Mushrooms Everywhere!

A classic Amanita mushroom growing in my neighbor’s field

The fall of 2023 is a stunning year for mushrooms in the forests along the Pacific Northwest coast of North America. They come in most every color: Yellow, red, brown, purple, pink, white, and even black. Some grow on the forest floor, some on logs, some only on individual Douglas fir cones. They occupy nearly every inch of the forest and are completely essential to its health.


This tiny mushroom grows only on Douglas fir cones.

An example of a gilled mushroom holding a tiny lake of raindrops.


In a recent class I taught for fifth graders at one of the Whidbey Camano Land Trust sites, I had the students stomp their feet on the forest floor. “Underneath one of your feet are 300 miles (480 kilometers) of mycelium,” I said. “They mostly can only be seen through microscopes, but if you laid these little thread-like roots under your foot end to end they would  stretch from one end of our island to the other six times!”

And what do mycelium become? They become mushrooms when conditions of temperature and moisture are just right. The fifth graders received deep caution about trying to eat any mushrooms. The focus of our class was wonder, amazement, and respect for the role of these “creatures”.

Twenty years ago, mushrooms were still thought to be in the plant kingdom. Now, however, they have been catalogued by scientists to be in their own kingdom—a kingdom mostly invisible to us except during spectacular “blooms” like this fall. The more I learn about mushrooms, the more I am convinced they are the magicians of the natural world.

A lignin decomposing shelf fungus

Notice the brown spore print below the shelf fungus. Spores disseminate the mushrooms into new places, much like primitive seeds.

Need a two-ton tree on the forest floor removed? Mushrooms will do the job. Need to find a way to decompose plastics? Mushrooms are proving capable of that “impossible” job. Is there a disease in need of cure? Likely a mushroom exists that can be of help. And mental health challenges? Mushrooms are on the frontier of that field, too.

Mushrooms also provide us with spectacular metaphors for life. On a recent zoom call between Wilderness Guides in Ukraine, North America, and Europe I listened to the dire reports from my Ukrainian colleagues: those in their 20s and 30s struggling to have hope for the future, one in his 60s whose son had just been sent to the front line. Please, they asked us, tell us something of your lives so we can see beyond our own borders.

My check-in was about our forest mushrooms. “I know mushroom foraging is important in your country. Lately, I have been walking our forest trails and been absolutely amazed by the variety, color, and abundance of our mushrooms this fall. One month ago, there were scarcely any mushrooms out. Now they are everywhere. It is a poignant reminder that unseen, powerful forces for beauty and good are always at work around each of us.”

Fairy finger mushrooms.



A log being decayed by moss, witches butter mushrooms(yellow) and a species of gilled mushrooms


Shaggy mane mushroom


Admiring or collecting mushrooms is more fun with friends—Marcia and Christina holding onto Libbie and Vivi who are NOT truffle sniffing dogs!

If you are hunting mushrooms for eating, go with someone local who knows what they are doing! I had the privilege of acting as sweep for a recent Whidbey Camano Land Trust walk with Kyle Ostermick-Durfee, WCLT steward specialist and amateur mushroom hunter Sego Jackson.











Mycology, the study of fungi, is a complex and fascinating field. One of the best, most accessible sources of information is the film by Louie Schwartzberg entitled “Fantastic Fungi”. The film with animation focuses on connection between all mushrooms and the earth’s systems. It can be accessed on line.

One of the best books I’ve read recently about fungi is Entangled Life, How Fungi Make our Worlds, Change our Minds and Shape our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake.

And I pay tribute here to Dr. Lois H. Tiffany, mycologist, my professor at Iowa State University, who first opened my mind to the wonder of fungi. She was known as “Iowa’s mushroom lady”, taught at ISU for over 50 years, and received numerous national awards for her work. She passed away in 2009 and would be totally amazed by the knowledge gained in the mycological world since her death.

One of my all time mentors, Dr. Lois H. Tiffany




A Calming Ritual

The international and national news cycle is heartbreaking. When I can no longer follow one more thread of the Israeli/Hamas war or the Ukrainian War or the chaos in the U.S. House of Representatives, I go outside to tend to the ritual of closing down the garden for the season.

This one little patch of earth is where I can make a difference. I stand at the gate overlooking twelve raised beds that need my care and flourish because of it. October weather changes daily, growing cooler and wetter. The day length is shrinking so fast that the sun scarcely has the strength to burn off last night’s dew. I follow a sequence of chores that nearly 30 years of gardening here has taught me.

Ann in her fall garden

Unlike my gardening days in northern Minnesota in the 1980s, there is not an abrupt end of fall gardening here. Our climate in the Pacific Northwest is far milder, even though the latitude here is slightly further north than Duluth, MN. The presence of Puget Sound creates a moderating effect that keeps October temperatures between high 40 degrees F. (8 degrees C.) to low 60 degrees F. (17 degrees C.). By contrast, Duluth has already had its first frost. Whidbey’s first frost date is usually mid-November.

I gather my hand tools and shovel, appreciating the respite gardening gives me from the dire news of the world. My tasks are not avoidance, but a kind of meditation, a way I receive teaching from the ground I stand on.

First teaching: There is a season of flourishing, harvesting, last gifts, and completion. Plants are excellent communicators of this cycle.  Our bean and pea plants yellowed weeks ago. When there is no longer enough chlorophyll to keep them alive, I pull them up, move them to the compost pile, and plant a cover crop of rye, common vetch, and crimson clover so the soil in those beds maintains its fertility and composition through the winter rains.

