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. 🙂

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.

See Otter? No–SEA Otter! (So What?)

You know those times when you get so ridiculously excited about something you just have to blurt to the first person you see?

(If no…I gotta say, congrats on your self-restraint, but really? Try it sometime.)

I had one of those the other day. Rushing back down the path from the gorgeous portion of National Monument that is my backyard, I met a stranger walking my way. “I saw a sea otter! Keep an eye out for it!” I blurted.

He gave me what felt like a patronizing look–and I should know, having given plenty of those myself. “Those are river otters,” he said, kindly enough. “They’ve taken over the marine habitat, but they–”

River Otter: cute! (photo by R.A.Killmer, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

“No!” I interrupted. “I mean, yes, I know–you’re right, I’ve never seen a sea otter in these waters, but I just did!”

I went on to describe what I’d seen through my binocs (after zooming home and zooming back out again–don’t usually carry binocs on my walks): big creature, almost as long as a seal, floating on its back, flippery hind feet sticking straight out of the water, front paws on tummy, as though it were making itself into a floating tray. Silver face.

Sea otter: CUTER! (photo by Brian Wotherspoon, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The guy switched to Interest Mode and hastened down the path.

We don’t get many sea otters in the Salish Sea. In fact, in ten years of several-walks-per-week, I’ve NEVER seen one. Special as I felt, I wanted to find out exactly how rare they were. Here’s what I learned from an article posted July 2018 by Rob Ollikainen in the Peninsula Daily News:

Most sea otters are spotted off the Pacific Coast at places like Destruction Island and Cape Flattery, said Erin Gless, a naturalist with Island Adventures Whale Watching.

“A few individuals, however, seem to be exploring more inland waters,” Gless said in a Monday news release.

“While it’s too early to determine what’s bringing these sea otters in from the coast, their presence is encouraging.

Turns out the otter I saw–all by its lonesome, and it probably was, ’cause sea otters are super-social creatures–has already been adopted by some who’ve spotted it. According to this article and a couple of others I read, this guy is either “Ollie the Otter,” first spotted near Victoria in 2015, or else “Odin,” a one-eyed male seen more recently off San Juan Island. Since that’s much closer to me, I’m guessing Odin’s more likely–but I couldn’t quite see its eyes through my glasses. As for a close-up shot?

Let’s just say I’m considering buying a zoom lens for my phone.

By the end of the article, though, my excitement got its comeuppance.

Anne Shaffer, executive director of the Coastal Watershed Institute, which studies the ecology of the nearshore near the mouth of the Elwha River, said the recent sea otter sighting was interesting but not unusual.

“There are otters that are off our shore, off the central Strait, one or two a year,” Shaffer said Friday.

A semi-resident sea otter was known to be living off the San Juan Islands for years. An adult male was living in the south Puget Sound, Shaffer said.

“There certainly transit our shoreline but they’re not abundant,” Shaffer said.

“It’s an interesting observation but not necessarily ecologically astounding. But they’re cool animals.”

Well, excuuuuse me for being astounded. Cool animals are welcome to do that to me any day. I’m also constantly on the lookout for ANY good ecological news, and I reserve the right to receive this otter as exactly that.

Anyone else got an astoundingly-cool-animal-in-your-backyard story to share????

 

What Rhymes With Snow? Let’s Go! And…Ego.

The weatherati predicted an “additional five inches” of snow last night–heady words for this part of Washington, where we get excited by one or two. Turns out they lowballed it by…well, about 5 inches.

Even though morning’s my usual writing time, I was 100% down with flipping my schedule, chomping at the bit to get out there at first light and view the majesty.

Turns out I got even more than I’d bargained for.

Oh MY.

Jeez, if someone had mentioned the SUN was due out, I’d have gotten up even earlier!

Me, not thinking about work right now.

