Brave Woman

Adventures of a future nurse-midwife


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Posted by Lucille on December 23, 2012 at 6:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Travis's home continually made me question whether I had fallen into a parallel universe. Artifacts from every aspect of my life seemed to be swirled together in one collage, in the manner of dreams. I think of my family as being fairly unique, and so it would be lying to say that it wasn't spooky, walking through this house for the first time. Things I connect exclusively with my mom were mixed in with shamanic tribal art like my dad's, interspersed with pieces from France and Africa, and musical instruments of every shape and size. We even had the same dishes. I had been nervous about meeting his parents, but they were absolutely wonderful, open and welcoming from the start. They loved telling stories as much as my parents do, and the more I learned about their family history, the funnier the similarities seemed, and I couldn't help laughing when, again and again, they said things I think of as momisms and dadisms, with the exact same intonation, and then made the same inside jokes. It was unreal. The incredulity went both ways, as I knew where things went without trying, and things Travis explained as weird family traditions made perfect sense to me. Nervousness vanished and was replaced with gratitude as I felt right at home.

       Part of the motivation for visiting during this part of the summer was that Travis's parents were getting a puppy, and needed someone there to take care of it during the day. (Flashback to my days as an overenthusiastic first grader. Ooh! Me! Me! Pick me!) And so the last piece of summer was filled with sunshine, Battlestar Galactica, day hikes up to Monkey Face, and a fluffy, wagging puppy tail. If it could have lasted forever, that would have been just fine with me.



Posted by Lucille on December 21, 2012 at 1:05 AM Comments comments (0)

While Travis attended a private family event in Berkeley, I met up with my dad and brother at my uncle's for a day of kayaking. What fun! I was told I paddle like a dragon boater, which I can't deny. My brother and I followed squirrels along the shore, and almost got bowled over by rough waves on a couple occasions. I think that was his favorite part.

Back at the studio, my uncle asked each of us to pose for a picture.

The resemblance between my dad's and brother's pictures was absolutely eerie. If this isn't proof of genetics, I don't know what is.

Crater Lake: Day 3

Posted by Lucille on December 20, 2012 at 6:10 PM Comments comments (0)

As we were heading back up toward the rim, we came around a corner to see this.

They didn't seem bothered by our presence. The two does grazed absent-mindedly, while the fawn pranced about, amused and bewildered by the world. We stayed and watched them for close to an hour. As wonderful as being in the wilderness is, these kinds of encounters, the moments that you couldn't plan if you tried, are where the true magic of backpacking, and living, comes from. In Travis's words, "God is what we can't predict."

       We eventually made it up to the rim, and found a sign marking the place where Crater Lake was 'discovered'. The story, as I heard it, is that John W. Hillman was out looking for good places to mine for gold. He got to the top of the mountain and was shocked to see a deep, azure blue lake filling what he thought would be the peak. He ran back down the mountain, and yelled excitedly to a young Native American man and his mother that were passing nearby.

       "What is the white man saying?" the woman asked her son.

       "He is saying that there is a lake on the mountain," he told her.

       The old woman rolled her eyes. "Well, yeah. He could have asked."

       It's thought that the Klamath Tribes were living on the mountain even before the lake existed, and that some of them actually witnessed the event, judging by oral stories about the day the mountain exploded. A portion of the visitor center is devoted to the Native Americans' customs, and the sacred role the lake played (and plays) in their way of life.

       The lake itself is enormous, and as beautiful as John W. Hillman described. It's no wonder it was originally named after the incredibly blue water. Little boats go to and from the island, just dots from the height of the rim. And oh yeah, don't forget, you're standing on the edge of a volcano.

Crater Lake: Day 2

Posted by Lucille on December 20, 2012 at 5:40 PM Comments comments (0)

We kept a steady pace through desert woods and the eerie landscapes of recent wildfires. Remembering how a thirty person class could struggle to hold a discussion in school, I was amused that two people, in this place, could keep an intriguing, detailed, and down right funny conversation going for hours. We reached camp in early evening and made a campfire. Maybe we shouldn't go back to school at the end of the summer. Maybe we should just go from park to park, indefinitely.