This year’s cover crop: rye, common vetch, crimson clover scattered on the ground, covered with remay cloth to keep the birds from eating the seed, AND then covered with chicken wire to keep the squirrels from eating the seed!

Second teachingA gardener is in relationship with everything: plants, soil, weather, birds, and squirrels. Figuring out relationships seems to be a major source of the human problems in the world. No, I don’t have any answers except to respond with kindness, respect, and listening. Those three things work in the garden with the critters. I do, however, confess to more than my share of unkind thoughts towards grey squirrels who have forced me to figure ever more clever ways to grow my cover crops. And chasing them around the perimeter fence certainly gives our little corgi purpose in life!

This year I grew a spectacular 9 foot sunflower plant. When it turned to seed, it was stunning to watch the squirrels hang upside down by their tails devouring the seed.

Planting tulip bulbs for next spring, I covered them with wire mesh to keep the squirrels from digging them up!





Third teaching: Be patient and move at the pace of nature. I used to pull up most crops by mid-October and put in my cover crops and garlic before the end of the month. These days, two hours is a good workload and I don’t try to move fast. I let the plants finish themselves. Potatoes are still in the ground, so are two rows of carrots.

Two rows of carrots that won’t come out of the ground until November. Raspberry bushes and asparagus stalks in the background.

Fourth teaching: Let nature show the ways to heal and delight. I come to the garden daily for peace of mind. Here, I admire the hardy tomato plant(grown on the deck for extra warmth) using its last push to ripen tiny fruits. I am amazed by a zucchini plant putting forth blossoms, even when there seems little hope for a fruit to ripen.  Finding joy in the dailyness of things is a radical act in this challenging world. I pluck a handful of not moldy raspberries and let memories of summer’s red juice burst on my tastebuds. If  I can get to the place of admiring the athletic antics of the  squirrels, I know the garden has worked its balm.

Cherry tomatoes ripening on the deck, even though the plants contain little remaining chlorophyll.

A zucchini blossoming in mid-October with a young fruit just behind the blossom.


A few ripe raspberries remain on the vine even into mid-October.











Returning to the house after a morning or afternoon of gardening, I do not open the news—either on my phone or the computer. I need some indoor integration time with a cup of tea or a conversation with Christina or a friend.

 The natural rhythms of the planet have always informed and given me the skills of steadfastness and compassion needed to cope with the human world that so dominates daily life. I take the peace of my garden and make sure it is integrated into my heart and soul. Come winter, my main chore will be feeding birds, keeping the seeds and suet available. in January, I will cut back the raspberry canes. In early February I will release the tulip and garlic tips from their wire cage. In March, turn over the cover crop and plant a line of early lettuce, spinach and arugula. There is always something to do in the garden. Thank goodness.

Vivi guards the newly planted garlic from her nemesis, the squirrels. She will be there in February to help me admire the brave new shoots of life. (Note the covering of chicken wire to keep the garlic bulbs from being dug up by the squirrels.)

Solo on the Spit

Each year for many years I have held the intention to spend time alone camping in nature, offering gratitude for my life and the earth, designing simple ceremonies, and doing whatever wilderness adventuring my body allows. This is my most basic spiritual practice, a way to reset and check my internal barometer.

This August I had a campsite reserved in the Cascade Mountains. However, as time drew nearer, temperatures were predicted to rise above 100 degree F. (38 degrees C.) Then a nearby fire exploded down forested foothills. Time to change plans and cancel the reservation. But these were the days I had set aside in a month full of harvest and volunteer commitments.

Public campgrounds of either the local, state, or national variety are solidly booked these days. The weather forecast indicated that camping near the cool waters of Puget Sound made the most sense. However, there were no open spots anywhere—except first come, first serve. Not my favorite scenario, but abandoning hours of internet searching for availability, off I went in a spirit of trust.

Surprise #1

With my change of plans I had to count on standby status on a ferry normally fully booked during the summer. Last car on the ferry! Things looked good for my spontaneous plans.

Dungeness Spit Recreation Area overlooking the Straits of Juan de Fuca had some first come, first serve campsites. I caught the first ferry from Coupeville (yes, I was standby status) and lucked into an exquisite site located 20 yards from a bluff overlooking the Strait. By 11 a.m. my site was fully set up.  I loaded up my backpack and headed out to Dungeness Spit National Wildlife Refuge.

My solo tent—no rainfly for breathability. No mosquitoes or wasps either!

Dungeness Spit is the longest natural sand spit in the United States. Jutting out into the Straits from the Olympic Peninsula, it is a narrow, 5-mile-long curve of sand, beach logs, and incredible bird habitat. I hiked about halfway to the light house, sat down, ate my lunch, and marveled at the blue expanse of sea and the shore of Vancouver Island (Oh Canada!) across the Strait. My intention for this trip was a modified retreat/quest—insightful solo time, small ceremonies, journal writing, and wilderness adventure.

Looking at Dungeness Spit from the bluff above.

I had hiked far enough out on the spit that there were no other human beings around—just the seagulls and terns. Pulling out my journal, I began to record my gratitude—always a first day exercise for me on these solos. Even though fully covered and sitting within reach of the shore breezes, the intensity of the sun and heat drove me back to my campsite by early afternoon.



