The Golden Rock from a distance.

Our day was primarily travel. We are aimed for the Golden Rock, or Kyaikityo Pagoda, well outside of Yangon. We are planning a trip up the mountain to see the balanced rock at sunrise. In the meantime, our goal was simply to get here. From what I read prior to the trip, there is little else to do out here aside from visit the rock.

From the hostel this morning, we walked 10 minutes to a travel agency and bought bus tickets for the day. To get there we passed through a marvelous market just steps from the hostel that we had no idea was there. I just LOVE these markets. They are so crammed with activity. People, food, rickshaws, trucks, and dogs, all jumbled together in this kind and warm environment where everyone is looking out for each other and ready to laugh together in a shared experience. I believe this loving community must be how no one dies amidst the ruckus.

Unlike my previous experience of east Asia, in Japan, here people stare directly at you and fully engage in acknowledging your presence on the street. A truck honks from behind, one of us yelps in surprise, and three or four people nearby laugh with us. A woman carrying a large tray of fried shrimp and spinach cakes tells me she likes my sarong. Her face is covered in the yellowish-white Thanaka lotion that most women and many men wear. Children, beautiful beautiful children – I can’t even express how beautiful they are to me with their dark hair and enormous eyes and trusting, open stares – wave and smile. These people are loving toward each other, often laughing, often with their arms around each other: men, women, adults, children, makes no difference. I have relaxed my own careful observance of others’ personal bubbles and reach out and touch people when I speak to them here, the same way I would with my friends at home. Only these are strangers, and they are completely comfortable with physical closeness.

Woman prepares betel leaf with Areca nut.

I haven’t mentioned the betel leaf that we see constantly. I have read about it often enough that when I saw it for the first time, I guessed right. Among the vendors of toys and food is always someone with a tray of leaves. They lay out the leaves, spread a thick white creamy liquid across them, sprinkle some kind of spice, then drop some chopped crumbles of the Areca nut. The leaves are wrapped up into a little packet. I haven’t seen anyone put one in their mouth, but I assume the whole thing goes into the mouth. Betel nut is a mild stimulant, like tobacco, and people keep it in their mouths and spit out the red juice. People who chew it have bright red mouths and teeth. Sidewalks are stained with great red splashes. The walls in toilet stalls are stained with red. Nearly all of our taxi drivers have opened the door and spit during a pause in traffic.

After we purchased tickets, we said goodbye to our lovely hosts at the hostel and walked out to the main road. We knew we were headed north, so we crossed the street to catch a taxi northbound vs. southbound. Crossing streets here is always an adventure, but we are getting used to it. Rarely are there crosswalks, and always there is congestion. In Yangon there are so many large vehicles that it catches our attention. Large, like USA large, and not something I’m used to seeing outside of the US. Very few motorbikes or bicycles, and way more vehicles than the infrastructure is prepared for. It’s always bumper to bumper and painted lanes are more of a suggestion than a rule. Someone tired of waiting might pull out into the oncoming traffic lane if no one is coming, in order to pass several vehicles and then cut back into the proper lane when oncoming traffic shows up.

Anyway, crossing a road is an adventure because one must walk right into the street and make a path. Just wait for a bit of a space between cars and go. People tend to wait and cross in clusters (safety in numbers!). It’s best when the cars have come to a halt because of a light, or simply because of congestion. Then people walk with no fear at all, bicycles, women holding hands of toddlers, weaving in between vehicles to get through. At first it’s unnerving, but after only three days, I’m so relaxed about it. Just step right into moving traffic, and everything kind of flows around. No one gets concerned. And voila! Soon enough you’re on the other side.

A taxi pulled over immediately and we asked him to take us to the bus station. It’s supposed to be a two hour drive. This man got us there in an hour and 15 minutes. Margaret was having a heart attack and I finally told her to stop watching! Me, I was having so much fun. The driving is simply astounding, the way vehicles swerve and merge and slow and speed up. I was constantly delighted. Our driver took multiple shortcuts, such as through the University of Yangon campus, to get around stalled traffic.

This wins the prize for craziest bus station.

Market behind busses.

You can see Margaret in there, waiting for the bus.

Thus, we arrived at our bus station with two hours to kill. This is the craziest bus station I have ever seen, and I’m guessing it will hold that top spot for years. It looks as though many bus companies all have their offices side by side in a big square, all facing the center. As we had already seen in Yangon, vendors set up their stalls anywhere people might walk, which is an excellent business plan you have to admit. People walk through, busses occasionally drive through, honking to warn the people to get out of the way. So imagine a giant “U” of shop fronts that belong to a menagerie of bus companies. Then imagine a bus parked in front of them all, making a smaller U. And out at the front of the busses are some vendors, but between the busses and the buildings is a regular market. There are kiosks set up, and walking vendors carrying their wares will thread their way through.

Even though I ate all of my breakfast at the hostel, I was hungry. I wandered around and bought some cookies at a small shop, then bought some more green mango with chili powder. Out here the chili powder is coarser and you can identify the chili seeds, unlike downtown where it really is just powder. Yesterday we had purchased some avocados on the train, and I put the leftover chili powder on the avocado, which was delicious. I ate some roasted peanuts. Finally I felt full.

Our bus took off at noon. Another nice thing about a super friendly country: they look after you. At one point a kid came up to Margaret and me and told us it was time to get on the bus. He took my bag and stowed it, then asked for our ticket, which I showed him (written in Burmese so the information it held was lost to me). The boy led us to our seats on the bus. I was oblivious the whole time, but this kid was not an employee, just an entrepreneur. He wanted a tip and Margaret was at least savvy enough to figure that out. She gave him a few hundred Kyats (which is mere coins in US dollars).

The plane ticket to get to Myanmar was expensive. But balancing that out is that everything is unbelievably inexpensive once you arrive. Our rooms are cheap, food is cheap, transportation is cheap. Each day Margaret and I settle up the day’s expenses. We are splitting costs, but often in the moment it makes sense for one or the other of us to pay for both, like a taxi ride. It inevitably arrives at something like this, “Ok, I owe you 2500 kyats, let’s call it $2.”

Kin Pun is small and clean, with mountains in the background!

The bus ride was comfortable and clean and not that adventurous other than vendors selling stuff during stops. It’s still a bit weird for me: a guy hawking boiled eggs, for example. Chicken eggs and quail eggs, going down the cramped bus, selling eggs to people for a snack. At one point the bus stopped and everyone got off. We had to ask other tourists what was going on. “Lunch stop!” we were told by the Germans. “How was Yangon?” asks Simon, from Denmark. BTW, every tourist seems to speak English. It makes me embarrassed.

We arrived, and Margaret carried her backpacks while I dragged my bag (I am clearly not as cool as the other tourists) less than a mile to our hotel. The town of Kin Pun is small and clean with red dirt. It feels more like home than the big stinky city of Yangon.

