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My snowy home on a hill.

I keep leaning toward complaints, but then I simply can’t follow through: this snow is spectacular.

I live in the Columbia River Valley, just 45 miles from the Pacific Ocean. This tends to keep my little piece of Paradise green, even in the depths of winter. But Mother Nature has been on a cold bent lately. Well, heck, I can’t even say “lately,” because it’s been cold and snowy for a couple months now. I’ve lived in very snowy places most of my life, and so this doesn’t compare, but I am still enjoying it.

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Jamie and Phil after the big snow, when they were still interested in it.

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The ladies have had enough snow and are running for shelter.

My chickens seem to be fine with it, but they do not like being cold. They hide in their little home most of the day rather than walk around in bare feet in the snow. They don’t eat much, leaving the chicken feed to the chipmunks. I expect to see some pretty fat chipmunks in the Spring. I need to go out each day, dump out a chunk of ice from their bowl, and refill it with water. They have also figured out that they can eat the snow.

They also aren’t laying, and I do not blame them one bit! Who would want to produce a massive egg once a day in the freezing cold? Not me.

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Looking past the apple tree into the neighbor’s yard.

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Beaver Creek burbles along gaily with no interruption.

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The sun came out for a few days, brilliantly lighting it all up. Those are my tracks in the foreground. I just can’t stay indoors when it’s this pretty out.

My photos aren’t as good as I would like. My camera is still fried from my trip to Chile. I haven’t made it to a camera doctor yet. The weather has been so rotten that roads are sketchy, and it hasn’t been worth an hour+ drive into town. Also, I’ve been sick, sick, sick. Feeling much better now, but annoyed by this lingering cough to clear out my lungs. Sounds like I have COPD.

Anyway, my iPhone camera is picking up the slack. I hope you enjoy the photos. It’s been pure winter deliciousness here.

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Our gorgeous Christmas tree!

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Tara balancing new sketchbooks.

 

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Evening sun making the treetops glow.

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I rarely need to, so I do not own a decent shovel.

I found out that a blogger friend of mine was  shorthanded on, as she put it, “young energetic people,” and I answered the call. Luckily it was pre-major snowstorm, and though cold, we did our work on a beautifully sunny day. The van was parked at the storage unit and we spent the whole day emptying the storage unit and filling the truck. It was windy, and when the sun dropped we nearly froze our patooties off, but we got the job done and went home elated and satisfied. It was discovered the next day that the truck had been loaded beyond legal weight and it had to be dismantled. That day I had to work and couldn’t help.

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TS inside the moving van.

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These tracks just melted my heart.

I’ve got a little good news that’s probably exciting only to me, but I’ll share it anyway. I mentioned in November that I have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from military trauma. I’ll explain more about making disability claims with VA (The US Department of Veterans Affairs) later, but for now I’ll just say that I made a claim in 2008. The claim was denied in 2008 and again in 2009, so I appealed it in 2010. My appealed claim has languished for some reason. It’s still pending. I finally lost my patience and contacted my Congresswoman to stir things up a little, and it worked! Next week I will attend examinations in support of my claim. These consist of super-quick health evaluations not designed for treatment, but to assess the problem, then make an educated medical opinion on whether that problem could be related to military service. Then I wait around for someone to make a final legal decision. I’ll give it another year and then contact my Congresswoman again if necessary. Honestly, I think it has been long enough and my impatience is not out of line. If my claim is granted, any medical condition found by VA to be related to military service is then covered by VA for free. All doctor visits, medications, procedures. There is also a monthly stipend based on any loss of function determined to impact my employability. It would be a help.

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World made black and white.

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Playing with the sepia feature.

 

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A lovely shot of the rental car dashboard.

A lovely shot of the rental car dashboard.

Yesterday afternoon – no doubt related to the wet weather – my camera went on the fritz. It stopped working completely by evening, to my dismay. The next morning, it worked again, but sporadically. For every 20 times I press the shutter button, it may actually work once. Now there is a blinking green light on the front of the body of the camera that apparently indicates there is a problem, but not the nature of the problem. The blinking green light drains a full charge on the battery in two hours, but at least the camera takes a shot now and then. I’ve decided to leave the battery out until I want to take a photo.

What this means for you, dear reader, is fewer photos. Instead of 200 to choose from like usual, this time I had 24 (that’s including the shots of the car dashboard and the gravel road, and other dumb stuff when I got impatient and just kept pressing the shutter button but stopped aiming the camera). Time for the Nikon doctor when I get home, wouldn’t you think?

Dessert cookie

Dessert cookie

We woke up in our Villarrica hotel, got another fabulous breakfast and pinched some more hockey pucks with meat and cheese, and more of those positively sinful cookies. They’re like a whole dessert in a cookie and it’s enough sweetness to last a whole day. I think it’s layers of cookies, frosting, caramel and cream, and coated in a vanilla shell with a walnut on top. Margaret’s preference is the same type of cookie, only chocolate. Anyhow, in that way we secured another picnic lunch.

We hit the highways with a map we had picked up in Pucón a couple days earlier. I navigated and Margaret drove, and we cut through the gorgeous countryside from Villarrica and connected to the Pan American Highway, down here called Ruta 5, at Los Lagos. We drove for about 4 hours total, and reached our hostel in Puerto Varas at 1:30pm. Along the way we pulled over and got out lunch, and continued driving as we ate. We had an appointment at 2:30, and until we found our room were not comfortable taking a food break. We stopped in Los Lagos for petrol, which was a fun stop for me because a man working there spoke English and said he had become fluent when he spent some time at West Point Military Academy in New York. I told him I was also a veteran, and we talked military shop while Margaret stressed about getting the attendant to pump gas and then pay him (she had to break into my conversation to solicit for pesos). It was a bit of an abandonment of my traveling companion, so I tried to balance it out by pumping the man for ideas of what to see and do in the region, and he was happy to comply.

I tried to get shots along the way and my camera hardly ever complied. There were a lot of scenes like this.

I tried to get shots along the way and my camera hardly ever cooperated. There were a lot of scenes like this.

I can't get over what a beautiful country Chile is.

I can’t get over what a beautiful country Chile is.

The rivers and forests and mountains make for stunning scenery.

The rivers and forests and mountains make for stunning scenery.

We saw a lot of this today, but even Ruta 5 is beautiful in its way.

We saw a lot of this today, but even Ruta 5 is beautiful in its way. Margaret was impressed by the mostly empty highway, which made for low-stress driving.

We found our hostel in Puerto Varas with very little trouble, as the Air BnB hostess gave great directions from Ruta 5. We are staying at Galpon Aire Puro, a refurbished ginormous potato barn. It’s four stories, with shops in the first level, offices on the second level, the hostesses’ living quarters and guest rooms on the third level, and another guest room at the top. It is gorgeous. Our hostess is Vicki Johnson, a sparking, popping burst of positive energy. She showed us to our rooms, gave us tons of information about getting around town and where to find good food, then whirled out the door to meet a friend. We then had 30 minutes to wait for our scheduled pick up from the river rafting company.

The common room at our hostel.

The common room at our hostel looks out over the town of Puerto Varas.

Looking through the common room to the kitchen. Guest rooms above, and on all sides of the common room.

Looking through the common room to the kitchen. Guest rooms above, and on all sides of the common room.

The stairwell between all the floors of our hostel.

The stairwell between all the floors of our hostel.

The rafting company is Ko’Kayak, based in Ensenada. They sent a van to pick up rafters Jaime, Daniella, and Alicia and us. Daniella was doing the rafting trip as a birthday gift for Alicia who had just turned 15. Jaime was a Santiago transplant who came to live in Puerto Varas after visiting and falling in love with his novia (girlfriend). We met Michelle, our guide from Australia, who chatted with us during our hour-long drive to Ensenada and put us all at ease as much as we could be prior to a rafting trip. Margaret and Jamie had done this before, the rest of us never had and were somewhat nervous, not knowing what to expect.

