10/04/2013 In search of Boreal Chickadees
Blair of course saw them yesterday right at the pass, but I did not. I found only Mountain
Chickadees on a walk up to the pass in the frosty air before sunrise. Perhaps I didn't eat enough
for supper last night because every time I stopped, I felt faint. After breakfast I walked around
the pass some more but still didn't heard only Mountain Chickadee calls. Not that the two calls are
much different, but none of the chickadees I actually saw were Boreal.
I parked at the end of the road and followed first the road, then the Shedroof Mountain Trail, east
towards Idaho. The trail followed a ridge through snowy old spruce trees festooned with moss. I
saw Golden-crowned Kinglets and at least two Three-toed Woodpeckers, my fourth sighting for the year
of those usually hard-to-find birds, and more Mountain Chickadees. A bear had recently tracked
the snow up the trail ahead of me, and before the bear, a moose, but I saw neither of them. I
wondered if the bear was a Grizzly; the print was almost as big as my boot. Out at a gap north
along the ridge from Shedroof Mountain I found a sunny spot for lunch then tramped up through the
snow to the top of the ridge before looping back down to the trail. I hadn't brought a map and
though I had no problem finding my way, the mountains were not arranged the way I'd expected. Back
on the trail again I wasn't paying attention and flushed a grouse out of the path just a few feet
ahead of me. Too bad - I could have gotten some great photos. As it was I followed the bird up the
hill, an adult male Spruce Grouse, and did succeed in getting a few decent shots. That's a hard
species to find and it was a privilege to get good views of the male. But in five hours of hiking,
I neither heard nor saw any Boreal Chickadees.
Back in the valley by 3PM, I decided I had time to drive up to Bunchgrass Meadows, another place
where Boreal Chickadees had been reported. I found them, shortly after sunset, near milepost 10 on
FR 1935 after wandering down to the meadows and back up to the road again. There were more camps
than I expected up there, hunters or ORV'ers I suppose. I tried not to attract attention. I heard
the chickadees first then got a few quick glimpses as they moved through. Even allowing for the
dim light, the colors were much duller than I expected, just shades of gray. No chance for photos;
I was afraid that if I tried to follow the birds with the camera, I would risk not seeing them
well enough to confirm the identification. Another BVD (Better View Desired) species.
I dreamed last night that I was running the 50K tomorrow with Susan. The race is two loops with a
cutoff time of 3:45 for the first loop. Near the end of the first loop Susan and I stoppped to eat
dinner out and when we got back on the trail a burly man pushed past us - the Sweeper. "Hurry up,"
he said, "You've got to get there before I do." We ran after him, jostling for the lead. Susan
fell behind. Things seemed dark, as if it were night. I ran ahead of the sweeper but lost the way
just as I was about to reach the baseball field and track where the start/finish was located. I
was almost out of time.
A car near me in the parking area backed one wheel into a deep hole then pulled out again with tires
spinning. Someone told me to go the other way; I was not on the route. I recalled that I'd forgotten
to check in at the start so I probably wouldn't be able to run the second half anyhow. Because I'd
stopped to eat dinner with Susan, taken time to be with her, I wouldn't be allowed to run the second
half and finish the race. My feeling was resignation - I was already disqualified, so it didn't really
A writer needs an audience. I've always assumed that I was that audience for this journal since I
don't know if anyone else besides me ever reads it. I do read it, and derive pleasure from the
memories that the words and photos revive. But if I'm not going to be around long enough to enjoy
it, shall I keep writing anyhow? And what shall I write? What's in my heart isn't always
appropriate for the internet, or even sometimes for my wife, my sons, my closest friends. Isn't
always particularly interesting to read either, given my tendency to cover the same emotional
ground, wring out the same soggy sponges saturated with self-criticism and fear. On the other hand,
an impersonal list of miles hiked and birds seen with photos of same isn't very interesting either.
What the hell? Three years from now I may well still be able to read, even if I can't do anything
else, so I'll keep writing.
Yesterday, fulfilling a promise, I made appointments for Dr Frerichs (to have recent skin-spots
removed) and for a neurologist at the Virginia Mason Neuroscience Institute, certified by some ALS
association to care for ALS patients. It turned out that a neurologist was free at 2PM, so I took
the appointment. I was concerned that Dr Sridvatsal might not be that good, if he was free on a
few hours notice, but I needn't have worried on that account. I also recognized a significant amount
of fear about the prospect of making real what until that point could still be dismissed as my own
hypochondriac suspicions. Considered canceling, decided to go ahead with it.
Dr Sridvatsal turned out to be female and competent, as best I could tell. She spent about 20 minutes
asking about all my symptoms, and about other symptoms of ALS that I haven't experienced, and another
20 minutes checking the strength in my arms and legs and tapping them in various places with a little
rubber-tipped hammer. Though she didn't share all her findings and conclusions with me (and I didn't
ask as many questions as I could have), she did explain that my shoulders were indeed abnormally weak,
and that my reflexes were also proportionally weak. Weak muscles that are not stiff or spastic, along
with fasciculations and cramps, indicate a problem with the lower motor neurons. Strong reflexes would
have indicated that the upper motor neurons were also involved, a prerequisite for diagnosis of ALS.
My weak reflexes could indicate either an early or atypical development of ALS, or some other, rarer
condition. She told me that my weakness would continue to worsen but she couldn't say how quickly I
would decline, or whether I could be treated, without doing additional tests to try to determine the
cause of the problem.
The additional tests - an MRI, an EMG and a bunch of blood tests - will be done on 11/7. I'll see
both the ALS doctor and Dr Sridvatsal that morning as well, so in just over three weeks, I'll get my
sentence, the options being (in order of probability, I suspect) disability and death in a few
years, lifetime disability or recovery with minimal or no disability. Something to look forward to.
Meanwhile I cling to the now-precious uncertainty of not knowing for sure, and therefore being able
to continue trying to pretend that I'll be OK.
