Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Intrepid Inlaws Posted by Hello

Meet the Parents

I have been blessed in my in-laws, no doubt about it. They jumped at the chance to come visit me here, and so far have been the perfect guest companions. They love to ride, they agree that the Palouse is one of the most beautiful areas on earth, they enjoy visiting small rural towns (Moscow and Pullman) and eating in restaurants I recommend, and they, too, are fascinated by grocery stores the world over. AND, they are perfectly happy letting me tell them what to do for the few days that they’re here.

I’m particularly impressed with their athleticism—these two haven’t ridden a horse in four years, and we took a fairly long first ride yesterday—at least two and a half hours—and they’re feeling fine this morning. I hope I will be in such good shape in a number of years that I won’t specify, in deference to them. The only minor struggle anyone had yesterday was Dan, riding The Sofa with a saddle. Per the usual, Shadow’s saddle slipped, regularly, particularly when racing up the long gallop. Dan chose to stay with the horse rather than the saddle, though, and we were able to put it to rights, more or less, whenever we walked.

It’s been raining the last few days, so much of the ground is muddy and much of the brush-lined trails wet, but I was able to hang back and be third horse (on Sikum; Janet bonded with Toby) where it mattered so I came home dry for once. Dan was soaked to the bone.

I am pleased to report that both Dan and Janet felt often lost—or rarely even remotely found—on the trails we rode. I feel better about my own struggles, and evident successes, finding my way around these endlessly changing, and yet eerily the same, woods and meadows and roads.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Dog Heaven. They wake me in the morning by both rolling around on their backs at the same time, twisting their butts around and rubbing their heads into the comforter. At 7:00am. It's better than the 5:30am wake-up calls when Ian was here and they had to sleep on the floor. Posted by Hello

The Signs of Addiction

Today was a rainy day. I haven’t been here at Jerome Creek during the rainy season before—it’s always been clear. It’s maybe once drizzled, but nothing like the downpour for several hours today. I didn’t know what to do with myself—riding in a shower isn’t my idea of a good time. I ended up cleaning—well, why not—then knitting on the couch while I watched . . . all I can think of is As Good as it Gets, or the Portuguese title, Better is Impossible . . . which is not the movie, although the one I saw was also starring Jack Nicholson . . . oh well. The movie was pleasant enough, although about 45 minutes too long. Which doesn’t help you, my readers, at all, since I don’t know what movie it was. ANYway.

When the rain stopped, I went for a ramble with the dogs. We tried out a trail or two near the house, and got entirely soaked up to the thighs (me) or completely (the dogs) by the drenched grasses and trees. Didn’t see any bears; didn’t even see any cows.

I’m kind of in a holding pattern today—not starting anything new, not really accomplishing much, because two more characters join me tonight—my parents-in-law, Dan and Janet Taylor. I have somehow developed a reputation with them for excellent suggestions, planning, and execution of a variety of events from a trip to Hawaii to dinner at the Dahlia in Seattle (which I correctly predicted they would love) . . . and so I’m a little obsessed with having this visit to Jerome Creek work out just as well. To that end, I’ve been planning rides with a variety of loop options so that we can go home or go on from a variety of places based on seat soreness or any other factor. (an aside—I am beginning to feel the effects of my lovely glass of Cabernet, and, I imagine, you are all able to see them. No, the wine is not the addiction referred to in the title. Hold your horses (ha ha), it’ll come.)

