroom to put in the brand new plastic jewelry box my mother had given me for my birthday. They were a treasure to me, exquisite and beautiful and full of hope, and I couldn’t have cared less that they left snail tracks all over the red, synthetic material lining the inside, the slime staining the fabric while slowly drawing it into permanent wrinkles as it dried.

Turns out my mother cared though, and she was furious when she found them. She didn’t realize what they looked like through my eyes and, falling into that perilous abyss of misunderstanding that ever-gapes between adults and children, she returned them to the patio, built a little pile with them, and buried them in a mound of salt. I felt responsible for their deaths. And very bad.

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Of course, my mother was aghast when I explained to her in later years why I’d been collecting them, and she apologized to me over and over, feeling responsible and very bad, too. But then I knew my mother always loved me like that. I never once doubted that she’d regret it once she realized what happened. Not that she’d love them like I did, because to her they were still snails, but I knew she’d cherish and mourn them with me because she loved me that much.

Sometimes I feel like I was her little snail and my childhood was full of that same kind of thing, with Mom tapping on my antennae and then watching, fascinated and patient and smitten every time, as I’d peek back out and then spill into her hands. Sometimes, sure, she tapped my antennae a little too hard and I’d wind up curled inside for longer than usual, but in the end I could and would always come out again. I could snail-trust with her. That was her gift to me.

I miss her.

Today, I’m a lot in love with my mom.

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copyright 2014 Dia Osborn

Of Storms and Stars, Whales and Grief

“People gonna be okay, storms never come to stay, they just show us how bad we need each other…how bad we need each other.”

— Mark Scibilia

I’ve been at something of a loss for words over the last few months with the successive hits that mine and the hubster’s families have been taking. Two suicide attempts by young members (one successful and one thus far not) as well as the dignified and loving departure of a beloved elder seem to have taken their toll on even my desire to talk about dying.

Who would have thought?

But this morning I came across an old Yuletide letter I wrote back in 2002 and the tender perspective expressed in it helped me remember the rich beauty and wonder I once found in the rooms of the dying, sprinkled in among all the horrors. Reading it again reminded me that what I saw back then is still true today…the dying world really does contain profound and graceful gifts…even if I can’t currently see any of them in the aftermath of recent events.

suppose this is where some faith helps. I needed reminding that the stars still hang up there in the depths of the night sky and that they’re just as luminous and lovely as ever. Certainly once this storm has spent all its fury and the clouds have finally cleared I’ll be able to find them again.

In the meantime, I can always read my old stories. 

I thought I’d go ahead and paste in the old Yuletide letter here, just in case anyone else is slogging through heavy weather and hoping for a break. Maybe it can help.

**************************************************************************

Dear everyone that we hold with deepest affection:

 Cal and I (and all unbeknownst to them—the kids) send our warmest greetings in this season of silence, celebration and relentless Christmas catalog barrage.  Here in Idaho’s banana belt we’re experiencing an inversion—a meteorological event where the warmer air at higher elevations traps the colder and dirtier air at lower elevations and those of us down under reap the harvest of all our months of collected carbon emissions in the form of smog.  A ban on wood burning is currently in effect in the valley so the cord of wood we just split stands leaning precariously by the garage while the fireplace waits cold and patient.  Cal’s primal and eager impulse to poke around in a nest of flaming materials is temporarily thwarted so for his sake I hope a low-pressure system returns to the area soon.

 This year seems to have flown by faster than any year before (a trend we’ve been noticing of late) and I suspect that it speaks to the fact of our aging.  When I think about it, it seems logical enough.  Between the two of us Cal and I now have almost 94 years of collected living to our names with all the learning and memories, laughter and heartbreak, wisdom and foolishness that that much life of necessity contains.  Think about it for a second.  When held up and compared to such an accumulation of time how long can a single year really take to pass after all?  Sometimes I think of an old-growth redwood or an ancient mountain peak or a star and I wonder what a year seems like to them.  I imagine it would be like a breath or a blink.

 A solitary heartbeat lost in aeons of warm and pulsing rhythms.

 Two great things happened this year for us.  One was a cruise to Alaska—a generous gift from Cal’s dad up one of the most magnificent coastlines I could ever imagine—and the other was the work I began with hospice.  Somehow the two are closely entwined although I’m not entirely sure how. 

The cruise was something of an enigma for me.  It was our first time and in preparing for the trip I found myself conflicted around issues of the seemingly decadent opulence of American spending and a very real anticipation of fully immersing ourselves in it. 