Surprise #2

About halfway up the forested, paved path from the beach back to the campsite (a 2/3 mile, incline) I began to feel completely exhausted. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I was capable of walking to my campsite. I staggered on. Once back, I sat sweaty and thirsty in my camp chair drinking and drinking water, beyond the 2 quarts I had carried down to the spit and already consumed. I worried I had Covid.  I took a nap. Rising, I still felt completely lethargic—just sat in my chair and began to marvel at the small Douglas fir and alder trees around me, the chestnut-backed chickadees and golden-crown kinglets carrying on their high pitched dialogues in the underbrush,  and the distant view of Vancouver Island. After a time, I felt hungry enough to cook up a bit of supper. (I no longer fast from food during these self-designed solo times.  I fast from electronics, homey comforts, and my beloved family, but for health reasons do not fast from food.)

By sunset I was feeling like my usual self and it dawned on me that despite camping in one of the coolest spots in the region these hot days and engaging in only very moderate exercise, I had experienced a case of mild heat exhaustion. Obviously, another thing I am more susceptible to as I age and weather intensifies.

Surprise #3

Sun setting over the Straits of Juan de Fuca.

As sunset approached, I walked 25 steps around the forested area protecting my tent site to a bench overlooking the Strait. The bench was located along a paved path. Only one other person was sitting awaiting the sun’s nightly journey onto the horizon. There was no wind, just the rhythmic pounding of surf on the beach far below. No sound of footsteps, just the slow, inexorable sliding of the sun on its ever-changing nightly course. I sat in awe of this nightly spectacle. As it began to darken, I turned and rose to go back to my campsite. There were nine people standing behind me in the cathedral of sunset! No one had said a word. A few bowed as I passed by.

Surprise #4

My first night in a smaller tent since my back surgery a year ago went smoothly and well. The second day of my solo is usually about listening for wisdom from my ancestors—both recent and long ago. Always I create a simple altar for this ceremony. Again, I hiked out on Dungeness Spit. Again, it was a hot day in the upper 80s (low 30sC). I brought more water and the awareness to REALLY take it easy.

Altar created on the shore of the beach out of stones and a few sacred objects brought from home.

This is a place Christina and I have come before to scatter our son Brian’s ashes and honor the yearly passages since his death in 2013. We are approaching the 10th anniversary of his passing. Sometimes these anniversaries are harder than others. And days can pass now when I don’t think of him. But this year the generosity of his estate enabled his nephew, our beloved grandson, to go to college. The great heart of our son and the enormous enthusiasm of our grandson for this gift filled me with an overload of happiness and profound grief. Mixed together they came out as huge sobs which I had absolutely no control over. Ceremony brings the inside to the outside, helps us pause and bear witness to that which is within us always. It always serves to guide my life going forward.

Surprise #5

On the final full day of my solo when temperatures were beginning to cool down into the low 80s F.(mid to upper 20 Degrees C.), I drove to the Olympic National Park to be with the great old growth trees. My choice of trails had been to travel up Hurricane Ridge and hike. However, the road was closed for removal of fire debris. Another surprise. More flexibility required.  I decided to hike the Heart of the Hills trail—moderate difficulty, large trees, 4.4 miles out and back, recommended by the ranger at Park headquarters.

However, this was the sign at the trailhead.

A warning sign at the trailhead. Cougar protocol: hike with others, carry hiking sticks, look LARGE if you confront one and never, ever run.

Yikes! As I was reading the sign,  a pair of women hikers came up behind me and began the trail. I reasoned I was not really alone and headed out a short distance after them, though I definitely gave them their space.

Trail among Olympic Mountain old growth trees both standing and downed by powerful storms.

Typical trail section through thick undergrowth of Devil’s Club and over a bridge because it IS a rainforest with seeps everywhere.










Only at the turn around point by the river did we see one another again. About 30 minutes after seeing my trail friends, I did stop to pick up a large, stout stick for some reassurance. Surprise #5 is that I did not see a cougar!

Surprise #6

This surprise could simply be that I was able to have a solo in a public campground that was so deeply meaningful for me. Yes, I did have interactions with a few people, but mostly i was able to practice solitude, deeply held by the natural world of my own bioregion. And in the spirit of the quest, my “base camp” and community back home, Christina and Vivi, welcomed me with long beach rambles and deep story sharing.

Another photo of the holy moment of sunset at a public campground.

Holding onto the Thread

Those of us in the Wilderness Guides Council who are no longer actively leading trips or are beginning to slow down in how many we lead, belong to the organization’s “elders council”. We are a diverse group of folks ranging in age from 65 to 89, sharing our thoughts about moving into this next phase of our lives. I find our bimonthly zoom conversations helpful, honest, and insightful to my own aging. We were each asked to write a reflection about this transition which I also share here as a blog post.

Many of my peers are engaging in different versions of the question, “How am I transitioning into my elder years?” I share some of my thoughts here and encourage yours.

I turn first to William Stafford’s remarkable poem:

                   The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among

things that change. But it doesn’t change.

People wonder about what you are pursuing.

You have to explain about the thread.

But it is hard for others to see.

While you hold it you can’t get lost.

Tragedies happen; people get hurt

or die; and you suffer and get old.

Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.

You don’t ever let go of the thread.

                                                   By William Stafford, from The Way It Is, 1998

This is the poem we always shared with people from our Cascadia Quest as they prepared to return home, encouraging them to integrate the insights they had found from their time on the quest. This is a poem that speaks to me deeply. It encourages me to articulate how I am holding the “Thread” at this time in my life.