Once I’d wrung the last drops out of that sunrise, I headed out onto the public lands and got on with the serious business of Walking In Snow. On craggy rocks along a blustery shore. I paid careful attention to where I put my feet. And then it hit me: the REAL reason I felt so compelled to be the absolute FIRST person out on the snowy national monument that was my backyard: FOOTPRINTS.

You can relate, yes? That deep, I’m talking childhood-level, never-gonna-grow-up joy of being the first to–well, let’s be honest: to mess something up.

After a good hour, I faced a choice: keep going around one more small loop, or turn around.

Me: Hey, I’m plenty exercised. Got lots of work to do at home. Wouldn’t it be nice of me to leave one pristine stretch for some other snow-walker to leave her mark on?

Myself: Yes. Yes, it would. But, I mean, another 3/4 of a mile would be even better, right?

Me: It’s not mileage you’re worried about and you know it. It’s…

Myself: …footprints, yeah, yeah, I know. Can we go make some more? Can we? Just look at that whiteness!

Sooooo tempting…

Myself won.

Sorry, not sorry!

On my way home, the lyrics of my song “Eight Snow Angels” popped into my head. I think you can see why.

Eight Snow Angels

The snow’s a crystal carpet laid upon my lawn—

man, it really must’ve dumped last night.

Nothing but perfection everywhere you turn,     

and the hillside is a tempting page of white.

 

Days like this, you can’t resist that elemental urge:

get those snow boots on your inner child.

She’s been holed up all this dark gray winter long;

send her out to play, set her running wild.

 

Chorus 1:

Feels so good, feels so good

Feels so good to me.    x2

 

Now the snowy hill reads itself back to me,

glowing dimly in the sinking sun:

eight snow angels and a dirty footprint heart,                   

and my initials trampled on the damage done.

Chorus 2:

But it felt so good, felt so good,

Felt so good to me.

Eight snow angels and a footprint heart–

It felt so good to me.

 

Bridge:

Icicles are mounted like trophies for the pure,

but I just want to break ’em.

 (Why do I want to break ’em?

You can only win one by resisting their allure,

but still we want to take ’em.

 (Why do we want to take ’em?)

Maybe if I’m lucky it’ll snow again

and all my trespasses will be forgiven.                                       

Maybe I’ll restrain myself and let that beauty be—

 or at the very least, stop angeling at seven.

 

Chorus:

’Cause it felt so good, felt so good

Felt so good to me.

Eight snow angels and a footprint heart–

It felt so good to me.

Eight snow angels and a dirty footprint heart–

It felt so good to me.

Anyone got a good answer as to WHY messing up snow “felt so good to me”? I’d love to hear.

Eyes White Open: Count Me In

If you’re at all political, or even if you just like bookstores, you’ve probably seen these titles on the front shelves:  Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. Debby Irving’s Waking Up White. Nell Irvin Painter’s The History of White People. And this is just the books on whiteness BY Whites. There are plenty of others by Black authors, but obviously the vibe is different. We’re clearly in a moment where folks who’ve always considered themselves “the good White people” (like me!) are suddenly feeling the need to study, well–ourselves. Our assumptions. Our Whiteness.

On the titles above, I’m two down and one to go and I’d love to talk about any of them with anyone. But since it’s easier for books to sell themselves than podcasts, I want to throw a little love to this podcast, from my hometown of Durham, NC: Scene On Radio’s series, Seeing White.

If you prefer to get your Whiteness-awareness-raising in smaller, more varied chunks, I’d suggest starting the series from the beginning, where host John Biewen (White) and his friend/mentor Chenjerai Kumanyika (Black) explain what it means to “turn the lens” onto a “race” that’s never really seen itself as such, even while determining the very meaning of the word. I’ve listened to a dozen, and they’ve all been DEEPLY thought-provoking.

But the last one I listened to, My White Friends, really made me want to share. Here’s the premise: photographer Myra Greene, who is Black, got a handful of her White friends to pose for pictures in ways that push the viewer to ask, “What is the Whiteness of this photo?”

