Time, Tide and Salmonberries: Blessed Be the Regular

Like probably most people in the world right now, my sense of the calendar has gone all wonky. I’m frequently not sure what month it is, let alone the date. Day of the week? Forget it. 

Fortunately or unfortunately, I know all too well what year it is.

The arrival of fresh cherries and strawberries at a fruit stand took me by surprise. Wait–it’s Solstice already? Since then, I’ve been trying to pay more attention. Salmonberries have helped. 

Salmonberries  are a huge thing around western Washington. Whether battling them as ferociously scratchy pests around our yards or admiring their bright pink flowers in Spring, we probably spend more time thinking about them than we even realize. And then they make berries!

If looks could taste…

I used to make fun of salmonberries for being so un-delicious: The only reason anyone even thinks about eating you is because blackberries aren’t ripe yet.  

But (again, like a lot of folks) I’ve been walking even more than I usually do, and trying to pay even more attention to things besides the global pandemics of COVID and racism. So I’ve been nibbling salmonberries again, as part of my noticing–and guess what? Turns out if you wait to eat them till they’re so ripe they’re juuuuust about to fall off their thorny ol’ bushes, they’re actually pretty tasty.

So what else merits my noticing, and my thanks?

The tide. Twice a day. EVERY day. Talk about essential work!

I know this isn’t exactly a glam shot, Tide–but this is you your work attire.

And some of the humblest of flowers–look at these ones here, engaging in a socially-distanced Easter bouquet!

C’mon, guys, it’s June, not April. Shouldn’t you be decorating for wedding season?

That’s more like it.

What basic, REGULAR things are you feeling grateful for right now? Postal carriers? Baby birds? Marshmallows on display shelves? Let’s celebrate the regular where we can find it!

May…We Be Evergreen!

Around here–and probably around anywhere in the Northern hemisphere not covered with asphalt–May means wildflowers. Yes, like that childhood riddle, except that here May’s bringing more showers than April. My walks lately have been interrupted by…

Sea pinks

and

Larkspur (with Death Camas)

not to mention

Spotted Coralroot orchid, in its own ray of sunshine

Oh–and the salmonberries!

Not as delicious as you’d hope–but who cares?

But this month I also love to notice and give praise to a subtler kind of new growth…the kind that puts BOTH the “ever” and the “green” into “Evergreen State.” I’m talking about the fresh, new tips of our conifers. Now, pine trees make you suffer all sorts of pollen-clouds to get up close and personal with their newborn bits, but firs? Fir tips you can fondle.

Softer than you can imagine! (Also edible to more than just deer, though some might dispute the idea)

And hemlocks…well, their tips are just an adorable mini version of the firs.

Awwww…!

Not to forget our non-coniferous evergreens: the noble salal. You might focus on their honey-sweet, bell-shaped blossoms…but I’m looking at the bright, baby-soft new leaves.

Aren’t they sweet? Stop looking at the flowers.

Of course no forest looks truly LOTR-fantastical without ferns of some kind, or all kinds. The type we have around here don’t start as fiddleheads (thereby saving themselves from human over-consumption), but they do stand out–if not UP–as cutely floppy, gawky adolescents:

“Let’s be fronds.”

The most amazing new bit of green May growth to my mind, though, is one of the least visible: the mosses. On today’s walk, I was noticing one of my favorites turning slightly more golden, thinking, “Yeah, almost midsummer, time for these beauties to be dying back,” when I looked closer, and–whoa. Check this out:

Rated “M” for Mature

Fruiting thimgamagigs! Right out there for all to see, shameless! Gorgeous! Fresh! New! Woohoo!

Gimme an “E”! “V”! another “E”! “R”! Gimme a “G”! another “R”…!

OK, you get it. MAY we be green. MAY we be evergreen. MAY we be happy. 

 

Road Trip X, Days 21-24, Tallahassee to (sorta-)Savannah: Swamped by Unexpected Beauty 

I thought of titling this post “Sea to Shining Sea,” after touching the Atlantic the other day. I even thought about posing the Traveling Avocados, Oranges and Grapefruit on the beach, to celebrate their epic journey. But only a few oranges are left; all the rest of our gifted produce is eaten. And anyway, having already waded in Gulf of Mexico, it’d be more like sea to shining sea to other shining sea, right?

Still: Hello, North Atlantic!

But today’s theme waved me down as soon as we holed up in Tallahassee. That town isn’t a long drive from our previous night in Alabama; we had no business there, knew no one, didn’t check out Florida State or even ride our bikes along the terrific trail we’ve ridden before. All we were doing was making sure we didn’t die in a tornado waiting out some nasty weather. Doing laundry. And (one of us) making some headway on the novel.

And even with such meager expectations, Tallahassee offered us a good reminder of northern Florida’s lovely topography (NOT flat!) and relatively undeveloped landscape (hardly any billboards, even on I-10). And a wonderful bakery, and a  gorgeous sunset (not pictured) and this giant live oak in the motel parking lot.

Ooh, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Next day, the storm having blown through without tornadoes (thank you!) we headed to a brand-new destination: Little Talbot Island State Park, just north of Jacksonville.

In the middle of a swamp. Yes.

There we discovered not only a long, pristine beach–for people who love long, pristine beaches…

Augh! must…count…all the different…varieties! Make it stop!

…but also a boneyard of silvery drift-stumps…

Just as satiny as it looks!