I have always trusted the world of nature and it has rewarded me with endless wonder. My earliest childhood memory is lying on my back in our backyard staring at clouds and making up stories about mysterious figures in the sky. Growing up in the 1950’s, a little white girl in small town Minnesota, I had tremendous freedom to roam the fields, forests, and nearby stream in all seasons.

When I was twelve, I took my three-year-old sister to look for crawdads at Turtle Creek on the back of my Raleigh 3-speed bicycle. At sixteen, as a YMCA camp counselor in northern Minnesota, I took eight-year-olds on overnight canoe trips.

Sharing the mystery and beauty of nature with others has been the guiding thread in my life. I was a botany major who became a Forest Service naturalist, schoolteacher, mother, grandmother, kayaking and wilderness guide. In 1990, friends and I published, Teaching Kids to Love the Earth (University of Minnesota Press). In 1992 I kayaked around the shore of Lake Superior—a journey of 1800 miles and 65 days. To pay homage to this feat and incorporate its lessons I wrote Deep Water Passage, a Spiritual Quest at Midlife (1995, Pocketbook).

Ann on her journey around Lake Superior

Though I knew little about the rites of passage movement emerging in a transfer and amalgam of Native knowledge into the white naturalist community, the Lake Superior journey set me to reading—pre-internet—to understand the deeper spiritual longings underneath my physical feat. That reading eventually led me to The School of Lost Borders and introduced me to Anne Stine. In 2004, she and I designed Elderquests for women 50 and older in the Inyo mountains of California.

Anne Stine and Ann at their Elderquest basecamp in the Inyo Mountains        









Guiding dovetailed with the pioneering work Christina Baldwin and I offered to integrate the collaborative wisdom of circle within the hierarchical structures of modern business, education, medicine, and governance The Circle Way, A Leader in Every Chair (2010, Berrett-Koehler). While this work took us indoors, there was always a “campfire” in the center, and the patterns of severance, threshold, solo, and incorporation, were also present.

In 2010 Christina Baldwin, Deborah Greene-Jacobi and I designed Cascadia Quest, melding lineages from Lost Borders, The Circle Way, and Angeles Arrien’s Fourfold Way.  We offered that quest to women and men in eastern Washington until retiring from the work in 2021.

Ann, Deborah-Greene-Jacobi, Christina Baldwin, Vivi as mascot











In my 70’s guiding and sharing nature with others looks different than in previous decades, but it is still a strong thread that brings purpose into my life. Whether taking friends and family for local walks or paddles, hosting our summer Granny camps, leading local Land Trust hikes or coordinating environmental education activities with school groups, I help people set aside the human story and become quiet enough to hear the Nature story. Keepers of the Trees (2010, Skyhorse Publishing)

Ann and Vivi on one of their first Medicine Walks at the beginning of the pandemic, a weekly spiritual practice for both of them.

My ability to implement my passion is slower in my seventies. Hikes are shorter, camping requires a larger tent and thicker pad, paddling requires a lightweight kayak, and formal solo-time is self-designed with my partner as basecamp. And even those adjustments will change and morph as my body ages. I hope for more years to love this beautiful Earth. And when dying comes, I pray to lay myself down gently in the duff of the forest.

The Class of 2023

Congratulations to Riley, Mishayla, Natalie, Louisa, Raven, Nico, Hamish, Jaden, and tens of thousands of other young people who crossed the stage to receive their high school diplomas last month. The challenges they face are numerous, but we have had conversations with these eight young people, and they are ready to find their place in the world of adults. It is inspiring to know them and in the case of our beloved grandson, Jaden, to have had the privilege to be involved in his life since he was born.

Challenges for the class of 2023

This class entered high school as ninth graders and were sent home after spring break as their world morphed into the unknown world territory of pandemic. Everything around them was closing and in chaos at precisely the time young people were meant to expand and reach out. The norms they and their parents took for granted were gone. Flexibility became an essential survival skill.

As high school juniors, they re-entered their school buildings wearing masks and working to re-establish relationships, extracurricular activities, and some sense of academic normalcy. By the end of 2021 most mask requirements were dropped. But trust takes time to re-establish.  Patterns don’t happen overnight. We must not take for granted the individual courage and determination this generation of students called upon to succeed in graduating from high school.

Graduation at Culver City High School

Jaden and his parents, Joe and Sally

When we entered the football stadium where Jaden’s graduation took place, I looked around at the crowd of caps and gowns and their proud families. Tears welled up in my eyes. More than a half century ago I was walking across a high school stage in southern Minnesota. And just like these young people, I was eager to take the next steps in my own life. It was the Viet Nam war era. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy would both be assassinated the following spring. There was chaos around me, but my focus was on finding my place in the world. And walking into that stadium on that cool June morning in Los Angeles the words of our grandson somewhere in the sea of blue gowns and gold tassels rang in my ears.

When asked how he felt about graduation, he responded, “I am excited to be going to college, to meet new people, to see another part of my state.”

He is not focused specifically on the challenges of politics in his own country, the war in Ukraine, climate change, racial conflict. He is aware of these things, but focused on the next steps he can take in his life—succeeding in his new summer job, planning for college orientation in the fall, thinking about what his major might be. And that is exactly what we need him to be doing. We have always needed the exuberance, energy, and skill of young people to come along side those of us who are older and more worn down by the challenges of life.

