10 November 2011

Thorp Mountain Lookout, Hitch II: September 3-12

{Two notes: 1: What do you think of the new layout? Blogger stopped 'supporting' my self-built original one, so I tried to rebuild, found this, and kinda liked it. It's not perfect, yet, but hopefully I'll get the inspiration to fix it...someday.
2: Our internet sucks. We get 5GBs, and then we pay through the nose if we go over the limit. I could not upload pictures without doing so. Sorry for the length of time this here lookout dispatch is taking me!}

One year ago today, I turned in my radio, did my evaluations, and pointed Ruby Sue 2 west. An hour or two ago, one year ago, I bought cherries and peaches in Ellensburg, elated at my new trove of fresh fruit. I was done there, but I feel like I'm just getting started, here. I am.

The huckleberries down in Knox Creek meadow are getting bronzed by the cooling temperatures, and a few of the berries are ripe. The wildflowers are mostly done, though there is a good smattering of lupine and yarrow, a few paintbrush, and this rad yellow flower on a long stalk with rows of buds running up it. Each bud is actually a compound bloom of 4 or 5 little tiny individual flowers. {Name: Rainiera stricta. Uncommon alpine/subalpine flower, common name Rainiera. It is pretty prolific at Thorp, but given that it is in sight of what I assume is its namesake, its commonness makes sense.}

The shadowy side, where the flowers are still blooming the best. The Rainiera are the non-lupine spikes.

Two mistakes this afternoon. One that makes me sad: I mis-remembered how much gin I had left, so didn't pack up any more. Rationing is now in place. The second embarrasses me greatly. There was a fire called in by the public, down at Kachess Lake group camp. The legal location that dispatch gave was for the major campground on the west side of the lake, and holy shit, but there was a well-defined plume of smoke coming up. I have never seen smoke from the regular campfires down there, and that had to be it. So when there was some confusion just a bit later as to whether the fire was at the group camp on the east, or the one on the west, side of the lake, I got on the radio and said it was definitely on the west. Turns out, it wasn't, and that I can apparently just see the smoke from the campfires really clearly today. It makes me feel so damn stupid, that they're down there at the district saying that that damned new lookout thinks campfires are wildfires.

It's Labor Day weekend, with low relative humidity and high temperatures, and we are the only place in the state without a burn ban on. Maybe I'll get to call in something real, too.

Made redemption pancakes this morning, in my brand-new-used skillet. It was absolutely gorgeous, as far as Goodwill goes: I couldn't find any cast iron, but this was a brand-new non-stick pan. When I loaded it into my pack, with the other new pots, silverware, measuring spoons and cups and mixing bowls, I didn't think to put padding between it and all the other metal. Now it has 3 bare patches. Still, no pancake stickage. Pancakes made from mix at high elevation are so fluffy and light. At Sheep Hill, they fell apart as you ate them, the gluten/fat/leavening ratio was so off. Here they're just lovely.

I feel like a freshman in high school again, in trying to prove myself to dispatch and the district, and I have no way of knowing whether they think I'm a jackass, or a pain in the ass, or whether they think I'm doing fine. I'm also working with the disadvantage of knowing no one in advance, having no pre-lookout fire season to get to know the crew. If I'd had that, maybe they'd still think I was a jackass, but at least I'd know that some of them like me for who I am.

Five visitors and two dog disagreements before 9 AM! Whee. The next set of visitors gave me corn on the cob, fresh tomatoes and spaghetti, however.

We hauled water from the spring this morning, prior to all that. I checked out the stream above where the iron pipe (to make filling jugs easier) is stuck into it: the stream comes straight out of the hillside maybe 15 feet above that! I've decided to go ahead and just use it without filtering. I've drunk straight from it 3 times with no ill effects, and I'll still slowly up my intake, so that my body can vote yea or nay (hopefully) gently. It just seems sacrilegious to filter water for a lookout. I'm sure you'll hear about it if things don't go well.

On the way back up, I decided to try the possible shortcut trail we'd noticed. It was steep and rough, but well-established for about half of the way up, and then split in two and got much harder to follow in both directions. We just bushwhacked the rest of the way up on the left option. I believe it is the route the phone line followed, back in the pre-radio days, the 1930s and 40s. The phone lines would be hung up into trees with hooks that were designed to give when snow build up pulled the lines down. It was the lookout's job to follow the line in the spring, find the loose hooks, and climb the trees to re-hang the lines, so that they could talk to the district. There is a huge pile of old wire, and the occasional tangle of wire along the ground.

Today we took the right fork of the phone-line goat trail, and definitely followed the 'line' right up--we only lost it right below the lookout, where the trees got very thick. When the hand crew came up (prior to me) to open the shutters and cut some fire wood, they actually cut an old silver snag that had held the phone line. The bastard is chock-full of knots, I have no idea why they chose to cut it down. I'll never be able to split it. I'm hoping I'll be able to find some insulators, to add to my Crater Peak/Sheep Hill collection.

I finally mopped the damn floor. I had to hand-scrub every inch with a brillo pad to loosen the dirt before I could mop it up. It still isn't perfect, but it looks a LOT better.

Discovered today that what I was told about this being the southern-most active lookout in Eastern Washington was wrong. I am the only non-volunteer lookout, but Kelly Butte, which is slightly less than 20 miles to my SW, has volunteers staffing it, and so does Sun Top, which is 15-20 SW of Kelly Butte. I found out what repeater I can use to call them, and now I have a cross-azimuth in the south if I ever need it! Hurrah!

We've had just two visitors today, and I won't lie, I was dearly hoping for zero. I hope it happens.

Oy. There are mice in the attic, though they can't get into the cabin unless they were to drop through the hatch door when it's open, and that would be a 7-foot drop. However, I would rather not have mice anywhere in the building, so I set traps. This afternoon one snapped, so I climbed up there to discover the mouse had only gotten its front paw caught. I got it outside, as it struggled mightily to balance itself on the trap so that it wouldn't hang by its arm. I smushed its little head and put it to rest. So sorry little guy, that was not how it should go.

Soaring raptors, smaller, with long tails, the last few days. Flowers really fading now, aside from the few types that have just started blooming. Huckleberries in the brekkie oats today! It was a larger handful than last year, and there are more where they came from, though it's kinda slim pickings.


Lots of little birds all over the summit this morning. As usual, hell if I know what kind. Clouded over pretty thoroughly, chance of thunderstorms! It's shower day, and unlikely to happen now, so some lightning would be a great way of making up for it.

