Thursday, January 16, 2020

Cycle of Farm LIfe

I'm going to be a terrible farmer.

Agnes, Meryl, and Petunia,
in whatever order you like.
I mean, I'm prepared to get up early and feed the goats and clean the coops and harvest the honey and fix the fences and irrigate the plants and solve the problems and smile at the farmers markets and go to bed early and start over again the next day.

But I'm not prepared for our animals to die.

I know this because here on our little urban farm we've lost several chickens to various causes, and I've cried over each and every one of them. Because they had names and personalities and a place in our hearts and I'm powerless not to mourn when they go.
Backstory: my wife and I are planning a move to the Big Island. We're going to buy several acres and raise goats and honey bees and chickens and whatever else makes sense as we get a handle on the craziness.

We're planning to build a hale'a (barn) to host farm-to-table events, with views to the water and sunsets and the Maui coast. It's going to be idyllic and backbreaking and nonstop and it will undoubtedly make us wonder what the hell we were thinking and how we could be so stupid.

Which is all fine, because we're willing to learn the answers to those questions and others we aren't yet smart enough to formulate.

But standing here today I know without reservation we're not ready for the hard stuff.
We lost Agnes last night, to a virus known as Marek's disease. It's one of the most common diseases in small flocks, and there's no treatment for it once a bird is symptomatic.

Agnes was my favorite, and I told her so before she went. She was the smallest of our first three chicks, but she grew up to have the biggest personality. She would follow us around the yard, carrying on a happy conversation, scratching for bugs, investigating the daily nuances of her realm. 

She had a look in her eye, and her demeanor, that bespoke intelligence, and I fully expected to be discussing the issues of the day with her for a long time. 
It's possible that we'll gradually get used to losing animals, that we'll feel this pain less often, less deeply. That we'll develop, I don't know, a professional detachment that insulates us from the loss of these fragile lives we surround ourselves with.

I hope not.

Because while grief can be heavy and lingering, indifference would be far, far worse.
There's a mini-forest at the back of our lot, a glade of oak, maple, apple, holly, and evergreen trees. Today, after days of wind, rain, and snow, we got a break. Rays of actual sunshine filtered through the canopy, lighting up the spaces between branches and holly leaves and pine needles.

Agnes is there now, beneath one of the bright spots between two evergreens.

And yeah, I cried again.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

I Have Additional Thoughts...

In the blink of an eye, the end of the year—and the end of the decade—is upon us.

These milestones quietly reverberate through our house; imperceptible, constant tectonics building toward events we can't predict. A cursory review of 2019 ( reminds us how jolting those changes can be.

We lost people this year. Scrolling through their photos proves there's no expiration date on hurt powerful enough to bring tears months later.

There were highs as well, most often defined by the life-affirming things we got out and got done. A 25k race in January, an insane seven-week training block in March and April leading to a 100k gut-punch in May.

After that, and by design, the outdoor activities became easier, more restorative. They coincided with children leaving home on journeys of their own, redefining our family in ways we may never fully find the edges of.

It's quieter now. There's more breathing room for music while I make dinner; for a few pages of a book in the evening; for writing instead of watching a screen.

There's no logic to wanting any year to end, any more than there is to believing the next one will be better. As always, time unspools and events transpire, unmoved by our need to put them in boxes.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

The temptation of change

"There is no statute of limitations on starting over. Re-invent yourself every day. Be the girl who walks barefoot and listens to the blues. Tomorrow, wear a trench coat and speak fierce truths. Be a phoenix. Be ashes. Burn down. Resurrect. Let go of the idea that you must always be who you have always been."

Can I keep up with this girl? Unlikely.
But I'm willing to try. 
I was texting back and forth with our daughter recently, talking about her workouts as part of an elite college cheer squad.

On that day the team was doing trap bar deadlifts, she said, building legs and overall body strength. 

I said dad things, like "Mind your form" and "Don't get hurt." She said athlete-in-training things, like "I did 205 lb. today!" and "It's strong girl season."

Seemingly non sequitur segue: today was Western States 100 lottery day, and I...

...didn't get in.

I wasn't reeeeallly expecting to (because math), but for the first time in my WS lottery journey, I'm actually disappointed.

What better way to channel that disappointment than to come up with ANOTHER PLAN??

After due consideration and diligence (all 20 minutes-worth) plan B is the Cascade Crest 100-miler, in August 2020. Caveat: this is a lottery event as well, so there may be a plan C in the not-too distant future. BUT FOR NOW...'s Cascade Crest or bust.

