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What I learned on our 4,000 mile road trip

Does it get any more Southwest than this?
Ruins at Mesa Verde

I love planning ahead (this post talks about that a bit). I literally have pages of planning for this trip, and thought I had all the details covered. BUT, I missed a few very important details. First, we had hoped to join a guided tour of at least one of the pueblo dwellings at Mesa Verde. About a week too late, I discovered that two of the four possibilities would not even be open to tours until the end of May, after our departure. And for the two left, there was a very narrow window of opportunity to book, which we missed by about a week. On top of that, although I knew we would need to catch a shuttle to get into the main part of Zion National Park, those tickets also needed to be booked before I discovered that. LESSON 1: Research every last detail well in advance of your departure to avoid disappointment.

Late in the planning game, I found out two things: one of our planned destinations was much farther away from Mesa Verde than was really practical, and somehow I had a two-night gap in our overnight accommodations. So I coined a new motto: When your plans change, change your plans. So, I was able to put in a patchwork of stays, which ended up taking us to Taos for a couple of days (the results of that may find their way into a whole new post), and we added St. George to our itinerary. We had planned to visit Zion Valley, but the logistics just didn’t work out. Instead, acting on a tip from my sister Jae, we headed to Snow Canyon State Park, and enjoyed hiking the red rock country on slick rock, a joy beyond expressing for us. LESSON 2: Be flexible, and see what other opportunities arise when something doesn’t work out as planned.

Exploring dirt roads on Taos Mesa

Some of our best experiences were not of the grand vistas and big iconic names of the west, but in places only the locals may be aware of. For us, Ponderosa State Park, the dirt roads of Taos Mesa, hiking in the Snow Basin area, deer and cougar prints on Powder Mountain, and slickrock hiking in Snow Canyon showed us beauty we would have missed by going for the Big Attraction. Then, taking time for the tiny – plants with a bloom the size of my little fingernail blooming in the most inhospitable looking places. Watching tiny lizards slither quickly across hot desert sands. Spotting tiny bluebirds swiftly sailing the skies. Discovering microbreweries making exceptional beer: McCall Brewing, Steamworks Brewing Company, and Taos Mesa Brewing (BTW, they all sell “Crowlers” to go [a canned growler], but be warned they vary in size. I was stunned to get three 32 ounce crowlers from Taos Brewing when I expected 16 ounce). LESSON 3: Think “hidden”, think local, think small.

CHIRP. Unfortunately, I have a slight hearing loss, so I have to be right on top of most small birds to hear their call. But I’m not talking about that kind of chirp. We discovered this app/website that has tons of audio books we download onto my phone, and listen to when the miles get long. We were often in the car for 8 – 10 hour days, for multiple days this trip. Having a good mystery (or your choice of genres) to listen to can ease the tedium facing even the best of relationships. And they are really affordable, especially compared to Amazon! Check it out! LESSON 4: Avoid boredom with audiobooks.

Lunch stop near Eden, Utah

Yes, I’m trying to get away from my previous vacation mantra of “Drive as far as you can, as fast as you can to get to (and from) your destination”. BUT. Stopping at a restaurant or fast food place for lunch on a road trip adds significantly to the overall drive time, adds significant expense, and brings in a ton of calories and sodium. Instead, we found a fabric lunch box with compartments for slim ice packs, and we pack a very small, basic meal. We choose to be very simple; flour tortillas with peanut butter, a sliced apple, and sometimes mozzarella cheese sticks for variety. Quick to make, easy to pack, easy to eat on the road, and economical. Not to mention flexible! We also often take this lunch out when we are exploring, find a spot to park with a fabulous view, and have our lunch in the car. LESSON 5: Pack a lunch.

I have no idea why it took me sooo long to figure this one out. This trip I packed our laptop and an HDMI cord. After the business of our vacation day, I power up the laptop, connect it to WIFI (either at the location, or via my Personal hotspot on my phone), connect the laptop to the TV with my HDMI cord, pull up Xfinity or Amazon prime, and watch our favorite shows instead of the junk available on the in-house choices. What a difference! LESSON 6: Bring your laptop and an HDMI cord!

Lunch at Steamworks Brewing in Durango, Colorado

It is all-to-easy for me to pack every single day with enough activities for two days for most people. While that maximized the sum total of sights seen and boxes checked, I would often come home needing a vacation from my vacation. So, we intentionally scheduled very light days here and there, allowing us time to sit on the patio/deck and just relax, enjoying our surroundings. It’s only taken me 50 years to figure this out; hopefully, if you’re like me,  you may now be inspired to slow it down a bit, and enjoy this sweet moment in time we call “life’. LESSON 7: Plan to Slow it down a notch.

