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.

 

 

Martha and Peter’s Excellent Aldabra Adventure, Part VII: Blistered Bottoms and Happy New Year

Welcome to the penultimate (as my dad would say, instead of second-to-last) installment of my intrepid parents’ Aldabra Journals. It’s been fun for me, re-reading these after 43 years, but I’m starting to feel eager to take my blog back to the present. With that in mind, I’ve edited the final two weeks of entries, cutting longer sections about goat-watching to highlight those which portray most vividly life on a tiny atoll.

See if you can spot my Martha and Peter’s evolving attitudes! (I may have left a few colorful hints.)

30 December

We rose before dawn to retrace our steps to where we’d spotted goats last eve…Now we can have breakfast and then try to catch some fish, a chore that Harry made seem easy but for which we are clearly less capable. Tides are such as to preclude pool fishing, and fear of sharks keep us from surf casting, so P. balanced his way out to an out-hanging shelf of coral from which a line could be dropped into the water. Between the very small fish, which merely nibbled the bait to bits and the giants which swallowed bait, hook and all, then spat out the indigestible portion, P. made no contribution to the dinner pot.  And the swarms of moray eels did not encourage a consoling, cooling dip either. Frustrating. M. wisely kept cool with a book in the hut.

31 December

Just now we’re dressing wounds – coral cuts on feet and ugly burns from the blister beetles, a flying cockroach-shaped beast that is attracted by smoke and releases a highly caustic, inflammatory (and then infectious) substance when squashed or smitten. Once done, we plan to jog around our clearing or perhaps use our jump-ropes: dune running is too strenuous for us just now, besides which it accelerates dune erosion.[Remember: marathoner parents!]  As you may divine, we are slowly succumbing to tropical lassitudinitis. Fortunately there is no excess of either dainty snacks nor alcohol, so we hope to avoid the otherwise inevitable tropical belly.  We do have one bottle of rum along, for medicinal purposes, of course, and will use it this evening as an excuse for some kind of rum punch.  

Just back from a 5 hour search that produced no goats, but, as usual, no small number of other sights. First, a green turtle hatchling that was headed into the sand.  We turned it surfward a meter from the water and watched it swim off, hoping it would avoid the large shark which was patrolling the beach. Next was some feces that was from a carnivore, confirming fears that a beast we’d spied earlier might have been a dog. The last sighting was two years ago, so we’d hoped none remained. Then, while standing on a ledge overhanging the water, we watched two large rays, white spots on their sleek black wings, cavort, like playful aquatic butterflies. Probably they were mating, or do rays play? Graceful creatures, for sure. [Nice to see some of that awe still flowing.] Finally, we watched a trio of giant green turtles, 10-15 meters off-shore, two of them copulating while the third tried to intervene. A miracle that the female did not drown. We held our breaths in sympathy. [:) ]

Supper now, and, late as it is, to bed after. No New Year celebration this year, but, then, we’ve not stayed up until midnight for a quite a few years. Happy New Year. [1977]

Dad goat-watching on Dune Jean Louis

1 January

Today has been a maximally lazy one. Our plans to beat the bushes for goats were shelved when M.’s morning watch from our tower was rewarded with a sighting of one of Meg’s herds. Rather than risk spooking them, we elected to see if they were back to stay, a decision reinforced by the excessive heat.

The sky is cloudless and this year’s rainy season has yet to materialize…That means no fresh water bathing, and  drinks are foul-tasting, even when disguised with tannins, caffeine and alcohol. Bathing is also discouraged by the blazing sun as M. has a badly blistered bottom: it was unaccustomed to exposure (P. had passed through the blistered stage earlier).

