28 July 2012

...and for this summer's adventure(!)...

Well, once again, I thought I was going nowhere this summer. Months ago I learned that Thorp Lookout would also be shut down due to federal budget cuts, just like Sheep Hill the year before. Had I actually been keeping up on making posts, you would all know this already. This, and a good pile of other things. Like how I've been running races. And worked for the WTA again back in June. And went to Mexico for a little while. And have been river rafting and camping with friends a good deal. Et cetera. But I digress.

Once again, I was looking at a summer in which I would be home with Devon the whole time, would take proper care of my garden, would go backpacking all August and September long. Until about a week or so ago, when I was invited to become a deckhand on the good ship Nerka, trolling for salmon in Southeast Alaska. A few quick maneuvers later, I'll be flying north on Monday morning for about a month.

I have spent a wee bit of time living on a fishing boat in SE AK before, though it was a seiner which had been retro-fit for kayak tours, and I was the chef/host/deckhand. I have a good steep learning and muscular growth curve ahead of me, but the dearly beloved Joel and Tele will be excellent teachers, I have no doubt.

So there you have it. I am in the midst of a flurry of preparations, so this is a short update. If you have any inclination, I would highly encourage you to visit Tele's blog, and let her beautiful writing tell you about being a liberal-as-hell Alaskan, fisheating vegetarian, tough as nails woman, in what is largely still considered a man's world. Here's one of my favorite posts, From the Galley: Conflicts of the Feminist Fisherman, though I recommend exploring about.

All right, suckers, you'll hear from me on the far side.

11 April 2012

Of Wolves and Men

This post is about an issue that I've been thinking about a lot, and I don't know how well I'm going to say what I want to try to express, but I'm giving it a go anyhow. I debated leaving out name-specifics, because while I would like to have lots of people read my blog, I don't want to inadvertently cause myself to receive hate mail from people I don't know, and I figured that leaving out one key search-term might spare me the internet-searcher-visits. I did the initial post that way, but have updated it since.

I don't know if you've seen the image, but it's out there, and with a bit of googling, say "wolf", "trap", "Idaho" and "controversy", it will turn up. The man in the photo was my boss on the National Forest in Idaho, the photo is absolutely appalling, on a variety of levels, and even after reading a wide assortment of articles last week, it continued to bother me. As in, standing under the water in the shower, staring at the wall blankly, kind of bothered me. If I was honest with myself, I could say, truly, that if it wasn't someone I knew and respected greatly in that photo, I may not have even read the story, and wouldn't have been as quick to give the benefit of the doubt. I would have been pissed, and appalled. My knee-jerk liberal self probably wouldn't have read into the situation as thoroughly, if it hadn't have been for the fact the person in the photo made it personal.

A couple of days later, in a continuing attempt to reconcile how I felt, I was talking it over with a friend of mine who has also lived in Idaho (but for 6+ years, rather than a few months), and would therefore have a mental picture platform to begin from. I ran through the basics: 1-the picture is horrible, with a wolf on three legs in a trap and a circle of blood soaked snow, Josh smiling in front. 2-Josh was legally trapping wolves in Idaho, on his own time. 3-the picture and story were put onto an anti-trapping website, and the writers received a death-threat, which is when things really hit the big-time. 4-the wolf's paw was caught perfectly in the trap, so its physical discomfort was at a minimum, though its mental state could be conjectured, by anyone with a dog, as distraught. 5-the wolf had been shot with a .22 by some kids, and left to suffer before Josh arrived. 6-I think trapping is completely out of date, in this day and time, and that wolf hunting is completely unnecessary and does not sit well with me ethically, but both are completely legal in Idaho. 7-Josh is now the unfortunate poster boy for an ethical shitstorm, and is receiving death threats himself.

When I ran through things that time out loud, it finally occurred to me, I couldn't be conflicted with what had happened in this situation. Even if I didn't know him, this hunter had legally done something in his home state, had taken an exceptionally gut-wrenching photo of himself with his prey, which was alive and suffering at the time of the photo, and had hunter-gloated about his trophy on a hunter's forum. None of these things are against the law, and I couldn't conscionably be crying for his blood in repayment (not that, in this case, I had wanted to).

