Road Trip IX, Day 1-5: Making the Familiar Strange, from Lopez Island to Coast Redwoods to Oakland to Pinnacles National Monument

We can’t help it–but it isn’t all our fault that all our road trips begin by heading straight south to California. The Mate and I have too many loved ones in the Golden State, but Mother Nature sends us that way too. Only once have we dared heading straight east to Montana in February, and we were as lucky as we were stupid, that year.

Waiting for the ferry: “Get me out of this slush!”

Anyone who’s driven repeatedly over the same route knows it can be a challenge to find new things to focus on. Blogging simply ups the ante.

I have to admit, I completely punted at our first stop, Eugene. We were too glad to be off the road, too happy to see our dear friends, and too warm and dry to want to venture back out into the cold and damp to take any pictures. I got a little exercise walking around and around the ferry boat when we left, and that was it for the day.

But the next day, we were back in one of our favorite environments: the coastal redwoods of Prairie Creek State/National Park. On Valentine’s Day! Because it was too yucky to tent-camp (the only kind we do), we treated ourselves to one of the little, bare-bones cabins there.

I cooked dinner on that porch in the middle of a hailstorm!

That way we got both a hike AND a bike ride in the big trees. Now, I’ve taken a zillion pictures of redwoods. They’re each so unique, so irresistible! So this time, I tried to focus on other things, like the effects of weather. You always see those old, fallen giants…but we met a newfallen one!

TIMBERRRRRR!!!!!

When the sun did finally break through, it drew my lens even more than the trees did.

Aaaaaalelujahhhh….

But I still couldn’t resist this old beauty, just for itself:

Ready for my closeup

Next morning, we had the world’s best bike ride down the closed-off Drury Parkway: 13 miles all to ourselves, riding down the middle of the road, looking up at the gorgeous giants spanning every bit of space around us…

Wheeee!

Later that day, with our cousins in Oakland (when the sun finally came out!), I did my usual walk-through  of the Temescal neighborhood, but this time I focused on character. Literally. You know these signs, right?

Should go without saying, but, since apparently it doesn’t…

In Oakland, there are several of that type on each block. Then there’s the totally cool-looking Oakland International School (public), dedicated to immigrants.

More of this, please, America!

And out front, this enticing “golden box,” which, upon closer inspection, proved to be a tiny studio where they connect kids with people from all over the world to share stories.

And this

Next stop: Pinnacles National Park. Since we’ve been here before, I tried to make myself take pictures of things besides, well, the Pinnacles. Less obvious things.

Like…moss! Vertical moss.

Pretty sure I have a picture of The Mate in this trail-tunnel…so now it’s my turn.

Don’t know why tunnels are so fun, but they are.

What kind of pine tree IS that? I really should look it up. And look at that light on the rocks!

Whoa.

Okay, I probably have this exact same picture from 3 years ago. But he was probably wearing a T-shirt then!

Did I mention this is the High Peaks Trail?

Turns out there was a reason for the brightness of the light: contrast with the approaching black clouds.

Uh-oh.

And when they arrived, all that lovely sun went bye-bye, and we were suddenly being pummeled by hail.

Oh HAIL yes.

Then snow.

I feel ya, flowers! Hang in there!

At this point, I put on gloves and traded photography for swift walking. Time to get DOWN and get WARM. Are we in Southern California or what?

But despite–or perhaps because of?–the weather, I really enjoyed finding alternative foci for this entry…and hopefully you’ve enjoyed it with me. Happy February! See you down the road.

Road Trip IX: Let’s Get This…Brrrr!…Party Started

If you’ve been following Wing’s World for a while, you know that The Mate and I take a 6 to 7-week pilgrimage this time of year, from our little island in Washington’s Salish Sea, all the way across the country, back to our former lives (and my folks, and Tarheel basketball) in North Carolina.

If you’re new to this blog–well, now you know. Welcome! This is the only time Wing’s World morphs into a travel blog; please join me!

The Mate cleared out our bike garage in order to load up Red Rover without getting snowy.

That is, if we ever get going. When driving across the country in February and March, weather is always in charge of your route. Every year we’ve diverted around something. But we’ve never found ourselves stopped in our own driveway! We were planning to leave on February 12, but now it’s snowing like crazy, so that is NOT gonna happen.

I’m pretty much packed. Cleaned out the fridge. Nothing to do but go for a walk!

Snow falling on cedars…and salal…and bracken…

…and moss…

…and reindeer lichen…

…and even kelp!