We’ve passed the day dozing, reading, and timing the incubation intervals of our resident sunbird, now with two eggs. The male, who’d helped with nest construction, now no longer enters the hut, though he accompanies the female on flights around camp whenever she leaves the nest (which is often), and sings from atop our nearby tent or clothes-rack bush. The nest, a hanging, globular affair was badly attached and had we not secured it with twine would surely have fallen. Perhaps this pair is inexperienced. [says the very married man]

2 January

We lay abed an extra 30 minutes this A.M., not commencing our watch until 6.  Even so, it was darker than night, with heavy black clouds blotting the lagoon. It did finally lighten and we saw some goats at a distance. Then we breakfasted, and as we afterward started on a fishing expedition, were submerged in a long overdue deluge. Wet and cold, we returned to our hut for shoes and exploited the cooler temperature for a run. M. took off on an 800 meter circuit across the tortoise -cropped turf, which winds its way around coral fragments, while P. took advantage of the tortoises being a good height to practice hurdlers’ strides. [I adore the image this presents!] Once the shower ended, we used the older water, now too foul to drink, for a luxurious sponge bath. “Clean” is relative, but by Aldabran standards we are now squeaky clean, even if still sandy.

3 January

Our last full day here alone dawned darkly, and thirty minutes after stationing ourselves in our watchtower, 3 meters high, lightning frightened us down. We lasted a bit longer atop the dune, but saw no more more goats. Then, the rains came, but lightly enough that P. had a run, while M. decided to laze about until low tide. Our fish expedition this time was successful, 4 beauties hand-caught in tide pools, so M. is now prepping them for a mid-day curry, an attractive prospect on an unusually grey, though still relatively dry day.

Incidentally, ibises, at least the sacred sort, like cooked oatmeal. Turnstones don’t.Tortoises like anything, from margarine to fish soup. [Stop the scientific presses!]

Not actually sure where this is, but the photo’s too dramatic not to use

4 January

Another squally morning, strong winds, though now shifted to the SW. Impossible to see goats, even had they been present. Now, sun and rain are playing a chasing game, and it remains muggy and uncomfortably hot.

Meg was to have arrived this am, with fresh supplies, but has not materialized. Our coffee will be gone by tonight, and many other stocks are nearly gone. Worst, both primus stoves are on the fritz and totally nonfunctional. There’s too much wind for a wood fire. So, we will take inventory and pack tonight, knock down the tent at first light tomorrow, and head east to Cinq Cases. Should there be no tent or hut space for us there, we should still at least be able to get some food to tide us over. The tidepool that has produced most of our fish has been exhausted. Other pools are shared by Moray eels of considerable size, so we left the fish in them to the eels. It’s too great a distance for a simple roundtrip to Cinq C. for food: about 12 miles, but the maximum speed possible on this terrain is about 2 miles/hour.

Hard to imagine a more ordinary/extraordinary afternoon than we’ve experienced: M. lolling in her chair, book in lap, coffee to hand; P. at his desk, coffee (imitation, actually) at his side, too. Our beasties are grazing the pasture by the door, or napping in the shade. The shade, however, is not provided by proud Piedmont oaks, but fronds of Pandamus palms, which are the roof and walls of our hut. And, M.’s chair is a single canvas sling, while P.’s desk a crude board with stool. The floor of our “office” is sand, fresh and white, and the grazers are not our usual equine pets, but those ungainly giant tortoises.  How we would like to bring some back home with us!  [Oh yes! Please, daddy, please can we have a tortoise?] The “chandelier” over our heads is a sunbird nest, the female now on two eggs peering down on us.  less  functional than the chandelier at home, but much more entertaining. It’s all very bucolic, quite what we’re used to, but somehow the matrix for these ordinary activities, reading and writing, has been transposed.

I want one!!!!

A shift in the wind has produced high surf and rough seas. If this continues, we’ll not get off the island even if a ship does come.There’s no way our dinghy could get through the surf, a complication we’d not taken too seriously during the calm of the past weeks.

5 January

Last evening’s goat watch provided us with more and closer contact than all previous watches combined. It was hard to stop for supper.  At midnight, the watch was inadvertently resumed when we were roused by odd moaning noises, quite unlike any we’d heard before.  A bright full moon revealed eight goats just outside our tent, apparently conversing in an alien caprine dialect. [speaking of dialects, father…]  A few hours later, when we arose to start the day, we were startled by an apparent sunrise to the WNW.  The sun itself was cloud-occluded, and the full moon was to the north of the where the sun normally set. It was quite disorienting, and we still don’t understand any of this.

