Hiking With Grandad

This essay was written in the early 2000s and published on bHs.

When I was very young, my Grandad was both fascinating and miraculous. I remember getting up with him before the sun rose, putting on layers of wool clothing, and falling back to sleep in his mossy Ford Valiant. I always woke as we began zipping up the foothills of the Olympic Mountains in Washington State. I’d press against the door, peering nervously down the edges of the increasingly steep hills and gawking up at the mountains. Often a few aunts, uncles, parents, or other older men would be crammed into the car or following in other vehicles. We would breathlessly arrive at a trailhead, usually the first car by a clear margin.

My favorite hikes, probably all before I was ten years old, didn’t include any aunts, parents, or other relatives besides Grandad. He had the coolest mental tins for carrying our peanut butter or cheese sandwiches, and some collection of carrot sticks, celery, and nuts. We packed water in one liter used saline bottles, and I always selected a special sweet treat beforehand. A Butterfinger was my usual — a completely unknown snack in my normal life. Those special mornings, we quietly said goodbye to my younger brother and Grandma, who had started baking chocolate chip cookies to soothe Cameron for being left behind, and slipped out into the foggy dawn light.

Sometimes a few men met us at the house, or we would go to Frank’s home to car pool. Five or eight or ten of us would head for the mountains. I think they were already a trail crew, designing and maintaining various trails to the top of Mt. Elinor and Mt. Rose. But on my favorite days, we weren’t working on the trails.
Grandad always drove, accelerating ahead of any slow pokes and making the most fantastic racket as the trailbuilding tools slid around in the trunk. It was only when I was in my teens that I realized I should be terrified when he navigated his way up and down the roads he knew too well. Cars were still safe, warm cocoons. I enjoyed his admonition to “Sassen my feetbelt” and relished the specialness of being the only child in the midst of men.

When we reached the trailhead, there was much fussing with boots and clothing and bantering about having the “ten essentials.” They all carried large faded backpacks that smelled oddly musty and were full of tools and equipment that could easily keep us safe and warm for a day or two. We were only going on a day hike and probably wouldn’t need an emergency tent or ice pick, but the important thing was that we were prepared. I didn’t care — all of the extra equipment promised excitement and I had my own, much smaller pack, with water and a sweater. Everyone, even me, contributed to having a safe and well supplied hike. My family still argues about what is included in the ten essentials, but thanks to Grandad we all think about being prepared and many of us have an unusual fondness for carrying a compass at all times.

There was rain, and trees, and surprising views across valleys and down rocky slopes. When the adults got nervous, I was hooked into ropes, but set free to hop down scree covered hillsides. To my delight, there were sometimes mountain goats, which had yet to become pests demanding their due on the top of every mountain in the form of trail mix or a sweaty arm to lick. On the lower slopes, heavy lichen draped the trees, and a moistness filled the air. As we climbed, my cheeks reddened and I could feel my breath deep in my chest. Whenever I wanted to stop, I was told our destination was “just around the next switchback.” I had to be careful not to walk to closely behind my grandfather, for he liked to flick sticks and rocks off the trail to keep things tidy.

We looked for the most beautiful places with views of the Olympic mountains and lurking Mt. Rainier in the distance to have lunch or a snack. Although we could have enjoyed our food in the more subtle beauty of meadows and forests, we sought the more dramatic glimpses of the mountains. Sometimes we pushed on to a favorite spot before eating, often a rocky outcrop we could all perch on with views spreading out in all directions.

When we did find a resting point, everyone had some food to share, passing it around or offering it directly to the others. We all chose our seats carefully, looking for raised rocks or logs, or at least a less lumpy patch of ground. We naturally fell into a semicircle, inclusive of each other. Conversation might bounce around, but everyone took time to gaze out at the world in silence. Food breaks were a common time to pull out cameras and document the occasion, and binoculars were sometimes used to admire the view or inspect the trail far below us. None of these activities, however, were allowed to interfere with the importance of exchanging food. They all were taking care of each other and especially me. I knew I was loved.