Granted, knowing this hunter gave me slightly more peace: Josh loves to fish and hunt, and is utterly at home in the woods, including when they are on fire. These things make him a skilled man at what he does. I know the parts of his character that make him a strong commander: excellent leadership, strength, fight and judgement, along with insight and wisdom to make decisions that make for an iron-wood strong fire crew whose lives are in capable hands.

But blaming and accusing Idaho wolf trappers in general is, as my brother said, like hitting a wasps' nest with a stick. A bald-faced hornet's nest, if you're knowledgeable about your winged stingers. Pointing the finger at them is to rile up a pile of the knee-jerkingest gun, hunting and personal rights folks in the nation, outside of Alaska. And outside of going against another part of the population's morals, they aren't doing anything wrong. It's the laws about trapping and wolf hunting that need to be changed if anything is going to change at all. Sending death threats, whether to anti-trapping activists, or to hunters who still trap, is not generally the best, or most effective, way to evince change. Who knew?

16 March 2012

Obligatory St. Patrick's Post, with recipe!

Though my favorite color in high school was green, I unintentionally never wore green on St Patrick's Day. This always kinda cracked me up. At some point, blue became my favorite color instead, and these days I have to work to look "festive". Not that this lack of greenness has ever bothered me unduly, being an Aquarian: I don't even want to be like the herd, let alone feel like I should be*. Heh. I still love the color green, it just doesn't enter my wardrobe much.

Somewhat similarly, I rarely, if ever, make corned beef and cabbage for St Pat's. I love corned beef, and also cabbage. This year, I'm going bananas. Hemplers corned beef, colcannon made with our own 2011 potatoes, and Mssrs Jameson and Bushmill in the house (this last isn't terribly unusal, other than the simultaneous residence). Plus, black bottom cupcakes made with Guinness, recipe courtesy of Sweet & Stout, a Spokane-based center of beer-and-cupcake-flavored Awesome.

They suggested an irish cream frosting, but I decided to put some Bushmills and vanilla straight into the cream cheese top half. I do believe I likey.

Guinness Black Bottom Cupcakes
adapted from Sweet and Stout
makes 12+ cupcakes
-Preheat oven to 350F.

Top Ingredients:
8 oz Cream Cheese, softened
1/3 cup Sugar
1/4 tsp Salt
1 Egg
1/2 tsp Vanilla
2 T Irish Whiskey
-Cream cream cheese, sugar and salt together. Add egg, blend well. Add vanilla and whiskey, make it all nice and nice and smooth. Don't blend everything together at once, like I did, against my better judgement: the cream cheese will be slightly lumpy, no matter the beating you subject it to.
-Set aside.

Bottom Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups Flour
1/4 cup Cocoa
1 tsp Baking Soda
-Whisk together in a large bowl.
1 stick Butter, melted
1 cup Stout Beer
1 tsp Vanilla
1 tsp Vinegar, white or cider
-Whisk together in a small bowl.

-Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients, and stir until just combined.
-In lined muffin tins, put the bottom blend, and top with top blend. Swirl if you like, or allow them to crack themselves up in the oven.
-Bake at 350F for 18-22 minutes.
note: I had plenty of batter, and if I were a different person, I could have stretched this into another 6 cupcakes.


I have mentioned how I am not a food photographer, right?

*This lack of greenness never bothered me from a point of 'genuine' Irishness either: while the wearing of the green is far more traditional than green budweiser, they both usually carry about the same depth of meaning, here. Once you get into genuine Irishness, well, it's a church holiday. Then I back off again and enjoy drinking some whiskey and listening to some tunes:

07 March 2012

Comforting food.

When friends die in an avalanche, and you're heart-sick and sad and cannot believe it's true, even after weeks have gone by. When the empathetic pain for the still-living partners and wives and friends of the passed lays you low and sticks with you even stronger than the original loss. When your stomach is grumpy. When you have no energy to do anything. When you're getting punched in the oves by your own uterus (or, I suppose, you've racked your own nuts somehow). When you're hungry, but grumpy nerves and heart and stomach and oves need something soothing. Tapioca Pudding. Warm or cool, it makes me feel a little better.

