Thursday, December 15, 2011

This, Too, Is Kenya: Part I

(As I write this post, I find that I’ve been emailing so much on smart phones lately that I keep expecting Word to finish my words for me.  What do you mean I have to type the whole thing myself?!?) 

We arrived home last Tuesday evening at rush hour, collected our car from long-term parking at Sea-Tac, and got on the road, me driving.  More or less perfectly healthy during the entire trip (nominal bouts of “kaka huraka”* notwithstanding), on Monday, our last day in Africa (we left at 11:30pm), Ian developed a nasty cold, and I, three hours after breakfast, developed a much more grim case of the runs.  This was no annoying but predictable fast brother—this was serious, Roto-Rooter stuff.  Fortunately for me, we had supplied ourselves not only with our  malaria prophylaxis, but also a powerful antibiotic, just in case.  

“Take two per day for three days,” it said, “or take four all at once.” I thought about our upcoming travel: 8 ½ hours to London, 8 hours in London, 9 hours to Seattle.  Four all at once, please. 

The drug worked beautifully and so, while Ian continued to worsen the closer we got to home, I got better and better, the guts rapidly quieting and solidifying.  Ergo, me in the driver’s seat in traffic, just about my least favorite position in the world to be in.  What a welcome.  

Except that, compared to Nairobi, Mombasa, and the intensely dangerous highway between the two, it was like driving down the middle of a six-lane LA freeway after an epidemic has wiped out 98% of the population (obviously before they all got on the road in their cars).  Comparatively everyone here used a turn signal before changing lanes.  Comparatively everyone here allowed safe distances between vehicles—i.e. more than 3 ½ inches.  Comparatively everyone here, in fact, drove in a staid, boring, predictable manner.  And the roads were smooth like newly-Zambonied ice.

Kenya, I found after 15 ½ years, was exactly the same and completely different.  The cars on the roads now are contemporary, well-maintained, normal cars such as you might see anywhere in the world (i.e. mostly Japanese coupes and sedans, with the occasional German luxury car thrown into the mix).  The delivery trucks, however, are the same 60’s-era junkers that have been befouling the air since their inception.  The roads, too, seem to be—still—the tattered remnants of British infrastructure.  The one exception in Nairobi is that several new ring-type roads are being built to ease congestion in the center of this city of 3,000,000.  

New roads are a fine idea.  Unfortunately, all that was accomplished in this major public works program before the short rains came (and they may be short, but they’re nervy), was clearing all the vegetation and carving out the basic road grades. Most countries (one might imagine), when faced with a two-month nature-predicated hiatus, would cut their losses and hang back, waiting for the conditions to change.  Kenya, knowing that no further work could be done on this new network for several weeks, decided the roads were good enough unpaved for the time being and opened them up to public use, effectively turning several neighborhoods into ochre mud, off-roading, car-luge pleasure parks.  

Of course, traffic crawls along (when it isn’t slewing about)—but here’s the thing about rush hour in Kenya: you can do most of your necessary shopping while stuck in your car, waiting for your turn at the kipilefti (Swahili for roundabout—they drive on the left there).  You could buy a caged songbird, or a fluffy white puppy (as pets, not to eat). You could collect the ingredients for a tropical fruit salad (mangos were in season!).  You could buy your lover a bouquet of flowers or a lottery ticket or a packet of gum or cigarettes.  Have a job interview in the morning, or ten minutes from now?  You could professionalize your upcoming interview with any of a dozen different sport coats.  The evening paper is delivered right to your window along with a bottle of cold water. You could even, as Ian discovered to our delighted admiration, top up the minutes on your cell phone.  

Cell phones and cell service in Kenya have got to be the pinnacle of the technology anywhere in the world.  On our first full day in the country (after breaking our fast with Helen) we were taken to a Safaricom store where we purchased—for $1—a SIM card for Ian’s 4G Android phone.  For another $5, we bought enough credits for email, picture uploading, and, of course, phone calls, for the next few days, until we were able to top up in a traffic jam. Everyone in Kenya has a cell phone—or more often two.  There were originally two major networks and each network offered in-network deals, and so people started acquiring phones so they could get the deals with all their friends and families.  Making calls costs you credits but receiving calls does not, and if you’re out of credits, there is a free text you can send, up to three times, asking someone to call you. Much of the country has never had wired phone service; most of that area now has excellent cell coverage.  Most rural people don’t have electricity with any regularity, but there are kiosks in every community where you can charge up your batteries as well as your credits. Perhaps one of the best discoveries for us was that there are zoned international dialing plans included, and the US is in Zone 1, the cheapest, and for 10 cents per minute we could call our families from anywhere we had service.  Which was everywhere.  

