Angelus Hut in Nelson Lakes National Park

Only a week ago on August 19-20th, 2017, Bryan and I completed an overnight hike to Angelus Hut in Nelson Lakes National Park in Tasman, New Zealand (our route at the end of the post), where spring is still a half-formed idea on the horizon and fresh snow is still falling in the mountains. Because the forecast had been a blustery 50-65 km/hr winds and well below freezing wind chill, we decided to hike in on the more protected Speargrass Track, which meanders 11.2km along Speargrass Creek, with a first half  that is wooded and flat, and a second half that gains the majority of the altitude up to the Robert Ridge junction. From the top of the ridge, we descended to Angelus Lake, and made our way to the hut alongside the lake where we would overnight. The next morning, we descended along Robert Ridge, facing icy traverses and biting winds, and the steep but perfectly switch-backed Pinchgut Track, making it back to the carpark an hour before sundown.

We started up Speargrass Track in the morning around 8a, as a beautiful walk in the woods. The track was well marked, and fairly dry (only a few patches of mud). The first main creek crossing was flooded, and there was a marked flood detour. Bryan, unwilling to loop and ascend the extra 50m, spent a good 15 minutes trying to build a bridge against this current. I stood back with my arms crossed, extremely confident that this was a terrible idea. Some minutes and wet shoes later, we were on our way up the detour.

Around 11a, we arrived at the Speargrass Hut, a 12-bunk cabin at the forest’s edge. This photo was taken outside the hut, where the field was covered in speargrass. We lunched and basked shortly in the sun before continuing.

The next portion of the hike included the majority of our elevation gain of the day. The blazes on the initial part of the trail right after the Speargrass Hut turnoff were extremely hard to find and follow, and we found ourselves off trail on a dry, rocky hill with lots of prickly plant life. After some unsuccessful bushwhacking in an attempt to find a suitable detour, we headed back towards the creek, where we rejoined the trail.

What followed was a pleasant but slow ascent up the creek. There were numerous creek crossings (which weren’t my favorite that morning — I was still feeling a bit unbalanced after the mountain biking episode, sad story for another day perhaps). Around 1350m, we hit snow, and gaitered up. This photo shows a view down the creek valley.

The rest of the ascent was much like this, through beautiful untouched snow. We were the first people (and only, we later found) to hike up that day.

This was the view from the ridge into the next valley. Everything was so sharply alpine once we hit snow. The transition was crisp, immediate, and complete.

Finally, after several false saddles, we met up with the Robert Ridge trail, and descended into the bowl that housed Angelus Lake and Angelus Hut. This hut was huge and comfortable. There was a wood stove for heating, which we employed to “dry” our wet socks and boots, and melt snow into water. The ascent having taken more time than expected, due to getting lost and snow, we cooked and cleaned up as best we could in the twilight and hour subsequent before heading straight to bed.

Given how beautiful the weather was in the morning, we decided to chance the Robert Ridge route on the way down. We first had to clamber up the 100m or so back up to the ridge from the Angelus bowl. With our lack of adequate equipment (we had microspikes and ice axes — no crampons), the long ridge traverse that followed took a significant amount of time and energy, and was by far the most dangerous part of this hike. I definitely dangled for a long minute on a slippery slope, hanging by my ice axe (I love you, ice axe), unable to find purchase on the hard snow. The overnight cold had stabilized the snow to such an extent that we were barely able to punch footholds into it. At some point on this initial traverse (which feels like it took us hours), we met an ascending couple. On their crampons, they breezed by us, crossing what we had just laboriously traversed in only minutes. Bryan and I sighed.

After the initial traverse, the rest of the ridge hike looked more like this. The ridge broadened up, allowing us to walk on the flattened top. There was some minimal cornicing as the wind picked up. The middle section of the ridge was very exposed, and we encountered the forecasted 50km+ winds. Long stretches extended before us, where there was little desire to stop, adjust clothing, expose skin; the goal was to trudge on, with our gloves to our faces to keep the wind out.

We finally found the end of the ridge, and a view of the valley beyond.

The snow eased into mud into grass, and before long, the warmth was soaking back into our appendages. The vapor barriers we had put into our boots earlier in the day had turned into moisture traps, literal bags of water, in which our tired feet slipped and squelched.