You can use instant, quick, small or large tapioca pearls: whatever. If not instant, soak 2-8 hrs, depending on your patience:apathy ratio. You can also add more milk fat if you want to, substituting half and half or cream for part of the milk. If you go less than whole milk, though, the final product will be waterier. 

Tapioca Pudding
serves 4, or you 2-6 times
1/2 cup Tapioca Pearls, soaked as per your needs, or instant
3 cups Whole Milk 
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 cup Sugar
2 Eggs
1-3 tsp Vanilla (up to you, eh?)

-Combine your tapioca, milk, salt and sugar in a pot. Bring to a simmer, stirring often to constantly. Simmer 5 minutes.
-Beat eggs in a separate bowl. Slowly temper eggs with hot milk mixture: dribble hot milk into eggs, whisking or stirring extremely well. This equalizes the temperature of the eggs with the milk, without scrambling them. 
-Put the whole deal back in the pan, and over medium heat, stirring constantly, "cook til thickened". If you under-cook it, no worries, your pudding will be a little thin. If you over-cook it, you have scrambled eggs, despite your careful tempering. Basically, if you feel like it's just about to simmer again and your spidey-sense is telling you you're about to screw it up, then it's probably perfect. It'll be a nice pudding-y consistency, too.
-Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla. Eat some warm. Put the rest into a bowl or bowls and put it in the fridge. -Eat as breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner. 
-Love those around you.

10 January 2012

Crafty Christmas; Holiday-related events

Hope your holidays were swell--ours were, not only because they were relatively stress-free, but also because preparations for them dragged me out from under the depression whose apathy dragon had scorched my will to do anything in life. The fact that it took me until yesterday to post the final 'episode' of lookout life was but one small bit that got run over, first by grey-toned misery and then by holidays. I didn't seem to be alone in this, however: disturbingly/comfortingly, two of my favorite sources of laughter were in the same boat: Hyperbole and The Bloggess had been in deeper than I was, and close friends said they had been feeling much the same way. 

So Anyhways, let's get down to the neetty greetty. I made a bunch of stuff. It wasn't a plan to be all homestyle or anything, it just worked out that way. I always make my own cards to send out, with a message revolving around peace:

This year it was an origami dove and Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind". Are the lyrics 'how many deaths does it take till he knows, that too many people have died' too strong for seasonal cards? I don't think so. 

I knit two hats, one for Devon's brother and one for their mom's boyfriend. I took pictures of neither, but let me tell you, they turned out great. Both were made out of really nice wool, one in charcoal, and one red. I lined the charcoal one with windproof fleece, as the boyfriend is thin and always cold, and works in construction. Unbelievably, having knitted hats for 14 years, it was the first that has ever received that treatment. This website is full of all sorts of knitting nerdery, including the method I used. 

The leader of the handcrew on Fire in Cle Elum gave me the inspiration for the gift for my brother. Tim is known for his 'creative' project shirts. If you're working around something on fire, you wear a yellow nomex shirt and your green nomex pants. If you aren't working with fire, then it's best to have a long sleeve 'project' shirt that can get hammered with dust and bar oil and saw chips and dirt. Tim chooses exceptional frilly mauve shirts, and sweet western dress shirts, and so on, while most people wear a hickory, or just an old button-down of some kind. He will send me multiple photos in the winter, of his project shirt scores from the racks of Goodwill. At any rate, handcrew leader, also known as Jason, wore a custom yellow nomex on my final day of burning that led to my creating this:

 The contrast fabric is an old pair of nomex pants, so technically he could wear this on the fireline. Which was the point, that he could be 'dapper' at all times.
 I impressed even myself with this project. It was fun.

Next, I wrapped some presents, in the trademark Betsy-uses-the-scraps-of-last-year's-paper fashion:
 Also visible in this photo is our Christmas decoration. Singular. 

Then I set the table. I'd like to say I hand printed the napkins, but I didn't. Oh, Little Rabbit, from the Willamette Valley, did.