Our hike eastward began with an unsuccessful effort to rescue a green turtle that had been marooned by the outgoing tide.  She was too heavy for us to move, so we had to leave her with hopes that clouds and rain would protect her until the next tide.  Then came two hours of agonizing balancing on sharp champignons or stumbling through loose coral and deep, soft sand.  The occasional stretches of turf were just enough reminder of normal walking to add frustration.  The final three hours went more smoothly, though an ill designed and badly fitting back pack made for maximum discomfort.  We did reach CC, finally, about an hour after Meg and her party made it. Engine troubles had delayed them, which was why Meg never reached us at DJL.

This camp is crowded: five others, besides Meg and us, and the place resembles a shantytown of the most impoverished sort. Can’t wait to get away. The immediate surround is a wasteland – coral cliffs and sea to the east, and a vast expanse of largely barren and heavily fragmented tumbled loose coral to the west. The mangrove and biologically more active areas are a ¾ hour walk away, but we will go shortly. The one amenity here is the desk at which this is being written: it’s built within the low enveloping branches of a Guettarda tree and shared by dozens of tortoises.

6 January

Up early for a spiritless jog along the coast, so different from DJL. We felt most unambitious, a feeling accentuated by the hot, sticky air. However, we also felt the need for breakfast, so with a brief bathe in the sea spray (tide was too high and the surf to rough for immersion), we returned to camp for our tea and ration biscuits (World War II British army food), peanut butter (viz, groundnut) and marmalade.  Supplies are in good shape here.

There is an ample supply of relatively fresh (though foul smelling) water here, which may explain why there is a much higher incidence of twins among the goats here than at other sites.

The others at this camp include an ecologist who is studying primary productivity, two entomologists who are surveying coxid beetles and the damage they cause, a tortoise counter, and a scientific assistant, the ever energetic Chris, who does lots of everything. [I can just imagine Chris. 🙂 ] There are also two Seychellois here, Harry, and another who is largely mute as he speaks only Creole. The seas have been too rough for them to fish and we have insufficient fuel for trawling, so there is little for them to do.

7 January

Days pass quickly here, and there are new sights daily.  M. spent last evening trying to puzzle through the southern constellations – someone had left starmaps  – until a bright harvest moon extinguished all but the brightest.  Meantime, P. got a fishing lesson from Harry and Bernard. Those guys are uncanny.  We walked 3 kilometers along the coast, while they scanned the sea, then headed to a coral bench some two meters above the water. Out went two handfuls of minced crab and sand, then a crab-baited line.  10 seconds later, they landed a 30-40 kilogram grouper.  Wow.  Now, a second cast.  This time it took 20 seconds before they landed a red snapper, about 10 kilos.

We hiked to Basin Flamant this morning, and were treated to an overhead view of flamingoes in flight, a glorious sight in the morning sun. They honk rather like Canada geese.

It is moist, and hot! Today’s been the worst – little wind, no clouds, no condition for an afternoon outing. We bathed at low tide on our return from the field at 1 pm, napped until 3, the present time, and will likely stay in the shade at least to 5, when we may check the goats again. We’re focused on establishing the sex ratio now. The predominance of males is striking.

We’re also on the lookout for Meg, who is now several days overdue and we’re beginning to worry.

A good reminder that there’s really no such thing as an island Paradise, appearances notwithstanding.

Gretchen here again: Keep in mind, during these weeks, my teenage sister and self were entirely cut off from our parents. Strange to think how very nearly impossible such incommunicado status is now, no matter how far away one goes.

OK. Thanks for being along for the ride. The next installment will be the final one, and then…oh my! I have to take the reins again. Hope I have something to compete with tortoise-hurdling.

 

Sisters Weekend. Not Pictured: Sisters.

You would think my two sisters and I don’t get along. Not only do we live in three of our continent’s four edges–Michigan, Washington and Texas (also equally distant from our parents in North Carolina, whom we also like a good deal, by the way)–we stay in touch only fitfully, rarely calling or emailing or, now, texting. 