…and the COOLEST trail through the dunes…

With tortoise holes! (Not pictured–sadly: tortoises)

…into a mixed forest of gigantic pines, palms, and live oaks, the latter dripping with ferns and Spanish moss.

Ooooh…

Question: WHY are epiphytes so ridiculously compelling? Is it a) the way they humanize the trees, calling to mind beards and long tresses? b) the way they soften the harsher, sharper lines of the forest? Or c) the fact that I was clearly a swamp rat in a previous life?

Ahhh…

The campground was one of the nicest ever, in terms of space and light and vegetation. Its only downside: the road was too close, so traffic noise was very present until late at night.

Would just one nighttime armadillo be too much to ask?

And we didn’t get any armadillos. But hey.

“That’s too much Spanish Moss!” said no one ever.

One more glorious bike ride in the refreshingly cool morning, on a LONG bike trail.

Way to go, northern Florida!

Along the way we took a sideline to the beach, to visit with some crumbly-clay tidepools…

Different! No wee fishies, unfortunately.

…and one more gorgeous silver drift-log installation.

World’s coolest jungle gym.

Heading north, we passed this irresistible sign:

How can I have never run into this pun before?!

And then on to Savannah (sorta). Our friends live on the outskirts, which should really be called the outswamps. Question: Is that why they named the town after a sea-of-grass ecosystem? Anyone know?

Since our purpose was reuniting with old friends, we skipped the downtown Savannah tour. Instead, we were gifted with one over-the-top, unexpected cool thing after another. We got to watch the Carolina-Duke game with true fans, drowning our sorrows in bacon-wrapped scallops and homemade pizza (not pictured). We got to cuddle with the sweetest, silkiest Labrador.

Forrest loved the Mate.

We thought our friends’ backyard view was just fine–hey, nice swamp ya got here!–but then next the morning, THIS happened.

Okay then.

Finally, our friends served us a lil’ ol’ Georgia breakfast: eggs, cheese grits, sausage, bacon, fresh fruit salad, and fresh sweet rolls. Still full from the night before, I made a superwoman effort and ate everything.

Woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do.

So…feeling a little swamped right now. Thinking that when we find beauty and goodness in unexpected places, it means even more. And feeling a bit grateful that Spanish Moss doesn’t grow in mountainous areas. Because if it did? I think my head would explode.

More, more!

 

Road Trip X, Days 11-13: The Chiricahuas. Period. 

What strange impulse leads us humans to share our special secrets?

Notice that this post has no cute subtitle beyond a geographic label. That’s because the Chiricahua Mountains are the special secret of the Mate and me and a very, VERY few other people—I can only think of four. That’s the main reason they’re special to us. And yet, here I am talking about them. Can’t help myself.

Waaayyyy down there at the bottom right. (image courtesy freeworldmaps)

The west side of the mountains is the better known half, because that’s the National Monument side. We’ve camped there a couple of times, including last year. It has very cool rocks.

See what I mean? But that was last year (snow & all).

This year we opted for the east side, which means driving into New Mexico, then heading south and west and ending up back in Arizona–just barely–in the miniature town of Portal. No National Monument here…”just” national forest, and wilderness.

Oh, is that all?

Oh, and lest you think those pink cliffs are just the sun…

Nope. Actually pink.

This side of the Chiricahuas is known best by birders. As I’ve probably mentioned before, these mountains (rising nearly 10,000 feet) act as both an oasis for higher-elevation plant & animal species, AND wildlife corridor for everything that walks, flies and slithers. You can see birds here that otherwise you’d have to go to Mexico to see. They have coatis (not seen this trip). And javelinas.

THIS. Hairy piggie!

(Gotta admit, this particular piggie disconcerted us a bit. In the past, we’ve only spotted them bolting and scuttling, but this one sashayed through our yard to rub its butt against a prickly pear, then came right up to our cabin like it wanted to order a sandwich. Guess some idiot’s been feeding them.)

In 2004, our little family of four spent a few months living in Santa Fe, and that’s when a friend first showed us this marvelous canyon. It was mid-March then, and the place was buzzing with birders (also hummingbirds of a dozen species). We were a little starved for moisture and what we northwesterners call “real trees” (i.e., something other than pinons and cottonwoods). Being so high, the Chiricahuas collect snow, and fill their canyons with creeks. And creeks mean one of my favorite trees of all.

Not all the sycamores are this mighty. But they’re all this lovely.

March was great. April might be even prettier, who knows? But now, in February? We and the locals have the place to ourselves!

And we even got a few flowers out of the deal.

The Traveling Avos & Oranges enjoyed the view as well.

Here, piggie, piggie! (Just kidding.)

If you ever make the trip down to the furthest corner of Arizona, do let me know. We Chiricahua Enthusiasts are a small but passionate tribe.

(Note: you CAN drive from one side of the mountains to the other, but not in February. And not in any kind of car you value, unless you drive a Jeep.)

Yes please.

So pick a side and go. Go to hike, ride a bike, camp, watch birds, or just sit there in awe with your feet in a sycamore-shaded stream and your eyes on glory.

Road Trip X, Days 6-10, Oakland to LA to Joshua Tree to Tucson: Making the Big Left Turn

Along with the color green, we tend to front-load our road trips with family and friends all down the west coast. In fact, in our first week we somehow visited with 18 different dear people, some just for a meal, some for a hike, some for a night or two, and some for all of the above.
Then comes the Big Left Turn from LA, and it’s just the Mate and Red Rover and I heading out across the desert.