The food was everything I’d ever heard it would be.  We ate lobster and shrimp and French dishes and baked confections in lush dining rooms with scores of people waiting on us hand and foot.  All we had to do was ask (frequently we didn’t have to ask at all) and nothing was denied us.  There was even one climactic moment when we were sitting with our aperitifs at a linen-covered table, gazing out a huge window at the dark and choppy waters we sailed through when suddenly, Cal said, “There’s a whale!”  And when I turned to where he pointed a giant humpback suddenly breached about twenty-five feet off the side of the ship, surging up into the air with a mass and drive that staggered the imagination.  As it rose it gracefully spiraled 180 degrees, arching its body back and outwards as it twirled in a movement that looked like some kind of liquid ecstasy, before plunging back into a whitened maelstrom of water to disappear again beneath the surface.

 I felt overwhelmed by the wealth of it all—both the riches of human civilization and the priceless treasures of the wild.  Cal and I tended to forego the lure of bingo and Broadway shows, naturally gravitating toward the decks and railings of the ship where we spent our time watching the mountains and islands and vast tracks of forest gliding by.  During one shore-leave we hiked on a mountain in Juneau, climbing up beyond the hordes of camera-snapping, cruise-line tourists (no doubt attempting to elevate our own camera-snapping activities to a higher moral plane) and on into the mist and muffled silence at the top where I sang to occasional marmots and ptarmigans who tipped their heads in curiosity. 

Throughout the seven days we saw harbor seals whelping, bald eagles flocking, glaciers calving, and ice so old and compressed that it had turned a luminous color of blue.  At the peak of the cruise we sailed up a fjord (I felt such a smug sense of satisfaction to finally experience the thing that carries such an exotic name) and on that morning I stood alone out on the deck for hours, shivering in the drizzling rain and cold breezes, held spellbound by the sheer, green cliffs rising up from icy waters—their towering heads hidden by clouds, their sides split time and again with plunging waterfalls fed by spring-melting snows—and in the cold, wet, wildness of it all a silence of great age, of vastness, weighed upon me, somehow aging me, too.  Lending me a temporary grace that I suspect only comes enduringly with advancing years.

 And I recognize the same vast silence I felt that morning each time I sit by the bedside of someone dying.  It’s such a paradox to me, the moments that exist—tucked in among the bathing and dressing and care of wounds, among the laughter, overwhelm and expressions of tremendous sorrow and tenderness, among the changing of oxygen tanks and long hours of just listening and listening and listening—when I feel that same great weight of grace I felt in the fjord pressing down upon me again.  Whispering to me of an indescribable beauty of great depths and muffled echoes and mist.  And in spite of the moments of horror and heartbreak, I feel strangely uplifted. 

I’ve come to wonder if much of the difficulty in dying lies in the necessity of having to give back all the many and deeply treasured gifts we’ve been loaned for the process of living.  There’s so much to love in a lifetime be it brief or long, so much to wonder at and remember and touch with trembling fingers one last time. There are all those whom we love and our many achievements, the mountains and moonlight and extraordinary beauty of the world, the gifts of walking and laughter and being able to feed ourselves and go to the bathroom alone, and in our last moments the necessity of returning even the gifts of sight and touch and breath.

But in the end, while the gifts themselves must be returned, somehow the deep love and gratitude that they forge within us remains, growing ever more quiet and measureless upon being freed.

 I remember again the brief instant of that breaching whale.  The suddenness of it and surprise, the delight and the awe, the twisting, the power, and the arc of it’s body that seemed to express not so much purpose or deep import as a simple moment of sheer and unbridled joy.  A moment of irrepressible delight, driving it to rise high and higher for an instant of unforgettable and breathtaking splendor.  And so I’m coming to think of life.  Something so brief and unpredictable and extraordinary surging up from invisible worlds, rising within us with such drive and vitality and joy—learning through us, loving through us, touching and being touched for what amounts to only a fleeting heartbeat in the vast rhythms of creation—before ultimately returning once again to the deep and gentle mystery of the waters that are its source.

With our newly graying hair and sagging bodies we wish for you all, this year and always, that each moment of the great wounding and joy of Life will be just such an arc of unforgettable beauty.

With all our love,

Cal and Dia

Hail in the Garden…yikes!

We’ve got a major storm passing through southwest Idaho as I write. It started at our house with some of the biggest hail I’ve ever seen, (including during all my years in Iowa, a state which can throw up a doozy of a thunderstorm.)

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Evidently, we got off lucky.  Down in Jordan Valley it was golfball-sized, and there was one report of baseball-sized hail.  Good-bye windshields.

The hail we got here was big enough to decimate my squash patches though.

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But Bert, Bertha, Beatrix, and all the other winter squashes are okay.

I tried to take a video during the worst of the hail fall but screwed up and only got a couple of seconds.  Here’s an earful of what it sounded like though.