In preparation for leading rides in the few days, yesterday I took The Sofa out for a solo journey along a trail Ian and I had traveled, to see if I could find a different loop. We had two adventures on the way to failing to find anything new, which I will recount here. The first is that Shadow, using her skills as a homing device, at one point set off up a track that gradually disappeared into nothing but deadfall and horse-leg-breaking traps. She forged ahead, though, me holding on with my legs and protecting my face with my arms, until I had a pair of realizations. One, I could get off. There is no law that says a rider may only touch the ground at home upon mounting and at home upon dismounting. And if I got off, we would be much shorter than with me on top, and could therefore flail about with less danger to my head. Two, home sense is not necessarily common sense, and so therefore I needed to supply some common sense. So, before I panicked completely and we lost ourselves in a darkening wood where bears live, far from home, I realized that we needed to go back the way we came. So we picked our way carefully down the hill, me leading this incredibly patient and sure-footed horse, and met our second adventure. We came upon a small herd of cows. Now, cows are not known for being particularly bright. The word “bovine,” a fancy name for “cow”, can also be used to describe someone, well, not too swift. Cows though, like most mothers, are protective, and this herd we stumbled upon comprised two cows and about a half dozen calves. We inadvertently chased several calves and one cow down the trail in front of us—we were just walking along, they were running away. The other cow, a beefy red Holstein with a white face, started chasing us. I could hear her breathing hard and trotting along behind us, and I would occasionally look back to gauge her approach. Every time I looked at her she would stop, but I could see she was still planning her attack. Shadow started to jog, and I didn’t really hold her back, because I know we could’ve outrun a cow attack. Of course, I’m assuming they would eventually attack . . . which is perhaps bovine of me. At any rate, calves, cows, horse and girl all went their ways separate or together as appropriate, and we made it home, albeit having retraced our steps, with, like, a whole hour and a half before sunset. We could totally have gotten lost for a lot longer.

Which brings me back to today—I—shock of the week—didn’t feel like riding. I wanted to feel like it, but it was wet and gray and it just didn’t seem fun, even though the rain had stopped. Until 5:30 this evening. At 5:30, I suddenly had to ride. I had to. The way I have to have coffee every morning. There was no way around it—I was usually out riding by then—clearly my body, my mind, my whole being needed to be on a horse. What could I do? I collected The Sofa and out we went, for a lovely, if wet ride. Even a-horseback I came home drenched to the waist.

Riding and writing seem to be symbiotic in me, because I hadn’t felt like writing anything at all, all day today, until I was out pushing through sodden brush on my favorite horse. Not bad for an addiction.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Ian Soup Posted by Hello

God’s Golf Links

Ian left yesterday for Seattle via Homer, AK (ironically enough via Seattle, or at least SeaTac, first), and three days fishing for dogfish off the Kenai Peninsula. Our last hours together were very sweet, perhaps bathed in the glow of our relief that Ian hadn’t, actually, broken his back and become another horseback riding statistic. Friday evening we threw together a dinner of spicy lentil-feta salad and fish balls (balls made from fish and potatoes and pressed flat before being fried so they were actually fish disks; not fish gonads), popped the dogs into the back of the resident pickup (being low on gas in our own vehicle after our previous explorations), and tried to drive up to the end of the Jerome Creek Road, and the top of some mountain, to see a sunset. We didn’t actually pick the correct road, although the road we did pick I recognized from coming down it at dusk on Toby a few years before . . . to this day, I’m not sure how I found the top of that mountain . . . but I feel very lucky that I got off it . . . anyway, we drove up the road we chose until it became clear that it wasn’t being maintained anymore, chose a small clearing, let the dogs out, and ate our weird food. Very quickly, because the mosquitoes found us very quickly.

Back at the ranch, we had a soak in the hot tub. Lest you think a hot tub is too posh and citified for such a rural place, let me describe it. It is, essentially, a big soup pot. The container itself is a large wooden half-barrel, maybe about 4.5 feet across. It is periodically filled with clean water, but it’s not ever chlorinated. And, since it doesn’t actually boil, it’s not ever totally critter-free. But you don’t think about that. It is heated by a little submersible wood-burning stove, which tends to make the top half of the water very hot while the bottom stays very cold, so you stir it—really, it looks like you’re stirring a potion in a big cauldron—with a bit of paddle. Ian had started the fire before our sunset adventure, and so by about 10 pm or so, the water was about 106. Or 107. It was really, really hot, making me feel all the more like dinner. I could see how it might be quite lovely in the winter, when snow blankets the ground and, better yet, can be added to the soup to cool it down just a bit. Still, Ian enjoyed it on his back. It was about 94 the next morning, so Ian had a brief sit then as well.