Cell phones also took a lot of the stress out of getting around: you find a taxi driver you like, take his number (invariably men in our experience), and call him whenever you need a ride.  Easy as pie.  Also, when you do ultimately make up your mind on where you want to sleep the next night, you can just call up the number listed in the Lonely Planet.  You then find that the Lonely Planet exclusively lists out-of-date numbers for hotels in Kenya, but with your 4G you can just look up the website of the place directly (websites are not as cutting-edge as cell phones, alas, and we usually just showed up at hotels unannounced.  Being Kenya, it always worked out). 

Being Kenya, it always worked out.  That hadn’t changed at all.  

Everyone was genuinely nice and helpful (and most warned us about everyone else).  At our hotel in Naivasha, Simon the accountant took a turn as a taxi driver and dropped us at Mt Longonot for our hike (8 miles, about 3,000 feet gained and lost in elevation, beginning at around 6,000 feet—so, thin, pant-for-it air for us maritime Seattleites).   

Our eagle-eyed guide, John (I think his name was John.  Most of them were named John), pointed out millimeter-high giraffes grazing thousands of feet below us, as well as all sorts of vegetation and other fauna.  I used to debate whether or not getting a guide was a necessary or desired expense; I’ve mostly switched to using guides when they are offered.  Our guide told us a story of an American couple who chose not to use a guide about two months ago—the man was evidently a largish man, and he died of a heart attack almost at the peak, about a 3-hour hike from the gate.  The guides had to come to the rescue of his wife and his body, carrying him down a trail that was, often, little more than a pumice-covered scramble. The folks had taken the difficult way around. Anyway, we were glad for the assistance, the direction, and the “giraffes” grazing in the “tall trees” far below.

We called Simon as we neared the end of our climb so that he could “pick us” as soon as we got to the bottom.  “We want to take a bus from Nairobi to Mombasa tomorrow,” we told him as we drove back into town. “Where should we get a matatu that will take us back to Nairobi?”

“Okay,” Simon said, “I will just show you where to go for the best company.” And he drove us a few blocks out of the way just so he could point out the safe matatu stand.  Safe, regulated matatus:  that’s a definite change from last time.

Our two nights in Naivasha aside from the hike were not particularly wonderful, but they were gloriously comfortable and posh for $30 each night.  We had a private bath with with a dripping shower head (when it was on; otherwise it was silent. It never really counted as a “shower”, and in fact I think I didn’t even try to take one.) There were two sagging beds and holey, just barely too-small-for-the-beds mosquito nets, and so we each took a bed and did the best we could our own selves. We enjoyed some beers and curries and chapatis, wandered briefly and nervously in the gloaming around the dusty, muddy, stinky, noisy town; and more nervously yet, withdrew a big pile of cash from an ATM. 

Naivasha was our first real town on our own, the first place where we didn’t have a fall-back plan in case we encountered some of those awful people we kept being warned about. Naivasha seemed ripe to be full of villains, to our untrained eyes. The commotion unsettled us, and knowing we were going to be holding a lot of cash unsettled us more. But it turns out, commotion is Kenya. Dirt is Kenya. A lot of black people living their lives is Kenya.  And the 5 a.m. matatu to Nairobi, up to 18 people crammed in a 4-row minivan (some were dropped; some were picked)--regulated or not, that, too, is Kenya.

The only time I really lost it on this trip, and I think it was a pretty minor example of losing it, was just after arriving in Nairobi, safely, in our matatu. We were dropped somewhere along River Road, which lives in my memories as a place you were much better off avoiding completely, except for when you wanted to go anywhere but Nairobi.  All the long-distance buses and matatus congregate along River Road, and it is full of bustle, hustle, and crime.  

“If a nicely-dressed man bumps into you accidentally,” one Kenyan friend warned, “it was not an accident.  He is picking your pocket.” No one bumped us, and no one once picked any of our pockets.

We walked along quickly, trying to look like we knew where we were going, trying to blend in.  Not fooling anyone.  We arrived safely at Akamba Bus with its secure waiting room before 8 am, hoping to catch their first bus to Mombasa.  Turns out we were in plenty of time.

“No bus this morning,” said the man behind the counter. “Tonight. For two?” he pulled his ticket ledger toward himself.

“Shit!” I said, and pumped my fist like a baby. 