Susan and I celebrated by going out to dinner at the Raininer Grill. I had my usual grilled Romaine
and wild salmon with a pint of Irish Death in place of the usual Nine Pound Porter. Susan had the
rib steak. Conversation turned a bit testy at times, particularly when she started talking about Jesus
using me to save my father, and how he could save me too. I don't like being reminded of the delusions
to which I in times of weakness I have clung, and which I now regret.
10/18/2013 Gray's Harbor
American Golden Plover (the brown one)
Peregrine over the Game Range
Great day of birding with Doug Schurman and Blair Bernson today. We met at Costco and I rode with
them down to the Gray's Harbor area, sharing birding stories all the way down there. Blair's a bit
crazy - not too surprising for the #1 eBirder in Washington state this year with 347 species. I'm
#2 at 335. We started at Bottle Beach but the ponds were too deep to cross so we looked a while for
landbirds, then drove briefly out on the beach from the Grayland access by the state park to look
for Snowy Plovers. None (my second try) but we did flush three Lapland Longspurs, one of the
species I'd hoped to pick up before they passed on. At Bottle Beach the tide was devouring the last
of the mudflats, pushing a flock of gulls and Black-bellied Plovers ever closer to the beach. Among
the plovers was a smaller browner bird, a golden plover. I guessed American and Doug Pacific, based
in part on our respective year needs. He got excellent photos with his Canon 600mm lens and TC 1.4,
a combination now too heavy for me to handle and too pricey for me to purchase when I could have
handled it. We'll be meeting some of the top experts in the state tomorrow on the pelagic trip so
we hope to find out for sure what it was.
We didn't find much on the north side of the bay, either at the Hoquiam STP or the Tonkin access to
the game range, but while over there Doug, who gets hourly text messages from eBird regarding
species he hasn't seen yet this year, received word that Ryan Shaw had a Tropical Kingbird south of
Raymond. He was coming north up the coast and before long, had another at the Willapa airport.
Doug called him from Aberdeen and on the way out of town heard back - now they had one at Tokeland
so back to Westport we went. They were just leaving as we arrived so they turned around and showed
the bird to us, a bright yellow kingbird flycatching from the top of a Sitka spruce in town. Quite
out of place though not unexpected since they're regular fall vagrants along the coast. Nonetheless
I wasn't counting on one. Ryan also, viewing Doug's plover photos, immediately identified the
golden plover as a juvenile American based on the wing projection and lack of buff color in the
face. That made three species for me for the day, not counting the Palm Warbler I heard sing twice
at Bottle Beach but couldn't locate for Doug and Blair.
We checked for rare godwits (not reported recently) at the Tokeland Marina and photographed Willets
with the Marbled Godwits, then wrapped up the day by driving the beach (and walking some) at
Grayland in another futile search for Snowy Plovers. They're there, but being small and brown and
white on pale brown sand littered with brown and whitish flotsam, they're very hard to spot. Not
unlike Ptarmigan in their way. Feeling just happy for the first time in a long time, I ordered both
the oysters and the scallops at Bennett's Restaurant and Grayland and of course, couldn't finish
them despite eating too much for the first time in a long time. They'll furnish supper on the drive
home tomorrow evening. We stayed at the spouse-worthy Chateau Westport. Splitting the room with
Doug brought the cost down to the price of a double room at the Seagull's Nest, or wherever it was
that I've stayed before.
10/19/2013 Pelagic trip
In his wrap-up before we disembarked at the float in Westport, Phil aptly described the day as
"magical". The magic began with the weather - mostly sunny with a light NW breeze, just warm enough
to stay comfortable on deck (with Daniel's down parka under my rain gear) and a mere 3' swell,
though even that was enough that the ground was still moving a bit under me when I got into my car
back at Costco.
Bruce, Blair and Doug
Steller's Sea Lion on buoy #3
The first hours were a bit slow. We crossed the bar on an ebbing tide before dawn
and began to see Pacific loons, Sooty shearwaters and Common Murres as the sky began to glow behind
the fog bank receding off our stern. Not many, though we did see a few Black-legged Kittiwakes fly
over, my first year bird of the day. Action picked up as we approached a couple of shrimp boats
about 25 miles offshore. Lots of shearwaters, including Buller's, quite a few Short-tailed, a few
Pink-footed and even a Manx, their first of the year, along with somewhat reduced numbers of
Sooties. After getting close-up views of dark shearwaters the experts identified as Short-tailed,
they all began to look like Short-tailed to me, or most of them at least. Even some of the
shearwaters I photographed on previous pelagic trips this year now look like Short-tailed, despite
being identified at the time as Sooties. Oh well, I'll take them, #340 for the year.
Short-tailed Shearwater (L) and Sooty Shearwater (R)
The Manx was #341 and a state bird as were the Parakeet Auklets and the Scripp's Murrelet I
photographed on the way in. The auklets were distant fly-bys and I couldn't have identified them; I
barely even saw them, having missed the first four or five groups we encountered. More satisfying
in their way, though not new for the year, were the Ancient Murrelets I photographed (and
mis-identified as Cassin's Auklets). I've never (that I can recall) seen that species well, and my
view this spring of a distant bird flying away after being identified by others was particularly
inadequate. The Scripp's Murrelet was my best bird of the day. Formerly named Xantu's, it was a
bird I never expected to see let alone pick up today, and I even got decent photos.
