Monday, March 9, 2009

Words to Live Up To

John Engstrom, editor of “Getaways” in the Seattle Post Intelligencer has endorsed my hiking column and photographs that I provided for the past 13 years.

”When we created our “Getaways” outdoor regional recreation and travel section 13 years ago, we needed a freelancer who could write and photograph a “Hike of the Week” column for us. It was a difficult assignment that required someone who was willing – and wanted – to be out in the field, week-in and week-out, gathering the information for this feature. It also required someone with a passion for hiking and the outdoors, and the writing and photography skills to transform this to the printed page. Luckily for us, Karen Sykes joined us at the start and proved she could do what we wanted. She wasn’t the most professional writer or creative photographer at the start, but she was dogged in pursuit of honing these skills – and hone them she did, until she became a much more polished and confident wordsmith and a photographer with an eye that I admired, often in amazement, week after week. She made this transformation while also meeting the punishing requirement of a new hike (or a revisit of an old one) every week, month in and month out, year after year. Along the way she had to meet the challenges of bad weather, confusing and ill-signed trails, disappointments triggered by bad reports from other hikers or guidebook writers, even the necessity to be creative about close-in hiking when the cost of gasoline skyrocketed. Many a time I would chat with our chief outdoors writer on the newspaper staff, wondering how we would replace Karen, if for some reason, she had to leave us. Neither of us had an answer, and we figured it would probably take a committee to do the same work.” March 2, 2009

I must have read this endorsement 15 times over the last few days. Though my career at the Post Intelligencer is coming to an end I am not anywhere near the end of my writing/photography career. John Engstrom's words have given me a lot to think about and something to continue to aspire to when I write again.

First there are those memories. Of a day 13 years ago when the phone rang and it was Greg Johnston at the PI. He said he'd read my work in "Signpost" and "Washington Trails Magazine" and liked my work. Then he asked if I would like to try my hand at writing "Hike of the Week". Well, dear reader, I almost fainted. Perhaps he did not know that I had no degree other than the school of hard knocks (I graduated at the top of my class in that school) and a high school diploma, plus a year of secretarial school. True, I had a couple years of college behind me and made the Dean's List until I got to the required mathematics and sciences. That was the end of the Deans List and my college years but it was not the end of my writing.

That first hike column was a hike to the base of Stillaguamish Peak in the North Cascades with my late exhusband and his son. I look back at that hike now and while I can see a hint of the writer I would become, that first column could have been much better. Of course, I feel that way about every column I write. I felt that way about my poetry as well.

Poetry was the first chapter of my writing career under the name of Karen Waring. OPen Skull Press (Sacramento) published my first book of poetry in the 1970s entitled "A Child's Poem". I also published in "Litmus" and other small magazines throughout the 1970s. Litmus Press published another book of my poetry, "Exposed to the Elements" in 1978. My writing then was much different but I am much different as well. I had not found the mountains yet. Or perhaps the mountains had not found me yet. I still believe that the mountains chose me to write about them.

13 years of hikes, including driving directions, additional information, photographs ... and unfortuately, a few errors somehow managed to find their way into my work. Even recently -- after oral surgery and being a bit foggy in a recent hike I had a whole mountain range mixed up. I thought I was looking at the Olympics but I was really seeing the Cascades. Only 2-3 people caught that error. I cringe when I find those errors. Or worse, when someone else does. The worst thing, though, was having a "correction" run in the PI.

Some hikes were easier to write than others. Some descriptions came to me in big chunks, sweet as candy. Others were hard, like pulling teeth - yes, truly. The winter hikes were especially difficult to write up because trails and parks close to home often are a maze of loops and junctions, some unsigned. It was easier for me to describe a trail out in the middle of nowhere than it was to describe a loop on Tiger Mountain.

Age has been kind to me. Other than deteriorating vision and loss of some hearing I am almost as strong as I was 20 years ago. I am grateful that I have never sustained an injury, broken a bone or suffered anything more serious than a sprained ankle. My knees, back, and ankles are in good condition and I hike/scramble without the need for poles.

Today I ventured out to get some photos of the cherry blossoms in a snow shower. Then I drove to Alki and watched the clouds boil over the city.


gazingin said...


A big smile and hug! I will be reading the new blog now.


monte cristo ghost said...

Thanks, Sarah!