So let me catch up a little before that desert becomes my be-all and end-all. Because I don’t like to violate my family’s privacy, I won’t show any pictures of our adorable six-year-old twin cousins. But here’s the late valentines they left on the door for me when I went for a walk.

I’m mellllting…

After two days and nights of walks and drawing and playing and reading aloud (grandparent practice!), not to mention enjoying our adult cousins’ excellent cooking chops (literally and figuratively), we headed for SoCal. Google kept asking if we didn’t want to save an hour by taking I-5, but we had a date with a certain bike path in Santa Barbara.

Suck it, I-5.

Then we spent the night with our dear friend Rhonda in the Agoura Hills, marveling at her Phoenix-like rise from the ashes of the Woolsey Fire, which I documented last year. It was nice to hear someone with good things to say about her insurance company. (Not pictured: Rhonda’s rebuilt house.)

On our last day in LA, we met our adventure buddies Tom & Kate for a hike in Malibu. Usually Tom & Kate meet us somewhere further from home, like Moab or the Rockies, but this year they only had the one day. We made it work.

So much prettier when it’s not on fire!

Who knew these dry hills still cling to a few waterfalls?

Don’t worry, little waterfall. I’ll never give your hideout away.

Since we are crazy people, though, the absolute highlight of that hike was this guy:

Hey, big guy! We don’t have any of y’all where we live, so thanks for the thrill.

Our visit with our next set of cousins (my side of the fam) was brief but sweet…and as in years past, yielded not only a bag of avocados from Cousin Elias and Helen’s giant tree, but also another bag, full of oranges from Cousin Susi’s equally ancient backyard tree! So this trip can now celebrate the Sisterhood of the Traveling Avocados AND Oranges!

Much as we love our cousins and friends, after four days we were DONE with driving through Californian cities.

Left Turn!!!! Bring on the brown signs! Specifically, Joshua Tree National Park.

Since we were in this exact same spot exactly one year ago, I was able to compare the effects of greater or less rainfall. Last year, I took more pictures of wildflowers than rocks. But this year?

I’m okay with just rocks, thanks.

And let’s not forget JT’s legendary palm oases. This one’s called Lost Oasis, and requires a round-trip 9 mile hike.

Worth it.

You don’t have to walk 9 miles to see palms, though. These beauties are right by the parking lot.

In the midst of the desert, you can see why these things are so godly.

The ranger told us that desert tortoises had been active in the area, so we got our hopes up. But this was the only tortoise we found.

And now you’re just as sad as we were. Sorry. 😞

Back at camp, I had to race the sun to get dinner out before dark. Cue the avos and oranges!

Don’t judge my atrocious presentation—I was in a rush!

We love Joshua Tree, but this trip we were saving our linger-longer desert days for another special place…and one that’s a lot less populated. But I’ll save that for the next post. We spent an uninteresting night in Tucson (not Tucson’s fault, we just needed a down day), but as always felt gratitude for its bike paths (not pictured, sorry).

For now, I just want to say, Thank you, California, for your glorious diversity. No thank you for your traffic…but I can’t blame folks for wanting a piece of you. On to the glorious Chiricahuas!

 

Wing’s World Goes Mobile: Let’s Get Ready to Rrrrrrrrroad Trip!

It’s that time of year. In our little corner of the Northwest, the ditches are running full enough to kayak in, sun is a tantalizing memory, and anything with wings that migrates is starting to do so, in reverse. Including these Wings. Except, being bipedal and 4-wheeled, we go EAST. This year: Road Trip X.

“What route are you guys taking this year?” ask friends who know about our annual pilgrimage to North Carolina.

My standard answer: “Head to L.A. and turn left. After that–the weather’s in charge.”

Sometimes the weather’s in charge even on the very outskirts of LA.

I-5, Tejon Pass

And of course we don’t head STRAIGHT there. Along the way, we stop to visit dear friends, family members, and trees.

Prairie Creek Redwoods, CA

And even in the sunny desert, we’re reminded that THE WEATHER IS IN CHARGE.

Saguaro National Park, Tucson

We spend time with rocks. Grey ones…

Chiricahua National Monument

…red ones…

Arches National Park, UT

…and brown ones.

Natural Bridges State Park, KY.

We spend time with mountains, western…

Guadalupe Mts. National Park, TX

…and eastern.

Appalachians, NC.

Sometimes we imbibe a little “culture.”

Mardi Gras in Dallas

…and history.

Vicksburg, MS

ALWAYS, with our Tar Heel Tribe, we celebrate our team (God knows they need our love this year!) with lots and lots of food.

Pie Day, 3.14

We spend quality time with my parents…

Dad’s bike’s electric now. But he’s 89 1/2, so, yeah.

…and the woods where I grew up.

Trout lily

If weather allows, we camp–and celebrate the Sisterhood of the Traveling Avocado (from our LA cousins’ tree).

Chiricahuas

If weather doesn’t, we fall in love with cute park cabins.

Land Between the Lakes, KY

As always, we seek the Perfect Bike Path.

Katy Trail, MO.

As always–did I mention this? The weather’s in charge.

I-70, CO

As always, we are thrilled to see this sign after 6+ weeks on the road:

Says it all!

And as always, we are even more thrilled to be HOME at the end of March. (Flaming sunset’s just the cherry on top.)