It was all pretty exciting and I…big thunderstorm fanatic that I am…actually loved the whole thing. The hubster laughed when I told him so and commented that thunderstorms are the only thing in existence that could trash my garden and leave me happy about it afterwards.

copyright Dia Osborn 2013

 

To marvel or run?

Would this excite or terrify you?

(I found this video on a great blog called 2BAware.  The whale breaches 26 seconds into the video.  The other half a minute records the response of the woman on board.)

A number of commenters on the video’s Youtube page sound unsympathetic to the woman’s distress.  They were apparently left by people who don’t yet know that breaching whales can and do sometimes land on boats.  Case in point:  An incident off Cape Town earlier this year.  (Amazing video. The whale and the couple on board were evidently okay but the yacht wasn’t.)

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(This photo is part of a slideshow at ABC News.)

The hubster and I are big fans of extreme survival literature and it was during the reading of  some of these books that I first discovered that collisions between boats and whales really do occur.  There’s also the Large Whale Ship Strike Database compiled by the National Marine Fisheries Service that makes for some fun/disturbing reading if you’re into that kind of thing.

Maybe that’s why I felt a wave of compassion for the woman in the video, because I knew her fears weren’t entirely unjustified.

I couldn’t help but wonder what MY response would be in that kind of situation.  Would my awe at the spectacle outweigh my flight response?  Maybe a little of both?  Hard to know unless it happens I suppose.

I’m pretty sure of one thing though…if fear DID win out, I wouldn’t sound nearly as nice as this poor woman does.  I’d be swearing like a sailor and that camcorder would be in serious danger of going overboard.  (My flight and fight responses tend to get all mixed up in a crisis.)

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

Thoughts From The 2012 Yuletide

Cal and Dia sitting in a tree

(A rare photo of the two of us together taken this summer. BTW, the light emanating from our foreheads is enlightenment, not sun glare.  Don’t be fooled.)

We send out an annual Yuletide letter with our holiday cards each year.  This is it…and the sentiments it contains hold true for all of you as well.  Here’s wishing love and good will to all mankind.

Here’s wishing you the best of the season as we head down the final stretch of the year!  As usual, we sincerely hope you’re either thriving from the gifts or coping well with the stresses these holidays tend to bring, depending on which it is for you this time around.  At its best this season includes the spirit of caring and looking out for those more vulnerable.  For anyone who pulled the vulnerable straw this year we’d just like to say thanks for giving everyone else the chance to step up and don their better selves.  May we all take turns and strive to do both with as much grace as we can muster.

Last year was the first Yuletide season in nineteen that I didn’t write this letter or send out cards for which I apologize.  It was something of a short straw year for me. Nothing catastrophic fortunately, just a couple of scares, but it left me with nothing good to say so, per my mother’s perennial wisdom, I said nothing at all.  We really missed everyone though and want to thank all our card-exchange friends for still sending us your cards even when you didn’t get anything back.  They were more appreciated than you know.

On the news front nothing much changed around here this year except that Cal and I took up flatwater kayaking.  He’s been dreaming about it for quite a while now so I finally surrendered and entered into the spirit of the thing since it certainly beat the alternative of getting a motorcycle.

It’s been amazing actually.  I’ve never done much with boats and had no idea how different the natural world feels from the water.  It’s more mysterious somehow and I can see why sailors talk about the sea as a mistress.  I’ve felt it once or twice myself…that sense of an ephemeral feminine presence…only it felt more like a mother than a lover to me.  We’ve had some extraordinary experiences ranging from gliding over water so clear it was like floating in space to trying to rescue an abandoned gosling floating in a boat lane.  But my deepest impression so far comes from the night we went kayaking up at the reservoir in September under the harvest moon, paddling along trails of rippling light surrounded by looming mountain shadows.

Pretty much everything about paddling at night was new and unnerving, but the most curious thing happened a couple of hours out when I first heard some strange, strangled sounds coming from the shore nearby.  I had no idea what was making them but felt vaguely uneasy, wondering if whatever it was could swim out and reach us.  Then we heard the whirring sound of wings launching into the air…a lot of wings…after which we heard them coming out across the water straight for us.

When Cal and I talked about it later we found out both of us thought the same thing at first: Oh shit! Bats! Initially, we couldn’t see anything because they were hidden against a dark mountain background but once they streamed out across the sky we saw a couple hundred of them with wingspans the size of herring gulls.  I nearly panicked thinking BIG bats! but then realized they really were herring gulls.  I should have felt relief I suppose but instead the previous vision of being attacked by giant bats switched to grisly images from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (thank you oh fear-generating machine of a subconscious mind.)  They must have noticed us out on the water…two awkward, splashing, fish-shaped things…and grown curious enough to fly out and investigate.