Can I just say we’re not a very touchy-feely family?

But we DO get along. We like and admire and enjoy each other. And, as the youngest sister and the designated Sentimental One, I borrowed the idea from a friend of mine of the Sisters Getaway, to honor the occasion of our 60th birthdays, one at a time.

Our agreements: the getaway did not have to be on the actual birthday. Convenience was paramount. So was sun (especially for my winter-stricken Michigan sister). And we would gather in a place none of us knew well, so that no one had to play host.

Two years ago, we spent three days together in San Diego. This year, our middle sister picked Denver. Denver in May–hurray! Bring on that Rocky Mountain sunshine!

Or…not.

Oh, silly girls. Denver in May does what it likes.* Luckily for us, we had decided in advance that we wouldn’t be doing any serious hiking, since one of us is in the process of setting a date for hip replacement surgery. (Did I mention we are all getting older? Funny about that.)

*I did, however, prevail on my sisters to swing by the local REI so I could plunder their sales rack for a warm extra layer–having seriously under-packed.

So what should proceed now is a montage of of us out enjoying the sights of Denver, right? Group selfies, snapshots of delicious food and drinks. Glorious, happy vacation pics.

But my sisters are more private than I am, and that is only one of the things I love about them. So I won’t be sharing any of the pictures I took of us. I could have taken a picture of the living room of our Air B ‘n’ B house, which is where we spent most of our time. Or of a Denver bus–we rode them all over town. Or of the interior of Union Station, which, it turns out, is an extremely cozy place where you can hang out for hours for free, just gabbing and people-watching, as long as you don’t lie down on the couches.

But again…sorry. This getaway was about each other. The only real touring we did was of memory; the only real exploration of feelings; the only real adventure was peering into our mutual futures.

Still, I’m blogging about it, so SOME pictures would be useful, eh? We did wander through Denver’s not-exactly-downtown Downtown Aquarium, which was exceedingly noisy for an aquarium, but also yielded some extraordinary beauty.

Mesmerizing.

I’ve been in many aquariums. (Aquaria?) Never saw anything like this anemone before.

Another slow wander: the Botanical Gardens. (See, we do know how to tourist!)

I think these crazy giants are from South Africa…

And for good measure, one quirky photo from downtown:

I completely support this statement.

But that’s it. That’s the whole post. What I’m saying here is–love your family in your own way. Do it with, and for, the camera if you want to. Or don’t. Call or text or email, or don’t. But love ’em. Life is short. One day you’ll turn around and be 60. Or, if you’re so blessed, 80.

Me, I hope to re-post this when we’re celebrating each other’s 90th. Inshallah!

Road Trip VIII, Days 28-31, Durham, N.C.: The Five Things I Miss About My Hometown

Spending a full week in Durham and Chapel Hill has me reflecting on the answer I give to folks who ask me what I miss, since leaving the South 27 years ago. It’s a short but sweet list.

1. My family. Officially, all that’s left here are my amazing parents—Mom shown here with a salad containing the last of the Traveling Avocados that ripened as we crossed the country.

Mama knows what’s good for you

Unofficially, our “family” now includes friends the Mate and I have known in some cases longer than we’ve known each other. But that’s another category. I do know, as a 56 year-old, how incredibly lucky I am to still have both healthy parents living in the same house where they raised me.

Mom in her truck, pulling her horse trailer

My dad’s collection of shoes reveals his active life better than anything.

2. Friends—both tribal and non-tribal. I’ll explain that in #5.

Respect the oak.

3. Oak trees. I’m not talking those scruffy things they have out West. With a few exceptions—talking to you, Laytonville, CA—those oaks are piddly, short things with prickly leaves. But the white oaks of the east? They have GRANDEUR. And their dead leave smell like life.

The next generation of red oak—so vibrant

4. North Carolina-style pulled pork BBQ and Mama Dip’s fried chicken. With fried okra, and hush puppies, and greens. Sweet tea optional.

I’ve blogged enough about soul food—I’ll just leave it at this.

