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 14-17, Fort Stockton to San Antonio to Galveston: Dear Ones in Texas

In this blog’s travel morph, I’ve never made a secret of my lack of love for Texas. I’m sure I’ve said some unkind things. That attitude, of course, comes back to bite me when I see a travelogue like this through the eyes of folks I love who happen to live there. So I’m going to avoid my negativity for once and just write about what’s been great about the past few days.

Hold up. Let me first get this out of my system: Fort Stockton contains no one I love, AND it doesn’t have a single bike path. So I’m not going to try & emphasize the positive about Fort Stockton, other than to say it offered us a comfy motel at the end of a long day’s drive from Arizona. If you’re reading this and you’re from Fort Stockton, please chime in with something cool about your town.

OK, on to San Antonio.

My older sister and her husband live on the outskirts, far enough away from the Riverwalk that we’re not tempted to go there. We’re family, not tourists. (And my sister’s dining room is the best restaurant in town anyway.) Along with catching up on family stuff and playing music with my bro-in-law, I’m always happy to cuddle their super-fluffy cats.

Starved for kitty love.

And THIS town has a bike path! Boy, does it ever.

Curvy and swoopy and green…A+.

Also, thanks to my sister’s tree, we are now the Sisterhood of the Traveling Avocados, Oranges AND Grapefruit! (not pictured ’cause I’ve been eating them in the car–sweeet) But here’s another cat picture instead.

Such…fluffy…feeeeet!

We only stayed one night in San Antonio because we’d timed our trip to Galveston to coincide with our friends’ weekend there.  We usually visit them in Dallas where they live (in Oak Cliff, Dallas’s cool side), but they’re just putting the finishing touches on a new condo in Galveston, the childhood Happy Place of one of them, and they invited us as inaugural guests.

Galveston? Where the heck is that anyhow? (asked Gretchen, about a month ago).

Oh! Okay. Thanks, Wikipedia.

According to our friends (also Wikipedia), it’s an island in the Gulf of Mexico, 27 miles long, no wider than 3 miles. It was practically wiped out in a hurricane in 1900 which killed over 6,000 people. More recently, Hurricane Ike did a ton of damage, but Galvestonians are a resilient bunch, and they love their town. One of my favorite parts of our stay there (other than walking on the endless beach) was biking through the old town, stopping to take pictures of pretty houses.

Ooooh.

The sunrise view from our friends’ condo:

Good morning!

The giant ships entering the harbor, bound for Houston, reminded me of the ones we used to live with during our 20 years in Tacoma. Here there are so many, they line up along the horizon waiting their turn to unload. At night the whole Gulf looks like it’s ringed with stars.

Big ship, and big pelican! I love those things.

Biking around, I kept thinking about seeing Ciudad Juarez across the Rio Grande as we’d passed through El Paso a couple of days earlier. Yes, the Mexican streets and houses look poor, in some places desperately so. But they are so colorful! Pink and green and blue and purple–as if to say, “C’mon, America–why you gotta be so DULL?” Well, Galvestonians are NOT dull.

Wish I had the nerve to paint my house that color.

Mardi Gras was last week. I kept running over beads with my bike wheels, and lots of decorations were still up.

The day was overcast. Imagine how this home would look in bright sunshine!

Must’ve been quite a party.

Take that, Nawleans.

Galveston also hosts a thriving fishing industry. My friend took this picture as I waited in line for gigantic shrimp. Moments later, when she stepped outside, they brought out the two-man-sized fish.

The day’s smaller catch.

If I were more of a beach person, I would have taken more pictures of the beach. Maybe. The best thing about THIS beach, for me? Walking and talking and sitting and talking and drinking wine and talking with my friend. (not pictured) So here’s another jaw-dropping house:

Daaaaang.

Our friends went to Mass on Sunday for the first time here (they’re still getting to know their new town) and came back jubilant at having discovered a vibrant, extremely multi-racial, multi-ethnic congregation. Another warm fuzzy for Galveston. Maybe I just need to spend more time in all Texas’s towns? Well…all the ones with places to bike in, anyhow.

I don’t feel bad about the opinions I have about Texas which are related to its history and current dominant politics. I do feel bad if anyone I love who lives there feels like I love them less because they live there. And for those other loyal Texans whom I don’t know…please tell me more cool stuff about where you live. I’m trying not to have a Texas-sized ego about this. 🙂

This Means War: My Neighbor Food-Gift Arms Race

It started with lettuce. You can’t freeze the stuff, right? Or bake with it, or make lettucesauce or lettuce jam. It’s just…lettuce. And there’s only so much salad two people can eat.

So I brought a bag to the neighbors. They were grateful.

Next week I brought some more, plus some arugula. Same story. Except Neighbor Rick mentioned they were going crabbing and would bring us some if they got lucky.

For a time, they didn’t. Meanwhile, I brought them more lettuce.

Then the crabs found their way into Neighbor Rick’s pots.* He brought us two–cooked and cleaned. We dined in ecstasy. And I brought them a small bowl of raspberries.

[One of my favorite sayings is, “I don’t want a ____, I just want a friend with a _____.” In this case: boat, pot, crab license.]

Couple days later: two more crabs. “I work at a bakery,” I told Rick. “Can I bring you some treats?” But no–Rick and family are trying to stay away from those kind of temptations. Curses! Nothing for it but to bring more raspberries.