After Christmas, we went on a roadtrip to see the rest of the family. Our first stop was in Seattle with friends, then to Cashmere to see brother Tim and his family, followed by Weston Oregon, where Devon met Grandma Delph for the first time and was suitably impressed with her awesomeness. After that, we headed down the Columbia Gorge, with a stop at Full Sail Brewing and a 6-mile hike at Multnomah Falls.

That's a loooong drop. The view from the top of the main falls. 

 I was warm in my middle regions but cold on top, so I made use of my sweatshirt in a creative way, I felt. 

Following our swift hike, we headed on to Vancouver to stay with Devon's brother, and then back home. It was a lovely little vacation. So there you have it. January thus far is keeping me busy and the dragon at bay, what with bookkeeping and taxes and tank cleaning and other business-y business, and there's plenty on the horizon. Happy 2012!

09 January 2012

Thorp Mountain Lookout, Hitch III: September 17-26

Well, I gave my first dish the "Kajsa Treatment", so named for her dishwashing procedure when she was on Sugarloaf Lookout a few years back. I had made fried taters and onions with chili for dinner, all in the non-stick pan, which I would usually just wipe out with a paper towel. I let Elli lick it first, and then wiped it with a paper towel, and put it back on the shelf. Not quite the same as Kajsa's dog-licked and wiped dinner plate, but it has now happened, all the same.

A lot of visitors, for a rainy-ass Saturday. Most of them were from Seattle, and probably figured it would be dry over here on the east side of the mountains. Heh. I actually built a fire and made coffee after we got up here today. Reading, crosswords, and baking bread. Rainy, no-visibility days are kinda nice in a lookout. It's now a quarter after seven, and I already have the lantern turned on. Dark because of the clouds, sure, but also because fall is a-coming.

You know the weather's crappy when Elli Dog doesn't even want to go outside to pee, let alone her (usually) much insisted upon morning walk. This is when it is good to be a lookout, though. The poor wilderness rangers, who slept out all night in the rain, now have to pack up their tents and continue on their trail itinerary. "It's pouring along the [Pacific] Crest", says Ranger Morrow over the radio. Ayuh. It's pouring here. So, especially against that comparison: I am in a room with a (mostly) leak-less roof, a warm wood fire, a propane stove ready to make me another cup of tea or coffee, perhaps a batch of muffins. I have little to do but tidy up, read or write. Spoonshine is on the ipod, singing about Anacortes. Along with a bonus: I can collect rainwater off the roof that is suitable for cleaning and dishwashing. I don't have to haul it anywhere. As well as the fact that visitors are unlikely.

Tonight Idaho and the Frank Church-River of No Return started creeping into my psyche again. That sense of being in a place more primitive, rougher, plainer, closer to its original state is hard to describe. The Cascades feel softer, prettier, their much more jagged peaks and edges rounded down by the sheer volume of human presence and effect, if not yet by erosion. In reading The Ridgerunner, I feel more immediately connected to that landscape of northern Idaho than I do when reading about Hardy's Tatoosh or Snyder or Kerouac's North Cascades. The landscape, the towns, and the feeling of the place is still much more the same, here in the 21st century. The word 'lookout' somehow means something different in Idaho, like 'space', and 'smokejumper' and 'wilderness' do too. All in a way that is, again, hard to quantify, but rougher and more original, more genuine to what it meant in decades that have now gone by. Of course, I miss the hell out of the crews and overhead in the Red River Ranger District fire crew, too. 

The sky is clearing, blowing fog has opened out to show us Thorp Lake and the base of the peaks to the north, as well as Jolly and Humerus peaks in the east. The sun has shone in brightly enough to cast shadows for wee stretches of time. It's a beautiful day, and I'm relieved to have a view again. Plus I'll have all sorts of water dogs {the bits of water vapor left behind after rain, that often look a lot like smoke, and keep you eyes sharp} to mess with my mind in their ephemeral way. I have yet to check the rain gauge today, but with a possible inch of rain since Saturday, no lightning, and no one in the woods because of rain, it is extremely unlikely to find a fire. But my hopeful eyes will be latching onto the odd water dogs, ever optimistic.

