Meg Noble Peterson

Author of Madam, Have You Ever Really Been Happy? An Intimate Journey through Africa and Asia

Category: Washington State

I INTERRUPT THIS PROGRAM FOR A BRIEF ANNOUNCEMENT…

…in the midst of my extensive report from Nepal and South Korea, so I can share with you my recent trip to New York City and New Jersey. For those of you who may think there is no connection, or that trekking in the Himalayas cannot be compared to life in midtown Manhattan, you have obviously never been to Times Square at rush hour!

Negotiating the ticketing process from Christopher Street in the Village (my subway stop) through the noisy labyrinth of the underground that belches forth its over-abundance of humanity into the many-faceted subterranean canyon with its myriad stairs leading to Midtown, is every bit as strenuous as negotiating a rocky terrain at 12,000 ft. Trust me! The noise is at peak decibel, the possible pathways to subways are legion, every musical instrument known to mankind is playing, alone or in ensemble, and bodies are propelling themselves at record speeds, defying normal gravity. I pasted myself against a wall to watch the scene unfold. Could I have forgotten such insanity? Are there more people or am I just getting old (heaven forbid!). Dare I try for a video or will my arm be swept off? Lest you think I am exaggerating, try it, yourself. There ain’t nothing like it on the face of the earth…not even in India. There are places I’ve been where more people fill the streets, or crazies wander haphazardly looking for shelter, or there is more variety in architecture, or more color, or a gorgeous view. But in this one microcosm, you have it all at the same time. There is an excess of everything. I love it…the intensity and the energy…and I can find it terrifying.

But I digress. My two weeks in New York and New Jersey were full of joyous moments with old friends, a perusal of inimitable restaurants (yes, affordable), and an update on some of the gems that Broadway has to offer. This is no surprise to anyone who has followed my theater addiction over the years. There were times (when I lived in NJ) that I was able to taste dozens of shows a year, whether opera, symphony, musical theater, or plays, and all for reasonable prices (I belonged to a lot of cheap ticket venues, so $3.50 was a standard cost for shows in preview). Ah, but those days are gone forever! Today, even TDF barely dips below $32 for Off Broadway productions. That said, I leapt right in with a performance of a new play, Gary, the sequel to Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, starring Nathan Lane. This was in celebration of my friend, James Wilson’s, birthday. Here he is in front of his colorful Village apartment on 10th Street, where he generously invited me to stay for a week.

 

James’s apartment was not far from the historic Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, site of the 1969 riots that launched the gay rights movement.

 

 

During the week, when not at the theater, I roamed the streets of the Village, eating at various restaurants and meeting a plethora of people from all corners of the world. I returned to a favorite noodle restaurant several times and became acquainted with a charming Hungarian waiter, a Mexican busboy, and an Indian bartender, all recent immigrants. Hey, who needs to travel abroad when they have New York City?

 

The noodle shop is located near the clock tower and library, a rather peaceful area of small shops and eateries.

Here are several views of the neighborhood, including my favorite Deli.

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On Sunday afternoon, my old friend, Barry Hamilton, the General Manager of the New York City Children’s Theater, treated me to their new production, This is Sadie. I’ve never seen more energetic dancing! It was a charming show. I wish I had had such theater available at my fingertips when my children were growing up.

I think the most outstanding play of the year for me was The Ferryman, Jez Butterworth’s intricate drama of a family in Ireland during the IRA conflict. Brian D’Arcy James led an amazing cast of twenty-two superb actors, keeping me on tenterhooks for three fast-paced hours.

After a visit with my younger sister, Cary, in Harrison, NY, I began a week of intense theater of all kinds starting with the insightful one-woman show by Heidi Schreck, What the Constitution Means to Me, then adding two musicals, Merrily We Roll Along, vintage Sondheim, which I enjoyed with Paul Sharar, my long-time theater buddy, and The Prom, an hilarous new musical shared with Barry Hamilton, and Cheryl Galante, whose house I will enjoy for the next week when in Maplewood.