Then Neighbor Rick upped his game. “We’re gettin’ a buncha crab now, gonna make some gumbo,” he told us. “Can we bring you a little?”

We were imagining a wee side dish for our dinner, and we were excited for that. But when Rick came over with the gumbo…well.

Unfortunately, I did not think to take a picture of the beautiful domed island of white rice, sprinkled with spices, rising from a sea of okra, tomatoes, shrimp, chicken, andouille sausage, fish, with four more crab-halves dangling their claws over the edge of the dish. But here’s what the leftovers looked like the second night:

This is only about a third of the leftover crabmeat…

…which is also when Neighbor Rick dropped off the rack of “extra” baby back ribs, barbecued in a marionberry sauce. This time I remembered to take a picture.

So…full…but it still makes my mouth water!

At that point I FORCED him to take home a fresh baguette from my bakery, and a bowl of truffle balls from my freezer.

If we don’t achieve some kind of detente soon, I may forget how to cook. But I see no end in sight. And me with no zucchini!

It’s August. Anyone have a food-gifting story to share? (I still have raspberries.)

Road Trip VII, Days 29-31: Down ‘n’ Out in Estes Park, Colorado–NOT

Getting sick sucks. Getting sick on vacation in Estes Park, Colorado, gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park? That’s a bit harder to sound-byte.

Pretty sweet spot for a town, right?

On the one hand, I couldn’t do my usual racing-around-seeing-things stuff. Hiking? Noooo.  Biking? Also a no, thanks. Shopping–nope. And it’s hard to get excited about discovering restaurants when you’ve lost your appetite.

But on the other: I’m on VACATION. I get to lie around and not feel pressured about all the work I’m not getting done! What could be more fitting?

Even better, attitude-wise: getting sick when you’re vacationing with a friend with a scary heart condition.

The one hike I did manage, at 9,000-ft. altitude, had me gasping for breath and walking in slo-mo. Which is exactly what our friend does ANY day he hikes at altitude.

Pretending I don’t feel like curling up for a nap

So, Gretchen’s pity-party was swiftly cancelled. I spent the rest of the weekend soaking up scenery from the car or the window of our rented cabin, and soaking up friendship.

Long’s Peak–a LONG way away, thanks to the miracle of telephoto

Rocky Mountain hiiiiigh….from my car window….

Oh, and that friendship that was in danger of being tested by sports fanaticism? The sports gods were kind to me: our friends’ UCLA Bruins lost on Friday while our beloved North Carolina Tarheels won, so we all cheered together on Sunday as the Heels advanced to the Final Four. Just so you know. 🙂

Thanks, Nature. I needed that.

It’s a lesson I can’t seem to learn too often: compassion and gratitude beat back self-pity every time.

Vaterland, Ich Komme: My Excuse For a 2-week De-blogification

Anyone else out there have a special childhood home-away-from home nestled deep in their hearts? Mine is southern Germany. Die Schwartzwald. The Black Forest. Because I am one of the luckiest creatures alive, I got to spend a large portion of my childhood there, inside what still feels like a fairy tale.

Here’s how that came about. My zoologist father had a zoologist counterpart at a German university, who came to North Carolina one summer to follow Monarch butterflies. He brought along his little daughter. She was eight, I was seven. I lived on a farm with horses. We’ve been pretty much sisters ever since.

From 1969 through 1975, we mostly alternated summers at my place and her place. Only where “my place” constituted a fairly rag-tag compound of pastures, horse stalls and goat pens, “her place” was…this:

(courtesy bo.de)

(courtesy bo.de)

Gotta admit, that’s not my photo–last time I was there was eight years ago, when I did not yet own a digital camera. My friend’s folks have passed on, and the mansion’s sold now. But, as you can tell, she was part of an old, wealthy family. Besides this “house,” there was an adjoining one for caretakers (once upon a time, servants), a formal rose garden, a botanical garden of rare trees, and acres and acres of fruit orchards and berry fields. Not to mention the deep, black forest surrounding the creek below the house, where she and I would play our days out by the barn she built for her (plastic) horses.

If that weren’t enough, a mile’s walk down the hill took us into this adorable Dorf, or village, where we bought the day’s wurst und brot, always saying “Guten Tag!” as we entered each shop:

(courtesy Wikimedia)

(courtesy Wikimedia)

When I first came to the Pacific Northwest, my soul instantly connected with its dark forests and bright fields, its mountains and berries and soft skies. I’m convinced some of that was my inner child happily calling out to its habitat–“Hallo! Wie geht’s?” (Well, and there’s also the ocean, and Mt. Rainier, and I like our political system better. And Germans don’t make good sushi.)

My friend still lives in Germany, and we’ve stayed in touch over the past decades. (I call her my “longest friend”–we’re not THAT old!) In these next two weeks, The Mate and I are journeying back to see her. Our plan is to kidnap her and take her traipsing through the Bavarian and Swiss Alps for a week or so. (You know, that civilized kind of European hiking where you walk a few miles up to a high mountain valley, then sit down to a terrific beer. Forget trail mix–I’ll have a schnitzel.)

So, I’ll be back in Wing’s World in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, picture me here, with my Mate and my Longest Friend:

Beer in sight! (courtesy Wikimedia)

Beer in sight! (courtesy Wikimedia)

But if you’d like to share the special place where YOUR heart resides, if it’s somewhere different than where your body is–I would love to know.