What a beautiful day. It cleared off slowly but steadily, and now we sit on the rock outcropping NW of the LO, each of us in a perfect curl of rock for repose and reflection and observation; me with a gin and lemonade, and Elli with perked ears. An elk bugling down in No Name Basin. I'm storing up the sight of long and golden rays of light on amber-green trees for winter; balm for the February gray.

Crystal-clear this morning, and a nice inversion over Kachess Lake and the I-90 valley. I think inversions are my favorite weather show, outside of raging electrical storms.

I had one visitor, a guy from the WTA, who I had talked to on the radio several times over the summer, and relayed messages for when his trail crews were near Paddy Go Easy Pass and Deep Lake. He was a nice guy, fun to talk to, and gave me goldfish crackers and a delicious plum. I will always be a fan of those gifts. Just before he left, another person came hiking up the trail. It was Devon!

Devon blew all other gifts that hikers (including friends who've brought in amazing troves of goodies) out of the water. Two thick T-bone steaks, a head of lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, an avocado, an acorn squash, jerky, pepper sticks, cheese, crackers, half a dozen eggs, a pound and a half of bacon, a fifth of vodka, a partial fifth of whiskey, and the grand finale, presented with much fanfare (and understandably:) a mini-keg (1.3 gallons!) of Widmer Hefeweizen, complete with 2 lemons. Holy crap. We shall dine like kings.

It's marvelous having Devon here. He likes it just fine. We went down and hauled water before breakfast, with Elli running beserker laps up and down the hillsides. She still seems astonished that he's here. For breakfast? Eggs over easy with bacon and toast. Perhaps mundane, but not at a lookout. I miss fresh eggs a lot.

I had what I am still relatively certain was a fire! We were about done with breakfast when a big cloud pushed out from behind Amabilis Mountain. It looked like a water dog, so I discounted it at first, though I couldn't help thinking of the time last year when Indian Hill LO and I could both see what looked like a water dog and turned out to be smoke. And just like today, the one thing that made it very odd was that it was the only water dog in 360 degrees of sight. As this one dispersed, it didn't act like water vapor, it acted like smoke. A few minutes later, a column of 'smoke' came up in the exact same spot, so I called in a smoke report. Dispatch sent an engine out, and they spent all day looking, but never found it. The fact that I couldn't see the base of the smoke is largely to blame. When a smoke is behind a ridge from my viewpoint, it could be on that same ridge, or it could be several miles behind it. Couple that with tall timber blocking sight distance on the ground where the crews are, and it gets tricky. The engine went to the wrong spot on Amabilis initially, which didn't help either. The last column it put up was at 3 PM, and I haven't seen it since. The crew never saw it at all. My best guess, if it was a false smoke, is that it had something to do with the construction on I-90. I can see the dust, further west, where all of the blasting is going on near Lake Keechelus, for instance. But that's dust.  This was smoke. Or something else that caused distinctive blue-white puffs and columns to be sent up and not disperse easily. {I still have no idea what it was. There wasn't an asphalt plant in that area, and no RVs caught fire. Mystery.}

This morning I got a call from the boss. Sounds like the plan is to shut down the LO on Monday. The handcrew will come up, cut some more firewood, help drop the shutters, and back-haul all the junk that needs to go.

The hawks and ravens have been giving an awesome aerial show. The ravens execute barrel-roll after barrel-roll into the distance, and the hawks display their expert sailing and gliding, with the occasional dive-bomb after the hot-dogging ravens. Good fun.

We got up this morning before the sun, and made oats with fresh honeycrisp apple and cinnamon. Hit the trail right about 7, to hike Devon down to the trailhead, help him get his motorcycle all geared up, and most importantly, be sure he was able to get going. The clutch cable broke on his way up here. At a little after 8:30, he fired it up, got a running push down the road, hopped on, and jammed it into first gear. Hurrah! He's got to make it all the way to Seattle, shifting with no clutch, and without stopping, even for a traffic light, but at least he's on his way alright. Then Elli and I started back up the trail, pushing hard to be back at the top before it was time to clock in. We made it in 50 minutes! A definite record for the summer. Got a call from Devon, and he had made it all the way to his friend's house in Greenlake, only breaking the law once or twice.