Well gang, guess that’s about it for now. Our Worldmark timeshare condos come with a fully-equipped kitchen, so we are just about ready to go inside and cook a delicious, nutritional and low-cost dinner. What travel tips do you have you’d like to share?

Happy hikers on slickrock at Snow Canyon State park, Utah

PS: To make reservations for tours of Mesa Verde, and other National Park attractions, go to Recreation.gov. As of late May, reservations were not needed for the Zion Shuttle, and the fee was removed. Some essential trail markers had been removed from the slickrock at Snow Canyon in a very essential spot. You may be able to route-find using a trail map; carry 2-4 quarts of water per person plus an electrolyte replacement drink for safety, and wear a hat. Even (especially?) in the hot desert sun, lightweight long pants and a breathable long-sleeve shirt works better than sunscreen.

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My Love/Hate GPS Relationship

The (cloudy) view from 10, 525′

My love/hate relationship with GPS really came into focus recently. The maps/GPS app on my phone did a great job of finding the fastest route between Durango, CO and Taos, NM. We crossed some really spectacular country, and I wasn’t surprised when we started climbing, as there are all kinds of mountains in this area. I kept expecting to come to a mountain pass, then head downhill into Taos. Instead, we kept climbing, climbing and climbing. I had my wife pull up the Altimeter app on my phone … 7,000 feet … 8,000 feet … 9,000 feet … 10,000 feet … and finally, at literally the top of a mountain, 10, 525 feet! Even with clouds all around us, the views stretched out for miles and miles. It was stunning, but also totally unexpected.

Once we got to our destination, I took a closer look at the route on the map, and there was zero clue as to what driving this route entailed. Then I pulled out an actual map for the area (Indian Country Guide Map by AAA), and discovered we had summited Jawbone Mountain! As I continued to look at the paper map, I saw so much interesting information about the country that we had missed by not checking it out beforehand.

At home I have a good-sized storage bin that holds literally dozens, if not hundreds of maps from places I’ve gone. They range from a map of the Western States to topographical maps of trails  that cover only a few square miles. I have maps with yellow highter that have routes of road trips I planned that covered half a dozen or more states. I’d sit down with these maps, exploring in my mind’s eye the whys and wheres of a trip – incredible scenery, access to backcountry, historic points of interest, or just something intriguing on the map. And somehow or other, without the aid of a GPS in my car or on my phone, I made it to every place I wanted to visit. Conversely, my GPS has occasionally taken me miles from where I expected … and I have read multiple stories about people who got well and truly lost – and even perished – by trusting their GPS in their car.

In the cold, wet and gray days of winter in the Pacific Northwest, I would spend hours pouring over the maps, reading guidebooks, planning campsites, hikes, explorations. I’d make lists of everything needed to make the trip a success. I could almost see the distant vistas, and feel the summer heat on my back. It was my tofur – two for the price of one, living one vacation in my mind as I planned it, then when I was actually seeing my plans unfold in real life. Looking up the route I had taken this time on a map showed me how much I was missing by using the ubiquitous technology available at our fingertips today. I still have a few days left on this road trip. My maps are coming out, and I can’t wait to see what I find.

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Walk with me … in Astoria!

Astoria! This was the first city in Oregon, founded in 1811, and was the first American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains. Lewis and Clark famously spent a miserable winter here in 1805-1806.They had hoped to hitch a ride home on one of the ships that would brave the treacherous Columbia River bar to trade with the Native American tribes, but ended up hiking all the way home across America. 

Abandoned cannery and piers with ships at anchor

Despite the terrible winter, Astoria soon became a thriving commercial hub, first for fur trading, and then for lumber mills, fishing and canneries. Unfortunately, in America, nothing succeeds like excess, and soon the fur trade collapsed, the best timber was gone, and the salmon nearly wiped out. Mills closed, canneries shut down, and the railroad left town. At the same time, ship traffic on the mighty Columbia increased, and continues to play a significant role in town.

Today Astoria continues to reinvent itself, and is a fabulous destination to spend a few days and explore. Besides the short walks I will take you on today, you can also visit Fort Clatsop, a reconstruction of the fort where Lewis and Clark and company stayed, and Fort Stevens. Fort Stevens was built in 1863-64 to protect the entrance to the Columbia River from the British as a result of the “Pig War.” It was an active military base until 1947, and is well worth the visit.

