photo of foggy trees at Bay View State Park

 

“The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.” — Emily Dickinson

(Content warning: spider photo ahead)

Exactly one year ago, i was camping with my parents & my partner at Bay View State Park on Padilla Bay. I had no idea i soon would be moving away from the sea or that when i moved, it would be to this awkward junction between desert, prairie, and forest. 

Moving here was a good idea, for many reasons. I don’t regret it. But sometimes when i am looking at photos of coastal environments for The Deadlands promo graphics, or for drawing reference, a sad little flower sprouts inside me, jailed by my ribs. It’s too dry here; the wilderness is dusty and beige. Everything is too spiny to go barefoot when i hike. Even the rocks are jagged. 

It rained all day Saturday, so i went for a run for the first time since i moved. Even at its wettest, this forest is like a mummy someone put in a jacuzzi hoping it would wake up. It just gets slimy, and then it dries out. It can’t revive.

photo of me looking away from the camera out toward ponderosa pines

I miss dense, wet foliage. Moss dripping from the trees, the scent of black loam and running water, cannibal saplings and ferns spilling out of crumbling nurse logs… even that invasive asshole, Himalayan blackberry, curling in on itself in a thorny circus of leaves and vines. All of it wreathed in fog and mist, so the farthest trees could be ghosts.

My memories of that morning on Padilla Bay remind me of everything i miss about the coast.

morning fog obscuring the farthest-away trees at the beach

photo of me, herding mix Briar, and chi mix Watson all looking out at Padilla Bay from the beach

photo of fog on Padilla Bay at Bay View State Park

silhouette of my herding mix Briar on the beach before dawn

I saw a quote recently that i can’t quite remember. It was something like “I used to think this place was ugly, until i looked closer.” I’ve been trying to train myself to “look closer,” and specifically, smaller.

Putting myself through drawing drills every morning gives me an especially good excuse to wander out and capture flora (and fauna) with my pencil and my camera. These plants are strange to me. I’m still learning them. 

The older i get and the more i read, the more i appreciate the things i don’t know, the thrilling unmapped wilderness of the red pie slice

two plants with long, furry leaves growing very close together

I don’t know what that plant is, but the long silver hairs on it are gorgeous. It’s not edible; you can see where curious deer took a bite out of it and then decided against any more of that particular snack. 

This one grows in our yard in the some of the places where the cranefly larvae (and the inexorable heat) have destroyed the grass. It makes leaves like rabbits make kits, constantly and desperately:

photo of a plant that grows leaves on long stalks, all radiating from a central point

Even the birds won’t eat these berries, which is kind of disturbing. Does anything really need to be that poisonous? Isn’t it overkill, Nature?

photo of red berries growing in a neighbor's yard

I teased this mystery spider (species still unidentified) to get her portrait. Sorry, my eight-legged darling, for poking your web with a blade of grass to mimic a struggling insect. I was waiting for her to come out for such a long time that when she finally rolled out of bed, she gave me an effing heart attack.

dew-dappled spiderweb with its occupant peeking out of her tunnel

…If you take a closer look at the web, you’ll see Darling is a messy eater.

Last, on one of our morning walks this week, we saw some old, dirty spiderwebs on the sidewalk getting ruffled by the breeze. I made it into a .gif:

animated gif of some old spiderwebs getting ruffled by a breeze

I will leave you with a puzzle: one photo in this post doesn’t have a filter on it; the others all have a Photoshop color lookup called “foggy night.” Which one is natural light? 

my chi mix Watson and my herding mix Briar sniffing the corner of a fence, both their tails toward the camera

“Things are never quite as scary when you’ve got a best friend.” – Bill Watterson

A few days ago, the dogs and i found a dead skunk.

It has been dead awhile; it’s just bones, fur, and the ghost of its greatest weapon. It’s difficult to imagine anything would have been desperate enough to eat the meat, but it has been picked clean by things bigger than ants, things that have sadly ruined its (very cool) skull.

jawbones of a skunk lying on pine needles 

If i’m honest with myself, it wouldn’t have mattered. I probably couldn’t have removed the reek from the skull anyway. The oils from a carcass soak into the bone if it’s left to decay naturally, and a skunk’s spray binds to proteins. I don’t know specifically if the skunk thiols bind to collagen, but it seems likely.

sketches of a dead skunk's jumbled bones, with some notes attempting to identify the anatomy

The next day, i went back to see the skunk and photograph/sketch its bones. I realized, as i skied down the sandy bank in my tennis shoes, my satchel full of art supplies bouncing against my hip, that i haven’t been on a walk by myself just because i wanted to in so long that the last one i remember is November of 2020: 

upward view of forest featuring mostly dark green with a peppering of yellow autumn leaves mossy rock in a coniferous forest but with a strange bed of deciduous leaves

I feel guilty going on a walk without my dogs, like i’m depriving them of an experience that i owe them. My dogs are not easy dogs; one of them has a psychological disorder often referred to as fear-based reactivity, and the other is the bravest trauma survivor, but he has severe canine PTSD. If i go on walks with them, i’m limited to places i think are safe. 

Places i think there won’t be off-leash dogs, where we won’t have to cross uneven ground with weird or dangerous textures, and where we won’t get warned off by security. Places i’ve already been or that i can imagine without having been there. When we found the skunk, it was the most fascinating non-weather-related thing to happen on a walk for a very long time, maybe years. 

sun behind clouds in a smoky sky

I need to take them places that challenge them; it’s what keeps them healthy and healing instead of slipping back toward fear. Even a “normal” dog can be suspicious or fear what it doesn’t know, so all of our dogs need to know, and know, and know.  And i also need to find those places and that knowledge, because i don’t think humans are so different. At least, i’m not.

my chi mix Watson looking over his shoulder in front of a rising sun my herding mix briar facing a bright sun

An entire year of my life–a year of potential confidence-building and knowledge that could have been gained–dedicated only to safe walks. It’s a little horrifying. In a best case scenario, it was still an entire 1% of my life. If i was a dog, it would be an incredible amount–years–so i’m grateful that with their keen noses, they don’t find our walks as predictable as i do. Still, it’s time to stave off that inevitable familiarity. 

Get ready, dogs. I’m going to find you more treasure. ★

the exposed bones and remaining tail hair of a skunk, lying on some pine needles