The rain had been falling all day, from the moment we awoke, and we were wondering if the rafting trip would be canceled. But rafting in the rain turns out to be a great idea since you get soaked anyway. Michelle ran us through the safety speech, and then taught us how to paddle and which commands would be used. Then we changed into wetsuits, got fitted for helmets, and climbed into the van again for the ride to the river.

The rafting headquarters.

The rafting headquarters.

Getting ready for our safety briefing.

Getting ready for our safety briefing.

Margaret, me, and Jaime in our attractive rafting uniforms.

Margaret, me, and Jaime in our attractive rafting uniforms.

It was a small group and we all fit into one raft. Our first order of business was to get another safety lecture, this time from the man who introduced himself to us as our Angel. He was in a kayak and explained that if anyone went into the river, he would be the rescue crew. He explained what we had to do if we found ourselves outside the raft and floating down the river. Then we all climbed into the raft and practiced paddling. Michelle is fluent in Spanish and English, and switched back and forth with ease, giving instructions in both so everyone could understand. In fact, the command “forward!” got a little lost in the river noise, and I found it easier to listen to “adelante!” after a few minutes. (I think, for the next few years, any time I see the word “adelante,” I’m going to hear it in Michelle’s voice, shouted over wave noise.)

Before we knew it, we were in the Petrohué River in the Vicente Perez Rosales National Park and our first rapids were right in front of us. It’s apparently a category 3 river, but I am ignorant of category definitions. I can tell you what it means though: giant waves that smash you in the face! It was terrifying at first. I’m a bit of a shy person in new situations and with new people, so I hadn’t said much to anyone since the van pick up. M and I were placed in the front of the raft, and right out of the gate we were rocketing down cliffs of water and facing huge walls of waves that just came right at us. I had the presence of mind to notice the aqua colour, the triangle shapes of the waves, the way the water was so clear we could see the black rocks below, causing all the commotion, even though we were separated from the rocks by a lot of water. The only time I have ever experienced waves like this was surfing, so I noticed how nice it is to get a faceful of fresh water vs. sea water. And likewise, how lovely that the water was warmer than the Humboldt Coast ocean I have known. The Pacific Ocean off Trinidad California is around 52 degrees in the winter when the best waves are available. The Petrohué River was much warmer – maybe 65 degrees – but that’s a guess.

Anyhow, despite my shy quietness up to that point, and despite my ability to find the good in the experience, at first I was scared out of my mind and let fly some expletives. At one point I actually yelled at Margaret, “I can’t believe you got me into this!” I hollered, as I flailed with the paddle while the nose of the raft was airborne, and then squeezed my eyes shut as the next wave smashed into my face. I said to Margaret, “Yeah, I think I change my mind about going rafting,” and she thought I was serious. But…I had realized I was going to live after all, and I was just kidding. After two sets of rapids, I found that it’s pretty easy to stay in the boat. Also, Jaime was sitting right behind me and laughing his head off. I relaxed and began having a marvelous time.

My camera was not working anyway, so I had left it behind and thus I cannot show you the absolutely stunning scenery we saw from the river. Stunningly beautiful. The river was wide and warm (well relatively warm), there were birds and plants to identify. I decided to leave my glasses behind too, but was still the first person to spot a kingfisher. We had a long discussion about the hillsides covered in Nalca (Gunnera tinctoria), that apparently is delicious. {postscript: M and I tasted some later, and it does taste much like rhubarb. Though another name for this plant is “giant rhubarb,” it is not actually related. The plant has been introduced all over the world and in New Zealand and Ireland has created a weed problem.} I could not stop thinking of how the scenery at the river looks like Japan, with the steep lush mountains rising out of the river.

Our Angel circled the raft in his kayak, played in the rapids, and stationed himself off to the side to watch out for us every time we went through rapids, but there were no accidents and everyone had a great time. Eventually Michelle suggested that we could get out and float in the river (buoyed by our wetsuits), and Alicia, Jaime, and I did. Margaret used the rescuing skills that we were taught, and hauled us back into the raft when we were done swimming.

After only about an hour of rafting, we rowed to the beach and the crew waiting for us hauled in the equipment while we went to the van. During the long ride back, we all got pretty chilled in our soaked suits. We changed back into dry clothes with lightning speed, and met up again to share hot coffee and tea and empanadas. I had heard about Chilean honey, and thought that honey was honey. But Jaime insisted that I try Miel, and it turned out to be amazing! I wish I had the means to buy twenty jars of it as gifts for all of you, but my luggage was already full. Jamie explained that the flavor came from a particular tree that the bees flocked to. I shopped for the honey later and couldn’t tell how to ensure that a particular jar contained honey from the tree I wanted…since I imagine bees to be reluctant to take commands from beekeepers. After empanadas and miel on crackers and coffee in our bellies, we were all good friends despite the language barrier.

Ko’Kayak took us all home and M and I turned in for the night. Though we wanted to explore Puerto Varas, it had truly been a long day.

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View from the Santiago apartment that is home for a couple days. Below is the Catholic University, and you can also see the hill with Hidalgo Castle.

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Looking the other direction from the apartment window, with the GAM on the left, and Cerro San Cristobal on the distant right.

Everything went smoothly for the first flight. D dropped me off outside the terminal. I had checked in the day before while at work, so I headed directly for security even before checking for my gate. My printer had been low on ink so my printed boarding passes were too light for the scanner to read in the security line. “I think I can get it on my phone…” I tentatively suggested. “Yes, that would be better,” said the TSA woman. “Just place your phone face down right there,” she instructed, once I had the electronic boarding pass displayed. I was through the line in 3 minutes. I pulled out my phone and looked at my United app to see if it had updated for the gate. It had, and 45 seconds later, there I was at my gate. From curbside drop off to standing at the gate in six minutes. I love PDX! And how about technology making life easier?

I had a 3-hour layover in Houston, and I took that time to find Margaret’s incoming plane from San Francisco. I sat at a bar next to her gate and had a couple glasses of wine and waited for her. I met several really nice people and had an enjoyable stop there. In no time, Ms. Margaret was entering the terminal and we had some catching up to do! We easily got the counter attendant at our gate to seat us together.

We both popped sleeping pills and both barely slept. I’m not sure I slept at all. Margaret thinks she must have slept because her tray table was cleared at one point and she didn’t remember anyone doing it.

Stairs up the hill to Hidalgo Castle.

Stairs up the hill to Hidalgo Castle.

The center of the lovely castle and park grounds.

The center of the lovely castle and park grounds.

The castle-like bit is here up at the top. Great views of Santiago from here!

The castle-like bit is here up at the top. Great views of Santiago from here!

Looking out over the city from the top of Castle Hidalgo hill.

Looking out over the city from the top of Castle Hidalgo hill.

We disembarked in Santiago earlier than scheduled and were through customs in a snap. We were feeling adventurous despite having no sleep, and by 10am we were outside the airport asking for the city bus. All thanks to Margaret’s sleuthing, we took the bus to the Metro, then the Metro to downtown, then we walked to the address. It cost about $2 and we got to be with the regular people.

With really very little trouble at all, considering, we were knocking on Angelo’s door. He’s our host for the Air BnB room. We are just renting a room in his apartment with his roommate. He showed us around, explained everything he could think of, then went to sleep. Both Angelo and his roommate are Emergency Room nurses and he’s on the night shift.

The place is great. We can see Hidalgo Castle and the Catholic University on one side, and the Cerro San Cristóbal on the other. M and I took showers and hit the town, sleep deprived and everything.

Streets in the capital city are full of these impressive buildings.

Streets in the capital city are full of these impressive buildings.

Correos de Chile

Correos de Chile, the old Post Office (You can see the golden head and shoulders of one of the buskers.)

Detail work inside the post office.