You know what, though? This extraneous walk gave me exactly what I needed: the reassurance that, no matter where we go, there is no more special place than where we already live.

G’bye, Gorgeous…see you in the spring!

The rest of y’all? See you on the road…whenever we get there!

“Go on, already…we’ll take care of this place while you’re gone.”

Return To Kiwiland, Take 2: Author’s Cut

A quick catch-up: twenty-two years ago, my family spent an academic year in southern New Zealand.

Two years ago, the Mate and I returned, with two objectives: 1) tramp (hike) the Milford Track (Trail); 2) learn about the Coast to Coast cross-country multisport race for a novel I’m writing.

Objective #2 was mine, not the Mate’s. And this time, the purpose of this trip is ENTIRELY due to the demands of my book. But lucky me, the Mate’s coming along anyway, and so is Wing Son Two, who can keep him company when I’m off learning about sheep farming and Maori culture.

There will always be sheep.

Will this trip feature some adventures? Of COURSE–this is NEW ZEALAND we’re talking about.

Rugged rivers? High probability.

Aoraki (Mt. Cook)? Could be!

Tree ferns there WILL be. (I love me some tree ferns.)

But when I return, will my accounts of New Zealand be travelogue, or Author’s Notes? Stay tuned. Ta for now.

Celebrating Family Piety In The Church Of The Great Outdoors

Since our children are grown and flown, we count any holiday we can spend together as extra specially blessed. This year we have been basking in this blessing (as much as one can bask, in a Pacific Northwest winter), and celebrating by going to church.

Our version of church, that is: the Church of the Great Outdoors.

While I was raised as a Quaker and still attend Meeting, we did not find Quakerism attractive as a family unit when Sons One and Two were growing up. The Mate was not interested, and I was loathe to leave the kids behind after being away from them at work all week. Also, the Meeting I attended in Tacoma was so small that if I did bring them, I usually ended up having to do my own childcare, which felt silly. Might as well stay at home together…or go for a hike.

And so evolved our family religion. We weren’t that hard-core; after our kids reached the age of two we ceased riding them atop our backpacks–too heavy! And once they got into team sports, our weekend forays became fewer. But still, on holidays, the mountains called, or the ocean, and we always came. Hell, that’s why we became Northwesterners to begin with! (You’re welcome, boys.)

And the only place we all actually enjoy shopping? REI. Going there is like a down payment on beauty.

So, two days after Christmas, here we are, in deep worship:

Easiest liturgy in the world.

A little snow just adds to the reverence.

Amen.

Peace be unto you.

Glory be…

…and all praise.

My (Even Bigger) Backyard, Part 2: British Columbia’s Cortes Island

I’ve been wanting to visit Cortes ever since reading Ruth Ozeki’s novel, A Tale for the Time Being, one of my favorite books of the last few years, and discovering that one of the two stories it winds together is set on Cortes. It seemed, if possible, even more Lopezian than Lopez Island, where I live.

Although we were only there for two days, I think I can safely say I was right. With under 2,000 year-round residents, Cortes is a quiet place in the off-season. Its beaches and forests looked like ours, only more so.

Looking northeast, toward the Sunshine Coast

Manson’s Landing–such a sweet spot!

Granted, I’ve never seen a 5-fingered Madrona, even on Lopez!

Nor do we have cedar trees anywhere near this old. OK, Cortes, you got us badly beat in the tree department, bless you.

But the thing that REALLY blew our minds on Cortes was…

…You know what? I’ll get to that in a moment. It was pretty jaw-dropping. So I need to save it for last.

Before then, I’ll share a few pictures from where we stayed. Like Quadra Island, the local provincial parks didn’t provide campgrounds, so we opted for the well-recommended Hollyhock Retreat Center. I mean Centre. It’s famous for multi-day classes in yoga and writing and history and, gosh, just about everything, but you can also just stay there. I was amazed at how reasonable their rates were: $180 per night for two people, with a shared bathroom (which we actually had to ourselves), all meals included. That’s Canadian dollars, so it was really less than $150 U.S.–and the meals alone were worth that! Hollyhock is entirely off-grid and produces nearly all its own pescatarian food. I’m not a taking-pictures-of-dinner kind of person, but here are a couple of shots from their garden, so you can just guess how amazing the food was.

Must…eat…kale!

I just could not make myself stop taking pictures of that garden. Anyone want to volunteer-garden there? Send in your application!

The view from outside our cozy room

One of many cool buildings on their forested campus…who wouldn’t want to study something in here?