Cheryl, Barry, MP

A visit would not be complete without a rendezvous with Phyllis Bitow and Terri Pedone for dinner and a show at the Irish Repertory Theater. This year it was Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock. At this point my understanding of Irish dialect is nearing perfection! Our usual pick is the Metropolitan Opera, but no tickets were available at the last minute.

Together with Terri and Phyllis

 

In between shows I was able to renew ties with old friends Gary Shippy, Grace Polk, Luba Schnable & Skip Ungar, and Madison Scott, whom I had met last summer when she was acting in the Whidbey Island Shakespeare Festival. What fun to meet at a coffee shop in the Village.

 

The night before I left to visit my grandson, Adam Bixler, and his girlfriend, Allie Francis, in North Bergen, NJ, a close friend of James’s, Jim Guedry, treated me to a farewell party at his inviting home on Charles Street in the area of the Village known for its picturesque brownstone buildings. It was like walking into an art museum, only with more mirrors and better food! ’Twas a lovely evening of good conversation and fellowship with a stimulating group of friends.

I spent the weekend with Adam and Allie in their new apartment across the river from NYC.

The climax came on Sunday evening when we went to the ever-popular musical, Jersey Boys, in Manhattan. Ben Vitello, another close friend, shared the evening with us and returned me to Maplewood, where I stayed until take-off on Wednesday morning.

Ben, Allie & Adam after the show

Spring was just getting started in the old home town. The magnolias were magnificent at Martha’s former homestead but the buds were just peeking through the branches at Cheryl and Steve’s house.

Cheryl’s home was, as always, warm and inviting. And, despite all the companies and projects she manages, she always takes time to serve me a splendid breakfast!

You may remember that for the last two years my sojourn “back home” was met with a violent snowstorm. So this year I pushed the trip back a week and missed the white stuff, but managed to hit rain and fierce winds in Manhattan…enough to turn two strong umbrellas inside out while walking in Midtown. Them’s fierce winds, my friend. Make no mistake about it. Maybe next year I’ll go in May. But with climate change you never know.

I spent my last afternoon enjoying a festive reunion with two of my symphony buddies, Mike Schneider, his wife, Tami, and Andy Nagy. For years Mike, Andy, and I held up the second violin section of the Plainfield Symphony. Hah hah. Now they are on their own! We met at an Israeli pizzeria, Pita on Essex, in Millburn. Go figure…But it was terrific!

 

I was overjoyed when another friend, Jackie Herships, whom I met when she was running the organization, Professionals in Media, offered to take me to the airport. She, like Cheryl, go above and beyond the call of duty!

 

Returning to Whidbey Island was like entering Nepal in November, although spring was still ahead of the East Coast. It’s all that rain we entertain every winter. The forsythia had come and gone, but flowering trees, rhododendron, and daffodils abounded. Thank heaven for the return of the sun! But isn’t it about time to move above 60?

I took long walks by the Sound and meandered on the beach at low tide. It was heavenly….

For a week, daughter, Cary, has entertained a cycling friend of hers from Holland, Ian Borwell, whom she met in 1982 through their common interest in the WindCheetah, a human-powered vehicle made in Norwich, England. Cary was living in Holland at the time. This resulted in her buying a WindCheetah and traversing the United States for 10,000 miles in 1985. Another bicycling friend and artist, Stephen McMillan, joined them before returning home to Bellingham.

But the highlight of my return was a sunset dinner at Maxwelton Beach with my friends Don and Anne Zontine, Jerene, and Zangmo, welcoming me back. Naturally, we came equipped with down jackets and heavy blankets!

 

 

JON POLLACK – THIS WAS A MAN!

Jon Pollack, my dearest friend and hiking partner, died on January 13, 2018, leaving a huge void in my life that can never be filled. You may remember that I’ve written extensively in this blog of our adventures over the past nineteen years, and know that he was instrumental in introducing me to the beauty of both the Olympic and the Cascade mountains.