Around 11 Saturday morning, we gathered up the dogs and set out to tour more of the Palouse, on our way to Spokane and Ian’s 6:30 flight. Our first stops were Harvard, ID, for the mail (and a discussion of how wonderful are the horse owners), and Princeton, ID, for gas (and more discussions of wonderfulness). We felt a bit like city slickers—me in my skirt and fancy Hollywood dark glasses, neither of us in jeans (later, in Spokane, we were to feel like quite the country bumpkins when we let Kit out of the car for a walk around on a horse lead rope—which just looks like a rope—because we hadn’t been able to find a leash for him).

Generally when I come here to Jerome Creek, I don’t ever leave, because I can’t get enough of the horses. But three weeks is a good long time, and so I’ve enjoyed visiting some of the countryside. Such as . . . for years we’ve been hearing about the town of Elberton, population formerly over 1000 but now probably 1/10th that. It’s near Garfield, WA (where our hosts lived for decades), and you get there by taking a dirt road over a field from another not main road. I had pictured a dusty ghost town with a few chickens and goats scratching about, a place far richer in lore than in scenery. It turns out that Elberton is fairly empty but for the chickens and goats, but it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

You drive along the gravel road, straight up one of the Palouse’s typical rolling hills (formed after the last ice age when winds blew rich glacial loess around—it’s basically a land of huge dunes), around a small bend of hill, and you’re suddenly suspended over a wide river valley. You curve slowly down to the bottoms opposite sandstone cliffs spotted with trees. Horse and cows are scattered about, a narrow river gurgles along, and a number of houses snuggle together along the few streets. A large brick church stands, windows boarded up, amongst stately oaks, testament to more prosperous times.

The Palouse is full of dying towns, once-snug little centers, empty of all but a tavern or a small market or a feed store. Most are built along rail lines, and the grain silos still seem to be used, but the communities are gone. It’s a shame—the buildings, one- and two-story brick or clapboard structures, still stand, full of dormant character, wishing for a renewal of life. Some have “for sale” signs posted, but on most people haven’t even bothered. At many, no one has even bothered to remove the remnants of the last business, so faded silk flowers and dusty pastry cases blink in bright sunlight from Clara’s defunct CafĂ©, or bits of plumbing equipment and wire gleam dully in Olsen’s now closed Grange Supply. These hamlets don’t seem to be dead—they seem to want another chance. But how does a society bring that about? How can we create an economy to support these small towns, a system of commerce to take advantage of the beauty and peace of the settings, the communities waiting patiently for their chance to be vibrant again?

We also drove up to the top of Steptoe Butte (from which comes the term “steptoe” to refer to a landscape characteristic like it—a sizeable mountain-thing, all by itself in the middle of much lower land), Ian cowering in the passenger seat all the way up the narrow, un-guard-railed road, the ground falling away under him so he thought it looked like we were flying, or, rather, about to plunge to our deaths. At the top, we munched on cheese and crackers and drank in the soaring views of the Palouse all around us. The fields, varying velvety greens with the occasional sandtrap of freshly plowed earth, looked like a giant golf course.

And now my cast of characters is reduced by one.

A Riding Lesson

Or, rather, two. But don’t worry—people, horses, even reins are all perfectly fine.

On the afternoon of Friday the 24th, Ian and I decided to take a longer ride than we had previously, to see if I could find a particular trail that I’d been on once with the residents. One drawback to riding in forest land that has been extensively logged and replanted is that everything looks the same—the stump marking a particular path, the bend in the road, the stand of uncut pine or fir—and roads twist and turn so much, following the contours of the land, that it’s hard to keep one’s bearings even in afternoon sun. We did find the trail, however, and it was just as beautiful as I remembered. Two wide, grassy roads run along either side of a small cut filled with varied trees in varied green hues—tamarack, pine, fir; most putting out soft new growth; some dead, but draped with beards of grey-green mosses. Ian was on Sikum, I on Toby, who was in horse heaven—the grasses down this trail were so long she didn’t even need to lower her head to keep up a steady stream of grazing. Every photo we have of her from this ride shows a mouthful. Shadow, to her dismay, was left behind (an aside—I always feel bad for the one horse, either out alone for a ride, or in alone from a ride, because the one horse always whinnies for the two horses, and the two, happy in their little herd, couldn’t care less. Very sad.)