Home Sweet Lopez Island

So, friends–please wish us buen viaje, bon voyage, safe travels, and Go Tarheels! Be safe yourselves; stay warm & dry. See you on the road.

Red Rover just can’t wait to get on that ferry & hit the rowdy road.

O Canada: a Letter of Gratitude

Dear Canada,

I know you’ve had it a bit rough this last week, re-discovering your own racism and all. Welcome to the club. Gotta tell you, though–I still need to thank you for the ten days I just spent with The Mate, introducing my parents to your Rocky splendor. You may not be perfect, Canada (big surprise), but you’re still pretty stellar in my book.

Thank you for your waterfalls.

Like this classic: Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park

Or this one, coming right out of a cliff face! (Jasper)

Another classic, joining the Maligne River in Jasper

Can you ever have too many waterfall pictures?

Thank you for your canyons.

Athabasca

Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park. (Even though it was so crowded there I stopped taking pictures.)

Even your dry canyons are awesome!

Thank you for waterfalls IN canyons!

Maligne Canyon. Got pretty crowded there too…but can you blame us?

Thank you for the colors of your lakes.

The famous Lake Louise. 

Lake Agnes in Banff.

The Inkpots, Banff.

Hard to tell where sky ends and water begins. (Jasper)

Can’t…stop..photographing…water!

Thank you for your glaciers, even though their shrinkage scares the shit out of us.

Athabasca Glacier, coming off the Columbia Icefield, is still making its own weather…

…but look how far the poor glacier has receded since we first visited in the early 80s!

Thank you for your wildlife, even when it’s right beside the damn road.

Jasper traffic jam.

Big guy. I was hoping to see him fight another big guy, but he was too busy guarding his harem.

Moose are my FAVORITES. We saw four along just this one stretch of Maligne Road.

My second bear on this trip had me wishing for a zoom lens for my phone. Gotta work on that.

After the disappointment of seeing NO bighorn sheep in any of the parks, we met a giant herd on the very edge of the city of Kamloops! This is only some of them.

Thank you for the reassurance that, even when all your pine-beetle-ravaged forests do eventually burn, which they must…

(Yeah, pretty horrible to see–trees weakened by drought)

…Nature WILL know what to do.

Thank you for your mountains, which are not like any other mountains I’ve known.

Maligne Range…rock from 600 million years ago, uplifted

But on second thought–thank you, too, Washington. Your mountains are no slouch either.

The Mate at Washington Pass Overlook

And for that matter…thanks for the reminder, Lopez Island, that I don’t NEED to go to Canada to worship beauty. (But thank the gods I can! And I wish some of it for everyone.)

Welcome home.

Martha and Peter’s Excellent Aldabra Adventure, Part VIII (Final Installment): Nightmare Crabs and Sybaritic Cuisine

And here we are at last: the final installments of my parents’ journals from their 1976-77 self-marooning on the tiny Seychelles island of Aldabra to study goats. What’s weird is, the journals simply stop. I’m not sure if that’s because they got tired of writing right at the very end, or if, in the excitement of leaving, those pages were lost, or if they’re still kicking around somewhere in the family attic.

Luckily for me, I can ask my folks that. Because, as you’re reading this, I shall be (inshallah) hiking with Martha and Peter in the Canadian Rockies. Because I have been blessed with parents who are not only intrepid, but who are also ridiculously healthy, now in their mid-upper 80s.

So if there are more journals, they’ll let me know. Till then…take it away, Dad.

8 January

What a day! Yesterday, after supper, while we were completing plans for an early expedition to DJL [Dune Jean Louis, part of the island atoll] to search for Meg, she herself arrived, hot and weary.  She also brought details on tides, which indicate that we will need to depart sooner than planned, or remain considerably longer.  With food in short supply here, and the Nordvaer due at Main Station on the 20th, when we must depart, we elected to accelerate our activities and, since it will take two tides to return to Station,  depart for Malabar on the 10th.

One of the planned activities was to catch a goat for a barbecue (the ban on killing animals excludes the occasional crab and goat), so, after dark, lanterns in hand, off we marched. The goats weren’t yet asleep, however. The first group we encountered, two dozen, a mile or so from camp, crashed along the coral into the shrubs. Chris dashed after them, while the rest of us remained on the beach to see if he would succeed in turning the animals to us. He did not. Nearly three quarters of an hour later, I was about to propose reverting to a piscorian diet [otherwise known as fish…sigh], when Chris’s lights reappeared. As he neared, the moon rose and we saw he had sprouted a second, horned head. Somehow he had singlehandedly outraced a young goat over the dark coral spiracles, roped it, raised it to his shoulders and now was bouncing back to us, lantern still intact.  [Yep: field biologists can and do sometimes eat their subjects.]

9 January

Remember to visualize this ancient coral as you read the next paragraph. Yeow.

The rescue mission for Meg aborted, P. rose at 3 am, and raced north to Point Hodoul. By 5, the turf underfoot gave and to coral and the was reduced to a slow stumble. By 5:30 it was panicky scramble. Only at the very edge of the coral ledge could a way be forced through the dense shrubbery. Shoe were in ribbons, skin shreds. But, just at daybreak, P. rounded a corner and the dramatic sight of Terre Cedro greeted him: a perfect 100 meter crescent of the whitest sand, translucent blue-green water licking the shore, 8 ibises patrolling along a cool looking grove of casuarina trees that shaded the sand, and a pair of green turtles cavorting in the gentle surf: probably like a waterbed to them. [I love this image.] There was only time for a few minutes rest, as, without food or water, it was necessary to return before the day’s heat set in. the return was a  hard slog inland, due south to Basin Flamant, then southeast. Some of the way was open, but much was swampy, or, worse, more of the dense stuff that had characterized the coastal route.  It tore off the remnants of clothes and still intact patches of skin, but P. did reach food, water, and a bed by 10 am.  M., meantime, had been helping to complete the plant transects.