They talked about the most fascinating things, and gently ribbed each other about past events I didn’t understand. When I was older, I was surprised by their obvious delight in giving each other a hard time about trail building techniques, politics, driving skills, and whatever other subject was handy. As a young child, I mostly remember gentle courtesy and teasing. I caught glimmers of various familial conflicts, upcoming plans, and ideas about their trails. I was asked serious questions about myself, and told interesting things about wildflowers, plants, and forests. We had conversations about climax forests and hemlocks, and sometimes I think they lapsed into conservative political arguments that I disagreed with even then.

I was not the first child Grandad had shepherded into the mountains. Grandad taught all three of his daughters to love and care for the mountains and woods, and eagerly began inducting a second generation of Maranvilles into the beauty of the wilderness. As the oldest of the grandchildren, I was also able to grow up in the mountains under his watchful eye. There was less time for the grandchildren following me, but because of him, we all try not to cut the corners of the switchbacks, keep trails neat, and bring plenty of food to share with our hiking companions of all ages.


I used to think I wanted to be a pirate when I grew up, but now I’m quite sure I’d rather be a hobbit. On the surface, hobbits are rather fond of eating and sleeping, two of my favorite activities. Hobbits also create lovely, homey holes for themselves, and I have always dreams of nestling into a hillside, digging my way to hidden tunnels and cozy passages. I spent a significant portion of my primary education sketching different perspectives on homes built into hillsides. Although I was vaguely familiar with hobbits at that age, I intrinsically loved my burrows and didn’t think them derivative of hobbits in the least. Now, I can clearly see they are early signs of my future profession as a hobbit.

Culturally, I think I would be right at home. There might be some tension around my terrible singing voice, but I’d love to participate in the singing nonetheless. I definitely enjoy festive group dancing, with some skill, if I do say so, at the many dances related to the Celtic world, which I imagine are related to the hobbit world. Although I’m not much of one for drinking and smoking, I could learn to brew a mean root beer and smile fondly at the crazy smokers. Hobbits clearly enjoy convivial evenings of much food and talk, where my natural skills would fit right in.

Food is an important part of my life, and even when I’m not eating, food occupies a significant amount of my thoughts. I would be more than happy to expand my daily meal quotient out as far as necessary. I am already a proponent of breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon nibble, pre-dinner sampling, dinner, dessert, and bedtime snack. With only slight adjustment, I could fit the hobbit routine, and would bring a new cuisine to the hobbit, whom I imagine are trapped eating traditional British foods. Although I am a robust consumer of cookies, tea, and nibbles, I’m eager to share my skills in baking and Italian-based cooking with fresh ingredients. For particularly adventurous occasions, I might even be convinced to break out some Indian and Thai dishes. Although perhaps present-day hobbits are already as fond of a good curry as the British folk.

Sleeping is far and away my most impressive skill. I can easily slip twelve hours under my belt, with intermittent visits to the bathroom. A slight headache, or stiff back, might force me out of bed for a bit, but hunger is the only really necessary reason to emerge. I am also skilled at taking a short afternoon nap, which can be expanded as necessary, or even moved to a different time of day. This should fit the slower, more relaxed schedule of the hobbits, and I think might even gain me a small bit of fame in the hobbit community. I’m willing to devote considerable resources to planning for a successful sleep, and I am talented at creating spaces to further the sleeping experience. However, I am also able to slip a little sleep in wherever is available, and I’m able to sleep under adverse conditions.

Hobbits also share my appreciation of saving items of personal or cultural significance that might not be needed immediately. I like things with attached memories and stories; for that matter, sometimes I need the thing in order to have the memory. But I’m the first to admit that saving every meaningful memento can lead to a rapidly overfilled living space. I would be thrilled to have the shared hobbit space to send all of these precious items. Perhaps a number of back curvy tunnels, snug and well lit. Lined with shelves, items could be submitted with a brief attached description and removed in times of need. I also would be thrilled to exchange used presents – again with an attached explanation of significance for either the giver or receiver. My inherent laziness would appreciate not having to shop while my enjoyment of giving (and receiving) gifts would be met. I could still save my precious items without having to actually live with ALL of them. My desire to reuse things would be satisfied, and yet I could still get things that were new to me. A most enjoyable solution.