Northern Fur Seal
Risso's Dolphin, aka Gray Grampus
Pacific White-sided Dolphin
We left Westport too hastily to get the message about the Palm Warbler Bruce Lebar found behind the
coast guard station a half hour later. We stopped at Bottle Beach instead where the tide was too
far out and we had only a smattering of distant peeps (Least? Dunlin? Pectoral? Lb Dowitcher? BB
Plover) illuminated with too much contrast by the setting sun. Great day nonetheless and I ended up
counting the Palm Warbler from the day before because I couldn't think of anything else around that
could make that dry "shiweeeshiweeeshiweeeshiweee" song just like the recording on the Sibley phone
app. Speaking of phone, I'd left mine on the seat of my car at Costco and was grateful to find out
on the way home that Susan and David had retrieved it for me before someone could break in and steal
10/24/2013 Snoqualmie Mt
Engaged in conversation with Swee I didn't leave until 11AM, stopped for gas, started up the
overgrown rope tow hill at 1PM. The old rough track up the mountain is well-worn these days, even
though still not an official trail. About half way up the first pitch it crosses a rotting log broken
lengthwise into two or three sections; I remember when it first fell, a blowdown more than three
feet in diameter and cumbersome to clambor over. The waterfall was dry. I looked over the edge and
wondered if I would die if I dove off. Not tempted to find out. A single bluebell was still
flowering from a crack in the ledge. I photographed it. Continuing up, tired and faint when I
stopped probably due to not eating since breakfast, I reached the hanging valley, passed the little
cave where David scared himself and I found the fluted stick of gray marble. I followed the faint
track along the steep hillside carpeted with yellowing sedges, reminding me of my late backpack trip
up Clark Mountain some years ago, about this time of year. Looks like that trip might turn out to
have been the closest I'll ever get to the Napeequa valley. I might have reached it but got chased
out a day early by an approaching storm. I did reach the peak of Clark Mountain where I'd had just
enough cell phone reception to call the bank and transfer $16,000 to pay for our new roof. That
must have been about five years ago.
I hiked up to the ridge at the head of the valley, just high enough to look out at Kendall and Red
Mountains from a perch on top of a granite boulder sheltered by young hemlocks. I ate lunch there.
Feeling sad, I called a
friend and we talked for some time, interrupted by occasional disconnections despite an
apparently good signal and clear views down to I-90 east of Hyak. I cried some, asked her to tell
me a story then told her some memories of prior late-season hiking trips on Snoqualmie Mt, mostly
with the boys - huckleberry picking, photographing ptarmigan and the scalloped blue ice underneath
old snowbanks, scrambling up over-steep ledges, exploring caves. She asked me about my symptoms and
almost persuaded me to hope that they're all in my mind even as I laid out the case against myself.
The sun eased down towards the horizon and though the air behind me was cool, I stayed warm in my
T-Shirt alone while blue shadows crept up the valley below me.
Late for my meeting with Susan, I called her and we talked while I sat on the steep slope at the
head of the valley amidst stubby alpine huckleberry bushes whose browned leaves flushed like birds
when I brushed my hand over them. We talked until 5PM, then I hiked down until near dusk at 6, my
legs shaky with fatigue and toes crying for relief. We met in Auburn and continued to the bird club
meeting in Tacoma, the last until January when I'll do a presentation on my Washington big year.
Susan was hungry and I'd missed my evening beer so we dropped by the Spar on the way home. Though I
picked the oily crusts off my fried zucchini my stomach hurt anyway. I felt at peace but our
conversation was anxious like a dream that keeps going but never gets anywhere. Too tired to listen
any longer, I didn't even shower before bed.
I woke up this morning feeling OK, calves a little tight and heels a little stiff, with a hint of
irritation in my outer left knee and left anterior tibialis tendon, but none of the pain that I felt
in my groin upon lifting/lowering my right knee yesterday evening. Probably should have tried to do
Boundary Bay after all - my consolation prize for not doing New York City this morning.
11/04/2013 Nisqually NWR
Shep found a Swamp Sparrow along the slough by the Twin Barns overlook last week. It was reported
again on Friday, the same day we were down there (and I photographed a Rusty Blackbird, which made
45 for the day and 345 for the year), but we didn't see it. So today I'd planned to go down and try
again. Talking with Susan delayed our departure so we didn't start birding down there until 11. I
figured our chances for the sparrow were slim to none and sure enough, the day started out slow -
almost no bird activity compared to last Friday. I decided to eat lunch at the Twin Barns overlook
so as to maximize our chances of spotting the Swamp Sparrow. David asked what the sparrow sounded
like so I played the chip call for him - a "cheep" call higher-pitched and flatter than
Golden-crowned and less nasal than the Song Sparrow's "syip". A minute or so later, I heard it from
across the slough, several distinct "cheep"s apparently coming from near the dike, then I spotted it
much closer in at the base of a blackberry bush. Bold gray eye stripe, brown and black streaked
crown and back, gray breast and buff-brown flanks both with indistinct streaks, and buff and black
malar stripes framing a whitish throat. I called David back and we both managed to get decent
photos of this attractive sparrow. That wasn't all. About an hour or so later a Northern Harrier
flushed two finches from the freshwater side of the dike. They flew up and landed in the top of a
small tree, too far away to identify with binoculars but even at that distance, obviously too pale
for goldfinches. We hustled closer and identified two Snow Buntings, very unusual at Nisqually. When
they settled down on the saltmarsh we put the scope on them then showed other birders our find. They
were delighted; it was a life bird for several of the people that stopped by.
11/06/2013 Nisqually NWR
I went to bed without supper yesterday evening after a long talk with Susan and woke up around 5:30AM very frightened from a dream. Susan was
awake and helped me remember and decipher it.
I was in Central Park in NYC, something to do with running, before the dream started.
I carefully placed my suitcase and lunch bag at the corner of Central Park by 5th Ave and 59th St,
though the park was rather more like the Boston Common where I occasionally hung out during high
school - lawns, trees, hills. I joined Ethan and others from my freshman college dorm wing to go to
the cafeteria for lunch. We walked up the hill, and near the top I met Blair Johnson, a friend of
Eric's whose family were friends with my stepfather when I was in high school, and he asked me for
one of my Valencia (or Andalusia, or some Spanish name) oranges since he wasn't going to lunch with
us. He could have waited until after we all went to lunch but I decided to go back to my lunch bag
and get him one. The orange I got for him was grapefruit-sized, organically grown, fresh and very
sweet with thick orange and green skin, a beautiful fruit. As I left to head up the hill, I saw
Diana, a close high school friend (though never a girlfriend) lying on a bench in a yellow dress,
relaxing in the sunshine. She laughed her warm laugh and smiled at me as I started off again. Part
way up the hill I found an old truck tire and started rolling it up the hill in front of me. Blair
and the orange were forgotten and the other guys had gone off to the cafeteria without me. It was
November; the leaves had fallen and it was dark and dreary. I didn't know the way to the cafeteria
so I rolled the tire the rest of the way up the hill and then along the sidewalk to the left, the
way I thought the cafeteria might be. At the first intersection, the cross street ran down a long
steep hill along the edge of the park to my left. I worried that the tire might get away from me
and roll down the hill and sure enough, it did. I ran after it but couldn't catch up as it
accelerated and careened down the hill and into the park, where I worried that it would hit people
and injure them badly. It didn't though; to my surprise it stopped suddenly in a sandlot baseball
field, skidding around in a tight circle as I ran down to it. When I reached it, a man in black was
skillfully riding it like a skateboard, his feet inside the tire as he banked steeply carving sharp
circular tracks in the sand. I couldn't get the tire back from him; he had complete control of it.