One of our favorite places to walk in Astoria is the Astoria Riverwalk. All total, we have probably done about four miles of the total length of six miles. It runs along the route of the former Astoria Trolley, built in the 1880’s, which ran from Astoria to Seaside. There is an interesting mix of sights to see: the Columbia River Maritime Museum, with a retired floating lighthouse ship, and a retired Bar Pilot ship. 

Walking along the shoreline you will see the bridge that now links Astoria with Washington State, ships at anchor waiting to go upriver and be loaded with wheat from the inland empires of Oregon, Washington and Idaho, and abandoned canneries slowly collapsing near the shores. 

You will also see many thriving businesses, waterfront hotels, and various oddities. Hungry? I recommend the Astoria Brewing Company, with decent waterfront views. You can read my review here (look for William G.). The city of Astoria has resurrected the old trolley line, and a vintage trolley car runs during the summer months (Covid permitting).

The Flavel House, the best preserved example of Queen Anne architecture in Oregon
Historic Uptown Home

From downtown, it is an easy walk (well, more or less, Astoria is quite hilly) to the uptown residential area. While downtown burned twice, many of the great turn-of-the-century homes on the hill escaped, and you can see them today. First and foremost is the Flavel House, built in 1884-85 for Captain George Flavel, a Columbia Bar Pilot. The Columbia River was known as “The Graveyard of the Pacific”; the river deposited tons of sand and silt collected on its way to the ocean onto ever-shifting sandbars that wrecked many vessels attempting to reach Portland. It became common practice (and is now required) for local captains familiar with the frequent changes of the main channel to safely guide ships across the bar to a safe harbor in Astoria. Captain Flavel made an excellent living at this, and with his real estate investments. You can tour this magnificent home when you visit.

As you have figured out, Terri and I love to walk small, historic cities like Astoria to see what we can find, and we were not disappointed here. There is a significant number of historic homes; click here for a short video I took showing a few homes that remind me of San Francisco’s famous “Painted Ladies” homes. 

Not least, but last for this post is a bit of a cheat; we drove here. The Astor Column (since renamed the Astoria Column) was built by a grandson of John Jacob Astor, who basically started the fur trade in Oregon. A mural spirals up the 125 foot column depicting the history of Oregon. Pre-Covid you could walk up the 164 steps to the top for an incredible view of surrounding territory. Still, the view from the 30 acre park is pretty impressive. This is a can’t miss on your visit to Astoria!

Questions? Comments? You can reach me at adventuresinaging@gmail.com

Still reading? Here is a short video of a super-crazy street we found in Astoria. Don’t drive here!

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A Moment for Reflection

FFF(c) Day! Freedom From Fear (coronavirus)

Scenes from World War I were playing on my screen recently. Soldiers were huddled in the trenches, with incoming artillery shells, mortar rounds and sniper fire. It was a constant battle just to remove the dead and injured from the live fire while shrapnel, mud, and debris rained all around them. Everyone wondered if they’d actually make it home alive, not to mention arrive physically unscathed. Unfortunately, many of those who arrived with bodies intact turned out to have “shell shock”, or what we now term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

It is estimated that 40 million people died worldwide in that war; so far, “only” about 2 million people have died from the quiet war of coronavirus. Without the explosions and bloody deaths as stark reminders of this war, many people saw little or no risk, and pretty much continued their lives as they had before they had to wear a mask to get their groceries. But for some of us – those with compromised immune systems or other pre-existing conditions – this felt like an invisible war that was being raged right next to us, and we retreated to our foxholes, shelters we shared with only those who lived in our homes. Anyone else could be an undercover agent carrying Covid-19; trust no one, no matter how much you love or miss them. It was a fast, brutal and stark reordering of priorities. 

Every trip outside the home became an exercise in warfare and spycraft. Need to fill the gas tank? Find a deserted pump island. Oh no, here comes someone! Do they have a mask? Which way is the wind blowing? How close are they going to get? Want to take a walk and get some exercise? Oops, not there, look at all the cars in the parking lot. How many people are on that trail? Nope, let’s find a deserted neighborhood. Groceries? Order online, drive to the store, open the back hatch, put on a mask. What? Why are they trying to approach my window, I stated NO CONTACT! Get the groceries home, wipe down everything with disinfecting wipes, then wipe down the counter. 