The Golden Sunrise Hotel is gorgeous. Landscaped and classy, with no trash in sight. The staff is all fluent in English. This is more English than I’ve heard since I arrived. I’m feeling distinctly spoiled.

Our rooms are here, on the second floor.

View from my room.

Restaurant on the grounds

Entrance lit up at night.

We are going to meet in the lobby at 5:30 am to pick up a boxed breakfast and then we will walk into town and find the “truck station,” where we will get a ride up the mountain to the balanced rock in time for 6:30 am sunrise. It’s a lot of time, effort, and expense to see a rock. Margaret likened it to Mount Rushmore, which I think is apt. The attraction itself is amazing. But the time, effort, and expense to get there is significant. And once you’ve seen the display, there is nothing left but to go home.

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Who am I to turn down a willing Valentine on Valentine’s Day?

I like what I did with yesterday’s theme: boiled it down to two highlights. Today I’ll do the same. While the day was long and filled with adventure, the two things we will remember the most are running after a train (and the 30 minute stop at a tiny town) and camel affection at the zoo.

The Circle Train in Yangon gets its name because the tracks circle the city, with a few little branches of tracks leading off from the circle. You can get on and off at any point, but if you choose to remain for the entire loop, it’s a three-hour journey. The draw of the train is that it is old (character!) and that you get a good look at the area. It costs a whopping 15 cents. We knew our hostel friends, S and A (the two guys who recommended Chinatown yesterday) were planning to ride the train today so we asked them at breakfast, and they graciously welcomed us along.

We found the train station without too much trouble, and settled down to wait for the right train. Rickety old trains passed through every few minutes. One of the local people waiting asked if we were taking the circle train and we said yes. As one train approached, the same person stood up to board the train and told us, while pointing, “circle train!” indicating that we should board it as well.

“This is it?” we asked, not sure if we had waited long enough for the right one. “Oh yes,” we were assured. We asked a couple of others, and got enthusiastic nods and smiles.

Ok, here’s one thing I’ve learned in Myanmar so far: the people nod and smile and say yes even when they have no idea what you’re talking about. So, the train slows down and the four of us get up, a little hesitantly. We asked a few more people “Circle train?” “Yes, yes,” we were assured. Someone spotted some Western-looking tourists getting off the train, and asked them. English was not their first language, but it seemed like they understood the question because they also smiled and nodded and said “yes!” So we came to the consensus that it was the correct train as the train was pulling away from the stop.

Obviously the next thing to do was start running!

Margaret and I had the best shoes. Holding our backpack and camera and water bottles to keep them from bouncing away, we ran and leapt onto the high steps. Friendly hands already on board reached down and pulled us up and into the train. I was SO grateful! With joy at having made it, we glanced down the car to find our companions. S had made it, but outside the train, we saw A still running, in his flip-flops, beside the train. He had tossed his water bottle on board, and ran to catch up with the doorway. He, too, had to leap toward the arms outstretched, and was pulled on board as the train continued gathering speed.

“In retrospect,” says A later, “That was probably not a smart thing to do. But I never ran to catch a moving train before!” He grinned and we all grinned, agreeing that it was a first for all of us, and that it was the best adventure of the day already, and only 9 am.

Every train stop was lined on both sides with vendors like these.

Commerce at another train stop.

This young man (his mother sits there at the side) begged his mother for money to buy me a treat.

This effervescent hoodlum jumped off the train each time it slowed for a stop. The train would pass him, and then when it began to move again, he would jump back on, then come back to our car.

A scene from the train

While on the train, I was having a great time. Like yesterday, we were treated like celebrities, with many people smiling and saying “Hello! Hi!” and waving at us. Aside from that, the scenery was a constant delight. The places we saw were often dirty, smelly, structurally unstable, and I loved it all. Trash everywhere, napping dogs, flies buzzing, multicolored fabrics on men and women. Vendors on the train walked through selling avocados, strawberries, fried potatoes, bottled water, eggs, sliced mango with a kind of chili powder. Smiles and smiles. I can’t help myself. I don’t know where I got this vibe on this particular trip, but I am happy and relaxed and everything I see makes my smile wider.

One boy took a shine to me beginning before boarding the train. He continued to stare once on the train. We shared a few moments during the trip, while watching things happen on and off the train, though we couldn’t communicate much without a language between us. He ran over to his mother at one point and begged some money off her. He then went to a woman creating meals from the goods piled on a great tray, balanced on her head, that she had carried into our car. She prepared a dish for him and he brought it directly to me. I have been reluctant to eat the food on the street here, sticking mainly with fresh fruits and vegetables. I am not judging the food, I am only worried that if I eat too locally, I’ll get sick. I was torn. The boy held the dish up to me and I wouldn’t take it. I could see the disappointment in his eyes and I felt so bad. I really wanted to taste it. Heck, I wanted to eat it all up. But I’ve been sick in another country and I wasn’t willing to take the risk. So, I took one bite. It was *delicious!* Sort of a savory salad type dish with crunchy garbanzos on it. I handed it back to the boy and he sadly began to eat it himself.

The next adventure was an hour later, when we realized the train had not curved around the circle, but continued due north. Not knowing what to do, we jumped off the train at a stop that turned out to be someplace called Industrial Zone, almost to Shwepyitha. It’s a tiny little community with dirt streets and simple homes and businesses. After talking with the person at the train station, S informed us that the train we left would go all the way to the end of the track, then come directly back, and it would be the next train to come through. We would just pick it up again and head back to Yangon!

None of us wanted to go the full 3 hours on the train in any case, so this actually worked out perfectly. We had a 30 minute break from the train, so we wandered the industrial zone town. The towns people treated us very well. When I went to purchase a cucumber from a woman at one shop, she wouldn’t let me pay. At one spot we watched boys playing some kind of sport with a hard ball bounced off their bare feet and heads, played roughly like volleyball. Our walk was shady and pleasant, and we had a chance to chat about each others’ lives.

Train station where we disembarked

S, A, and Margaret walking from the train station into town.

Dirt streets of the town.

Friendly smiles when they see we are foreigners.

A young man returns the ball with a head shot.

We got back on the train without having to chase it this time, and rode the hour back to Yangon. From there, we parted ways with A and S, who had been a whole lot of fun and the perfect partners for chasing a train.

The main Yangon train station was close to the Shangri-La hotel, so we went back there and sat in the air conditioning and had lunch and some refreshing Myanmar beer. Then we walked to the zoo. Conscious that we may get pagoda’d out by the end of this trip, we have already been scanning the maps for things other than pagodas to see.

The beak on this bird was tremendous.

We decided this one looked prehistoric.

Margaret and the deer check each other out.

