Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Okay, Really This WAS Travel

A dear friend pointed out that a recent post I made on I Thought I Was Done With This was really much more about travel than about cancer, so please check it out (if there's anyone currently checking this blog . . .)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Not Again . . .

Well, maybe not. But something's going on. Read all about it on my new blog, I Thought I Was Done With This. Not quite so fun as travel, most likely. But even travel is sometimes just a valuable experience.

Monday, April 28, 2008

A Spot of Nature

We were up on Orcas this weekend, Ian, me, Spackle, and our friend E and his dog KD. Hoover went to the dog spa for the weekend, and he literally screamed and pulled against me, trying to get back into the playground with the other dogs, when we went to pick him up today. Of course, once we were outside and he saw his car and his big dog, he had a complete reversal of attitude and tried to jump in. Even though his legs grew something like four inches in length in the three nights he was gone though, he didn’t make it and crashed back to the ground. He’ll make it soon, though, and then watch out.

Anyway, we went up because E had the brilliant idea to plant some nut trees on our land, and we thought we’d maybe add a couple tasty tidbits of our own. We ended up with two walnuts, three chestnuts (one called “Colossus”, which is just a cool name for a tree. Except if you’ve planted it in your city back yard.), and two cherries, to add to our plum, pear, and maybe apple that seem to have lived through a previous tenancy. I left the boys to dig the holes—seemed like a manly job—and I hiked almost ½ mile away to the stand of invasive Scotch broom and worked on pulling that out. Note: even with the brilliantly designed Weed Wrench (hard not to call it the “Weed Wench”), Scotch broom takes a long time to remove. I worked for maybe three hours, and took out one garbage bag-sized pile of plants. If only this were even remotely how much Scotch broom is living on that hillside. It’s not in bloom yet, though, so that’s good.

We stayed at the North Beach Inn, which accepts dogs (only two—another reason to send Hoover to the spa), and has a spectacular view of Patos, Sucia and Matia Islands. Our little cabin was about 50 yards from the water and a long, quiet, stony beach with lots of driftwood logs. Not surprisingly, Spackle was either damp or soaking wet most of the weekend. KD stayed dry except when she rolled in something S M E L L Y, and had to be forced into a bog to clean off. Which actually helped.

Ian and I forgot our cameras but E had his, so I’ll try to post some pics in a couple days when I get them. In the meantime, I leave you with a view from Turtleback Mountain onto our outhouse, snapped by friends of friends taking advantage of the new public trails on the new conservation land.

Monday, April 21, 2008

And, unrelated to Palm Springs, Mom and Dog on the lake.
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Stone, water, palms.
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Can't beat hidden waterfalls in the desert.
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Theoretically, this would've been an awesome vacation spot. You can't smell the sulfur, however, or see the rotting fish carcasses.
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On a North Shore beach. With facial hair.
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Salvation Mountain
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On the shores at Salton City. Looks real nice.
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Palm Springs

A couple weeks ago, we took a brief vacation from the cold and rain and snowy misery of Northwest Puppy Ownership and went off to Palm Springs for six days. Of course, since we’ve been back, we’ve been plunged, flailing and gasping, into Puppy Ownership again and so I haven’t had a moment to write about our trip. But Hoover seems to have figured out how to piddle outside (my sing-songy “good piddle, Hoover! Good piddle!” throughout the duration of each appropriate outdoor urination must’ve done the trick), and so all the time I’ve spent wiping up the floor is now available for much more attractive tasks. Which includes pretty much everything.

Anyway, once we got there, Palm Springs was lovely (we were stuck in the snow on the tarmac in Seattle for 1 ½ hours because they were trying to get the deicer to us . . . which had been put away for the summer . . . ). My uncle owns a house there but is abroad for the year, so he’s invited all and sundry friends and relatives to stay in his place. Mom and Marsh went a couple weeks before us, meeting yet another uncle (and the homeowning uncle’s ex-wife, for a twist) there for a long weekend. We went with L&S, two dear friends.

Three of us were recovering from illnesses over and above Puppy Ownership and so were predisposed to lie around a lot in the warmth, which we did for the first couple days. Really, I don’t at all remember what we did. We had Mexican food a couple times (my uncle’s friend got reservations for us at a fantastic place where we ate the next day too), visited a museum of dry goods from the 30s (not that I wasn’t interested, but the sun—the sun! was so awesome that I sat outside the whole time, on the edge of a courtyard fountain), shopped for sunglasses (successfully) and visors (unsuccessfully) and books (successfully), watched some videos, made some food at home, and in general hung out.