Detail work inside the post office.

Glass ceiling and chandelier of post office.

Glass ceiling and chandelier of post office.

Our first stop was to the supermarket right at the base of the apartment tower. We toured the whole place, noticed an entire aisle of just cooking oil, and finally spotted the empanadas and bought a few. Out on the street, we soon came upon the Catholic University of Chile. We admired the architecture from outside, and loved the courtyards inside for students. We walked through an art gallery, then went back out onto the street.

Next we walked through the first of many open-air markets and got a taste of the kinds of things we could find here. I bought a gift right away because today is a friend’s birthday, and she asked me to find her a gift today. “And it can’t say ‘Made in China’ on it,” she insisted. I found something lovely, but I won’t say in case she’s reading.

Next we hiked up the hill to the Castle Hidalgo, which we can easily see from our apartment. It is a beautiful beautiful park with a castle on top. The hill has been the center of the city for over 450 years, and is the site where the city of Santiago was founded. Construction began on the current castle-like appearance in 1982, and the hill itself is now an impressive park and garden.

The

The Metropolitan Cathedral

The main hall of the cathedral.

The main hall of the cathedral.

Along the west side.

Along the west side.

The archangel St. Michael along the east side.

The archangel St. Michael along the east side.

We found more mercados (markets) at street level again, and began wandering. Margaret spotted the Correo Central, which is a splendid old post office building that we went in and explored. Right next to it is the Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago. At street level and next to all the other large buildings, I didn’t even realize it was a cathedral from the outside. Thus I was truly blown away when I saw the inside.

From there we continued north to the Mercado Central and found many many more streetside shops and kiosks to browse, but a whole entire fish market! We wandered deep inside the fishy place because it was compelling, and found a huge room in the center, occupied by a seafood restaurant. We spent so much time asking questions and lingering there, that they finally talked us into eating a meal. We asked so many questions about the menu that the waiter Nicholas brought the owner who could speak English, to help us with questions. But mostly, everyone wanted us to eat the Centolla, or Chilean King Crab, in season right now. It was an expensive meal, but they had all earned it, and we paid our pesos without hesitation.

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Inside the huge fish market and Donde Augusto, the restaurant.

Nathan shows us our crab.

Nicholas shows us our crab.

Interesting things I noted while eating. There were many many waiters, who were all very friendly and withhout customers appeared to be invested in getting people to come sit down. Passersby could not escape their attentive calls. While we sat, street vendors walked through (because, though under a roof, the fish market was still open-air) and approached the tables and tried to sell us things including a fire starter, a small electric fan, copper jewelry and photographs of ourselves. There was a black and white stray cat that wandered through on a circuit, waiting for crab scraps to fall.

Buskers dances for money.

Busker dances for money.

When we were full, we also found that we were tired. It was nearly 4pm and we were proud of ourselves for doing so much stuff despite our low batteries. However, it was time to head back to the apartment. We had walked a couple miles and it took several consults of the map to get us back. More people were out, and more buskers were out. Today we passed a particularly talented Stevie Ray Vaughn style electric guitarist, a man tossing discs and telling jokes to a large crowd, a person dressed as a transformer entertaining onlookers as it danced to electronic music, and a man painted all in gold who sat still as a statue in the blazing sun, but would perform a slow, tai chi- type dance for money.

We gratefully returned to the apartment and turned in early with hopes of restored energy mañana.

A silver and orange moon floats just outside a gas cloud in the galaxy

A silver and orange moon floats just outside a gas cloud in a galaxy far, far away.

A friend of mine had a booth at the gem and mineral show this weekend, and invited me to stop by.

I parked and walked toward the Hillsboro Fairgrounds building, and passed several nerds with big grins, clutching recent aquisitions. It was then I knew I was going to be among my people!

My reason for going to was to visit my friend Joe whom I had only seen twice before, and then only for 5 minutes each time. Once at a Mt. Hood Cherokees monthly meeting, and once at our summer Cherokee Event. Through a telephone interview and several emails over the past year, we knew instinctively we’d have things to talk about, but until now the planets had not aligned to put us into each others’ path. Interestingly, that morning I told him I probably couldn’t make it because I was going to a picnic at a park in town, and was hoping to play Cherokee marbles in the rain with other Indians from our group. I walked around the park in the rain, watching children on the jungle gym and middle school girls play some pretty impressive soccer, but no one I knew showed up. Finally I discovered (via facebook on my phone – just love technology) that the picnic had been canceled and viola! The planets had aligned for once, and there was time enough to visit.

(Since there would be no potluck, I brought the fresh baked walnut-apple crisp home for myself. Score!)

Gem Show - perfect choice for a wet day!

Gem Show – perfect choice for a wet day!

These were the shiny jewelry-looking pieces, but I preferred the regular rocks.

These were the shiny jewelry-looking pieces, but I preferred the regular rocks.

My best friend just bought a house and I am convinced she needs this remarkable switch plate. How clever and beautiful it is!

My best friend just bought a house and I am convinced she needs this remarkable switch plate. How clever and beautiful it is!

We had a great visit, and things were slow enough that my friend took a break from his booth at one point to walk through all the booths with me. This was bad news. I am smitten with lovely things. And I do think rocks are lovely. Soon I was clutching several irresistible slices of stone. My friend selected an agate from the table of a lovely woman from Oklahoma (who, yes, also turned out to be Cherokee), and she handed me a tool I had never used before.

“You’ll need a loupe for that,” she said.

“A whatsit?”

The professional rock hound taught me how to use it, and I gasped with astonishment at the magnified Moroccan berber agate in my hand. I gasped in exactly that way the first time I looked through a telescope powerful enough to show me Saturn’s butter-coloured rings.

“There’s a cluster of stars here,” I told them excitedly, pointing at the rock. “And this is a whole galaxy! With a cloud nebula off on this side, see it?”

Joe chuckled and took the stone from me and said he was going to photograph it.

That’s why he was there at the show: to exhibit his art. This guy has fixed a magnifying piece to his beautiful old lens that he used to capture east Asia after he fought in the Vietnam war. The lens has served him well, and now it has a new life. At his booth he had a 17-inch computer screen set up for visitors, and his camera, screen, lights and computer in the back. For most people he explained what they were looking at, and how he made the images, but for some who eagerly handed over their treasures, he photographed their rocks.

The results are magical.

Two of the pieces I bought. The piece on the right came from McDermitt, Nevada. The piece on the left is my agate from Morocco.

Two of the pieces I bought. The piece on the right came from McDermitt, Nevada. The piece on the left is my agate from Morocco.

This is only one magical outcome of the rocks my friend photographs. Can you find this portion in my photo of the same stone above?

This is only one magical outcome of the rocks my friend photographs. Can you find this portion in my photo of the same stone above?

A different perspective at the same place on the stone.

A different perspective at the same place on the stone.

I sent a text to another friend and mentioned that the gem and mineral show was near his house. The next day I got a text back. He and his wife had gone to the gem show, and he bought a rock too!

Smoky crystals on my friend's rock.

Smoky crystals on my friend’s rock.

I am still curious about the Cherokee connection, right? The punch line doesn’t seem to include any Indians, but they were all over the story in the beginning. My friend who went the next day is from east Asia, and his wife is not indigenous American as far as I know.

I found the connection in an old email in which Joe talked about his upcoming residency at the Crow’s Shadow Institute on the Umatilla Reservation outside Pendleton, Oregon. He told me that in his art the Cherokee component is necessary. In his work he tries, in the Cherokee tradition, to see clearly and understand what is around us right now, and in that way make links to what has happened over time. One example of that is when he showed me photos of petrified wood, and I could see the cells! Cells in rock. Fascinating, don’t you think?

Whenever I open myself up to what’s out there in the world, I have the best adventures. Joe gave me permission to share more of his images, so I’ll leave you with them. Click to enlarge. Look for unexpected landscapes.

