Thursday, August 30, 2007

sooner or later

We're hoping to get back to the blog soonish. Where else could we recount today's Metro bus incident?

As soon as the bills are sorted, resumes sent, van cabinets unpacked, new car insurance policy set, classes registered for, winter peas planted, Goodwill run made, bad haircut corrected, turtle sunned, friends visited, and blackberries picked...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


The homecoming "to do" list is lengthy, growing daily. We have managed to pay the house insurance, sort toys and go for Vietnamese food. Visiting our parents was fantastic, Ukaih's adjusting to the library construction- requesting holds at another branch, and we spent the afternoon with a man who left Sudan at age 5, spent 16 years in a refugee camp in Kenya, and on his fourth day in the US, joined us for a walk to the lake. Buttercup is about 75% unpacked. We adults each have a job interview this week. The kids have a new cat-sitting gig. We love having our own washing machine.

Between visiting with friends and sorting clothes now too small for the kids, we've seen a play, been wowed by examples of New Zealand's early childhood education practices and harvested enough tomatoes for a decent taco salad. In other words, we're thriving in the midst of uncertainty. It could be that yoga, television, soccer and cocktail parties are helping us through...

We weren't here to experience the unusual weather patterns this winter. No flooding or extended power outages for us in the southwest. Are atypical patterns the new norm, or have we forgotten- does it usually rain for multiple days in August? Does the temperature generally top out in the mid-70's? I'm a little worried that it's already sweater-season for me, but it means great blueberries into late August!

We spent about two hours at Mercer Slough Blueberry Farm, sampling high and low bush varieties, limiting our interactions with spiders. Assuming we can find a kitchen scale, we'd like to do a little math project. What's your best guess on the number of blueberries in 18.25 pounds? Cost per berry at $1.25/pound? Inquiring minds want to know. And not just because we're jobless and working with a tight budget.

The plan is to make freezer jam in the morning, before haircuts or a trip to Value Village. We won't be following the recipe that calls for a can of blueberry pie filling and box of raspberry Jello. We're going the old fashioned route, pectin and lemon juice. Unless someone has a more inspired suggestion?

A favorite come pumpkin season, South 47 Farm has organic, u-pick, thornless blackberries. Between resume writing, filing tax returns and thanking our long list of travel hosts, we hope to pick at least 10 pounds next week.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


We're home(!)- mourning the loss of our neighborhood chocolate shop and thrilled with the addition of corn to the back garden. Change takes time, and apparently a year is enough for subtle and significant differences. We're working to acclimate, finding our way the the relocated farmer's market and learning Shell's new menu.

Adjusting to the new hive of townhomes at the end of the our street and Cutie's expanded physique should be fairly smooth transitions. The growing stable of Owlhouse bicycles, moderate. Putting all the other aspects of normal life back together could prove more complicated. The prospect of finding jobs, making school decisions and having housemates become neighbors, challenging. A whole new round of adventures. Possibly recorded here. So many decisions.

It's been a busy couple days, not particularly dedicated to unpacking. We'll be around for a while. There's always next week.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

on the cape

Brad tells stories of childhood trips to the beach, tales of rain and wet dogs. Sometimes misery. Usually redemption. "If you tough out the crappy days, the heavy mist and rains, you always get the fantastic day. Clear sky, gorgeous sun. Usually." Lucky us, camping space and a dry day all in one. Aside from the wind carrying sand shards across our feet, occasionally into our eyes, Cape Disappointment couldn't have been more perfect.

Lewis, Clark and company's experience was a bit different. After 18 months navigating westward along rivers, through the wild, they hit the Pacific in November, 1805. After being trapped by a 6-day storm in Dismal Nitch, the party continued an unsuccessful attempt to find an appropriate site for winter camp. Eventually, an unprecedented vote of all party members led the captains back across the Columbia to a "most eligable" spot along the Netul River.

From the beach, the call of ships transitioning from the Columbia to the sea cuts across the surf, distracting Aslin from her wave hoping only momentarily.

Barnacles hang onto the bottom few feet of the rock walls. Inland a couple hundred feet, Sitka spruce have taken root in the seastack has-beens, moss masking any trace of barnacle colonies. We recommend shoes for climbing either.

Without a guide, you could watch the waves for an hour, and still be unsure the movement of the tide. The best castle sand is found mid range, where the natural water content allows a solid base, and keeps the towers from crumbling before their time.
The beach gods are with us, sending only stray waves to challenge the moat's structural integrity, carrying the bulk of the threat out to sea.
They've been through it all before, the grains. We suspect they lived to the fullest before the eventual crash and crush.