No classes were going on the days we were at Hollyhock, which was fine with us. We just wanted to hike and bike around and get a feel for Cortes, which is what we did. Well–not so much the biking part. It’s VERY hilly there, and the one day we thought we’d try riding on the flatter parts, the wind was blowing 22 mph. But hiking, yes.

And that’s where we discovered…this.

Oh, it looks like bridge over just another creek. But that creek…

…is no creek at all–it’s the ocean! Rushing at very low tide from an inlet out to the bay…

…in a SALTWATER WATERFALL. A saltwaterfall! Have you ever heard of such a thing?

I’m not kidding! Those are barnacles growing there.

We were so gobsmacked by this, we actually tasted the water to convince ourselves it was indeed the ocean. A little jellyfish only confirmed the answer. Then we were overwhelmed by our luck in just happening to be there at low tide. Had we arrived another time, we might never have discovered this phenomenon.

And speaking of which, how amazing is it that we HAD never heard of this special saltwaterfall? Are they that common in BC? Or is that just Cortes Cool?

Because it is. Cool. Even beyond what I had imagined. So please, everyone–stay away in droves and keep it that way. ūüôā

My (Even Bigger) Backyard, Part I: British Columbia’s Quadra Island

Last week we finally made time to visit with our neighbors. They’re nice people–just like us, actually, only nicer. Because they’re Canadians. In fact, our neighbor IS Canada. British Columbia, to be exact.

The Mate and I were embarrassed to say how little we knew Vancouver Island and the smaller islands between it and mainland British Columbia…given that we can literally see the nighttime glow of Victoria from our house, and on clear days, the mountains of the big island’s center.¬†

In the past eight years since we moved to within viewing distance, we have been to Vancouver Island exactly ONCE. Just to Victoria. Yes, we took our kids hiking on the West Coast Trail, but that was TWENTY YEARS AGO. And yes, we once visited friends on Denman Island, but that was THIRTY-TWO YEARS AGO.

We were overdue for a visit.

As followers of Wing’s World know, my blog only occasionally morphs into Travel Blog mode, and even then, not the kind of travel blog with tips and descriptions of where to find the best artisanal meal. Over the next few posts, I’ll simply share some pictures and brief descriptions, and leave it to you to decide if you feel inspired to visit where we’ve been. Please do let me know if you’d like more specific recommendations about places to go or stay.

Up first: Quadra Island.

To get there, we took the ferry from San Juan Island (next to our Lopez) to Sidney, BC, then drove 3+ hours up the coast to Campbell River. Except for Mount Findlayson Provincial Park (with ENORMOUS old growth cedars and a salmon-spawning stream, right outside Victoria), this was a pretty dull drive, because we were beelining it on the inland highway. I’d recommend taking the slower coastal route…but we were in a hurry to get to the islands.

Campbell River itself? Not as cosy as its neighbor across the sound, Powell River, but it had its charm, including an excellent natural foods store, and this sculpture:

OK, Campbell River…creepy, but cool.

The ferry to Quadra took 10 minutes, but we still saw a humpback on the crossing. (Didn’t grab my camera fast enough for that.)

We had planned to camp, but neither of the two big Provincial Parks there had car-type campgrounds, and we weren’t set up for backpacking this time. The Heriot Bay Inn’s campground was WAY too sardine-packed for our taste (a tent between 2 RVs just doesn’t conjure up that camp-y feeling). But we were able to get a cute little room in the 100 year-old building…

…that came with its own cat.

Hard to take selfies with an ipad, turns out.

Our first two days of hiking were sunny, but also smoky from the many forest fires further north. Quadra’s beaches reminded us of ours…

Interesting note: no anemones in the tidepools, but lots of oysters!

…as did its giant, moss-covered¬† hummocks rising out of forest.

Not pictured: me taking a skinny-dip in that lake back there!

When the rain came, it was very welcome, as it chased away all that smoke and (we trust) also helped the firefighters win their fight. The wild, wet coast felt familiar and exotic at the same time.

Ahhhhh…

Smaller than our Salish Sea ones. Typical? Unusual? Don’t know.

But this fir tree was in a class by itself.

They call this the Octopus Tree. Wonder why.

One of our favorite spots, on the southern end of the island, was Rebecca Spit, a day-use only park that is probably bustling in summer. But for us, on a sunny September day (which just happened to be our 31st anniversary), it was peaceful, and picnic-perfect.

Lovely place for a stroll, eh.

And then there was this guy on the road-paving crew near the inn, with his buddy, all vested up for safety:

Our kind of island, Quadra.

