6 Southwest Washington Walking Trails to Enjoy Year-Round

Woodburn Falls from the Lacamas Creek Loop

The Pacific Northwest’s reputation for rain is not undeserved, especially in winter. Our sunny days are all the more precious for their rarity, and if you live in the region, you know the feeling of wanting to make the most of times when the weather is nice enough to get outside. Here are six scenic, easy-access walking trails in the Vancouver area to help you maximize those special days of beautiful weather all year round.

  1. Washougal Waterfront Park and Trail. This short and simple trail boasts excellent facilities and sweeping views of the Columbia and Mount Hood. Experience the grandeur and beauty of classic PNW scenery from a mile-long paved trail while learning about the history and ecology of the area from interpretive signage. There’s also a natural play area for the kids, and if you want to take advantage of nice weather by going kayaking, this park offers easy canoe or kayak access to the water.
  2. Salmon Creek Trail. This 6-mile, mostly flat paved trail showcases wetlands, creeks, and ponds in the heart of a bustling residential area. Depending on the time of year, visitors can see cormorants, wood ducks, and other waterfowl, as well as Mount Hood. This trail is popular with walkers and cyclists alike, and if you need to avoid the steep hill at the trailhead, this trail is wheelchair-accessible from Salmon Creek Park at the trail’s east end.
  3. Vancouver Waterfront. This beautiful 7-acre park opened in 2018, revitalizing downtown Vancouver’s riverfront shore and offering new opportunities for public spaces, ecological education, and retail and dining possibilities. The park lies at the westernmost end of the Columbia River Renaissance Trail, which runs 5 miles from Esther Short Park in downtown Vancouver to Fort Vancouver and Wintler Park. Challenge yourself to walk or bike the full length of the trail, or enjoy wandering the thoughtfully landscaped pathways of the park. Either way, leave some time to take in the Columbia River views from the park’s already iconic cable-stayed Grant Street Pier.
  4. Fort Vancouver and the Discovery Historic Loop Trail. Vancouver’s historical claim to fame is Fort Vancouver, a National Historic Site dedicated to the history and cultures of the Pacific Northwest. Exploring the Fort is a day trip unto itself, but you can wander the Vancouver National Historic Reserve and see the Bandstand, historic homes on Officers Row, Pearson Airfield, and more historical sites in a choose-your-own-adventure combination of trails and sidewalks. (Bonus: this is the regional destination for playing Pokémon Go.)
  5. Burnt Bridge Creek Trail. Access this 8-mile paved trail from four different points along this popular greenway north of downtown Vancouver. Much-loved by cyclists and families, the trail follows Burnt Bridge Creek from the residential Ogden neighborhood all the way to Vancouver Lake. The trail is mostly flat and takes visitors through a variety of Northwest landscapes, including grasslands and woods.
  6. Lacamas Creek Loop. Between Camas and Washougal, in the midst of developing suburbia, lies a 300-acre park full of forest land, waterfalls, and exposed rock formations left by massive floods at the end of the Ice Age. Walking trails of various lengths meander through the forest, but the Lacamas Creek Loop lets visitors avoid the crowds at the nearby parks and head straight into 4 miles of trail featuring wildflowers, three waterfalls, and Douglas fir forest. This trail is a great way to get a taste of Columbia Gorge wilderness with easy elevation gain and family-friendly access.

These are just a handful of the Southwest Washington trails offering scenic, accessible walking destinations. Which one is your favorite?

8 Ways to Work From Home Effectively (With Help From Luke Skywalker)

While many of us are entering our seventh or eighth month of working from home thanks to COVID-19, some are having to adjust to it now as school resumes or jobs change. I’ve been working from home since 2014, and while it’s done wonders for my time management and productivity, it isn’t always easy. There are certain skills one has to develop to be successful and effective in working from home, and some of those skills come more easily to people than others.

Luckily, the Internet is full of wise masters who have learned the art of scheduling, listening to their bodies, and achieving that delicate balance between the light side and the dark side – by which we mean the elusive work-life balance, something which might seem unattainable now that coronavirus restrictions have made those two physical spaces overlap. So whether you’re about to embark on your work-from-home adventure or you find yourself in a rut and need some refreshers, let’s get some advice from the pros on how to be successful working from home.

1. Keep regular hours and a regular workspace.

True, you now have the ability to conduct your workday from your bed or couch – but there are good scientific reasons for keeping your leisure spaces and your workspaces separate, if you can. That said, we’ve all had days where we were happiest and most productive wrapped up in a blanket on the couch, and hey, if that works for you, great. Maybe you’re limited by where you can set up a workspace and it has to be in your bedroom, and you know what? The Rebel Alliance had their headquarters on an ice planet for a while and they made that work. What matters most is that you can create an area in your home – even if it’s just a couple square feet, and even if you have to set it up and take it down each day – that your brain can associate with productivity.