Tomorrow, we'll find our own dear Owlhouse still standing.

Monday, August 13, 2007

home is where the fog lives

Yesterday, on one of the Oregon coast's last remaining quiet beaches, we stumbled across the ruins of an elaborate sand village. Today, we plan to build our own along the Washington coast.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

5 trillion gallons

of the bluest water ever. No rivers feed into or flow from Crater Lake. Yet. But geology has a way of shifting over time. Less than 8,000 years ago, Mt. Mazama stood tall in the Cascade range. After about a week of intense volcanic activity, it collapsed in on itself, leaving a caldera marked by steep and even walls. Centuries of precipitation collect, building the 7th deepest lake in the world, 1,943 feet.

The 2,600 mile 37 Pacific Crest Trail includes a 37 mile stretch through the park. In 3 separate hikes, we managed about 7 of those miles. The lake itself sits close to 900 feet below the rim, making the only "legal" (non-injury inducing) access an extremely steep mile hike along a pumice-dust trail. Swimming is allowed, but at a cozy sub-60 degrees, even Aslin limited her experience to toe-dipping.

Annie Creek, fed by springs throughout the canyon, is even more refreshing at 35 degrees. The well insulated Dipper, a chubby little blue-grey bird, seems immune to the chill, pecking through the rocks for caddisfly.

In the wake of Mt. Mazama's collapse, continued volcanic venting formed "fossil fumaroles," vertical columns where hot ash melded with solid rock. A series of 100-foot tall spires stand defiant where the surrounding cliffs have eroded.

Time at the lake and wandering the surrounding meadow and forest were a welcome change of pace after our travel through the southwest. Aslin earned her 6th(?) Jr. Ranger badge and between videos, interpretive trials and camp fire talks we took advantage of a dozen edu-tainment offerings. We are less appreciative of Xanterra, the private company managing the campground in partnership with the park. Apparently concessions are nothing new at the park, one of its original advocates quickly went on to aggressively market and supply gear to visitors, but I haven't seen an operation quite like this. The company that manages the lodge and on-site restaurant is either less capable of or less interested in caring for the camp sites. Sure, no soap and overflowing trash in the restroom is bad, but a lack of policy against collecting fire wood leads to a deficiency more problematic than that or the ridiculously slow site payment procedures.

We didn't come for the run like our neighbor in E-18. Have you seen the Oregon quarter? I can't picture it, but it inspired the man from New Jersey. He packed his tent for air travel and slept on the freezing (literally) ground the night before his second marathon. And speaking of quarters, our supply went towards showers and we were on our way to the ocean before we remembered our intention to get change and return to the camp store for pressed pennies. Bummer. Looks like we'll need to schedule a return. Maybe in the spring, when there's still plenty of snow on the ground.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


We made it to the ocean. A quick walk on the beach before dark and Aslin said, "ahhh. Smell the memories."

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Is it Montana that has the tourist slogan about a Big Sky? Because that's what I'd say about Nevada. Northwest Nevada, anyway. Last fall, the 800 acres at Touchstone amazed us, an expanse we could spend seasons exploring. The ranches along hwy 80 stretch endlessly, unimaginably vast. We met a herd on the move, stretched across miles of hwy 140. Nine female buckaroos to the one cowboy I counted.

If you're under 12 or over 65, you can fish the Dufurrena ponds for rainbow or cutthroat trout. You can't swim in the ponds, no matter your age. So, about 10 years ago, volunteers dug a swimming hole at Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge. The pool's fed by a warm spring and Aslin assures us it's quite comfortable. Courtesy of the Civilian Conservation Corps, rustic showers are a welcome addition in the dust of high-desert Virgin Valley campground.

Nine hundred square miles of wild habitat and the local feral burros seem to have chosen the area surrounding the camp for their nightlife scene. The fist time I woke, it took a minute for me to realize that the character from my book hadn't found her way to the van to give birth. The kids were breathing ok. There weren't any bears. Just donkeys, singing a call and response of several verses across the top of the van.

Between the frogs, burros and some guy who decided to cruise the area around 6am, it was a night of broken sleep. We carried our morning coffee up the hill, maybe 6,000 ft in elevation. Round, Catnip, Fishcreek and Badger Mountains share a line along the horizon, the mark of an ancient lake. Petroglyphs and petrified logs tell more of the past. It's pronghorn deer and fire opal territory. At seven pounds/per person, we could haul out 28 pounds of gemstones. Assuming we find them lying on the open ground. I suppose it's for the best that we leave empty handed. We don't really want to add to Buttercup's load.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


It's routine. "Double-tall americano, please." Barista follow-up questions can go one of two ways- room for cream? or so, coffee with hot water? The kids at Cowboy Joe know their way around the espresso machine. A local art show, photos of rodeo highlights and downfalls, cattle in the basin complete the western feel. Hang your jacket on the horseshoe rack, the patio out back is glowing warm before 9am.