I felt pretty helpless sitting there…paddle clutched across my lap, bare head laid vulnerable to a sky full of sharp beaked shadows…but when they reached us all they did was wheel around, their ranks dividing in half to carve opposite, banking turns against the moon glowing behind them.  They were maybe twenty feet over our heads, close enough to hear the wind moving through thousands of feather tips, and my fear finally dissolved as we watched an unearthly sky-dance unfolding above us…a movement as graceful as any ballet.

It was a murmuration, an example of that mysterious communication among birds that lets them fly and wheel and turn as one, and as Cal and I leaned back in our kayaks surprised and slack-jawed, we watched rolling, rippling patterns of movement being woven into the sky.  Their synchronization was so flawless they looked like a single organism up there…some strange sky creature mimicking the fluid properties of the water below…endlessly dividing into multiple streams that peeled off and curled away only to swing back around and seamlessly join again, swelling and surging anew each time. They circled and swooped above us like that for maybe a minute or so until, their curiosity evidently satisfied, some invisible signal was given and they turned back towards shore all together, hanging there silhouetted against the moonlight for a few lingering moments before disappearing into the shadow of the mountain.

Afterwards we just sat there, stunned and stilled.  The whole thing seemed so primal…an ancient gift from the night and moonlight and water and sky…and I could feel it stirring some dim genetic memory inside me, like I was receiving an ancestral message of some kind.  Only of what, I really couldn’t tell you.  Maybe a simple reminder that, even in times of dark uncertainty, there’s still a mysterious, winged grace that can launch and locate me if I just clutch my courage tight enough and keep looking up.

This year…with the world looking as rich in uncertainty as it does right now…we hope that you, too, get to experience something unexpected and mysterious and breathtaking in the midst of it all, something that suspends all fear for a few heartbeats and leaves you reeling with wonder.  That kind of thing can help a lot with the rest.  It truly can.

As always, our continuing love and best wishes for you all.

Dia and Cal

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copyright Dia Osborn 2012

Me in the morning…


grumpy bird

Someone sent me an email FULL of stunning bird photography like this with nary a credit given to any of them.  Drives me absolutely nuts that I can’t tell you who took this beauty but whoever you are…you’re brilliant.  Brilliant.  Please…if anyone knows, tell me so I can give credit where due.

Wild Deer Ask For Passage On Boat

(Photos courtesy of Sharon Kelly and JuneauEmpire.com)

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

I may be the last one to have seen this news story but was so touched by it that I had to put it up again anyway.

Four young Sitka deer got into trouble swimming through rough and frigid waters off the Alaska coast.  Exhausted and hypothermic they evidently spotted a charter boat sailing nearby and swam over to circle it, looking for some way to climb up out of the water.

The local family on board were amazed and sprang into action to pull the four up on the deck where they immediately collapsed.  By the time they reached land one deer was recovered enough to jump into the water and swim to shore by itself, two had to be coaxed but eventually made it to the woods, and one was still too weak to move.

So they loaded it into a wheelbarrow and rolled it up the dock to shore where they remained with it for a few hours until the deer could finally stand, wobbling but unassisted.

It’s an extraordinary story that once again breaks down some of the barriers we tend to build in our heads about what animal/human interactions and relationships can be like.  What particularly fascinated me was that the owner of the boat is a hunter but didn’t feel right about taking these deer.  I suspect he was responding to that deep instinct most of us have that we’re not allowed to harm something that has come to us for help.

The entire family was reportedly delighted and moved by the experience, considering it a gift.  In other words, they were grateful, thus earning their experience a respected place as a story worthy of Thanksgiving.

May this day be filled with the same for all of us…generosity, compassion, gratitude, and just a wee bit of magic.

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

Wildfire: ‘Tis The Season

Photo shot from the bedroom window.

We just got back from a quickie vacation up to the cabin where we went kayaking for two days and did a thirteen mile hike up to a stunning alpine lake in between.  The hike was a huge, HUGE triumph for me.  I haven’t been up to this particular lake in about eight years because I got too fat and waddling over that much rocky trail made parts of my feet go numb.

Enter Weight Watchers and minus fifty pounds later…voila!  I made it….easily…and hiked all the way around the lake to boot.  I became surprisingly emotional on the return trip, fighting back tears when it hit me that my hiking days weren’t over after all.  I’d been schooling myself to let Alice Lake…and all the other beautiful, beloved wilderness places more than, say, three miles out…go, but it turns out I don’t have to now.  Not yet anyway.

Fat is evil.  I can’t tell you how grateful I am to get it off again.

Summer in Idaho is wildfire season, every year, as it is in most of the western states.  Fire is actually an ancient and integral part of the ecosystem out here but for about a century’s worth of forest management policy that fact was poorly understood.  Enter Smokey the Bear and the motto he tried to get us all to live by:

ONLY YOU CAN PREVENT FOREST FIRES!