As I watched him, a boy maybe around 12 years old came flying down the hill on a bicycle, hit the
curb and flew maybe 6 feet through the air landing with a thud right in front of me. He was rather
fat and featureless and dressed all in gray with pallid white face and hands. He was dead, though I
wasn't really aware of that. What I was aware of was a terrible fear suddenly welling up in me, and
I woke up in a panic.
Daniel and I like to joke that reading our class reports in the college bulletins - about the
personal and professional achievements of our college classmates - is an exercise in depression. My
college dorm mates going off to the cafeteria represents something like that - their progression
into careers after college - a progression in which I didn't participate, at least for a few years.
In college though, I recognized for the first time that I had wonderful talents - the delicious
orange - that I was to share (willingly) with the world by living up to my potential. I wept when
Susan asked me about the orange and I realized how good it was, and that it was me, my talents and my
goodness. Diana also represents affirmation of my goodness; though I didn't like myself in high
school, my friends did. High school, and especially college, was a time of friends, growth and
affirmation. I may never have accepted myself as good, but at least I knew that others did.
When we moved into our current home two decades ago, we found old tires stored in the carport. We
used some of them in landscaping and the rest we eventually took to the dump, or whatever you do
with old tires. At any rate, the tire represents my life after college. Somehow it went awry, and
was even threatening to harm others (not sure what that's about though Susan and I had been talking
yesterday evening about the many ways I've hurt, hindered, obstructed and oppressed her in our
marriage. Anyhow, the runaway tire was stopped and I now confront two options. One option, already
chosen in a sense, is to hand life over to skilled but dangerous professionals (like criminals on a
dark city street at night, they will decide whether I live or die and I am at their mercy) and
perhaps other caretakers who will utterly control what's left. The other option is represented by
the fat kid on the bicycle. I had told Susan about being very angry the other day and accelerating
down the hill towards the river, almost daring myself not to brake before the sharp turn just above
the bridge. I wouldn't have made it at 80mph but I chose to slow down. The fat kid didn't. He was
me, the bad me who would use suicide as a tool to manipulate those around me. I hated him as I was
telling Susan about him. He met his deserved end but I was responsible, and therefore for me there
remains only a "fearful expectation of judgment".
It's a bleak story and by no means the only story, but on the eve of my sentencing I guess it
encapsulates what I've been feeling about what lies ahead.
I spent my last day birdwatching at Nisqually with the regular Wednesday group of about 30 other
birders. We were out there for 7 1/2 cold hours but I saw 59 species, a very respectable count for
this time of year despite not seeing anything rare. Highlights included a Peregrine pursuing a
Wilson's Snipe across a half mile of salt marsh before ultimately returning with a Starling in its
talons, close-up views of Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets foraging with a large flock of
small birds, and a juvenile Accipiter that morphed from a Sharp-shinned into a Cooper's and half way
back again before finally deciding to be a Cooper's after all.
11/07/2013 The Verdict
After an MRI, blood test results, a nerve conduction test and an EMG (maybe those latter two are one
and the same) there is no longer any doubt. I have ALS. Lou Gehrig's disease is now Brian
Pendleton's fate. It's ironic because I self-diagnosed the ALS from the internet two months ago,
and until now my self-diagnoses have usually been incorrect - the Giardia that wasn't Giardia a
couple years ago comes to mind. Ironic too because for several years I've felt in myself a desire
to die, and now I'm getting my wish. The neurolgist told me that there was no way that death wish
could have precipitated the ALS, but much about the mind-body connection remains a mystery so who
knows. In any case I have maybe a year, year and a half of more or less normal functioning followed
by a couple of years of increasing disability caused by muscle weakness, stiffness, atrophy and
pain. Eventually the disease will destroy the nerves controlling speech, breathing and swallowing.
With mechanical assistance I could continue for a while longer but at that point, what's left to
live for? Though maybe one's perspective changes as the disease progresses.
Daniel called while we were still at Virginia Mason so we told him the verdict. We talked briefly.
After we hung up he went out on facebook and posted "Well...fuck". Well said. I thought maybe we
should go out to lunch somewhere so we stopped at Anthony's in Des Moines. I had the Cioppino and
Ceasar, Susan the Fish and Chips. Comfort food, though I'd have preferred a creamy soup. Susan
started crying whenever something reminded her that I was dying, which was almost everything. Outside
in the marina a crow landed on a lightpole and, having not seen it well, Susan asked what it was.
When I told her it was an American Crow, she started crying again and explained that after I die,
she'd have no one to identify the birds for her.
Late in the afternoon under dark clouds dribbling rain, I went out for a run. I wanted to cry and
knew I needed to cry, but couldn't. Realizing that I first needed to know that I was loved, I
thought of Jesus and imagined his love for me and immediately the tears came. Until an oncoming car
turned them off. It's not safe to cry in the headlights of an oncoming car.
Today was a day of wind and snow, hiking and cutting firewood, a day filled with peace, suffused
with love, illuminated with bright veins of joy. Before breakfast I sat with David and Miguel in
Liz's hot tub. We taked about relationships, about the importance of having unsatisfied
desires, about Miguel's heartache and my dying, the collective unconscious and how we reach it
(whether we posess our own personal version or instead connect directly to the universal) about God
and how the experience of transcendance. I realized that my model for experiencing God is a
relationship, and realized too how the past 24 hours with David and Liz had opened my eyes
to the importance relationships to me. I love, and am loved.
