Category Archives: people

Riding on a Cloud

IMG_4356I went to see a great show at On the Boards last night. OtB is known in Seattle as the premier presenter of new theatre and dance works. Riding on a Cloud, by Rabih Mroué, fits squarely in the modern theatre category – featuring a single ‘actor’ seated at a table with various props (a cassette machine, a DVD player, a stack of DVD’s, some paper notes, a glass of water) and a large video screen. The piece seemed simple at first, even minimal, yet revealed its complexity in very satisfying ways.

The work plays on the balance between fictive and real narratives, the precocious nature of memory, and the problem of representation. Yasser, the ‘actor’ plays himself on stage (thereby frictionally representing his ‘real’ self, as everything in theatre is fiction), occasionally wandering away even from his role as himself to observe the audience. The audience tries to determine what is true versus fictional in Yasser’s narrative, which is presented through a series of DVDs he plays throughout the performance. It’s telling that after 20 minutes of performance we learn that the DVDs are made in the wake of Yasser’s traumatic brain injury, the result of a sniper’s bullet during sectarian fighting in Lebanon (a true story, as it turns out). The DVDs are footage created in response to a real event which dictates the dramatic action of the show, rather than the other way around. We learn that Yasser has difficulty with representation – he is unable to create relationships between objects and photographs of the same objects, even photos of himself. The show is full of things which could be true, and some which might not. Other things are only hinted at, and then revealed over time – these reversals highlight the tension between the dramatic narrative and the nearly silent actor on stage, who’s story is represented only through media – otherwise he exists only as he is, somewhat charming and a little bit injured.

A Brother’s Tale, the New Yorker review of the show, does a good job of situating the work in it’s national and political context. I found myself more interested in it’s exploration of our relationship with language and representation. Creating our personal narrative – our portrayal of ourselves to others, is our most significant act of representation. This practice often hinges on language, our most basic tool. When we share our experience with others, we depend on language to bridge the gap between us, to ensure the continuity of our experience, to reassure us of our assumed truths. These are narratives that we depend on being true – our memories, relationships, our personal history and moral code. Language and (Bataille would argue) sex are the only hope humans have of overcoming our inherent isolation.

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My x-ray after brain surgery – the result of a bike accident, I was in a coma for 12 days. The last thing I remember was having dreadlocks (I hadn’t had a haircut in a decade)… imagine my surprise at waking up unable to speak, fully intubated, and with a rat tail. Also, my business partner at the time had press released my injury to the Stranger, and while I know not to read the comments, my moms did not – which caused her considerable anguish – and overlays another layer of ‘unreality’ on a very surreal situation.

The experience of the traumatic brain injury (TBI) brings into sharp focus how narrative is plastic, flexible, and often uncertain. A sufferer of a traumatic brain injury, I experienced aphasia similar to what Yasser describes. The radical shift aphasia engenders is a restructuring of language, which in turn drastically shifts how we understand our relationships with others and ourself. I relearned how to speak, the names of things, and beyond that, redefined my relationships with people. Or more accurately, taught myself to believe the stories people told me.  If we can not assume that any narrative is true, then even memory becomes an uncertain and slippery thing. I had the hardest time connecting to close friends, where I could not connect emotionally to the narrative they presented – I felt cut off from intimacy, alienated and alone. Retelling stories of people around me, including my own, eventually allowed me to reconnect with myself and others – to recreate myself in my own image – yet for me the certainty remained that I was a completely different person before and after. For any survivor dealing with aphasia, there is a very real and continual question about what is true versus what is believed, and there is no clear way of distinguishing which is which. I have spent years trying to dovetail these two competing realities, sometimes more successfully than others.

Ultimately, Riding on a Cloud is a dark but uplifting show, addressing heavy issues with poignancy, humor and a genuine and interesting voice. Yasser becomes a poet after his TBI – after his loss of language he sees through the broken words to discover the most direct and beautiful phrases. His life, along with the framing of his personal narrative through the device of a theatre show, are victories of identity over insecurity. His story, whether true in whole or in part, allows us to examine our own stories. Yasser’s overcoming is an affirmation of personal narrative, revealing the inherent validity of our struggle for identity, the value of our own stories and the importance of telling them.