Next up: Cortes Island! (If you think Quadra’s quirky…)

Road Trip VII, Days 1-4: Los Angeles to Palo Duro Canyon, Texas

Wait–Day 1 is Los Angeles? Gretchen, did you move?

No, I cheated. Starting from my home in Washington State, I flew down to San Diego for a first-ever reunion with my sisters, while the Mate followed, at the wheel of our faithful Red Rover. We met in LA and started Road Trip VII from there.

beautiful anemone in tidepool at Point Loma in San Diego

beautiful anemone in tidepool at Point Loma in San Diego

The theme of the trip so far? It’s the raison d’etre of our road trips: the joy of moving through beauty.

Our favorite way is to feel the air on our skin. So Day 1, we hiked in the steep canyons of Hollywood, startlingly green from all that recent rain, ignoring the Oscars-related bustle going on just below.

Ah, air. Even LA air. If it’s sunny in February, my skin’s not picky about pollution.

Day 2, we rode our bikes through the cactus gardens of Saguaro National Park in Tucson, marveling at the variety of the plant forms.

Make your own caption for this one

Make your own caption for this one

Can we not find a better word than “desert” to describe such arid Edens?¬†

dsc02176img_2210But sometimes the air-on-skin model is too rough for our tender epidermes. Day 3, approaching Albuquerque from the south, we were looking forward to biking through the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, glorying in the thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese and other migratory fowl who vacation there. But the wind had other ideas–or rather, the wind-blown dust did.

Scenery? What scenery?

Scenery? What scenery?

With poor little Red Rover getting sandblasted along I-25, we decided we wouldn’t fare too well. Boo. Sadness.

When tumbleweed meets bike. Seriously, the size of some of those things!

When tumbleweed meets bike. Seriously, the size of some of those things!

So we pushed on to Albuquerque, where, thanks to our buddy Beth, I was able to take two long power-walks through the wonderful neighborhoods of Northwest (backyard chickens, horses, goats–even an emu!) as the wind gradually relaxed to less-than-lethal levels.

Plus Beth took us to this REALLY COOL restaurant! This is the ceiling.

Plus Beth took us to this REALLY COOL restaurant! This is the ceiling.

Mmm…and chiles rellenos with fresh, deeply-green New Mexican chiles….whoops, sorry. Not today’s theme.

On Day 4, we finally got to experience air-on-skin, moving-through-beauty in the blessed slo-mo that is camping. In Palo Duro Canyon State Park, this red, rocky wonderland astonishing close to Amarillo–really!–we rode our bikes around in the last of the afternoon sun.

Only safe way to take a bike-selfie

Only safe way to take a bike-selfie

Then in the morning we went for a hike.

Dawn's early light from our campsite

Dawn’s early light from our campsite

This was very welcome as a warmer-upper, as the blessedly still air pushed the temp down to 20 overnight. And we weren’t allowed to use our stove because of extreme fire danger. Brrr.

C'mon, Texas sun, do your thing!

C’mon, Texas sun, do your thing!

Did I mention this place is right outside of Amarillo?!

Did I mention this place is right outside of Amarillo?!

Lest you think The Mate and I are too precipitous in our appreciation of nature’s gifts, just let me add: I could easily have written a post about the joys of being outdoors while holding still. But with a whole continent to cross, basketball games to watch and a bakery waiting for me to come back and work at…my skin and I choose to celebrate our happy reality: moving air.

Almost...warm! (Sometimes air on skin is more of a concept than a reality...)

Almost…warm! (Sometimes air on skin is more of a concept than a reality…)

My Mountain, How I’ve Missed You: Nostalgeology 101

Since¬†I moved from North Carolina to Washington 26 years ago, I’ve continued to miss 5 things: my parents, oak trees, GOOD fried chicken, Tarheel basketball, and NC-style BBQ. (OK, if pressed, I could come up with five or ten more–like friends, and dogwoods.)

Since I moved from Tacoma to Lopez Island six years ago, I miss about the same number of things. But #1 on the list doesn’t even begin to exist as a category of my¬†southeastern nostalgia: The Mountain.

Here in the San Juans, we have occasional views of Mt. Baker–sometimes, from the ferry, downright excellent ones. A recent camping trip last month reminded me of what a lovely mountain Baker is.

Not bad, Baker, not bad.

Not bad, Baker, not bad.

But I knew Mt. Rainier. Mt. Rainier was my goddess. And you, Mt. Baker, are no Mt. Rainier.

