“You Might Roll Down the Mountain”

In the end, it was as simple as getting in my car, driving myself up to the mountains, and taking a hike. But it hadn’t seemed that simple before I did it.

A year ago I had a fall that knocked the confidence out of me. I was trying to step onto a two -foot high curb – thinking, in my head, that I was still an agile youngster rather than the sixty-something woman I actually am – and ended up landing on my knees and arms, bleeding and bruised. It was a shock to me. What the heck had just happened there?! After the fall, I began having doubts about my physical abilities.

I’d been planning to go on a hike up Table Mountain the next day. But Table Mountain is a steep little hike up the side of a cliff and, having fallen trying to step over a two-foot high curb the day before, I thought it prudent to cancel the Table Mountain hike and do a hike a little less harrowing with my family.

After the fall, I no longer had the confidence to go on mountain hikes by myself. I found myself in a mental retreat – starting to pull inside a shell. But in trying to keep myself “safe,” I was making myself unhappy. I was BORED! And I realized that if I wanted to keep my sanity,  my competence and abilities – and regain my confidence – I needed to push myself and do stuff on my own. I needed to get out and do the stuff that brings me joy and challenges me. I needed to trust myself and trust in Love, too, to protect me.

And so when I found myself with an open day and a good weather forecast, I told my husband that I thought I might go on a hike up Table Mountain. I knew that he wouldn’t be able to join me because he had knee surgery this summer, but I told him I felt I needed to do this by myself, anyway.  He laughed and said, “Be careful. You might roll down the mountain.” I knew he was joking, but I also heard a little concern in his voice. I understood. It’s always worrying when our loved ones go off to have an adventure on their own, and we can’t be there if they need us. But, to his credit, my husband didn’t try to stop me – I think he knew I needed this.

When I woke up that morning, I still hadn’t decided for sure to go on the hike. But by the time I got dressed and got downstairs, I knew I was going. I packed a quick lunch for myself, threw the hiking essentials into my backpack, kissed my husband good bye, and hit the road for my big adventure.

I got up to the trailhead at Artist’s Point pretty early – I’d wanted to avoid the heat of the day. I was probably on the Table Mountain trail by 8:30.  I was the only one on the trail when I started out. It was quiet and peaceful up there. Butterflies danced in the wildflowers and a nice fir-scented breeze swirled around me. It felt good to have my shoes on an alpine trail again. I made my way up the side of Table Mountain, stopping now and then to take photos. About mid-way up the side of the mountain there was a step that was a little too big for my 5’3″ self – a step bigger even than that curb I tripped over a year ago. But I found a rock jutting out above the step and hoisted myself up. Take THAT too-high step!

Before long I was standing on the top of Table Mountain. I texted my husband a message to let him know I’d made it to the top, and I hadn’t rolled down the mountain. I hiked around up there for a little while, taking photos and eating trail mix, before I started back down again. I passed a young family coming up on my way down. I told them they would have the entire top of the mountain all to themselves – that it was really quiet up there – and we all wished each other a good day.

When I got back to my car, I realized I didn’t feel “done,” yet. I decided to drive down to the Heather Meadows parking lot and find a little trail to hike on there. I ended up on the short nature trail – passing views of Table Mountain and the valley down below, and a creek laughing past purple wildflowers. I stopped by the creek for a while, and just let the joy of it fill my soul. I pooled water from the creek into my hands and splashed my face and neck and then plucked some wild blueberries off the low-growing mountain blueberry bushes and popped them in my mouth. I was in heaven, my friends.

In the end, it was as simple as getting in the car, driving myself up to the mountains, and taking a hike, to find what I’d lost a year ago.

“…they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
-Isaiah 40:31

The Blessing of Friendship

Yesterday I got together with a group of friends I hadn’t seen since the start of the pandemic – former colleagues at an alternative high school – women who’d been shoulder-to-shoulder with me in the trenches as our school went through some challenging times. Our commitment to the well-being of our students, our shared sense of humor, and our trust in each other, had drawn us together and bonded us for life.

And here we sat at the local Starbuck’s – together again – a group of women ranging in age from 30 to 70 – two of us retired now, two of us still in the trenches of an educational landscape that has changed drastically in the last couple years. We hugged and we laughed. We got caught up – talked about families and skirmishes with COVID and what strategies we’re using to stay sane in an insane time, and how education changed during the pandemic. We talked about adventures and aging and the adventure of aging, and how older women are viewed by society – the bad AND the good of that – the tendency to dismiss older women and the freedom that comes with aging. We shared and listened. We took turns and gave each other time to talk – and it was a natural thing to do this – it always amazes me how naturally the conversation flows with these women. There are no prima donnas here. We are genuinely interested in each other.