Order surgical masks, cloth masks, vented masks (oops, can’t wear that; glasses won’t fog, but my outgoing breath isn’t filtered, and that’s not cool). Order more masks. Get filters for masks. Order surgical gloves. Get an air purifier for household air (seemed like a good idea at the time, will come in handy during smoke season). Search and search for hand sanitizer, disinfecting spray and wipes. Order more masks, maybe these will work better. Take a chance and meet at a “social distance” with friends outdoors. On the way home, discuss whether I got closer than 6 – 10’ during the visit, and if so, how great was the risk of exposure.

One day – March 367th – get in line, and spend nearly two hours way too close to strangers, and get a shot in the arm that may be a first step in getting invisible body armor against this invisible assassin. Three weeks later, go back – where is everybody? – and get the second shot. Tomorrow, March 381st, marks FFF(c) day. We’ve been sent home from the front with a fully functioning body! But. We felt the tiniest shadow of what PTSD might feel like.

Long discussions. What can we REALLY do now? Who can we see safely? What does that look like? What does the CDC say? Hmm, lots of data there, and not a little confusing. Are they saying that to keep us safe, or the people we are with? What does 95% effective mean? Wait, now it’s “only” 90%? What about the variants, are we safe there? I feel like maybe a person emerging from a storm shelter after a tornado has just passed by, wondering if it’s safe to come out. Or maybe like a turtle who retreated to his shell because of an apparent threat, blinking his eyes, and slowly extending his head to take a look around. It’s going to take some time to stop examining every action outside of the cocoon we have built around our home. 

Grass “Pondering” its reflection

We went a little crazy yesterday. We went to Costco … during the Senior Citizen hours to avoid crowds. We actually went a couple of months ago, double-masked, with our tight little list, only getting exactly what we needed, not going down any aisle with another person in it, and rushing out as soon as possible. This time – okay, still double masked – we go up and down dearly every aisle in the store. And yes, we found a few things we didn’t know we needed until we saw them. 

We raced home (I was going to say zoomed, but that word has been co-opted by a now-ubiquitous app), put the groceries away, put on our hiking clothes, and headed out to Whistle Lake to hike a real trail! We took our masks, but only masked up if we saw others who were wearing a mask. It felt so good to not have to find a spot on the trail where we could be six feet or more off the trail, and not struggling to quickly put our masks on before they got too close. We even had two 5 minute friendships, the first in over a year! 

On the deck at Anthony’s

And then (drum roll), Terri suggested we head in to Anacortes, and maybe find a restaurant with an outdoor patio where we could have a glass of wine. And we did! Anthony’s had two patios open, and the one in the sun didn’t even have anyone else on it. We ordered one of our favorite appetizers, Calamari, and a glass of wine, and marveled at where we were, and what we were doing. 

Our guard is still up a bit. Still leery about being too close to unvaccinated people, dining inside a restaurant, and returning to in-person church services, to name a few. But now there is sooo much more we can do than we’ve able for the past year, it’s almost intoxicating. We’ve missed so very much this last year, and we ache to see our kids, grandkids and friends, but we survived. American could end up with three-quarters of a million dead before there is a near-zero risk of contracting covid, and our hearts break for those who have lost family and friends, and for those whose bodies will never fully recover from this disease. Yes, we took extreme measures; now all those sacrifices will begin to pay off as we reintegrate with society. The storm clouds are clearing, and we emerge, ready to build again.

This fish literally jumped out of the water onto the bank while we were eating lunch. We felt a bit like a fish out of water ourselves on FFF(c) day. I flipped him back in the water – he stared at me for a moment, then swam away.

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Three totally FREE days at Arches National Park?

See how my sister did it in this Guest Post

One of the things I was interested in when I started this blog a bit over two years ago was how to travel on a budget. My sister Jae, who lives in Colorado, just got back from a three day trip to Arches National Park, and the only money she spent was for gas to get there and back. How? I asked her to share her secrets, and here they are. (By the way, you can follow her AMAZING cat on Instagram at Punkin Trip McFluffyPants).

As I embarked on my trip to Arches National park, my trailer in tow, I could feel the excitement and anticipation building. I was last there two years ago, to the day, and I vividly remember beautiful hikes and breathtaking scenery. Those of you who have been to the Utah desert in Spring or Fall know that it feels very transformational and healing. Who doesn’t need more of that right now?

Punkin Trip McFluffypants loves to hike and explore!

I was especially eager to preview the changes recently made to my converted cargo trailer, which include the addition of a very large viewing window. And of course, enjoy outdoor time with my best friend, Punkin Trip McFluffypants.