The zoo, like the rest of the town, was rather run down and had piles of trash in all the unused areas. But it was a pretty good zoo for all that, if you can overlook the fact that it’s a zoo, and the animals mostly lived on dirt and concrete. We were lucky and it was feeding time for many of the animals. I saw more animal activity than I’m used to seeing at zoos. They had a nice variety of big and small critters, and I appreciated that most of them were from the region.

Beautiful hippos, up close and personal.

White Tiger eating chicken for lunch.

Visitors fed the elephants.

I just loved this camel.

The sun began to drop in the sky and it was time to head back to the hostel. We were totally exhausted and conversation was quiet as we made our way home. We made bus plans for the following day’s pagoda trip, and dropped to sleep.

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

We walked a good portion of Yangon today, but the highlights were the Shwedagon Pagoda complex and the street vendors in Chinatown.

This morning after a lovely breakfast at Ten Mile Hotel, we took a cab into the city from the area around the airport. It was a long drive and I was grateful that we had not tried to come all that way last night after our flights, and rather found a room near the airport. We only managed to get into our beds by 1:30 am local time as it was.

Anyhow, now we have two nights at the Pickled Tea Hostel. It is very close to the Shwedagon Pagoda, and that was our first stop after checking in and unloading our bags. Margaret brought along a lightweight sarong to wrap around when it was pagoda time and otherwise wore a sort of tennis skirt. I decided to wear one of the sarongs that I brought, since it is heavy fabric and would be bulky to carry. I am not used to wearing sarongs, and while it was comfortable enough, seriously restricted my stride – that long skirt. And it was much more fabric than I needed, so it wrapped around twice and kept me toasty warm on this 90 degree day.

The road to our hostel.

Entrance to the pagoda. There are a few shrines on the complex built of mosaic mirrors, like the one on the right.

The mirror tiles kept fascinating me.

Yeah. No, seriously. I could not get enough of the mirror buildings.

A view of the many pointy tops surrounding the pagoda.

Again, shoe problems like last year. It’s hot so I’m not in my boots, and boots are practically all I wear at home. So I went with flip flops instead, but soon my feet were rubbed raw. Flip flops are not good for miles and miles of walking. So I stopped at a vendor’s shop and bought different sandals, that didn’t rub between my toes like the flip flops. But by the end of the day (we guessed we walked six miles or so), my feet have blisters from those too. So, despite the heat and the wardrobe of skirts, I am going to stick to hiking shoes. They won’t match my clothes but I’ll be able to walk. Wish me luck on the blisters healing somewhat before our three-day hike to Inle Lake coming up.

Green dude.

The Buddha

Burmese people are so excited to see us! They ask for photos with us.

Once we agree to have our photos taken with someone, others notice and come and get in line. Hilarious.

Ok! So what did we walk to, if we did so much walking?

First of all, the Shwedagon Pagoda. It’s a huge complex with multiple pagodas and tons of little shrines and some big shrines and statues and holy places and bells. Enormous place. We could have spent the entire day there if we had wanted to see every single Buddha statue and every piece of fascinating architecture. The main pagoda houses eight hairs from Siddhartha Buddha, along with relics from the previous three buddhas as well. Presently it is 326 feet high, and apparently grows a little bit more each time someone restores and re-guilds it.

We had to cover up our legs and remove shoes (and socks!) to enter the pagoda. Under the beating sun, we were quick learners, and I can now tell at a glance which tiles will scald bare feet, and which are better to walk on.

Lots of very hot tiles and no shade.

A look down at the entrance while we were up on top.

Brand new monks

Bang a gong

The architecture of the temples and shrines and pagodas is remarkable.

Love that deep red against the gold.

Here there be dragons

Then we walked into the center part of the city of Yangon. We stopped at several markets. The BoGyoke Market is a main attraction, so we visited there and were less than impressed after the fun markets in Santiago we visited last winter. Next to it was the “new market,” so we visited that one as well. Both were well-organized, serious places to shop. You could purchase calendars, rolls of fabric, eyeglasses, batteries, prescription drugs, bras, shoes. Sure, you could get anything there, and it was all under one roof, but …eh, we were bored. There was also a classy modern mall, that we went into, and it was no different from a mall in the states. We mostly went into that one for the air conditioning.

By this time we were suffering from heat and fatigue, so we went into the Shangri La, a high-end hotel and dropped into the bar for some cocktails and more air conditioning. To our surprise, other visitors at our same hostel came in a few minutes after we were settled. They had just come from chinatown and recommended it. So after our rest, we headed that direction.

Pigeons loaded the wires here, interested in the food below.

Some of the food looked so good it was hard to walk past without sampling.

Lanterns strung in the sky in Chinatown for New Year’s celebrations.

Crowded is maybe an understatement. Yes, that is a vehicle driving through.

Vegetables

Meat

Your choice of tasties. (Look at the little kid behind the vendor. Can you believe I missed that shot?!)

Not much capitol investment required to get this small business up and running.

It was an excellent choice. The decorations are going up for Chinese New Year’s celebrations. The place was swarming, but I get the impression that it’s business as usual. Margaret and I wandered up and down narrow, canyon-like streets crammed with vendors until dusk. The food vendors were the most interesting.

Finally we walked our long walk home. We passed the Shwedagon pagoda again, this time lit up at night, but we photographed it from a distance since we were not going to pay the entrance fee again.

Fountain lit up at night.

Killing time in the Hong Kong airport.

Margaret and me in San Francisco

I just checked into my room in Yangon, Myanmar (Burma) with my girlfriend Margaret. You’ll remember her from the trip to Chile last winter.

I’ve been traveling since yesterday, and I’m exhausted and it’s 1:35am Tuesday local time and 11:05am (what’s with the different minutes?) Monday back home and I’ll try to keep this short.

Margaret and I flew different flights on different airlines, so it was a delight to bump into her in the San Francisco airport! We had enough time to share some chatter and hugs and lunch and then we went our separate ways. She arrived in Yangon before I did, and sat on the other side of the glass, periodically waving at me while I stood in line for a half an hour to get through customs.

Saw a lot of this today. A lot a lot. One flight was over 15 hours long. Ugggggg

…but luckily modern planes have tons of media to help kill the time. I just love this feature that tells me where I am. And also, you can see I’m charging my phone at my seat. SO convenient!

Our hotel is wonderful. It’s warm here but not miserable. I’ll certainly be able to sleep. And honestly. Sleep is the main thing on my mind. Our plan is to explore Yangon (formerly Rangoon) and then slowly make our way northward. I’ll fly home from Mandalay in a couple weeks. Margaret will be traveling for 90 days! I can hardly wait to see this country and bring you along with me!! I’ll blog when I can.

The approach to San Francisco early in my trip.

In a hub terminal of the Hong Kong airport.

Birthday berry tart with ice cream and a candle!