Goat barbecue this eve. Meantime, we fill up on cheese and ration biscuits.

8 or 9 January. – somehow, dates have become confused.  [gee, can’t imagine why]

Whatever the true date, this is the morning after the barbecue, which, despite P.’s jaundiced attitude about eating the subjects of a study, was a great success. Harry had chunked the meat into mouth-sized cubes, barbecued them to a crisp on an open wood fire, them mixed into a peppery onion sauce. This was topped off with rhubarb and strawberries (tinned) served over rice. Sybaritic end to a long day. [I had to look that word up, and I used to be an English teacher. Means self-indulgent or luxurious.]

Today’s planned early start was delayed until dawn, when fugitive clouds made a covering shadowed our once strong full moon – too little light to go by. So, we returned to bed, sleeping until a lazy 6 am. We then ran westward to Takamata , with Meg following more sedately with canteens and and camera. We had time for a leisurely bathe until Meg joined us for the hike inland to the lagoon, along Takamata Grove, a few large trees, almost a meter in diameter  at breast height, and 20 meters tall. We passed Wilsen’s Well, the site of an old tortoise-collecting station. We’d hoped to continue back to camp inland, parallel to the coast, but after an hour and a half of crawling and beating our way through thick brush, conceded defeat and retraced our steps to the coast. The 4 miles we covered had taken 7 hours! [Remember that coral “rock”?]

Tomorrow we’ll leave Cing C. for our first site, Middle Camp, on Malabar.  From there, we hope to shoulder packs and continue on foot to another site at Anse Malabar so as to avoid the crowd.  We’re eager to get as far west on Malabar in any case.  The trail ends at Anse Petit Grabeau.  Trail  cutting there is forbidden in order to protect the last remaing Brush Warblers, which nest there.  This is the only native bird we’ve not yet seen.

Middle Camp, where we will go, will be shared with Meg and Barry, congenial enough company that we won’t mind the interruption of our solitude.  How long we stay there depends on a messenger from Station who due on the the 13th, with word as to the next likely arrival of the Nordvaer. There are rumors that we may leave on a D’how (newly reconstructed in Panama and on a round-the-world trip with its Italian owner), but when and wither bound no one knows, [ah, gonna miss that archaic syntax of yours, Dad] nor how the rumor reached here.

10 January

This was not planned to be a writing day, but weather has overruled all.  Rain is heavy, unremitting, wet and cold.  We began the day lazily and late; a slow, short run, then a stumble with packsore backs through the mangrove swamp that borders the lagoon creek where our dinghy, (My Fwanwy – a Welsh name) was anchored.  Then, tediously polling against the tide, we had a 90 minute ride across the lagoon to lovely Middle C, which had been our first Aldabran campsite.

We stayed just long enough for tea, then headed west, to Anse Malabar, stopping once, briefly, to shed excess clothes and then gasp at a school (20 or more) of sharks snorkeling about the shallows just offshore.  No swimming here.  There followed a 2 and 1/2 hour walk on the coral ledge just above the sea, abominably tiring with the constant ups, downs, dodges and stumbles the coral imposed, but a trail had been cut through the brush and seaward view was grand.

[This next section is for anyone who ever considered marooning themselves way out in the middle of nowhere.]

Then came those long delayed rains, refreshing at first, then an annoyance, finally, as the wind rose and temperatures fell, a pain. We were glad to reach our camp, on a lovely crescent beach, one of the very few on the northern shore, complete with thatched-walled, tin-roofed hut and well supplied with provender. Except: no can opener and a broken seal on the primus’s pump!!  Grrr. We were desperately cold and hungry, so, after demolishing several jars of mincemeat, jam, peanut butter, mango chutney and ration biscuits, which really stimulated our salivary flow, we pried cans open with a knife, sealed the primus with lard, and cooked tea, sausage, and carrots for our main course. Our bedding had, of course, gotten wet, but we have hopes that our gas lantern will dry things. There is nothing to do now, but to sit out the rain, though it could go on for days. Cheerful thought. P.’s shoes are so torn up, they are scarcely useable – we use almost a pair per week – except when we’re on sand, when we can go barefoot. The plastic sandals we use in water or grass can’t carry one over coral, so those shoes will have to do for the trip back to Middle Camp, planned for the morning.

Our site is noisy…There is the surf, of course, plus a whooshing blow hole; then there’s a group of boobies roosting nearby – a booby hatchery, evidently – and, finally a veritable army, dozens upon dozens, of claw-clicking, squabbling, investigating burgher crabs.They are enormous, 20 centimeter diameter in some cases, and steal anything they can carry, including our shoes. And, of course, there is the mosquito symphony. Time to duck under our nets. [Can I just say: yuck!]