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Evening fishermen head home on the Snake River in front of the house that used to be my Pa's.

Evening fishermen head home on the Snake River in front of the house that used to be my Pa’s.

For awhile it seemed like paradise, this 5 acre plot of land on the banks of the Snake River, just southwest of Boise, Idaho. And when my Pa was younger, the upkeep was somewhat invigorating. But health problems mounted, and the work was never done. Morally defeating was the fact that tasks completed had to be re-completed every so often. Well pumps re-installed, soil Ph balance restored, railings repaired, deck boards replaced, dead trees and bushes re-planted with live ones. One huge blow was when an impressive three-tired retaining wall built of railroad ties (my father did everything himself), was partially destroyed when the above-ground pool (guaranteed not to fail) burst and flooded the hillside, washing out the retaining wall on its way to the river. Insurance refused to pay saying that this was flood damage and my father didn’t have flood insurance. Search as he might, Pa couldn’t find the original purchase receipt of the lifetime guaranteed pool, so that wasn’t replaced either.

I’ve blogged about this place before. Pa called it something like the “Trulove River Rat Rest & Relaxation Ranch,” or TRRR&RR for short. Right across the river is the Shoshone Indian Map Rock, and my post on that remarkable set of petroglyphs is one of my most popular.

Pa had already been wistfully talking about selling and moving someplace with trees, that was smaller and easier for him to take care of. Then, as I mentioned a few posts back, he married a Romanian woman and began trying to bring her to the US. After nearly a year it just wasn’t happening, so he gave up and decided to move to Romania. The beautiful house on the Snake River sold in a few months, and Pa began preparations to leave the country. The new owners graciously allowed him to stay on the property after it was sold, and he lived in a camp trailer while he continued to sort through what was left of years and years of possession-collecting.

A view off Interstate 84 in northeast Oregon

A view off Interstate 84 in northeast Oregon

Wildflowers in the heyday of Spring

Wildflowers (or onions?) in the heyday of Spring

I liked the variety of textures of the different plants here.

I liked the variety of textures of the different plants here.

Wild roses blooming

Wild roses blooming

In April I made the first trip over to help him pack. This second trip was in late May to continue helping him, by taking loads of donated items into the city’s equivalent of Goodwill, and packing the Jeep full of things he was donating to me. Also, importantly, to collect some cats. The Crazy Old Cat Man asked only that I take two. Still, it’s a traumatic thing for our dear Racecar kitty at home, who hates all other cats except herself. D and I brought home Thomas (14 years old) and Yeowler (4 years old), named for…yes, you guessed it. We will see how the summer goes, and then decide if new arrangements need to be made. So far, all three of them fight constantly, and it’s not peaceful when they are too close to each other.

Anyhow, I wanted to show some images from our trip over there, which was like a vacation and tons more fun than an 8-hour drive to Boise would imply. We stretched it to about 11 hours, with multiple stops along the way, and that’s what made it so fun.

First we took a side road that promised a viewpoint. I had been there years ago and vaguely remembered it as worth the look. This time we showed up in a profusion of desert wildflowers and we climbed around the mountain like a couple kids. D found something he thought might be wild onion, and we couldn’t decide. So I took a bite. It was pretty oniony. He thought I was crazy. 😉

Next we stopped for lunch in the little eastern Oregon town of Baker City. The day was an early season reprieve from the winter greys, and tourists were out in force, to the chagrin of unprepared staff in the few restaurants downtown. We stopped for only a pint at the Grand Geiser hotel, but the harried barmaid was pressed beyond her capacity. We left after 15 minutes with no hopes of getting a beer anytime soon, in hopes of easing her burden, and walked down the street to a little Mexican cafe and drank imported Mexican beer instead. Our waitress was the younger sister of another waitress, and had been called in to help.

We walked the streets and delighted in small town shop windows. I photographed the old painted advertising on the walls of several buildings.

Grand Geiser Hotel in Baker City, Oregon

Grand Geiser Hotel in Baker City, Oregon

I'm a sucker for wall art, especially when it has this much character.

I’m a sucker for wall art, especially when it has this much character.

Stay at The Antlers!

Stay at The Antlers! It’s absolutely modern.

The valleys around Boise, Idaho are filled with crops. It’s an agricultural area that doesn’t just produce potatoes, though our state is famous for its potatoes. I remember when there was a big debate over changing our state license plates to say something other than “famous potatoes,” because it wasn’t the snappy image some residents wanted to present. Tradition prevailed, and Idaho remains famous for the root crop instead of diamond mines, suggested instead. You can find onions, sugar beets, corn, wheat, and much more out there. There is lots of sun and water in southern Idaho, which is what a breadbasket valley needs.

Once we arrived at Pa’s place, I called a friend of mine in the area. We grew up together in a tiny town farther north in Idaho, so he knows my dad and our memories go back 30 years. He came out to visit, so we all sat in the shade and watched the river and caught up on each others’ lives.

There wasn’t much left to pack and sort this time, since my Pa had dealt with nearly everything. Of the things left to sort through, I found an English sword I purchased for him a few years ago after hiring a company that researched the Trulove family name. They came up with what my brother had already discovered: our name is English, spelled Trewlove and a variety of other versions before settling down to the one we’ve got. We took turns playing with the sword.

D and I set up our tent on the front lawn of the house that now belonged to someone else. Pa was pleased with the Montana rancher who had purchased his place. I am pleased that passing the baton to a decent new owner will give my Pa some peace. It must be a little like handing your child off to a new caretaker, when you personally build a dry piece of desert into a home oasis and then sell it.

Fields of hops in the valley. The source of so much brewed goodness.

Fields of hops in the valley. The source of so much brewed goodness.

My friend J hands the sword off to D

My friend J hands the sword off to D

Taz is the only kitty who made it to Romania. I wonder what she thinks of Europe?

Taz is the only kitty who made it to Romania. I wonder what she thinks of Europe?

This quail perches on this particular pile of rocks nearly every night.

This quail perches on this particular pile of rocks nearly every night.

Another quail. So photogenic I can't help myself.

Another quail. So photogenic I can’t help myself.

A bird flies off clutching a fish in its claws. You can't see the fish in this photo...trust me it's there. ;)

A bird flies off clutching a fish in its claws. You can’t see the fish in this photo…trust me it’s there. 😉

Tent in the grass

Tent in the grass

Finally we were all out of steam and went our separate ways. D and I walked through the fields looking for the coyotes we heard that sounded very close. All we found were cows grazing quietly, unconcerned about the coy dogs. Have you ever heard that term? Coy dogs? We used to say that when I was a kid. Then we walked down to the river and I took some parting sunset shots.

Cows graze in the evening, as the hills turn purple.

Cows graze in the evening, as the hills turn purple.

Sun sets over the Snake

Sun sets over the Snake

DSC_0050

Working in a dense and unkempt flower bed, I spotted a solitary egg out in the rain.

Working in a dense and unkempt flower bed, I spotted a solitary egg out in the rain.

Over the weekend I found a nest.

A little background: I have not yet built a proper fence that is high enough to keep my hens penned. They simply lift like multicoloured Harrier jets and launch over the four-foot fence. They roam far and wide, doing their own thing, and get into enough trouble that I have been calling them The Hussies. Only one of them comes home to lay, and till recently, I had no idea where most of the eggs were laid.

My good friend was visiting from Boise and stayed with me for four days. Sunday we were in the mood to do yard work. The weather was wholly uncooperative, and the heavens opened up and poured all day long. We donned hats and jackets and boots (my friend was shocked I did not have Wellies) and went out anyway. We raked muddy leaves and hauled heaps of wet sticks and branches and built up two new slash piles for burning at some future date.

Why did the chickens cross the road?

Why did the chickens cross the road?

My friend doing yard work in the pouring rain.

My friend doing yard work in the rain, in Wellington boots.