Graduates listening to speeches

Jaden’s grandparents and father in the stadium, photo by Sally, Jaden’s mother

The field was filled with students of every race and ethnicity mingling around looking for friends. High fives and hugs were caught by cell phone cameras by parents and family members bubbling with excitement and pride. After the audience was seated in the football stadium bleachers, the class of 2023 walked onto the center of the field to the recorded notes of “Pomp and Circumstance”. We all stood. Some of us cheered. Some of us shed tears. The time-honored ritual of high school graduation had begun.

The ritual of high school graduation

In most communities this ritual includes processing into a stadium to the song “Pomp and Circumstance”, the wearing of caps and gowns with school colors, speeches by some faculty and students, a march across a stage to receive a high school diploma, the throwing of caps into the air, and a recessional. There is comfort in this continuity—a sense that the world is progressing as we have known it.

Another important aspect of a rite of passage is the presence of family and community to witness the ceremony. Jaden’s parents, sister, and four grandparents (Washington state, Minnesota, and California) came to participate. My sister, Margaret, and her son, Frank, flew in from North Carolina. His aunt drove in from east Los Angeles. This widespread presence signaled to Jaden that we take seriously this achievement.

Jaden’s mom, Sally, Aunt Margaret and cousin Frank from N.C. at the Griffith Observatory

Jaden and cousin Frank touring LA









Jaden opening a card at his graduation party

Jaden and sister Sasha at the graduation party











We had a wonderful weekend of good food, games, tours, and important conversations. At his afternoon graduation party, Jaden called his own circle and asked those present to share a strength they see in him and something he needs to improve as he makes this big step. Each person’s comments and the accompanying stories spoke volumes about the esteem this young man is held in by those closest to him.

Grandpa Joe and Aunt Juell

Living room set-up for Jaden’s graduation circle and party







The graduation cake

Kudos to Jaden and his family

To Sally and Joe—congratulations! A parenting job extremely well done.

Be well, Jaden. Thank you for being such an eager participant in our Whidbey Island Granny camps all these years, for allowing us to help with the college application and choosing process, and for speaking so openly to us from the time you were a young boy.

Do good work  in the world. Your communication skills, work ethic and moral compass are deeply needed. Sonoma State University is lucky to have you as an incoming freshman and you will learn a lot in return.

Ann wearing the Sonoma State University t-shirt, photo by Christina Baldwin

P.S. To read about the road trip we took, driving 2,838 miles to the graduation, read Christina’s blog:


A surprise

It is a warm, sunny Monday afternoon in mid-May on the lawn outside South Whidbey Elementary School. Our group of two teachers, a dozen first and second graders, and myself as a volunteer are sitting on the lawn in a squiggly shaped circle. We have spent the last two hours visiting their pollinator garden, reading a book, and writing in journals.

Visiting the pollinator garden the students have established in the back of their school—with the help of fifth graders.

The book the class is reading together.

Writing in a journal at day’s end. (Children’s faces purposely obscured.)









Fifteen minutes before the close of the school day it is time for the daily check out circle. Their teacher, Miss Ristoff, reviewed behaviors for circle. One child volunteered to lead. Another placed a water bottle filled with picked daisies for the center. Another child suggested everyone say names so I can remember them.

Centerpiece of our circle: a water bottle of picked English daisies.

He began our round of checkout by saying his name, his nick name, and his age. The child next to him passed, not yet ready to speak, and the twig being used as a talking piece went to the next child. “My name is Evan. My nickname is “Ev” and I am 7.3 years old.” By the time the talking stick reached me, nearly everyone has checked in.

“My name is Ann and because it is such a short name, I don’t have a nick name. And I am 73 years old.” I saw some raised eyebrows on the other side of the circle. The girl sitting next to me said quietly, “That’s older than my grandmother.” Smiling, I leaned over to her and responded, “I am a grandmother.” And then I passed the talking piece on.

I can’t stop smiling. For the past several decades I have lead PeerSpirit circles in places ranging from hospitals to university classrooms to non-profit board rooms in many different countries. Nobody in this circle knows or cares. They are just present to their own circle, as they should be.

The closing round of the talking piece is a response to the question, “What is a ‘glow’(something that went well) and what is a ‘grow’ (something that could have gone better) from today that you experienced?”

It is now ten minutes to 3 p.m. and some of the students in other classes are beginning to file out of the building. Yet, the two teachers maintained calm as the natural twitch factor of first and second graders began to ramp up.

First and Second grade teacher Caris Ristoff setting up the journal writing exercise.









Alternative Learning Experience teacher, Andi Kopit, reading a book to the students.

“OK, everyone stand up and do either five somersaults or five jumping jacks,” said Ms.Ristoff. Little bodies instantly went into action. In three minutes everyone was done and sitting back in circle. It took some refocusing, but we were checked out and the students ran inside to pick up their packs a few minutes after 3 p.m. This was a masterfully held circle. Perfect in its timing, respect for individual voices, and content.

I had volunteered to spend an afternoon with the students so they would better know me when I came to be part of their field trip later in the month to visit a blooming prairie. I should have guessed that the students and their teachers would be familiar with circle. However, I had no idea that sitting in a circle with them would be such a poignant reminder to me of the power of circle.

These youngsters are being raised to understand and love the natural world around them. And they are being raised to listen and respect one another. This bodes well for the future of the world around them. And as a complete bonus, two of them gave me a hug on their way into the building!