My campsite, booked six months ago after several weeks of daily attempts to secure a site, did not disappoint. The ever-changing view out the back of my trailer and from anywhere on the campsite was soul-satisfying. I was joined by two slightly outrageous camping friends, which help round out the perfect trip.

How can you not smile with views like this?

The first morning resoundingly confirmed my choice of windows. Seeing dawn break over an amazing view from the comfort of my warm bed, knowing it was well below freezing outside was a real treat.

There are a plethora of hikes available right from the campground, and for those like me, who prefer to avoid other people when in nature, it was not that hard to do this time of year. Hiking the most popular routes in off-hours and the less popular primitive trails during peak hours did the trick. I’m always surprised how few people are up and around in campgrounds before 10 am. Me, I’m like a kid at Christmas, I can’t wait to get outside and explore.

Clever use of the small space!

The trip was extremely satisfying in every way, from the startling silence in the campground itself to the shockingly vivid sunsets. As I packed up to go, with a huge smile across my face, relishing the last little bit of my view, I realized it had also been surprisingly cost-effective. With a Senior Parks pass, the entrance to Arches was free and the campsite half price. My kind friends each contributed $25 which more than covered the $37.50 site cost for 3 nights. I make and bring all my own food, and since I’m vegan, I don’t have meat costs. I brought a bottle of wine that was gifted to me last Christmas. Moab has turned into an unpleasant overgrown bulging Metropolis (I’ve heard, I have no interest in going there now), so I didn’t spend a penny on this trip.

Jae, leaving with a smile on her face.

I drove 450 miles, with my truck averaging 16 miles to the gallon (yay!!!). With gas at $2.55 a gallon, I used about 29 gallons of gas for a fuel cost of $74. With the “profit” from the campsite contributions, my net cost was $61.50, plus groceries, for three nights stay in an incredible location.

I am on a tight budget, but I believe in taking full advantage of what nature has to offer, so it’s nice to know how affordable a wonderful getaway can be. You still at home? Get out there! 

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On the Trail to Porpoise Point

Just when I was getting bored, I got a new local trail recommendation (Thanks, Kim H.!) The trail to Porpoise Point is in Sares Point Park, south of Anacortes on Rosario Road. I’ll bet I’ve driven past it half a dozen times. This time, I had a reason to stop. The rain had stopped for one day in a row, so it was time to get out and stretch our legs.

The trail starts out level and well maintained in a second-growth forest, soon coming across Fox Pond (in my ignorance, I thought it was a wetland). There are all kinds of tempting side trails that we will be compelled to return to later and explore, but today we are on a mission – reports are that porpoises and seals are often seen off of Porpoise Point, so we resist rabbit trail temptations for now. We took the Madrone Trail down.

Apparently, Yellow Jackets can be a problem in non-winter months, but it sounds like they can be avoided by taking the Porpoise Trail instead of the Madrone Trail. (Tip: download the AllTrails or Hiking Project App, and you will be able to see exactly where you are). Soon the well-maintained trail devolves into a suggestion of an occasionally-used track, filled with roots, rocks, rivulets and steepish descents.  The trail ends up dropping 416’ from the trailhead – what it lacks in length, it makes up in steepness.

Porpoise Rock comes into view before long, but it is a bit of a winding way to get there safely. Any place else, this small outcropping would have been crowded with hikers drinking in the expansive view, from Allen Island and Burrows Island to the Olympics. But this Saturday(!) in the middle of winter, we had it completely to ourselves, drinking in the views while eating our lunch. Sadly, no seals or porpoises for us today, but that just gives us an excuse to return.

We took the Porpoise Point Trail back, and were rewarded with sunlight streaming through the trees, illuminating the beautiful and abundant ferns lining our path. We also came across two huge Cedar trees, which had apparently been felled 50ish years ago by a windstorm … but their root system was relatively intact, so they sent up branches to the skies above, becoming trees in their own right. And the roots! Absolutely massive, unique, and a testament to resilience. 

Short and sweet, this was a fun trail. And the offshoot to Sares Head looks to offer even more expansive views on our next foray to this little gem. But hey, let’s keep this our little secret, okay?

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Walk with me … in Anacortes

Entrance to the Historic Downtown area

If you are at all familiar with my Instagram account Adventures In Graying, you will know we have a particular affection for Anacortes, WA. Located on Fidalgo Island, it is surrounded by the Salish Sea on three sides, and the LaConner Channel on the fourth, is blessed with great beauty, and a lifestyle devoid of big box stores. Like other seaport locations in Washington State (especially Port Townsend), it had grand dreams of becoming the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad, or of a new railroad crossing the North Cascades, the Seattle and Northern Railroad. 

