Near the Lower Elwha River, Olympic Peninsula

Near the Lower Elwha River, Olympic Peninsula

Big-leaf maple

Big-leaf maple

I just returned from five days at the Nature Bridge conference center in Olympic National Park near Lake Crescent where I joined 12 other women on retreat.  As check-in was at 3:00 p.m. on Monday and I left after breakfast on Friday, we had just three full days there — not really long enough for me to completely relax and rejuvenate — but still a true vacation from my city life.

The definition of a retreat is “an act of moving back or withdrawing,” especially from what is difficult, dangerous or disagreeable.  Or it can be a withdrawal for contemplation and meditation.  I found my experience at Nature Bridge way too stimulating for that.  There were all these interesting and wise women to meet and be friendly with.  The immediate surroundings offered walking trails and swimming.  Every day a few of the group took off on day trips to the ocean beaches, longer hiking trails on the other side of the lake, or other destinations on the peninsula.  The choices!

The Nature Bridge campus.  All 13 of us stayed in a larger, multi-room cabin rather than one of these cute cottages.

The Nature Bridge campus. All 13 of us stayed in a larger, multi-room cabin rather than one of these cute cottages.

The main dining room was called the Rosemary Inn.  (I felt at home.)

The main dining room was called the Rosemary Inn. (I felt at home.)


“The time for it is always with us though we say I do not have that kind of time.  The kind of time I have is not for this but for that.  I wish I had that kind of time.  But if you had that kind of time — would you do it?  Would you give it a try?”
— Lynda Barry, What It Is

This retreat was a chance for me to have the time for “it,” and I decided that my “it” would be devoting myself to painting.  It was hard to stay focused on the goal with so many appealing alternatives.  The lovely thing about these days was that all meals were provided and I did not have to spend one minute thinking about the state of my cupboards, meal planning, or cooking.  We met as a group at breakfast and dinner, but other than that, our time was completely self-directed.

And although I did manage to make a painting each of the five days, I found I did not create as many as I had expected.  The free days were a gift, but somehow the hours disappeared far too quickly.  For me, this was a revealing taste of what life might be like in retirement.  I think I will have to develop a rhythm and structure to my days — with a regular few hours sitting down with my paints — in order to settle my mind and feel some sense of growth and satisfaction.  I never did find this kind of rhythm at Nature Bridge.

Moments in Time trail through old growth forest

Moments in Time trail through old growth forest



The first afternoon I walked the “Moments in Time” loop trail through a stand of old growth forest.  And I made my first painting there.  This Western Red Cedar was completely burned out at the bottom, but still managed to live, with green on its upper branches.


Watercolor sketch of Western Red Cedar

Watercolor sketch of Western Red Cedar

I am still transitioning back to city life, but I will share more of my Nature Bridge experience in the next few days.  Stay tuned!


“I have learned that the swiftest traveler is he that goes afoot.” 
— Henry David Thoreau,  Walden

My well-worn hiking boots

Thoreau asserts that the fastest traveler is the one on foot.  A seeming paradox.  But when he goes on to explain, the mystery becomes clearer.  In Thoreau’s day, to travel 30 miles by train cost the equivalent of a day’s labor.  Thoreau could walk that distance in one day and arrive by evening.  The person traveling by rail would first have to spend a day laboring to earn the fare, and then take the train the next day.  Thus, the walking man arrived first and had a day full of the pleasures of the countryside.

The economics of walking as a form of travel have changed.  The price of a tank of gas is still less than a day’s labor, and it transports us over distances that would take days traveling by foot. Today a better argument for slow travel might focus on the quality of the journey, the best way to travel.  We might romanticize train travel over air travel, as Paul Theroux does in The Tao of Travel:  “Every airplane trip is the same; every railway journey is different.”  Or we might learn that the most rewarding journeys are on foot, as Gardner McKay does in Journey Without a Map:  “I came to realize that I traveled best when I traveled no faster than a dog could trot.”

As I read more about walking, I began to wonder just how far I could walk in one day.  I don’t even know the farthest distance I’ve ever walked in one day.  I began to crave taking a long walk.  A walk in the city would do:

“These are near journeys, but there are times when they do not satisfy, when one must set out on a far journey, test one’s will and endurance of body, or get away from the usual.  Sometimes the long walk is the only medicine.”
— John Finley, “Traveling Afoot,” from The Pleasures of Walking, edited by Edwin Valentine Mitchell

I planned my pedestrian expedition for one of my days off work.  Now that summer is here, the days are long.  I had always wanted to walk across the I-90 floating bridge, so I set my goal to walk from my home in Green Lake to Luther Burbank Park on Mercer Island, a distance of about 14 miles.

I set out under cloudy skies at 7:00 a.m. and, after stopping to take photos and have a coffee and breakfast sandwich, I arrived at my destination at noon. It was a pleasurable walk but hard on my feet.  I had to apologize to my poor feet for the extra 25 pounds I’m carrying. (Another good reason to lose some weight!)  I could have walked more, as the day was still young, but I decided not to risk becoming more footsore.  So I caught a bus home from the Mercer Island Park and Ride.

This experience of walking 14 miles gave me new appreciation for Thoreau’s energy and stamina.  Maybe I can gradually work up to walking 30 miles in one day.

Here are some photos from my first long walk in the city:

7:00 a.m. I left my front door under cloudy skies.

I walked across the UW campus and saw this squirrel in a cherry tree on the Quad.

Rose garden by the fountain on the UW campus

Pale purple rose (UW Husky colors are purple and gold)

8:00 a.m. I cross the bridge over Ship Canal between Lake Union and Lake Washington.

Morning rowers on Lake Washington

Totem pole carved by Haida artist

Signpost to Arboretum Waterfront Trail

The trail skirts the parking lot at the Museum of History and Industry

The trail runs along Hwy 520 floating bridge. Floating walkways link Foster and Marsh Islands. A sign warns of water over the trail. I proceed carefully. It's very muddy on the islands.

I see a blue heron along the trail.

The heron flies off as I approach.

Here the trail is under 4 inches of water. I take my shoes off and wade across.

Wild iris flags

Reflections of the underside of the Hwy 520 floating bridge

Next I walk down through the Washington Park Arboretum.

Western Red Cedar boughs, Washington Park Arboretum

9:00 a.m. I am standing under this Golden English Oak, Washington Park Arboretum.

Maple leaves, Washington Park Arboretum

Peaceful amble through the Washington Park Arboretum

From the Arboretum, I follow Lake Washington Blvd to the shores of Lake Washington. It's now 10:00 a.m. and I am nearing Leschi Marina, with the Bellevue skyline on the opposite shore.

Willows on the shore of Lake Washington

11:00 a.m. After a break for coffee and a breakfast sandwich, I approach the I-90 floating bridge.

I-90 floating bridge over Lake Washington to Mercer Island

Signpost for I-90 Bridge Trail

Almost across, looking back toward Seattle. It's noisy on the bridge.

Luther Burbank Park, Mercer Island

Blackberry blossoms

Old vine on tree looks like a huge crawling insect, Luther Burbank Park

Earthworks, "The Source," in Luther Burbank Park

I take the bus home from the Mercer Island Park & Ride. I transfer in the bus tunnel, Pioneer Square Station.