Anyway, we rode down one road and back up the other, then decided to continue our loop rather than re-covering old ground, found a likely trailhead angling more directly toward home, and headed in. Virtually right at the beginning we ran into trouble—although we could see a lovely clear path heading up the hill, directly in front of us stood several pines, blocking our passage with long, scraggly and pokey arms. I hopped off Toby, left the reins over her neck, and started bending and breaking bows. Toby immediately put her head down to graze with a vengeance, and her reins (which are hooked together into one loop) slid down and hooked on her ears, leaving loops at each side of her head. I broke a couple branches, then Toby stepped into the circle of rein and caught herself around the leg. This startled her and she bumped her head up, trying to get away from whatever had caught her. She couldn’t get away, however, and so, being Toby, put her head back down and continued to graze, taking one or two hobbled steps until I caught up with her (slowly—fast movement will, or may, spook the horse into something more dangerous) and released her, handing her reins to Ian who had dismounted to help. Later, when we were almost home, I realized that Toby’s reins are still sporting the repair work Erika fashioned two or three summers ago when she, opening a gate, had left Toby’s reins on her head and the horse had stepped on them, not through them, and broken them. Moral—Toby can’t keep her head up, so make sure she’s not going to tangle herself in her reins. Secondary moral—if the beginning of the trail is impassible, it’s likely other parts later on will be as well. There were a few places where only momentum carried us through the undergrowth, and I was very glad I wear glasses for the small protection they offered my eyes.

Lesson number two was Ian’s. Horseback riding can be hard on your lower back—the natural gait of the horse causes your pelvis to move back and forth a lot, and if it’s an exercise you’re not used to, a couple hours can make you pretty stiff. Ian had been in the habit, as we headed for home, of lying back over his saddle so his head rested on the rump of his horse, and using the back of the saddle to stretch his lumbar region. This can be quite an exquisite stretch—I occasionally employ it myself, during my riding lessons, in the arena, when my horse is stopped in the middle. Both Shadow and Toby, who Ian rode for the first few days, are virtually bomb-proof—that is, a bomb could go off next to them and they won’t care—so this unusual behavior from the rider didn’t disturb them. Sikum, however, who Ian was riding this day, is not. For one thing, is belly is ticklish, and one piece of long grass can set him off. And at this time of year, long grass is not hard to come by. For another, he’s fairly young—only six—and hasn’t had the breadth of experience that the mares have. For a third, this particular evening, we had just passed a herd of cows—one or two nurse cows and several calves—and Sikum was already a little jumpy. And he was headed for home.

So, up ahead (it takes longer to walk if you’re grazing, so Toby is invariably several paces behind) I see Ian lay back on Sikum. I start to call out “Um, I’m not sure if that’s such a good idea,” but all I have time to say is “Um,” before I have to change it to “Ohmygodareyouokay?!!” because Sikum has spooked and tossed Ian into the brush at the side of the road, and jumped away, to dance around just out of reach (an aside—for all that Sikum spooks easily, he also recovers quickly. He didn’t race in a blind panic for home, just began to graze). I had images of Ian’s lower back having been destroyed by his posture on the horse at time of forced dismount, and therefore needing to stay with him or get help or something, and competing images of Sikum racing away and somehow getting a leg caught in his reins and broken or not finding his way home, or finding his way home and getting tangled in the barbed-wire gate that was open but that he still could get caught in, and therefore needing to go directly to him and get him . . . Ian assured me he was okay, though, so I left him lying in the dirt for a minute while I rode after Sikum. He, though, realizing I was on horseback and therefore thinking everything was probably okay and he should just head home, continued on. Ian realized he really was basically fine and walked up to me on Toby, and then held her (lesson number one in action) while I got off and went after Sikum on foot. Once he realized I was walking, he seemed to understand that there should be someone on him and so he waited for me to catch him. We met back up with Ian and Toby, Ian mounted (the proverbial “always get back on the horse”), I mounted, and we made it home without further mishap.