But those days are gone and now the common practice is to allow wildfires to go ahead and burn in areas where they’re not threatening structures, roads, or lives.  They often burn in remote areas for months on end until the first snowfall finally comes to put them out, with the forest service keeping an eye on them all the while, only stepping in to herd them a little if they start heading in a wayward direction.

Two days before we arrived up at the cabin the Halstead wildfire flared up and grew really fast.  A cold front blew in Thursday evening and the winds that came with it were  strong enough to increase the fire by 75% overnight.  This is what it looked like from the town of Stanley on Sunday.

Wildfires tend to inhale during the day as temperatures heat up and you’ll often see this kind of mushroom shaped cloud forming above the areas where they’re burning the hottest.  Wildfires can also generate their own winds and the big ones create firestorms that are incredibly dangerous for firefighters.  The Halstead Fire is one of those, which is part of the reason why they’re just letting it burn.  Last I heard it had grown to about 22,000 acres or so, fueled by all the dry, brittle pine trees that have been killed off by the pine beetle infestation.

Here are a couple more shots I took as we were leaving Stanley to come back to Boise this afternoon.  (The straps are tie-downs for the kayaks on the roof of the car.  Sorry.  I know they’re annoying.)

And here’s a view from the side.  This fire stretches over a lot of ground:

And below is part of the fire camp where headquarters have been set up for this particular wildfire.  Each one gets its own local base of operations.

A couple hours of driving later and we just happened to stumble across the next wildfire that was started last night.  While the Halstead Fire was started by lightning, the Springs Fire (below) was human caused which is always disheartening.  It seems to be burning near a local hot springs (locally known as the skinny dipper’s hot springs) that attracts a lot of people year round.  Maybe one of them got stupid.  It’s not that hard to do when things get this hot and dry.

This fire is really close to the highway so traffic through the burn area was closed down to one lane.  Here we are below in a line of cars waiting for our turn to drive through.  You can see smoke from the fire up on the hill straight ahead.

As we were waiting one of the helicopters fighting the fire flew almost directly over our heads, banked sharply in a U-turn, then flew down to the river just below us and scooped up some water in the bucket dangling underneath it.

It was outrageously cool to watch.

And this is what the approach to the fire looked like once we started moving again:

We passed the turn-out on the side of the highway where all the skinny dippers usually park only to find it now filled with emergency and fire fighting vehicles. (Photo below.)  You can also see the helicopter again, in the center of the photo, flying near the fire.  Look at the bucket.  Tiny, no?  It gives you an idea of what an enormous task it is to try and contain these things.

Here are the rest of the pics I took as we drove through.  I was pretty much just continuously snapping pics on my old, old cellphone so they’re not great.  But hopefully it’ll give you an idea.

And of course, no discussion of wildfire would be complete without some kind of reference to climate change.  Long-time fire fighters were among the earliest converts to the notion that things are heating up, mainly because they see it up close and personal every year.  The fires are getting bigger and burning hotter, regularly doing more damage and claiming more lives than they did in years past, and the brave people out there who are roping and riding these things in order to try and protect the rest of us are at greater and greater risk.

I’m not sure where it’s all headed but we’re certainly living in the middle of a big paradigm change.  It would be great if everyone could be more careful anyway.  Here are a couple of pointers if you’re headed out to recreate in a dry area:

  • Don’t drive over tall, dry vegetation.  The underside of a vehicle gets very hot and will ignite it.
  • If you smoke use a can with some water in it for an ashtray and put the spent match in there, too.  If it’s windy, then please just don’t.
  • Keep fireworks on the pavement in front of your house.  Don’t take them out into the countryside.
  • Sparks from chainsaws, welding torches, and other equipment are dangerous.  Fires get started that way every year.
  • And then there are campfires which should never, ever be left unattended:  1) use a fire ring.  2) have water and a shovel handy. 3) Don’t drop a match on the ground until it’s cold.  4)  To put it out, pour water on the fire and stir until all the materials are cold to the bare touch, including any roots that might be running through the fire ring.  (Fire can travel along roots and pop up in a completely different area.)  5) Obey any and all campfire bans.  They’re issued when the risk of wildfire gets too high.

Be safe and enjoy!

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

Starling Murmuration: Sometimes, Someone Gets Lucky and Then Shares

This brief footage is absolutely extraordinary.  I’ve seen small flocks of starlings doing this before but nothing like this.

The murmuration begins at around 26 seconds but I was also fascinated by the fact that these two women are canoeing in the weather and through the terrain that they are.  I’ve almost always experienced the most wonder and awe…seen the most unusual, even miraculous, things…when I’m out in inclement weather, or twilight or dark, or intense cold, or in other conditions that keep most people away.

