Monday, July 29, 2013

garden tour, 2013

Sunday was the annual Anchorage Garden Tour, when, for five hours several local gardens are open for public viewing. Two years ago I biked it with my friends, Corinne and Paul, so when Corinne said it was coming up, I jumped on board. A few other friends decided to join in.

Seven of us gathered with our bicycles at a local park and headed off to the first garden, in the Airport Heights neighborhood. We visited four more gardens in Turnagain, and then a final garden on the shore of Sand Lake, just south of Raspberry Road. The day was warmer than I expected with no need for the rain gear I'd packed. I was glad a couple people brought sunblock because that was not even on my radar. Along the way, we biked neighborhood streets and greenbelt trails. We even had a picnic lunch in a park across from one of the gardens. All told, I biked 30 miles. But it wasn't about the mileage, it was about the gardens.

What I love about visiting the different gardens are all the ideas I pick up and stash away for later, i.e., that day when we are finally ready to start dealing with the landscape in both the front and back yards. Meanwhile, here are some ideas I liked:

Rain-gutter garden!

Painted furniture (and no lawn to mow!)

Outdoor art on the garden shed.

Umbrella to make mini-greenhouse!

Corinne matching the poppies!

Hen house (though that screened area looks like a perfect place to write!)

Choose one color; now it becomes all about shapes & textures.


My shadow & I love this angled planting!

Fence made of reclaimed metal with tile & glass, paint accents.

Watermelon berries!

Nice kitty.

It's patriotic to re-purpose your old sports equipment!
(Be careful of the black arm rests on a sunny day!)

I'm claiming the hammock and the float plane!

Friday, July 26, 2013

rough terrain

Something from last week has been on my mind. While Jon and I were driving to Seward for our weekend camping trip, I brought up something that happened earlier in the week. Along the shores of Turnagain Arm, just south of Anchorage, a woman's body was recovered.

Her name was Martha and she was someone Jon had known years ago, having dated Martha's then-roommate. I had met Martha a few times through the Alaska Women's Environmental Network (AWEN) and at the Alaska Center for the Environment (ACE). But neither of us knew her well. When a news report had listed her as missing, I worried. Her husband had said she was "despondent," not answering her phone, hadn't shown up for work. They found her car, then they found her body.

As we drove along the Arm, I told Jon how I wondered what the husband had meant by despondent, because in the past few weeks I'd had days in a row where I felt so low that even riding my bike didn't interest me. I'll admit now that I didn't answer the phone. I did go on a hike with one of my friends and when it didn't cheer me up, I told her I'd had a problem with this depression for a long time. She asked for how long and I told her since I was a teen. My friend seemed to not know what to say. I wondered if I'd made a mistake or maybe she just needed to think it through. A weight settled inside me and we dropped the subject. I've never told any of my other friends about my depression. Jon is the one who sees it, encourages me, knows that at times I am inconsolable. Listens to me when I tell him "This is not how normal people are!"

Now I was scared. What had happened to this woman who had been a light in the community, a leader, a warrior for the environment? What about me? What was to stop me from getting to that point where I could not go on?

Jon asked if any of my friends knew Martha, and because I use social media a little more than I like to admit, I told him a few were. Why not ask them if she had a problem with depression, he suggested. I was doubtful. Look at me, I reminded him. I tell nobody. Throughout our lives, we act. We have our public side, then we have the side we show our partner and very few others - if any. Jon and I talked about why this is the case. And what we agreed is that people with depression are afraid we will be judged. Judged for being weak; for not appreciating all that is before us; all that we have; be it family or friends, possessions or just a brilliant summer day.

Two weeks ago, I was very down. There was little that would make me smile. I didn't want to smile. My energy was drained, but I convinced myself that I should do some research and the book I needed was at the library on the university campus where parking is pricey. I dragged myself out of the house, climbed on my bike and rode the few miles to the Consortium Library (where I discovered that I'd forgotten my note with the book title, forcing me to speak with another person). Eventually I found the book, checked it out and biked home.

I rode through a route that goes between my street and the nearby school, through a cul-de-sac to an intersection. As I made my turn, something in the rock garden on the corner caught my eye. I hit my brakes. Two perfect boletus mushrooms were pushing through the loosened soil. I looked at them. Allowed a smile. I considered picking them, wondered if my neighbors knew what deliciousness was growing in their yard. I left them, in case the family planned to pick them for dinner. Later in the evening, when Jon called to say he was leaving the shop, I told him to be sure to bike past that house and notice the rock garden. He arrived not an hour later with not two, but three mushrooms from his ride.