Lesson number two, therefore, is that horses are unpredictable. Things startle them that wouldn’t startle us. For Sikum, the combination of Ian’s head weirdly on his rump and grass tickling his belly were too much and he had to get away. Lesson number two, part two is that, even if you haven’t done it before or recently, you can fall off your horse. Ian can’t remember ever having fallen off a horse before, and we’re both very glad that his one experience was so minor—and even so, it taught him a lot.

That night, as we were looking over our pictures from the day, we came upon some video footage Ian had taken, just after meeting the cows and just before his accident. The film shows a fat red cow running, tail cocked, up the road. It’s clear from the bouncing of the video and the appearance, now and then, of Sikum’s ears in the shot, that Ian is trotting along, not really in control of either horse or camera. “I probably shouldn’t do things like this anymore, either,” said Ian, laughing.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Note to my readers: A friend pointed out yesterday that, were I to truly reference Steinbeck, I would have to call the blog “Travels with Spackle.” While Spackle does come on some of my trips, he doesn’t come on all. If I were to go with “Travels with Calin,” that would imply that I were the poodle. And I’m not.

Jerome Creek, 24 June 2005

A Country Day
The Jerome Creek place is in the eastern edge of the Palouse, a gorgeous region of rolling meadows and fields accented by hilltop stands of evergreen and birch trees, occasional outcrops of rock, and twisting creeks. Several small towns, with populations between 200 and 2000, also dot the landscape, laced together by the rivulets and narrow ribbons of highway. Yesterday, for the first time in all the years I’ve been coming here, Ian and I decided to explore. We popped the dogs into the back of the car (lifting gimpy Spackle but merely standing aside for Kit, who hopped in under his own power), filled our waterbottles, and hit the White Pine Scenic Highway, bound for St Maries.

The road flowed over and around gentle rises, past weathered barns and outbuildings, occasional herds of cows, one flock of sheep, and frequent horses. We passed evidence of a sense of humor—an outhouse by the side of the road, with white-painted letters declaring it “Stephanie and Will’s House”. Farther on, we noted a stand of four mailboxes, with a fifth at least 8 feet in the air, on the top of a pole. “Airmail,” it said on the side.

This is the time of year for roadwork, and we encountered our fair share, waiting nearly 15 minutes in one place for the “Lead Car Follow Me,” which, we realized during the following, was driving back and forth along the repaving as quickly as possible—it took us at least 20 minutes to get through.

St Maries is a sizeable town, a former logging outpost like many of the communities in this part of the Palouse (St Maries might actually be out of the Palouse). We stopped only briefly at an old drive-in for milkshakes, black raspberry for Ian, rootbeer for me. We exchanged slurps—Ian’s was so thick it was basically ice cream, but he put his considerable practice in fast consumption to work and finished, with a tired mouth, at the same time as me.

We only made one more stop, at a vacant National Forest Service campground, to let the dogs wade in the St Maries River and us stretch our legs. Spackle, true to form, immediately submerged himself, then cut out strongly for the opposite bank, looking much like an otter until he pulled up short at a hearty bush and began harvesting sticks.