The Last Spring Break “Granny Camp”

Our two LA city grandchildren have been coming up to visit for most every spring break since they were two years old. Since Jaden is 18, that is nearly 16 years—interrupted a couple of times for a larger family trip, including one year to South Korea. This spring is the last time they will come together because Jaden will be in college next year.

Their mother and father no longer escort them. They have grown into two fine young people who are remarkably helpful and competent. And, since they like to earn money, our weeklong time has gone from a focus on entertainment to an opportunity to learn some outdoor chores—not something they get to do in their LA apartment.

Sasha, Christina, and Jaden on the ferry to Whidbey Island for their last annual granny camp.

Vivi welcoming Sasha and Jaden to our home.










Nature exploration has always been a part of granny camp

Of course, we always get out to explore nature. This time a campfire and hike with our friends and theirs, Nicole and Janet. And that’s the thing: our friends have become theirs over the years. (I don’t have photos of all the adults they spent time with, but you know who you are and your presence in their lives means a lot.) Community has been an important part of their time with us.

Nicole, Janet Sasha, Jaden, Christina and Vivi hiking at Ft. Ebey State Park

Jaden perched on a cedar stump at Ft. Ebey State Park









Sasha preparing to put her intentions into the campfire.

Outdoor chores for pay had a big appeal

Because we live rurally, there are many opportunities for outdoor chores—planting the first seeds in the spring garden, splitting wood to dry for next winter, and raking up debris from under our big Douglas fir trees.

Sasha planting the first pea seeds of the spring.

Jaden moving logs to split.








Sasha using the log splitter.

One of the values we teach our grandkids is the importance of community volunteering. They worked with our local well association to clean up debris from winter storms.










Daily circles and evening board games balanced out their experience

Time indoors cooking together, drawing animal cards for our morning circles, playing board games in the evening, and, of course, playing with Vivi filled our days. The weather was more challenging than usual, but we persevered.

Oh, no, snow during spring break!

Evening board games were an important part of the week. Christina and Sasha playing tile rummy.












Looking for colleges with Jaden

An added element at the end of this year’s time in our home was taking Jaden to visit Sonoma State University—one of three college acceptances he has gotten.

The morning before we did the campus tour we drew animal cards at the restaurant and spoke about the things to look for in a tour. And reviewed questions we might ask.

Jaden standing in front of the SSU Charles Schulz library next to Lucy of the snoopy cartoons.










We stayed with friends Sara Harris and Ken Smith to add the experience of a local connection and the reminder of community.




At day’s end after the campus tour we drovean hour to Bodega Bay State Park to take in the magnificence of the Pacific Ocean.

If there is any greater privilege than having an opportunity to pour love, encouragement, skills and possibilities into a young person, I don’t know what it might be. Thank you, Sally and Joe, for entrusting us with your beautiful children.


Renewing a Longtime Skill

After recovering so well from my August back surgery, I have been eager to return to favorite responsibilities and challenges.

Am I ready?

    To walk the dog, take a longer hike, kayak, garden and mow the lawn?

How do I return without injuring myself?

   I have no sciatica pain, but strained muscles along the surgery site and a tender three-inch scar: how do I listen to my body now?

How can I be of service at this time in my life?

   A more complex question, but important to me, and my service has always included physical challenges.

What about recertifying my Wilderness Medicine First Responder status?

Known as WFR (woofer), this certification is granted only after a rigorous 10-day immersion into deep first aid and emergency response training. In wilderness, a WFR may be the only medical attention available for hours, even days. To retain WFR status requires recertifying every two years, usually a three-day weekend, in which participants first pass the written exam, and then spend two-and-one-half days in outdoor scenarios—sometimes the victim, sometimes the responder.  I had until the end of 2022 to take a three-day training from the National Outdoor Leadership School. A mid-November training was located nearby. I signed up.

To get a permit for guided camping on U.S. Forest Service land, one leader needs to be a WFR. To get insurance for the wilderness trips and quests PeerSpirit has offered, a WFR needs to be on staff. Question #1: I am now officially retired from that work. Do I really need to do this?

Answer #1: Yes. Around home and outdoors, family and friends count on me to respond to any level medical emergency. In my neighborhood, I am part of the informal emergency response during storms and power outages. My skills are useful to people I love and care about. As long as I have stamina for the rigors of training, I want to keep recertifying.

Question #2: Am I up to the task? The only way to find out was try. I registered, found a simple AirBnB nearby, and began studying.

Twenty-five students ranging in age from 22 to 73 (me) and two instructors arrived at Camp Indianola Methodist Camp the morning of November 18. We were an even mix of men and women dressed in outdoor gear preparing to spend most of the day outdoors practicing rescue scenarios.  Heavy frost covered the ground. Our meeting hall was an old wooden, not very well heated building. We sat in a large semi-circle on chairs behind folding tables.

Indoor classroom at the Indianola Methodist Church Camp

We introduced ourselves by name, number of recerts we had done, and something interesting we learned this last week.

I said this was my twelfth recertification and the thing I had learned in the wee hours of the morning was that my longtime co-guide, friend, and sister WFR had just passed away after a long battle with cancer. It was important to me to speak Deborah Greene-Jacobi’s name into a circle of guides on the day of her death.

My instructor was honoring and sympathetic and as we moved on, part of me was doing this certification for Deb as well as for myself.