The drive down to Canyon City and up into the Wet Mountains called up memories of working on the
peregrines, watching the Wetmore eyrie, even skidding on the ice in my VW one winter evening. We
stopped in the canyon below the eyrie crag, where Warbling Vireos had been so abundant in the
riparian cottonwoods. An intense wind was blasting down the canyon, slamming the car doors when we
got out to look around. At the ranch snow drifts and bare grass dotted with cow pies shared the
front yard. We fixed grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches in Liz's cabin then drove out a
canyon and up into mixed woods of Aspen, Ponderosa Pine and White Fir to look for dead trees and
limbs to cut for firewood. I wasn't sure whether my arms could handle the Cathy's saw, a small
Stihl like the one I have at home, but they did OK. We all (except Liz, due to her back)
helped with the cutting and carrying and stacking the stubby logs into the back of the Subaru.
With a car full of wood we drove up to Liz's old teepee, now a little tattered from neglect.
Liz showed us the log bench from which she and Bob used to watch the sun set over the
Sangres, obscured this evening by snow squalls. We took turns swinging in the long rope swing and
climbed up onto the tree house platform, dodging the gaps in the boards.
David and I hiked up to a prominent convex ledge on the side of a brushy peak to the north. The
rock was weathered metamorphic granite, a little too steep to smear up in hiking boots but not a
difficult scramble. Cold wind and the gathering dusk kept our stay up there short. I lost David on
the way down, found him again not long before we reached the car. I'd wondered if the women would
wait for us but they did, and we were grateful. Back at the cabin I was wiped out but supper perked
me up some. We sat around with Gary and Amy and mostly listened to Gary's tales of his adventures
in Peru until they left and the women sent us out to the unheated bunkhouse for the night.
After an extended breakfast of Cathy's pancakes and Sally's frittata and turkey sausage (or was it
the other way around) Sally went riding while Liz, Cathy, David and I went out firewood
cutting again. I thought my arms might be done in after yesterday but they did OK. We drove out
across the scrubby pasture towards a grove of ponderosa pine, Liz's Subaru sturdily plowing
through the six or so inches of snow. "Watch out for rocks", we told her. Near the edge of the
stand David and I spotted a dead pine about a foot in diameter and being manly, agreed that we could
handle it. I told him how to do the two cuts. He did the first one; I did the second but started a
little too low and came in below the first cut rather than above it. Though anchored by only a half
inch or so of wood, the tree resolutely stayed standing until all four of us joined together to rock
it back and forth. We were ready to dart behind another tree should it go the wrong way but it
cooperated and fell with a satisfying crash almost exactly where we intended it to. We trimmed
limbs and sawed the trunk into stove-sized chunks until Cathy's little Stihl gave up the ghost. It
had worked hard; David timed me on the last cut and it took a full 5 minutes. I took the housing
off and cleaned out the sawdust but it still wouldn't run faster than idle, too slow to set the
After lunch at Liz's urging David took another look at the saw, to see if we could fix it.
It didn't take him long to realize that I'd accidentally set the chain brake on. He fired it up and
cut a stick or two - problem solved. For lunch Liz fixed a salad and David made grilled
cheese and tomato sandwiches using Sally's leftover grape tomatoes. We sat in the warm cabin with
sunshine filtering in through the smoky windows, eating lunch together in the satisfying knowledge
of a winter's worth of firewood stacked outside on the porch.
After David and Cathy left, Liz and I finished cleaning up the cabin then sat on the porch
for a couple of hours reminiscing in the sunshine . We started back to the Springs as the full moon
rose in the notch between the mountains down-canyon from the old Wetmore Peregrine eyrie. The crazy
wind of yesterday was silent and we were at peace. David was waiting for us back at Liz's
but before he and I headed back to Denver the three of us ate dinner together at a Mexican
restaurant he remembered. Though the cloth napkins felt a bit pretentious the food was in fact a
cut or two above the ordinary. As we parted I promised Liz that I still intended to finish
her painting, a landscape of Garden of the Gods which I started 33 years ago and which has hung in
her kitchen for the past decade awaiting my return.
11/20/2013 380 miles, 2 birds
Blue Jay - Moses Lake
Tennessee Warbler - Potholes State Park
Orange-crowned Warbler - Potholes State Park
180 miles from home, David and I pulled up around noon in Moses Lake and parked next to an abandoned
mobile home sinking into the roadside weeds. Across the street we found the three filbert trees in
the yard and looked for the Blue Jay reported two days earlier on eBird. It wasn't there. In its
place perched a fat fluffy brown cat, apparently awaiting the Blue Jay too. Tiring of staring at
the cat, we took a stroll around the neighborhood, a depressing collection of ramshackle houses with
cluttered yards guarded by barking dogs and a few furtive cats. No Blue Jay, and scarcely any other
birds either. We tried the other direction where the houses were a little larger and the yards not
quite as unkempt. I was peering through binoculars at a couple of goldfinches in a hawthorne tree
when I heard it - the unmistakeable "jeear jeeear" of a Blue Jay - from over near the original spot.
We ran back there, found no jay, then heard it again, a block or two to the east. I ran over there,
panting more than I ought to have been given the number of marathons I run, and while I was
searching for it the bird flew unobserved overhead and landed in the yard. David spotted it first; I
verified it then grabbed the camera and got a couple quick shots before it took off. We didn't see
it again but no matter, we had it. That Blue Jay, 180 miles from home, was my 347th species for the
year and single-handedly (single-wingedly?) made our outing a success.
