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.

Road Trip VI, Days 20-23, Monroe, Louisiana to Cumberland Island National Seashore: Whose Woods These Are I Think I Know

Piney hills. Black-water cypress swamps. Real, deciduous oaks that understand they’re supposed to grow new leaves every year. Maples starting their spring blush. Redbuds already blushing hard. Spanish moss. Magnolias.

We headin’ HOME. Or I am, anyway. But this journey was the idea of my Californian Mate, so he can hardly complain.

But the scenery is already leading to some arguments interesting discussions. I’m a western chauvinist with a deep strain of southeastern nostalgia–an uncomfortable combination. Makes me tetchy. I can claim–and do–that northwestern forests are more dramatic, beautiful, and walkable than those in, say, my home state of North Carolina…but you can’t. The Mate walks into this trap constantly.

Him: “Those pines are a such a weird shade of green.”
Me: “Well, at least they have more individuality than our firs.”
Him: “These wintertime hardwoods make the forest look dead!”
Me: “But at least you can see through it this time of year! And look at the size of that hickory!”

I’ve come to think of these southeastern forests as the ultimate glass-half-full-vs.-empty scenario. I can choose to see a scrubby, scratchy, inhospitable tangle of poison ivy, smilax and honeysuckle…or I can see heritage: my daily walk to school; summer blackberrying; finding a safe spot to pee in the woods during a run. Or, in literary daydreams, Scout Finch and Zora Neale Hurston’s Janie.

 

I know my bipolar attitude is the result of too much history. I can’t see cotton fields without thinking about James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men; can’t see big magnolias without thinking of Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit.” The South is soaked in more misery per acre than any other region in our country.

Usually, I’ll admit, I see those scruffy, history-laden woods and and think how lucky I am to live diagonally across the continent from here, in forests where nothing wants to bite me or make me itchy, or make me think of slavery, share cropping and the KKK.

These woods aren't dead--they're just getting their beauty sleep.

These woods aren’t dead–they’re just getting their beauty sleep.

But if anyone else says that to me? Nuh-uh, honey.

BTW: I’ll write about our discovery of Cumberland Island in my next post. Right now I just have to give a little shout-out to our friends Raven and Chickadee (a.k.a. Eric and Laurel) for steering us to Oak Mountain State Park via their travel blog, Ravenandchickadee.com. This largest of Alabama’s state parks offers miles of steep, winding trails in wild-feeling woods an astonishing ten miles south of its largest city, Birmingham. We didn’t get enough time there and look forward to staying longer some day. In Alabama!

Oak Mountain, Alabama? This western scary snob says, "Pretty pretty!"

Oak Mountain, Alabama? This western scenery snob says, “Pretty pretty!”

Road Trip VI, Days 16-19, Scottsdale to Dallas: A Texas-Sized Apology

This is NOT the post I was planning on, until last night. The Mate and I have spent the bulk of these past few days hiking and biking in our favorite Texan discovery: Caprock Canyons State Park. Last year we only had time for a day hike, so this time we were thrilled to have nearly three days here. I was planning to talk about the park’s bison herd, and to post lost of pictures like this:

"Do not approach wild bison," the brochure says. Ummm...

“Do not approach wild bison,” the brochure says. Ummm…

And this:

Hey, big guy. Or gal. Ma'am. Please, after you...

Hey, big guy. Or gal. Ma’am. Please, after you…

Or some of the park’s beautiful red scenery:

No, "Texas scenery" is not an oxymoron.

No, “Texas scenery” is not an oxymoron.

In between photos, I was planning on inserting as many snarky comments about Texas as possible, like: “Someone must’ve picked up Texas and shook it, ’cause all the scenery ran down into these canyons.” If you’ve read any of my Road Trip posts from the past five years, you know I love to hate on Texas–its in-your-face attitude, its giant vehicles and lack of carpool lanes, not to mention recycling bins…and don’t get me started on its senators.

But guess what, Texas: something happened, and I owe you an apology.

On our second night of camping, we were to be joined by our friends from Dallas. These dear folks were willing to drive five hours through Friday traffic to meet us at our campsite in the evening and go hiking next day.

When they didn’t show up on time, we thought, “Oh well, traffic,” and got dinner started. (We were out of cell phone range.) But when they arrived in one of those Texas-sized pickups, followed by a state trooper, we turned off the stove. What happened?

Turns out they’d hit a deer, out in the middle of Texas nowhere. The deer died instantly (and mercifully). This is what happened to their little VW:

I still can't believe neither of them was hurt.

I still can’t believe neither of them was hurt.