Similarly, you’ll want to set and keep hours for your workday. It doesn’t have to be 9-5. The goal is to create a schedule you can stick to, no matter what the hours are. On Jakku, Rey had her routine down: she worked all day scavenging as far as she could travel, cashed in her haul at sunset, and made herself dinner every night. Setting a workday schedule for yourself – and clearly communicating it to your coworkers and supervisors – is going to be key in protecting your personal time while working at home.

Screenshot from The Force Awakens: Rey sits outside in the desert at sunset next to the toppled ruins of a metal armature.
We’re all out here learning to make sourdough and Rey’s been living on insta-bread for like fifteen years.

2. Get dressed for work.

Whether she was fighting battle droids, presiding over a throne room, or making a speech in the Senate, Padme Amidala knew the impact of style. Possibly the greatest temptation of working from home is the idea of wearing your pajamas all day – but don’t give in to the dark side! You don’t have to put on a velvet gown, or a suit, or even jeans (who wants to sit around all day in denim?), but the act of putting on different clothes tricks your brain into getting ready for the day in the same way as settling down in your workspace. It restores structure into this otherwise nebulous blob of work-from-home time.

3. Prioritize your tasks.

I don’t have any real canonical evidence for this, but Obi-Wan strikes me as a very organized dude. His planner is probably color-coded and I bet he even schedules time for meals and meditation. How else would you stay sane doing basically nothing on a desert planet for nineteen years? Hopefully we won’t be stuck working at home for nineteen years, but you can still maximize your productivity right now by developing, and sticking with, a planner system that works for you.

First, get a planner or a spiral notebook for bullet journaling. (I love the Passion Planner, and right now is a great time to jump in with an academic or undated planner.) Next, write out everything in your work week, and I really mean everything: not just work, but meals, physical activity, spiritual practices, errands, even your free time. Block out your day according to how much time you want to spend on a given task. Use colors and stickers to distinguish items and reward yourself for accomplishments. As you get better at your planner system and become more in tune with your focus throughout the day, you can reschedule your task times so you tackle more challenging projects when you have the most energy.

I’m not gonna lie: this is not easy. Scheduling my day in advance and sticking to that schedule is something I’m still working on, and there will always be things that come up to interrupt your beautifully organized day, like an emergency load of laundry, a last-minute assignment, or technical difficulties. The trick, at the end of the day, is to acknowledge that you got something done, even if you didn’t get everything done, and that’s what counts. (That’s what my therapist keeps telling me, anyway.)

4. Set boundaries with the other nearby beings.

Jabba the Hutt might be an abhorrent crime lord, but he’s always very clear on when visitors are allowed. Even if you have your own home office, and even if you, like Jabba, are constantly surrounded by sycophants and hangers-on (or just your children or pets) to the point where you’re just kind of used to it, it’s crucial to set ground rules about when interruptions are okay. Got an office with a door? Put up a “do not disturb” sign. Got a kitchen table? Put on headphones and have them serve as a visual cue that you can’t be interrupted. I’m not a parent, so I’ll let others share their tips for how to work at home with kids. (They might involve the Jedi mind trick – I honestly don’t know how parents do it all.)

Consider setting up a schedule or checklist for daily household tasks as well. Who’s responsible for getting the mail and when? Who’s feeding the pets and/or the humans in the house? Communicate these boundaries clearly and establish those emotional labor expectations so no one is left feeling like they’re taking on more than their fair share.

5. Keep moving.

As I’m writing this, most of the West Coast is engulfed in the worst air quality the region has probably ever seen thanks to record-shattering wildfires. Coronavirus already made it stressful (and in crowded urban areas, physically risky) to go out and get some fresh air. Now the nearest fresh air is in another state. But Yoda didn’t give Luke a rest day when he crash-landed in a swamp for Jedi training, and we can take care of our bodies, too. I use an absolute antique of a computer program called Workrave that stops me throughout my workday and tells me to take breaks ranging from 30-second microbreaks to full 30-minute rest breaks. I use that time to stand up, do stretches, shake out my hands, and get the blood flowing again.

It’s also a good idea to schedule exercise into your week, especially since days are all kind of indistinguishable blurs right now. Rope in a friend, partner, or housemate for accountability. And your exercise doesn’t have to be hour-long cardio sessions or lifting boulders, either: take a dance break to your favorite song, start your day with a few minutes of morning yoga, or play with your pet.

Screenshot from Return of the Jedi: closeup of Han and Luke having a conversation outside
“Instead of a big March blur, I see a big August blur.”