Only one batch of visitors so far today, but there were 20 of them! It was a youth group based in Seattle but with participants from all over the country, who do service projects in Africa. I took a group photo for them, and gave them a 'tour' of the lookout and the fire finder. Elli hammed it up, they loved her.

Can't see the tops of the cloud formations, but the bottoms look like they could throw some lightning. The air is very still. When it's like this, the corners of my eyes swear they see flashes in the clouds.

Elli has started picking huckleberries for herself, which is awesome. She's eaten a cherry or two, perhaps a raspberry, when we've offered them to her, but has never gone and decided to eat fruit straight off a bush on her own.

The main observation for today is that it is hot as hell. Sweaty-sitting-still type of hot, even with single-digit relative humidity. Never did get any lightning yesterday. No visitors yet today, but I'm waiting for friends to arrive! Jon and possibly Aja will be up later on.

The place I always hang my towels on shower day: probably not the best spot, but always the most useful!

Steak from Yelm, beets from Leavenworth, and potatoes from Rent's Due Ranch (our friend Dillon's family's farm) for dinner--heck yes. Sat up talking until midnight or so, sipping on tasty citron vodka.

Woke up with a minor headache, likely due to said tasty citron vodka. It was warm all night--I never shut the door, and that hasn't happened before. It was 75 degrees by 9 AM.

Jon went down to go fishing at the lake a while ago, so it's just me and Elli again, greeting the visitors. Visibility is poor, due to the heat and a large fire down by Goldendale. Yesterday I couldn't see beyond 20 miles, but it is better than that today. I baked chocolate chip cookies to serve as dessert, hopefully to trout.

Jon spent all day down there, said that the fishing/swimming/napping was just fine. He brought back 5 cutthroats and 1 triploid, all large. Baked long and slow with salt and pepper and sliceds onions, those trout were delicious. For some reason, I only took pictures with my phone. Well, I know why: my brother has been sending me pictures of these spectacular looking mexican dinners he's been eating down in Madras, OR. For a week. So I had to send him these dinners-with-Jon. Unfortunately, due to the desire to shovel the  trout into my face, I did not take 'real' photographs. Here's the moonrise, instead:

Very smoky today, due to the Goldendale fire and prevailing winds. Can't see far and the smell is strong, which always makes me nervous--it can really hide a fire that is right close. Jon left pretty early. It was great to have real company (and spectacular food), and it is always wonderful to return to solitude in my space. Aside from the 4 parents-2 noisy kids-1 dog-visitor combo this afternoon, of course.

Jon departs, with a much lighter pack.

Three decent fires are going up in Leavenworth. Sounds like a hay truck had a load on fire (thrown cigarette? probably.), and burning hay was flying off as he drove. Each fire is about half a mile away from the last, and they're scattered from the Tumwater Canyon to Chiwaukum. The middle one is prompting evacuations from Tumwater campground.

We have a report of a fire, in a landing pile on Keechelus Ridge, directly west from me, where I should be able to see it clearly. It's been an hour and a half, and the thing should be erupting, but I have been unable to see anything. So stressful. It helps that the crew has arrived now, and they haven't found anything, either. Confusing directions from dispatch, too: the road they say it is on, is not in the section they say it is in. I've just been scouring the entire ridge. My visibility is getting more terrible as the sun gets further west. This sucks.

The IC for Keechelus has called it a false alarm. Thank god. It's getting dark.

It's kind of amazing how fast time goes up on lookout, and also how much stuff fits into that time, especially the amount of mental adjustment. Even here, where I have had just a single day with no visitors. No real mental peace, but much calmer. This wheel of mountains has become known in its shapes, though features change with light and weather and time of day. A nice thunderstorm and some fires wouldn't hurt.

It's our fourth anniversary this week, and I am heading to the lowlands to see my sweetie.

29 October 2011

Thorp Mountain Lookout, Hitch I: Part II: August 25-29

There were possible thunderstorms predicted for last night--not a thing occurred, don't think there were even any clouds. Today, again, a possibility, and clouds have been trying to build in the south all afternoon. They get nice and high, look promising, and then fall back down. The weather has all been moving in from the south-SE today, which is unusual for here, but was the norm for ID.

My shoulder's feeling quite a bit better, still don't know what was wrong. I decided, well, I knew, that I shouldn't haul snow in the tote, so I made 5 trips with the largest pot and the bucket. There was something down near the snowfield that made Elli put her hackles way up and bark her ass off, when we first got over there. She eventually calmed down a bit, so that I felt safe enough to move down, while hollering "hey, bear" and such. Elli then scared the shit out of herself by bumping into a tree limb, and scared the shit out of me by barking horribly at it. What's great is I watched her back into the branch, so I knew what was going on, but her bark was so primal that it still startled me.

We also gave the heli-pad a haircut in advance of today's flight operation. Looks nice and tidy. The helipad is a patch of dirt with a few plants on it and a large H made from 2x4s. It sits right on the narrowest part of the ridge.

The helicopter and crew were supposed to arrive between 9 and 10 AM. At 1147, I finally got a call saying that the helicopter had arrived at the airstrip. Around 1230 the first load came in, Mike from Cle Elum and some equipment; the second load with two radio technicians and more gear; and a third flight with a sling load. Pretty exciting, all in all, especially since 6 visitors arrived at the same time as the first flight.

Mike sees the second landing in

The sling load gets dropped on the far side of the lookout

Bob, the older of the two technicians, was a really nice guy, and had been a lookout in a couple of places back in the day, including Square Mountain (or Square Top, I forget which, sorry Bob!), outside of Grangeville. He dubbed Elli "The Queen", because she just lay around wherever she took a liking, and didn't budge, even if she was at the foot of the steps everyone kept taking, or was about a foot away from the repeater as they wrestled with it. Mike, from the fire crew, was fun to talk to, too, he grew up in Naches, and volunteered all sorts of information that he thought I might find useful, from info about old lookout staff to how to arrange a sling load.

They were at it a long time, trying to replace the radio repeater and install 3 new solar panels, and didn't get to finish before the helicopter had to leave. Seeing as how it was the pilot's fault they weren't able to start on time, they were a wee bit miffed, and I'm sure that having to run another mission is going to kill their budget. For the time being, I have no power, outside of AA batteries. Heh.

Emmer (farro) and Cattle Drive Chili for dinner. Now that's a combo. Ancient grain (now grown again in the Methow), and Costco-bought canned food. With the addition of fresh onions and Tillamook cheddar, it was delicious.

I was pretty uprooted from what small sense of solitude I had fostered, by the time yesterday was over. I don't know that I'll be having any roof-top satoris or monkey-freeing heart releases this go-round. So many interruptions, visitors and so on, let alone the impending days off. However: it is beautiful; I've got almost everything I need, now that the boys brought in a mop and bucket; and fire danger keeps going up. All we need is some freaking lightning.