Crater Lake

Posted by Lucille on December 20, 2012 at 2:55 AM Comments comments (0)

Driving into southern Oregon was like stepping out of a fog as my valley-sheltered eyes adjusted to the open sunshine in every direction. And though it was July, the light sparkled off banks of snow along the road to the rim of the lake. We went through the visitor center. The trail went lightly downhill, winding through trees and over creeks. We passed a number of people on the way, including some who had been hiking for months, doing the Pacific Crest Trail. The sun was still high in the sky when we reached camp. We took the time to make real food (spaghetti) and relaxed for a while. I was gaining confidence using the camp equipment, and after Olympic, this felt like luxury backpacking. We were still very much in the wild, though, judging by the number of small mammals that came snuffling around our tent that night.

A Brief Sediment About Geology

Posted by Lucille on December 20, 2012 at 1:25 AM Comments comments (0)

While we were up on one of the peaks in Olympic National Park, I noticed a chunk of sedimentary rock right next to a piece of basalt.

     "Hey, look! I think this mountain range might have been formed by the collision of an ocean bottom with another tectonic plate," I said moving my hands in the motion I learned in sixth grade. "What kind of fault is that again?"

       "Convergent," Travis answered, even though he hadn't studied geology in just as long. When we got back to the ranger station, we found out we were right. My little brother has the same sixth grade teacher I had this year. I'll have to remember to thank him next time I see him.

Olympic: Day 3

Posted by Lucille on December 19, 2012 at 10:20 PM Comments comments (0)

The third day was purely magical. The trail was overhung with pine trees and springy, and followed the river for miles.

       Though I have a complete draft of Heart of the Forest, and have been intending to edit it for ages, the truth is that I haven't touched it since high school. Here, though, that whole world erupted into life inside my head, every bit as vibrant and detailed as I left it. Vivid scenes and entirely new subplots wove together effortlessly, and together Travis and I crafted characters, battle scenes, and gripping dialogue. From there we debated every aspect of politics we could think of, and when we realized we were going to hit camp before noon, we stopped by a log to cook and talk for hours. We set up camp in the early afternoon, then left to play in the river, chase each other through the trees, and climb through the network of roots and branches between the campsites. We ate dinner with a couple of Berkeley grad students and made a campfire and told stories late into the night. The next morning, we loaded up the car and drove back to Portland, and though I was more than ready for a real bed and a proper shower, all I could think of was hitting the trail again.

Olympic: Day 2

Posted by Lucille on December 19, 2012 at 8:55 PM Comments comments (0)

We awoke in an alpine clearing next to a small lake, and learned, as we packed up, that the footprint we had seen was actually from our fellow hikers' (the group of college guys Travis had asked for directions the night before) affectionate husky. We hit the trail an hour or so after them, and climbed down stunning mountain landscapes, even passing a few bear prints and moose scat here and there. Wherever the trail became unclear, we looked for prints from their puppy. The trail leveled out to a narrow ridge for a ways with jaw-dropping views to either side. This was to be a shorter hike than the day before, and we had started out hours earlier, but we kept a steady pace nonetheless.

This turned out to be a very wise decision. My legs were shaking long before the trail finally turned down, descending the mountain we climbed the night before with switchbacks that were less steep, but this time made of rocks. We had just finished a conversation about how humanity has yet to invent a fully functional artificial ankle, and I was terrified that if my legs shook at the wrong moment, or a rock moved, I would fall down the hill with the weight of my pack on top of me. Pain jolted up through every joint in my body every time my heel dropped onto unstable rock below, and I was moving at a snail's pace. I can work through pain like blisters and sore muscles, but this was a skeletal pain I couldn't ignore. I had soon taken a full dose of every kind of pain medication we had, but I still lagged further and further behind. 