I celebrated for five days in a row this year. I think I deserve it. 😉

My birthday was Tuesday, but I took a few days off work and began the reveling on the Saturday before.

First up was an overdue visit to my friend Vladimir in St. Johns, a neighborhood of Portland. We went out walking and he steered me directly into the path of some scrumptious samosas at The Sudra. St. Johns is most famous for its green gothic suspension bridge, of which I did not take a decent photo here, but you get the idea. It is stunning, and after Vlad and I ate lunch, we continued our walk then crossed the bridge over and back in the sun.

I bid my friend adieu, then hopped into the Jeep and sped off northward to Seattle, to visit my brother Ian and his girlfriend Karen, for the weekend. Ian had smoked some pork and Karen prepared an array of sides like multi-coloured carrots with a glaze. When I arrived, dinner was just about ready and we chatted and drank wine for hours.

The St. Johns Bridge from near Vlad’s place.

Looking toward Portland from the St. Johns Bridge.

Looking toward the community of St. Johns from the bridge west of Portland.

A treehouse we passed on our way toward the bridge.

Sunlight on the bridge.

They put me up for the night, as always, in their guest bedroom that looks out toward the Space Needle, Seattle’s most famous landmark. I thought that something looked dreadfully wrong with the Needle. When typically it’s elegant legs arc into the sky supporting a perfect spaceship-shaped disc, it seemed decidedly chunky and awkward. I fretted about some ghastly renovation that left it possibly safer, but no longer artistic perfection. In the morning I looked out and saw with relief that the entire top of the Needle is enveloped in plywood scaffolding. Renovations, yes, but they have only just begun. The improved and (I assume) lovely Space Needle will be open in time for summertime tourists.

Sunday they took me to the Ballard Market, a place we hit every Sunday when I’m there, so I imagine they hit it every week they can. It’s a grocery store for my super-health-conscious relatives, who purchase meat directly from the ranchers, and vegetables directly from gardeners. Afterward, Karen introduced us to one of her favourite eateries, Eve Fremont, where we all decided on bison burgers!

Bison burgers all around.

Mushrooms at the Ballard Market.

Get a load of these boots!!

Karen studied for school while Ian and I talked, then she and I went shopping. I’ve been wanting black boots for over a year. I have beautiful brown boots that have lasted for years because I spent the money to get high quality. It was time to do the same for black boots. Because when you need black boots, brown boots just won’t do! Can I get an Amen! Anyhoo, while the super helpful assistant was in the back, searching for what was available in my size, Karen and I browsed a little too far into the section for boots-you-would-buy-if-it-was-your-birthday-and-you-felt-like-splurging. Oops. When the assistant showed up with an armload of boots suitable for the office, I had to send her away for one more box. I left with two pairs of boots, one of them was thigh-high, velvet, high-heeled, and sexy as hell. Take THAT 48 years old!

Oh, did I tell you I turned 48? Can I just say that 48 is a liiiitttle too close to 50, and I am nowhere near 50 years old. Just… saying.

For my second night, I wanted to turn it up a notch, so I had reserved a room in Seattle landmark, the Olympic Hotel, built in 1924. It’s now a Fairmont hotel. I began to get a sense that this place was all about service like no place I’ve ever stayed. About 10am, I got a personal text that said, “Crystal, your room is ready. You can check in any time you like. Your keys are ready and you can pick them up at either entrance.” It was signed Natalie. I smirked and ignored it. All except for thinking 10 am? Since when is your hotel room ready at 10am? Later in the day, during a down moment, I decided to text “Natalie,” just for giggles. “Hey thanks, Natalie. I’m in Seattle already, visiting my brother for my birthday. I’m not ready to check in yet but I will when we’re done running around. Looking forward to oysters at Shuckers later tonight.”

I was startled to get an immediate response. Natalie was apparently not a robot. She wished me a happy birthday, then asked if she could reserve a table for me at Shuckers, the oyster bar at the hotel.

Happy Birthday from the Olympic Hotel

Something sort of special about a personal welcome.

I was again struck with the service of the place when I arrived and was handed a welcome packet with keys that had my name printed on it. Natalie was the only person I had mentioned my birthday to, and when I arrived in my room, there was a tiny cast-iron pan filled with macaroons and chocolate chips, and a hand-addressed birthday card. Seriously?

That night we ate heaps of oysters and Jim, the fabulous and friendly waiter, chatted with us every time he passed by. I gleefully told him I was celebrating my birthday with my brother, and of course, when we ordered dessert split three ways (we were stuffed to the gills), it came with a birthday candle and garnish. “On the house,” Jim insisted. We goofed around and took photos in the gorgeous empty spaces in the hotel after dinner.

Lovely Fairmont Olympic Hotel

My handsome brother

Ian wanders off

Karen and me waiting for fresh oysters!

Monday, back at the house, I kissed and hugged them goodbye and headed back home to Rainier, only 2 1/2 hours south.

Tuesday, my actual birthday, I had nothing scheduled, but managed to get a half-dozen errands done that had been sitting and waiting for me for weeks. Yes! I LOVE getting things done. Happy birthday gift indeed.

Wednesday I went south to Oregon City for another overdue visit to my dear friend Marlene at insearchofitall. It has been months and months since we’ve seen each other, and have only communicated through our blogs or infrequent emails or cards. I adore Marlene, and though we meant to go to lunch together, we had jabbered non-stop for an hour before we remembered our plans. We jabbered all through a long lunch. I realized on my drive to see her that it was my birthday and I had not had any cake! Marlene kept me company while I went and found a store with just the slice of cake that I needed. Finally I gave hugs and kisses goodbye and headed back in time for my final celebration.

My neighbor, Dick, loves to gamble for fun. There is a brand new casino here – not even a year old – that he keeps saying he’s going to take me to see. It was finally the day. He swung by to pick me up and off we went. The ilani casino in La Center, Washington is definitely the sparkliest thing around. From their website: “The design of the 368,000 square-foot casino resort will project the culture of the Northwest and pay tribute to the heritage of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe.” I used to live in Nevada, and I was just recently in the fabulous Cherokee Hard Rock Casino in Tulsa. So this casino is pretty mild in comparison to the big ones. But for the only thing of its kind around, it’s big enough and glitzy enough. And it sucks up your money really well, just like all the other casinos.

Brand new gorgeous ilani casino in LaCenter, WA

Shrimp and scallops with pasta

After a couple hours of gambling, Dick and I went over to try their seafood restaurant. I know, you probably think after all the eating I’ve done in this post that I couldn’t possibly handle more eating. But I suffered through the agony of one more celebratory birthday meal, just so I could take this photo and delight you all. No, I’m kidding of course. One lovely thing about birthdays, everyone wants to feed you! BONUS!! I should have more birthdays. As long as I can stay in my forties, I’ll keep having birthdays year after year, after year, after…

Good Things Jar

A long time ago I wrote a post called Good Things Jar, in which I explained that I had heard about this project and had successfully completed my first year of recording good things in 2014. I never wrote about it again.