I went out for a solo bareback ride on The Sofa when we returned, visiting a couple of familiar loops. One part of the trail is a smooth, grassy upward slope that the horses love to gallop up—Erika and I taught them that a few years ago and they haven’t forgotten—and yesterday was no exception. Once I convinced Shadow that she did want to cross this small bit of creek and she realized where we were going, it was all I could do to hold her back in a trot. As soon as I had determined that we were, in fact, heading the right way, I said merely “Okay,” and she shot off as if with the aid of rocket boosters. This horse can move, and loves to. 20 years she may have, but she’s not old, and her gallop is smooth as silk. She’s a bit out of shape, though, and had to pause for a breather about 2/3 of the way up. She recovered quickly, and shot up again, this time through scrub (I had several strands of brush around my ankles by the time we reached the top).

Cattle and calves are all over the forest land this time of year, it not being hunting season, and they’re often very quiet until you startle them, which then startles the horses. Cattle have nothing on deer, though, for the startle factor—deer are more flighty than the horses, even, and will leap crashing into the woods in a flash. Yesterday, as Shadow and I approached a crossroads, one direction leading home and the other leading where I wanted to go, she caught sight of a whitetail deer. Ears pricked, entirely focused on the deer, she didn’t really notice when I turned her left, away from home, and started down a new trail. The deer leapt away, her attention came back to me and the path, and she realized she’d been duped. Her head came up, she slowed her pace, looked over her shoulder, flicked an ear at me, then sighed and continued on. While Shadow’s homing instinct is highly evolved—she both knows where home is, and wants to go there—she, more than the other horses, also really loves to be out for a ride, which makes the pleasure of communion with horse and nature all the more exquisite. Really, there’s nothing else like it.

To end a quintessentially rural America day, we had dinner at the Hoo Doo Tavern in Harvard, ID, about four miles away. On the menu—ice cold Bud, and German sausage with kraut, processed Swiss cheese and mustard, and onion rings. Perfect.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Jerome Creek, 23 June 2005

Cast of Characters, Week 1

Ian: My husband of almost 4 years. He is currently sitting out by the pond on the park bench under a tree, playing his car accordion to the snakes and frogs. He leaves Saturday.

Olivia: Delicate black cat who is staying here while her owners are away. She leaves July 2nd. The second night that she was entirely in my charge, I called her to the porch where her food and bed are (she prefers the freedom of the hayloft during the days), then, when she had almost arrived, inadvertently loosed the dogs, who, charming though they usually are, couldn’t resist the allure of a cat streaking away. She didn’t ever come back that night, and I worried about her, as well as feeling guilty for tricking her. “Here, kittykittykitty . . . now dogs—GET HER!”

Spackle: Ian’s and my dog, a chocolate lab, almost four years old. With his long-term hip issues and more recent ACL injury, he’s not as stable as our marriage. You’d think the sore legs would slow him down, but they don’t—not by choice. He’s getting used to staying home when we go on rides.

Kit: The resident dog. Kit is a 10-year-old Australian shepherd. He and Spackle are great friends, or, rather, are very comfortable companions. Neither is much given to dog-like roughhousing, but they do share space well. Kit is developing a bit of arthritis in his old age, so he’s been staying home from rides with Spackle. The two sleep virtually all day, so I don’t think they feel like they’re missing out.

And, of course, the horses.

One of the main reasons I love to housesit in Jerome Creek is that there are horses. Rather, I should say that I love to horsesit, because that’s really what it is. Of the three horses, Shadow has long been my favorite. She is a 20-year-old black Appaloosa, which means she’s not actually black at all, but rather spotted and roaned all over, with a white blanket on her rump. Even her lips are freckled. Her non-spotted parts are black, though, hence black. Shadow is the boss. She nips the other two horses and puts them in their places, several steps behind her. This sense of authority appeals to me, and, occasionally, offers a challenge. She’s opinionated, and while she does enjoy getting out for a ride around the area, she is initially loath to be separated from her herd. She has hardly any withers and a fairly slow metabolism, and as a result a nice round back, sometimes referred to as “The Sofa.” This makes her comfortable for bareback riding, which I like in part because the interaction with the horse is all the more immediate, and in part because it takes a fraction of the time to get the horse ready for riding. Shadow likes bareback as well—putting a saddle on a Sofa so that it won’t slip around involves an extreme tightness of girth, which is naturally not as comfortable as no girth at all. Another excellent trait of Shadow is her incorruptible sense of direction. More than once, she alone has gotten us home, sometimes by going the opposite direction from what I was expecting. And a couple times in the deep dusk.