11 January

At 4 a.m. we gave up the battle with bugs and crabs, the former biting, the latter swarming over the hut, seizing clothes, dishrags, rattling saucepans.  The end came when desperate howls from the kid [baby goat they had rescued], still alone in the bush, led to the discovery that it was being eaten alive by the crabs.  M. gingerly rescued him and we’ve just completed a second feed. The kid is in sorry shape, however, as are we. If only it stays dry.

9 a.m.: it has not stayed dry, an irony since we’d have delighted with the water just a few days earlier. At least one problem has been unexpectedly solved. 10 minutes ago we heard a dry bleat. We prodded our kid to wakefulness, and he replied. Minutes later, his mother appeared, walked within 3 meters of us, nuzzled him, and the two trotted off together. Where had she been since his birth? [Well, let’s hope for a happy ending for the baby goat, at least. Those crabs sound nightmarish.]

12 January

The insect plague of Anse Mal seems to be island-wide. We abandoned camp before noon, too tired and sore to continue west to Petit Grabeau as planned, and eager to be gone before finding anymore abandoned kids. The threatening skies remained dry, though the air was hot, and muggy, and again filled with mosquitoes. We collapsed gratefully in front of the tea-kettle at an empty Middle Camp, and when Meg and Barry arrived a couple of hours later, were restored. A nap in a relatively insect-proof tent also helped.

The hot, wet weather has clearly produced wide-spread insect hatches. The only thing comparable in our experience were the clouds of mosquitoes and blackflies in Northern Ontario in mid-June. We recalled E.T. Seton’s census method:  clap your right hand over the back of the left. If, after an exposure of 5 minutes, the number of squashed mosquitos can be counted, your situation is still moderately comfortable.  A 5 second exposure  of a washed left hand had this morning produced a count of 27. We decided the hut was uninhabitable. [yuck, yuck, YUCK.]

Dinner tonight was a stewed grouper of close to 10 kilos. P. had fished from a ledge over the lagoon, and in minutes had hooked an enormous grouper, easily 20 kilograms, but could land him. As soon as he had begun raising him from the water, the hook straightened and he slip free. P. had waded around from the beach while Meg and M. held the line, thinking to support him from underneath, a when a large shark swam by, efforts of that sort were abandoned. The shark, fortunately, was a Blacktip, rather than the more aggressive and less common Whites.  But, minutes later, the 2cnd, smaller catch was made, which was a more reasonable size for our small party.  Grouper, however, are the least “bon” of the many fish we’ve had here, so next time we’ll move to the ocean side and try for snapper. But, as the Grouper was accompanied by fresh picked coconut, popcorn, tinned strawberries, and brandy, our dinner had to be rated as elegant. [Is it just me, or are they becoming more fixated on food? I get that!]

13 January

This makes a full month since our arrival. We begin to feel and resemble old hands, tan, slim, scratched, bruised and torn.  But, still less skilled than the natives, except for running over the champignon. Yesterday’s fishing expedition was frustrated by snagged hooks, then sharks which repeatedly cut the line. When P. moved to the lagoon side, it was met by 9 groupers, lined up side by side like so many trained seals. They rose in unison as the bait was lowered, their mouths protruding from the water, almost drooling. [Really?! Fish drool?] But, we did not want another grouper. After one of the smaller ones had twice impaled himself, been hauled out, freed, and tossed back, P. gave up hope of finding other fish. On the third time it took the hook, it went into the curry pot. However, that had been too heavily curried for M. and Meg’s taste, so P. did have to make one last effort, which resulted in the catch of an eight-o’clock, that was filleted sans curry.  P. and the crabs shared the curry pot’s contents.

It’s been a blank day, goatwise, with about 1/0 seconds of contact.  We’ll try again just before sundown. While Meg and M. were on their shifts, P. spend the afternoon constructing a proper, windproof fireplace and oven, which we then tested with a barbecue of sausage, mushrooms (tinned) and coconut, plus “dampers”, a flour and water dough rolled over sticks and browned. [Definitely ready to go home, I’d say.] Quite satisfactory. Tomorrow, we’ll try the oven, though the bread will either be raised by airborn yeasts or unleavened. There may even be time to fish again, which was not possible today as the tide was high while we were free to do so, and they don’t take our bait then. But bread, fish, and coconut  are all very good roasted.

And there the journals end–with food, not a bad last word! Nothing about the journey home. Which matches the equal blanks shared by my 17 year-old sister and 15 year-old self, waiting to hear from our parents. All I remember from that time is a phone call “patched through,” as they used to say, from Tel Aviv, where our folks stopped to visit cousins on their long trip home.

And then…they came home to boring ol’ Durham, North Carolina, and life went on. As it does. This adventure seems like a dream to me now, a secondhand dream. Wonder how it feels to them?

Mom, do you remember what this feels like? That tortoise probably does.

But lucky me: I can just ask. Thank you, powers that be, for my amazing parents.

 

 

Peter and Martha’s Excellent Aldabra Adventure, Part V: Bash-Your-Own Shark Stew

We now continue where we left off, with Gretchen’s intrepid parents, Martha and Peter Klopfer, voluntarily marooned on Aldabra Island, back in 1976. In this section of their journals, Mom and Dad began taking turns narrating. I can easily tell one’s written voice from the other–can you? Enjoy…

19 December

The long delayed rainy season has arrived.  First we had a short shower, with lots of wind.  During the night we thought we might emulate Dorothy’s trip to the Land of Oz, but luckily our tent was well moored and canvas strong.  Lots of lightning activity, too, scary on an open island. [Having been terrified of lightning as a child, this part of their story paralyzed me with fear back then.]

