Halloween Festival Raised School Spirits

With Halloween just around the corner, I found myself conjuring up memories the other morning of the Halloween festival that we had at my sons’ elementary school in Los Angeles.  It took place in October just prior to Halloween. The school’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) was responsible for pulling it together. I was a PTA board member at the time the idea for the festival was introduced. Originally, the festival was conceived as a fundraiser for the school but became an event that did more to build a strong  school community than did anything else.

We regarded our neighborhood school, Calahan Street Elementary, as special. A public school within the Los Angeles school district–one of the largest in the country–there were 18 different ‘home’ languages spoken by the families of our 400 children. It was truly, like a little United Nations in the heart of the San Fernando Valley. The Halloween Festival brought everyone together for a day of ‘fun-raising’and spirit building, no pun intended. The games and booths were all very low-tech and old-fashioned. Many were constructed by our Dads who offered up their woodworking and carpentry expertise to build the game sets. There was a bean bag toss, a fishing game with prizes for everyone, a pumpkin carving contest, a make-up booth, a guessing game with a jar full of jelly beans. The kids, as well as the parents, lined up to take turns testing their skills and luck.  If you wanted to see into your future, you could visit the ‘fortune tellers’ tent where one our parents was dressed up to play the part.

My oldest son was fascinated with the adventures of American explorers Lewis and Clark and chose to be Meriwether Lewis at the school's Halloween Fesitval one year.
My oldest son was fascinated with the adventures of American explorers Lewis and Clark and chose to be Meriwether Lewis at the school’s Halloween Fesitval one year.

One year the principal showed up dressed like Pinocchio.  I’m not actually certain he intended to be the storybook character or whether the lederhosen and hat he wore just made everyone think that’s who he was. He paraded around the schoolyard with a string of smaller costumed characters, known otherwise as his students, trailing behind him.

Two of the fourth and fifth-grade classrooms located in one of the school’s ‘portable’ buildings, were transformed for the day into a homemade haunted house. It was a popular draw with the kids. Our volunteers spent the evening before hanging strings of synthetic spider webs, creating a potful of worms from cooked, chilled spaghetti and making whatever spooky creatures they could come up with to decorate the darkened interior and frighten those who dared to enter.  There was always a line up to get in. The kids stepped into the haunted house excitedly clinging to each other as they entered, and left squealing and screaming with frightful delight.

My son struck a pose for me as a pirate at the ,school's Halloween festival. Halloween was always his favorite holiday.l
My son struck a pose for me as a pirate at the ,school’s Halloween festival. Halloween was always his favorite holiday.l

I manned the photo booth decked out with stacked bales of hay, cornstalks and pumpkins.  All day long, I took pictures of costumed kids, parents and teachers.  It was great fun trying to guess who was behind the masks and wearing the Halloween outfits.  I dressed up myself. The first year, I was witch complete with a streaked wig and fake teeth. Why I ever thought dressing as a witch to take pictures of grade-school age kids was a good idea I’ll never know. I looked so wicked that the little festival goers didn’t want to have anything to do with me.  Once I removed the make-up and teeth and magically turned into a ‘friendly’ witch I had much more ‘business’. The next year, I opted to be something less terrifying– a safari explorer, complete with pith helmet.

My youngest son, shown here in his Bucaneer's costume, loved the school's Halloween festival and went even before he was a student there.
My youngest son, shown here in his buccaneer’s costume, loved the school’s Halloween festival and went even before he was a student there.

Among those I photographed were my own school-age sons who had transformed themselves for the day into either an astronaut, a pirate, a hockey player or–after the year that we visited Lewis and Clark’s fort in Oregon during a summer vacation–as Meriwether Lewis. Now, every Halloween, I set out those framed photos of my sons and smile, remembering that day.

Of course, I also took photos of my sons at the local pumpkin patch as they sought out the perfect pumpkin for their jack-o-lantern. But it is the photos from the school’s Halloween Festival that give me the warmest feeling. The pictures bring back fond memories of all the friends my sons made there. Of all the kids that I came to know when I volunteered in the classroom. Of the teachers and aides who were some of the most dedicated, hard-working and talented educators I’ve ever met.

The faculty and staff at our school joined in the festival fun too.  Four of them stopped by the photo booth for a picture with me, sitting in front, in my safari costume.
The faculty and staff at our school joined in the festival fun too. Four of them stopped by the photo booth for a picture with me, sitting in front, in my safari costume.