6. Make your work area as ergonomic as possible.

Lumbar support, laptop risers, different mouse or keyboard – just like a Jedi’s lightsaber is custom-built to their hands, you need to ensure your workspace is set up to keep you safe and healthy. Take it from someone who has suffered from tendinitis and RSI for years thanks to poor mouse and keyboard usage – this is one part of your workspace you don’t want to overlook. Ask your company if they can make accommodations for any new electronics that might help you alleviate pain and improve your productivity.

7. Yes, the dishes can wait.

Say you’re a mouse droid. It’s your job to scurry around big important places and clean them – but if you’re not careful with your schedule, you could end up getting roared at by a Wookie or trampled by a Dark Lord of the Sith with a bad temper. When you work from home, it’s easy to see “home” as work of its own, but if you let household chores take over time that’s meant to be spent working, it’ll be you roaring at yourself at the end of the day when you haven’t been able to cross everything off your list. Set a chore schedule so you aren’t tempted to procrastinate during work hours by going off to clean something that doesn’t need to be cleaned right now.

8. Accept – and come back from – failure.

The stress of this traumatic period in history compounded with the pressures of adjusting to work-from-home life means it’s more important than ever to accept that some days just might not go great, and to commit to showing up again tomorrow. After the events of the original trilogy, Luke faced some tough challenges and made some mistakes that made him feel like he’d failed in irreconcilable ways. His actions haunted him so much that he took off to a remote island on a distant planet and cut himself off from everything and everyone – but when he was reminded that he was still needed and had a part to play, he threw himself back into the fight. We may not have liked seeing our hero at rock bottom, but sometimes each of us needs the reminder that not only do we all make mistakes, we can always recover from them. There’s always another day to try again.

Screenshot from The Last Jedi: A seated figure, Luke, silhouetted against twin setting suns.

Evolving Language: What to Keep and What to Leave Behind

A language shifts and evolves like a landscape shaped by wind and water. Sometimes the changes strike quickly, like a new term or style change ruling that hits both writing professionals and general language users like a landslide, instantaneously transforming the landscape. Sometimes they take longer to acclimate, like the gradual eradication of ethnic slurs that vanish from the landscape like a shifting riverbed.

Yet some rules and usages stick around, apparently as immutable as mountains, but if anything is true about languages it’s that nothing about them is permanent. Below are a grammar rule I hope stays standing, a crumbled mountain of an old rule I don’t miss, and a new forest I’d like to see grow.

Let It Stay: the Oxford comma. My writing friends have many and sundry strong opinions, but the Oxford comma, whether for or against, is the hill they’ll die on. I am strongly for, if for no other reason than to avoid being these writers and editors who caused some hilarious confusion by not deploying that little extra comma.

Let It Fall: double spacing after a period. This is a holdover from the days of typewriters, when every letter took up the same amount of space and made it hard to tell where sentences began and ended. I was still instructed to use the double space even though I learned to type on a computer keyboard (shoutout to Mavis Beacon!), and modern, proportional fonts help our eyes pick out sentence breaks more easily. Adding the extra space was a hard habit for me to break, but I did, mostly because publications nowadays specifically ask writers to only use one space after a period. As of April 2020, even Microsoft Word now flags double spaces after periods as a grammatical error…but given Word’s, uh, less than reliable grammar-checking, maybe that’s not a great argument.

Let It Grow: the singular “they.” It’s about time the English language got a gender-neutral singular pronoun, for so many reasons, and as of 2019, it’s safe to safe to say we have one. Major style guides ranging from the MLA to the APA to the Associated Press have all given their blessing to the singular “they” to some extent. With “they” still acting as a plural pronoun, there’s bound to be confusion as the singular usage gains popularity, but like so many changes across the history of English, normalizing it (and the people who use it) can only serve to make our language more accessible, more accommodating, and easier to use.

The Hikes I Miss Right Now

It’s been 51 days since Washington’s stay-at-home order was issued. Twenty days before that, I registered Nebula Creative Services as an official business. There’s probably never an ideal time to dive into freelancing, but during a pandemic probably wouldn’t have been my first choice. At least I have a little more time to learn how to do my taxes, though even in quarantine there are things I would rather be doing.

I’ve been spending my time on old hobbies (baking, cooking, video games, reading) and new skills (gardening, sewing). I have my husband and our pets to keep me company. Our incomes are stable. Overall, we are doing pretty well. That isn’t to say we don’t miss things, like having game nights in person instead of over Discord, or being able to visit family for holidays and milestones, or even going to the grocery store without high levels of anxiety.