Liner notes: the start line for Cascade Crest is about an hour and a half from our house. It dishes up 23,000 feet of climbing and (getting way ahead of myself here) would be my qualifier for Western States 2021.

If I don't hit THAT lottery (totally possible), plan C would be Mountain Lakes 100 in September.

Fun note: Mountain Lakes IS ALSO A LOTTERY!

Will I be cranky if plans A through C fall apart? Yes, yes I will.

But if necessary, I WILL HAVE A PLAN D. At some point.
Personal note: getting this fired up about doing something I've never done, something likely to crush me physically and emotionally for months afterward is, uh, not typical.

But, as noted previously, my window for this kind of adventure is not getting any wider. I'll be, like, a hundred years old in 2020. Research shows very few centenarians successfully take on a 100-mile race.

With that in mind—if not now, when?
Pursuant to the elegant quote at the top and to tie this all together: we don't have to be the person we've always been. We can be resilient and reinvent ourselves and do trap bar deadlifts if we want to. If we're feeling especially obstinate, we can sign up for a hundred-miler.

I endorse all of this because, to quote a very smart young woman, it's strong girl season.

It's always strong girl season.
"You never step in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and you're not the same person."
~Heraclitus (more or less)

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Short Thoughts Too Long to Tweet

Writing-wise, my brain is so full, it's empty.

The past few weeks have been an unbroken stretch of anticipation, change, setbacks, and stress—all BEFORE the holidays even begin.


So, my wife didn't get the West Coast-based gig she wanted (and deserves) with her current company. This is problematic on several fronts—not the least of which is the real prospect our ballyhoo'd move to the Big Island will be indefinitely delayed. #boohooballyhoo

It also means company-paid trips to San Diego (and side-visits with our college-attending daughter) won't happen. It further means the missus will likely have to continue business travel to the East Coast, DESPITE THE FACT THAT WE LIVE IN SEATTLE. #corporatelogic

Our son, meanwhile, has moved to Ellensburg, WA, to attend Central Washington University. This transition was not without its own stressors. The to-do list literally went on for days: find an apartment, secure renter's insurance, reserve a U-Haul, pick up U-Haul, load U-Haul with enough furniture to sustain a college student for at least a couple years, move said furniture (INCLUDING A WAY TOO-HEAVY LEATHER COUCH) up two flights of apartment stairs, drive U-Haul back to Seattle on I-90 in pouring rain and often heavy traffic.*

(*Ed. Note: U-Hauls are stress on wheels. The last time we rented one, I bumped it into the corner of a building, causing a $1,000 worth of damage to building and vehicle. I find this stressful, if you can imagine such a thing.) #bumpedabuilding

Our golden-years golden retriever, Kate, is unwell. Her ears are a swamp of infection, inflammation, and ulceration. In a concurrence of cross-contamination, one of her back paws has also become a hot mess. No matter how many meds we throw at these problems, they stubbornly refuse to improve. Kate is relentlessly stoic; we are incessantly worried. #backtothevet

Stress dreams are a regular thing now. Last night, for example, I dreamed I was being led to execution (though I was unaware of committing any capital crime). I tried to call my wife to let her know what was happening, but the phone in my hand was an old Windows-based device that I'd forgotten how to use. #generallyWTF

In an effort to balance the effects of these (and other) life events, I've altered/increased my exercise routine. After a 10-year hiatus, I've resumed strength training. I quit the weight room after surgeries on my ACL and my neck, and never felt the need to go back, because... #thread

The subsequent exercise obsession, running, has been so much better for my body and my little brain. The ultra running part, tho, is hard. If I want to keep that up (and I do), it's obvious that cross-training will be required... #ultrarunningishard #vertisreal

On the upside, there's been noticeable improvement on the climbs. On the downside, my body is tired and sore in ways it hasn't been in a long time. #weightliftingprobs

Today, tho, is good. Our daughter is home from school, and she just kicked my butt putting me through one of her weight room workouts. It included things I'm either not comfortable with (hi, weighted lunges!), rarely do (kettle bell and other plyometrics), or never do (core, core, and more core). #gonnafeelthatlater

Now she's making chocolate chip cookies, and my job is chief cookie dough taster. Turns out, I'm pretty good at it. #runningfuel #gottarun

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

A study in contrasts: Baker Lake 50k

"Ha ha, the joke's on you!"
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

~ Charles Dickens, clearly writing about ultra running
Halfway through the race, the Baker Lake 50K was shaping up to be one of my best 50Ks ever. 