Along Idaho St., the visitor center at Sherman's Station was closed. The windows of the school were cloudy, but we could see through a crack in the creamery door. I called it the livery, but Aslin wondered why a farm would have a library. Down the road at the NE Nevada Museum, also closed, outdoor exhibits gave clear definitions of stage coaches and mud coaches. An original Pony Express cabin was brought to the property a decade ago. The job announcement stated clearly that "young, skinny, wiry" riders, preferably orphans, could earn $25/week if they'd risk their lives daily as riders on the path from Missouri to California.

At the park, a church group held a bingo fundraiser. We rushed the old-school swing-set. Long chains suspended from a steel frame, primary colors chipping away. A toddler in church clothes ran through the puddle surrounding the merry-go-round. "" Aslin didn't finish, didn't need to. The flop and cry said it all. Getting tricky on the swings, she somehow flipped forward only to land backward- thankfully clearing the cement buffer that would never meet today's playground codes.

A flyered telephone pole told us of the event. We decided Oregon could wait, and stuck around another day to hear what Barack Obama had to say to the rural communities. Aslin found her breath and we rested before heading to the convention center.

Aslin- "I like. I'm never gonna wash my hand again because he shook it. He said about health care that everyone should have it. He said something about the war not really solving anything. People mostly, I think they really like him and appreciate and admire the way he thinks and makes decisions. He's good at doing speechs and answering questions- seems kind, I was listening and I know that he he is. Well, in my opinion. I like him."

Ukiah- "It seems like he went out of his way to go to a relatively small town- seems like most people would skip that I guess. But it seems important to visit different parts of the country.

He said we spent 200 something million a day in Iraq, but we could use that money on different things- like special education and health care. Somebody asked how he's going to improve medicare. He said that it doesn't make any sense for people who make a billion, or even a million dollars to pay half as much tax as everybody else. There is money for health care and we should work more on disease prevention.

He said that thing about Volvo driving, latte drinking liberals. Something about mining, I don't remember. I thought he totally did not look 35, he looked younger- or maybe it's just because George Bush looks like he's 200. He seemed really smart, supported a lot of things I would support. I think another funny thing he said is that sometimes he thinks people are here because he's so wonderful- but his wife reminds him that not it. They care about the issues.

We had to wait 70 minutes, but it was worth it. I thought the people in front of me were obnoxious- the woman had a big hair-do and was taking a lot of pictures."

The local democrats had their work cut out for them. Overhearing the network of volunteers and rural liberals, the turn out was much larger than expected. Which is encouraging. The audience heard soundbites on all the key domestic issues. Meaningful soundbites. An understanding of immigration and interest to continue learning about water rights and mining. "If Canada were paying $100/hr, we'd be headed to that border." "I haven't signed onto the ___ mining bill, but the law dates to 1872, it probably needs some updates."

Senator Obama wants to bring "common sense and fact" to the White House, to be rid of ideology. He noted that individual citizens don't have federal lobbyists and that the in No Child Left Behind, the "money's been left behind." It was a town hall style meeting, and Obama was comfortable talking to the people. The conversation centered on domestic issues- education, health care, environment, jobs, with the Senator sounding interested and competent on all fronts.

I'd have preferred if he'd closed with his acknowledgement that "change takes time." That as president, he "can't suddenly make everybody's life better, automatically." That we have a mutual responsibility to each other and that we have to overcome our cynicism. "I'll be a president who believes in the constitution." But no. The final words were along the lines that "no president can guarantee that there won't be a need for war." I'm reminding myself of his emphatic belief that "this war should not have been authorized, should not have been waged." Trying to comfort myself with my belief in his 90 minutes of advocacy for early childhood education, wind power, labor unions, national health care, civil liberties and diplomacy. The Senator knows we have to talk and listen to one another, communicate. "In democracy, we have to compromise." I know he's right, I'm just tired, disgusted with what now passes as compromise.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

reasons to yodel

Sparkly. Glittering. Shadowed by low-cast clouds. The same clouds that convinced us to head west, skipping Antelope Island. Past the Morton Salt plant, the Bonneville Salt Flats show signs of aging. Cracks deep into the upper crust. Brad read of the concerns of decreasing salt levels. Not worry for the fly or pufferfish habitat, but fear the racing will suffer.

