Category Archives: Wandering in the Wilderness

Crocodile Reserve

Crocodiles live here.

At this reserve there are about 40 and they sit in the sun behind a very low wall.


‘They were fed yesterday’ our guide tells us reassuringly.













In a separate pen are the small crocodiles. That way the big ones don’t eat them.

We play with giant bamboo, and watch a foosa hunt and eat his chicken for the day, Austin makes another snake friend.

I’m not going swimming in any canals or rivers now. Here there be crocodiles.

IMG_0776 c2 c6 c3 c5IMG_0761

Island of Lemurs

Day two we see lemurs! Lots of them. Seven kinds of them. The nocturnal woolly lemur sleeping in a tree is our first sighting of the rare creatures. We are on a hike in Andasibe National Park. Next we see sifaka, and then the Indri Indri. A couple of them have babies peering out from the safety of clinging to their mothers tummies.

On to a canoe journey to a little island that is part of the Vakona Forest Lodge Center. This island is full of relocated lemurs. Former pets and other trapped lemurs have been released back into the wild onto this island where they procreate and are cared for. They are able to forage on their own and enjoy being fed bananas by the visitors. Black and white rough lemurs, Common brown lemurs, the cutest creature I may have ever seen the Bamboo Lemur. On a separate island is a group of Ring tail lemurs.

We share bananas with them, are boarded by Ring tails, get lemur licks as they snack on banana from our hands, and one Black and white rough gets a little fiesty as the day ends and it has had too much banana (it gives out a couple lemur bites. Austin almost punched it in the face.)

Even though a lemur bit me, they are still magical creatures.

Day 1

The wheels creak down, the plane rushes to a halt. One more security check. Sweaty, cramped, disheveled… we arrive in Antananarivo. I feel like a giantess in my glittered heels, towering above the Malagasy. Midnight somewhere just south of the equator. 6000 miles from home.


mada1 Rice Fields

I awake to a familiar smell. A moment later I place it. The aromatic fumes of burning trash.

We make our way out of the city. One paved road. Route 2. People walking everywhere. Selling goods. Pulling carts. Working in rice fields. Making bricks. Zebu grazing in the rice fields. Rangy chickens crossing the road. Laundry drying on the grass and bushes. I am the privileged Vasa (white foreigner) that views humanity passing by from the window of a nice silver car in the competent hands of Misa, my parents driver, as he weaves around big trucks and carts. I feel as if I have stepped into someone else’s life. The life of the very wealthy.

Mom, Dad and Misamada5


Our first stop is at a Chameleon park. On a hillside on the edge of some forest. we make friends with chameleons, tenrec (hedgehog/guinea pig like creatures), boas, green geckos and leaf tail geckos, a tomato frog and a millipede.


It’s cold in the highlands. Winter in Madagascar, rain and cool air. Our journey ends down a few kilometers of dirt road next to preserves and national forests. In the middle of the forest is the resort Vakona Lodge. The sounds of the jungle greet us (and a fancy lodge with a fire place, French cuisine, and lychee flavored rum).


Journey to Madagascar

“Want to go to Madagascar?” I asked my partner Austin last December.

He looked at me for a moment, “Are you joking with me?”

“No, I’m quite serious. Do you want to go to Madagascar with me?”

We found ourselves experiencing a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy moment. I looked at him waiting for the answer. We were discussing in many ways what ‘we’ wanted to do with ourselves the following year. My parents had happened to move to Madagascar two years ago and had offered me two plane tickets to come visit them (or rather most of two plane tickets minus processing fees, which was still pretty much being offered two tickets to paradise). I was given the opportunity the moment they moved to come visit them with a friend, or by myself and use the second ticket as spending money, or to come with a ‘friend’.

I had been offered the most generous gift so that my parents could get me to afford a trip to visit them, and proceeded to spend the next two years twiddling my thumbs waiting for the right friend to invite.

“You’re seriously asking me to go to Madagascar with you?”


Seven months later, we are being checked through airport security in our full clown regalia. In red glittered high heeled shoes I tiptoe through the airport humming ‘defying gravity’ in my head and smiling at all the turning heads.

Clowning at Oregon Country Fair
Clowning at Oregon Country Fair

I am about to spend twenty-four hours in transit with a fellow in green glittered size 15 shoes. Inspired by our friend and clown mentor Jeff Green who once went clowning with Patch Adams in Costa Rica, we tip our hats, figuring we’ll be ready for anything as long as we have a substantial supply of clown noses on hand.