Farm to Table


Harpo and i have been fortunate for the last couple of months running into work-for-stay opportunities where almost all of the food consumed is grown on the property. Out at MAHA Farm & Forest in Whidbey Island, we also get to check out the local farmer’s market scene. MAHA works the South Whidbey TILTH market, which is one of many small farmers markets that pop up around the island during spring and summer. It’s a pleasure to see people so exited about food grown by small local producers – to get exited about food at all, especially pesticide-free, non GMO crops that are grown a resonate driving distance from where they are consumed. And it encourages MAHA and other small producers to keep up the good fight through the community support and money they garner at these events…
It’s cluing us into another way of living. One that was always below the surface during our time in the city. Better food, less stress, and communities that feed and support their members. It’s something Harpo and I have worked towards through secret cafes and giving and sharing food and celebrating our lives together. But it’s interesting too move ever closer to the source…

Trip Report for Lake 22: spring fever

The snow-free basin, photo as seen from the foot bridge - photo by dk

The snow-free basin, photo as seen from the foot bridge – photo by dk

Northwest School of Mystical Hikers Trip Report
Lake 22 (Mountain Loop Highway, WA)
March 29, 2015
6 miles (including lake loop), 1350 ft elevation gain
Hikers: Harpo, dk, 3D

3D and Harpo at the Trail Head - photo by dk

3D and Harpo at the Trail Head – photo by dk

Harpo Sez:

It’s been so beautiful in the NW with very little chill and even littler precipitation this winter. Thus we decided to take an early trip up to the Mountain Loop Highway and check out this old favorite – Lake 22.

This trail is delightful. Beautiful and well maintained. Little streams are running steady throughout the trip, and there are several little creeks crossing the trail at time, providing gentle obstacles to jump over or hop through. The path is nicely graded and even though it was a Sunday and the parking lot is full, the trail rarely seemed congested.

After about 2.7 miles of mild climbing we came to the lake and there was zero snow. Expected, but sadly, still a little shocking.

We easily traversed the boardwalk all the way around the lake, stopping for a coffee break next to the boulder garden where there is typically snow and mud.

The way back was super breezy and fun loving with these beautiful people…

Susan (3D) and dk sitting where there is usually snow this time of year - at Lake 22 - March 29, 2015

3D and dk sitting where there is usually snow this time of year – at Lake 22 – March 29, 2015

dk tests out the chrome dome - photo by 3D

dk tests out the chrome dome – photo by 3D

View from our coffee break spot - photo by dk

View from our coffee break spot – photo by dk

hand mudras - photo by 3D

hand mudras – photo by 3D

stylin' rain gear - photo by 3D

stylin’ rain gear – photo by 3D

lots of streams - photo by dk

lots of water – photo by dk

Panorama of Lake 22 - photo by dk

Panorama of Lake 22 – photo by dk

FOR COMPARISON’S SAKE… here are a few photos from my archive. This is what Lake 22 looks like in winter. Often some of this snow stays until even May or June… but not this year.

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A trip to see the mystical lady – Mount Rainier

Pika is Harpo's Spirit Animal

Pika is Harpo’s Spirit Animal

Mount Rainier National Park – Mowich Lake Spray Park Loop
Distance: 17 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,273 feet
Date: September 5 – 7, 2014
Hikers: Groucho & Harpo + Kate & Doug
Duration: 3 days, 2 nights

Harpo Sez: Thank you thank you thank you mother nature for providing so much unimaginable beauty. Last weekend we enjoyed the absolute privilege of tagging along on a 2 night trip with Groucho’s sister and bro-in-law who had secured a permit to backpack in the Mount Rainier National Park. These buddies are the best. They not only did all the trip planning, they also are a kick to hang out with. We love them a lot. The itinerary was a 17 mile loop over 2 nights. We began at the Mowich Lake Trailhead Friday afternoon and headed south, just 2 miles, to camp at Eagle’s Roost for the first night. We got to camp mid-afternoon which provided us the leisure setting up, then taking a short afternoon side-trail (about 1/2 mile roundtrip) to Spray Falls – a gorgeous waterfall ending in a rapid river. We cooled our feet in the glacial water and told jokes in the sunshine.  After dinner at camp, we hiked back toward the trail head about 10 minutes, to a viewpoint of Rainier that we had passed on our way in. In the surreal dwindling sun, the mountain looked like a postcard backdrop. Her power is epic and her magic so obvious when you are so close. Right before dark, the moon began to rise, seemingly right out of the mountain’s tip-top.