Family and family history are thoroughly enjoyed by hobbits, with enough room for still finding the occasional relative annoying. Although I am not much for tracing one’s lineage, I am terribly fond of the odd family story. I would be quite satisfied to devote a portion of my life to discovering family stories, recounting these stories in writing, and sharing them with a jovial group of listeners. Furthermore, I’d be happy to track down other people’s family stories as well. No need to limit myself to my own particular genetic stock. I imagine my fellow hobbits appreciating the entertainment I could provide through our families and local history. And it might even be a good thing to have someone who isn’t quite so interested in the names and dates for marriages and births, but could tell you why they married each other and what disasters they had with their children.

I am also taken with the idea of being a homebody, and yet periodically going on a quest with one or two trusted comrades. Home is where the heart is, but a nice cozy hole with a few windows is an awful nice home. I like making a space into home, and an enjoyable home at that. Every now and again, however, I have an itching need to take my heart on the road and see what’s out there. A real quest, with danger and dragons and hunger, sounds scary, but like something I might be able to do. The slight distaste that most hobbits feel for adventuring would help satisfy my need to rebel and occasionally step off the beaten track. And it would be lovely to complete a quest with comrades who I trust while creating a breath of hope for the future. I’m willing to get dirty and sleep on the ground, and I can handle lice and ticks. I think I could learn to use a sword, and I’m very willing to practice running as fast as I can. I generally can get along with a group under pressure, and I promise to try to listen to everyone, unless I’m running as fast as I can. I’ll forgo my vegetarian vows in order to survive, and I can learn special skills as well. I think I’d be a good picklock, and I can spin a decent yarn. If subterfuge and lying are what’s needed to get through a situation, I’m happy to step up to the plate. And finally, home is marvelous to return to after a journey. It tastes sweeter and is better appreciated.

My final, dubious talent of writing is useful for both the traditional gathering of family history, and also the collection of stories about quests. I would be eager to write up my own quests, and would carefully interview my fellow participants in order to include their perspectives. Hopefully these narratives would give the wider hobbit community some appreciation for adventuring without encouraging everyone to set off on a quest. And even if no one ever reads these stories, I would still be able to read them to myself to remember my adventures. I may be a small audience, but I’m an appreciative one and I laugh at all the jokes.

I think I would make a fine contribution to the hobbit community and I’m eagerly awaiting my letter of acceptance. It should arrive any day now. Until then, I’ll be working hard on my skills of eating, sleeping, writing, adventuring, and saving a few more precious items. Feel free to join me whenever you want.

Office Mug Experiment

Over a three month period, the following science experiment unfolded.

Day One: Visiting employees hold a meeting at an office, drinking coffee and then leaving three used mugs in the sink.

Day Three: Mugs are now full of diluted coffee, dirty water, and Cup-o-noodle soup.

Day Five: Mugs, particularly the glass one, seem to be developing white scum on their surface.

Day 10: Mugs remain in place, liquid is now mostly dirty water and food particles.

Day 13: Mugs seem to be losing liquid to evaporation, but dirty circle is forming on bottom of the sink around each mug’s base.

Day 20: Liquid levels returned to full, apparently from a tomato based soup or dish.

Day 22: The mugs, with their liquid, are moved from the sink and lined up on the left of the sink on the counter. Rust circles remain at the bottom of the sink.

Day 25: The liquid is halfway evaporated, leaving a think patina of nastiness along the inside of the mugs. Particulary disturbing on the glass mug.

Day 30: Liquid appears to be holding steady at about 1/8 of a mug.

Day 42: Mugs are moved, with their liquids, to the right of the sink and lined up along the wall.

Day 46: No change.

Day 55: No change.

Day 73: No change.

Day 88: The mugs seem to have moved in and set up housekeeping. I imagine that even if we tried to move or clean them, they have sealed themselves to the counter and made their grime immovable.

Day 102: Tragically, the mugs were washed, the sink cleaned, and we are now on much tighter discipline in the kitchen. Much more pleasant, but the experiment has been shut down!