Today’s goat walk had us along the beach at high tide, so we were able to see Aldabra’s famous blow holes in action. Very dramatic. The holes are often some distance back from the cliff edge, as much as 20 meters or so, and the great roars or hisses and the towers of spray and mist they emit, often to heights of 3-4 meters, seem unrelated to the sea’s movements. Better spectacle than the geysers of Yellowstone!

Our campmates have now all departed, except for Meg and Harry, our Seychellois factotum. It’s rather pleasant to have the island more or less to ourselves. Tomorrow, first thing, we will depart, too, moving to Meg’s second study site, on the island called Dune Jean Louis. We still hope we can return to Main Station in time for the turkey dinner planned for Christmas, the turkey having accompanied us on the Nordvaer [the rusty freighter they journeyed in on].

20 December

We’re now sitting in the shade of the thatched hut at Dune Jean Louis, an extensive expanse of sandy dunes, trying not to disturb a sunbird whose nest hangs from a piece of thatching about a meter over our heads. We reached the camp here from Middle Camp by puttering across the lagoon in a small rowboat equipped with outboard. One can hike around the eastern of Aldabra and get here on foot, but that takes a couple of days, while the boat ride takes but an hour, provided one calculates the tide correctly, there’s enough water in the lagoon, and the engine does not malfunction. The longtimers here all of tales of times when they had to hoist shirts on an oar to sail by, or to to row. Wading in water that is too murky to allow a lookout for the many sharks while pulling a heavy boat is not an option. [So…have you noticed the lack of spelling-bee words and Latin phrases? This is Mom narrating. 🙂 ]

Their hut–complete with tortoises, who also appear to enjoy the shade. You can see Martha’s back inside.

DJL [Dune Jean Louis] is one big sand dune. It’s the highest point on Aldabra, though that’s only about 20 meters. From the lagoon side of the dune one can see the the mass of coral against which the southeast trade winds have built the dunes, quite different from the densely vegetated Middle Camp. Upon crossing the lagoon from Middle Camp, we cruised through a wide band of mangrove, a tidal area that becomes a mud flat at low tide. When the tide is out, the substrate appears as fine white clay.  It looks as if it would make excellent chinaware.This is followed by a narrow band of Pemphis, then a stretch of flattened coral and assorted scattered shrubs.  It’s an open area, that allows sight of goats from some distance. Our thatched shelter sits on a patch of closely trimmed grass, the lawn mowers being the numerous tortoises that inhabit this area. Just now, with the sun high in the sky, the tortoises are lined up along the shady side of our hut, dozing under the edge of the thatch. The hut has a stout fence across it’s open side, to bar them from entering. Sunbirds, yes, but no tortoises.  There are no flightless rails on this section of Aldabra, though we do have some flightless ibis, who generally share our breakfast with us. They do like oatmeal. [I mean, who doesn’t? Also, this blog has gone on long enough without recipes–time to remedy that. Back to you, Mom.]

Late in the day, Harry and P. went hunting for dinner. The hunt began with the collection of a couple of burgher crabs, which were then pulverized and mixed with with sand, excepting for a few of the larger bits. This mixture was formed into balls which were cast into the surf, reached by wading through rocky shallows swarming with moray eels – not for the fainthearted. The larger bits were used to bait hooks, which were launched once the sharks, blacktipped sharks mostly, had been attracted. After the first shark snapped up the bait and cut the line, the fishermen retreated. They then chased a school of tide pool fish, 20-30 centimeters long, into a corner of a tidepool, built a coral dam of loose bits there were at hand, and used the dull side of a pongo to stun and collect their prey.  It made for a good stew.

Harry prepping his delicious stew.

21 December

Goat watching at DJL is of the stationary sort, often from an elevated platform, so it does not entail much exercise.  What with Harry’s good stews to work off, we jogged some length along the coast, though there were intervals where we had to crawl and stumble across the jagged coral. Upon our return, the tide was out, allowing us to cut across exposed sand flats, though after several brushes with fair-sized moray eels, we took the cowardly, slower path on the heights. [I’ve never met a moray except behind aquarium glass, but after these descriptions, I never wanted to.]

Crabs were around us by the hundreds, and this morning there were also flocks of plovers, along with other shorebirds we were unable to identify: we had no binoculars along.  Also spotted a cat, thin and black.  We were wishing we had a firearm so as to shoot it. There are but a few left on the islands, dropped off by passing fishermen in past decades, and they have devastated the populations of flightless birds.  Every effort is being made to make the island cat-free.  Norway rats are another imported pest, but they are so numerous that their eradication is out of the question.  Presumably they’ve been here for so long as to have attained some sort of equilibrium with the other species with whom they interact.

We also came upon some green turtle nests, though as yet no hatchlings.   These turtles evidently nest all year around, to the evident delight of the pied crows, master scavengers, who are able to totally wipe out a nestfull of hatchlings that make the mistake of emerging in daylight.  But, of the goats we were seeking, no sign.  After lunch, we’ll head inland towards the lagoon so see if we can evidence of them there.

22 December

Still no goats to be seen. We hiked west after our watch, and found lots of feces, some fairly fresh, so tonight we’ll move down the coast.  There’s lots else to watch.  Last night we came upon a mammoth green turtle digging her egg pit in the sand, and this morning a second fresh pit was in evidence as well. Meg then found some green hatchlings emerging and rescued them from the pied crows that were awaiting them.  Very likely the sharks off shore ate them instead – very few young survive.