The idea is easy to find in many versions on the Internet. And as blogger friend at Contented Crafter mentioned in my first post on the topic, it’s been around for years. You find a container to hold notes, and simply drop in your “good things” thoughts all year long. Then at the end of the year, you review them. It helps you remember how much you’ve come through emotionally in the year, and it gives you perspective. It also allows you to feel joy for those things again, even if they happened months ago.

The good news about the good things jar is that Tara and I have kept it up ever since! I’ve saved all the little slips of paper because I knew that some day I would do another post. Tara and I kept up the tradition of reviewing the notes together in January of 2016. However, this year, with Tara staying at college more and more, the only notes in the jar were from me.

I still use the original jar, pictured here. It’s an antique glass canning jar of my mother’s. The lid says it was made in Canada, and that makes sense, since Mom spent nearly her whole life in Idaho, close to the Canada border. Back in the old days it was easy and common to cross the border without any fuss, planning, or paperwork because all the authorities cared about was whether you were bringing in cheap cigarettes to sell. She may easily have picked it up at a shop in Creston or Nelson, BC.

Disneyland

In the spirit of looking back on New Year’s Day, I reviewed the good things we’ve been thinking about during the past 3 years.

Steam! It’s great

2015 favourites

In 2015 we both wrote a lot about the new house, since it was the biggest thing going on that year until Tara started college in the Fall, which itself earned multiple notes. Tara wrote about Disneyland multiple times. Macaroni and cheese made it to Tara’s list again, to my amusement! Oregon’s wild daffodils made it to my list again. I think seeing items repeat year to year says something about us. We both repeatedly mentioned our friends, and I included my brother Ian twice. We both also wrote down self-affirmations, like mine that says “I am beautiful.” The power of statements like this can’t be denied.

The parts in parentheses are comments I added today that were not on the original pieces of paper.

Tara:

I met awesome and relyable and relatable people @ OSU

  • Your own room and bathroom again
  • I met awesome and relyable and relatable people at OSU (Oregon State University)
  • Finding the perfect squirrel gifts for Mom for Christmas (I agree that squirrel things are good.)
  • Steam! It’s great (I have no idea what this is about, but it’s hilarious)
  • Sudden cookies 2-21-15 (again, don’t know what this means, but I think we can all agree that sudden cookies are a good thing)
  • Friends that you remain friends with even after separation 8-31-15 (the date shows that Tara was still connecting with friends after starting college)
  • Making cosplay is awesome! (costumes for Tara’s favourite annual anime convention)

Me:

Genevieve

  • I managed to keep my spirits up while trying to buy a house 6-20-15 <– still no close
  • Stand up paddle! 4-24-15 (this was in the top 5 of best first dates ever)
  • Ian is an awesome brother & I got to visit twice in March and April 4-9-15
  • My blogging community is filled with real friends 6-20-15 (I love you guys)
  • I was born white in America 9-8-15 (I do not know what prompted this comment. It is a good thing, but saying it publicly makes me flinch a little. I wish I remembered the context.)
  • I had the courage to ask for help 8-7-15 (a pack of friends came and helped me at my house)
  • I am beautiful
  • I have the confidence to apply for the DRO position 10-1-15 (Not only applied, but got the job!)

    A pile of joy

2016 favourites

mac n cheese

Tara only dropped three notes into the jar in 2016, due to hardly ever being at home. They had the idea to start up a Good Things Jar while at college, but I don’t think that has happened. 2016 was a transitional year for both of us, while Tara reconciled a new self-image that included successful college student and let go of the comforts of being a kid, and I learned to take care of my new big property and got used to living alone.

Tara:

  • Snow! 2-15-16

    U-cuts when forests let you down 12/14

  • U-cuts when forests let you down 12-14-16 (ha ha, this pretty much explains itself. We couldn’t find a good tree in a national forest, and on the way out of the mountains we came across a U-Cut Christmas Tree Farm, whipped in and found a gorgeous 10 foot spruce tree for only $28.)
  • Kahlua 12-15-16 (Uh, methinks someone was into the liquor cabinet… But at 19 years old, I’m not concerned.)

Me:

  • I get to watch Spring happen across my land 2-17-16
  • My employer allows me to take the time off that I need 8-3-16
  • Tara has embraced being a student 11-18-16
  • Genevieve! 9-17-16 (I had this same exact one in 2015, but this year there was an exclamation point. Three cheers for best friends.)
  • I can forgive 8-31-16
  • I love my chickens 1-6-16

    A storage system I also adopted from my mom.

2017 favourites

I love my chickens. 1-6-16

This past year had the fewest contributions, partially because Tara was gone, but also because I am growing more accustomed to seeing the Good Things Jar on the countertop among the other jars, as you can see in the photo above.

  • I always rise back up. I smile. I laugh. I see beauty 6-28-17
  • Tara is brave and strong 5-31-17 (You only know half the story, but this young person… is so brave and strong.)
  • Sometimes, when I least expect it, I find out lots of people love me. 11-18-17 (I made a purely casual facebook post that said only cryptically that both good and bad things happen in a person’s life and it’s up to us to choose which things to focus on. Blam! In 24 hours I had been contacted by fb messenger, text, phone, and email by eight separate people checking on me. It was not at all my intent, and I was startled by the reaction. And then… I was touched.)
  • I became a squeaky wheel, and it worked!! 11-24-17 (Speaking up about injustices done to myself is hard for me to do. I am overly concerned about being perceived as acting whiney and entitled. But finally, I was convinced that people needed to get off their butts and do right by me, and I started rattling cages and calling in favors and talking to people up the chain, and viola! It got done.)

    Romain and I love and appreciate each other. 4-21-17 (with the 4-21 underlined for emphasis)

  • Romain and I love and appreciate each other 4-21-17 (Romain is a Rwandan priest I met in school in 2005. He has a tough time every April, the anniversary of his personal tragedy. Note, I underlined the date.)
  • My blogger people always make me feel better
  • My cards to Suz worked exactly as planned 3-15-17

    My cards to Suz worked exactly as planned 3-15-17 (Susie was diagnosed with breast cancer at the beginning of the year. She lives on the East coast and I live on the West coast. I couldn’t think of what to do for her. So I began writing cards and postcards in which I talked about only non-cancer related topics. I never expected a response, but she took the time to tell me that’s exactly what she liked about my correspondence: no cancer for just a moment.)

I have a hunch that writing this post places this tradition squarely into my conscious mind once more, and when I see it I’ll act. Because, you know, I can always think of something. Every single time I look at the jar and ask myself, “What is a good thing, right now?” There is always an answer. And that’s probably the best good thing of all of them.