After we’d been there a couple hours – completely enveloped in our bubble of friendship and mostly unaware of what was going on around us – a woman in her sixties rose from a table near us and headed for the exit. As she passed our table she stopped and smiled and said, “I miss my friends! I’ve enjoyed listening to your laughter!” She was very cool – I knew she would have fit right in with this group – and we thanked her and wished her a good day.

Not long after that, a couple of men in their sixties – they looked like men who might have just gotten back from a hike together- rose from THEIR table and passed us for the exit. One of them looked over at me as he passed and I smiled and he smiled back one of those genuine full-faced smiles and, in that instant, I just KNEW that he’d been listening into our conversation, too. And, for a moment, I was embarrassed, remembering all the things we’d been talking about at our table. But then I realized that his smile had been kind, and more of a “we’re-all-in-this-together” type of smile than a “you-guys-are-batshit-crazy” type of smile, and that felt good.

Two and a half hours later my friends and I hugged each other good bye – promised each other we’d get together again soon – and each of us headed home to our families. But those two and a half hours together were like an oasis in the desert for me. I felt my soul soaking up the love and inspiration and fellowship, and left feeling rejuvenated.

What a blessing to have friends like these.

Friends

Alpine Hike

mountain blueberries, tangy on my tongue,
I stretch my arms wide and let the fir-scented
alpine breeze swirl around me and lift the hair
from my neck
shoes on rock, hands finding a hand hold
to pull me over a three-foot step,
butterflies dancing in the wildflowers
and a creek laughing around the boulders
in its path –
I am exactly where I’m supposed to be
-Karen Molenaar Terrell

Mount Baker from the Table Mountain Trail in the North Cascades.

Investing Our Lives

Today I heard, again, the story of the servants
who were given a sum of money by their master,
with the expectation that the servants would increase
the sum and help their master prosper
while he was away on a trip.
There are times when I’ve heard this story
and felt sympathy for the man afraid of loss –
who buried his talent, afraid he would lose it,
afraid of his boss.
There are times when I’ve looked at the other servants –
the ones who increased the talents they were given
and wondered how they’d done that –
had they gotten involved in pyramid schemes
or the stock market or gambling
or something?

But today when I heard the story again,
another thought came to me: What if the talents
symbolize life itself?
What if we’ve all been given a life – one life, let’s say –
do we bury it in the dirt like the scared servant –
afraid of losing it? Is that the way?
Or do we let go and release
ourselves from fear
and witness the good increase –
watch it unfold and appear –
as we invest our lives in love, joy, truth
in the now and here.
-Karen Molenaar Terrell


An alpine butterfly flits among the flowers on Table Mountain. Photo by Karen Molenaar Terrell.

Karen’s Big Adventure

I haven’t had a swim all summer – and it’s been two years since I swam in my favorite simming hole, Lake Padden. So today, as I was driving back from my walk on the boardwalk, I impulsively drove past the exit to I-5 and drove up to Lake Padden. I took off my hearing aids, left my purse and camera in the car, and walked fully-cothed down to the lake, then into the lake up to my knees, then above my knees, and then I dove under the water and came up smiling. I swam out a little ways and then flipped over onto my back and just floated there, looking up at the blue of the sky and the green leaves flickering in the sunshine on the alder trees above me, and I was completely and totally happy. I wasn’t out there long. I swam back to shore and walked, dripping wet, back to my car. I found a couple of fleece jackets that I used to cover the driver’s seat and drove home, grinning.
-Karen Molenaar Terrell

Blue Sky

Gifts on an Early Morning Walk

I slipped out of the house early on Sunday to give myself a quick walk on the Bellingham boardwalk – I wanted to go on my walk before the streets got busy; finding a parking space became a challenge; and the temperature became uncomfortable. I have found, on my Bellingham walks, that the early morning holds a peace and special beauty.

It was quiet and the boardwalk was mostly empty when I started my walk just before 8:00. But as I got closer to Boulevard Park I started seeing more people, and more pups, too. And this is when I met Wally, and his human, Beth. Wally was special – I recognized that immediately. An older gent of a dog, he made his slow way across the boardwalk to greet me and to let me pet him. My heart melted. I asked Beth to tell me about Wally – what was Wally’s story? She told me that her husband had found Wally when he’d been out on a snowmobile ride near Yakima ten years ago. Wally had been young then – maybe two – and he was starving and abandoned and eating from a deer carcass when her husband came upon him. Wally was in a bad way. Her husband brought him home where he and Beth nursed Wally back to health. When Wally was well again, her husband said it was probably time to find him a home. To which Beth replied, “I think he already has one.”