That was easy, we thought, but surely our chances for the Tennessee Warbler at nearby Potholes State
Park were slim to none. One was reported there two days ago but this would only be like the 20th
occurrence in the state and it's way out of season and migrating birds rarely linger long. We drove
over there anyway; it was only 20 miles, barely time enough for my fingers to thaw. The sky was
blue and the sun bright but the breeze was out of the north and the air temperature scarcely above
freezing. The state park was almost empty. We did find a few birds, initially some sparrows in the
sagebrush and magpies in the shade trees, then a small kinglet flock and then, in the bare poplars
of the tent camping area, a few warblers. I heard only the "chik" of Butterbutts but played the
Tennessee song once or twice and a minute later, a greenish warbler showed up. "I've got it", I
shouted to David. False alarm - it looked alot like a more common Orange-crowned Warbler. Still,
eBird flagged even that species as uncommon this time of year so I took a bunch of photos then
called David over and he took a bunch of photos. He was wrestling with the 200-400 lens; I felt
sorry for him but not sorry enough to offer to trade my much-lighter 80-400 for it. The 200-400 is
a superb lens but pretty much too heavy for me to handle any more with my weakened arms and
shoulders. We lost the warbler then found it again, or one like it, took more photos, lost it
again, found it again, took more photos, quite close up this time. Then we lost it for good despite
searching the area for another 20 minutes or so. Back in the car we studied our photos. I'd
thought at the time that we had at least two different greenish warblers and sure enough we did, and
one clearly had whitish undertail coverts which extended much of the way to the notch in the tail
while the other had yellow undertail coverts and a longer tail. Subtle differences at best, but
sufficient nonetheless to distinguish the two species. The second bird was an Orange-crowned,
unusual this late in the fall but common earlier in the season. The first bird we'd spotted though,
was indeed the Tennessee Warbler we'd been looking for, a rare vagrant in Washington which upped my
state big year count to 348.
I know, it's crazy to drive almost 400 miles in one day just to get a brief look at a couple of
birds, unusual though they may be. For those two birds we burned 15 gallons of gas and released
100+ pounds of carbon dioxide to exacerbate the overheating of the earth. But I don't feel so bad
about that anymore. ALS will shrink my carbon footprint by upwards of 30 years even if I drive
hundreds of miles a day for the rest of my foreshortened life - one small silver lining to this
On the way home David asked me if I had any regrets about my life. That I was too timid to ask my
high school girlfriend to have sex with me, I replied. A bit flippant I know; the real regret is
that I was too often afraid to pursue my passions, too lacking in confidence to believe that I could
achieve them, and sometimes too lazy to really work for them. After a few setbacks following
college I gave up on myself, and though I subsequently drifted into what was in many ways a
prosperous port, I still suspect that it wasn't my true home. But my regrets don't overshadow my
successes, achievements, joys - what is the opposite of regrets, anyhow? Looking back I see my life
as filled with beauty, shot through with love, highlighted by joy. Physically, emotionally,
intellectually, financially, even spiritually, I've enjoyed almost an embarassment of riches. I
could have done better, I could have been better, perhaps much better, but I'm grateful for what I
have done, have been, am now. And I have yet a little more time and I hope to use it well and
wisely, without fear and hopefully with love, to let go of the guilt about what I am not and to be
who I am as best I can.
11/24/2013 Doppler 50K
It isn't dying that bothers me when I wake up at 2AM, it's all the pain I'll leave behind. All
the pain I'm already inducing in those who love me. That, and wondering where I'll end up when I
can't go any further. When the day comes that I can no longer turn the key in the ignition, where
will I be - in a motel in Nevada somewhere, or Tennessee, unable to turn the door knob to get out of
my room? Or still at home attended by Susan whom I've hurt so much that it knots my stomach, and
that's a problem because stomach knots don't provide the nutrition I need in order to postpone that
day, the day that I can no longer run a marathon - when is that day I wonder, tomorrow at the
Doppler 50K, or next week at Wishbone or the Seattle Ghost, or next month at Pigtails? Can I hang
on six months until Boston, 9 months until Tunnel? Does the Tunnel even happen, if we can't agree
on who takes my place? At 2AM there are no answers, only vain questions. Does lying half awake on
my pad in the office count as sleep? Perhaps two hours of lying awake in the mercifully quiet
darkness equals an hour of sleep, or maybe I did fall asleep sometime between 12:54 and 2:38 and
didn't notice. Does getting up and writing this stuff down help?
Around 5AM I awoke with a fragment of a dream. I had hoped for more of a dream and as I considered
it, I remembered more of it.
I was running a trail race in Washington in the fall, about to start up a short hill on an old
forest road when another runner, a woman wearing a long skirt (similar to one I recall Darchelle
wearing at church one morning) ran by me, challenging me as she passed "I bet I beat you to the
finish". I thought to myself "I don't think so - it's only the first loop and you're going too
fast." but I didn't say anything. She ran strongly up the hill but near the top she stumbled and
stopped. When I approached her she was bent over but it didn't look to me as though she'd actually
fallen. She told me she'd hurt herself on a sharp point of mica protruding like a little peak from
the top of a small gray boulder. I didn't see any mark on her leg and though mica is a soft mineral
that typically occurs in thin transparent sheets which wouldn't cause injury, this outcrop did look
rather sharp. I continued up the trail and never saw the woman again.
The trail began to run up a stream bed of granite cobbles and boulders with translucent brown water
running over them, reminding me of the Ammonusuc River near Crawford Notch where we hiked last
summer and Mom fell and cut her forehead. The rocks were slippery but I stepped carefully on them
and didn't fall. Crossing the stream, the trail traversed up a steep wet clay bank covered with
green moss and ferns, perhaps like places along the Green River near home. Part of the bank was
beginning to pull away from the hillside exposing a deep crack several inches wide. Water was
welling up out of the crack, clear and cold and a beautiful azure blue in its depths. Shortly after
that the trail crossed above a steep cliff on a short boardwalk with railings. It occurred to me
that if I slipped I would probably die, and sure enough I did start to fall but stopped myself by
clinging to the posts of the railings. The posts were made of split wood, reminding me of splitting
firewood at Liz's cabin in Colorado. They were solid, and by holding onto them I pulled
myself back up onto the boardwalk, feeling strong.