The Hussies like it when I do yard work and particularly when I dig, because whenever I come across a worm I make sure one of them gets a crack at it. The ladies were hanging around, clucking, pecking, scraping their beaks across stones in a manner that suggests wiping their chins of grime. They did not alert me to the discovery I was about to make, of a treasure stockpile of which at least one of them was well aware.

As I untangled dead sticks and blackberry brambles from ferns, I spied an egg on the ground, exposed and lying atop some coals discarded from a long-ago fire in the woodstove. I hollered at my friend to come over and see.

He was dripping wet head to toes, with hands stained yellow from the dye leeching out of his sopping wet calfskin gloves. Happy for an excuse for a break, he came over to where I was working, and I walked closer to the egg to show him where to go.

I walked closer and got a new view. Something pale-coloured beneath the ferns. Something light in the dark. I bent down and spotted the motherlode of eggs! There were NINETEEN eggs piled up! Carefully tucked into a nest of decaying pine needles and ferns, was a pile of eggs, laid one at a time in patient confidence. It looked like a turtle nest. I was so excited I was hopping around with glee.

Wait, what is that in the ferns?

Wait, what is that in the ferns?

The motherlode

The mother lode

Look at these brown and beautiful eggs!

Look at these brown and beautiful eggs!

Lacey! Are these your eggs? Thank you ma'am!

Lacey! Are these your eggs? Thank you ma’am!

Egg farmer

Egg farmer

For anyone curious, eggs are laid with an antibacterial membrane, an invisible coating called a bloom, that seals the eggs and protects the freshness as well as holds in moisture. Eggs can be stored at room temperature for weeks like this, as long as the eggs are not washed. Eggs can be refrigerated for months unwashed, and will stay fresh. The weather around here has been in the 40s and up to around 50 degrees some days, so I call that refrigerated. However, with all the rain, they may have been “washed.” We used the egg floating test. Put an egg in a bowl of cool water. If it lies horizontally on the bottom, it’s very fresh. If it tips up, but stays in contact with the bottom: still fresh, but less so. If it floats: no good, throw it out. All my eggs were good! As of this morning, we’ve eaten them all.

The rain was gushing today, but the ample front porch keeps the front of the house dry.

The rain was gushing today, but the ample front porch keeps the front of the house dry.

Bandaged toe.

Bandaged toe.

This weekend I was recovering from a procedure I had on my foot on Friday. Had to keep the foot elevated, but had I been as mobile as usual, the weather was not exactly encouraging to do chores or to do fun stuff. So I guess it’s time for a blog.

I moved to this house in the summer, but thoughtful housewarming gifts keep showing up unpredictably. This post is to highlight the ones I thought of today. I hope I don’t forget any, but if I do, I’ll just add them later.

I’ve got a few friends from the earliest of days, and I love that. One of them has been among my best friends since I was 16 and he was 17. He sent me my very first housewarming gift, a steel fish. I think it’s gorgeous and it was the very first thing I hung on my walls in this big place.

This beauty is perfectly suited for my plum walls.

This beauty is perfectly suited for my plum walls.

Another metal gift is one I have needed for ages! After the woodstove was installed, I found a nice-sized stick that I used as a fire poker. In its early life it was about four feet long. It kept accidentally catching on fire. I can’t tell you how many times I would have to run from the fire to the kitchen, to douse the smoking stick. One night I didn’t realize a tiny ember had remained on the stick and it smoldered and burned down about four inches while I slept. Yikes. Anyway, after a few months, my poker stick was only about 18 inches long. I complained about it constantly, but never found time to go shopping for one of those metal fireplace sets. You know, the ones with the broom and the poker that hang from a gaudy rack that sits beside the fireplace? I was complaining to my step-father while Tara and I were in Idaho the last time, and he jumped into action. He dug around in the shed and came up with a steel rod that had a few nuts on one end. It was too long, so he heated it with a torch and cut it, then bent and tapered the end. He heated the nuts into place, then filed them down smooth. I tell you: I was thrilled! This is a perfect fire stick. I never have to run to the kitchen blowing out flames anymore.

Metal pokers are best. Can you see it, leaning against the bricks?

Metal pokers are best. Can you see it, leaning against the bricks?

In the way that happens so often in the blogging world, it was my turn to be blessed with a gift from a blogger. Marlene, whose unceasing accomplishments astound us all who know her at insearchofitall, made this kitchen towel for me. She said it wasn’t just for show, and I was free to use it as a towel, but for now I like it hanging up. I washed it first, to make it look a little used. This gift is one that brings love into my world and makes home feel that much more like home, you know?

Close up of the kitchen towel that Marlene made for me as a housewarming gift.

Close up of the kitchen towel that Marlene made for me as a housewarming gift.

My beautiful kitchen towel tells the truth: lots of love here.

My beautiful kitchen towel tells the truth: lots of love here.

My Tara is in love with bees, you may recall from the brand new bee tattoo. Anything bee-related is good, so I recently received two beeswax candles that please their tastes as well as mine. From what I am told, beeswax candles are superior. I haven’t had the heart to light either one yet, but they smell divine. It’s like what honey would be if it were a gas. Omigosh sweet goodness.

A bees wax squirrel candle. Can't get more perfect for me!

A bees wax squirrel candle. Can’t get more perfect for me!

The sweetest-smelling dragon

The sweetest-smelling dragon

My Pa said during one of our phone calls, “You know, I am sure I have a book about ponds around here somewhere….” Lo and behold, one day these pond books showed up. I am so excited to get what I can from them. Both are written for people who want to build a pond from scratch, so much text is dedicated to planning and engineering. However, I am sure that if I read them both, I will find reasons for the engineering, and that will give me an education. I really want to know how to take care of my pond. It is important to me to be a good steward to this land.

Pond books that I can hardly wait to read.

Pond books that I can hardly wait to read.

Another long time friend is one I met in college in northern California, before I transferred to Brandeis University. I took an honors Anthropology class, just because I was trying to take all the honors classes, and what a great decision it was because within a few weeks I had decided to major in Anthropology. I loved that class, the beautiful and intelligent professor, and this awesome chick who sat next to me every day. She and I even did a part-performance from the Vagina Monologues in that class, and I was in awe of her bravery for tackling the skit she chose. We have been friends ever since. Anyway, my friend now lives in Sante Fe, and sent a care package filled with wonderful things carefully selected from town, including a little burlap bag of garlic, canned roasted peppers, a sage smudge she wrapped herself, and a bag filled with pine nuts still in the shells. She also sent a two-page letter explaining the significance of each thing, and how she might come across them in a typical day. I have eaten everything that’s edible, but I still have some of the nuts left. They are good to munch on at work.

Empty garlic bag and mostly empty nut bag.

Empty garlic bag and mostly empty nut bag.

My last gift has to come with a story, so you can understand why I love it so much.

Out of the blue, I got a box from another friend from the early early days. I went to school with this kid starting back in 1980 and we graduated together in 1988. His dad owned “the” lumber/hardware store in our tiny Idaho town, called C&M Lumber Company. It was absolutely the only place to go for tools, for 2x4s, for paint, for glass, you name it. “C&M” we called it, was a hub, and I was like a kid in a candy store there. I belong to that quirky group that loves hardware stores (I know you’re out there!). Anyway, I have these beautiful, sweet, childhood memories of bemused adults interacting with me as a 14-year old customer, and treating me with more consideration than I’ll bet the adults got. For example, I wanted to paint my bedroom once, and my dad said it was ok. He wouldn’t buy me any paint, but I could use anything in the garage that I found. I found about five containers of mostly-empty, close-to-white paint, from different brands, who knows what it all was. It hadn’t occurred to me to tell my dad that I planned to paint with coloured paint. One of the containers was a 5-gallon bucket, and I dumped them all (plus a pale yellow one) into the big one, and stirred. Then I lugged that thing (it wasn’t full, of course) across blocks and blocks of dirt roads, all the way to C&M Lumber Company. Without any concept of how it was usually done, I explained to the person working that I was there to get it coloured. “We don’t usually do it that way…” the salesman began. But in no time, he had agreed to try to make it a shade of dusty rose I liked, and it was like a little chemical experiment, as he dumped in some of this, and some of that,  stirred it, and then painted a bit of it, to see what it looked like as it dried. All totally FASCINATING to me, as I watched eagerly. I had money, and was ready to pay, but at the end I was released without spending a penny. I was oblivious. But what a great place, to put that much effort into a kid’s project. I ended up painting my room dusty rose with dark grey trim and proudly showed my Pa, who flipped out because it was a forest service house, and residents needed to get permission to paint any colour but white, pale yellow, or pale Forest Service green. After a few days, he relaxed, and decided that no one would find out till after we moved, since I had an attic bedroom.