The descent down Pinchgut was mild and easy. The switchbacks were plentiful, but of perfect grade. There was a good view of Lake Rotoiti and St Arnaud, where we had stayed the night before. The pier off Lake Rotoiti houses a giant tangle of fresh-water eels, who sit eerily and chubbily by the wooden pillars, mouths open, waiting for the occasional food scrap to fall nearby.

Soon, we were engulfed in patches of woods. Trees! We hadn’t seen those for a while. The air was warm and moist, windless.

Before long, we had descended the last 400m back to the trail start, from where we had diverged only the previous day.

Overall, it was a satisfying but more challenging hike than expected. The rather technical traverses over hard snow were hard for us with our minimal gear. There was some minimal boundary brushing, but I felt reasonably safe the whole way. Special thanks to my ice axe (seriously, what would I do without you), Bryan (for punching many many footholds), and Bumper Bars (for bringing butter into the alpine).



bread2    bread3

bread4    bread5

I think I’ve only started baking bread in earnest over the past year, since moving into ELS. It’s been a lot of trial and error, a mixture of every sort of failure and every sort of success. Some loaves over-proofed, rising then sinking, some never developed enough gluten to stand on their own, some had little to no flavor, and some were tart beyond words. And an equal amount of some, of course, were also lovely, full of crackly crust and moist airy crumb, satisfying slathered with butter or by itself, a perfect puck rightfully deserving of its place at the center of the dinner table.

It’s amazing how the same four simple ingredients can be at times so charming and so frustrating. That seems to be a feature of living things though: difficult to coerce and impossible to predict.

Give pause

Over the weekend, Dan, Bryan and I hiked the Fourth of July Creek to Icicle Ridge near Leavenworth. It was an unassuming day with a mediocre-to-bad forecast (rain rain rain showers), as many days often are in the PNW winter/spring. We were just hoping to stay dry, but it’s always sort of amazing when expectations are not only exceeded, but defied. Time and time again this spring, I am simply bowled over by how beautiful it is out here. I can’t really find any better words to describe it, and images seem to fall short. It’s so alive, and wild, and nurturing — and incredibly incredibly peaceful.

I think in every graduate student’s career, there is the underlying tension of “what comes next?” Academia is a toss-up. There’s no guarantee of where or when or what job becomes available, and therefore, no real sense in tying oneself to a specific place. I still have years left in my program, but already, I find myself grappling with the unrealistic desire to stay here in Seattle when I’m done.

Fulfillment in life seems increasingly complex, a delicate game of weights and balances, of which no combination of choices satisfies all desires. I suppose in a sense that it is the ultimate “wicked problem.” Of course, my feelings also have a proven tendency to shift with time. When winter comes, maybe I’ll be antsy to escape again.



Over the weekend, I participated in the Washington State Democrat Caucus to elect a candidate for the 2017 US presidency. As I’ve never lived in a state where caucusing was the norm, it was a completely new experience for me. And I must admit, afterwards, the sentiment and fervor have really stayed with me.

For those who are unfamiliar, caucusing is an alternative to primaries, the other way of electing a party candidate. In primaries, voters cast ballots for their candidate, similar to the general election. The procedure is quick, lasting as long as it takes to stand in line waiting for a machine or mail in an absentee ballot. Caucusing, on the other hand, is a very involved and lively process. At the precinct level (one can think of a precinct as a small subdivision of a district or county, although none of the borders align), neighbors and friends gather to debate their candidate, vote to allocate their share of delegates, who are elected amongst themselves to represent them at the county and state levels, and eventually, at the democratic national convention.

At 10 in the morning on Saturday, I biked down to the Montlake Elementary School, where my precinct, along with a dozen or so others, held its caucus. I signed in, filled out a registration form, and marked down my candidate of choice. From there, I packed myself into a trailer classroom with more than a hundred other voters. We introduced ourselves to each other while we waited. I was sitting across the table from a woman who happened to also be a PhD student, who worked in the building down the street from mine. Next to me was a couple animatedly discussing their need of roof repairs following a recent windstorm. Eventually, the rumble of conversation died down, and we were instructed to split into our precincts and begin the actual caucusing procedure.