As Beth told his story, Wally – who Beth said was part beagle and part pitbull – let me scratch him behind the ears and pet him. I was filled with gratitude that Beth’s husband had found Wally and that Life had brought Wally to a home with good people who loved him.

As I was talking to Beth, another dog and his humans approached from the other end of the boardwalk, and this is when I met dapper little Hans. Hans and Wally quickly got acquainted in the fashion of dogs and I snapped both their photos.

After Hans and his humans left, a man coming from the direction of the park with a coffee cup in his hand, cheerily greeted Beth like they were old friends. He said everyone knows Beth and Wally and joined us for a friendly chat. The man introduced himself as “Cash” and we talked for a bit about his name. He said “Cash” was his middle name and that his first name was actually “Petty.” Beth immediately started cracking up. I’m embarrassed to admit it took me an extra second to put “Petty” and “Cash” together and realize that Cash was having fun with his name. I introduced myself as “Karen” then and we had some fun with MY name for a while, too.

After chatting a bit more with these fine people, and giving Wally one last pet, I continued on my walk to the other end of the park. As I was coming back from the far end, I saw a photographer had taken up position on the beach and was taking pictures of a woman doing yoga poses. I looked at the photographer, who was holding a position that demanded some strength and balance, and thought, “There’s an athlete!” – and then I stopped short. Her face had the exact same profile as a friend I’d worked with forty years ago on Mount Rainier. I knew my friend’s daughter, Freya, was a photographer now in Bellingham, and that she was also, by a wonderful coincidence, the partner of the son of one of my Dad’s old climbing buddies, Jim Whittaker. I don’t think I’d seen Freya since she was a baby – more than thirty years ago – but I suddenly just knew that I was looking at a grown-up Freya now. “Is this Freya?!” I asked. And she looked up at me and smiled her mother’s smile and confirmed her identity. WHOAH. I quickly introduced myself as “Dee Molenaar‘s daughter” and her mother’s old friend from Rainier. I told her she looked just like her mom – that that’s how I’d recognized her. Freya laughed and smiled and graciously let me snap a quick picture of her before she got back to work.

Running into Freya in the park was cosmic, my friends – a wonderful gift and reminder of the connections we all share with each other.

As I was leaving the park and heading back on the boardwalk I heard someone yell, “Karen!” I looked ahead of me, I looked behind me, I looked up in the trees (because I would not be surprised to find my friends hanging out in trees), and finally saw my friend and former teaching colleague, Elizabeth, waving her arms from the park. I hurried back to the park to give my friend a hug. It was good to see Elizabeth again – another gift on my early morning walk.
-Karen Molenaar Terrell

MountRainierMountAdamsMountBakerMountHood

I’ve said their names so many times together that they’ve morphed into one word: MountRainierMountAdamsMountBakerMountHood.

The first major volcano I climbed was 11,249′ Mount Hood. I was 15. I didn’t really understand the BIGNESS of what I was doing at 15. I just followed my dad, Dee Molenaar, up to the top of Hood, and followed him back down again. I remember feeling like I was on a whole different planet, though. I remember the smell of sulphur from the crater, and I remember it made me a little nervous. I remember the top layer of skin on my face burning a crispy red. And I remember being back in high school on Monday morning.

The summer before I turned 21 I asked Dad to guide me, and some of my friends who worked with me at Paradise, up to the summit of 14,411′ Rainier. I better understood the bigness of what we were doing by this time – this was my second summer working on Mount Rainier and I’d been around enough climbers up there to know that some people prepared their whole lives for this climb. But I don’t think I yet appreciated how blessed I was to be able to call Dad to be my guide and then two weeks later to find myself climbing in his foosteps up to the summit of Washington’s highest volcano. Climbing mountains is just what the people I’d grown up with had always done and it seemed natural that I should climb mountains, too. Our climb of Rainier that weekend was awesome – like on Hood, I felt like I was in a whole different world, but this time I wasn’t nervous about it. I remember the suncups that looked like little ice castles. I remember the deep blue crevasses. I remember climbing under the stars, in the quiet and stillness of pre-dawn, and then watching the sun rise over little Tahoma down below. It was magic!