Before the visitor center, Nevada welcomes travelers with a pair of conjoined casinos. We took the highway under the skybridge and were advised that there were no accommodations in the area. Heart concert and some sort of centennial celebration have Wendover booked solid. Both sides.

If we'd known Elko was home to the Cowboy Poetry Gathering we might have headed here intentionally. Following last night's $10 gambling loss a hash-browns/four-cups-of-coffee breakfast in the casino coffee shop set us right for the day. We toured the library and laundromat. No slots machines at the former, a Maytag free corner dedicated to the sport in the latter.

Behind a web of orange safety netting announcing the sidewalk closure, The Western Folklife Center pulled us in for LL Griffen's Something a Cowboy Knows. A series of portraits that invite faith in ranching life. Capturing the crows-feet of modern cowboys, she leads us to the past. Mad Jack Hanks and the others hold the history of the Bosque, Irish, Paiute and Mexican vaqueros. And the anglicized buckaroos they became.

We dedicated the afternoon to soaking in details of riding skirts and educating ourselves on the advantages of hemp reatas. (They doesn't stretch or rot.) An explanation accompanies a turn of the century photo I'd have taken for a water wheel. Beef wheels, a pre-refrigeration solution to keeping meat fresh for the ranch kitchen. Whole cows were prepared, wrapped in heavy cloth, wet, and raised high above ground. A leverage system allowing cooks, often Chinese, to lower the animal, cutting away the day's dinner supply. Who knew?

A video presentation, Why the Cowboy Sings, opens with cattle calls. Long and short notes, grunts. Calls across the octaves, direct the herds through the seasons. There's a rhythm, a rhyme to the commands, a distinct voice from everyone who "cowboys for a living." The narrator tells us city folks, "You can trust a horse more than a human... A horse will teach you preservation..."

We'd like to order beers and sasperilla, think it over. But the Pioneer Bar is closed. Except in for a week in January when the folklorists, singers, artists, poets, the cowboys, keep it open. 24 hours a day.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


It could be that salt-licks are too expensive. Or the neighbors just don’t care about the moose. Maybe they do care, or would, but no one’s found time to visit the family cabin in ages. Maybe no one ever planed to visit the tax-shelter, err, cabin. Maybe once the construction currently carving up the mountain results in the planned 12-lot subdivision- retired doctors embracing their mountain-man side will build houses and bring more salt licks into Big Cottonwood Canyon. In the meantime, Avis and Jim seem to have the only yard serving the moose population.

Our new friends know a little something about hospitality. For 25 years, they ran the Silver Fork Lodge, 11 miles into the canyon, a short trip from Brighton or Solitude. Hospitality is a good cup of coffee served with a slice of homemade pie, not serving as the public restroom for anyone too timid for the outhouses in the mountain’s parks. There was no sewer in those days. And given extra precautions called for in the watershed, septic was especially complicated.

The lodge is in different hands these days. It’s added a back deck, full liquor license and along with the ski resorts, A & J and the rest of the neighbors, an elaborate sewer system.

Behind the lodge a quarter mile, we can hear the creek from A & J’s living room window, teasing. Not calling to be played in. This is Salt Lake City’s water. They own it all. Don’t even think of harvesting your own rainwater. No lawns allowed. Dogs by special permit. It's a hikers paradise, with aspen groves brightening the trail even as rain clouds threaten. Or, you can fish Lake Solitude. But do not put your hands in the water. No body parts. And don’t tell the lone Forest Service employee that you didn’t see the signs. He’s suppose to be part of a team, but with approximately half our tax dollars now going to the war on Iraq and other military spending, there’s no money for managing our federal lands and resources. So lend the country a hand. Stop your littering and carry a map you can read. Resist the photo-op and do not set your toddler on the back of a moose. We don’t have the money to pay for the public’s lack of common sense- let alone to invest in outdoor-education. We'll leave that to the non-profits.

The salt-lick sits by a wheelbarrow. Part of the construction effort, a puzzle without benefit of precisely cut pieces. Canyon development has spit up a slew of rocks, plenty to finish the patio. Eventually. Come spring, late spring after the winter’s 10-12 feet of snow melts, the geranium and tea rose will return. And the moose will be back for their mineral supplements.

We left the Mickey Mouse shaped mine dump, Tin Tin books and summer-apple sauce. We are trying to put thoughts of wintering in a snowy area out of mind. We’re on the home stretch, by way of Nevada.