The last two days, though, I’ve been riding Sikum, and definitely enjoying it. Sikum, too, is an Appaloosa, although of an overall pattern minus the blanket over the rump. He was purchased four years ago from the Nez Perce, and has been trained for riding since then. He’s only six, third on the pasture totem pole, but a sweet gelding who’s quickly responsive to cues and who can put on a surprising burst of speed in a second. He’s still easily startled by who knows what (although the last two days have been windy, which can make a lot of normal things sound strange), and has a wriggly flexibility to his gaits which makes trail riding a more active experience than it can be on The Sofa.

Toby, the middle mare, also 20, is a sweet chestnut Quarter horse. She is easy to catch (a nice trait when horses are pastured on 10 acres) and a dependable ride, although she tends to graze non-stop, during rides and not, which can be irritating if you’re trying to keep up with the other two.

Jerome Creek, 23 June 2005
The Idyll
Jerome Creek, Idaho, pronounced Jerome Crick, is not a town on a map. It’s a road, and a crick, and 20 or so resident humans, and far more resident livestock, about 40 minutes from Moscow, Idaho. The area is pasture, field, and coniferous forest, as well as clearcut and replantings. The place I am staying is 80 acres and home to two humans (away in Europe for the three weeks that I’m here), one dog (Kit), and three horses (in order of equine hierarchy: Shadow, Toby, and Sikum). The 80 acres, comprising pond, pasture, and tree farm, borders national forest land and Potlatch logging company land. There are endless trails for riding or hiking (although the local bears . . . which I’ve never seen, but other people have . . . keep me on the main roads when I’m afoot). It’s much drier here than at home in Seattle. Aridity, coupled with the lack of Puget Sound, makes for incredible temperature shifts. During the late summer, it can be 95 in the afternoons, and 25 in the early mornings. The horses, who need their winter coats for the nights, stand around panting during the days. This time of year, early summer, is more temperate. The spring rains are tapering off and days are only in the 80s, and nights are only in the 50s (although it did freeze less than a week ago).

It’s a little disingenuous to count Jerome Creek as travel, as I have come to think of it—and treat it—as my second home. With my work schedule as a writer, I am flexible as a housesitter for the retired family friends who actually own this place . . . and I’ve spent so much time here without them that I’ve come to feel as though they are visiting me when we’re all here together. Still, it is a step away from my day-to-day life, and as such offers the perspective so often available (although, with package tours and trips to “destinations” perspective is easy to ignore) to travelers.

Jerome Creek, 23 June 2005

The Inception
I’ve decided to start a blog about my travels. I’ve thought about blogging before, and enjoyed reading other people’s blogs, and kicked around the idea of starting one of my own when I could think of an appropriate impetus. I haven’t been comfortable with the idea of producing a general “life as I see it” blog—it is done so masterfully here that I feel I would inevitably fall short. And my career choice isn’t quite so globally interesting as this—who wants to read about a writer sitting at her computer every day and writing? There’s only so much self-reference one blog can handle. But I am fortunate in that I can travel a lot, and that’s something I’m also interested in writing about—for myself. And that seems to be a big part of it—if your blog entertains and enlightens you, it’ll probably entertain and enlighten others.

So now that I’ve decided to do it—how do I decide what to call it? For obvious reasons, “Writer’s Blog,” “Travelblog,” and “Travelblogue” are out. Puns are unoriginal at best and incredibly irritating at worst. “The Stranger” is also out—it’s way too arrogant to compare myself to Camus. “Citizen of the World” and “Global Citizen” are out—hyperbole and, again, unwarranted arrogance. “Travels with Calin”—referencing Steinbeck seems about as appropriate as referencing Camus. So where does that leave me?

To be honest, it leaves me with this: The Dilettante Traveler.