Until it wasn't.
I'd heard mixed reviews about this event, ranging from faint praise to "Pacific Northwest classic!" [Spoiler alert: it is excellent.]

The trails around Baker Lake are a celebration of PNW terrainrolling, runnable, occasionally technical, and ferally fun. The views are nonstop—mountain, river, lake, and fall colors laced with cobwebby clouds.

It was the perfect stage for a day of tomfoolery on the trails—running with a good friend, jabbering endlessly about life and work and politics and the future. The first 15+ miles flowed by like, "Hey, feel free to do this all day if you want."

Hahaha! Those miles lied. 

The NEXT 15+ miles quickly and unexpectedly turned petulant, like a two year old up way past his bedtime. My stomach, ingrate that it is, abruptly scorned my efforts to keep it happy. Even the ritual chewing of the S-Caps was met with disdain. This behavior continued through the rest of the race, just because. 

In the meantime, I rammed my knee into a fallen tree. This can happen during a trail run, and honestly I didn't mind picking the sharp little tree-shard out of my flesh. But the immediate swelling and stiffness? That was uncalled-for.

"Why do you run through
these woods? Nothing good
will come of it!"
I'd be fibbing if I said these little setbacks weren't beclouding my sunny demeanor. By mile 27 I was not having the best of times. On a day that was as near-perfect as October PNW running can be, this was a shame and a travesty. Inexcusable, really. And yet, there I was, shambling about like a bridge troll, just wanting to be done.

Tsk. Pitiful.
Full disclosure: it wasn't all bad. I encouraged other runners who were having struggles of their own. I shared some naproxen with a woman whose hips were giving her fits. I stopped to take photos of some amazing scenery and picked up litter when I saw it. It helped.

The miles, still stubborn, eventually gave way, and soon I was crossing the Upper Baker Dam, less than a mile from the finish.

And while I had hoped to roll in under six hours, my finish, race-wise, wasn't as disappointing as I convinced myself it would be.
"And yet I have had the weakness, and have still the weakness, to wish you to know with what a sudden mastery you kindled me, heap of ashes that I am, into fire."

~ Dickens, again on running, probably
Baker Lake 50k


56/140 (overall)

4/16 (M 50-59)

Hoka Speedgoat 3

Song stuck in my head part of the time: 

"We got the beat" ~ The Go-Go's

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Still rolling 7s

It didn't seem like a seismic event at the time.

But seven years later, I realize how completely and permanently a new running store in our neighborhood changed my life.

Seven Hills Running Shop opened Oct.2, 2012. I was there that dayand then at the shop's first group run, and then on more days than I can count.

Because of this little shop, and the community it's inspired, I'm the beneficiary of more lasting friendships than I could've imaginedand hopefully been a better human in return.

Because of this little shop, I've met and run with and shared beers with some of the most amazing athletes on the planet, people accomplishing extraordinary things on and off the trails.

Because of this little shop, I've: 

* Run literally thousands of miles
* Run farther in a day than I ever thought possible
* Run in states from Hawaii to Florida (and a few other countries as well)
* Seen, up close, stunning natural beauty I would've experienced only via photographs
All because one day seven years ago I fell in with a bad crowd at a local running shop.

I may never be able to fully pay forward this good fortune. 

But I am going to try.

Happy birthday, Team 7 Phils.

Cheers to many more.

Friday, July 12, 2019

What I'm afraid of...

As noted previously, the girl is going off to college.

We're at T-minus five days here, and then she'll be gone.

I mean 'gone' in ways literal and figurative, in that she'll 1) no longer be a constant presence in our house and 2) the girl who comes back will increasingly be a stranger.

People change enormously from their 20s to their 30s. The girl who lived here for the last 18 years will be reshaped by experiences we have nothing to do with and know nothing about. The day-to-day events that connect us like a live wire will ebb and eventually fade into sepia-toned memory. 

Meanwhile, we'll be changing as well, in ways we can't begin to predict.

This arc of our shared humanity is completely normal, I know, and inevitable. We don't bring children into the world as stationary props in our little stage play. 

What now feels strange and wistful will gradually become a new, more comfortable normal. We will proceed down these divergent paths as families of all species do. 

We'll try to remain current and relevant in each other's lives, and hope for the best. We'll do what we can, with what we have, where we are.

We will adapt.

Right now, though...I'm grieving.