From my first view of her as a still-North-Carolinian in 1981, she called to me. In 1986, I climbed to her summit–not to conquer, but to adore. (It was so damn cold up there that my adoration took the form of 10 minutes of exhausted gasping before heading back down, but still.) I’m glad I climbed before I was old enough to know better, and I wouldn’t do it again, but I still get a little shiver of love when I look up at her gleaming dome and think, “I was THERE.”

Adoration from below served me just fine for those 20 years in Tacoma. I saw her out my kitchen window while cooking. I saw her from the parking lot of the high school where I taught. I spent hours discussing which part of The Mountain was “out” at which part of the day, how she looked last night at sunset, or this morning at dawn. She was part of my daily life, my vacations, my identity as a converted Northwesterner.

Has it really been THREE YEARS since my last visit, with Son Two?!

Has it really been THREE YEARS since my last visit, with Son Two?!

Now, when I’m lucky enough to see her at all, she’s a tiny lump on the horizon. Not so tiny considering she’s 100 miles away, but still–hardly a part of my day.

Which is why yesterday’s all-too-brief ramble, introducing my Lopez friends to my Mountain, felt so sweet.

Even better: sharing my Mountain with friends.

Even better: sharing my Mountain with friends.

There are mountains and mountains. And then there’s The Mountain. My goddess. But I realize not everyone’s¬†nostalgia is nostalgeology. For someone else it might be a precious old oak, or the feel of the air, or even the sound of a certain bird call.

Or is nostalgeology somehow more powerful than trees or birds? What do y’all think? What geological feature, were you removed from, would¬†leave a hole in your otherwise happy life?

Best Election Year Strategy Ever: Head For a Giant Hole in the Ground

During the next two weeks, I’m planning to drop out of sight. Also sound. And touch.

I’m going back down into Grand Canyon with The Mate, Son Two, and some friends. The only things I plan to see, hear and feel are red rocks and stars; canyon wrens and rushing rapids; and hot sun ¬†and dousings of cold river water.

This will be the third time down the river for my Mate and I, but the first time down the lower half. Both previous trips–one in 1989, one in 2004– involved putting in way up where the canyon walls are only 100 feet high, rafting for 6 days, then hiking out of the canyon’s deepest point, up this:

The Bright Angel Trail.

The Bright Angel Trail.

In fact, both previous trips involved hiking the 7.5 miles in full summer sun carrying the extra gear of friends who had been scorpion-stung, or were suffering from heat exhaustion, or both. Not the pleasantest way to end such an epic excursion. This trip? We’re hiking DOWN the Bright Angel. I. Can’t. Wait.

I'm coming!

I’m coming!

Now if only I could stay there until after the first Tuesday in November…

Road Trip VI, Days 24-27, Cumberland Island, GA to Durham, NC: Bewitched By Spanish Moss

Cumberland Island is known for its wild (or feral) horses, and I’m a horsey gal.

Horse in your campground, ma'am? Why sure.

Horse in your campground, ma’am? Why sure.

But here’s what really couldn’t drag me away: its Spanish moss. Can anyone tell me WHY this stuff is so entrancing?

Soooo....pretty...

Soooo….pretty…

Seriously. Tell me. I’ve been trying to figure it out.

It’s gray. It’s parasitical–or at any rate it gets a free ride from the trees it drapes; we’re not talking any sweet symbiotic relationship here. And it’s EVERYWHERE in South Georgia, especially on the barrier islands. It should creep people like me out. Instead, I can’t get enough: fondling it, taking pictures, gazing at it from every angle.

image

In my quest to break down the components of natural beauty, one word kept coming to mind: grace. But what does it mean to call something graceful?

OK, the tree ain't bad either.

OK, the tree ain’t bad either.

It undulates. Something about the smoothness of wave action must be inherently awe-inspiring, or comforting, or both.

It hangs vertically in a forest of torturous sideways live-oak limbs (seriously, these things grown LITERALLY every which way but up) and herky-jerky pines and saw palmetto, providing a soft set of downward strokes, like Impressionist painting. Or like tinsel strands on a Christmas tree. Also comforting, though I have no idea why.

image

It’s soft, despite looking spiny. Well, OK, I get the appeal of soft.

Somebody stop me!

Somebody stop me!

As for connotation–if you read my last post, you know that Southern scenery, even at its finest, is haunted by ugly history. So I would never say Spanish moss’s beauty derives from its context. More the opposite.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten here in my quest to understand. What do you think accounts for its beauty? Help me figure this out, y’all.

All RIGHT. I'm done. Wing out.

All RIGHT. I’m done. Wing out.