The First Time I Laid My Eyes upon Mount Rainier

I’ll never forget the moment I stepped outside the Fort Lewis barracks door and saw Mount Rainier on the horizon for the very first time.

I’d been brought into the base the night before, fresh off the Ranger Indoctrination Program. It was first time ever in Washington,Northwest Nomad sitting on a rock with Mount Rainier in background. but I’d been dreaming of going there for years. Being an outdoorsman, and also being a product of the 90s grunge generation, the state was almost a mythic place to me. There was no way, however, to be prepared for the awe-inspiring sight that is Mount Rainier.
I’m not alone in this. I’ve talked to many people who told me that the first time they saw Mount Rainier was practically a religious experience.

From that moment on, I knew the Pacific Northwest was my home. One could even say the Northwest Nomad was born that day.

Nearly 15 years later, and still there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t look at the mountain in awe and gratitude. This excludes the many days when it’s not visible at all (which as we Northwesterners know is pretty damn common), but when it’s out, I’m as in love with it now as ever before.

So, here’s just a little letter of appreciation to the mountain. I’ll never forget ye, nor the day I first laid eyes upon you.

Anybody else out there in the ether remember the first time they saw Rainier? Got a story to tell? Please do.

Lake Quinault in Winter: Introvert’s Delight

Mosses cover the deep forest, blanketing rocks and fallen trees, clinging to the living spruces and firs like babies embracing their mothers. In some places a pale-green, stringy species dangles from branches like clots of witch hair. The vast, living coat absorbs sound and leaves the whole area in a hush. This is Lake Quinault in winter, and there’s no place in the world I’d rather be.

Lake Quinault in winter barely resembles its summer self, when tourists fill the area. In winter, the rain almost never stops. There are windows of sunlight here and there, always brief and always glorious, but for the most part it’s a persistently gray time. The upside of that is a region left in solitude and silence, perfect for those who yearn for those things as a break from modern life.

The hiking can be a slog. At times, it can be downright sloppy. But, the slog and slop keeps everyone else away, and even a short hike will leave you feeling like the whole of the rain forest is yours’ and the animals’ alone.

The Irely Lake trail, a short trek usually full of hikers in summertime, leaves you feeling continents away from the modern world. The trail is frequently flooded and blocked by fallen tree — great for keeping out the halfhearted. I’ve had conversations with trees there, and there wasn’t a single person (other than myself) to call me crazy for doing it.

You don’t even need to get on the trails, really. Very few people drive the “loop,” which is what I (and presumably others; it’s not all that unique or creative of a moniker, after all) call the North Shore and South Shore roads that will take you in a complete circle around the lake and a good portion of the river feeding into it.

Merriman Falls after a hard rain, just off South Shore Road.
Merriman Falls, right off the side of South Shore Road, part of the Lake Quinault Loop.

You can simply drive out along the road, park your car, and walk that. That’s nice way to do it, really, because the river adds a pleasant musical backdrop. There are also many things to see right off the road, including Merriman Falls and the Roosevelt elk.

My favorite place to stay in the area is the Quinault River Inn, but that’s just my personal preference. The Lake Quinault Lodge is a beautiful building with the best views of the lake.

No matter where you go, you’ll find a quiet place, perfect for silencing that mental cacophony that’s been driving you batty.

If you find yourself somewhere along the Irely Lake trail talking to trees, please tell them the Northwest Nomad said “hello.”

Old Machinery in the Yard at Blue Heron French Cheese Company

Close-up image of rusted tractor-side reading "Built by Buffalo Company, Buffalo, NY."I love rust. I can’t really explain why; I just do. My appreciation for the aesthetics of metallic aging is particularly strong in regards to old machinery.

Something about the pattern and gradation of rust on tractors, cars, and trains is beautiful and fascinating to me.

So, whenever I visit the Blue Heron French Cheese Company in Tillamook, Oregon, my interest in the aesthetics of rust is what drives me to leave behind the delicious wine and cheese and spend most my time photographing the old machinery that fills the grounds like art installatnions in a sculpture garden.

Old Machinery in the Yard

It’s kind of a no-brainer that the Blue Heron has great cheese and wine. What you may hear less about is the old machinery in the yard (there are animals to pet, too).

For the aesthetically minded person, though, those rusted relics are captivating and fascinating. Well, they are for me, anyway. Maybe it takes a weird sort of mind to find so much intrigue in such a thing; if so, then be it—this is a post for the select group of weirdos that enjoys rusted and old machinery.

Vehicular Dinosaurs

The Blue Heron sits on a large piece of land with ample room to fit all kinds of decorative oddities, including the old tractors and buses I’ve alluded to.

If you’re the weird sort of person who also enjoys this kind of thing, then I highly recommend that you visit. Here are some pictures from my latest excursion:

Honestly, I’m not entirely happy with the quality of the shots I got, but that’s okay because it’ll just give me another excuse to go back and get more!



In Order to See the World, You First Have to Get Your Ass Off the Couch

Knock, knock…

If you answered “who’s there,” you’ve already failed, sucker, because that means you were home when you should be getting your ass off the couch!

Bam, I just got caught you in the act!


Okay, that was an obnoxious opening, I know, but that’s actually the effect I was going for (and the one I’m most personally inclined towards). You’ve heard of tough love; well, this is “obnoxious love,” and it’s even worse. You’ll probably hate me (if you don’t already) by the time it’s done but, hopefully, you’ll get frustrated enough to get your ass off the couch.

Seriously, I’m tired of hearing people talk wistfully about how they can’t wait to get out there and see things and finally be happy, finally really grab life by the horns, soon as they get the bigger paycheck.