Because of the large turnout, several precincts spilled out into the sports field. Our precinct gathered into a circle, divided into our respective camps: Hillary and Bernie. The most valuable voters, the undecided, stayed in the middle. Our precinct had three delegates to allocate, and those undecided swing voters were pivotal to the allocation of the third delegate. Over the next hour, we made our case, talked pros and cons, gave examples in support and in defense of our candidate. There were moments of calm and moments of passion. At one point, a woman from the other side threw a barbed insult and tempers seemed to flare, but civility and arbitration prevailed. The main arguments on the Hillary side seemed to be that she was the practical candidate. Even though many in her camp did not love her politics, they felt that she would be the better representative for the party in the general election. On the Bernie side, we united behind his progressive ideals and consistent policies, arguing that even if he seems the longshot, a vote for him sends a message. Back and forth the arguments flew, taking turns, rising and ebbing, until one by one, we made our commitments.

I think the most meaningful moment of the morning for me was when one of Hillary’s supporters stood out to speak. Instead of making a case for Hillary or against Bernie, she talked about the right to vote, or rather, the lack of the right not to vote. “People died for your right to vote,” she said, pointedly, “people die for the right.” And in a country where so many people take that right for granted, where so many people, whether out of nonchalance or laziness, never show up to elections, general or local, that felt like an awakening.

On that Saturday morning, it actually felt like the system works. My voice held weight; my vote was not just a name on a piece of paper. And even though I’m still convinced that the politics in this country are broken, it seems that people in the community genuinely want to and believe that we can fix it.





I finally arrived in Seattle a few days ago, after a lot of build-up and anticipation. A full circle around the globe, followed by an automobile journey across the States that took more hours than all the flights combined. My tiny engine struggled up the inclines of the Rockies and burned on the way down. But at last I am here, memories strewn over new grounds, breathing Pacific air.




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back bay

Unwittingly, time has seeped onto this island, along the coast, up the hill to this farm and into our little cabin. It has entered this space that seems unaffected by it, and three weeks haved skirted pass quickly, richly. There is a rhythm to most places, a tempo that beats of cyclic change: years, seasons, months, weeks, days… here it seems all of these things are abolished but for the day. It’s impossible to keep track of weeks because there are no weekdays and weekends, no regimen of work pushing towards play. Months and seasons pass like the tides, swelling and folding, but nearly unrecognizable to even the observant human eye. Maybe there’s a bit more rain, maybe a hotter sun, maybe the tomatoes are producing in the garden, but that likely has more to do with their time of planting than the continuous revolution of the earth about the sun.

Ritual is important in a place like this. It ties the passage of the days together in neat, interrelated bundles, and observes the minute and subtle differences between them. Wake before seven after hours of incessant cockcrow, break fast, sunscreen, bug spray, feed the horses, water the parrots, greet Marianna (our wwoof mommy), weed/plant/grade for three or four hours, cook a filling and large lunch at noon, siesta, read/email/laze about during the hottest, most brutal part of the day, and then around 3pm, either hike down to the beach by the Captain Cook monument (the place of his death) to snorkle and swim, or walk to town and read over a cup of coffee and slice of cake at the local bakery.


Where is the ritual? It’s not just the pattern of work then relaxation; it’s the small details, like popping in to the gas station after each Captain Cook hike for a Melona fix, where the smiling toothless woman with the soft girly voice lives in her air-conditioned ice castle, or counting the number of chicks following the wild chicken who lives by the Oven and Butter Cafe, seven black, one brown, three white, and laugh at autosomal dominance in action. It happens every time: the chicks are there pecking in the parking lot, the smiling woman and her gums, the wrath of the parrots, Marianna’s tales — they are as consistent as the weeds that spring up from the soil as soon as we take them down.

Things are changing here too, no doubt, but the pace feels slower. I think, and hope that if I were to revisit in years or decades, that much of this cycle of growth and abundance will still be here. The volcanos will still be seeping lava into the oceans, spraying rich and porous rocks over the land, which slowly decay and turn into rainforests, then to rich soil from which humans can reap a responsible benefit, and then mixed in with the ground up bones of coral reefs to form those fine sandy beaches.