5. Tarheel basketball. With the Tribe—a.k.a. a bunch of over-educated lefty lawyers, professors and administrators, and retired ditto—who gather once a year to eat #4, above, and scream at 20 year-old guys tossing around an orange ball. I didn’t want to violate my friends’ privacy by posting their picture, so here’s a shot of a Chapel Hill fire truck—just to give you some idea of the grip Tarheelism has on this town.

Even the paramedics bleed Carolina blue

Last year our team won the National Championship, but they did so in April, when we were already back home in the northwest…where nobody cares, except to inquire, “What IS a Tarheel, anyway?” So, yeah—I miss that.

Go Heels!

If you are someone who no longer lives in your hometown, what are your five things? Take your time and think about it.

Family Pranking: Fun New Resolution for 2018?

Meet Ali the Gator:

“Could someone lick me clean, please?

Oh, why’s he covered in whipped cream and jam? Therein lies a tale. Allow me.

Ali joined our family a couple of years ago when the Mate was out doing yardwork. Spotting a lizard near the compost bin, he decided to catch it, in honor of Wing Son One, who does such things. So he stalked it, for several minutes, before realizing…

a) it was plastic

b) it was an alligator, not a common lizard,

c) it was missing two of its feet (likely a lawn-mower accident)

So he brought it inside. Of course I decided to place it under Son One’s pillow the next time he visited. (Gratifying yell of surprise.) Ali then showed up successively in…

a) the soap dish in the shower

b) my tin of Earl Grey

c) the Mate’s tin of coffee beans

d) my hiking boot

The hiking boot prank was especially good, because I was putting on that boot at the visitor center of Haleakala on Maui, last winter. So I sent Son One this photo of “Ali in Paradise”:

Later, he took a hula class and attended a luau.

From Maui we continued our Epic Journey to New Zealand, so there I took another photo of “Ali with Kiwi Mate”:

“Hey, it’s OK–I can’t fly either, mate.”

This past summer, both sons + Mate gathered in Vermont for a construction blitz on our cousins’ “new” old house. Ali flew there in a care package of cookies, to make a legendary appearance inside an ear of corn the Mate was shucking. (Sadly, no picture of that.)

Don’t know how Ali made it back to the Wet Coast, but he reappeared this past month, folded inside the ferry commuter ticket in our glove box. I decided Ali must have a special Christmas. So I stuffed him inside the yule log cake (Buche de Noel) I was creating.

In you go, lil’ guy!

Don’t eat too much whipped cream in there!

Of course I made sure that one of our sons got the “special” piece of cake. (Son One got the honor.)

Alligator? What alligator? Have a slice of Yule Log! Merry Christmas!

We actually borrowed this idea of family pranking from our Vermont cousins. They did the same thing with an evil-looking doll they called “Malice.” The idea of finding a creepy doll inside, say, one’s freezer, veers too close to heart-attack-land for my taste.

But a cute little alligator? All he does is make us laugh, and think of how much we enoy each other. 

Anyone else out there have an ongoing family prank to share? Anyone want to start 2018 with a new tradition? Be sure to take pictures!

Instant Vacation: The “Kids” Are Home

“Happy Thanksgiving!” “Merry Christmas!” I had a tough time keeping myself from calling out these greetings as I hiked with my family. Last Friday. January 15. But you can’t blame me for being confused. That was the day The Mate and I were having.

Sons One and Two (25 and 23) arrived in time for dinner Thursday night–a gift in itself, since we hadn’t expected them until the 9 pm ferry. For dessert we ate the leftover cake from my Mate’s birthday, which I’d been saving in the freezer. (This cake is SPECIAL: 15 layers and as tall as a tophat.)

The next morning I got up early and made our traditional Christmas morning Danish (from Holly B’s cookbook, of course). When the “boys” finally arose, it was time to open presents–okay, no stockings this year, but then we had no Christmas tree either. (I mean, it IS mid-January. I put lights on our houseplants.)

