20 March 2011

The Great Outdoors

As I was hiking this morning along the Marshall Mesa trail south of Boulder, Colorado, I thought about how much I enjoy being outdoors. In fact, I thought, if I could live my entire life outdoors, I would be happy.

Probably that is an exaggeration, but not too far from the core truth: I find a satisfaction and peace when I am outside that I do not feel when indoors. I have already told Bear (my husband) that if I have the choice of where to die (when the time comes), I would like him to wheel my cot out under the cottonwood tree where I can watch the leaves glint in the sun and listen to the wind rustle the branches.

I have had the good fortune of growing up and living in some of the most beautiful places in the United States: northern California and Boulder, Colorado. As I look back, I'm amazed at how much time I spent outside. I realize as I am typing this that it's a bit of a cliché, but nonetheless true: we didn't have a lot of money, but we were rich in environment.

My family played, picnicked, and hiked along creeks surrounding the Boulder area (catching crawdads with my brothers in Skunk Creek); visited Petrified Forest National Park; and stood in the center of the Four Corners, where New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah come together — all before I was 8 years old.

In California, I spent hours outside catching ladybugs, swinging on the gymnasium rings in the school playground, riding bikes, playing cars with my brothers, running through the sprinklers, and generally just having a good time.

By the time I was ten, we were living in Eureka, California, way up north in the land of the giant redwoods, amongst which we camped and hiked when we had a chance to get out of town. In town, there was plenty of adventure; I rode my bike everywhere, or I'd walk, fishing pole in hand, down to the wharf to catch little flat fish that were no good for eating but still provided some satisfaction in the catching.

Our family spent a lot of time at the beach, especially Clam Beach (where we'd dig for clams then take them home, shuck them, and make great chowder) and Agate Beach (where I collected agates and made wax candles in the sand).

In Sebastopol, California, where we moved when I was 11, we had apple groves, and my friend and I spent many an afternoon seated high up on the piled tree stakes eating the biggest apples we'd ever seen, the juice running down our wrists. I bought my first little Brownie camera when I was 12, and walked everywhere, taking pictures. A creek behind our apartment building was a source of endless fun, and we'd come home happy in the afternoon scratched up from raiding the raspberry bushes that grew near its banks. 

Near Sebastopol is Bodega Bay. Now, it's a tourist/resort town, all built up and expensive. But when I was 12, it was paradise visiting one of my mother's friends there, staying in her little house, walking to the strawberry fields and picking bunches with which to make jam, and walking just a little further over some grassy dunes to the beach to play in the sand and sea.

We also had great adventures swimming in the Eel River and the Russian River and lots of fun digging holes and creating forts in the sand at Goat Rock Beach, where the Russian River meets the sea.

At 14, we'd moved to Walnut Creek, California. There, I bought a used ten-speed, and I was everywhere. I'd gotten a volunteer job at a school 4 or 5 miles from home and rode there every Saturday. I rode my bike to school and even further to summer school. When we lived in Novato, California, for a short time, I even raced the bus to school (and often won). Also in Novato, my younger brother and I would take hikes into the nearby hills, where once we saw a deer and thought that was one of the most impressive things ever.

By 16, I'd moved again, back to Boulder to live with my grandmother and aunt. And so draws the circle round. That was 1979; in the last 32 years, I've had many, many more outdoor adventures, by bike, by foot, and, during my honeymoon last year, by ship, zipline, and helicopter. One of my favorite sounds is of hiking boots on a trail; one of my favorite sights is that of hawks circling on thermals overhead. And then there's the cottonwood tree; as soon as the weather warms a bit more, I'll be out there in the evenings, watching as the moon passes over. And soon I'll add chapters to this blog to tell about more of my favorite places.

Addendum: I'm about to read the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. I had this in mind as I wrote parts of this post — I'll give you a book report when I'm done!

17 March 2011

I'm taking a class - here's my first lesson

I'm taking a class on writing a memoir. We have to describe a family object in 200 words or less. Here's my take, and, believe me, I had trouble keeping it under the word count; in fact, it is exactly 200 words and could be much more.

I'm looking at a large, yellow Pyrex bowl, the last of a set of different colored nesting bowls. It's a buttery, lemon-pie kind of yellow, and the inside is white, smooth and shiny like a polished shell, with traces of fine gray scratches from whisks and spoons going around and around on the bottom.

The bowl nicely reflects the light, and I can see my hands through it when I hold it up to the bulb. It is pleasing to look at and to hold. Its heft is solid; on the kitchen scale, it weighs 3.41 pounds. 

Somehow it reminds me of the belly of a pregnant woman. Round, warm, something people are drawn to rub. It is a vestige of my childhood.

Yes, the bowl holds warmth. That's probably why it makes such a good bread bowl, cradling yeasty dough as it rises round against a dish towel cover. I remember getting to pull back the towel and punch the dough down with my fist. Wumph!

I guess I love this bowl, which my mother has passed on to me. I'm amazed that it's one of the few things that traveled through my childhood unbroken, un-lost, unsullied with sadness.

Well, I've gone and done it...

Wrote a post for the Scientific American guest blog: Social Media for Science: Geological Perspective. Be gentle dear readers!