Like this photo of a friend who’s a public high school teacher. With, yep–a Subaru. (photo by Myra Greene)

You can see more of Ms. Greene’s exhibition here. Her photos got me thinking, what is the Whiteness of some of my own? Let’s try a few.

Well, I’m obviously out in a mountainside meadow. Wilderness, or at least the illusion of wilderness, is important to me. Is that a White thing? And I have gear: knee braces, a water pump. Good boots. REI Nation! I know they’re trying to reach out, but still–REI’s a pretty White store, am I right?

OK, here, I’m performing in public–in flip-flops and a skirt sewed out of old T-shirts! I was raised to believe informality was cool, inviting even. It would never have occurred to me that some folks might find this disrespectful of the audience.

One more?

And here I am, back in the wilderness…this time very far from home. And though you can’t tell from the photo, it was taken on a Monday in March–not a holiday, mind you, just a regular workday, when I got to be on vacation. In my REI gear. What’s the Whiteness of that, you ask? Layers upon layers of privilege, which I’m only now starting to acknowledge.

If you’re up for it, and you’re White, choose a photo of your own to describe. If you look, can you see your own Whiteness?

Hashtag Shoe-Bling, or, When Life Gets Too Heavy, Be Stupid

Ever have one of those weeks where every conversation feels so weighty, you wonder that you can’t count it as a workout? I’m having one of those: Impeachment, White Privilege, Climate Crisis, MeToo…oof. Never thought I’d turn to my blog for the purposes of lightening up–but that’s exactly what I’m doing now.

Or rather…lighting up.

No, I don’t mean smoking. Don’t you know me by now, people? I mean my FEET.

***bling!***

Yes, these are mine. (No, they don’t exactly fit my healthy-living, down-to-earth, thrift-shopping style, but then again, did I mention I own camo pants? They’re PANTS. And these are SHOES. Get over it.)

Here’s how I came to own these glitzy beauties. Fourth of July evening, the Mate and I were gathered with some friends in a field, ready to watch our island’s epic fireworks show. But while waiting, we were treated to a pretty phenomenal pre-show involving kids running around like gangbusters, waving glow-sticks and high-tossing some very cool gizmos that flashed and glowed while they twirled back to earth.

And then I saw him: the child with the Feet of Fire.

A blur of incandescent rainbow, that’s what his feet were as he ran. A breathtaking river of fairy-light. I couldn’t take my eyes off them…even though I wasn’t at all sure what I was seeing. “What,” I gasped, “am I seeing?”

Luckily my 20something friend did what 20something friends do: she googled “shoe lights.” A moment later I was looking at an ad for LED shoes–the kind where the LEDs go all the way around the sole, not just at the back of the shoe.

“They have ’em in grownup sizes,” she observed.

And now a shout-out to The Mate–usually a total stick-in-the-mud when it comes to fads. “You know,” he told me, “those would be great for your night rides.”

I looked at him, thinking, who are you and what have you done with my husband?     well hey now. “They’re probably ridiculously pricey,” I said.

“Thirty-four fifty,” my friend read from her phone.

The fireworks were AMAZING that night, maybe the best show ever. But lights were going off in my mind too.

Long story short: next day I ordered the magic footwear. They came in all colors, including sensible black, but you know what–if I’m getting flashy shoes, I want FLASHY shoes.

Now you see me…

So now when I hop on my bike at 3 a.m. for the long, dark ride to the bakery, I do so feeling like a queen, with Feet of Fire. No one gets to see ’em but the deer, and the oh-so-occasional passing car…but I like to think I’ve blown their minds when they do.

Oh, the ride home in daylight? Nowhere near so impressive. And I keep having to explain to people that they’re just SHOES that I bought for SAFETY. Because of course that’s the absolute, number-one reason.

…now you REALLY see me.

Anyone else ever made a ridiculous purchase that made you ridiculously happy? Do tell.

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.

 

 

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.