Jon at Cedar Creek, Olympic National Park, 1992

2011 Together at the Lewis River

Jon was a truly versatile human being. His musical talent ranged from early dancing and singing in musical comedy to longtime participation in the Seattle Men’s Chorus. After graduating from Columbia College in NYC, while at the same time devouring every play, opera, or art show that graced the city, he returned to the Northwest and spent every fall and summer backpacking. How he loved the forests of the great Northwest!

Jon at Shi-Shi with the Yellow Line Club 1995

Over the years he hiked every trail in the Olympics and tackled the Cascades, summiting some of the highest peaks in both ranges. In the nineties he and his friends, Dennis Larsen and Pat Ziobron, teamed up to form the yellow line club, adding another friend, Kathy Kelleher, halfway into the game. They used the map handed out to tourists, and every time they finished a trail segment it was marked by a yellow highlighter, thus the name. Yes, they did all 628 plus miles over five years of weekends and vacations, rain or shine.

Summitting Mt. St. Helens 1991

1991 Jon on summit of Glacier Peak, 10,500 ft

In the late ‘90’s Jon started leading difficult backpacking trips in the Cascades and Canada with a close group of friends. He was a strong leader and, especially in my case, an accepting friend. There were several times when he dealt patiently with my fear of exposure on some of the cliff-side trails, especially when we would get lost and have to scramble up a scree-laden incline. I remember his shouting, “Stand up, Meg, for God’s sake stand up!” as he reached for my hand, finally accepting the fact that I was going to crawl up the side of a steep incline because I was too afraid to stand and risk falling backwards.

Machapuchare

Jon and I met in 1999 while trekking on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. From the time he helped me remember the final lyrics to De Lovely, I knew we were kindred spirits. We spent the rest of the trail annoying our fellow climbers with show tunes!

Like me, Jon was a theater, opera, and New Yorker addict. We went to the Seattle opera, together, often with two close friends, Christy Korrow and Barry North.  We discussed theater for hours and Jon’s knowledge was encyclopedic. Yes, our interests dovetailed. We were in synch.

At the Seattle Opera 2016

In the summer we hiked from the Olympics to Vancouver Island, and from Assiniboine to Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies. I’ve written many blog posts of our glorious sojourns into the wilderness, whether backpacking or just hiking from our campsite. You can read about some of them HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.  Jon is mentioned in so many places on my blog: you can find them HERE.

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Jon was a rare man. He faced his imminent death like my son, Christopher. He saw what was coming, he fought it, but in the end he accepted it with grace and gratitude for the varied and rich life he had experienced. At 61 he still had a lot of exploring and living to do. But a virulent cancer consumed him and within eight months he was gone.

It was Jon’s inclusive spirit, his joie de vivre, his hilarious sense of humor, his optimism, and his ability to help all those who were fortunate enough to cross his path that drew us to him and will live on within us.

Some years ago I introduced Jon to the beauty of New England—Maine, Vermont, and the vagaries of hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. On our first  climb up the Randolph side of Mt. Washington to Crag Camp, he got his first taste of the rough and boulder-strewn trails in the Whites. They weren’t the predictable switchbacks of the Olympics. In frustration he turned back to me and yelled, “Meg, where the hell is the bloody trail?”

“You’re on the trail, Jon. You’re on the bloody trail….”

And from now on you will be with me on every step of any future trail I tackle in your beloved Northwest. I could never find my way without you.

 

MT. BAKER, THE DEFINING JEWEL OF THE CASCADES

P1100548No matter how many times I return to this majestic peak, I find subtle nuances I had overlooked before. Walking around our campsites, deep in the woods, I found hidden trails, shady alcoves blanketed in pine needles, varied ground cover, and ferns—some delicate, some enormous, each with its individual, intricate pattern. At night I would sit on the outskirts and watch the waning sun cast its brilliance through the branches, covering everything in a mystical glow. No photo can possibly substitute for nature’s real colors, but I tried.