A few years later, as a promise I’d made to one of my bridesmaids, I, once again, asked Dad to lead me and my friends on a climb of Rainier. But this time felt different for me, and for Dad, too. He was 66, had already climbed Rainier 50 times by then, and I knew his heart wasn’t in this one. He was a little grumbly. So this time, as we left Camp Sherman, I told Dad I wasn’t feeling well (this wasn’t really true) and I could hear the lift in his voice as he happily unroped from the rest of the team and announced that he and I would be heading back to camp because I wasn’t feeling good. We had a wonderful time that day just hanging out at Camp Sherman together, preparing to be a support for the other climbers when they made it back down. Dad’s friend, Pete Schoening – who’d saved my dad’s life and the lives of four other climbers with his famous belay on K2 in 1953 – was with the team, and we knew our friends were in good hands.

A year after we got married, my husband, Scott, and I moved to the northern part of Washington State, near the Canadian border. Rainier was no longer a quick drive away. Now our closest volcano was Mount Baker – Rainier’s 10,786′ sibling. Baker is humbler than her big sister and less famous, but I began to think of her as “my” mountain – and her summit was calling to me. The summer before I turned 31 I called Dad and asked him if he could guide Scott and me and some of my teaching friends from Sedro-Woolley to the top of Mount Baker. And bless him, he agreed. Dad must have been about 69 then – at the time I didn’t think much of that, but now, from the perspective of someone who’s almost 66, I am in absolute awe of who Dad was at 69. He safely led the team to the top of Mount Baker – and (just as importantly) safely led us back down again, over and around crevasses that were widening as the afternoon grew warmer. It was another wonderful day with Pop in the mountains – and Mount Baker was the first summit my husband, Scott, and I stood on together.

The summer before I turned 41 I got it into my noggin that I wanted to climb Mount Adams, Washington’s second highest mountain at 12,280′. I picked up the phone and called my faithful guide, Dad. Dad agreed to guide Scott and me and Scott’s friend, John, up Adams – and when I think about that now I am astounded! Dad was 79. In retrospect, I can see that, even if I was oblivious to Dad’s age, he wasn’t. He invited another man with a lot of mountaineering experience to join us on the climb, and that proved to be a really good call on Dad’s part.

A couple of significant things happened on our climb of Mount Adams: first, I had an epiphany that changed the way I viewed mountain climbing – it struck me, as I looked down the steep, icy slope I was traversing, that I was a mom now – I had a a three-year-old and a five-year-old waiting for me back home – and it occured to me that I could no longer be so cavalier about my own life – I had little people I loved who needed me to stay alive for them; and second, at about 10,000′ Dad let us know that he was done – that he felt he was holding us back (he wasn’t) and he would stay down below at base camp while the rest of us went on up to the summit. It felt really weird to be climbing without Dad. It was like there was this empty place at the top where he should have been standing. When our troop made it back to base camp, Dad hurried out to greet us – his arms opened wide to hug me. He said, “This is the first time I’ve had to wait at base camp for you and I didn’t like the worry of it!”

Mount Adams was the first big volcano I summited without Dad, and it is the last big volcano I ever climbed.

I look at these mountains now – MountRainierMountAdamsMountBakerMountHood – and I think to myself: “What in the heck were you thinking?! Whatever made you think you could climb those mountains?!” But then I remind myself that I did, indeed, climb those mountains and I’m sort of blown away by that. And I realize that if I hadn’t been born with the Dad I was born with I probably WOULDN’T have climbed MountRainierMountAdamsMountBakerMountHood. How blessed I am to have a father who gave me the mountains! How blessed I am to have a bank of memories over-flowing with the mountain adventures I had with Pop! I’m not climbing big volcanoes anymore, but I still get into the mountains for some good hikes. And every hike I take, I bring Dad with me.
-Karen Molenaar Terrell

Photos: My boots next to Dad’s boots on Hood (upper left); teacher Jim Johnson, Dad, me, and Scott on Mount Baker (middle left); Scott and me on Mount Adams (bottom left); Dad, me, and my brother, Pete, on Rainier.

Sauk Mountain Magic

By Karen Molenaar Terrell

Sauk Mountain and I have a long history together. The first time I hiked up Sauk was in 1985. I would have been 28 or 29 then. My husband was working as a photographer for the Skagit Valley Herald and he took a photo of me on Sauk, with the caption, “Hiker Karen Terrell negotiates a switchback on Sauk Mountain.” A few years later I climbed to the top of Sauk with my dad, Dee Molenaar, who would have been in his seventies. I have a photo of me standing on Sauk with Dad, both of us smiling at the joy of being together in the mountains. When we became parents, Sauk Mountain was one of the first hikes Scott and I took our sons on. And our dog, Sam, went up as a puppy and, later, as a full-grown Labradane in her prime. Sauk holds a lot of sweet memories for me.