Cold and Wet and Snow

Fire. Music. The moon smiling down. A clear, biting cold, starlight night.


Surrounded by mountains bearing names of Copper and Buckskin. Dumbell and Bonanza. A ridge called Martin across the valley that I’d like to traverse one day.


I can see a mountain pass I sat on near this time last year. Makes me think of other snowy, starlight nights. On top of other mountains not so far away.


“What was it like to hike up here in November?” a question oft asked. My usual quip “cold, and wet, and snow”. And oh how glad I am that I’m not out there right now. But the answer doesn’t cover the whole of it. Nor the part of it.


What was it like? I think as I wander back to my cozy village. Its lights twinkling in the valley below the bonfire. Warmth just a moment away through the woods along a gravel road.


What was it like?


It was stars, and layers of clothes that just barely kept me warm enough. It was puffs of cold breath, and feet that slowly found warmth through the frozen layers of gaiters and boots. It was rushing creeks flowing under thin layers of ice, and frozen tents and trekking poles that started to creak and break in the cold.


It was snowflakes that I tried to catch in my mouth as I walked, and huddling under a poncho trying to prevent the wind from stealing all the warmth from the world. It was bobcat tracks, and following them through a whiteout on top of a mountain ridge. It was sinking to my hips wearing snowshoes, and curiosity at the endurance of the body. It was fighting for each forward movement, and humbled by the unforgiving nature of the great Mother.


It was marching into a storm, leaving warmth and roads behind, because to not go would leave me with a life wondering what if.


It was marching forward with a friend who wondered the same thing.


It was trust in all that I think encompasses me, and believing in those parts that I only have hints of, in being capable to get me through. It was trust in my companion, that he knew all those things about himself too.


It was knowledge, of what I know, and of what I don’t know.


It was willingness to risk, and willingness to not risk.


It was judgment, and calculations. It was listening to the wind, and watching the clouds move. It was counting fingers of daylight, and following instinct through mist.


It was aptitude at falling. It was ability at balance when a fall meant more than I was willing to give.


It was a specific goal. It was an unknown ending. It was finding a limit beyond exhausted, and going past it. It was remembering to look up, around, behind. It was life stripped to something so basic as the will to move to stay alive.


It was awe. It was humility. It was sitting on the edge of a snow covered mountain understanding how small I am. It was a glimmer of knowledge of something vast and incomprehensible.


It was still. It was silent but for the tramp of our snowshoes, and the creaking of our packs. It was a closeness to some great truth. It was standing in the amphitheater of some thing so much greater. It was magic.


It was cold and wet and snow.

Dances with Pikas

Leavenworth, WA

‘We’re looking for the best place to find Ochotona Princeps‘ my friend Theresa says inquiringly to the receptionist at the Wind River Ranger Station.  Both the receptionist and I gape at her.

My friend got a degree in wildlife biology. She likes to use the fancy names occasionally, cause, well- why else do you spend all that time memorizing names of plants and animals.

‘Pikas.’ she clarifies.

‘I’ll go get our biologist for you.’

We spend a happy fifteen minutes pouring over a map of the trails around Leavenworth with the recreation manager and the biologist.  Maps! Pikas! Cool places to hike!  All four involved in this map perusal are pretty excited.

Theresa and I have a goal.  We are on a hunt for pikas.  But we promise we are only out to hunt them with cameras.

After discussing mushrooms (which we got about a hundred pictures of the day before. Only pictures we promise. We don’t know enough about them to eat any), how many people we saw out hiking, and where the best rockpiles are to go find pikas, we settle on going to Valhalla Lake.

Valhalla Lake is just off the PCT from Steven’s Pass.  But, there’s a shortcut that makes the hike in only 3 miles.  Awesome.  I am once again in awe of all the trails that connect in to the PCT and where they relate to other things and the larger scale of maps! After months of looking at a map that followed a narrow corridor, it’s nice to get perspective on the rest of the wild places.

Away we go to find our furry lagamorph friends.

What I have learned about pikas: They are in the rabbit family. They spend all summer making a haystack and eat the haystack all winter.  If you eep back to them you can have a conversation that probably translates to saying ‘danger’ several times. If you sit in a rockpile for 10 or more minutes, the pikas will start sneaking around the rocks and going about their business again.  Spend an hour in the rockpile and you’ll have 20 plus new friends.