From our campsite at Eagle's Roost it was only a 5 minute walk to this side trail to the majestic Spray Falls.  - photo by Doug Cox

From our campsite at Eagle’s Roost it was only a 5 minute walk to this side trail to the majestic Spray Falls. – photo by Doug Cox

Glasses selfie

Sun glasses selfie taken while soaking our feet

Big Lady

Big Lady in waning sun

Lovely people

Gorgeous people

Saturday we woke to tackle the 5 mile journey to our next campsite, through the celebrated Spray Park and Seattle Park. We began with a short but hefty climb 1600 feet or so, but once at the top, we were rewarded with relatively flat terrain, very well maintained trails, consistent and ever-beautiful views of Rainier, and the joys of the flowers, meadows, rock morraines, snow fields, bugs and cool streams that make up the Spray Park trail. At Seattle Park we were graced with a far-distant view of mountain goats, and some nice big rocks to take a lengthy snack break.

Spray Park - photo by Doug Cox

Spray Park – photo by Doug Cox

Super beautiful meadows full of flowers (and mosquitos) - Photo by Doug Cox

Super beautiful meadows full of flowers (and mosquitos) – Photo by Doug Cox

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Kate leads the way through the snow field

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Umbrellas = sun cover? or clown show?

On our descent to Cataract Valley (our next camp) we began passing prolific huckleberry bushes which we collected for later use in Groucho’s new alpine purple drink concoction (recipe coming soon.) At Cataract Valley Campsite we set up our tents next to a Talus field populated with adorable and noisy pikas. When alarmed, pikas make a call that sounds like a high pitched “beep”. They are alarmed a lot. Groucho decided that he wanted to go trail running, and set off to knock off another 7 miles or so. I climbed up the talus field to hang out with my new pika friends and knock out a few chapters of Star Trek Unification.  Kate, Doug and I enjoyed some lengthy social camp time – hanging out, chatting, eating huckleberries – a luxury that I only recently realized I so rarely provide myself in our thru-hiking-style backpacking. Groucho returned at dusk and we ate our cold-hydrated ramen, watching the pikas scurry around gathering greens and berries for their dinners. We went to sleep with pikas still sounding their little beeps into the night.

Our relatively secluded camp at Cataract Valley had ample room for our tents, plus! a pretty view of a talus field. Pikas provided entertainment all evening but they were too quick to photograph. - photo by Doug Cox

Our secluded site at Cataract Valley Camp had ample room for our tents with seating for lounging and social time. – photo by Doug Cox

The next day was our biggest trek of the trip – 10 miles back to the parking lot… first dropping 1500 feet down to Carbon River for 2 miles where we said farewell to Kate and Doug (they had planned to stay at the Mowich Lake Campsite this last night, whereas we had to get back to the city.)  After the initial descent, we traversed several flat miles along the river passing scores of Sunday morning trail-runners. Then we turned up the mountain to face a rigorous 3.6 miles to Ipsut pass gaining several thousand feet of elevation. Though difficult, the climb was pretty – traveling through wet, green forests with questionable mushrooms and berries everywhere. Eventually we popped out of the trees and spent another half hour switching back and forth up the mountain side to the pass. For the second day in a row, I was grateful for our umbrellas as sun protection… it was too hot to keep sunscreen on! The last mile down from the pass to Ipsut Lake was cool and shaded. When we got to the lake we found a short path to the lake shore where we took a refreshing dip (30 seconds tops) and then hiked the last 5 minutes back to the car. Gorgeous weekend, gorgeous views, gorgeous people. Thank you Doug and Kate for planning this trip and inviting us along. I completely recommend this itinerary for anyone who is interested in a leisurely, beautiful, 2-night backpacking trip. The 3.6 mile climb to Ipsut on the last day is the hardest part, but it’s all about the big finish, right!? While it’s tough, I do think it is manageable if you take plenty of breaks and pace yourself. The other days are fairly easy with grand rewards.  (For athletes or thru-hiking types – the round-trip 17 miler would be a great challenge for a day hike – but if you have the time to spare, you might as well get a permit and say out a night. You can see from this map that the Ipsut Campsite and Carbon River Campsite are both adjacent to other trails where you can get in a few more miles if you just aren’t tuckered out enough when you get to camp.)