It was first settled by railroad surveyor Amos Bowman in 1877; he named the city which was incorporated in 1891 after his wife, Anne Curtis. Land speculation ran rampant through 1890, with fabulous homes being built, along with a robust downtown. There was a huge crash in 1891 when the development company went broke. Many left town, but fishermen and loggers (among others) moved in, and thrived for decades.

One of the historic brick buildings in downtown. Every garbage can in the downtown and marina area has a label from salmon that was canned there

Today many of the original buildings survive downtown, the stately homes have been restored, the fish canneries are almost all gone or melting back into the earth, and the last lumber mill burned to the ground years ago. This historic area is where we decided to go and get our walking exercise in recently, and we loved it so much, we have to share.

The aptly named Majestic Inn. Seriously, a must-stop for a quick lunch, Happy Hour or fine dining dinner!

You know you have reached the historic part of downtown when you see their proud arch. Still very vibrant in this challenging time, this is a great place to spend a day checking out the mom and pop shops, fabulous restaurants, and the famous Anacortes Arts Festival (hopefully returning in 2021). Several blocks of the main street are cordoned off, filled with all types of arts and crafts, along with food vendors, and live music with a wine and beer garden. But I digress. One must-stop is the Majestic Inn, built in 1890, and beautifully restored. They have both fine dining, and a cozy, intimate bar with a great selection of wines, beers and appetizers.

Just a couple of blocks west takes you to the historic neighborhood. I am absolutely captivated by the mix of Victorian, Craftsman, and other turn-of-the-century architecture. 

Sticking closer to the water, you will see the last remains of what had once been known as the Salmon Canning Capital of the World. There are still two (although appearances would say 1 ½) working fish processing plants left here. History says that this may have been the first place where Washington fishermen headed off to Alaska in the 1890’s to catch crab.

There are also a couple of micro parks along the water – really, walking this neighborhood is the only way to find them. They offer beautiful views of the Guemes Channel.

And this is but one small area in Anacortes! I haven’t even mentioned Washington Park, or Cap Sante Park and the marina area, or the Community Forest Lands! Maybe next time.

A photo may be worth a thousand words, but an in-person visit is worth a thousand photos.

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Today Is Tomorrow

And the next day, and the next, and the next…

It was 315 days ago we started what we termed “Extreme Social Distancing.” No shopping, grocery or otherwise, no church, no friends over for meals, no trips to see grandkids, avoiding like the plague anyplace where we might come within 6’ of another human being. Laughably, my blog post on March 12 – that fateful first day – wonders if this new life will last six to 12 weeks. Ten months later, with a strangled vaccination roll-out and new, easier to catch, maybe more deadly coronavirus variants popping up like mushrooms after a fall rain, we are being told it could be another ten months before we can feel somewhat safe in the company of anyone other than those living in our house; yep, just Terri and I.

Mount Baker at eventide from Cap Sante, Anacortes, WA

We do all our grocery shopping online, roll up to Fred Meyer, the back of our rig is opened, bags deposited, the door closed, and off we go. That will typically be the highlight of that day. If the weather isn’t horrible, we have a couple of choices; drive to Anacortes, where we walk in a ritzy neighborhood with views of the Salish Sea where we are the only walkers on the sidewalks. Head to Little Mountain Park, where one of the many trails has few, if any hikers, or out to LaConner. We drive to the very end of the marina area, walk the sidewalks along the shoreline until we get to the cute, touristy town with closed shops and empty sidewalks. 

Once in a while we will head to Whidbey Island during the week and find a deserted beach to walk, or sit with a meager lunch and ponder the timelessness of the wind and waves. Or we may try and find a backroad in our tri-county area we haven’t been on yet, running out of options there.

As we were nearly home driving back from one of our micro-excursions, we looked at each other, and I asked Terri “What do you want to do tomorrow?” And we both laughed. “Today IS Tomorrow” we said. Our yesterdays, todays and tomorrows are becoming indistinguishable from each other. There are no sharp calendar edges on our months, only the slow shape-shifting of seasons. 

Occasionally punctuation marks seem to appear out of nowhere. Friends moving away, a few very social-distance encounters with a couple friends and family. A short road trip to a condo where we will continue the extreme social distancing, but with a view other than our four walls for a few days. News of hard times for family members, reports of illnesses and death of friends family members. Astoundingly disturbing news from the other Washington. They all come in fast, hit hard, and dissipate like morning fog. 