Look, going on some momentous trip is a great goal, but unless you cultivate the passion to GET OUT THERE in the world RIGHT NOW, to see the things all around you, you’ll never make the big trip happen, anyway.

As I’ve been screaming at the sky ad nauseum: travel is wonder, and wonder is free. I’ll say it again: travel is wonder, and wonder is free.

We all think we want to travel in order to experience this or that place, but that’s not really true. It’s a trick we play on ourselves.

The real reason we travel is because of what we believe those external things will do inside of us. We’re after the emotion and the wonder. The object, the thing outside of us, is really just a vehicle to get to the inner goal.

There’s no doubt that hiking Mount Rainier or doing the Appalachian Trail are big, unforgettable experiences. But, if you cultivate the right mind-eye and wonder-heart, there’s just as much adventure right outside your door. Just as importantly, if you learn to cultivate that daily passion for life, then you’re more likely to make that big adventure happen, anyway.

Every town has its oddities, like the terrible, mysterious suspended bike of the Ruston waterfront, or the weirdest damn building in Tacoma, just as every town has its local stores full of history and character.

I fully encourage everyone to get out and make those big adventures, but in the meantime, why not strive to awaken your passion by exploring the world right outside your door?

You can get your ass off the couch, right now, choose to renew your curiosity, passion, and wonder, and revitalize your daily life. Isn’t that what you really want, anyway?

You don’t want the big vacation or adventure for the momentary thrill. No, not really. Deep down, you want that experience to shift something permanently inside of you, to make you a richer, deeper person.

That’s all fine, but the irony, is that if you first make the shift by looking at your own world with new eyes, you’ll rekindle the fire that is gong to make sure you actually book that big vacation in the first place.


If you’re fixated upon some big trip, then that means travel and new experiences are things deeply meaningful to your personality. It’s a driving force in your psyche, which means it’s potentially an engine for self-transformation.

So, harness that psychological power by getting your ass off the couch, right now, and getting out and seeing your own neighborhood, your own road or yard or the park up the way, as places of wonder.

Walk around the block. Walk down the street. Drive to the park. Whatever. Anything. Get your eyes off this screen and stop reading this stupid post and get out there into the world.

Life is waiting for you in all its weirdness and wonder right outside your door, and it’s in learning to embrace each day that you’ll stoke the soul-fires that will enhance everything in your life, including making it more likely that you’ll actually go on that big adventure that you’ve been saying “someday” about for the last 10 years.

Okay, that’s all I have to say for today. Hopefully no one is reading at this point, because if you didn’t get your ass off the couch and get out there, then I’ve failed.

Maybe I need to be more obnoxious next time.

My Visit to the Wolf Haven International Wolf Sanctuary (Great Bald Eagle Views, Too)

Wolf Haven International

I still can’t believe that Wolf Haven International has been in my backyard all this time, and I’d never even heard of it before two months ago. Luckily, I did happen to stumble upon information about the site, and I immediately decided to visit. I would have done so already a dozen or so times if I’d known it was there.

Located in Tenino, Washington, just outside Olympia, Wolf Haven is a sanctuary for wolves that have been rescued from unhealthy or just unhappy situations. Some of the animals have dramatic stories of being sold into travelling circuses and living day after day hooked to a wall by a chain barely longer than they were. Others were taken in by well-meaning but ill-equipped adopters who didn’t realize that wolves can’t be domesticated the way that regular dogs can. Whatever the wolf’s particular story, Wolf Haven exists to give them a safe space to live in with dignity and a measure of freedom.

The Wolves

The sanctuary is located on a beautiful piece of land full of towering trees and mossy rocks. Even before you step inside the sanctuary itself, the area has a great energy to it, that deep, rich smell of untrammeled nature.

The sanctuary itself is located beyond a metal gate. Within that area are several fenced enclosures, ranging in size from 1/2 to 3/4 of an acre. Each one of the enclosures is home to two wolves, a male and a female. Each of these has a name, and each has a story, which the guide will you about during your tour. You have to make reservations to join in on one of the guided tours and can’t lead yourself through unattended.

This wasn’t exactly what I expected, to be honest. For some reason I didn’t research the details of the sanctuary, and I thought it was going to be a wide open space with the wolves ranging freely about.

Still, I wasn’t disappointed. What was most important for me was knowing that the animals had a safe place to call home, away from the abuses of their former lives. Besides, while these wolves are accustomed to their homes, they are still wild at heart. You can see it in their eyes. Even with the fence between them and you, the animals’ savage grace was apparent in every powerful movement.

There are Eagles, Too

Though it’s not advertised and not part of the sanctuary’s mission, there are several bald eagles frequenting the area. I watched one hunt a raven and attemp to snatch it out of a tree branch (the raven caught on and escaped in the nick of time) and watched three of them fly together for a while and then perch in treetops, crying out to the sky.

Two bald eagles flying together.

The trip would have been worth it for the eagles alone. Seeing them so close and hearing them calling out to each other was awe inspiring.

A Sense of History and Community

There was a real sense of history at the sanctuary, and the love that the volunteers put into the place is obvious.

Burial plot of a wolf named Tahoma. Outside the wolf enclosure area is a trail winding through a wolf graveyard, with each of the animals honored by a burial site and a stone with their name and time of passing.

The gesture made it clear how deeply and sincerely the people at Wolf Haven care about the animals under their care.

Nearly everyone in my tour group seemed touched by the energy of the place, and they asked for volunteer forms so they could help out, too.

There’s no way to know how many will actually follow up on those applications of course. I’m just happy I got mine before the office ran out of them.

Wolf Haven International is well worth the visit. I’ll be going back again soon.