 

Frogs are ubiquitous around here, but rarely hold still enough for me to get a good photo.

I continue to spot new critters at my place. July 4th this year was my second anniversary at this home, and even after two years I am pretty sure I haven’t seen them all. Last year my favourite animal sightings included vultures outside my office window, a coyote circling the chicken pen, and a small herd of Roosevelt Elk.

Here are some of my photo captures from year two.

I spotted this handsome boy sitting in my driveway one morning.

Who me? Yes you. I watched him several mornings in a row, hopping around, tasting things from my garden.

It occurred to me that this rabbit probably looked like a tasty morsel to someone in the forest, and I began making plans to trap it and keep it. I was too late and never saw him again.

In early summer I spotted a flash of colour in my new peach tree.

It is difficult to focus on an object on the far side of a bunch of branches. But I got a photo clear enough to identify him as a Western Tanager. I’ve seen one before, but not this close.

If my quick internet search is right, this is a male praying mantis, making his way up the side of my house.

This photo was taken through rippling water with my phone camera, but I hope you can still make out the crawdad. Yes! There are crawdads in my creek!

The hooded mergansers have returned to my pond. They must be winter visitors, since I haven’t seen them all summer.

I love their goofy-shaped heads and red eyes. These ducks are a delight to me.

This chestnut-backed chickadee had no choice but to hold still for a photo, after flying headfirst into my window. I carried the little dude to a sheltered spot under a fern so he could wait for the stars to clear from his head and fly off.

I’ve been watching these tiny bark-loving birds for a long time but didn’t get a photo till now.

In this photo I was finally able to capture enough detail to identify a Brown Creeper as it whips around and around the tree, gouging the bark and looking for tasty things.

While mowing the lawn I spotted a turtle on the tiny island in my pond. I snapped a quick, blurry shot with my phone.

A couple days later I spotted it again, and brought my real camera. But the turtle was wise to me and hopped right into the water. And you thought YOU didn’t like photos taken of you…look at this grumpy face!

Skin colour is part of what makes us beautiful as human beings, and also part of what makes us ugly.

Why is this the moment of truth? Why is the fallout from the most recent accusations against Harvey Weinstein finally what is getting us to talk about our culture of accepting inappropriate sexual behavior from people who are in power against people who are not in power?

What are your thoughts about it? I’d love to know your opinion for why the public reaction to this rape scandal is different than the ones before.

As a woman who has been raped, as a woman who has suffered repeated sexual harassment by people of power in the workplace (this was long ago; it is no implication against my current employer), I am particularly sensitive to this topic. It puts my whole body on edge every time I hear a public accusation of sexual assault, rape, sexual harassment. I understand too much about the unspoken details. I’ve paid attention when it’s in the news – I can’t help it – I remember the cases.

Till now the common undertone that I’ve sensed is that of not believing the victim. As in, “That person is probably exaggerating,” or “That person is probably trying to get attention,” or “The person they accused is famous so maybe they want a settlement.” Me included! I am complicit! It seems like the main social response in the past was *not* instantly that they are telling the truth and that we need to stop everything and listen and believe it. That tends to come along a little later.

It’s different this time. We are believing, and it feels so good – as another victim – it feels so good to know that a victim is being listened to, and believed. We need to be believed or else we’re never going to start telling these stories.

But I keep asking myself why. I mean, what is it this time? I don’t understand what’s different. Why didn’t this happen during the recent accusations surrounding Bill Cosby? The similarities: they’re both famous people, they’re both of Hollywood, they both have a decades-long history of accusations of sexual assault, unfortunately in both of their cases the number of victims is high. So why has a case against Henry Weinstein resulted in an outpouring of “Me Too” stories and social pressure for the accused to take the charges seriously. Suddenly I’m hearing reports of sexual assault by a different famous person every day. Kevin Spacey. Dustin Hoffman. Others can feel the change, too, and have realized that now they can give voice to their trauma.

With the case against Cosby, discourse didn’t happen. We just all …groaned, because it was such an ugly horrible story.

So I’ve been thinking about that for a couple weeks. I’ve been trying, but couldn’t figure out what the trigger was. This morning the news coming out of Washington, D.C. was about people coming forward to talk about sexual harassment in the workplace among politicians. And again this morning I asked myself what is different now. If we’re talking politics, why not when Clarence Thomas was accused publicly? When Anita Hill had to fight so hard to get people to believe her? It was an ugly, high-profile story, but it didn’t change the national conversation. And Thomas was implicitly forgiven for his heinous crimes when he was confirmed to the US Supreme Court, where he continues today. I’m comparing the facts: it’s politics, it’s a man in power abusing a woman with less power in the workplace. If it’s as similar as it seems, then why are people in Washington, D.C. being listened to now but not then? What is going on?

I can’t take credit for the uncomfortable conclusion I came to because I arrived here after talking with someone else and comparing notes. If I continue to compare the general circumstances of today’s accusations against the general circumstances of historic accusations, I might not ever find an answer. But instead, if I ask what those past accusations have in common with each other, I find a potential answer.

What do the cases against Bill Cosby and Clarence Thomas have in common with each other that is not the case with Weinstein? Race.

If it’s true that our public reactions are based on faulty racial assumptions, the implication is brutal. It’s as ugly as the crimes themselves. It means we heard those other stories and at some deep subconscious place concluded to ourselves: well, that’s what they do. And I don’t want to believe this is what happened. I do not want to admit I’m part of this system, that I’m a collaborator in it. By collaborator, I’m not saying I’m out there actively promoting racism. Rather, I’ve been raised in a world where the norm is to make assumptions about people based on skin colour.

I loathe racism. Anyone who knows me personally figures it out pretty damned quickly. I refuse to accept outward signs of prejudice against any group for their lifestyle choice, their differing physical or mental abilities, the colour of their skin, their faith or lack of faith, you name it. But what I’m talking about here is stuff that I’m doing to contribute to the system of intolerance simply because it’s so ingrained in me that I don’t even notice it. It’s not my fault. It’s not your fault. We are a product of our world. And I hhhaaaatttttee knowing that I am probably unintentionally adding insult to injury.

In the beautiful song Stereotypes by Black Violin, Kev Marcus says when people ride with him in an elevator: “Maybe they’re not afraid, but they’re on notice.”

I tried to test my theory by recalling media storms over public figures accused of sexual assault, in order to prove myself wrong. Let’s see, there was Michael Jackson. Who was that guy who assaulted his fiancée? Oh yeah, Ray Rice. There was Mike Tyson. All of them black. I was scaring myself. But then I recalled President Clinton, Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes, all white men.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be the case – and it would be hard to prove – that what’s different now is race-based, but I want to resist performing too many contortions in order to argue in favor of another explanation. I want to be open to this one. Maybe what’s different this time *is* the obvious thing.