If I wear this hat, I'll fit right in among the locals in Rainier. But I'll be the only one with the gorgeous goose embroidered on the side. Look at that!

If I wear this C&M Lumber hat, I’ll fit right in among the locals in Rainier. But I’ll be the only one with the gorgeous duck embroidered on the side. Look at that!

There was also the time when I was into a kick of etching artwork into glass. I had found a thick, tinted, and huge mirror at the dump, that had broken into about six unwieldy pieces. I carried these carefully to C&M to get the sharper points cut off and cut in half so they would be easier for me to play with. This time it was the owner himself, my friend’s dad. He began the same way as the paint guy. “Well, we don’t usually…” and before I knew it, he had cut all the pieces for me. Then he took all of them to a power sanding machine and ground down the edges of every mirror piece so I wouldn’t cut myself. Again, my parents had no idea I was there. Again, I tried to pay and was shooed out the door. For years I understood hardware stores as places where you did not spend much. Funny, that’s no longer the case for me.

Today, my school friend runs the place. I haven’t been inside since I was a teenager, but I have been through town, and I have seen the brand new big building outside of town. It must still be as vital today as then. In the country, the hardware/lumber/tool/garden store is critical.

I did my friend’s son a favor a few years ago, and he promised to make it up to me. Viola! Favor returned:

Look at all these shirts! I am so excited to get them!

Look at all these shirts! I am so excited to get them!

In closing, I am including this short video of my woodstove. I tried twenty times to get a photo to show what I was seeing, but I couldn’t do it. I had to use video. What you see is not flames, but smoke, lit up orange from the coals in the back. Cooooooolll.

 

My blogger friend LB takes a lot of B&W photos. So when I saw this fence along the highway, I instantly thought of her.

My blogger friend LB at Life on the Bike and Other Fab Things takes a lot of B&W photos. So when I saw this fence along the highway, I instantly thought of her.

I was told that there was a falls on Beaver Creek. That’s MY creek! Of course, I am only one property owner living along this pretty creek, but that hasn’t stopped my claiming ownership of the whole darn thing.

My friend G is living in Seattle, so pretty close. He wanted to come by for a visit and see my new place. G and I used to work together, forecasting the weather for the National Weather Service in Eureka, California. G has the actual atmospheric sciences degree, I came about that career from the Air Force, and thus can’t flaunt the same impressive qualifications. Still, that work put me into the path of some fun, interesting, and super smart people, and my friend G is one of them.

I thought that finding the trail to the falls would be a good plan for us. G has hiked a lot of trails, and in fact, recommended a trail to Red Cap Lake in northern California that was my very first solo hike of my life, back in the 1990s when I got bit by the backpacking bug. I knew he would be game, so when I suggested it, I was already going for my boots and jacket in the few seconds it took him to say, “Yes!”

The town of Rainier is on Highway 30 in Oregon, which follows the Columbia River Gorge east to west. It’s the road I took recently to celebrate my birthday in Astoria. This time we just went a couple of miles toward the coast, and turned off. We followed Beaver Creek Road several more miles, and Beaver Creek kept curving around, back and forth, beneath the road. It was big, and deep, and it was so exciting to think that this rushing body of water was the same creek that flows past the henhouse.

Before we got to the creek, there was a pull out on the road, where we pulled out and went to the water’s edge to watch the water roaring over a couple of short falls. The sun had broken through the morning fog and lit up a white fence along the highway, and I took the shot at the top of this post. Then I went over the bank and stood there soaking it up. A rainbow lit up the spray to my right. Huge basalt columns formed the banks of the river to my left. We climbed around and guessed at the height of the water during the December floods, as thick mosses on the tree branches above us caught fire in the sunlight.

You can sort of make out the geometric shapes of the basalt columns that poke through the earth here.

You can sort of make out the hexagonal tops of basalt columns that poke through the earth here.

Trees form a natural cathedral over the water above the falls.

Trees form a natural cathedral over the water above the falls.

Farther down the road we pulled out again and parked near the trailhead sign for Beaver Creek Falls. It is 9 miles from my house.

This time of year, it’s best to plan on mud, and we got some. It wasn’t too bad though. The trail was rocky, so we didn’t sink in, but the smallish rocks weren’t held together well in the wet soil and we had to take care not to slide down the steep hill.

G leads the way through the trees.

G leads the way through the trees, watching for washed out trail.

Beaver Falls from the road, through a protective chain link fence.

Beaver Falls from the road, through a protective chain link fence.

It was fun chatting with my friend as we walked, who has been working for the National Weather Service for 26 years, I think he said. Wow, has it been that long since we were young and new at that game? He caught me up on the latest intel he had on people I used to work with. Who moved, who got a promotion, who is still there, doing the same work for the great little community in Humboldt County.

After not too long, we heard the roar, and knew we were close.

The falls is surprisingly huge and beautiful. “It’s symmetrical,” G said, obviously the scientist.

Approaching the falls.

Approaching the falls.

 A small but dizzyingly high falls squirts out from beneath the road we came in on.

It’s hard to see this small but dizzyingly high falls that squirts out from beneath the road we came in on.

Beaver Creek scours out a bowl to fill.

Beaver Creek scours out a bowl to fill.

It is rather symmetrical. Practically square.

It is rather symmetrical. Practically square.

This last photo is for laughs. The sign, drenched in a waterfall and nailed to a tree with its roots in the water, warns NO CAMPFIRES! Darn it, I was just looking for my matches...

This last photo is for laughs. The sign, drenched in a waterfall and nailed to a tree with its roots in the water, warns NO CAMPFIRES! Darn it, I was just looking for my matches…

The trail is totally washed out near the bottom. It’s possible the flood waters came that high, and ground the trail to nothing. I’m surprised we didn’t think to investigate that while we were there. Feet from other winter hikers had eeked out a bit of a passage beyond the washed out part, and I took the chance and went about 20 feet beyond where there was clearly no more trail. But even I had to stop without getting to the bottom.

The falls has ground out a big bowl there, making the steep cliffs more than vertical, but undercut. It must be a fabulous place too cool off on hot days. I’ll bet the water’s edges are packed in the summer. Maybe I wouldn’t want to be here then. But a January hike into the bowl and having this view all to ourselves was pretty sweet.

 

New flag hanging at the house.

New flag hanging at the house.

Time for a catch-up post! It has been wet and chilly lately: unusually early for these parts, but I suppose that balances the remarkably early hot and dry weather we had the end of May and during June. The weather this week is unmistakably Autumnal.

And that makes me panic a little: wait! Summer can’t be gone already! I’m barely getting my mind wrapped around this new house and I haven’t spent enough time sitting back and enjoying it. Yet, if I think about it, I realize there has been much afoot, because I am Crystal and Crystal cannot sit still.

In different light, and in different weather, the landscape reveals itself to me. Typically the pond is so camouflaged that people don't even know it's there. But one morning it was all I could see out there.