Trekking between Spray Park and Seattle Park we encountered a few short snow fields. (Groucho and Harpo sport their sunbrellas.) - photo by Doug Cox

Trekking between Spray Park and Seattle Park we encountered a few short snow fields. (Groucho and Harpo sport their sun-brellas.) – photo by Doug Cox

View more of Groucho’s flicks from the trip including the moon rising out of the mountain

Cats I have loved

Returning from the AT last winter, the idea of signing a lease, or even making a ‘permanent’ home seemed impossible.  Having work obligations around Seattle, we found a grand solution – house sitting.  I love it – it’s like getting to see a portrait of people’s lives, the way the envision themselves – expressed through funky or nostalgic tchotchkes, beautiful and/or totally inappropriate furniture, wild book collections, pleasing artistic arrangements and collections,  and most interesting of all – beloved pets.

Since January we have house sat for over 14 residences. Here are (just a few) of the cats I have loved:

This old gal was a real pal.

Nona – This old gal was a real pal.

Shoehorn communicates. Loud and proud. He lives amongst the most beautiful antique furnishings and sleeps on the dining room aloft a lovely, home-knit blanket. He sees ghosts but fears only the taxidermic bear in the bedroom.

Shoehorn – communicates loud and proud. He lives amongst the most beautiful antique furnishings and sleeps on the dining room table, aloft a home-knit blanket. He sees ghosts, but fears only the taxidermic bear rug in the bedroom.

Pooshie believes that the time you spend in bed is the time you have dedicated to loving him.

Pooshie – believes that the time you spend in bed is the time you have set aside just for for loving him.

Moochie is the most patient, lover. He lives with my parents and is like the wise priest of the household.

Moochie – lives with my parents and is the wise, patient, priest of the household.

This family forgot to tell us the name of their cat. However it's affectionate and demanding nature and tabby colors reminded Groucho of his grandma's cat. So we named her Thor.

This family forgot to tell us the name of their delightful, drooly cat. However it’s affectionate and demanding nature and tabby colors reminded Groucho of his grandma’s cat. So we named her Thor.

Cortezis an au natural beauty. This independent spirit seizes the day (and night) going in and out at will - delighting in everything around her.

Cortez – an au natural beauty. Her independent spirit seizes every day (and night) as she goes in and out and in and out and in and out at will.

These buddies don't know pain. Don't know fear. Don't know their own strength. All they know is love.

Blues Bros – These buddies don’t know pain. Don’t know fear. Don’t know their own strength. All they know is love.

The first cat love of my life - Friskie

Friskie – The first cat love of my life

Cats - an excerpt from the musical (Harpo age 15)

Cats – an excerpt from the musical – Harpo age 15 on the left

5 days, 7 passes and 3 hungry rodents

Home (away from home) Lake

Home (away from home) Lake

Olympic National Park – entering from Marmot Pass – loop around White Mountain

Distance: 65+ miles
Elevation Gain: thousands
Date: August 24 – 28, 2014
Hikers: Groucho & Harpo
Duration: 4-5 days

Harpo Sez:

Day 1 – Sunday

Groucho and I start out on Sunday evening at 5:00 p.m. It’s only 4.5 miles up to Mystery Camp where we will start our 5-ish-day trek around the SE Olympic National Park. Surprisingly crowded for a non-holiday, non-weekend, we find a spot next to the stream and quickly set up camp in the nippy mountain breeze. Sadly, for the first time ever, our bear hang falls in the middle of the night and later we discover why… A mouse or chipmunk has tampered with my food sack, chewing a hole in the bag, and then through a ziplock in order to eat my fresh peach and all my dried fruit!! Little devil.
Day 2 – Monday 
Marmot Pass