       Travis urged me onward regularly over the next several hours. We could actually have made camp along this trail, but we only had enough food for three nights, so we kept pushing, with Travis trekking along ahead of me, and me trying to both step as softly as I could and not fall behind. If I could go back in time, I would shake myself out of my mantra of 'one step at a time' and tell myself that it would be worth it to go ahead and take a double dose of something, wait for it to kick in, and then make up the lost time once I was not in pain. But I slogged on, and with regular encouragement from Travis, we made it to the second camp in early evening.

This camp was just as beautiful as the last one, on the bank of a stream that, judging by the boulders twice my height that lined it, was a raging river in the winter season. Right now, it was icy clear and a jungle gym of smooth stone. I finally agreed to take more pain meds, and was suddenly happy as can be. We played with the husky for a while, then set up the tent, made dinner, and started getting ready for bed. As I was starting to dream, Travis rolled over and asked if I was still awake.

"I feel bad about something, and I can't get it out of my head. I know it's stupid, but I think I'll feel better if I tell you. I caught myself thinking "Get over it" a number of times today. Now I know that you were doing the best you could, and that I was only impatient because I didn't want to be out after dark like last night, so every time I thought it I turned around and said, "Come on, you can do it!" instead. But I feel bad."

       I laughed and kissed him. "I forgive you. And while we're being completely honest, I should probably tell you that every time I answered by saying, "Okay," and trying to go faster, I was actually thinking "Screw you," even though I knew I was only crabby because I was in pain and that you were just trying to help."

       He smiled. "I knew it! And you're forgiven." We were silent for a few minutes. "What are you thinking?" he asked.

       I hadn't realized until then that I had fallen into dark thoughts. "The whole month that you were in California, I worked out as often as I could, trying to build up my strength so I could keep pace with you. But I'm still slowing you down. I know it's not my fault, but I'm still sorry. I don't know... I imagined backpacking being more about just being out in the wilderness, and less hurrying to make it to camp before dark."

       He thought for a minute. "I'm stronger than you. That's not something to be embarrassed about or ashamed of, it's just a fact. I've also been backpacking a lot more than you have. And I can tell you, this is one of the hardest trails I've been on. Not the hardest, but it's certainly a lot harder than I thought it would be from the map, or I wouldn't have chosen it. And just because I'm having an easier time than you, don't think for a minute that I'm not impressed by how well you're keeping up. Besides, we're done with the hardest part of the trail. Tomorrow we can go at whatever pace you want."

       "Really?" I asked, "I thought it was about the same distance."

       "It is," he said, "But it's level."

       I felt a wave of relief go through my body at the thought. Apparently my expression was funny, because he started laughing and pulled me close for a hug. I blinked, and it was morning.


Posted by Lucille on November 15, 2012 at 11:10 PM Comments comments (0)

We got to the trailhead early and set out through lush temperate rainforest, surrounded by the smell of fresh rain and soil and trees. The first few hours were a rich blend of creeks, mossy veils, and the sounds of wildlife, and the mandatory initiation experiences of backpacking: getting blisters, having a stranger come around the corner while you're changing a tampon, and slipping in the mud. I tried to accept these joyfully and focus on the wonder of the forest. We kept a brisk pace, though we occasionally stopped to explore and take pictures of the white slugs and salamanders dotting the edge of the trail. Here and there we passed footprints of either small moose or very large elk, and even a few that, since they were too small to be bear, I guessed were from a cougar. When we had been hiking for four and a half hours and thought that we ought to be hitting camp any minute, we passed a couple heading back to the trailhead and asked them if the camp was just around the next bend.

     "Goodness, you haven't even passed the waterfall yet, have you?" the woman asked. "Believe me, the hike hasn't even started. Honey, do you think they can make it before dark?"

      He glanced at his watch, then looked seriously at Travis. "Hurry. I'm not kidding. GO. And I sure hope you have flashlights with you!" he called after us as we nearly ran down the hill. There was a waterfall with a bridge around the corner, with what looked like a near cliff on the other side. So that's what they meant.

We stopped for a snack, to put on moleskin, and take a picture, and then set out full speed up the mountain.

