Beauty is Close to Home, Too.

Seven months and seven days ago, I drove into Seattle following two weeks spent on the road after finishing grad school in Boston. Give me three more months here and it will officially become the longest I’ve lived in one place since high school. Considering my ten year reunion is at the end of this month, that means a decade of living fluidly and perfecting a vagabond existence on the global scale. It is both terrifying and a huge weight off my shoulders to be adjusting to a life with a “normal” routine.

I went hiking with my friend Ian and his girlfriend Veronica this past weekend. I’ve known him for seven years now, ever since we met one cold January day in Massachusetts at the beginning of a study abroad program through Sea Education Association. We had a shore component in MA and then six weeks at sea doing sail training and oceanographic research on a tall ship, the Robert C. Seamans. To this day, my experience sailing from Tahiti to Hawaii – using nothing but sextants and our knowledge of the stars to guide us – remains one of the most unique and memorable of my life. Ian and I were on the same watch rotation, so he was a part a lot of these memories I still hold so close. Like when we first saw the peaks of Moorea at sunset, or when he got a tattoo from a Marquesan man in Nuku Hiva; when we were about to cross the equator and everyone rushed to the tip of the bow sprit to be the first one in the northern hemisphere, or when our first sight of land in weeks was rivers of bright orange disappearing into bursts of steam in the pitch black – lava pouring off Hawaii into the ocean.

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Seven years younger and the faces to prove it.

These are a collection of memories that exist far from the ordinary, and many of which live in the extraordinary for me. As Ian and I hoofed up a mountain towards Lake Serene this past weekend, I asked him: “What if someone had told us seven years ago that we’d still be friends, living in the same city, and both working Monday to Friday 9-5s?”

“I would have told them they were crazy.”

Yet here we are.

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Sailing into Moorea, French Polynesia, on the Robert C. Seamans. 2007. Photo by Gemina Garland-Lewis.

So here is my current task: to find the extraordinary in what I so often have a tendency to believe is ordinary. To remind myself that beauty is beauty, regardless of whether it’s in my backyard or on the other side of the world. If I was living somewhere else and visiting Washington State, you can bet that I’d be blogging about it as something foreign and extraordinary. As someone who has been born to feel fernweh, “farsickness”, it is often hard for me to see the beautiful places and moments in a home base the way I see them when they’re the “other”. But seeing as I’m likely going to be calling Seattle home for a while, I want to try and change this…

There’s one thing I can’t get over in the Pacific Northwest – something that is always new no matter how much my eyes revel in it: green. Green comes in all shapes and sizes, all hues and textures. It’s a miraculous sight after spending a childhood in the desert. I’ve been channeling my wanderlust into the many places to explore around my new home city, and thank the universe there are a whole lot of them. My list grows daily for places to wander, and I’m slowly but surely learning to appreciate this in new ways. Here are my top five so far… driving times included to show how amazingly close they are to home base.

1)   Quinault National Forest – Olympic Peninsula, 3 hours west of Seattle.

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A friend, new to the Pacific Northwest, looks up in awe at the Quinault Rainforest. Photo by Gemina Garland-Lewis.

I explored Quinault with a friend who was raised in Chicago and then moved out east. We spotted signs for recent cougar sighting all over the trail system and made a point of having a louder-than-normal conversation to announce our presence in the woods. This got me hooked on exploring the area and Jessica hooked on the PNW – she’s decided to move out next month to make this her new home.

2)   Wallace Falls State Park – Gold Bar, 1 hour northeast of Seattle.

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Rainbows come and go at the base of the Middle Falls as the sun pokes its way through the clouds now and again. Photo by Gemina Garland-Lewis.

I came late in the day to Wallace Falls but this worked to my advantage – I was the lone soul on the trail on my way down and found myself singing and dancing out of joy to be in such a beautiful place. Watching the rainbows form and disappear over the falls was icing on the cake.

3)   Rattlesnake Ledge – Snoqualmie Pass, 45 minutes east of Seattle.

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Rewarded after a great hike up to Rattlesnake Ledge with a supremely calm sunset at Rattlesnake Lake. Photo by Gemina Garland-Lewis.

A busy busy day on the hike up and at the ledge, including an engagement photo shoot, but a quiet and serene evening on the lake at the end. My friend Emily’s dog, Egypt, was happy to cool herself down and ripple the otherwise perfect reflections in the water.

4)   Ancient Lakes Wildlife Recreation Area – Quincy, 2.5 hours east of Seattle.

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A red-winged blackbird calls to potential mates from a perch among the cattails. Photo by Gemina Garland-Lewis.

Escaping to the desert on the eastern side of the Cascades. I know I said I was amazed with all the green, but it was good for my desert rat soul to head east and walk in dusty sagebrush country again. The lakes are formed from the combination of natural streams and irrigation runoff in the surrounding agricultural land. Not only a beautiful day in the sun but a lesson in watching for rattlesnakes, as well.

5)   Lake Serene/Bridal Veil Falls – Index, 1 hour northeast of Seattle.

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Mt. Index towers above the still frozen Lake Serene on a moody May day. Photo by Gemina Garland-Lewis.

Last but not least, the hike with Ian and Veronica that started this whole post. The hardest hike yet but a wonderful prelude to a summer of being outdoors with friends I hold dear.

Here’s to the next 5 and beyond…