Marmot Pass

We wake early to begin an 18 mile day. Groucho jets up hills like a billy goat (he just finished a 10-day PCT section)… while I struggle, having typed more, and hiked less, as evidenced by my soft urban feet. I put on my good mood and try to keep up. Starting with a nice easy jaunt up Marmot Pass (6,000 feet), dipping down 4ish miles to Home Lake for brunch – an hour of savory oats, blister care, and a frigid lake swim. By noon we’re heading up Constance Pass (5,800 feet),  continue up another mile to 6,500 feet, near the summit of Mount Constance. The views are 360 degrees, the weather clear and gorgeous.
We catch our breath and begin the knee buckling trek down down down down down 6 miles to the Dosewallips riverside trail. Along the way we pass a little pond with hundreds (maybe thousands?!) of tadpoles. Charming, charming little fellows.
Reaching the river we trek another 5 flat miles until my blisters start to burn. Diamond Meadows, a huge camp among the old old cedars next to the Dosewallips river, is empty. We set up camp, Groucho leads hiker yoga, we eat cold hydrated ramen and enjoy a sweet, little fire. A dreamy end to a grueling day.
Day 3 – Tuesday
O'Neil Pass

O’Neil Pass

Breaking camp early, we hike further up river to Honeymoon Meadows. Fording a small river, we meet Steve, a 67 year old gentleman who really has his it together. I appreciate his approach – using Honeymoon Meadows as a base camp for a bunch of short hikes over 5 days.  While we’re only carrying 9 lbs base weight, with 1.2 lbs of food per person per day, the 15 lbs total was starting to weigh me down. Starting up to Anderson Pass (4,450 feet), we continue counterclockwise around White Mountain, leap-froging with our new friend a few times.
The fun really begins with a long late morning walk on a high, flat path at 4,500 feet around the south end of the range. In and out of the trees, the views of nearby glaciers, lowland forest, and  river valley are epic. Finding a creek Groucho sets up a glacier-cold foot soak to help with my increasingly painful blisters. After a short break, we continue 7 miles through subalpine meadows dripping with huckleberries – we devour pints, and our hands stained with blueberry bruises. We hear – and then SEE elk – crossing our path, scattering through the woods, hooves pounding headed straight down the steep slopes. At 6:00 p.m. we cross O’Neil Pass (5,000 feet) -the rocky path makes for sore feet, but it’s all downhill for the rest of the day.
Passing Marmot Lake, we share the trail with a doe and two precious fawns. I’m reminded of my mom taking me to Bambi as a little girl. We descend to the Duckabush River and find a place to make camp as the dark settles in – the softest cedar forest beneath us we sleep, minds full of the wonders of the wild.
Day 4 – Wednesday
campsite at Dose Forks
We’ve been anticipating the climb up to Lacrosse Pass (5,566 feet), which one hiker relayed, up or down, was “hell either way.” It’s difficult, but nothing out of the ordinary for the Northwest. Abundant huckleberries, my personal power pellets, appear in blue, blue-black, hot pink, and regal purple. Taking our time we reach the pass at noon, running into our new buddy Steve. We have a fantastic conversation about gear, snacks, photography, mediation, and public service.
We climb down to Honeymoon Lake again, and begin the long trek toward the river. Arriving at Dose Forks we score a secluded site by a rushing, aquamarine Dosewallips river, finishing a 17 mile day with a quiet fire. Somehow, even using a park-provided bear wire, a mouse sneaks in my food sack as I sleep, and I lose the rest of my Grouchy Mix. I am too tired to be hungry, or mad.
Day 5 – Thursday
Constance Pass

Constance Pass

Labor Day looms, and the park grows crowded. We get up early, hoping to knock out the rigorous 6-mile climb to Constance Pass before we fully wake up. Marching straight uphill 4500 feet it is, as they say, challenging.
We continue without much rest until Home Lake, where we take a lovely late lunch. It’s hard to believe we have 10 miles left. Fortunately with the last of our food gone our packs are light both up to Marmot Pass, and down the remaining 5.4 miles to the trailhead, arriving by 6:30 p.m.
We open the trunk and find – to our disbelief – that a mouse (or some dark eyed bandito) has crept in to the closed trunk of my car (?!) and again eaten my resupply of Grouchy Mix!!!!
The trail mouse is my spirit animal for the journey. Fin.