One of the things I miss the most, though, is hiking. Around here, as soon as the rain lets up in the spring, I’m ready to check out the nearest trail. My social media memories from the past few weeks showcase sunny excursions to some of the many trails in the Columbia Gorge and Southwest Washington. These three are the ones I’m missing the most this month.

Lava Canyon: This is a beautiful hike with tons of variety. It has a massive wobbly suspension bridge (optional, also currently closed for repairs), stunning views of St. Helens, rocky cliffs, and roaring waterfalls. There’s even a part where you have to climb a 30-foot ladder! If you embark from the Lower Smith Creek Trailhead, you can look forward to a 6.5-mile out-and-back adventure. Shorter options depart from the Lava Canyon Trailhead.

Eagle Creek: At least an opening date is in sight for many of my favorite hikes; not so for Eagle Creek. Maybe that’s why I’m missing it more acutely this season. When we hiked it in July 2016, it set the record for longest day hike I’ve ever done. Then, the year after I went, somebody setting off fireworks started the Eagle Creek Fire, causing weeks of air pollution and destroying many beloved hiking spots in the Columbia Gorge. Some of the damaged trails, like Angel’s Rest, have reopened, but Eagle Creek is among the trails the remains closed until the area can recover.

Mt. Saint Helens: I’m not sure it’s accurate to call this a hike, or to say that I look forward to doing it again, but after an exhausting seven-hour challenge last year on May 8, I felt pretty dang proud of myself, and I would like to feel that sense of accomplishment again. I also want to see that view again. It’s surreal to think that around this time last year, I was hiking and walking as much as I could to prepare for that climb, and this year the closest I can get is climbing the hill in my neighborhood.

The summit of the crater, May 8, 2019

I miss these hikes – the views, the friends hiking with me, the feeling of discovery, the sense of accomplishment – but I’m more than willing to wait to experience them again. Right now, protecting global health matters far more than my feeling restless. Washington trails are going to begin opening on a case-by-case basis over the next few weeks, but honestly, I’m not in a rush to get back to them. For one thing, I’m certain they’ll be slammed with visitors as they were in the early days of quarantine before counties had to close their trails. For another, I’m still afraid of the shifting health landscape. I’ll be trying to make wise decisions when I go out on the trails again. Until then, I have my memories – and this inspiring three-minute compilation of the Pacific Crest Trail experience.

My 2020 Most Anticipated Books

I was that kid staggering out of the library at the beginning of summer with a stack of twelve books she couldn’t possibly read before they were due, or even before the end of the season. I had an entire shelf dedicated to Goosebumps and Animorphs, those standbys of the Scholastic book fair. I learned history from Little House on the Prairie, Dear America, and the American Girl books. And maybe I didn’t meet my goal to read 100 books each summer, but I sure had fun trying.

Time to read feels more and more precious with each passing year. Instead of the library’s checklist, I take advantage of Goodreads’ annual reading challenge. (I’m one book ahead of schedule for 2020!) And there are plenty of interesting reads coming out in 2020 that I’m keeping an eye out for:

“A Long Petal of the Sea” by Isabel Allende. Allende is one of my favorite authors and I was so excited to see this on a shelf at my library – until I took it up front and realized it was someone’s ARC, unprotected by library plastic, bare of any stickers or barcodes. The guy working at the desk thanked me for finding it and took it away to get processed. I guess finders-keepers doesn’t fly in a library? Anyway, I’m really excited for this.

“The Seep” by Chana Porter. “Perfect for fans of Jeff VanderMeer and Carmen Maria Machado,” says Goodreads, and it’s about benevolent alien invaders giving us everything we ever wanted and how sometimes what we want is not what’s best for us. Neat. Depressing! But neat.

“Doors of Stone” by Patrick Rothfuss. I have an issue with series. If all the books in a series aren’t already out, then I’m not diving in. *gestures in the direction of eternally disappointed Song of Ice & Fire fans* But! The third book in The Kingkiller Chronicles is allegedly, finally, maybe coming out in August, which means I can now safely embark on reading the series. (These books are so huge, though, I should probably just get started anyway.)

“Why We Can’t Sleep” by Ada Calhoun. After so many years of being told they not only can have it all, but they should, maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised that Gen-X women are on the brink of collapse. I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but this looks interesting, in a staring-into-the-abyss sort of way.

“Night Theater” by Vikram Paralkar. A family in India is murdered in a home robbery, then visits a surgeon saying they get a second chance at life if he can mend their wounds before sunrise. I have read pathetically little magical realism, and this is right up that alley.

“The Relentless Moon” by Mary Robinette Kowal. “The Calculating Stars” has been waiting patiently in my to-read pile for months now, but I can already tell you that alternate history lady astronauts saving the world and building lunar colonies is extremely my aesthetic.