Continuing up the trail with a couple of other runners, I met a short and rather fat boy dressed in
black. He began to harass me. We faced off in front of a tall chain link fence such as those
around tennis courts, or around the electrical substation at mile 14 on the Tunnel Marathon course.
He came at me holding the brushy top of a small bare tree, perhaps a birch, that he'd broken off and
was holding by the base, pointing the tip at me like a sword. It was regularly branched and as I
watched, it turned silver and began to glow as if lit by an internal light. It was quite beautiful
and reminded me somehow of my life but the fat boy began to wield it like a sword, fencing with me.
I held a table knife in each hand and used them to parry his thrusts. Successfully fending him off,
I got by him and continued on the trail along the chain link fence. Once past it, the fat boy was
ahead of me again so I poked him in the buttocks several times with my knives, to pester him.
We entered a long abandoned house, all dusty and dark inside, and raced up the stairs. I was almost
to the third floor when I realized that I didn't know where the trail was anymore and that the fat
boy had turned off the stairs onto the second floor. I thought he might be on the trail but it was
dark and I couldn't see him, so being lost, I woke up.
Monte and I drove over to Bremerton together, with a detour because the onramp from I-5 onto hwy 16
was blocked by patrol cars with flashing lights, and by an oil tank truck parked crosswise blocking
both lanes. On the Union Ave bridge I realized why as our car began to drift over into the
oncoming, fortunately vacant, lanes. Black ice. Fortunately we encountered no more of it. The
race began at 8AM. I felt tired and bloated from breakfast for the first several miles, running
near the back of the pack with Karen and George, Barb, Monte and a group of four local runners. The
first eight miles included a couple of climbs over summits of Green Mountain with sunny views of the
Cascades and Olympics over a low cloud deck below us. I began to feel stronger despite some fatigue
in my quads, so after the 8-mile aid station I picked up the pace and ran the next 8 miles to the
Doppler tower on Gold Mountain with a runner named Justin. He asked me about training so I told him
what had worked for me - lactate threshold runs and lots of marathons - but that now I was nearing
the end of my running life thanks to ALS. I also told Monte in the car on the way over but we
didn't speak of it again all day.
I ran alone for the last 15 miles or so. After sitting on top of Green Mountain in the sun for 10
minutes my quads, especially on the left side, tightened up and I had to walk most of the last six
miles due to soreness in the IT band area. I recalled Darchelle's sore IT band on the run down from
Ranger Creek last summer and felt for her; the downhill sections were the most uncomfortable and I
must have stopped and stretched a dozen times or more. The view was worth it though - all five
volcanoes and the skyscrapers of Seattle gleaming in the sunlight across the Sound. We joined
Karen, Barb and George, and race directors John and Debbie, for dinner at the Bremerton Bar and
Grill, sharing beer and salmon burgers and running stories together then stumbling out on stiff legs
for the drive home.
Susan was in high spirits when I got home. She'd had a wonderful day and was very happy.
Ran four marathons in four days which makes six since being diagnosed with ALS 24 days ago. Seattle
(today) was the fastest at 4:56:09 but speed wasn't the point. The objective was rather to run with
friends and share my sad news with them, and to finish at least the first three. The fourth was a
bonus and I might not, except for peer pressure, have signed up for it. Glad I did though, despite
a rather painful last 10 miles. I ran the middle 8 at a hard pace trying to catch up to Monte after
as slow first 8, only to discover that
he'd been behind me all the time.
Susan tried to meet me at several points along the course but I was ahead of her every time.
We finally met postrace and joined the main Maniacs and others at Zeeks for delicious pizza and
At the Ghost yesterday I mostly caught up with old running companions. I finished in about 5:44
with slightly positive splits and felt reasonably good the whole time. Unlike yesterday I didn't
put in any really fast miles though I did do about an extra mile walking back to the Leschi turnaround
with Ray S. I told him and Tracy
M about my ALS, commiserated with Leslie
M and ran at a brisk pace for a total of maybe four miles,
first with Rikki B and then with Sabrina
S, both of whom had done the regular start
and finished in just over four hours. The weather was dry and cool. Susan didn't volunteer but
hung out in the timing tent with Matt and Betsy.
Bill Barmore held the Wishbone Run on Friday on the Green River trail running south from Tukwila
because the private forestland where he's traditionally run it recently got clearcut. Susan volunteered
for him, setting up all the food prep area and doing most of the serving, though she had someone
else flipping pancakes with her. She boiled the potatoes just right and served them with salted parsely,
and the huckleberry pancakes with real Maple syrup with delicious both during and after the run. I ran
the first half with Monte, Betsy, Leslie and Jill. I walked some in
the second half then ran a few miles fast and caught Monte before the finish.
The weather was sunny
and dry, a nice day for running, but I ran a rather slow race, 5:48 I think, thanks to serious
fatigue for the first 10 miles from eating too little for breakfast and that only an hour before the
Matt and Betsy's Wattle Waddle was cold, foggy and dark at the 7AM early start. Susan drove me in
and stayed to help out at the start/finish area. I ran out to the first turnaround at a comfortable
pace, much of it with a woman I didn't know. Rikki B
caught up to me on the way back and we ran maybe 8 miles together. I told her about my ALS
diagnosis and we talked about that some, and about her life some too. I felt close to her and was
grateful for her company.
12/6/2013 David's dream
David N called me this morning to tell me a dream he remembered from last night. He was
in a cabin in the mountains with a group of friends including me. The cabin reminded him of the
first time he stayed alone in a cabin in Switzerland when he was young, and where he'd had a
profound revelation of peace and acceptance with his life past, present and future. A young man in
the group was undergoing a transformation, becoming a powerful elf, a wise(?) leader or guide for
others. His genitals were transformed too, as if he were both male and female. The atmosphere in
the cabin, in the group, was one of tranformation and growth and love. David and I used a rifle
with a scope to shoot and kill a big-headed dwarf far away down the hill. We killed a second dwarf
the same way, I standing behind him to help him hold the rifle steady. We didn't have much feeling
about it; it was just a task that had to be done. A door with an electronic sensor on the top, like the amplifier and wires in the
arm of a record-player turntable, was open. When someone inadvertently or ignorantly closed the
door, the sensor was broken but we sent it to a repair man partway down the hill who repaired it for
free. The second time someone closed the door and broke the sensor, David and I successfully
repaired it together, like we used to do together with our Volkswagons after college. Keeping the
door open was important for maintaining the atmosphere or community of love in the cabin. Outside the
cabin I was chopping and splitting wood, stacking pieces of different sizes in a beautiful pattern.