This morning, pancakes sounded really good, despite the fact I knew it was going to be a challenge. The pots and lid-pans are GSIs cheapest, thinnest type--the ones that are good for boiling water and being lightweight in your backpack, and not much else. I decided that if I kept the heat very low, to give the pancake's interior a chance to cook before the outside scorched, and used a ton of oil, to avoid sticking, that perhaps I had a chance of success! Nay. Burned in the center, stuck like cement all the way across. Couldn't be turned. So I covered it, to try and 'steam' the rest of it to doneness, which worked. I then scraped the whole mess loose, a pile of pre-chewed-looking pancake, charcoal-black to fish-belly-white with hints of gold. Real not good, even with lots of butter and syrup.

No, that's not a mess-kit plate, that's my frying pan, and a soul-crushing pancake

(Back-to-back, on the iPod: Lamb of God, followed by the Carter Family. Both from my boss and friend, Charles. Quite possibly more schizophrenic than my farro-chili.)

Had a mildly exciting fire this afternoon, behind Hex Mountain. It was called in by the public, followed quickly by the volunteer at Red Top Lookout. The radio made it sound like the entire Teanaway was on fire, but it only got to about two acres, at which point I could finally see the smoke plume from it.

In the midst of the fire kicking up, some hikers came up with two dogs, and Elli went down to play with them, which was highly unusual. Then one of the hikers said, "Hi, Betsy!" It was friends from Bellingham, Jenny and Ian, their son Abel and their dog Maddie, along with some Jenny's sister, niece, nephew and dog. How stinkin' nice to see friends! They brought me a peach and a beer, and left me half an avocado, too. Abel was much taken with the fire finder. Perhaps if he's lucky, there will still be a lookout or two active by the time he's old enough to man one! [Jenny and Ian took some great pictures of their trip.]


...and swiftly re-purposed into a drinking glass!

There is a race going on this weekend, the Cascade Crest 100-miler, of which Thorp Peak is the highest elevation point, and approximately the 80-mile marker. They started today in Easton, and the first runners should start coming through, and Elli should start going batshit, in the middle of the night.

The first racer came through at 1:30, and then they just came through every so often after that. Elli did pretty well. She went over to the door to bark at the first one, but after that she just raised her head and 'hwoofed' at them from the comfort of bed. Now that it's daylight and she's up and about, she decides on a case-by-case basis whether or not to bark.

The bulk of the racers came by noon, and I think they were cut off at two. There were around 80-100 runners. Had a few regular visitors, and they were rather surprised by the amount of company they had. Seeing some of the folks who had made it this far, I began to think that maybe someday I could pull something like this off. Should probably start off with 'normal' trail races. Or with actually running regularly.

It was hot and hazy and a little stir-crazy-making today. Had one weird spot clear down south on Raven's Roost, and never could make out what it was. [Never did, either, must have been a weird trick of the light between the Roost and the peaks behind it, because I saw it occasionally for the rest of the season, but it always looked the same.]

By the end of work I was so hot and sweaty and dirty (it's dirty here, Jenny helped me to realize that: it was rockier at Sheep Hill. The floor, the firefinder, Elli, and my feet stayed much cleaner there), that I decided we would go down to Thorp Lake. It was further down than I expected, which made me pissy in my already-grumpy mood, but there were columbines blooming, and the lake was gorgeous, set in nice open woods with big old firs and hemlocks and campsites. Elli went in shoulder-deep straight away, and stayed there for awhile. We then took a maze of trails into the brushy thickets on the east side of the lake, trying to get around it far enough to have a view of the LO. Had no luck with that, and got disoriented in all that scrub. Can't get truly lost, the lake is right there, but sure can get pissed about not having the easiest way back to the campsites. Elli was still happy as a clam, though, and tore around as fast as she could, making noise like a horse thundering along the trails. We hauled ass back up here, which led to me reconsidering that 100-mile trail race idea. Yeah, there is no way in hell. Just not necessary in this lifetime.

Thorp Lake

The sunset, which was accompanied by a delicious dinner of tuna salad mac and cheese: mac and cheese, tuna, onions, mustard, and pickles! Even crappy days turn out okay.

A helicopter is scheduled to come in again today, between 10 and 11. Hopefully they do make it that early, because I am setting off for the trailhead at 1500, ready to try having days off in the big city, if for no other reason than picking up some decent pots and pans, bowls, silverware, measuring cups and spoons, a mug and a can opener at Goodwill.

Welp, it's 1830, and I'm still here, and uncertain if I'll be out of here tonight or not. The heli crew came and went (and I have my very own solar panel and battery now!), again getting here later than scheduled and having to leave without finishing everything, but the larger reason is that we have a fire northwest of me, on Hour Creek. The fire crew is so small on Mondays that literally everyone from the station is out on it or assisting with it, and so there is no one to pick me up. It's been sunny all day, but cool, and clouds are starting to crowd on the western mountains now.

the view to the south, Little Tahoma just peeking in on the right

1930: I'm getting socked in. Sometimes I can see the sun as a perfect circle through the blowing clouds: beautiful. Brilliant purple-blue and silver-green lupine against bright white misty smearing clouds, with wind humming in the guylines for a soundtrack.

"Make lookout extraction a priority" was the order over the radio just now! They're starting to demobilize the fire for the night, and conveniently, someone can drive from the trailhead near the fire to my trailhead, to fetch me. 1938: Heading out now, see you in four days.

26 October 2011

Thorp Mountain Lookout, Hitch I: August 20-24

{Well, here goes. Once again, hope it's interesting reading, and not just last year redux. I am going to do this first hitch in two batches of 5 days, because I wrote a whole lot in those first few days.}

I was nervous as hell when I called in on the radio for the first time in 11 months. "Wenatchee, 3Delph." "3Delph, this is Wenatchee." " I am Thorp Lookout, and I am heading up Knox Creek Trailhead to open the lookout." "Wenatchee copies, have a great day."

And with that I'm back at it. Up the trail through a meadow, which was a long slog with my heavy-ass pack. Elli was hot, and kept stopping us both in the shade, which is a classic move for her, and smart. She still hasn't really shedded this summer. It was a quick hike up, with one brief peek of the lookout, way up above on a knob--but then we were there in no time, and without the usual "sweet jeebus, how are we not there yet?" that occurs on most lookout hikes I have been on in Washington. The hike was the easiest thing that happened to me today.