I believe in life’s subtleties. I do not intend to state that racial prejudice is the sole reason for my country’s slow awakening to the rampant scourge of sexual assault among us. I just want to make sure this one isn’t left out of the discussion.

We are talking about this crime everywhere today because 1) Weinstein was already so famous for rape that it wasn’t a shocker when the latest case was made against him, and thus we were primed to believe the victim. 2) Because of the tireless efforts of activists all over the globe who have been laser-focused on de-criminalizing victims. The people who are making it ok to be a man and admit to being a victim of sexual assault. The people who are saying there is no shame in being an unmarried woman who is raped. 3) Because social consciousness (at least in the country where I live) is getting better at admitting fault even when it’s uncomfortable. 4) Because the perpetrators right now are white.

Josh and I stop for a break in the neverending switchbacks at the beginning of the trail.

Slopes dressed up for Autumn.

Switchbacks and foliage.

I used to joke that the only reason I worked was to earn the money and vacation time I needed to get out and hike. I hiked much of the year, with multiple big trips. These days I am grateful to get out once a year. My annual hike is worth celebrating though. What joy to be on a trail again.

The Enchantments Area in northern Washington state is so popular that people can only get hiking permits by lottery. I did not win the lottery this year (again), so I had to purchase outside the peak season, which ends October 15th. The earliest permit available was this past week, October 24th-27th. That’s pretty late. I paid my fee and told myself that if the winter snows had not begun in earnest, I would hike. If they had, I would consider it a donation to Recreation.gov. (That’s a marvelous website, by the way. Please check it out.)

The Snow Lakes trailhead begins just outside of town on Icicle Road heading out of Leavenworth, WA. Hit the link there and just look at a couple of photos to get a sense of the town. It is totally kitschy and totally touristy but oh, so, beautiful that it’s worth every potential drawback. I reserved a room at the Leavenworth Village Inn, where I have stayed before, and was equally pleased. They offer a military discount, which I used. This lovely little Bavarian-styled town is smack in the middle of Oktoberfest. So Plan B was that if the trail was snowed out, I would drink some ale. Admit it, you love my Plan B.

Prior to the trip it rained and rained and rained and then! Tuesday morning was spectacular.

Sun lights up a lingering thimbleberry leaf.

Because it was so late in the season, and also because I don’t have my mountain legs anymore (spending most of my life decomposing in front of a computer screen all day long), I invited a friend along. As you may recall, this is not my usual approach as I really do prefer hiking alone. However, I am also smart! And hiking in the mountains potentially in snow, for days on end, alone… Well, let’s just say I was relieved when Josh said, “Sure, I’ll go.” (of course, I am stubborn enough that I would have gone on alone anyway if he was not interested…but that’s a psychology session for another day)

Sunrise hits the peaks over Nada Lake.

The trail begins with a shameful number of brutal switchbacks. Up, up, up. I am a good hiker when it comes to “up.” I complain, but my trusty little legs just keep going. Josh (big tough guy) was feeling strong that morning and teasing that we should do the whole 18-mile loop in a day, then do it again the second day. It was his first backpacking trip ever. So I just smiled and kept plodding along. After 1000 feet or so, he was humbled. I offered to let him go ahead and set the pace. Gasping on breaks he insisted that I had to be in front of him for motivation. “I can’t let you beat me at this!”

Trail descriptions really downplay this part of the trail, recommending to start at the other end because there isn’t much to look at on this side. I beg to differ. It’s truly magnificent, and especially so in October, where yellow trees pour down mountain valleys like molten gold. The air was crisp and hinting at afternoon warmth. The sky blue as only October blue can be.

Morning sun on Nada Lake.

The sun drops early in the evening these days, but we made it to the first lake before it got dark and set up the tent while it was still light. It got really cold, really quick, and soon we escaped into the tent for shelter.

Wednesday morning was beautiful and I was energized as I boiled up water for coffee and made breakfast. It was the debut of my new MSR Whisperlite stove. My old whisperlite had been a solid and reliable companion ever since I bought it in 2000. This last camping trip, when I watched the eclipse, it stopped working. I suspected the lines were clogged. Prior to this trip then, I took my little stove out on the deck and pulled it into all its pieces and began cleaning the fuel line. I went into the house to grab some steel wool for scrubbing the soot, and when I came back out I saw that a gust of wind had come up and the teeniest little stove piece had bounced away, off the deck, and likely through a crack and into the weeds underneath. I hunted on my hands and knees under the deck with the slugs and spiders that day for approximately 4 hours (remember how I said I am stubborn?). And then I went on Amazon and bought a new stove. Whatever I paid for that last one, 17 years is a good run and I did not feel bitter about the purchase of a replacement. The brand new stove worked great (of course I had tested it before we left).

Here I am resting during the hike up from Nada Lake, where we camped the first night. Look at that slope! Wicked steep.

Then we loaded everything up and went uphill again. This was a short hike, only a few miles and 1000 more feet. It wasn’t as pleasant as the first day because we were tired, but also because the clouds rolled in while it was still morning, and a light rain began to fall. It rained all day long, but luckily just a light rain that frizzed my hair but didn’t soak through anything. We found a spot to camp at Upper Snow Lake at about 5400′ elevation. As we were looking for a place to camp, we met two hikers that had just descended from the next lake up. They said to be sure and use our ice cleats and snowshoes because of all the ice and snow on the trail. Well, we didn’t have either. Most of my hike life I’ve been a fair-weather backpacker and only recently learned that camping is fun when it’s cold, too. But I won’t go so far as to invest in snow hiking gear. I’m not crazy.

Enormous granite boulders were strewn about, making us feel small in comparison.

You know I love to eat good food in the mountains!

We spent the remains of the day running around in the forest and climbing on rocks. You can act like you’re 10 years old when you camp in the mountains. In fact, it’s pretty much expected.

It rained harder in the evening, and rained during the night. Thursday, to my delight, it dawned spectacularly clear again. It was the warmest day so far and after the fog burned off, not a cloud to be seen. We were still chilled from the wet night and took a long time to get moving. I was trying to decide whether to do a day hike up to Lake Viviane without snow climbing gear. It must have been noon before we were finally packed up. Didn’t even try to dry the tent out. Everything was just going to have to be wet. I was tired and after a tentative query to Josh, who didn’t really warm up to the idea of a few more thousand feet, I committed to heading back down the mountain.

Morning on the shady side of the lake. Still trying to thaw out so I can pack up my gear.

A mountain called The Temple rises above a little peninsula in Upper Snow Lake.

Sand formations in Upper Snow Lake, which is also a reservoir, as you may have guessed, as part of the water district for the city below.

I was intrigued by the patterns and shadows in the sand.

McClellan Peak commands the view of Upper Snow Lake.