I was splitting the Pinon pine into chips but David came out and asked me to keep some of the Pinon
pine in larger pieces and I agreed to do that for him.
12/12/2013 Going home
This morning Mom and I followed the tire tracks down my sister Sarah's snow-covered road to their
big post and beam house. The snow squeaked underfoot and wind bit our cheeks as we came out of the
woods into their field. At the front door we stamped our feet and shed our shoes, stepping into
their warm kitchen where Roger had coffee ready, serving it with steamed milk as we sat around
the table, the big stone stove radiating heat and the sunlight streaming across the worn pine floor.
Even Mom took a half cup of coffee, her first in almost 50 years. I began talking about my sadness
and apprehension about the trip home. Grief for Susan welled up in me and when I couldn't hold back
tears in front of them, Sarah came around the table and held me. I'm on my way home.
12/19/2013 Plein Air Painting
Snoqualmie Falls, oil on canvas, 9x12
For the past year or so I've been thinking I wanted to get back into painting, and all the more so
since I've known that I'm running out of time. I bought canvasboards and brushes and paints,
turpentine and media. I've started thinking about scenes I'd like to paint. I made plans to paint
a small painting for everyone in the family for Christmas. I've done everything except actually
paint. For whatever reason that last and most important step has been difficult to actually do.
Yesterday I broke the ice. Susan and I drove down to Westport, to Grayland Beach to look for Snowy
Plovers. Had we seen one, it would have been species #350 for the year. We drove the high tide
line in first gear examining every near and distant white spot. We found no birds other than an
occasional gull out over the surf and small groups of dunlin slicing by along the waterline.
Somewhere south of the Midway Beach access path we parked for lunch where the gull flock hangs out.
Today the flock consisted of about 100 Glaucous-winged and 70 Western gulls, along with one 2nd
cycle California Gull, distinguished by the attenuated silhouette and a pinkish bill with black tip.
While Susan ate (and served me) I painted a 5x7 canvas scene of the beach. The sky was
silvery-overcast when I started and clear watery blue when I finished, so rather than paint what I
saw, I had to paint what I guessed was there at some point, gray clouds receding to expose bright
sky, a few gulls on the wet strand. My hands were too shaky to do the gulls on the spot so I had to
finish them up this morning instead.
Later, searching on foot for our tiny target species, we flushed a flock of about 40 Least
Sandpipers from lumpy sand along the edge of shallow ponds draining out from among the dunes near
Midway. While we walked, wind stripped pale skeins of sand from the damp beach and swept them
diagonally inland to accumulate in miniature longitudinal dunes underfoot. Masses of golden cloud
materialized above the western horizon and blocked the sunbreaks I'd hoped would illuminate my
photos. Eventually pink yielded to gray in the eastern sky and a few brilliant gaps out to the
southwest marked the demise of the sun as we returned to the Subaru at the high tide line. It was
nice to get out of the wind.
Extending my streak of days with painting to two, David and I drove out to Snoqualmie Falls this
afternoon. It was a beautiful day, sunny and clear - until we pulled up at the falls overlook. Fog
drifting upriver obscured the falls and rose up out of the canyon downstream in a cloud overhead.
Fir trees dripped cold water on us as we got out of the car. After dithering at the overlook for 15
minutes or so we decided we'd better get started. I sketched the scene onto a 9x12 canvasboard from
a photograph and set up my palette - Ultramarine blue, Thalo Blue, Sap Green, Burnt Umber, Yellow
Ochre, Quinacridone Sienna, Hansa Yellow Medium and White - then carried my folding table and
supplies back out to the overlook. David followed me with watercolor pad and paints. I roughed in
the sky - yellow and orange near the sun yielding to pale thalo blue across the high horizon - and
the dark cliffs obscured by fog - mostly ultramarine with burnt umber or the quinacridone sienna -
and the pool below the falls - ultramarine with sap green and yellow ochre. When I went to fill in
details I found that mist had coated the canvasboard with tiny droplets of water so the oil paint
would no longer stick, but just slide around leaving a muddy smear behind the brush. That was
enough for me; I had the idea, the composition, the basic colors down, and I could do the rest from
photos. David managed to pull off a rather nice black and white watercolor highlighting the detail
of the falls amidst the fog and mist.
Ice on the trees
Roger serving coffee
We flew back on Sunday night the 22nd, giving me a day to recover from the Pigtails Marathon, which
I didn't end up running because I had too much to do to prepare for going to NH.
The flight was easy; I slept almost the whole time and Susan slept quite a bit too, unusual for her.
We ate breakfast at the Miss Wakefield diner on our way north and arrived in Jackson before lunch.
Except for the six inches of snow on the ground, the weather was rather like Seattle, 33F and misty,
with quite a bit of ice on the trees in Wakefield, less in Jackson.
The lower field
John, Susan and Mom skiing
David and Daniel heading home
12/29/2013 Yukon Do It Marathon
On a good day this is a scenic and relaxing run, an out-and-back along the water and through mostly
wooded rural areas near Manchester State Park near Port Orchard. Today was a good day, quiet and
dry though I still got cold when I walked; it's hard to avoid that when running in Washington in
December. I walked a couple of long sections, first around the halfway point and again for the last 5 miles on the phone with David
Nichol. Susan met me at the finish; she set up and served all the food for the race. After helping
pack up, we reported to the Moon Dog Too for beer and lunch. Tony and Bill joined us. The
Seahawks were playing their final game of the season so we lingered after lunch with a small crowd
of fans to cheer them on. They won the game and the division title and we had fun.