First view of Thorp Lookout: on the right knob

Twenty-five visitors today. That's what stands out as the #1 difference between this year and last. [I had 24 visitors at Sheep Hill, including 5 friends, all season.] I was a little tired and hungry after the hike up, and the state of the L.O. pretty much overwhelmed me. I couldn't figure out where to begin cleaning, and people are coming in droves, literally 15 minutes after I've arrived and seen the L.O. and the view from it for the first time (can see Rainier and Adams! Can't see Glacier. Are those the Olympics peeking out over there? Wonder what the hell the name of all those peaks are? Well, at least I know Stuart.) Folks start, understandably, asking me questions, about me, the job, the building, the view, etc, many of which I fake the answers to. Somehow, it's terrifically embarrassing to say that I only just opened the lookout. And Elli, who has also only barely arrived, seems to be fully aware that these are her digs, and pins the first dog we meet by his neck when he comes on the porch. Twice. Nice to meet you, sir whose-dog-my-dog-just-told-off.

I was so overwhelmed by the situation, mostly the cleaning/state of the lookout (mold--everywhere. Floor filthy. Woodstove so full of ash that the door won't close properly. Twisted sticks of firewood sprawling over the entire NE corner, from floor to window. No mop. No bucket. No cleaning rag.), and the fact that it's much less warm and cozy than Sheep Hill (no cabinets or drawers--two rickety and dirty shelves, and rubbermaid totes, instead. Propane bottles, rusty and dirty, inside the L.O. Floor covered by a gray coating, rather than warm 'wood' linoleum. Firefinder stand is bare old plywood, and the firefinder map itself is so old and faded that I'm worried about using it), and I was still hungry, so I got kind of shaky and felt like crying most of the afternoon, without doing so. I cleaned the mold off of every surface, moved the 3 extra propane bottles and all the totes outside, swept, organized the wood and moved a lot outside, wiped down and trued the firefinder, and started learning the peaks.

There's no screen door. So while it's wonderful to still have this many wildflowers blooming this late in August, it is absolutely horrible to have this many mosquitoes inside the lookout. Found the shitter, down the west ridge; it's not smashed, as it was thought to be, but is just a throne, so has no cover in inclement weather, though it does have a beauty view of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness peaks and Mount Rainier.

I've never seen Rainier from this angle, but it looks a lot like a mirror view of the one from Tatoosh, with Little Tahoma perfectly exposed. I can't see I-90, at least not without binoculars. I look right down on Lake Kachess to the SW, little white power boat tails all day, occasional motor sound drifts up on the wind. Thorp Lake is to the SE.

I think it'll be great here, but from the first night out's vantage point, I miss how well set up and equipped and clean good ol' Sheep Hill was. Ah well.

Five gallons of water hauled before breakfast! From the cache at the saddle, which the old lookout told me about. There's a bit more down there, too.

Effing burned my hand pouring water out of the shitty pot with the shitty handle into a shitty mug. The kitchen is sorely lacking in all sorts of things, and the few things that I have packed won't be up here for several more days.

One tote of snow hauled up here to melt, too. Starting at 0930 is great! I can do a bunch of stuff while it's still cool out, and just relax after work. Well, and relax, comparatively speaking, while I am working, too. Rearranged the N side of the LO. Cleaned up all the new mold and rust and rotted things that that exposed.

Well, the district ranger just made a sneak attack. Lots of visitors today (13 and 3 dogs by 1400), and then I meet a gal, her husband, and their dog name Carlie. Chat for awhile. She asks me my name, and then responds, "well, I'm Judy, and not to scare you, but I'm the District Ranger" (that is to say, my 'biggest' boss on the Cle Elum district). Maybe not scared, but got the adrenaline running, anyway. Another visitor was fun--her dog was aggressive, and she told me to put Elli away, and that she had pepper spray in case anything happened. Unclear if she meant she'd use it on her dog or on mine. Putting Elli inside is by far the easiest, for certain. The annoyance at being told what to do, at my own 'home', is still great. I won't lie, this visitor thing might make this unsustainable.

The mosquitoes are out of control. Elli and I are getting a little crazy. The natural bug repellent is with the gear not yet arrived. 100% DEET is not my favorite. Also looking forward to pillow/sheets, food, and gin. And books.

Perhaps a mourning period for Sheep Hill, since I can't seem to stop comparing the two. Mourn, then let it be, move forward. Not the first time my Cascades have had to win me back again. I'm here on a beautiful peak-y peak, with wildflowers erupting (in the end of August! lupine, paintbrush, yarrow, sulphur flower, heather, harebells, valerian, lousewort, columbine!) in an L-4 lookout that has been standing since the 30s. Rainier is big as life, the peaks are jagged steep sharp--and yet I miss Idaho so much it hurts. Instead of 3+ ridges to explore on walks, we have one, and it's full of tight little groves of alpine fir and mountain hemlock (my favorite tree!). I miss the open rocky sparse expanses with beargrass and the occasional wildflower or patch of heather and penstemon, that looked so desolate to me in the beginning, and the surrounding country so rounded off--but I miss it. The Frank Church's remoteness, its beauty, and the ease with which my eyes could roll over those mountains on checklooks. These peaks ridges valleys drainages will become familiar to me too, and I will know their names, like I knew Burnt Knob, Boston, Spot, Salmon, Sheepeater, XIII, Oregon Butte, Bargamin, Cache, Rattlesnake, Mallard, etc...most of those were strangers at first, too. But I had company during that first stage last year, and now I have shit-tons of unfamiliar faces asking me questions I feel I'm pulling the answers to out of my ass. And god knows, I hate feeling like I suck at my job. But I do have dear sweet Elli, who keeps comforting me, even though I feel guilty that her home keeps getting invaded and that she's a walking mosquito-feeding machine.

Smiley LE Dogg, comforter of the upset, upsetter of the comfortable 

Today involved hauling another tote of snow for water (the patch of snow is on the north side of the west ridge), re-doing the forest map on the side of the firefinder stand (there is no drop-down map), and unpacking my stuff! Four guys from the Naches crew brought up 8 boxes and a stuff sack, along with a roll of screen! They were the only visitors, too, thank god.

The "Pack String" leaves. Thanks, boys. 

It was a largely overcast day, with wind that started last night at dark and has yet to stop. Rain and socked in just before going out of service. Did all the dishes (I've been eating out of one pot, with one spoon, waiting for dish soap), excepting the ones I threw away for being irretrievably disgusting. Made mac n cheese with green chiles and sundried toms for dinner: discovered there is no can opener. Truly fucking ridiculous.