These little unexpected moments of joy can pull me from my malaise as if a switch has flipped on a light. I've often wondered if these deep canyons in my mind magnify those moments of soaring happiness. Do I experience life's highs more intensely because of the mental distance traveled to get there? Because when I'm in that headspace, I can see that this is indeed a beautiful world.

But just like knowing that the day-after-day sunny weather we've had this summer will ultimately end with skies that cloud and bring rain, I know the down days will return. I will wonder again how many days the darkness outside or within will last. I will try to keep myself busy. Try to not leave too much time to ponder my failings, my inadequacies, my insecurities, disappointments. Those things that lead to the downward spiral. I will try to focus on the positive moments for as long as I can. Try to link together as many good days as I can, continuing to focus on the simple beauty around me.

It has taken me a few days to write this and I'm still nervous as hell about posting it. I did call a friend who is listed among Martha's friends on social media. While their interests sometimes overlapped, they were acquaintances and he had no knowledge of the struggles Martha went through. I'm glad I spoke with him. He's a writer and a teacher of writing, an observant and generous person. Though it was tough sharing with him my reasons for being concerned, his encouragement told me I needed to complete the thought.

For my friends who may be worried, I'm mostly okay, though I've found it's much easier to mend a shoulder than a mind and not nearly as hard to speak of a physical ailment than a mental one. I realized as I was riding my bike on some trails this Wednesday that part of what compels me to share this story is this relationship I have with words. If I can give voice to these feelings; if I can speak its name; if I can call it out; if I can tell the world it's lurking, maybe I can take away its power. So, call it my flip-off to Depression. There. I've said it's name. Yet I am so nervous about hitting the "publish" button, the real moment of truth.

post postcript:
We've had a couple rain storms in Anchorage in the last two days. I'm okay with that.

bike camping

Last Friday Jon and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. After talking about a few options, we decided to drive toward Seward with the bikes and camping gear in the car, then bike up to Lost Lake. We've biked the entire length of the trail several times and I've long wanted to spend the night camping there. I figured seven miles to the lake would be very manageable as a first camping trip of the year. In fact, it was to be my first camping trip since 2011! I was ready.

We hit the trail just before 7 p.m. with Jon pulling the BOB trailer while I went light with rear panniers and my Camelbak. Parts of the trail were steep and sloughing away. In a couple places it was verging on being overgrown. Several times I got off to walk a rocky or otherwise sketchy section, pushing the bike or lifting the back end over something. After a few miles, the trail emerged from the trees and became a winding path, mostly rideable - even the elevated boardwalk, which I cleaned without thinking (best leave the thinking out when getting ready to ride the narrow planks).

Jon bikes toward the lake; Resurrection Bay in the background.
Approaching Lost Lake at 9 p.m.
Near the high point, the wind was kicking up but I rode in short sleeves toward the south end of the lake. After a little wandering we found a level campsite high above the lake and slightly sheltered from the wind. Despite mosquitoes buzzing on the outside of the tent, we eventually got to sleep.

11:15 p.m., shortly before turning in for the night.

Home for two nights.
The next morning, we woke to sprinkles on the tent, but soon the rain moved away (apparently headed for Anchorage, we later heard) and I climbed from the tent to make coffee. There is something perfect about sitting with a cup of coffee in the great outdoors, watching the morning light play on the lake. After breakfast and a few chores - like pumping water through our filter to fill our packs - we started out on a hike.

The bridge we didn't need to cross with bikes and gear.

Our goal was to circumnavigate the lake. We didn't know if it was possible; rather, we didn't know how far upstream to the headwaters of the lake we would need to go to make a safe stream crossing! Eventually we crossed just above a melting snow slide and where the creek braided. Jon went barefoot and I just kept my boots on - only a little water crept over the tops and I was mighty happy that I had better footing as we crossed.


We found a cave!

Was it a mine? I wonder.

Little white flowers.

So many wildflowers!

Headwaters of Lost Lake. We'll cross on those gravel bars.
Heading back to camp
A few hours later we were back at camp, devouring dinner and wine (after briefly soaking our feet in one of the ponds) before turning in early. Exhausted.

On Sunday morning, we had a leisurely morning of coffee and breakfast. We watched from our perch as several hikers walked by. We would pass them later on our descent after our before-the-crack-of-noon start. We would also run into several cyclists we knew, most from Anchorage, who were riding the trail the way we usually do: as a day trip, maybe with a lunch stop in view of the lake. I took my time on the descent, stopping a few times just to rest my hands from the almost constant braking. Jon pulled away from me and I watched the BOB trailer bounce down the rougher sections of trail. We finally arrived in the parking lot, brimming with cars on a hot, sunny day.

I was pretty happy with how the Fargo - not to mention my shoulder - handled on the trip. I think I'm ready to tackle the Continental Divide!

Until next time.