This has been a busy summer – our calendar looks like an obstacle course of comings and goings – appointments, lunches, events, zoom meetings, trips – good and important things – but, alas, other than a quick little hike at Artist Point, it’s been hard to find time to get back into the mountains, and I’ve missed them something terrible. Our busy schedule sometimes left me feeling frustrated this summer – feeling like my time was running out – and I reached out to God, Love, in my thoughts to find some comfort. The message that came to me was to be patient and wait. The time would come. Love isn’t limited and Life isn’t ever done giving gifts.

This weekend my brother, Dave, and my niece, Claire, visited us. On Saturday they ran in a 14-mile race near Issaquah and then spent Saturday and Sunday nights with us. On Sunday morning, as we were gathered around the table eating breakfast, I mentioned that I was missing the mountains and longing for a good hike. Scott wasn’t able to come with us, but he suggested that maybe the three of us should go up Sauk. Dave looked at me and asked, “You wanna go?” And boom – just like that – I had the opportunity to be back in the mountains on one of my favorite hikes, with my brother and niece – two of my favorite people!

It had been almost 40 years since I FIRST hiked up Sauk Mountain and two years since the LAST time I’d hiked it. A lot had happened in the last two years – and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure how my body was going to feel about me putting it back on the Sauk Mountain trail. I was a little nervous that it was going to rebel. In the past I’ve had some struggles when it gets too hot, and it was going to be a hot day and we were going to be hitting the trail near noon. And… people of my age are sometimes referred to as “elderly” – so the thought, “I’m old!” was poking around in my head. Also: “I’m heavy!” “I’m old and I’m heavy and I don’t do well in the heat.”

But…

God had just presented me with a gift – a gift I had been pining for and prayed for – and how could I not accept it? And if the gift came from Love – how could it bring conditions with it? All I needed to do was accept this gift and enjoy it. All those other things – age and size and heat – were just obstacles of my imagining and couldn’t stop Love’s unfolding of Good.

It didn’t take us long to fill our backpacks with the essentials and head out the door. We loaded ourselves into Dave’s truck, Dusty, and set out for the mountains.

When we got to the trailhead, Dave, an ultra runner, made sure Claire and I had everything we needed and then ran ahead. While he zipped up to the summit, and then ran back to check on us before he headed out again – this time for Sauk Lake – Claire and I made our way up the switchbacks of the southern face, stopping now and then to take photos or rest in the few shady patches under the trees to rehydrate. Claire and Dave had never been up Sauk before, and it brought me a lot of joy to be the one to introduce them to this hike. When we reached the top of the switchbacks and moved to the other side of the mountain – my favorite part of the hike – it brought a grin to my face when I heard Claire exclaim, “It just keeps getting better and better!”

The hills were full of magic, my friends! Insects flitted among the alpine wildflowers – Indian paintbrush, asters, and bluebells; there was the smell of mountain heather and ozone; there were friendly, happy people sharing the trail with us; patches of snow, and craggly boulder ridges, and green meadows, and butterflies that came together to party in the middle of the trail. It was everything and more than I’d hoped for. And all those worries that had tried to limit me – age, size, heat – had no power to stop me from enjoying the gift of this day in the mountains.

Here are some photos of “Sauks Past”: Dad and me; Scott and the sons and me, circa 1996; Scott and me on Sauk, several years ago; and Scott and Sam Dog. And there’s a picture of Dave and Claire and me on this week’s hike…


And here are some photos from our hike this week…

Lake Padden Peace

I sit in the shade of alder trees
A soft breeze off the lake
fans my face and arms
Sky blue dragonflies wing
in a dance among the tall
grasses beside the water
Peace

-Karen Molenaar Terrell

Dragonfly at Lake Padden, Bellingham, WA.

On the Clock Beside the Bed


It says 3:33 on the clock beside the bed
and when I look at the clock sideways
I see birds flying on the canvas in my head.
I think, “Somewhere in the world a new life
has just been born!” I’m filled with hope –
not “hoping-for-the-best” hope, but expectancy-
of-good hope – hope bigger and vaster,
reaching me faster
than the speed of light.
-Karen Molenaar Terrell

Love’s celebration
feel the joy surrounding you
never-ending Life
-Karen Molenaar Terrell