Of the staff and principal who were some of the best in the district. Of the parents who, although they came from many different backgrounds and cultures, came together for the common good of their kids. Halloween may be a scary holiday for some, but for me, it’s a treat to remember the good time we had at the school’s annual Halloween festival and of those who made it such a successful and unforgettable event.

 

Conquering the Skyline Divide with My Son

Whenever my son, who lives in New York, comes home for a visit, we take a hike together.  He misses the green of the Northwest and coming home gives him a chance to get a ‘nature’ fix.  In summers past, we have gone up to nearby Mount Baker and usually set out on one of the trails from Artist’s Point, the highest point to which you can drive and open for only a short period of time from late July to early October.  This year, however, my son requested that we find a different trail for our annual outing.

After conferring with a friend who hikes the area frequently with the local Mount Baker Club, we settled on the Skyline Divide Trail. The trail is, according to the National Forest website, one of the most popular hikes in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest although it’s recommended for more experienced hikers.

The road to the trailhead is rugged and follows Glacier Creek much of the way.
The road to the trailhead is rugged and follows Glacier Creek much of the way.

The two-mile trail up is quite steep (and harder on the knees going down than climbing up) but well-kept. I might add the mostly unpaved road to the trailhead parking lot, off the Glacier Creek Road turn-off, can be rough and, as we discovered, full of humps.  Next time I’m taking an SUV or a car that sits higher off the ground than my own.

But the rocky ride up is well worth it, as are the aching calf muscles on the hike up.  As my friend put it: “When you think you can’t keep going, just do because when you get to the top you feel like you should be wearing a drindl skirt.”  Of course, what she was referring to was that famous scene from the film, “The Sound of Music” in which actress Julie Andrews, as Maria von Trapp, swirls in an alpine flowered meadow against a spectacular mountain backdrop. I myself had experienced that feeling and scenery years ago on my first trip to Salzburg, Austria and was anxious to see how this one would compare.  The Skyline Divide trail was much more strenuous than the easy walk I made from my Austrian gasthaus. But the thought of a splendid alpine meadow view of the mountain without flying thousands of miles to Europe, was enough to keep me pushing.  Hiking sticks are a definite plus as well.

Nearly like a scene from the film, ‘The Sound of Music,’ the majestic Mount Shushan rises behind a hiker taking in the view from atop Skyline Divide.

It helped that a couple of hikers on their way down told us that we were “close”, even when we really weren’t.  Nevertheless,  when we reached the top, the view was breath-taking, in more way than one.  Upon rounding the last switch back, we came into an expansive alpine meadow still bursting in color from the summer wildflowers and a view, that while not the same as the rugged Swiss Alps, was equally as gorgeous.  Mount Baker’s glacier-covered peak rose in the near distance, and seemed not that far from reach. To the north, stretched a view of the Canadian Cascades.  It made for a perfect spot to eat the snacks that we had carried along.  Several other hikers joined us on the day we were there, taking in the powerful mountain panorama set against the late afternoon brilliant blue sky. One woman, a volunteer for the Cascades Butterfly Project,  gathered a few curious hikers around her as she explained her mission to count the Lucia’s Blue butterflies, Celestrina lucia, that flutter about there.  She showed the onlookers one of the delicate beauties that she had caught in her net before releasing it back into the air.

A volunteer with the Cascades Butterfly Project shows her 'catch' to hikers.
A volunteer with the Cascades Butterfly Project shows her ‘catch’ to hikers.

Just as blue as the butterfly were the subalpine lupines that covered the mountainsides.  By now, I’m sure they have all disappeared, along with all the other bright wildflowers, as the autumn color takes over.  The trail continues on from this meadow another 1.5 miles, which we did not do this time, and then another less maintained path up Chowder Ridge goes on from there.  A number of backpackers were making their way on up, planning to spend the night and catch a spectacular view of the night sky.

We lingered for about hour, breathing in the fresh mountain air, relaxing in the warm sun and chatting with other hikers.  It’s a time with my son that I treasure because it’s just us, the mountain and the meadow. There are no distractions at the top, no cell phone service, no Internet, nothing but nature.  We talk without interruption. Or just stay silent together. At 5 o’clock, we decided to start back down although I could have easily stayed another hour or two.