The most ambitious day, we drove entirely around the Salton Sea. If you don’t know anything about the Salton Sea, you are MISSING OUT. I am FASCINATED by the Salton Sea. In a nutshell, here’s the story: There’s a huge sunken desert in eastern California, somewhat between LA and San Diego. Someone came up with an irrigation project on the Colorado River back a little over 100 years ago. Something went very, very wrong, and suddenly the entire flow of the Colorado River poured into the huge sunken desert. It took 18 months to fix the breach and send the Colorado back where it belonged. By the end of 18 months, though, the desert was now a huge inland lake. A few decades after it formed, maybe in the 50s, people suddenly started to see the recreational possibilities on the Salton Sea, and many towns were platted, hotels and resorts opened, and people started to move to the former desert. The lake was seeded with tilapia and it appeared that a new California Riviera was actually in the making.

But! There isn’t an outflow from the Salton Sea. It’s a big depression in the ground, formerly known as the Salton Sink, and the water got saltier and saltier and more and more polluted. Agriculture started up on the north and south ends of the sea, and petrochemical runoff added to the salinity. Tilapia is pretty sturdy, and has learned to live through most of the changes to its environment, but periodically there are huge algae blooms and 100,000 fish will die at a time, to wash up on the shores and rot in the sun. Also, this is the only water around for 100 miles, so sea birds have adopted the Salton Sea as a nice warm weather home, and when you get out of your car you’re blasted by a furnace of chicken shit air. Yes, the Salton Sea hasn’t changed the climate in the area completely, and the temperature is still in the low 100s at certain times of year.

Virtually all the infrastructure built to take advantage of the tourist boom has crumbled into nothing, but you can still see some of it—boarded up motels, half-buried rusty playground equipment, little boat basins or swimming beaches defined by pock-marked cement balusters. One town—Salton City—has a large new marigold-colored high school and hardly any homes or roads, but the map of the town (even the version on S’s GPS) shows all the roads ever designed. It’s eerie. Another town—Bombay Beach—sits behind a huge dike, which completely separates the homes from the water. You can’t even see the source of the chicken-shit smell, and it is beautiful if you clog your nostrils.

Not surprisingly, the Salton Sea is a pretty good place to disappear these days. After a tasty meal at a Mexican place in Niland, we drove up into the hills and saw Salvation Mountain (now an official Folk Art site, although I don’t know what that means), then went on to Slab City.

Slab City is, as L says, very much how one might expect a perpetual Burning Man to be. It’s a former WWII naval base, Camp Dunlap, and all buildings have been removed leaving only a series of cement slabs. The slabs make a nice, level foundation for trailers and RVs, though, so the place has become somewhat popular. There’s no charge to stay, and no infrastructure (although water and dumping is available back in Niland). Chris McCandless, of Into the Wild fame, stayed in Slab City for some time during his explorations of under-the-radar US culture. There is a community bulletin board, something that passes for a library, and it’s a tidy place. And Peter Fonda was shooting a remake of Easy Rider (so we were told, but imdb doesn’t seem to know anything about it) while we were there, and we got to see him. He’s very tall. And was wearing very hot-looking clothes (and by this I mean temperature hot, as black leather pants don’t really do it for me). And spurs.

After Niland we stopped by the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge and looked at some cows and birds (not sure that the cows were actually being protected), and then headed back home (stopping at Salton City along the way to marvel at the occasional insanity of city planners).

The last full day we were in the area, we drove into Palm Canyon in the reservation for the Agua Caliente Cahuilla Indians and took a leisurely hike up the river that runs down the canyon. It’s evidently the largest palm tree oasis in the world (or something like that). We loved meandering up the river, barefoot, wading in pools and through rushing, glinting shallows, being startled by ½ dollar-sized pale frogs, rubbing off all our nasty winter foot skin on the rough rocks we crossed. A few horseback riders passed us before we plunged into the water, and I thought, briefly, what a perfect place that would be for a trail ride.

Our last evening we finally rode the Palm Springs Tramway up to the top of some mountain behind town, like the good tourists we were. I have to say, I enjoyed the ride, but it’s also really freaky. After all, if the engine dies in a plane, the plane’s still designed to fly. But if the cable snaps on a tramway, that’s it. It’s gone. Smashed into the rocks hundreds of feet below.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Whole New Category of Getting Away

Yesterday we picked up our new boat. Yes, it’s a ski boat. Yes, it runs on blood sucked from the veins of small Middle Eastern children. Yes, I do feel some ambivalence about that. What I don’t feel any ambivalence about is how fucking awesome it is to be out on the water, wind and waves buffeting me, cruising around Lake Union, racing around Lake Washington—whenever I feel like it. I have wanted a boat since moving to our house eight years ago, a mere six blocks up the street from Gasworks Park. I can’t go outside without seeing some of the water that makes Seattle such a superbly beautiful place to live—and now I can go on it, whenever I want. And I can go fast, which fills my soul with joy.