The weather forecast for Monday's shut down is looking suitably shitty. These things are never scheduled for good weather. Twelve sets of muddy boots should make a handsome mess out of the floor.

I've known that the firefinder map is old, but I discovered it is forty years old. No wonder it's freaking nearly useless. The Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and a lot of its trails, are missing, as well as perhaps half of all the logging and Forest Service roads. I've been relieved more than once this summer that I didn't have more fires. Between the ancient fire finder, the hard-to-read district map, and the inexplicable lack of USGS quads, I would have been effed. Sheep Hill's firefinder map was old, too, but its entire area was wilderness, where no roads, let alone freeways, exist, and trails are minimal.

This is where the season's ending gets sad, and real. A low-pressure cold front has moved in, due to last all week, so I've likely already seen the Olympics, Adams, Rainier and possibly the sun for the last time, without getting to say goodbye.

Cookies are in the oven for the crew, and food is sorted into 'staying' and 'going'. Packing done, just need to tape boxes. Beans and farro on the woodstove for dinner. It was windy last night, with hail, rain, and none of the hoped-for and forecast lightning. Cleaning is done, firewood is stowed. We have had fog, pouring rain, and brief breaks without rain or wind. Tomorrow, despite all hopes, still looks to be miserable.

It is snowing. This is awesome, and I say that only partially sarcastically, because I may not have had any lightning and few fires, but being snowed on still makes it feel like an official lookout season. It was freaking freezing last night, even with the fire going. Elli must have been cold, too, because she came up onto my bed,  snuggled against me under the sleeping bag, and didn't move for hours. For a fidgety, independent dog, this is impressive.

{The crew got here, and they were soaking, and miserable, as is completely understandable. We said screw it to cutting firewood, and took turns going out to wrestle with the shutters and other chores in the blowing sleet. Freaking terrifically miserable. The lookout has mold problems, have I mentioned that? I've been careful to dry it out and clean it up as well as possible. Having 11 wet people and one wet dog trying desperately to stay warm, steaming over a fire just before sealing up a building is an unfortunate thing. At least I understand now why the floor was so filthy and things were covered in fuzzy white, green and black mold when I opened up.}

I thought of this season, in the beginning, as a sort of practice run for next year, because this one would be so short. I thought I'd figure out what is going on up here, learn the peaks and creeks, find out how things work on the district and the forest, and figure out what the lookout needs to be fixed up. That's pretty much exactly what it amounted to, with the lack of lightning and fire.

I don't think that the number of visitors will be something I can deal with for a long-term post. I had 181 visitors, which does not include the 20 Forest Service staff, Jon or Devon, or the 100+ racers. (Again, for comparison: I had 19 public visitors last year, 8 Forest Service, and 5 friends.) That, coupled with the days off, makes for a very different experience. The story of Gary Snyder writing the District Ranger at Marblemount and asking for the remotest hardest-to-reach lookout possible is exactly up my alley. I was even sad last year, when I didn't get the more remote LO I had applied for in Idaho. Ah, well. The fact that I am immensely lucky to be a lookout, anywhere, in this day and age, is not lost on me, and I can definitely handle it for a while.

I'm packing 'er in, again. Thanks, Thorp.

The Rest of the Season
I stayed on the district until the end of October. We did a lot of prescribed burning, and a lot of it was in the rain. I got to know what was left of the crew, and grew to appreciate some of them greatly, including a guy I had taught swim lessons to as a kid, years ago in Packwood. I spent a sizeable chunk of time in the office, creating the check lists, operating plans, inventories and forms that the lookout should have had to begin with. I got to go out with a Silviculturist and walk a huge part of a contracted thinning operation, on a beautiful sunny fall day. I spent one day with the Geologist, meeting the crazy miners of Blewett Pass, and seeing some of the damage that has been caused by mining in Swauk Creek. I stayed, the whole time, with my good friends Helen and Aja, and their newborn baby Anna, and their cat JonesyLee. I felt immensely lucky to spend that much time with them, and especially at a time when such huge life change was going on. Anna is one great kidlet. This here life o' mine is blessed.