Lost Coast

Lost Coast, CA

A beautiful, lonely coast.  King Range mountains.

There’s about 26 miles of undeveloped beach to hike.

Picking up a map on my way, the lady at the BLM office warns me that the whole range might be closed by tomorrow if the government shuts down, so I better get moving.  King Range

Funny, I thought to myself.  I didn’t even know what date it was.  I’m brought back to memories of the Chelan Forest Service office as I walk out the building back to my truck, and the usual fall wonderings if any of us would be working through September 30th.  Mostly wonderings in an off-hand joke.  Considering how silly that would be if we actually all didn’t have work.

I jump back in my truck and rev away into the King Range windy roads.  I start my little trek at the Mouth of the Mattole River.  Waking up early in the morning to hike to the Punta Gorda lighthouse and back before high tide.  Then I wind around to the other end of the lost coast trail and trek in from Shelter Cove to Big Flat.

A really big flat on the edge of the ocean.

And no one is there.

I sleep on the beach, lullaby-ed by the surf.

Met a couple who said a ranger told them they could be renegades for 48 hours and then they had to leave the King Range.  A cartoon image of caution tape around all of the coast and mountains I just hiked through pops into my head.  Silly. But I like the idea of being a renegade.

Big FlatWonder what’s happening in the wide world as I pack up the next morning and leave the coast for the hills a couple thousand feet above me.  Madrone trees, ocean, mountains, fall.  I spend a day making a giant loop up into the mountains and back to the beach where I watch sea otters playing and fishing in the surf til the sun sets.

Time is up. I follow bear prints on the beach back to my truck. A satisfied renegade.



Lost Coast

Three Grace Cellars

Chelan, WA

I take Hwy 20 back to the East side.  I’m late, I’m late, I’m late singing in my head.

View of Ross Lake from Hwy 20.
View of Ross Lake from Hwy 20.

But man the drive was worth it.

Through high country and a twisting road.  Back to the Okanogan Valley.

Late to dinner at the best pizza place. The Myth. (one of two stops I make almost every time in town.  The other is Bear Foods Creperie).

Dinner mission accomplished.  On to the next task.  A weekend of wine making.

Last fall, Brr and I stopped in at Chelan and helped press wine.  It’s time to bottle that wine.

SAMSUNGAbout 200 bottles worth of pinot noir and cab/merlot.

Sitting on the floor in the laundry room with a line of carboys and bottles and a siphon.

Picking grapes off the vines in the backyard.

Crushing them and taking first steps for the next batch of wine.

Pausing in the heat.

SAMSUNGMaking good food to go with the dregs from the carboys.

Dining on one of my favorite decks (I have a list of top favorite decks. This is number one).

Good food, conversation and home made vino.  Toasting one winemaker who left us too early.

There’s too much wine in the house. A case for Brr goes in the back of my truck. And some extra for stops along the way.

SAMSUNGTime to move.

South I go.




The winemakers Jim and Robert
The winemakers Jim and Robert


Sockeye Salmon spawning up the white river. Photo by Theresa Tillson

Up the River

Squamish, BC

The salmon are swimming up the river.

At Starvation Lake. We saw a snake in the water and the dog refused to continue swimming.

Pink salmon, my sister says, in a week they’ll be coho salmon.

It’s a strange sight.  Something I’ve always heard about.  I know that salmon swim up river to spawn and die.  But to watch them on this final march is something else.

Such strong bodies fighting the current.

Bodies turning mottled as they slowly eat themselves, and start decomposing on the way back to their birth place.

An endless line of fish.

All with one goal in mind.

Bodies starting to line the banks.

The dog is scared to go in the water.

Something strange is going on, and she doesn’t like it.

An inexhaustible march.  A courageous act built into their DNA.



During my artist residency at Holden Village this past spring (February-March 2013) I created this piece in collaboration with the other artists in residence.

Inspired by a dream.  We created a piece about dreams.  Installation art by Gerri Sayler. Poetry by Kat Smith.

Aided by a village: Music by Philip Kendall, Lighting Design by Ian Leitch, Videography Sean Whalen.

I woke from a dream and a question was asked.  A knot needing to be untied. An idea sparked. A piece created. Living on the edge of dreams.  Waking from them and wondering where reality is.  Grasping at the threads left behind by the dream.  Not sure why I feel the need to do something, just that I must.  Something was glimpsed in the dreaming.  How do we pull that into the waking?