Maybe like you, I want to live a life with meaning. The visceral knowledge that we are like the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire singes my days. Days like dry tinder, flashing into flame, but with no wood to make a meaningful fire. Incense carrying my prayers that I may play my part in the plan, to make at least a bit of a difference in a world crying for justice and mercy. 

So I scratch and peck, send a text here, make a call there, write a letter to the ethereous internet, jump on a Zoom with anyone willing to share time with us, or join a meeting where they have to let me in. A flash in the pan, a speck of gold dust, reminding me of the richness of relationships now reduced to electrons on a screen, and a yearning in the heart. 

The light of my life!

Hold on, we just have to hold on. Hold on to what we have, to the munificent blessings a mere glance reveals. Hold on to the investment of time spent in extreme social distancing that has kept us safe so far. Hold on to the lottery-like promise of a vaccine that could maybe possibly hopefully who knows begin an emergence into a new normal. If you have met me in person, you know I am a hugger. Know now that my hugs will be a bit tighter, a bit longer the next time we meet. Know that my tears will probably flow when I see you in person. Know that my heart aches and yearns for that time to come soon. I have hope. I am clinging to a hope for a better, brighter day for you and me on this glorious world. And, speaking for myself, one way or the other, I am confident and cling to the hope I have in the next world. 

May there be Peace, and let it begin with me.

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The Battle of New Year’s Eve

I should have known that my New Year’s Eve plans would go off the rails a bit when after multiple tries, I couldn’t get any fennel for a fabulous mussels in white wine sauce recipe I wanted to make.

It had felt like I’d been waging my own private two-front war against the pandemic; one physical and the other mental. The physical battle has been tough, on each and every one of us. So many have lost this battle. All that the survivors will have will be memories of their loved ones lost in this great war. Most of the rest of us have sacrificed coveted times with mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandkids and friends. So many are still in the trenches, fighting for us, trying to keep us alive, no matter how safe we thought we were being, or even if we thought it couldn’t happen to us. 

Many of us have sacrificed vacations, anniversaries, honeymoons, funerals, graduations, travel plans. We’ve given up dining out, shopping in stores, going out to the movies, going to church, five-minute friendships with strangers, and a thousand other common, ordinary things we took for granted. And that’s just the physical side.

On the mental side, we are fighting an invisible enemy, lurking anywhere, just waiting for a lax moment to ambush us. For us, extreme isolation seemed to be the safest way to keep each other alive and healthy. Several times it has felt like we were in a newer version of the movie Blast from the Past. We occasionally emerge from our bunker, and drive around old haunts, marveling at new construction springing from the ground like mushrooms after a rain, or with pangs of nostalgia as we see places we loved that will only return in our memories. Then we return to our bunker, close the hatch behind us, cross another day off the calendar, and wait for a day in the hazy future when we will emerge into a world that has been changed forever.

Fighting an invisible enemy takes its toll. Isolation takes its toll. I want to attack, fight and defeat this enemy, but all I can do is hide. My fight or flight response has been maxed out every day for nearly a year, and I’m tired of running from a particle too small to be seen by the human eye. As I lay awake on New Year’s Eve Eve, my mind, addled by sleeplessness, decided to declare a personal war against the virus on New Year’s Eve. I’d show it! I won’t be cowed! I’m going to make that whole day a huge party, and win this battle it has been waging against me in my own mind. Along the way, there was a distinct possibility that this battle may involve a bit of consumption of my favorite anesthetic to salve the wounds I had borne.

The day started off with my making our favorite frittata, maybe the best ever using chipotle flavored olive oil. I was going to serve Mimosas along with it, but my practical, Scotch side made a rare appearance, and convinced me that the bottle of bubbly would probably go flat before we finished it. The fritatta was fabulous, but now my plans were off track a bit. 

Several days earlier, I had a brainstorm, and ordered a Smoked Gouda from Fred Meyer, and three of my favorite cheeses from The Cheesemonger’s Shop in Leavenworth, WA; a Kerrygold Aged Cheddar from Ireland, a Blue Stilton from England, and Humbolt Fog from Cypress Grove in Arcata, California. Along with that we had some Rosemary Crackers, Artisanal Rosemary Bread from Avenue Bakery, a Limited Release Olio Nuovo  Extra Virgin Olive Oil form Durant Olive Mill in Dayton, Oregon (a gift from our friends Gary and Linda), Hummus with veggies, and Honeycrisp Apples for lunch … while we watched Shrek. True confession, I’d never seen it before, but Terri loves it and wanted me to see it. Why not? Having fun was a big part of the battle in my brain. Oh, and we shared a VERY nice bottle of Sonoma Zinfandel, a perfect accompaniment to this repast.