Ten switchbacks later, I was panting for breath, and every muscle in my body felt like it was on fire. I stopped for a drink, and Travis prodded me back to my feet. A few switchbacks after that, he stopped to catch his breath, and I urged him back onto the trail. The burning in my limbs turned to acute pain, so we both stopped to take ibuprofen, and plowed further and further up the mountain. Dusk fell, and the white slugs adorning every tree appeared to glow like stars. We started debating the option of stopping there and making camp, but the hillside was too steep and rocky on either side for that to even be possible, and the idea of running into wild predators worried both of us. We took turns convincing each other that the only option was to keep going.

       Half an hour later, I had stopped wondering about the practicality of making camp along the trail, and was worrying instead about my sheer physical capacity to keep going. Travis was around a corner, out of sight, when suddenly a young woman appeared at the bend, running toward me. The truest thing I could say about this woman is that she made no sense. She was gorgeous, simply dressed, didn't appear tired or even sweaty in the slightest, and had no supplies--no map, no light, not even a fanny pack or pockets. She was running back the way we had come, hours from the ranger station. And in the few seconds that I saw her, she gave me a radiant smile and said softly, "Keep going. You're only 18 minutes out. Just keep going." And then she ran past me and was gone.

       I rounded the corner and found Travis white as a ghost. He grabbed my shoulders. "Tell me you saw her too."

       I nodded mutely. "She didn't make sense," I said between breaths.

       "I know. Eighteen minutes, is that what she told you, too? We can make it."

        And by god we were going to. I took out a headlamp and marched up the trail, overtaking Travis after a few minutes as I followed my little halo of visible path uphill. Exactly eighteen minutes after we passed the woman, Travis saw the shadow of a tent off to the side, and stopped in relief to ask which campsites were open. He then looked around for me and realized that I hadn't stopped, but was quite a ways ahead, charging into the black. I didn't realize I had passed camp until I heard him calling after me.

       We used flashlights to find our way to an open site on the edge of a misty lake. "Threes," Travis kept repeating as we erected the tent, "The human body's needs come in threes. Three minutes without air, three hours without warmth, three days without water, three weeks without food. In that order. Now lets get you warm." He put me in the tent with a sleeping bag and every coat I had. I tried to protest and offered to help, but he wouldn't hear of it. "You'll be cold in a minute, just wait."

       I really had been warm while we were hiking, but within a few minutes of stopping, my sweat-drenched clothes felt like ice against my skin and I was shivering so hard I struggled to zip the sleeping bag. I watched Travis's outline through the tent as he set up the camp stove and started boiling water for dinner, wondering how he wasn't freezing to death, and telling myself that if I ever wanted proof that he loved me, this was it. He passed me rehydrated camp food and a mug of hot chocolate and then climbed in the tent with me. We ate in silence, and I swear it was some of the most delicious food I'd ever tasted. "Who do you think that woman was?" Travis asked as he climbed back in from moving the bear kegs away from camp.

       "No idea," I said.

       "She didn't make sense. She was running away from camp, in the dark, with no supplies. And she gave us an exact time."

"I don't know if angels exist," I said, "But if they do, we met one."

       Travis zipped up his sleeping bag and rolled closer to me.

       "We made it." I said, "We didn't get eaten. We actually made it."

       He lay my head against his chest. "Ssh. Sleep now."

       I was more than happy to oblige.


Posted by Lucille on November 15, 2012 at 11:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Travis's mom called as we were loading the last of our bags into his car, getting ready to drive down to Mt. Lassen and start our trip.

       "Hi, Mom."

       "Honey, are you in Lassen?"

       "Not yet, we're just getting ready to--"

       "Oh thank god. It's on fire."


       "The whole forest-- It's on fire. They've got crews in there trying to get the backpackers that were in there out. Zero percent contained, and they're calling every volunteer firefighter in the state--"

       We stood there open mouthed for a moment, thanking our lucky stars, and decided it would be a good idea to NOT go to Mt. Lassen National Park that day. We stayed in Portland an extra night and made some new plans: to spend a few days in Olympic National Park, up in Washington, stop back in Portland to recoup, then go down to Crater Lake on our way to Berkeley. Allons-y!