I’m not sure why that is actually.  Kind of curious.

Anyway, if you have two minutes, watch and marvel.  It’s truly something to behold.

When does living stop and dying start?

This is the kind of question I understand repulses most people but for some reason fascinates me.  It’s not so much about dying…I think…as it is about transitional zones in general.  For me, they’ve always been the place where everything interesting is going on.

I ask the same kind of question when I’m lying around up in the mountains and watching the sun set…at what point does it turn from daytime into twilight and then into night?  Or standing on a beach and watching the waves roll in and out…where are the lines that define where land becomes coast becomes sea?

Where do the colors really change on a rainbow, or is there an exact moment when a marriage fails, or at what length of tail can you stop calling it a tadpole and start calling it a frog?

These kinds of questions have always struck me as important even though I’m not entirely sure why.  Maybe they give me a way to puzzle through the nature of change and the necessity for it?  Or perhaps it’s because I’m not very good with loss and transitional zones all involve losing one thing as it changes into something else?  Maybe I think about it a lot because I’m still trying to learn how to say good-bye, let go, and look forward again?

Or maybe it’s just how I was born.  I mean, really.  Who knows why any of us are fascinated by the things that we are?

But back to the original question, when exactly does dying start?

I used to unconsciously believe that it started when a doctor said that it did.  At that stomach sinking, deer-in-the-headlights moment when a person was told, “I’m sorry.  There’s nothing more we can do.”

Did anyone else think that’s when it starts?  And that everything that happens before that horrible moment…all the whirlwind of treatments and waiting and bad news and worse news and more treatments and uncertainty and all the fear…is still living?

That’s what the journey of dying looks like so often these days.  Plunging into diagnosis and treatment can be so much like being caught up and tumbled in a huge, breaking wave that scrapes you along the bottom and nearly drowns you before finally washing you up on shore, beaten, battered, and gasping…only to be told that now you’re going to die.  Honestly, thinking about it like that absolutely terrifies me. I’m not all that worried about dying but I’m petrified of being over-treated for it.

But anyway, once I started to consider the question, and once I realized what my default answer was, I started observing more closely what was going on in my work and eventually discovered a couple of things that helped reshape my answer and ease that scary feeling a lot:

1)  In hospice I learned about a thing called “active dying.”  It’s when the body starts to go through the final shut-down sequence…when you get what’s called a “cascade of organ failure.”

(For the record, I really dislike that term.  Watching a body shut down never looked like failure to me.  On the contrary, it looked like a brilliantly…BRILLIANTLY…conceived protocol designed to both protect us from further horrendous suffering, as well as extract us from a clump of physical matter that’s starting to break back down into it’s essential elements for future life.  To me, active dying looked just as miraculous and sacred and wild as birth ever did.)

The period of active dying is relatively short, lasting from a couple of days to a few hours and, in my evolving understanding anyway, became the clearest definition of when dying actually starts.

I have to admit, that conclusion really surprised me.  It turned a lot of the standard cultural view I grew up with on it’s head.  It even messed with the entire basis for referring a patient for hospice care in the first place, as they’re supposed to be dying to qualify.

And yet, it also explained something that hadn’t made sense up to that point.  When I first volunteered with hospice I thought I was going to work with “the dying.”  And yet I quickly discovered that the extraordinary people I was meeting were actually living.  Times ten.  In fact, probably more than most of the not-dying people I knew.  I quickly surmised that I’d been laboring under a misperception, but it wasn’t until I finally figured out that dying doesn’t start until the very end that the nature of that misperception became clearer.

So for me, in strictly physical terms anyway, dying starts when our bodies enter the “active dying” stage.  And everything that comes before that, no matter how turbulent or ominous or final, is still living.

So when a doctor delivers that terminal diagnosis…we’re still living.  And when we get referred for hospice care…we’re still living.  And when we start losing our appetite, energy, and bowel control and maybe can’t even get off the bed, I’ll be danged if we’re not STILL living.  Maybe in a period of uncomfortable decline which is a definite bummer, but bummers have always been a part of living, too.  So, so what?

And that was the second thing I figured out which helped ease that scary feeling.

2)  Life and death, and living and dying, are completely different things.

Life and death are nouns.  They’re things that exist as an independent fact, like cell division and tooth decay.  They’re built into the system itself so they happen to us whether we deserve them or not/want them or not/appreciate them or not.  First we’re dragged into life without any discussion and then we’re dragged back out again and, ultimately, we have zero power at either end.  Granted, that’s a little unnerving but I still find the simplicity of it appealing.  Turns out life and death are not…thank you God…something I have to try and control after all.