Dinner was full-on Thanksgiving: turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce (thanks to a friend who had some cranberries in her freezer–try buying ’em fresh in January!), roasted sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts, and Yorkshire pudding. (Yeah, sounds weird, but we like it better than stuffing.) We couldn’t quite face pie after all that rich food…but I made one next day, just ’cause.

Christmas Danish, baby.

Christmas Danish, baby.

‘Cause why? Vacation, that’s why! In my book, when you’re down to rare sightings of your offspring, ANY time with them becomes instant fun-time. Grocery shopping? Sure! Folding laundry? Absolutely! Our best time on this “holiday” weekend wasn’t even that hike; it was working together to make a new compost pit.

I don’t have any digital baby pics of our boys, and I don’t like to violate their adult privacy by posting current pics, so I’m compromising by posting one from 8 years ago. They look a bit different now. 🙂

Gotta grab those precious moments while you can...sometimes literally.

Gotta grab those precious moments while you can…sometimes literally.

So, did I get any writing work done since my last post? How ’bout choosing that new blog theme?

That’s a big fat No. Do I care? An even fatter, happier, more grateful No. Merry Thanksmas!

That Annual Thanksgiving List We All Love to Write

Pretend you’re in third grade. It’s the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and your teacher just gave you That Assignment.

Now pretend it was your idea all along. With me? Let’s do this. Here’s mine:

This year I am thankful for…

…the good health of my family, myself, and most of my loved ones.

…the communal strength, love and support that continues to go out to those in need of it.

…the power of Nature’s everyday beauty that she keeps surprising me with (Spiderweb! Lichen! Wing of thrush!)

…really DARK chocolate

…the way gardening and eating local food is re-awakening in America

…my amazing amalgam of work, which allows me to get my hands sticky, get paid, interact with lovely people, and still retire to the quiet of my writing bench

…those hard-working folks still teaching and nursing and fixing pipes FULL TIME (y’all know who you are; I am so grateful to you–please let me make you pie!)

…friends who push me to improve my Spanish and my guitar-playing.

…mis hijos. Los dos.

…my Mate. Always. Always. But somehow, after 37 years–increasingly.

So...freakin...grateful!!!!!

So…freakin…grateful!!!!!

Know what? I could do this all day. How ’bout you? What’s at the top of your gratitude list? HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

PS–don’t forget to #optoutside this Black Friday!

 

Grandparenting Practice: Bring it On!

The Mate and I are not grandparents–unless you count our grandsnake (although Son One gave him to a school a couple of years ago). Or the grandgarden Son Two planted at our place this summer. Maybe I should just say, we don’t have any grandkids…yet, anyway. (No pressure, guys. Really. No, REALLY.)

But this is all the more reason why I’m looking forward to joining my Mate down in the Bay Area this weekend. Yesterday he flew down there to see his nephew through hip replacement surgery. I’m joining him this weekend. Oh, the nephew’s not that tough a patient. It’s just that he’s the dad of two year-old twins.

Two year-old. Twins.

Said nephew’s wife keeps telling us how happy she is that we’re coming. And I actually believe her. Did I mention she has two year-old twins?

Lucky for us, they are SUPER CUTE. Oh, I know they’ll probably be pretty shy at first. We might just end up doing errands and cooking for the time that we’re there, or taking care of Dad while Mom takes care of kiddos. We are thrilled to be able to finally participate in something we’ve always watched from afar: being there to help our adult “kids” take care of their kids. A.k.a., grandparenting.

016

Except for one grandma, my family was always strictly nuclear, no extended family around. I always felt a little envy when I heard my friends say, “Oh, we’re just leaving ’em at grandma’s for the weekend,” or, “Oh, my folks’ll stop by to help.”

Now we get to be the “folks.” And I can’t wait!

How many of you have played the grandparent role for your family members, or had them do it for you? Would love to hear.

 

When California is Even Better than the Dreamin’: America’s Incredible Backyard and the joy of hanging with your adult kids

Road Trip IV, Days 5-9: Oakland to Los Angeles, via Santa Cruz and Big Sur.

I have only two points to make, then I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

#1: Even with all the movies and car ads and calendars I’ve seen in my life, I was not expecting Big Sur.