The snow-capped summit of Mount Baker is the prominent peak  on the Skyline Divide and makes a breath-taking  backdrop for my son's picture.
The snow-capped summit of Mount Baker is the prominent peak on the Skyline Divide and makes a breath-taking backdrop for my son’s picture.

I must say that the hike down didn’t seem as far but was fairly steep.  A couple of young 20-ish women flew by us, running down the trail. I surely would have tripped up if I had tried it. Even so, we were back at the parking lot before we knew it.

The Skyline Divide trail is open year round although the best time to go is in the summer and early fall.  I frankly can’t imagine making my way up that slippery slope during the rainy season.  And I would certainly be sure to check on the road condition during the winter and spring months before driving up.  The hike is a favorite among locals and visitors so expect company whenever you go.  Once you’ve taken it you’ll understand why it’s so popular.  It’s not likely that I’ll be going again this season, but it will be on my list for a repeat visit next summer.

Hit Mount Baker Trails Now for Hikes and Photos

Autumn is pretty spectacular around my section of the Pacific Northwest, as it is in many places across the United States. And it is prime time for hiking at nearby Mount Baker, located only a 90-minute drive from Bellingham in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. The highest point to which you can drive is Artist’s Point, at 5,140 feet elevation. But due to the mountain’s long snow season, the road up is open for only for a short period usually from late July to early August, until mid to late October. On weekends, the parking lot there, and the trails which lead off from it, can be pretty busy as locals and visitors to the area run up to take advantage of the great weather, breath-taking scenery and the many accessible trails.

I try to go to the mountain for at least one or two big hikes during this transitional time from late summer to early fall.  So far this season I’ve been fortunate to get in four separate trips to hike and photograph in the area. I thought I’d share a couple with you in separate posts in case you’ve never traversed into this territory. Or, if you have, perhaps this will remind you to take a hike before our weather turns and closes the trails.

Do I look like I'm ready to lead an expedition into the wilderness?
Do I look like I’m ready to lead an expedition into the wilderness?

The first of my mountain outings was my ‘birthday hike,’ so named because it was on my birthday. Two of my sons and a girlfriend went along. It was the girlfriend’s first visit here and my son kept telling her that she was in for a treat. On the drive up, just outside of the town of Glacier, we stopped at the Park Service Ranger Station to check on trail conditions and pick up a day pass for the hike. Everyone who visits, whether you hike or not, is required to purchase a permit. A day pass is only $5, or, you can buy an annual pass for $30.The rangers on duty are generally very helpful with information too about trail and road conditions, things to do and hazards for which to be on alert, such as bears. And there are trails maps available should you need one.

We chose one of the less strenuous trails known as Ptarmigan Ridge.The Northern Cascades. Some of the area’s hikes can be difficult, lengthy and have quite a gain in elevation. The Ptarmigan Ridge hike is a great one for visitors who don’t hike much or who don’t have a lot of time to spend up at the mountain but still want to experience some stupendous views of the volcanic peak.

Mount Baker's majestic peak is fully in view from the Ptarmigan Trail.
Mount Baker’s majestic peak is fully in view from the Ptarmigan Trail.

The Ptarmigan Ridge hike leaves from the Artist’s Point parking lot along the Chain Lakes Trail. From the outset, the snow-covered peak of Mount Baker looms in the distance at 10,775 feet and unless the day is heavily overcast and cloudy, is visible for the entire route. As a safety precaution, be sure to sign in as you enter the trail.

The well-kept trail winds along the southern slopes of Table Mountain. Even in late summer, the wildflowers here were still in full bloom. Folklore says that once the magenta flowers on the tall stems of the Chamerion angustifolium, commonly known as ‘fireweed’, is done blooming summer ends and fall begins with winter not far behind. On this late summer day, the fireweed growing along the trail, was still largely in bloom.

The Fireweed's bright magenta blooms contrast beautifully with the blue and greens of the mountain landscape.
The Fireweed’s bright magenta blooms contrast beautifully with the blue and greens of the mountain landscape.