The young man sitting next to me said, “Geez, I was not even born the first time you did his training!” (I later learned from the NOLS office that they don’t exactly keep records on who has done the most certifications “but there are only a handful of people who have certified as many times as you have!”) 

After the check-in, we took a 50-question multiple choice test. We needed a score of 70 to continue: I got a 94. My mental confidence was boosted: now for the physical challenges.

After an injury or illness, it takes a while to resume body/mind confidence, especially for those of us in the over-70 bracket. Though my surgeon said I had coped pre-surgery “like a trojan,” I realized how essential it was for me to get on my bike and ride distance, get in my boat and paddle, don a daypack and hike. I have always had strong body confidence and am determined to regain that sense of physical selfhood.

This course would require me to bend, lift, kneel on the ground, endure cold conditions. How much was I my “old self?” And what are the capacities and limits of my “new self?”

Once scenarios began, the outdoors became our debriefing/teaching classroom.

In those three days, combining lecture and small group scenarios, we covered burns, hypothermia, lightening, drowning, acute mountain sickness, gastroenteritis, evacuations, infections, broken bones, interfacing with front country EMS, and so on. A third of the students would be chosen for a scenario and go with one instructor to receive information on how to roleplay their situations.

The rest of the group paired up, went to find our patients with a minimal amount of equipment and proceeded carefully through our patient assessments to determine why the patient was in trouble and what we might do about it. In the scene shown below we found a patient in extreme pain with a broken femur that we had to splint and get ready for evacuation.

In one scenario four of us created a femur splint for a patient.



Wilderness medicine is defined by illness or injury occurring greater than one hour from definitive care. There are many challenges to wilderness medicine: the environment may add to the problem (cold, heat, darkness, etc.), the patient’s condition can change over time, equipment for treatment or evacuation must be improvised, decisions are often made without outside contact.



Most of the participants were staff for schools and outdoor programs, Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service and adventure tourism companies. We all can be responsible for big decisions in difficult situations. As always in these trainings, I am enormously impressed by the caliber of people doing this work.

In another scenario (this one in the indoor classroom) we worked in groups of 5 to practice cleaning and closing an open wound.

Demonstrating fine examples of steri strip would closure

 Answer to Question #2: Yes. I did it. I brought my renewed physical self and experienced guide self to the course. I opted out of only one activity: litter-bearing a pretend victim off the field. I returned home a bit stiff and tired, but with my body confidence restored in my ability to continue being of service in this way.

My dear friend and co-guide, Deborah Greene-Jacobi, and I hiking May 2022. Her battle with cancer was valiant and determined. She taught me so much about so many things. I will forever miss her. She died the morning I began my WFR training.


My heart is filled with gratitude—the kind of inner flush that starts in your heart and constantly reframes your thoughts. It is not just a polite ”Yes, I am feeling good.” And it is not fleeting. These complex days in the world find me with a newfound ability to listen, reflect, and sort through what to take in and what to let go.

I had my two-week post-surgical visit this week. Excellent report after my L4/L5 bilateral laminectomy. Now free to resume swimming, biking, and hiking—albeit gently. (My surgeon knows me.) But even before that visit, I knew I was doing well because I had weaned myself off all pain meds, begun moving more easily than I have in a couple of years, and above all, am feeling no sciatica pain!

When my surgeon came into the room, I got up and took his hand in both of mine and profoundly thanked him. Certainly, his skill and that of his entire team was instrumental in all of this, but I went into surgery as physically strong as I could. We were quite the team. I feel as if I have been given a new lease on my active life.

Thanks to all of you who reached out during this time. I read and re-read every comment and card. They meant a lot. Those good wishes helped me remain hopeful. I was carried into the surgery on a wave of healing energy.

This public declaration of gratitude will help me hold that point on the wheel of each situation I find myself in these next months and beyond. It is a stated covenant, a commitment to keep my hand on the gratitude rudder that charts the course of my life.

My wish for each of you is to capture moments of gratitude, tuck them into a pouch where they can easily be retrieved, and pull them out as needed to serve as antidotes of hopefulness in moments of challenge.

After a visit with my surgeon, a celebratory hike to our favorite Bowman Bay. Resting in the blessing of the long vista of Puget Sound. Photo by Christina Baldwin

Glaciers, Part II, Hiking

Blue sky, a summer day, and an invitation to walk around on a glacier. Such grand adventure! Yet, walking around on glaciers is precarious. Advancing or retreating ice edges are in constant flux, creating crevasses, hidden snow bridges, and steep, slippery traverses.

Ann on Root Glacier, photo by Christina Baldwin

We went to Alaska in June 2022 to visit family and touch the expansive wilderness of this northern continental rim with its raw edge of climate change. In my previous blog I wrote about paddling near one of the fastest melting tidewater glaciers in the world. In this blog I write about hiking on the Root Glacier in Wrangle St. Elias National Park. This is the largest national park in the United States, 20,000 square miles. Six Yellowstone Parks, or the states of Vermont and New Hampshire could fit within its boundaries, and only two dirt roads run into the park’s vast interior.

Mt. Blackburn and the glacial flow below, photo by Christina Baldwin

Christina’s brother, Ric, and sister-in-law, Kathy, drove us 60 miles on a dirt road from the SW entrance to our cabin. The morning of our adventure we walked across a foot bridge over glacial silt-laden waters, runoff from the expansive peaks of the park. Mt. St. Elias at 18,808 feet is the second tallest peak in North America. Mt. Wrangell (14,163 feet) is one of the three largest active volcanoes in the world. Nine of the tallest sixteen mountains in North America are located here, as are thousands of miles of glaciers and the largest ice field in North America (Bagley Icefield).