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The North Cascades are a wilderness defined by giant fir trees and native woody cousins whose lateral branches slope downwards, pulled by masses of bright green moss. Sometimes the burden is round, sometimes tubular, but always magical to me as I wander through the untouched forest. To be sure, some of the larger blow-downs are sliced in half by volunteer repair groups to let the hikers by, but most of the woods are left in a natural state.

My camp partner as usual was Jon Pollack, whom I met trekking on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal in 1999. Our usual campsite in the Cascades over the years has been Silver Fir, which we visited in 2015 and 2013, but this year we chose one about 30 minutes off the beaten track deep in the wilderness, not far from Cascade Pass—Mineral Creek Campground—recommended by Steve Austin, the most charming, helpful camp host we’ve encountered. The fact that I offered my kingdom for a campsite might have helped. He was curious as to what my kingdom might comprise!

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Near the campsite was a roaring river, one of several we would encounter over the next ten days.

P1100377And hovering above us was the ever-present Mt. Shuksun.  Here it is as seen from the south side.

Bears are a big topic in the Cascades. Here I am conversing with one at the North Cascades Visitors Center on our way to Washington Pass.

And, of course, we were surrounded by views on every side. Too bad I don’t know how to upload the video I took of the entire panorama. Still cameras just can’t do the job, although I tried!

The next ten days were filled with hikes, swimming in Baker Lake, and relaxing at our new campsite, Panorama Point. We were incredibly lucky to find the last unreserved site and, we think, the largest and the most beautiful. From now on we’re going to reserve a long way ahead of time! Fishing was a big sport at the lake, but it did nothing to disturb the peaceful area surrounding our favorite swimming hole.

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Here are a few slide shows of our hikes. Pictures tell the story far better than my attempts to describe the Northwest wilderness—from old growth to temperate rain forest—mountain ridges too numerous to name, and the ever-present mountain streams and waterfalls, forded by bridges of varying quality.

Through Washington Pass to Diablo Lake trailhead, down to Ross Dam and Ross Lake.

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Our campsite was on the unpaved road not far from Cascade Pass, which we had climbed a few years ago. This time we only went to the pass after getting a late start. It wasn’t difficult for me to forego going up and over Sahale Arm.

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Our most strenuous hike was to Park Butte, reached by driving nine miles over an unpaved road. The trail was varied—winding switchbacks with lumber-reinforced banks (a bit too much exposure for me), trenches of white rocks that looked like abandoned river beds, steep rocky sections reminiscent of the White Mountains, and stretches of scree, making downhills slippery and challenging. And who could forget the variety of rustic bridges along the way? We reached a fire tower with panoramic views, but getting there really freaked me out, since we had to scale sheer rock to reach the steps. I think I’ve had it with fire towers!

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One final hurrah was the Anderson Butte trail.

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A farewell gift from the master fire builder….P1100695

 

HEAR YE! HEAR YE! ANNOUNCEMENT TO MY SUBSCRIBERS

To all my blog subscribers, let me correct an unfortunate oversight. Those of you who have received my blog by email subscription since last May have not gotten any of my slideshows. This is because emails cannot take this much information. We are working to correct this so that you can click through to the blog post and enjoy the slideshows.

Here are my linked blog posts from October going back to May where you can see the slideshows! I’m so sorry for this inconvenience, but glad it was discovered!

A glorious day in Upper Melamchi  with slideshow of our trip to the Yolmo

Thirty days hath September and every one a jewel  with a slideshow of the Soup Box Derby in Langley

I hadn’t let go of summer, yet, when the autumn fog began rolling in with a slideshow of our hike to Mt. Rainier

There is a harmony in autumn and a luster in its sky with a slideshow of our hike around Mt. Baker

Solstice is over and summer is in full swing with a slideshow of glorious Whidbey solstice sunsets

Crashing on the pavement big-time in Tacoma! with a slideshow of my summer hikes at Steamboat Rock

 

CRASHING ON THE PAVEMENT IN TACOMA….BIG TIME!