In different light, and in different weather, the landscape reveals itself to me. Typically the pond is so camouflaged that people don’t even know it’s there. But one morning it was all I could see out there.

The pond on another day. Though it's in the center of the photo, it's hard to know I am looking at a pond.

The pond on another day. Though it’s in the center of the photo, it’s hard to know I am looking at a pond.

I had a housewarming party. For me this is a complicated negotiation of life goals and stepping outside my comfort zone. My Internet personality may not show it, and my real life personality certainly masks it, but I am a solid introvert. I find that being around a gathering of people is often so mentally exhausting for me that I usually prefer to avoid them. So planning a party? I was a dervish that week, spinning 14 hula hoops in different directions. Afterward – I am not kidding you – I spent two days not talking to anyone, not cooking or cleaning or doing anything that needed doing, and playing video games in my slow recovery.

Don't I know it!

Don’t I know it!

The background to that plan is that this summer my friend G came to see the property, and announced, “Crystal, you MUST host many parties. This place is made for parties.” I thought seriously about that. I’ve been pretty lonesome ever since Arno and I broke up, and I am adamant that I will not fall in love again until I am comfortable being without a partner. Parties would force my introvert self to make friends. 🙂

Also! I can take that risk as long as G helps me. In her I have finally found one of those friends that everyone should have. We have dozens of things in common, are delighted by all the same exact non-typical things, she’s as odd as me, she’s as mentally and emotionally unpredictable as me. So, while I have a lot of mainstream and socially acceptable interests and talents, now there is at least one person around whom I can fall apart into eccentric quirkiness, and she won’t bat an eye.

With her encouragement, I invited everyone I could think of to the potluck. I even walked to the house of the neighbor I hadn’t met, in order to invite her, and we had a great conversation. My Uncle showed up, my brother and his girlfriend from Seattle, people from work, a group of Tara’s friends, and the leader of my Cherokee group came out with her dogs. Friends that I’ve only known a couple months came out here. The weather was perfect, the food turned out amazing (a recipe for pulled pork I had never tried before, and some gluten-free enchiladas).

For all the hours that people were at the housewarming party, I never thought to bring out a camera, till we spotted the sun setting through smoky forest fire skies.

For all the hours that people were at the housewarming party, I never thought to bring out a camera, till we spotted the sun setting through smoky forest fire skies.

Tara is less afraid of heights than I am.

Tara is less afraid of heights than I am.

The housewarming party was a great success and I am riding that wave to the next one: a Samhain bonfire party, which must wait till the forest gets a good soaking.

Part of getting ready for the party involved painting the two living rooms, finished WHILE the first people arrived, ha ha. The house was a series of shades of white, but now we’ve got green, blue, and *purple* walls. I love the purple fireplace room – can’t wait to get a good shot to show you.

I’ve had an electrician come out, a fireplace inspector, a well and pump specialist…so much work to be done here, and so many things to learn. Appointments are all set for the experts to do their magic and get this place ship shape.

Seafaring robots dressed for the party.

Seafaring robots dressed for the party.

We attended a Tiki party at the home of Arno’s brother and sister-in-law, and I learned a little about being a gracious host. The gathering was relaxed and comfortably whimsical, because the couple fills their home and lawn not only with the best kind of people, but also with fabulous thrift-shop finds and creative inventions. Structures around the place included Tiki gods with fires, Tiki gods blowing bubbles and spewing steam, a monkey dangling from a vine, hula dancers shimmying, and a 12-foot volcano that erupted frothing bubbles. So much fun.

Left to right: they are Jamie, Tawny, Lacey, and Phil all misbehaving and getting ready to poop on the deck where they are not welcome!

Left to right: they are Jamie, Tawny, Lacey, and Phil all misbehaving and getting ready to poop on the deck where they are not welcome!

The Jeep is baptized in straw.

The Jeep is baptized in straw.

Learning includes taking care of the growing birds. My chickies are now practically hen-sized and hen-shaped, but no eggs yet. They are big enough to intimidate the neighborhood cats, so I let them roam free around the acreage during the day. They are getting saucy and healthy on grass and bugs, and they have claimed the place as their own. I have the worst time trying to keep them off the deck. One day I had the sliders open and I caught them in the house! I purchased my first bale of hay, and my first 40-pound bag of chicken feed. “What kind do you need?” asked the woman at the counter. “uhhh….” was my eloquent reply. Next time I’ll have an answer.

Robert Lewis tells a story with the help of audience members. Tara is on the right.

Robert Lewis tells a story with the help of audience members. Tara is on the right.

Tara's reed basket.

Tara’s reed basket.

Showing the colours

Showing the colours

Tara and I managed to get to only one Cherokee gathering this summer, but it was a good one. We went to Eugene for a combined potluck with both the Tsa-La-Gi group and the Mt. Hood Cherokees, for announcements by visitors from the Nation in Oklahoma, and awards and gifts presented by Chief Baker. Tara went directly to our friend Robert, who was working at the basket-weaving station, and made a gorgeous basket. Robert later told us some stories about our favourite clever hero: Jistu (Rabbit). We also got our full-color picture ID cards for the Nation, so fancy compared to the old paper ones.

Families sit on the beach in the evening, with a view of Longview, Washington.

Families sit on the beach in the evening, with a view of Longview, Washington.

A puff of steam from a factory looks ominous in the otherwise romantic evening.

A puff of steam from a mill looks ominous in the otherwise romantic evening.

We joined the local annual festival here in tiny Rainier, and gathered at a pretty park right on the Columbia River with hundreds of others as the sun went down. The Washington side of the river hosts a seaport, with barges and tugs, lumber and pulp mills and their narrow towers reaching to the sky and covered in lights. It’s not at all pristine, but I’m growing to love those sparkling towers at night. I can find beauty anywhere.

My new home office

My new home office

At work two announcements came that have captured my interest: first, a job opening for a new position that I am applying for. It’s still with VA, and in the same office, but on a different team. I’ve got 8 years yet before I hit my 30 and can qualify for a pension, and rather than 8 years of doing the same thing I’ve been doing for the past 8 years…I may as well try to learn a new job and keep my brain fired up! So cross fingers for me. The other announcement came this week: no more mandatory overtime! Thank the gods! I cannot even express to you how wiped out I am from 4 years of mandatory overtime. Who knows when VA will find more money and set us back at it again…but for now, I am going to revel in the luxury of a regular 40-hour work week.

That is enough news for now. I’ve jabbered long enough. I’ll leave you with a couple more deer photos. I know it’s old news, but I still love to see them.

The most I have ever seen on the land at one time.

The most I have ever seen on the land at one time.

Look at how pretty this Black-tailed deer is.

Look at this pretty Black-tailed deer.

Roy McAlister talks with Marcus as the musician gets to know his new McAlister guitar.

Roy McAlister talks with Marcus Eaton as the musician gets to know his new McAlister guitar.

Yesterday evening was another one of those times when I am absolutely humbled and grateful for the beautiful people in my life who made it happen for me. Don’t you find that remarkable things happen as a result of collaboration? It’s always that way. Keep people you admire and respect close to you, and they will make your life better. 🙂

Though we see each other rarely, one of my favourite friends of all is A, who lives out in Southeastern Washington state. He was invited to a backyard BBQ and potluck party in Gig Harbor, Washington where our mutual friend, Marcus Eaton would be playing. A couldn’t make it, and asked that I be invited to the party instead. And I was. (giggly happy dance inserted here)

It was at the home of a luthier, A told me. A man who makes high quality guitars played by musicians including Jackson Browne, Marc Cohn, Graham Nash and David Crosby. It was a unique opportunity for me to be in the presence of real artists, and only two hours’ drive from our home in Rainier, Oregon.