Living and dying on the other hand are verbs.  They’re the smaller, more manageable ways that we get to participate in these vast and fundamental forces.  Whereas we have no say whatsoever about life and death, we have enormous power over how we choose to live and die within them.  How we choose to deal with them and face them (or not.)  Depending on our inclination, we can turn either one into something meaningful, generous, and humbling or something ugly, painful, and degrading…or more likely a little of both.  We are human.

In any case, that part of it is all up to us.

Which I love a lot because I need something to control.  (As the hubster can testify.)  I will happily give up trying to control life and death as long as I have living and dying to strap into the harness instead.

So back to the original question of when exactly does dying start, over time I’ve found it most useful to think of in birthing terms of all things.  It goes kind of like this:

Life enters the world in in four stages; conception, pregnancy, labor, and delivery.  From where I’ve been standing it looks like it heads back out along the same lines.

1) Conception, for me, would be the moment when I first realize I’m officially heading for the exit.  This is it.  I’m going to die.  I think this one might be the hardest part.

2) Pregnancy would encompass most of the time I have left and would involve all the many and varied preparations required for death; wrapping up my life, finishing all the paperwork, giving and receiving any forgiveness, savoring all my “last times,” navigating all the tricks of a body in decline, saying my good-byes and thank you’s, making damn sure everyone knows how much I’ve loved them and, finally, making my peace.

3) Labor would be the briefest part and would constitute the active dying process.

4) And birth?  Well, to be honest…it’s always kind of looked like birth is happening at both ends to me.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned from studying all these different transitional zones over the years it’s that endings and beginnings are pretty much the same thing–a moment of conception.  I know there are a lot of different theories out there about what’s going to happen after death…and I think they’re all pretty interesting…but I, personally, have no idea what the exact nature of my death/birth will be…and I like it that way.  It makes it all seem like more of an adventure.

But I do know this; in all the time I spent in the rooms of “the dying” I never once saw life itself destroyed.  On the contrary, with each person’s passage I saw it becoming something more vast and measureless than I’d ever understood.

Here’s a photo I took in the Olympic rainforest that captures a little bit of that feeling for me.  The physical part of it anyway.  (Rainforests are like the transitional zone incarnate.  Changing from one thing into another is all that ever goes on in there.)  This is what’s called a “nurse log.”  It’s when one of the old giants falls to the forest floor and magically becomes a raised and fertile world for countless new seedlings to begin their tiny lives.  Nothing wasted, nothing destroyed…only transformed and renewed.

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

When Vacations Turn Hard Left: Kayaks and Snow

We hauled the boats up to our usual haunt…the family cabin next to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area…to paddle the various glacier carved lakes over Memorial Day weekend.  We woke up the first morning to a perfect day for kayaking.

Absurd, no?  We laughed and laughed at this joke on ourselves.  We later learned that out of the last twenty-five Memorial Days in Stanley, Idaho, only two have been warm and sunny.

The morning snowfall turned to spitting rain for most of the day and then, in early evening, we got a surprise window of clear skies.  The air temperature shot up into the low fifties and, after some nervous waffling over warm soup, our impulses got the better of us and we decided to go for it.  We learned we could strap the kayaks on the car, load all of our gear, and suit up in exactly twenty-three minutes.

This was our reward:

Not bad, eh?  That’s the view looking down to the very end of Redfish Lake which is about five miles long.  Here’s one more shot of it with the hubster and Tug:

That was as far as we dared go that day.  The sun had just set behind the mountains and we still had to paddle an hour back to our launch site.  Neither of us were excited about trying to load the boats in the dark.  Nevertheless, we both secretly dreamed of coming back and going all the way to the end of the lake, if for no other reason than to sit at the foot of those gorgeous peaks and gaze up in slack-jawed wonder.

But the next day was a total bust weather-wise.  Rain all day…ALL day…turning to another four inches of snow overnight.  No surprise windows for us, I’m afraid.

Our worry started to shift from a concern that we might not get to paddle again to a fear that we might not be able to drive from the cabin back out to the highway.  The winding, steep dirt road that connects the two can get irritable and uncooperative when saturated.

The last, full day of our vacation dawned to (wait for it…wait for it) more rain and spitting snow.  We watched as the heavy, gray squalls entered the long valley from the north then rolled on down, engulfing the mountain ranges on both sides and dumping everything on us as they passed.  This went on over and over and over again, all day long.

But then, in late afternoon, there was a…well, not a window exactly.  More like a brief pause.  A slightly longer gap.  Hardly noticeable in fact, but we decided to load everything up and go down to the lake to watch and wait anyway.  You know.  Just in case.  The hubster especially wanted to go and it seemed better than giving up for good.