I’m an expert crasher. I try to average at least one major dive a year. Seems pretty frivolous to mention after all of the important news from Nepal. But this is not like an earthquake. It’s preventable. Just ask my children, who feel that if I’m trying to kill myself, this is an unceremonious way to die and needs serious addressing. So I hasten to remind them that I have never, repeat never, fallen on a trek or a mountain (except once on the top of Mt. Washington, where I understandably tripped over my new, unfamiliar hiking poles) or even on the sidewalks of Asian countries like Myanmar, where one misstep can land you in an open sewer with a broken leg. I specialize in monasteries, trains of questionable quality, and city streets where the pavement is supposed to be smooth. And where you don’t expect potholes or crooked pavement. If only my recent mishap had occurred in New York City I could have sued for a million dollars and been on easy street. But, alas, I had to pick Tacoma, Washington, unfamiliar territory for my Guardian Angel, who was probably snoozing, anyway, while my own thoughts were on the hike I was about to take with my buddy, Jon Pollack, of Annapurna fame. And therein lies the rub.

I’m always amazed at how few Good Samaritans there are at such times. There I was, having smacked my head on the pavement and scraped myself to a fare-thee-well from top to bottom, and in the process of wiping the blood from my clothes, when a man walked by, cigarette dangling from his mouth. “Are you OK?” he asked, desultorily.

“Oh, sure,” I replied. “I sit on the ground every Friday and bleed. It’s a religious ritual.”

“Hrrumpff,” and off he went leaving me to pick myself up and move my car to the garage where Jon and I continued packing. Forty Band Aids later we took off, and in seven hours were in beautiful Columbia River territory setting up camp for a three day hike in the woods.

Three weeks later, the hiking having been superb and my purple shiner almost gone, I started to have numbness in my left hand. When it moved to the face and my speech started slurring I got scared. Thus began a series of tests…CAT scan, MRI, and MRA. It was an education for me, and not one I care to repeat. Seems I sustained a small subdural hematoma which was attempting to re-absorb into my head, while poking into my right brain and causing me to babble. That’s all you need to know, except that all is well and I promise never to fall, again. It just ain’t worth it!

Here is the beginning of my summer hikes.

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TECHNOLOGY! TECHNOLOGY! TECHNOLOGY!

How many people over 65 (and that includes me) are roaming around the halls of mental asylums, clicking on every doorknob and cutting and pasting their inmates as they search for old photographs and lost documents, repeating, hysterically, pdf. mpf, hypertext,.doc.? I have come up with a solution: a new organization,Technology Anonymous for Technotards (TAT). It may not sound politically correct, but it will save your sanity. Who would like to join me? It meets every Wednesday at 6 PM at the Langley Marina on Puget Sound. Come dressed in your diving gear. It will be a long, dark night, but it sure beats Bedlam.

All of which is to announce that at long last I have had my website upgraded with new photos, incredible insights (just ask my children if you don’t believe it), and a clickable map of my travels that exhausts even me. It will be launched by the middle of May (cross your fingers), so watch for it! If my erstwhile webmaster, Matt McDowell (www.screenthumb.com), survives the ordeal, he has very kindly agreed to be the premier advisor to TAT. That’s the first split infinitive I’ve used in years, but Matt deserves it!

As a heralding of spring I want to share this beautiful African lily, the rare yellow clivia, which my son, Tom, brought me a few weeks ago when he moved to Langley. And there is another orange one just getting ready to bloom. Doesn’t it make you want to dance? P1070339 On the first day of March, Jon Pollack and I celebrated the beginning of the hiking season with a day trip to Park Forest near Eatonville. We were accompanied by old friends, the prolific historical writer, Dennis Larsen, and his wife, Pat Ziobron. Mt. Rainier was overpowering, with views all along the trail. I was unable to get a photo on the winding road back, but I did catch some beautiful shots at the marina in Tacoma near where Jon lives.

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The closer you get the more beautiful it is!