Next up, a great video reunion with our great friends Don and Trish, who just moved into their new house in Texas. Laughter, tears and wine flowed as we caught up with each other, their absence and distance a part of this new reality. Two hours whisked by like a brightly burning meteor lighting the sky and disappearing. 

Well, it was too late to make dinner now (and it wasn’t going to be the fabulous Mussels in White Wine), so we found some of our frozen “Planned Overs”, turned on the TV to watch “Bosch”, our latest Prime binge, with a tiny splash of bourbon. Looking back on the day, and on my private battle, I figured I had fought well against a huge opposing force. I had not totally won, but neither had I lost; I was satisfied to call it a draw, head to bed, and rest to fight another day in a new year.

“Larnin'” My Ignorance

Books that exposed and reduced my ignorance

First, a confession: most of the reading I do nowadays is fiction, the good guys always win, and evil is thwarted … until the next time. But sometimes, some non-fiction sneaks in, and I end up learning something new and my paradigm shifts. Some time ago, it was “Guns, Germs and Steel.” Apropos to this time, it showed how the conquest of Africa and the New World  was primarily due to depopulation of the native inhabitants due to viral pandemics introduced by European explorers. They themselves were immune, having been exposed and infected and then achieving “herd immunity’ after being exposed by their horses and other domesticated animals.There is a LOT more to it than that – if you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it.

This year I was horrified by the senseless death of George Floyd, and I was motivated to learn more about the big picture that fed the responses to his killing. The first book I got was “How to be an Anti-Racist” by Ibram X. Kendi. I hear it got mixed reviews, but for me, it was a fascinating read. Chapter by chapter, Ibram takes us through his own genesis as a Black man discovering the racism buried deep within himself. As I followed his progress, I discovered very similar issues on the walls of my psyche that had been painted over so many times that they had become invisible to me. Once the paint was scraped off by the introspection enabled by reading Ibram, I needed to recognize it, and try to clean it off. 

If you had asked me before I read this book, I would have said “I’m not a racist,” and believed it. Subtly and skillfully the author makes a convincing  argument that saying those four words reveals an unawareness of how deep, how buried, how profound are the subtle shades of unrealized racism that are under the many years of coats that cover over past and present history that makes up my and your perception of racism. He then shows us ways to create a metamorphosis from being “I’m not a racist” to “I’m an Anti-racist.” This book just kept me hungering for more as I read it, and I often had trouble putting it down.

Not so with “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” an Oprah Winfrey book club selection written by  Isabel Wilkerson. Reading “How to be an Anti-Racist” inspired me to dig even deeper, and the reviews of this book made it look very interesting. It was so much more than that. As I was reading, instead of having a hard time putting the book down, I found I could only read a few pages at a time, and then having to take a break so my conscious and subconscious could process what I had just read. 

Most of us probably have a cursory awareness of the concept of caste, as we think about the “Untouchables” of India. Some of us may be aware of the Warrior Caste, the Priest Caste, the Merchant Caste and the Labor Caste. Once born into one of these castes, the framework of your future is constrained by what is allowed in your caste, and you must follow rigid protocols in dealings with other castes. The genius in this book is in recognizing that the treatment of Black peoples in America are perfect exemplars of caste. 

There is SO much to unpack in this book. Did you know that when the Nazis were setting up their system of dehumanizing Jews that they came to America to study how we had done it to the Blacks? Horrifyingly, they chose to not take it as far as we did in many respects; for example, in the South, you were considered Black if you had ONE DROP of Black blood in your lineage. In Nazi Germany, you were considered “pure” if you had no more than 25% Jewish blood in your veins. If a Black person were to somehow swim in a “whites only” pool, they would drain and clean the pool before a “white” person could swim in it. 

If only this type of dehumanization had ended at the end of the Civil War, or even after the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, but unfortunately, it continues in full (but often disguised) form today, and shown by so many examples in the book, and as we see in the news almost daily. 

Reading is power when done with curiosity and an open mind. Frankly, I was shocked and appalled by my own ignorance, but I am grateful to the brave, intelligent and thoughtful authors who have taken me on this journey of education. Maybe it will challenge you to go on your own journey, whatever it looks like. And wait until you see my next book review! Until then, happy reading.