Don’t get me wrong—I love kayaking, with the hybrid human/duck feeling of it, the intense physical effort of paddling, the ability to explore the multitude of rock shores and teeny coves that are too small for any sort of power boat. There’s a unique satisfaction in being your own impulsion.

But I also love getting from one place to another in less than a day and a half. We’re looking forward to a summer in the San Juans, where most of the 450 islands aren’t accessible by ferry, and where we can now, finally, visit some of my favorite childhood state parks. Sucia, for instance, or James, or even tiny Clark.

I had another interesting insight into my psyche last night, as we took our new boat trailer from Seattle out to Maple Valley where M&M are kindly storing it for us at their place (the boat’s in a dry-stack storage facility on Lake Union, blocks from home, but they didn’t have room for the trailer). I was driving along I-5 through downtown Seattle, in traffic (of course, even though it was 7:30 pm), glancing at my mirrors periodically to make sure the trailer was centered in the lane behind me, and I suddenly, out of the blue, got all choked up. And I realized that, for some reason, I have equated owning your own trailer with adulthood. I’m sure we have more trailers in our future—at least a horse trailer, and perhaps some sort of flatbed or utility trailer as well. But this, our boat trailer, is our first trailer, and as such it represents this new phase of life into which we’ve entered. New skills, new opportunities, new challenges, new responsibilities. And, of course, new fun.

Hey—anyone wanna go skiing?

Monday, March 17, 2008

New Addition

For a while now Ian and I have talked about getting another puppy, in part so that Spackle would have a friend, but mostly because puppies are really cute and we’ve always known that we eventually wanted two dogs and we definitely wanted Spackle to help the puppy understand what we expect from a dog.

So: meet Hoover! He’s a lab mix (we’re trying to avoid the huge potential costs—actual in our case—associated with the dodgy hips of the purebred Lab) whom we adopted last week from the Humane Society in Longview, Washington (puppies in our home city of Seattle seem to be primarily pit bulls, and we just didn’t want to go there, regardless of the fact that it’s the training that makes the dog, blah blah blah.) I suppose it’s fortunate that a “friend for Spackle” wasn’t, in fact, our primary motivation in getting Hoover, because we would be sad failures.

Spackle hates Hoover. All Hoover needs to do is look at him and an almost subsonic, Mack-truck-downshifting-on-a-distant-I-5 growl issues from deep in his throat, his lips curl back, and his whole body tenses. This does not, in fact, deter Hoover one bit, so he races over, in his galumphing puppy way, right on to Spackle’s bed. This drives Spackle mad, and he lets out an infuriated, giant-dog bark, and lunges. Hoover dances out of the way, and approaches, maybe the slightest bit more cautiously, again.

We’ve ended up spending a lot of time with Spackle shut out of the kitchen simply so he can have a break from the endless prickly fawning adoration. Also, if Hoover is shut into the kitchen, we can monitor his chewing and piddling activities moderately well. His bed looks like a toddler’s favorite place to play—five or six different chew toys that he’s collected all over it, him (frequently, blessedly) conked out in the middle.

He’s been okay at nights—if one of us takes him out once (usually me, usually around 3am) he’ll piddle and poop and then sleep for several more hours until about 7:30 when one of us (so far exclusively Ian, bless his heart) gets up and feeds him and Spackle. Ian then lets Spackle back into the bedroom where he and I sleep for another two hours.

We’re starting puppy manners classes next week, which I’m hoping will appease my mother, who was a bit peeved that we decided to get a puppy knowing that she’s going to be stuck taking care of him when Spackle comes for his 2 ½ week summer vacation while we’re in Cabo Verde. But Hoover’ll be about six months old by then, and his bladder will have grown to grapefruit-size instead of lentil-size, and the needle teeth will be replaced, and he’ll be a perfect, farm-dog angel.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Not Technically Travel

Ian and I went skiing today at Crystal Mountain, a couple hours south of Seattle. With surgery and our intended—I mean actual although not to our intended destination—move last year, we didn’t make it to the snow at all. So today was our first trip to any mountains in 2 years.

It was spectacular. Perfectly clear, lots of snow, hardly any people, and a whole new steep bowl area opened up with a new lift since last we were there. I told multiple strangers that it was our first time up in two years . . . not that they cared. Our only notable conversation with a stranger on the lift was about this video, so that’s at least about travel.