Have a fire going now, and Elli is sleeping with her head on my pillow. Tea in the morning and a real breakfast: oh boy.

I slept a lot better, with the fire going (have a leaky air mattress, not a real mattress or pad=cold sleeping) and a pillow. We went down to find the water source for this morning's walk. Not too far, it feels about the same or just a little further than last year. If so, it was more like a 1 1/2-2 mile round trip last year, too. A pretty little stream, which I have a hard time believing could make me sick (how naive does that sentence sound?!), I had a few handfuls of unfiltered water to drink, so we'll see. I figure that the simple fact that there are no less than four filters in the LO must mean something.

Built the screen door: YAHOO! No longer have to choose between solar-powered sauna and mosquito-induced madness! Hauled one more tote of snow, now have 15 gallons of snow water and 7 gallons of drinking water.

Had a nice after-work walk out the ridge with gin and lemonade (Betsy's Lookout Cocktail of Choice), and then sat on the rock outcropping west of the lookout in the falling sun and settled further into place. Comfort and contentment are finally starting to sink in.

Spotted first smoke this morning around 0900. It was really far away, but I called in the azimuth and my distance estimate to dispatch. Turns out it was around 40 miles away, past Ellensburg, and that a city or county fire department was responding. Still looks good, no matter what: at least I'm doing the job they hired me for.

In other news, I've jacked up my shoulder. Don't know what I did, but it hurts like a mother and I can't breathe properly. After a few hours of being careful, it was easing up a bit, and I was scoping where to hang the solar shower (Shower Day!). I slipped on a rock and flung my arms out to catch myself on a guywire, and it's much worse since then. Can't lift much, can't bend forward, can't lie back, still can't breathe, can't use left arm well, even though it's the right arm that's hurt. Don't know. I hope it's just a muscle spasm or something that will ease off. I do not want to have to leave, but if I can't haul water or anything else, well, I'm effed. Also, it's Shower Day, one of my favorite days, and my hair is greasy as hell. If I can't lift the solar shower, let alone my arms to wash my hair...meh.

Got a call from the Fire FMO, and he sounds great, kind, friendly, glad to have me here, and eager to help by sending up a mop, a bucket, and several cubies of water when a helicopter comes in to fix the radio repeater, probably friday. Hot damn, yo.

The evening walk ended sitting on another rock outcropping, looking back at my little lookout shack with the Stuart Range streaming behind, from west, through the lookout windows, and on east; surrounded by wildflowers. Laughing: this is exactly what a lookout "should" be, archetypal: light and mountains streaming through windows, beauty and brightness, wilderness and one little outpost of civilization.

Crows (or Ravens?: "If you think it's a raven, then it's a crow. If you know it's a raven, then it's a raven.") swoop and sail and cruise on the updrafts that push up Thorp's ridges.

31 August 2011

The Forest For the Trees

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

-Wendell Berry

I find 'impeded' to be an imperfect word, but it's true: those wide smooth rivers and streams just schuss by with whispers. A river, brook or stream filled with rocks and boulders and downed logs crashes and hums and roars and sings.

I wouldn't call my mental or heart state for the last 11 1/2 months "singing". I would call it screaming, more accurately, definitely at least crashing, but it felt more helpless than that most of the time. Downed logs? oh, yes.  What in the hell I'm doing with my life; what purpose it has, if I have to compromise so far on things important to me, or feel so useless and wasteful. Major case in point: life's work.

The one type of work I love takes me to another state, and leaves my partner in the lurch, holding all of our life up here, by himself, making me feel terrifically guilty, marring the perfection so far that I consider giving it up, and it's so hard on him that he puts up an ultimatum, later withdrawn: himself or the lookout.... What can I/should I do, at this point in my life, when I've done only work that makes me content, and is let go when I no longer enjoy it: be a grown up, make myself miserable 40 hours a week? Run away and join the office, as Mike Doughty once put it? Take on the work that is right here in front of me, but in no way feeds my soul? I seem to be pretty good at manifesting things that I want: when that lookout a state away was shut down and broke my heart, putting an extra crunch on my uncertainty of what to do with myself while simultaneously lifting the guilt of being too far away to help--within just a few months I managed to find my way onto another lookout, this one only 3 hours from home. It's still not practical, and only lasts a few months of the year, but still, it's a good sign--can't I manage to figure out something more useful, that makes me content, that is in Whatcom County, and also actually contributes noticeably to our shared income? Just to go one point further, while I'm wishing, how about it involving local food, my other major passion? I could still be outside and with the soil and air…

I am grateful for so many things, small and large, along the way, and feel that I am in the right place; but my sense of balance has been out of whack, and I feel more twitchy, negative, pessimistic and dislocated, dis- or mis- oriented, though it's not so much that the compass is spinning, it's more that I can't get my eyes to see it through the fog. More negative and pessimistic than I’ve ever been in this life, and that alone makes it hard to focus properly.

So, yes. Thank you, Wendell, for telling me that I am finding my true work, and my true journey. It is obnoxiously true, that when we are completely lost, then we are finding our own path the hard way, the most challenging way, and hopefully, the most fulfilling way. My path to this point has been one I drew for myself, and hasn't always been easy, but has never been this hard to see between the rocks and brush and trees. It is simultaneously comforting and frustrating to hear "yeah, all of that journey was swell and things, ya did good, kid, but here's where shit actually gets interesting, where you're gonna have to do the real work. I know that that back there seemed pretty real, but here we are, now, so get to it."

This here path is one of the sort through metaphorical mental, heart, and soul mountains. Here on the blog, I don't get into these terribly often, or at least not exclusively. Thanks for the companionship as I crash around in these damn willows and slide alders, looking for the path on the other side of the stream.

(thanks, Lansia, for the Wendell Berry; and thanks, Kristina, for reminding me that it'll get better, written wonderfully, complete with lots of curse words. it's the best way.)

{and apologies, especially to those who do google reader: blogger was having fits, and giving me fits, and part of the post was missing when it finally went up. here's (most of) the whole thing.}

07 August 2011

Packing Fer the Hills II

A week from yesterday, and I'm on the job. Days are filled with shopping, packing, planning, and doing things "one last time", even though that means a little less than last year.

The good news is, I have a lot less stuff this year. Part of that stems from knowing what/how much I do and do not need, now. And part of it stems from the knowledge that I can always get myself more of something if I run out. I am, however, packing more gin and candy than last year. Aside from steak, ice cream, and fresh fruit (which I couldn't really have anyway), those two things were what I most wished I had had more of.

Here's a quick tour through my crap, just prior to its being stuffed into motor oil and wine boxes, the preferred box size of muleskinners everywhere.