This PM Meg saw two green turtles copulating, after which the male was stranded, the price of amoureux [are you kidding me, Dad? Not just French, but plural?!] on a receding tide.  With all three of us straining, we succeeded in hoisting the hind end of the 200 kilogram beast and wheel-barrowed him into a tide pool. There, we covered him with seaweed for insulation from the sun until rising waters should bring him release.  We can now have a cup or two of green turtle soup with a clear conscience, as we’ve saved several this way – (turtles are a forbidden food). [Okay, this rationalizing is almost as hilarious to me as the wheelbarrow turtle image.]

And then we found a newly hatched giant tortoise, all of four centimeters long!  It looks ridiculous alongside the one and a half meter long adults that litter our camp ground.  And, yes, they can be ridden. [Ah, such joy at this thought!]

Our assistant, Harry, today introduced us to the latest in gourmet specialties, Aldabra style. Herewith the recipe for “satinee”: [ooh, another recipe! This blog’s getting downright mainstream.]

Remove shoes; enter surf to knee depth (not more!), kicking vigorously and keeping a sharp watch. The highly aggressive white-tipped sharks will soon appear.  As they close in, bash 1 or 2 with a heavy knife, such as a pongo, grab the stunned animal by the tail and flee the surf. Then, filet the sharks, cutting the meat into 4-6 centimeter chunks, wash several times, boil till the meat falls apart, then wash in fresh water and press dry. Fry the meat lightly with freshly pounded pepper, caraway, vinegar and curry.  Serve with rice. The meat is light in color, fine in texture, and as mild as the best white tuna, once the urea has been washed out. [I was with you until the urea part.] Marvelous!

It’s a good thing that Harry is a competent provider, for we are running out of provisions: the last of the rice was used today, so we’re now reduced to British army “ration biscuits” and tea, with a small serving of tinned corned beef once each day. The last party at this site neglected to report the inventory, so we had expected full food lockers, which was not the case. We also had to spend more time here than planned due to the lack of goat sightings. Travel is complicated by the extremely high tides at this site, up to 3 and ½ meters, so the channel on which we can cross the lagoon is often bone dry for a distance of over a kilometer.

Unfortunately, no pics of turtle-wheelbarrowing, so here’s another look at Harry.

Do Peter and Martha run out of food? Do they get tired of satinee? Does Harry get tired of cooking it for them? Do they rescue more tortoises stranded by sex? Tune in next week…

Parents Gone Feral: Peter and Martha’s Excellent Aldabra Adventure, Part II

To catch y’all up…in my last post, I gave my parents’ narration of why they were abandoning leaving their daughters behind, in the winter of 1976, to have themselves dropped onto a tiny island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Here they are now, aboard a rusty old freighter on their way to their new island home. Know what? I’m just going to let them tell it. But I can’t resist adding a few of my own reactions along the way. 🙂

11 December – aboard the Nordvaer

Our crewmates appear to number about a dozen, of all possible shapes, ages, and hues, most from the Seychelles, some from Africa, one Indian. Their common language is a Seychellois French-Creole, though a few speak a bit of English. They and their ship , when not under charter to resupply the Royal Society station on Aldabra, mostly ply a route between East Africa to Mauritius, Reunion and the Seychelles.

The favored occupations of the crew appear to be fishing and drinking, and the condition of the Nordvaer attests to both sports. Shipshape is indeed a relative state.  🙂 At least the fish were biting this morning, Bonitas for the most part, which were then filleted, dried, and salted for later sale or consumption. For some hours the fish were hooked as quickly as lines were thrown overboard, but now the school seems to have passed, and all is quiet. Sad to say, we saw none of the catch at meals: the fare is English at its worst, mostly tinned stew. Even the coffee does not pass muster, being mostly water of a faintly brown color. Still, we’re enjoying the lazy, loafing seaboard routine, enlivened by the presence of lots of albatross, flying fish, and ever distracting cloud sculptures.

Our exercise is limited to running in place, much to the bemusement of the crew.  [They’re marathoners, remember?] Fortunately, our cabin is air-conditioned as the engine room heat below deck is fearsome. It’s breezy and pleasant above deck, but the available spots to perch are few and not conducive to long sojourns. The only chairs are on the aft-deck above the fantail, where the two lifeboats (whose davits are so rusted as to make it unlikely they can ever be launched) block the view of all but the fishing lines off the stern.

12 December

Flying fish in abundance this morning. We first thought them to be low-flying birds, they covered such great distances, changing the angles of their fins as they “flew” for up to 10 seconds at a time at a speed no less than ours.

Our shipboard lethargy is growing, with even arising for breakfast taking a major effort. And sight-seeing has become less interesting: no atolls to be seen, and very few birds other than an occasional Booby or Gannet. [yes, those are real bird names]

13 December

Breakfast had just ended when a deckhand beckoned to a distant horizon: Aldabra, visible a full day sooner than expected. The spirits consumed by the crew evidently had accelerated our progress. Or perhaps the absence of a First Mate increased efficiency. 🙂 At any rate, but two hours later, we were climbing down a rope ladder into a waiting dinghy and ten minutes after that were on our island home. The Aldabrans were as surprised by our premature arrival as were we. Somehow, they had gotten word that the Nordvaer had been lost at sea.

Home, sweet home…?

Tune in next week…