The hubster later confided that he knew if he could just get me down onto the water, my own impulsive side would take over from there.  There’s a little dance we always do in situations like this…when he wants to jump in and take a risk, but I’m not convinced that it’s safe.  He’s really kind of brilliant about it.  Rather than trying to get me to “go for it,” his strategy is to nudge me along in incremental baby steps.

At home:  Come on, sweetheart.  We’ll just drive down to the lake and see.  We can always turn around and come back home.

At the lake:  Come on, sweetheart.  We can just sit here a little bit longer.  And by the way, I really don’t mind if you don’t want to do it.

Rolling down the window:  Look, sweetheart!  It stopped raining.  You want to just walk down to the beach and look around before we go home?  I promisewhatever happens, I’m fine with it.

He eventually got me down to the water’s edge but it was a young family staying at the lake lodge…also waiting hopefully for some kind of break in the weather…that tipped me into the boat.  They were on the dock near the rental station, the kids begging Mom and Dad to go out on the paddle boat…clutching, pulling, pleeeeeeasing…and finally, after three long, sodden days of whining, the battle-weary parents caved.  The current squall passed and the next one hadn’t arrived yet, so they all clambered aboard.

The children were beyond ecstatic and the parents were clearly relieved to give up the fight.  Their happy, joyous voices carried across the water to where we stood and, as I watched them paddle and splash around the small, buoyed area surrounding the dock, a kind of stealth, emotional transfer traveled along on the back of the noise.  It was like a computer virus downloading, installing, and rebooting inside me, without my ever realizing what was going on.  The first I knew of it’s presence was when I suddenly looked at the hubster, grinned, and heard the words coming out of my mouth:

“Okay!  Let’s do it.”

Totally irrational, I know.  The happy family never got farther than twenty feet away from the dock. We, on the other hand, paddled the whole five miles down.  (The hubster was right again…getting me into the yak was the real hurdle.)  We pushed through successive squalls of rain and…once…sleet, and…once…snow, all the way down to the pristine and secret, holy bay of bays that we stumbled upon at the very end of the lake.

It blew our minds.  It was that beautiful.  Even the hubster had never seen it before and he grew up on that lake.  (Evidently, ten miles round trip was just too damn far for his father to paddle a canoe full of wiggling boys.)  We had of course been down to the almost-end a hundred times over the years, to the lonely dock where the shuttle boat from the lodge drops off/picks up backpackers and day hikers every few hours during the summer.  But we’d never continued on around the small and innocuous promontory of land that separates the big lake from the tiny bay.  We couldn’t.  We didn’t have boats.

Until now.

Those far off mountains in the photos above towered over us…rising up from the water for thousands of feet through a layer of steep pine forest…while the melting snow coming off their peaks fell back down again in cascading, musical, multi-tiered waterfalls.  The clouds and mist shifted constantly across the rocky crags and sheer cliffs above, while the silence of the place was so heavy that it eventually stilled our tired arms completely.

We just floated for a while, staring around in wonder while slowly, slowly filling back up again.  We hadn’t known we were that empty.  I think it’s hard to tell sometimes, just how much has been drained out of you into the busy activities of regular life, until you get a chance to sit still in a place like that and feel the outgoing flow reverse again.

I don’t know.  Maybe we were stupid and impulsive to paddle that far in weather that unstable.  I honestly don’t know.  I’m not experienced enough yet.  It was certainly cold and wet but we were prepared for that…wetsuits, wool, and rain jackets…so really, that part was not a problem.

Wind is what can pose a real danger with kayaking but the day’s squalls, for all their blowing around up high, never reached down into the bowl of that lake, never generated more than an occasional mild breeze rippling the water.  In fact, a few times when it stopped raining, it was like we were paddling over crystal clear glass.

I guess all I can really say is this:

If we were stupid to go out in those conditions then, clearly, sometimes luck goes to the idiots.  There wasn’t another boat out on the lake the whole time we were there.  No raucous voices drifting across disturbed waters.  No motoring, crisscrossing wakes to block our wondering view of the submerged, ghostly boulders and tree trunks that litter the entire coastline.  Nothing to scare off the otter that stopped it’s gliding play among the rocks to watch us float past, curious and unafraid.

And neither was there anything to jar the profound and surprising reverence we felt back there in the bay for those rare moments…when all the bad news and angry voices and scary, unfolding events of the world grew small and still and far enough away that we could finally relax and remember again.  That we’re okay.  That we were always okay.  That we will always be…in some hard to define but deeply reassuring way…totally and truly okay.

Yesterday…the day we returned to Boise for a resumption of our other, busier lives…dawned sunny, warm, and clear.  Perfect, perfect, paddling weather.

Of course.

We laughed and laughed at the great joke of it all again, then waved good-bye to the mountains and drove away.  Only the difference was that, this time, we felt like we were in on it.

copyright Dia Osborn 2012