Crossing the bridge to McCarthy, Alaska, photo by Christina Baldwin


 A van from the St. Elias Mountain Guides picked us up in McCarthy, population 100, at the edge of the park, and took us lurching along the one-lane, five-mile road to the old Kennecott Copper mine where we would begin our hike to the glacier.



Hiking into the abandoned Kennecott Mine








Our adventuring troop consisted of the four of us, a couple from Texas, and a couple from France. Our two young guides gave us a safety talk, fitted us with the crampons we would later need to walk safely on the glacier, and we headed out of basecamp. A two-mile trail to the glacier’s edge undulated through a young aspen, subalpine fir forest filled with wildflowers amid a distant backdrop of towering snowy mountains. The air temperature had warmed to 65 degrees F. and mosquitoes were beginning to hover. Our guides kept a steady, doable, “just ahead of the mosquitoes” pace. We stepped over the fresh droppings of both moose and bear, counting on the guides’ assurance that bears were not a problem in groups of eight or more.

A stream crossing on the way to the toe of the Root Glacier

After two miles, the forest trail opened to a view of the moraine, a blast of cool air, and the disappearance of mosquitoes. We zigzagged down the wet, gravelly footpath to the glacier’s edge and donned our crampons.

Christina putting on crampons as we transitioned from the two-mile hiking trail onto the toe of the glacier

The spikes of the crampons gripped the melting, slippery glacier, giving us confidence to hike on the ice. With each step up the gradual incline, the vista became larger and grander. Mt. Blackburn (16,800 feet) to our Northwest towered over us—a snowy giant standing aloof and seemingly inaccessible.

Gaining confidence as we work our way up the glacier, photo by Christina Baldwin

In 1912, a young east coast scientist and adventurer named Dora Keen climbed Mt. Blackburn in a skirt and lace-up boots! It took two tries for her and her party to summit, and no one has ever repeated their technical ascent of Blackburn’s south face. Here are two accounts of her achievement: 1)  2)

From a distance a glacier appears white and relatively smooth. Up close, the surface is dense, uneven, and in summer it is scattered with blown dirt. Occasionally there are small colonies of  “glacier mice.” Not really animal matter, the “mice” are a conglomeration of life forms from bacteria to mosses. Palm-sized, oblong moss balls, they always occur in groups, and actually “move” in tandem with one another—albeit at a barely discernible pace. The Root Glacier is one of the places these life forms are being studied, including miniscule radio tags used to monitor their movement even under mounds of snow. This article explains the studies in greater detail, including showing the radio tags:

A group of glacier mice


Holding an individual glacier mouse










The encouragement to alternate our views from grand vistas to miniscule life forms emphasized the complexity of the glacier ecosystem. As neophyte adventurers, we would only venture about two miles up the toe of the glacier

Beyond the area where we ventured, the glacier had cracks and crevasses and snow bridges dangerous to traverse. Six or seven miles beyond us rose the Stairway Icefall. A wall of ice 7,000 feet tall! It is second in size only to the Khumbu ice fall on Mt. Everest.

Ric and Kathy Baldwin, Ann and Christina with the 7,000 foot Staircase Icefall behind us. guide photo

We spent several hours meandering over the terrain of this immense glacier toe. At lunch hour, we sat on ensolite pads while the guides dipped a pot into the aquamarine blue glacial pools to make tea, coffee, or hot chocolate.

Guide preparing hot water on a Jet Boil with glacier water for hot tea, cocoa or coffee

Numerous blue glacial pools, ranging in size from table tops to room size, provided water for our hot drinks and extraordinary beauty.
















Eager lunch crew awaiting their drinks while sitting on Ensolite pads to keep dry









Language goes mute in the face of this much grandeur. Pictures do it some justice. Stories elucidate my experience a bit more. But feelings of humility, awe, and respect are the jewels that I will carry in my wilderness heart forever. It was one of my most spectacular “God moments:”

As long as I walk this earth, I will do everything I am capable of to protect and love this precious planet. I shall focus on efforts large and small that contribute to earth-tending—whether in gardening the tiny parcel of land that I am privileged to live on, filling my soul’s reserve by walking or paddling in places of beauty, or sharing earth’s beauty with the next generations.

Closeup of Mt. Blackburn from the footbridge into McCarthy, Ak

Post script: It was a great privilege to do this trip. We had planned it for summer 2020 and then came the pandemic and my mother’s death. Originally, we had hoped to focus on Denali National Park, but in the summer of 2021 an underground rock glacier closed the road half-way into the park, which remained closed in 2022. When we first dreamed of this trip, I had no thoughts about back surgery. In two weeks I will have back surgery. Life keeps offering up changes. When big dreams call, answer them as soon as you are able.

Knowing that I would face back surgery at summer’s end, I was careful yet able to physically meet the challenges of the trip. I am ready for the surgery and in good shape and optimistic that my trekking and paddling days shall continue for some time. We also know this trip elevated our “carbon footprint.” We do not casually overstep our sense of sustainability. We constantly reassess the balance between remaining life dreams and remaining climate capacity. This year, Earth Overshoot Day (the date when humanity has used all the biological resources the Earth can regenerate in a year) occurred on July 28. Our actions contributed to that AND our daily life choices have helped keep that date at bay.