We were smugly impressed with ourselves for looking at the map of the new section, seeing a sea of black diamonds and double black diamonds, and agreeing yes, we should totally check that out. Two years off? Nothin’.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

On a Clear Day

One of our blessings in the Pacific Northwest, in addition to all the natural beauty of water and evergreen hill and snow-capped, rocky mountaintop, is a small fleet of seaplanes to jump us from one exquisite vista to the next. The Kenmore Air seaplanes fly out of either south Lake Union or north Lake Washington, to all the destinations you really want to go up Puget Sound and into the Strait of Georgia in Canada (with the notable, and peculiar, exception of Port Townsend, which would be the perfect 40-minute jaunt).

I visited Victoria with my cousin last weekend, and had two clear-day opportunities to fly on one of the ten-passenger Turbine Single Otters for my round trip.

It was spectacular.

Some of you may remember from long, long ago that I was afraid of flying on big commercial planes. Fortunately, I mostly got over that, particularly considering all the flying we did last summer. But even at the height of my fears, the small planes didn’t really bother me. It probably has something to do with scale, I’m sure.

For one thing, although I know this isn’t true, it looks like I could probably figure out the controls in a pinch and land the thing if I had to. After all, there’s a lot of water around, so finding a flat runway won’t be a problem. (I conveniently forget the front page photo in the paper several years ago of a Kenmore Air plane floating upside down just off-shore from Gasworks Park . . . turns out it was a training flight and no one was injured, but still. The pontoons are meant to be under the plane.)

For another thing, we only fly at about 1,000 feet, and although again I know I’m wrong, it feels like I could pretty easily live through plummeting such a slight distance. So anyway, I accept that I’m deluding myself, and I enjoy the ride.

A nice feature of the Otter is that the windows are convex, so you can get an excellent view of the countryside trailing away under you. I spent both my one-hour flights with my pate glued to the deepest part of my window, staring straight down at the ground. Did you know trees are star-shaped from the top? Well, they are. And tide flats look like elephant skin. And much of Puget Sound is surprisingly clear. And much of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, right outside Victoria Harbour, really isn’t (although we’ve heard that, with the Olympics coming to Whistler in a couple years, Victoria is finally going to have to do something with municipal sewage other than pump it straight into the drink. Although the local fishing is good.)

My cousin S and I enjoyed our stay in a foreign country, even though with the dollars at virtual parity it wasn’t like being able to spend play money anymore, and we look forward to other getaways in the future.

And I cannot recommend the seaplane adventure highly enough.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

It’s Fun to Plan Ahead

We’re still enjoying being back in our house, but there’s so much of the world to see, you know. Fortunately, we’ve had some friends recently give us the excuses we needed to make some more overseas plans. They’re all kind of crammed together, but one of the things we learned last summer was that we can jump from one thing to another fairly quickly.

So first we have a wedding to attend in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in June, and we’ve started planning when to go and where to stay (and who to stay with, since we know several people attending this ceremony), and how long to stay. We probably would’ve given Mexico more of our time—we’ve never been (since I’m not counting Tijuana with my parents when I was in seventh grade) and it looks lovely—except for reason number 2 to travel.

Our second reason to travel is another June wedding, this one in London (you may remember from last summer that our friends, J&C, got engaged between two of our visits? Yep, it’s them!). Now, getting to London, even on British Airways’s comfortable and convenient 9-hour non-stop flight, is more of a haul then getting to Puerto Vallarta on Alaska Air’s direct flight. The time zone change is also more significant, of course, so we decided that, given the choice, we’d rather spend more time on the other side of the Atlantic than just down the coast from home.

Of course, we traveled around Europe all last summer . . . so this summer we’re finally going to take a trip we’ve been dreaming about for years: Cabo Verde!

Cabo Verde, or Cape Verde, is a small island country off the coast of Senegal in West Africa. It’s a former Portuguese colony and the official language is Portuguese, although most people speak a Portuguese/West African criole called Crioulu, which appeared late in the 15th century because of the slave trade. Culturally, Cabo Verde is considered to be more Latin American than African; geographically it’s unique. There is one island that’s still an active volcano—Fogo—some barren islands, some “greener” islands. And it’s in the middle of the Atlantic. It was uninhabited when the Portuguese discovered it (as were the Açores), and the people now are a beautiful blend of Portuguese and African.

Cabo Verde is known (if it’s known for anything) for its music; Cesária Évora is probably their most widely known musician. Ian’s excited about funaná, a style of music that originated on Santiago, one of the islands in the archipelago, and is accordion-based.

The accordion is everywhere.