Looking south from the trail, you can see down and across the large, open expanse of Swift Creek and Rainbow Valley and perhaps catch a glimpse of Baker Lake in the far distance. If you look carefully, you may even see mountain goat grazing and playing in the meadows below. They looked not much more than white dots against the verdant green to us but as another hiker, a television cameraman from Seattle, pointed out to us, if you breathed in deeply, you could get a whiff of their wild smell. Unfortunately, the lens I was packing that day, a Nikon 28 mm – 200 mm, wasn’t hefty enough to get a great photo of them.

I don’t pack a lot of camera gear with me when I hike. If I’m hiking, as opposed to making a photo trek, I don’t want to be slowed down by the weight of a lot of big lenses and equipment. I don’t even take a tripod but I will use a unipod because it can double as a good hiking stick too if needed. I have a handy bag, made by Lowe Pro, that clips around my waist in which I can carry my SLR digital camera,  (it would also accommodate a Mamiya 645 when I was shooting film) an extra lens, lens cleaner, a filter or two, spare SD cards,extra battery, sun tan lotion (don’t forget that), chapstick, and a compact point and shoot camera if I want. That leaves my backpack open for snacks, an extra bottle water in addition to the one slung over my shoulder, a first-aid kit, bear bells (if I need them), a light jacket (preferably waterproof because up there you never know) or sweater. I was a Girl Scout. As such I learned to ‘Be Prepared’ so even if I think I’m only going out for a few hours, I never leave without these essentials.

Table Mountain as seen from across the tundra on Ptarmigan Ridge trail is just one of the many stunning scenes along the way.
Table Mountain as seen from across the tundra on Ptarmigan Ridge trail is just one of the many stunning scenes along the way.

From a photography standpoint, I know that I’m likely to miss something due to not having the right lens or maybe a tripod, but the way I figure it now, if I can’t get it with what I have, I can’t get it. I do the best with what I have, which usually turns out pretty well, and enjoy the experience without worrying about getting the perfect shot.

That’s not to say that I’m not looking for a great photo opportunity. Those are plentiful no matter when I hike at the mountain. Of course, the early morning or late day will yield the best images because that’s when the light there bring out the best colors. If it’s foggy or cloudy, that can add mood although you might not get a clear shot of the mountain’s summit.

Our day was sunny and clear when we set out about 4 p.m. We passed by the turn-off for Chain Lakes Trail (that will be another post) and continued on towards Mount Baker. From this point, the trail starts to head into the more tundra-like terrain. The little yellow flowers, Mimulus tilingii known as Alpine monkey-flowers, that grow along the mountain streams, created by the snow pack run-off are delicate and compact.

The brilliant, delicate yellow flowers of the Alpine monkey-flower grow on the tundra along the mountain run-offs.
The brilliant, delicate yellow flowers of the Alpine monkey-flower grow on the tundra along the mountain run-offs.

Occasionally you can spot the trail’s namesake, the ptarmigan, a chicken like bird, running around. We didn’t see any.

We hiked about 90 minutes which put us just short of the snowfield that leads further up the mountain. We decided to stop and take in the panoramic view surrounding us. After all, if you don’t stop to see where you’ve been then you miss half the reason for going at all. We crunched handfuls of trail mix and ate the freshly baked chocolate chip cookies that my son’s girlfriend had made earlier while stretching out on the rocks. Other hikers with backpacking gear for camping passed by on their way to the campsites ahead. The light was starting to deepen. We put away our food and water and headed back out the same way we had come.

It’s funny how the views change depending upon the direction you are going. Headed in you see one perspective, going out, quite another even though you remain on the same trail. Walking back you are presented with outstanding views of Mount Shuksan’s jagged peak. The trail back didn’t seem as long either, probably because we didn’t stop for as many photos or maybe we were moving at a slightly faster pace in order to get back to the parking lot before dusk set in.

You must be sure to take in the views on the way out as well as the way in because it will be different. Mount Shuksan's jagged pinnacle takes prominence here.
You must be sure to take in the views on the way out as well as the way in because it will be different. Mount Shuksan’s jagged pinnacle takes prominence here.

Round trip, the Ptarmigan Ridge trail is 10 miles. We covered about four or maybe five of it this day. It wasn’t a long outing, but very satisfying. It’s exhilarating to be so high, breathing the clear air and taking in the view that extends well into Canada to the north, towards the San Juans to the west, the wilderness of the National Forest to the south and the other mountains in the Northern Cascades range to the east. And it made for a very wonderful birthday.