We spent 10 days biking around islands in Greece last fall and never saw anything this beautiful. It is RIGHT HERE. It costs almost nothing to get to. There is no admission fee (ok, a $10 day use, but we saw plenty of cars avoiding that by parking on the road). There is no platinum class that gets to cut ahead in line. Everyone can walk and look, or just drive and look.
It is beauty on a huge, American, democratic scale.

20140217-151156.jpg

#2: Even though they were great guys growing up and everyone says nice things about them as young adults, The Mate and I are still overwhelmed by how wonderful it is to camp with our adult sons.

All we’ve done is walk or drive or sit around the picnic table together, eating and drinking, playing guitar, playing Farkle, and we’ve been about to bust into tears of joy the entire time.

My conclusion: family love is like the scenery at Big Sur. Sometimes just being there is enough. More than enough.

I would love to hear from you. What place of simple, accessible beauty has taken you by surprise? What simple, accessible joy has done the same?

20140217-152619.jpg

20140217-154241.jpg

20140217-154614.jpg

Moo-rry Cow-ristmas: Letting Holiday Traditions Evolve

We’ve added a new tradition to our family Christmas: cow-catching.

Following the special breakfast, which I’d gotten up early to bake, and the gift-opening, which didn’t take that long since there are only four of us and we’re all adults now (despite the fact that my husband and I can still be pretty immature), and the mid-morning hike, and the preliminary, early-afternoon dinner prep, Son #2 and I took our dog for a walk. When we returned, we found cows in our front yard.

Lucy 1
Two of ’em. Well, one cow and one steer. (Hey, I’m a country girl, I know my farm animals.) Basic black–at least from a distance. Up close, the female turned out to be much more stylish. Her back was a nice russet color, her udder nearly white, and she sported a gorgeous red topknot–or would that be a cowlick?–on her forehead. We named her Lucy. Her escort, the steer, was a little plainer, and more shy. Bo, we decided. Bo kept his distance while Lucy accepted the carrot we fed her and licked our hands with her giant tongue.

My little family sprang into action. While I made phone calls to neighbors, then the sheriff, trying to determine if anyone knew whose cows these were, husband procured rope and Son #1 hid it behind his back while #2 distracted Lucy with another carrot. Soon she was tied to a handy telephone pole. (No attempt was made to capture Bo. Hey, we’re Washingtonians, not Texans. Real roping? Forget it.)

Unfortunately all our neighborliness went for naught. Despite someone from the sheriff’s office assuring me they’d find someone to “take care of it,” no one called us back. When darkness fell, we decided we couldn’t leave poor Lucy tied up all night, so we let her loose to find the feckless Bo, who’d ditched her. (I heard ’em walk past our bedroom window last night, so I guess she did, then returned hoping for another carrot snack.)

Lucy 2

We don’t have many Christmas traditions, we Wings. Extended family is too far away to visit, and we’re a pretty pagan bunch, so The Church of the Great Outdoors is where we go to “worship.” We always go for a hike or at least a walk, even if it’s raining sideways like a couple of years ago. Here are our others:

Preparing food, then eating it, that’s a biggie. (This year, Son #2 made the chocolate pecan pie; I was so proud!)

Playing silly games like Yahtzee or Bananagrams–check.

Watching dumb movies on TV–check. Last night we switched back and forth between Pirates of the Caribbean III and Ocean’s 13.

Calling far-flung family members and friends–check.

Ummm…guess that’s about it. I know I could feel more sentimental or nostalgic about our lack of special traditions. We don’t have special dishes that we use only on Christmas, or a special grace to say. We don’t even have one special meal that we always have.

We just enjoy each other’s company. That’s our tradition, and it evolves beautifully with our evolving ages. (The four of us now total 163 years, if that tells you anything.) These days both boys have been playing a lot of guitar, teaching each other new chords and strums. Who knows what it will be next year? More cows? Sheep, pigs? Bring ’em on. As long as we can catch them TOGETHER, it’ll be plenty traditional for me.

What about you? What are your favorite holiday traditions? Any new ones evolving? Do share!