Green rectangle on the left is my lookout journal, worth thousands millions of dollars some day when I'm famous/dead? 

 Condiments and wee sprout jar.  

Starch, dry veg, dry fruit, nuts. 

 Canned goods, the edge of the bakery.

 Rest of bakery, dessert/candy pile, tea/coffee/lemonade. 

Reading List: 2011. The Good Life, The Dirty Life: back-to-the-land, decades apart. William O. Douglas: namesake of the wilderness in the northern end of Gifford Pinchot NF (my foresthomeland), aka, the WOD. The Lochsa (Lock-saw) Story: homesick-making for Idaho. The Ridgerunner: same. Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test: a re-re-re-read in advance of the release of the Magic Trip. Crosswords: can't effing believe I didn't bring any last year. Rest: blend of shoot-me-the-world-is-effed and ahh-reading-with-the-moral-weight-of-a-mud-fence. 

Something I left out of my announcement post is that being hired to this lookout was a twisty path. The very day I got out of the woods in the North Cascades from my trip with the WTA, I had a voicemail from my brother, telling me that Cle Elum was hiring for Thorp LO. I called and talked to the district; I was the only person who did, things were looking good as my application was going through. When all was done, two US servicemen veterans were ahead of me on the list, by default. I received a very kind call to let me know that while they liked my application, I wouldn't be getting the job. I was heartbroken, but okay, too--I had already made my peace with not being in the mountains, and was excited to be home all summer. Then, several weeks later, I got another call. Would I still be interested? Well, shit, yes! And with just one more 180-degree turn of life within a couple of months, I began the application process again. 

I have my brother to thank, again, for getting me into the line for this lookout. Thanks, yo. And as he said the other day, "The Delph fire dynasty continues." To which I replied, "That Wenatchee [National Forest] had better get its jockstrap and sports bra on, 'cause shit's about to get rad!" I am excited to be back on a Forest with my brother, even if we aren't on the same district. 

Other things, in addition to shopping, packing, etc, that I have been doing: picking fruit (raspberries, red huckleberries, salal berries, blueberries), making freezer jam with same. Seeing friends, playing cornhole, kubb, etc, with same. Eating tons of great garden goodies, including fantastic young potatoes. It's really the best of both worlds, this summer: Summer at home, and lookout stretch (assuming nothing else sets me back). Life is good. 

31 July 2011

El Gato Fuera de la Bolsa

Yesterday I let the cat out of the bag. A few people know--Devon, my boss at the cafe, our Neighbors Smithington, my brother. And on el facebooko yesterday, I told my co-Red River lookout and his wife, figuring that, since we have no mutual friends that have steady internet service, it might not show up for everyone. Oh, silly little me. So here you have it:

I have wangled my way into a lookout here in Washington for what remains of the summer (that is, what's left of the months usually assigned to summer, and fire, weather). Thorp Mountain Lookout is northwest of Cle Elum and Roslyn (made famous by Northern Exposure). At 5854', it falls just a wee bit below Sheep Hill's 8402'. It is even a little short by Washington lookout elevation standards, but is reputed to have such excellent views that it has been in service since 1930 or '31, and the existing L-4 cabin is the original. If this is the 80th anniversary year, well, how effing cool would that be?! I am curious to find out.

Thorp is also a hike-in, though as short as 2.5 miles, and will still involve a pack-string of mules to get my grub and gear in. Interestingly, it is nearly the same distance between Thorp LO and Seattle as between Sheep Hill LO and Grangeville. With the small difference of an interstate highway and a couple of million people in between, rather than backroads and a few thousand people.

What with the short hike and the 'easy' (by comparison) drive, and with the addition of 4 days off after 10 on, I will be coming off the lookout occasionally, too. Which feels like cheating. Hell, I could even save my laundry for town. I can have fresh vegetables. And more riesen candies, or gin, if I run out. If something is lacking, that allows me to do my job well, or take care of the lookout properly, I can hike out and fetch it, instead of putting it on the to-do list for next year. Whoa.

Of course, the short hike and easy drive (from Seattle, sweet jeebus) mean that I could also see as many people in a busy Saturday as I saw all season, last year.

My food and goods are starting to pile up, along with this year's reading list. My friends gave me some excellent reading suggestions last year, and I am quite open to hearing more. I'm very, very lucky to have the support of my boss (and good friend), Charles; and the support and love of Devon. The two of them had the power to say no, or at least make me feel very guilty about doing what I need and love to do, and they did not. Thank you both. I am very excited. It will be very different, in what feels like nearly every way. If it's interesting enough, and you all want to hear about it, I will share my gleanings again this fall.

Link to SummitPost
(photo courtesy of the WTA)

13 July 2011

Delicious Wodka!

So...to start off with something (not entirely) related, I have to tell you a story that everyone who's ever drunk vodka anywhere near me has probably heard at least once. It goes like this: My friend Jessica (whose awesome stuff you should love and buy, too), loves to say "Svedka...Svodka...Svedka...Svodka...", and it's particularly nice when you have someone else echoing Svodka when you've said Svedka. Its creation involved herself and another friend walking around town after having had a fair dose of Svedka Svodka, and now I can't see a bottle of it without getting that phrase in my head on an endless loop. It's really fun to say out loud, too. Try it sometime.

Anyways. I am here to tell you about my Very Exciting Venture, here recently. Not long ago, I discovered a blog, because she had discovered me. On[Blank] is written by a great and funny gal named Kristina. She had been having a similar dilemma to one I was experiencing: how to get rhubarb into one's cocktails with all of the rhubarb-y greatness alive and well, while not doing a baleen whale move to strain out the fiber? I have decided that infusing one's simple syrup with herbs and spices makes for some delicious cocktail-age (Even if you're making a mojito with fresh mint in it: steep mint in your syrup, too. Fantastic.). Fortunately, Kristina had done the hard work of figuring out that while you get some beautifully colored results when you go this route, it tastes enough like kool-aid that you should probably save yourself the hassle and just buy a packet of powder. She had had another fail previously, to worsen the pain of rhubarb rejection. I wrote to commiserate, when suddenly I had a {brilliant} idea: do with the rhubarb what I had done with spruce needles a few months ago: steep them in vodka. Which turned out to work. And is flaming delicious. So now she's trying the method with gin. Sounds fantastic, and I can't wait to hear how it turns out.

Without further ado, Rhubarb Vodka and Spruce Vodka:

I love just looking at the bottles.

So here's how to make some stuff yerself, if you want. Which you should, because it is SO EASY.