This was the hare’s turn to shine. After the stolid and steadfast tortoise was a clear victor in going uphill, the hare practically caught the trail on fire going back down. We went down all 4000 feet in just a few hours – a record for me. He was very patient at first, because we found a couple of places awash in sunshine and I wanted to do nothing but lounge. I wet and re-braided my ratty hair. I climbed up and down hills and boulders and over logs with my camera. I snacked. I smiled. Josh laid on a rock in the sun and didn’t say a word. But when I finally gave the green light and we hefted our packs and buckled in….whoosh! He was gone.

The rest of the day I barely saw my traveling companion.

Sunshine and blue skies make a paradise at Lower Snow Lake.

And hiking alone is my comfort zone, so it was no big deal. But I did get very tired. And my feet were aching. And then my knees started to hurt, and still I had not caught up. Sometimes he would spot me from hundreds of feet below and holler up, “Everything ok? You taking a nap up there or what?” I would signal a thumbs up and voom, off he’d go again.

At one point as I was about to step over a pile of bark from a tree that had fallen over the trail, I noticed that some of the pieces of bark had been shaped into an arc. Only the curve was sideways, making it look like the letter “C.” And I laughed out loud. Yes, that is something he would do: leave me a message to let me know I was not forgotten. What a sweet gesture. It kept me going for another 15 minutes and then I was just about to despair in pain again, but I came across more bark that was indisputably an “R.” And that time I really laughed! That crazy guy was going to spell my whole name! Sure enough, 20 minutes later I found a “Y.” And it wasn’t until “S” that I finally had the sense to take a photo.

T in red needles was my fave.

Camera hanging around my neck and still I didn’t take a photo until I got to the S.

After T and then A, I spotted him waiting for me at a great place beside Snow Creek where we had stopped to eat something on the way up two days before. He asked how I was doing and I said, “I want my L!” I told him I was in pain and was about to suggest a longer break, but he took off my pack and proceeded to transfer about 15 pounds from my pack to his. Well, he did need a little slowing down, so I let him. I am proud and stubborn, but…

It didn’t slow him down at all. Zoom! Gone again. I found my L. And you would not believe this, but he did my last name too.

Berries hanging over the trail were begging for a photo.

Don’t you just love the fire colours of the season?

The lovely day and the lovely foliage did as much to cheer me as the letters on the trail. I kept plodding along, but tortoises apparently are not made for rapid down hill trekking with no breaks and no meals – just snacks on the go. My feet were killing me and I had to stop a lot to sit down and get the weight off my soles. Josh hit the parking lot, ditched his pack, ran back up the hill to where I was, teased me for napping, then took my pack and went back down again. It was still daylight when I finally hit bottom. Well, you know, “finally” as in finally caught up to Josh. But in terms of backpacking down a mountainside, we really smoked.

I’m glad I took the chance on the late season pass. Everything worked out perfectly. It didn’t snow too much before last week, and the weather was splendid for two of the three days. On the trail is where I find my bliss.

Trail heads into Blue Basin

After the cheers died down and a few vehicles sped off to beat the post-eclipse crowds, I said goodbye to all my brand-new eclipse friends and wished them a safe trip home to Seattle, and Portland, and Calgary, and Providence, Hartford, and Albany. (See my eclipse  2017 post here.) Curiously, of all the people I met, they seemed to mostly hail from either the Pacific Northwest, or New England – opposite sides of the continent.

I had been out of cell range since the previous afternoon, and had merely a sense of where I was headed, based on a map in a newspaper that a woman in a museum had shown me the day before. I had the south-bound road to myself. “Yes! All you eclipse tourists just head on home and clear the roads for me, will you?” I thought as they passed me, heading north. There are few roads and I was not concerned about getting lost.

The eclipse-altered temperature continued to drop as I drove, and could see the temperature display in the Jeep. It dropped from 78 degrees at 10am to 64 degrees by about 11am before it began quickly warming again. I didn’t believe the readout at first, but realized that also happens at dawn: though the sun has finally come up, the morning temperatures will continue to fall until the power of the sun finally overrides the cooling.

I stopped along the way to take a photo of a bluff with striations of different colours, showing up brightly in the strengthening sunlight.

Colourful stripes of earth exposed in the side of a bluff above the John Day River.

Feeling the welding glass still in my pocket, I pulled it out and took another look at the sun. True, it had not been that long since I had stood on the side of the road and watched the eclipse, but it was still surprising to see the sun only 2/3 visible. People were driving, or still on the side of the road, chatting. It was hard to believe how calm we all were, considering the scientific marvel going on right above our heads. I gaped at it a little more, then got back into the Jeep.

In no time I found the parking lot for the Blue Basin trails. It was full of cars and after I parked, I joined a few others who continued to steal glances at our partially obscured sun. Then, in the swelling heat of late morning, I grabbed a water bottle and began hiking the Overlook trail.

Sights along the Blue Basin Overlook Trail.

A mostly dry creek bed wound through the bottom of the canyon, wet here and there where weak springs surfaced.

Fossils found in the area were displayed to help us imagine what they were like when found.

The draw here is the blue-green clay and weathered formations that tower up from the trail. As we were near the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, it was not surprising but still delightful to find fossils installed along the trail to help us imagine the canyon in a different time. The fossils were only replicas of what had been found there.

A layer of the blue-green clay soil.

Earth and sky

The shapes of eroded soils were also fascinating.

My Brandeis T-shirt drew an unexpectedly high number of conversations with people who were also Alumni of the school, or had connections to the school.

The blue and green colours showed everywhere, and were most noticeable when I could contrast them with more familiar colours like the golden grasses and rust of mineral-rich soils. I tried to find brighter blues in the few damp areas of the small springs there, but there were no clear examples. My guess is that this canyon is even more remarkable in the rain, which would likely bring out those unexpected hues.

I imagined that sufficient time had passed to allow people to get on their way toward home, and decided I could begin my trip back. I knew the traffic would be worse Monday afternoon than it had been on Sunday, and I wanted to allow myself enough time to get home at a reasonable hour for a full night’s sleep.

Making my slow trip home with all the other eclipse-viewers.

I stopped beside the John Day River (you can see it’s larger here, farther down stream) for a leisurely lunch with my feet in the water. It was 100 degrees.

In an hour or so, I was crawling along the road at 8 miles per hour with hundreds of others who had delayed their return, just like me. My attempts at being uniquely clever were dismayed every time on this eclipse trip. I guess the odds of coming up with an original idea are reduced when there are thousands of others seeking eclipse totality with you! 😉

I did finally make it home by 9pm, which was acceptable. Interstate 5 was still pretty crowded when I got to it, so I took the smaller Highway 30 to get home to Rainier and avoided all the Seattle eclipse-viewers who were heading north still, 10 hours after the eclipse. I heard horror stories of missed flights and 2-hour journeys taking 8 hours instead. So I missed the worst of it, and remained in high spirits all day long.

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