P1070291 Life continues in Langley, with enthusiastic Art Walks, excellent theater–a superb production of Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz–and an original musical, Pasture-ized, by Whidbey’s own Ken Merrell and Eileen Soskin, which could well start, immediately, Off-Broadway. And, of course, volunteering in the garden is in full sway as the fresh produce has returned in abundance, thanks to the tireless work of the garden experts  and their apprentices. I haven’t forgotten about Yolmo/Helambu. Just had a little detour, but it’s on its way….

MY LIFE IS A JIGSAW PUZZLE. I’M PUTTING IT BACK TOGETHER, PIECE BY PIECE!

Did you ever feel splintered? Fragmented? With a little “How did this ever happen to a nice girl/boy like me?” thrown in? And I mean this turmoil occurs while you’re completely sober and mentally as clear-headed as if you were, once again, that beautiful 35-year-old, who managed a large house, five children and a heavy travel/teaching/writing schedule…to say nothing of all the cooking and cleaning and yard work that provided the down side to an otherwise very exciting life? (You may have guessed that 35 is the age at which I choose to float through eternity).

The fact that I have left you, my friends, dangling, picture-wise, about my trip to Bhutan last November-December, and my subsequent adventures in Nepal and India, can only attest to the confusing and rapid sequence of events that followed my decision to sell my house in Maplewood, NJ, divest myself of most worldly goods (except those love letters…give me a break…and curly-edged photographs that go in the stand- alone albums), drive my ailing Toyota cross country with son, Tom, who is still recovering, and plunk myself in the first apartment I’ve occupied in 62 years. Thank God for that view of Mt. Baker and Puget Sound! And the reasonable rent.

Yes, it so happened, I did find that there was life after Broadway and the Plainfield Symphony, and more nice people on Whidbey Island than even on the #1 train to Lincoln Center, but I was still a fish out of water. Then, as if to compound my ruminations/ wheel-spinning, about what I should or even want do next, I found myself facing up to where I am right now: the grateful recipient of a new hip, brought on by whatever happens when you beat your body up and down the mountains for 80 years. I dived into this experience with gusto, clearing the decks of all previous summer plans, and finding an adorable doctor at Swedish Hospital in Seattle, who, in 45 minutes, sawed off my leg, drilled a hole in my pelvis and hammered and screwed in a miraculous device which leaves me half-bionic, and sent me home the next day with no precautions (he knew it wouldn’t do any good, anyway). This is high-tech carpentry if I ever saw it, with a medical degree thrown in. And for those who may have hip or joint pain, it’s called a minimally-invasive anterior hip replacement. You can find a dandy video of the operation on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jb2nq_jRwI Just don’t view it before dinner.

This all occurred less than three weeks ago and I am now walking around (carefully!), unaided, and looking forward to a return to the Himalayas in November. When I asked Dr. Pritchett if I could go, he answered, “Why not?”

So why am I disjointed (not meant as a pun)? I have children who have helped every step of the way, especially Cary, my eldest, who has been juggling six projects as she hovered over me like Nurse Nightingale, figuring pain dosages and exercises, and sleeping in my flat to make sure I didn’t wander onto the balcony and howl at the moon at midnight. And almost too many friends, who have brought food and overwhelmed me with kindness to the point where I was screaming for solitude. You know the feeling. And now I’m alone with my thoughts. God help me! No more pain medicine, not much pain, and all the time in the world to agonize.

Partial reason for this blood-letting: A new awakening. I have never felt so vulnerable. So at the mercy of “the kindness of others…not strangers.” Well, here’s a reliable fact of life for you, Meg. Things go wrong. But you’ve been pretty lucky in the past. You think you’re the only one who will live forever? Really? Good luck!

You’ll be glad to know that I’m now working on acceptance…an old Buddhist teaching, easier said than done. My, we do fight reality, don’t we?

I just read a book given to me by a friend in Seattle, Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette. It brought a smile to my face and lifted my spirits to know that I can find simpatico crazies here in the Northwest if I just put the pieces of the puzzle back together and open up a new space, free of the past and eager for the possibilities of the future.

© 2019 Meg Noble Peterson & Site by Matt McDowell