As they were standing on the roadside, in shock, assessing the damage, a truck drove by, did a U-turn, and stopped to help. The driver was an EMT, and even though our friends were (blessedly) unhurt, I found this very reassuring. This guy insisted on escorting them to the nearest town, Turkey, Texas, 10 miles away. That’s about as far as the now-radiatorless VW could limp.

That guy got our friends as far as a garage, closed for the night. But as they were standing there, discussing their options–motel? None in sight; Rental car? Seriously? This is Turkey, Texas–an old guy stepped out of the convenience store across the street and overheard them. He invited them in to recover, and had them leave their poor mashed car on his driveway. Then he insisted on driving them the remaining ten miles to the park, then escorting them to our campsite. He left them with his phone number in case they needed help the next day.

Thanks, guy from Turkey, Texas!

Thanks, guy from Turkey, Texas!

I know, I know. Good Samaritans come in all shapes and sizes. But the fact that this one came in the guise of someone with whom our friends likely shared NOTHING in common politically was especially poignant to us. A bunch of sweet, helpful Texans. Thanks, universe. I needed that.

 

 

Road Trip VI, Days 12-15, Anza-Borrego Desert Park: Musings on Rarity

I know–usually I title my posts based on the start and end points of the days in question. But would you read a post about “LA to Scottsdale?” Me neither.

Yes, we left LA last Friday and are now visiting friends in the greater Phoenix area. But in between we visited Son One up in the San Bernardino Mountains–think 5,000 feet above the valley, where the air is scented with cedar and more different kinds of pine than I can remember–and from there spent nearly three days in Anza-Borrego Desert Park.

Never heard of it? Neither had we, until recently. It’s only the second-largest state park in California (and simultaneously a national monument), but it’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere: halfway between San Diego and Palm Springs. You have to WANT to go there.

The Mate and I went on two gloriously sunny hikes with our friends, noticing the touches of spring the recent rains have brought. I saw lots of tiny golden poppies, and red chuparosa looking like the custom-made hummingbird feeder it is.

Hummingbird feeder.

Hummingbird feeder.

But the flowers that really caught my attention were the singletons.

In a whole giant desert full of agave, I saw exactly ONE blooming.

Also called Century Plant, 'cause supposedly that's how often it blooms

Also called Century Plant, ’cause supposedly that’s how often it blooms

And traditional-looking barrel-type cactus? Same thing: ONE.

Actually I've no idea what kind of cactus this is. Anyone?

Actually I’ve no idea what kind of cactus this is. Anyone?

So which pictures do I post and write about? Why, those two. They’re not the prettiest things we saw, just the rarest. Rare = Special.

Why is that? Is the answer too obvious, or too subtle to perceive?

 

Road Trip VI, Days 8-11, Pinnacles National Park to L.A.: How Giant Rocks Bring to Life My Inner Philosopher-Child

I said it last year in a post from Joshua Tree: I LOVE big rocks. Climbing on them, sitting in their shade, hiking around them–heck, even just driving past. There’s something about the way a nondescript hillside suddenly bares its soul to reveal the inner globules of sandstone or tuff or conglomerate that were there all along: “Look what I got going on!”

Let's go, y'all!

Let’s go, y’all!

And yes, of course I don’t mean “suddenly”–we’re talking about erosion here. But that’s the effect, and it gets me every time.

The Mate and I just spent two nights camping in Pinnacles National Park. While our nights were private, there were actually four of us on our daily hikes: us two, my inner child, and my inner philosopher.

Big Rocks!!!!!

Big Rocks!!!!!

Inner Child was the loudest: “Can we climb on that? Can we can we can we? Ooh, look–CAVES!!!!”

Caves!!!!

Caves!!!!

But Inner Philosopher was just as insistent: “Do you REALIZE that all these fantastic spires and hoodoos are actually just the remnants of what is there ALL THE TIME–what you are even now walking upon and taking completely for granted? Have you thought about what it MEANS that only passivity in the face of inexorable forces can reveal the inner truths of external appearance? Was the Buddha right–all is illusion? Or are these rocks the living soul of the earth? Or are they merely the next layer that our mortal eyes are capable of SEEING?”

I see a spire. Inner Philosopher sees...inspiration.

I see a spire. Inner Philosopher sees…inspiration.

Luckily for The Mate, most of this chatter was inside my head. All he had to put up with was me, oohing and ahhing at the condors and hummingbirds. But he was doing the same.

Couldn't get a picture of a condor. But here's a hummingbird for you!

Couldn’t get a picture of a condor. But here’s a hummingbird for you!

I know this isn’t a classic travel blog, but just in case you find yourself in the lower Bay Area or traveling toward LA on I-5, here’s a classic travel blog tip, take yourself to Pinnacles. Who knows who might turn out to be making the trip with you?