Rhubarb Vodka
3/4 cup Rhubarb, finely diced. Use the reddest bits you've got, for nicest color.
1-750ml bottle of decent Vodka 

-Place the rhubarb in a clean jar with a tight-fitting lid. Pour the vodka over it.
-Put the lid on and put it in a dark place, like a cupboard, but a cupboard you use a lot, so that you remember to:
-Tip the jar around to mix up the contents a couple of times a day.
-After one week of steeping, strain the vodka, and press the liquid out of the rhubarb if you're cheap like me. The vodka will be a little cloudier, though.
-Pour back into the original vodka bottle, or store in the jar, and place in the freezer for keeping. 

-You could probably use up to a cup (maybe more) rhubarb, if you want to. And you should certainly try infusing other fruits and vegetables at this same ratio.

Spruce Vodka
1 cup Spruce Needles, stripped off of the branch. Use mature needles, not fresh tips, and also use gloves.
1-750ml bottle of decent Vodka

-Place the spruce needles in a blender or food processor with some of the vodka. Blend the crap out of it. 
-Pour into a clean jar. Rinse out the blender/processor with the rest of the vodka, and pour it all into the jar.
-Put the jar into the fridge, and agitate it every so often. 
-After one week, strain the spruce out of the vodka, and then pour your pretty green vodka through a coffee filter.
-Pour it back into the original bottle or your jar and store in the freezer.

-I have had hops, chai, and coffee-infused vodkas using these same methods. All delicious.

I wanted to save this post until I'd come up with an award-winning cocktail containing the rhubarb vodka, but I've decided that's not completely necessary. I've been drinking it with a splash of ginger ale to sweeten it. Me gusta. As I told Kristina, it seems as though it would be delicious in a Cosmopolitan-type of drink, or with plain or basil simple syrup and soda. I'll have to find out. 

I drink the spruce vodka on rocks, or in a well-chilled thick shot glass.


24 June 2011

Washington Trails Association

A couple of months ago, I joined the Washington Trails Association. Given that I spent the majority of my "growing up" years here, loved hiking from a young age, the fact that the first year that the WTA started running trail crews was the first year I ever went backpacking, and the fact I believe in supporting grassroots programs that support things dear to my heart, it is truly shocking that it took me this long to finally sign up for a membership and a trail crew.

I won't lie, the number one shove to do so was the desire to be in the woods with a pulaski in hand, for any reason, this summer. After I had signed up for a trip on the Chancellor Creek Trail (to the East of Ross Lake) and another in the Tomyhoi Peak (near Mt Baker) area, I was so stoked that I ran around the house whooping excitedly to myself and Elli the dog. I was still hopping when I told friends about it at dinner, 2 hours later.

When the trip finally rolled around, I did get nervous, but not too awfully so: I'm plenty competent at backpacking, carrying and using tools, and am only your average amount of socially awkward; plus it was a volunteer situation. It wasn't like I could get fired, or would be scorned if I couldn't keep up with a bunch of freakishly swift and strong hikers.

Pulaski in my hand and smile on my face

Everyone turned out to be great--a good blend of personalities and backgrounds, from nursing to nuclear engineering; originally from New Jersey to originally from Mercer Island; and across the age run from 20ish to 60s-ish. Mountaineers, hikers and backpackers. Good stuff.

Our work was primarily re-establishing trail beds across slides, though we managed to get in a lot of brushing and log and rock removal as well. The trail starts at the Canyon Creek trailhead, just off of Highway 20, a few miles east of Ross Lake. I have used this trailhead for 3 different ventures now: Crater Peak, the Team I-Can't-Make-You-Love-Me-If-You-Don't 60-mile circuit hike (which is definitely worth a post), and now this trip. The branch we took cuts up into a more eastern drainage than the other hikes did, leads to the old town site of Chancellor, and provides a "shortcut" to Sky Pilot Pass. According to the Forest Service trail crew leader, Dan, who accompanied us for a day, the Chancellor Trail is the oldest trail on the district. It was used heavily by miners way back in the day, before any dams were on the Skagit River, and when the "road" upvalley from Marblemount was known as the Goat Trail. It was also the original location for the Pacific Crest Trail through these parts, before the PCT was moved over a little further east, to its current location.

The bridge at Cedar Crossing, on the way to Chancellor town site.

Fruits of our labor! The single one (in my hand) was the first one found. 
Once we believed, we found quite a few more.

                  The women!                               Old PCT Crest--been there a while

 An old mining cabin, and claim corner marker. 
Some mining claims have been grandfathered in, and are still mined today.

One of our slides, just as we began to work 

A honkin' rock: it took all five of us, in the end, to sit and push that thing off the edge. Trundling rocks down steep embankments to the river below was one of the highlights of the work.

A trail beginning to show... 

...And a trail at last!

Logs on trail...

No more logs on trail!!
The Wrecking Crew, AKA the Luckey Seven Trail Crew, because there were seven of us! 
Macken, Karen, Eric, me, Kevin. Not shown here: Mike, and the Artiste, Maria.

I had a wonderful time, and I encourage you to sign up for a WTA trail crew, or membership, or both, if this is your corner of the country. This trip was what is known as a Backcountry Response Trip, but there are lots of front-country, single-day trail crew outings, if hauling yourself into the backcountry is not something you're interested in or able to do. If trail maintenance is not your thing, but you'd like to support the preservation of Washington's trails, then a membership is an easy way to help. Here is a list of 2011s trail work schedule.

Many thanks to Mike Torok, the WTA crew leader, who led us, and whose photographic talents are shown here in all of the crew photos, that is, the last 7. More of Mike's photos and crazy adventures can be found at http://mtnmike.com/

28 May 2011

I Can See The Pines Are Dancing

Oh, oh, oh.

One year ago today I had been in Idaho for a week. I had just passed my pack test, and was already under the spell of Idaho's narrow and winding rivers, stands of lodgepole, and yellow-orange mud roads. I was learning new skills, making new friends, and learning the ways of a new place. False hellebore was 6 or 8 inches tall, everywhere; nothing much else was going yet, except a few late nodding glacier lilies. Hopes for morels were stewing under the surface, as well as hopes for drier and warmer weather. Amongst the crew, the prayers for a dry and lightning-filled summer were in hearts, and prayers for an exciting-enough, but not-too-overwhelmingly-exciting fire season was in mine--I was still nervous about sucking at my job.