I got up early and made jalapeno poppers. This involves carefully cutting open fresh peppers and removing all the pulp and seeds and stuffing them with cream cheese. The task is tricky to do without tearing the peppers, which you want to close back up once they’re stuffed, so you can roast them. The bigger problem is dealing with pepper juice on your fingers. It’s 24 hours later and my skin is still burning. I always think “Next time I’ll wear gloves,” and I always forget. At least I’m consistent.

This photo doesn't do it justice, but Gig Harbor is an absolutely darling seaside Victorian town. The rain let up right before we arrived, so we were able to get out a bit, and stayed dry.

This photo doesn’t do it justice, but Gig Harbor is an absolutely darling Victorian town. The rain let up right before we arrived, so we were able to get out a bit, and stayed dry.

Down at the picturesque Harbor itself. This town is in Puget Sound, so it has full access to the Pacific Ocean, but is protected from seaside exposure.

Down at the picturesque Harbor itself. This town is in Puget Sound, so it has full access to the Pacific Ocean, but is protected from seaside exposure.

The weather was wretched and that made I-5 treacherous. The four northbound lanes are usually bumper to bumper on the way to Seattle: that’s a given. So add torrential downpours causing small lakes on the Interstate, and the omnipresent summer construction zones. Yikes. We were grateful to pull onto Highway 16 and head west over the Tacoma Narrows bridge. (I received a text from my brother that the bridge was closed due to high winds after we arrived at our hosts’ home, but luckily it was opened up again by the time we all left.)

Our plans had changed due to the weather, so we arrived rather early. Tara and I decided to explore the town of Gig Harbor and calm our nerves a bit before we ventured on. From there, it was only 15 minutes to the house.

Mrs. McAlister was as gracious as could be, considering she had never met us, and ushered us both in, introduced us to the kids, pointed out drinks and food, and showed me how to work the oven so I could broil the poppers. I met other guests and was grateful that Tara and I were not the first. Marcus was already there, and introduced me to Roy McAlister the luthier, and he introduced me to his new guitar.

The guitar should get a dedicated blog post. Sadly, I am ignorant of the technical descriptions of instruments. All I can say is that – even to me – this guitar is sexy enough to make hearts pound. Roy pointed out all the pieces: the blonde front piece, the dark sides and back, the black wood border around the face. Each piece of wood gorgeous and patterned and quilted with variations in the wood. Even the ebony of the neck was striped with lighter colours. Stunning.

Marcus begins to open up his new guitar.

Marcus begins to open up his new guitar.

His fingers blur across the frets.

His fingers blur across the frets.

Marcus had just been presented with the guitar, and played with it for a couple of hours before people started showing up, because he was trying to “open it up,” and noted that he could already hear the difference after doing that. He was so pleased he practically babbled about his gift. He said that guitars peak in sound quality after 10 years or so, and he was dying to hear the future tones of this work of art.

I was honored to be invited to Roy’s workshop in the back, filled with carved and unassembled pieces, curved and shaped and waiting to be brought to life, first by the luthier and finally by the musicians.

Guitars waiting for the tender touches of repair work.

Guitars waiting for the tender touches of repair work.

Tools waiting to be called upon.

Tools waiting to be called upon.

Roy McAlister was revealed to me by the end of the evening to be an exceptional human being. When describing the guitar for us, I could sense his efforts to maintain a calm and humble presentation but it was easy to see how excited he was. Watching carefully as the evening progressed and he hovered at the edge of the audience, soaking up the sounds of the artists with his guitars, I could see the kid inside him, straining not to bounce around with glee. If he wasn’t proud of his accomplishments while watching the musicians, he deserved to be. During the party, he talked with everyone and made each person feel appreciated, even me and Tara, total strangers. Roy made jokes all night and when he got together with Marcus, the two of them were positively juvenile. It was pretty hilarious. I teased him about being the biggest kid in the house, and he took it as a compliment.

Marcus could not stop raving about his gift. It was better than Christmas. The guitar, obviously, is gorgeous. But Marcus was just going crazy about its playability the instant he picked it up. “I’ve been fighting my guitar for three years,” he told me. “This guitar disappears when I start playing. It disappears.” You could tell by watching. There was no adjustment period as he figured it out…he just sat down and made jaws drop. In between every song he took the time to rave some more. “Sick!” he says, “I want to be more eloquent, but that’s all I’ve got.”

The rain POURED and wind raged. It had brought down a tree in the yard earlier. There was no question of being out of doors. So the lovely hosts rearranged their home and brought the show inside. That made it very intimate, and I was glad, because I was able to hear every single breath of the new guitar.

When the house was full, the artists began playing. It was a full concert with personally invited artists. I have photos only from the beginning when the light was still good. When it got dark outside, the room was dark and my little Nikon with my poor night photography skills was not able to capture anything worth posting.

Terry Holder tunes her guitar.

Terry Holder tunes her guitar.

Jerry and Terry make a great team and looked like they were having fun up there.

Jerry and Terry make a great team and looked like they were having fun up there.

Terry Holder started us off, with some fabulous back-up by her husband Jerry. I had the chance to talk to them before the show and they are both truly genuine people with quick smiles and generous hearts. Terry’s songs are as beautiful as she is, and filled with a magical, hopeful quality that I noticed is also in her personality. “Put it out into the Universe,” she said a couple of times during the night, expressing her belief that good things happen when you are true to yourself.

Rick Ruskin has skillfully wound his way around guitars for decades.

Rick Ruskin has skillfully wound his way around guitars for decades.

Rick Ruskin was up next with his McAlister guitar. Rick’s funny stories were a great accessory to his exceptional playing. It was clear that he and his guitar had been close friends for years, and his picking was relaxed and confident. He joked about playing I Wish It Would Rain the previous year, and this year’s barbecue being rained out. He played it again, hoping to cancel out the effect, and then – just in case – held us spellbound with an instrumental Here Comes The Sun. I complimented him on his set, later in the kitchen. “I give it a B+,” Rick responded. Oh, pshaww. Maybe artists find it harder to admit to greatness when there are so many greats together. But I argue: wear the coat when it fits.

Marcus in the living room of a family who play music and love music.

Marcus in the living room of a family who play and love music.

Then Marcus played a nice long set. For those who want to know, the setlist was Sunrise Lets You Down, Black Pearl, What’s The Difference, Flying Through the Fire, Reverie, I Will Be Your Shade, Better Way, The Sting, The Barbie Song, and Who You Are. His fingers fly when he plays. He sometimes watched the frets while his hands picked it out, and sometimes looked right out at us while his fingers danced and sparked like lightning. There were little gasps in the audience and quiet “wow”s around me. (I often wonder what it’s like for those hearing him for the first time) Though I have been mesmerized by his playing since 2006, twice I caught myself dizzy from holding my breath to listen. No matter how good the music is, I must still breathe. It was the first time I had heard Flying Through the Fire, inspired by a WWII messenger pigeon. “It’s about life,” said Marcus. The song touched me deeply. It’s going to have to be my new anthem. Sadly, I still don’t have the music, since it’s on Marcus’ new album. The album is so recently completed it hasn’t even been released yet!

As if that wasn’t enough music-from-the-gut, I was introduced to Keith Greeninger. First of all, his voice knocked me flat. In a good way. There is no better match of voice to songwriter ever. Each song has a message that is so profoundly beautiful it broke my heart. In a good way. I had to fight off the tears during Hop In the Truck, in which he played a mandola (everything else was on guitar). It is about American and Mexican construction workers building a border wall together because they needed the work to feed their families, and when it is finished all the foreigners get deported. The song called out politicians building campaigns by shutting out the laborers upon whose backs our country was built. After the show I found that Keith is …wait for it… deeply genuine and caring in person. He was eager to shake my hand and thank me for listening, when I was the one trying to thank him.

Every single person was wonderful, and funny, and interesting, and open. I didn’t even have a chance to meet them all, and trust me, I feel that loss. The bigger story is that I was able to meet many of them, and today my life is a hundred times richer.

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