I yearn to be deep in the South Fork Clearwater River canyon, following its bends and whitecaps downstream, and then to climb the Mt Idaho grade, looking down for the last view of the canyon before the land opens out onto the high prairie. I wish to be walking the dogs over and down the hill behind the house,  looping along the South Fork Red River, quiet and smooth in its rush; to the joining with the main Red, with a view from the bridge down the broad valley, its grass-filled bottom and aspen grove and forested gentle sides; along the road below huge Ponderosas looming on the cutbank above; crossing the Red again by the old Ranger Station, climbing back up Snob Hill to the old log house--a walk of perhaps 10 minutes. I miss riding in the Forest Service rigs, early in the morning with the crews, crossing the Mother Lode Road into Elk City for yet another interminable class, where I sit, trying to stretch my aching legs that have had more straight-up workouts in the last week than in the last 10 years. And riding with a truckload of favorite 20-somethings from the crew to Guard School, listening to music, talking and napping, driving through the rain and terrain. Looking out at fields tinted purple-blue above brilliant green, full of camas blooms, old wood and barbwire fencelines and wandering elk horses mules.

My brother will be leaving Idaho this year, too, as he takes a post in Central Washington on the Columbia River. He spent enough time in the Red River Valley to fall in love with its ways and grow fond of its ridiculousnesses, gain a comfortable existence, and have the relationship grow old, tiring and trying in ways, despite the love. But my time there is also threaded through with his presence: it was so terrifically awesome to live and work with him, and I miss that. I'm sad that he will be gone from the landscape, too.

I am fully mourning these things--my heart aches and tears fall when a memory rings too clearly or a smell, sight or sound hits home. Thoughts of the lookout do the same, but right now my mind is given over to the lowlands. Last year I couldn't wait to escape them and get to my post, but oh my good god, I wish I was there now.

cross-valley view, photo Jeff G.

this is an echo
this is the glory
this is the pounding of a midnight heart
this is the mountains
this is the lightning
this is the man pulling on his iron chains

this is the light that shines
and I can see the pines are dancing
this is the leaving of another love
this is the howling at the moon
these are the arms you fell into
I am a fire and I must burn today

09 May 2011


Well, I been slackin'. On writing, though not on much else. Gardening, website design and business start-up, work at coffee boat, and cousin moving in with us has been keeping me quite thoroughly busy. Then there's all the tasty wild food that comes back in the spring, and trying to keep ahead of the bread, yogurt, sprout, crouton, etc usage in this house. Anyhow, here's some of my gardening bits, with foraging at the end. 

I used one of our trusty April Brews Day tasting glasses to roll seed starting pots. Each pot contained a half sheet of the Cascadia Weekly (a 1/4 sheet of full-size paper). A swift google search of "newspaper seedling pots" will turn up a slew of slightly varying methods to end at the same basic thing. I can't seem to find the friggin' blog that was closest to what I did in the end, but here is a video that is pretty similar. It's really, really easy, and if you find yourself wanting to be all fancy-pants and actually start plants indoors, well, I don't know why any home gardener would pay for beautiful, non-renewable, unsustainable peat pots when they can have these for free.  

This close-up contains a photo (and tiny caption) of the Red Elvises, my friend Reuben's girfriend Holly's favorite band. Or at least it was her favorite band once. They made it as a bumper sticker on her truck, so you know that's good. 

I planted brussels sprouts, broccoli, thai and italian basil, delicata and zucchini squash, marigolds, and nastursiums, which met with partial success. I get over-eager to start things, and I didn't want to bother with a grow-light, so the brussels got leggy, and the basil got grumpy, but I transplanted the squash, broccoli and flowers out, and then planted some more stuff, seen here:

From the back: more leggy brussels sprouts, more thai basil, more regular basil, and napa cabbage. 

As I've alluded to in previous posts, though I will be sad not to be back in a room of glass at 8400', I am excited to be around for things this summer, like the garden. After some further thought, I realized that this will be the first time in five years I'll be around all summer long. As a result, things long left to make do have been updated. For instance, we finally made the biggest bed a raised bed! It contains 40-year old fence boards from our friend Steve's farm;  homemade soil from a really nice guy named John, in Alger, who I met by chance, in a bar in Conway when I had been stood up by friends; and composted horse manure from down the road. I even bought two soaker hoses, eh. (I can't find a clip of my favorite Strange Brew moment, where Bob is in the beer tank with Pam and it's being flooded with beer and Bob says, "Me and my brother always said that drowning in beer would be like heaven. But now he's not here, and I got two soakers, and this isn't heaven, this SUCKS!" So here's another favorite, instead. Also, for clarification, my two soakers don't suck.)

Under the buckets you'll find the squash and broccoli, trying to make do with what sun and warmth they can get. Down in front, being dwarfed by the rhubarb (which makes me feel better about how small everything else is), are the peas. 

Some of my flowers, which do just fine without me. Better,  actually, seeing as how I just learned (literally, yesterday) that if you dead-head daffodils they don't bloom again, at least not for a year or two. I should have no blooms next year, and I'd wondered why lots of them didn't come back this year...

And now for some foraging. Salads with cat's ears, dandelions, bittercress, sheep sorrel, salmonberry blossoms, miner's lettuce, and oso-plum leaves (which taste like bitter cucumber). Roasted dandelion root ice cream. And, of course, nettles. This year I only ate a couple of nettle meals before the plants shot up and flowered: savory steel cuts oats with cheese, sausage, herbs and nettles; grilled salmon with garlic-sauteed nettles, and I had a taste of this nettle pesto (I gave it as gifts to our fisher-friends, Joel and Tele, and to John, from whom the garden soil came.).

 Stinging Nettle Pesto
(variation on Fat of the Land's recipe)

2 cups steamed or blanched Nettles (a witch's britches bag 2/3 full, fresh), squeezed well and chopped
1/2 cup Asiago cheese, grated
1/2 cup Roasted Cashews (used because they're what I had on hand, though I would have used walnuts or almonds first. I don't like pine nuts as much--for basil pesto, either. 
2-4 Garlic Cloves
1/2 cup EV Olive Oil
1 T Lemon Juice
Salt and Pepper

-I steam the nettles, for about a minute, and then drain and squeeze them dry. Save all of that delicious broth, to put in soup; or gulp down, still standing over the sink, like I do most of the time. 
-Put all of your ingredients in a food processor (you can start with half the oil). 
-Whirl, until blended. Add rest of oil, adjust seasoning, and whirl again until it is a consistency you like. 
-To store, I wrap about a cup at a time in plastic wrap, making a nice square package, and then put it into a ziploc and freeze. Langdon's (brilliant, particularly if you have extra trays) method is to dole out the pesto into ice cube trays, freeze, and then pop the cubes into a ziploc. Then bust off a corner, or pull out a cube, to swirl into pasta/sauce, over fish, what have you.