“No thanks,” said Ian to the agent, and turned to me. “We have a couple choices. We can get in a taxi and go to the airport.  There are supposed to be five flights per day to Mombasa.”

“But I don’t WANT to fly!” I wailed (I am not the Abercrombie and Kent type!) “I want to TAKE THE BUS!” (who is this person insisting on the bus, I thought. I hate the bus.)

“Okay,” said Ian again, "then how about THIS plan: we go find a taxi driver to take us to another bus company, another good one, that will have buses leaving this morning.”

I pulled it together. “Okay,” I sniffled. “That sounds very smarty-pants.”

It was very smarty-pants: we crossed the street to the taxi stand and walked up to the first one. “I’ll give you 1,000 shillings to find us a bus to Mombasa,” Ian said. The driver smiled broadly and welcomed us into his car. Ten dollars—nothing to sneeze at in Kenya.

Within ten minutes we were at another bus company purchasing our “premium” tickets for $17 each (or maybe total? It was preposterously cheap . . . if you lived through the journey). We were ushered into another clean, secure waiting room, and I relaxed into a new panic: food, and more importantly, caffeine. Surprising perhaps, but Starbucks has yet to wedge in amongst the Kenyan chai shops.
“Chai,” I said to Ian. “Chai. I need some. What do we do?”

On a roll, Ian, who had been discovering all over the place that if you wanted something—anything—just ask the nearest Kenyan, went up to the guard at the door of the waiting room of Mash Poa Buslines (Much Power?  Like the Citi Hoppa bus, City Hopper?), carrying my peripatetic mug, and asked if there was a place nearby to get some masala chai.

“Here,” said the guard, “come with me.” He guided Ian across the street to a busy storefront with a line snaking out the door. He explained to the guard at the door of the shop what Ian wanted.  The shop guard held out his hand and Ian passed over the mug and some shillings.
“Chai for two?” asked the shop guard.

“Yes, please.”

The shop guard popped into the shop, skipped the line, got the mug filled and returned with it and Ian’s change in a matter of seconds. Ian was back in the waiting room—with the best chai I have ever tasted in hand—in under 3 minutes.  Kenya is AWESOME.

My premium seat on the bus turned out to be the very front seat, to the left and up a level from the driver, who was down in a bit of a well. There was a grab bar, presumably after-market, a couple feet in front of my seat, the seat reclined to a pleasingly comfortable flatness, and I rested my feet on the bar, sipped at my chai, and watched the world go by at breakneck speed. And then I fell asleep, which I proceeded to do for a total of about 85% of our entire ride.  It was my only defense against dying of fear.

Ian was across the aisle next to the classic African Mama, with her headscarf, her comfortable bosoms, her colorfully printed clothes, and her woven bags full of the shopping.  He didn’t have quite the same view of our endlessly repeating, petrifying traffic near-misses.  I took a couple pictures of the vehicles mere inches in front of us as we barreled down the 8-hour, 2-lane road to the sea. Frequently the pictures are close-ups of the back of fuel trucks. “Danger, Petroleum” said signs looming in the windshield in front of me. 

For all the near misses (at least by my perspective), we had an almost completely boring ride; the one exception being a totally non-official road block midway through our journey.
We arrived at the strip of a town just behind two trucks hauling things (bananas? goats? petrol?). Our bus driver, not wanting to be third in line for any reason at all, just moved over into the empty right lane (oncoming traffic having been stopped at the other end of town) in an attempt to push on through, while maybe 20 young men hurriedly carried and rolled reddish boulders across the lanes. They were just faster than we were, and the driver sighed and turned off the engine.

“What do they want,” I gasped to the bus conductor, who was lounging on a large, wedge-shaped speaker covered in carpeting. He sort of shook his head at me, then got up and left the bus. Who knows? 

As the group of men finished blocking the road, several of them picked up extra boulders, formed a loose gang, and started toward our bus. I wanted a picture, but much more, I wanted to stay as unnoticed as possible. I felt very exposed, the white woman lounging in the front seat, wearing a bright red polka-dotted skirt and an orange sweater. The men surged around the bus and started shouting, some of them banging their rocks against the side of the bus. I desperately had to pee (Nina hitaji kuji saidia: “I need to help myself”), but I watched regretfully as other, braver passengers than me blithely left the bus and situated themselves, men on one side and women on the other, to do their business. I knew we had an official stop, for lunch and toilets, in about 30 minutes. Well, if the road opened up soon.

A police jeep appeared out of nowhere, though, not long after the roadblock did, and a police officer calmly told everyone to stop being such boobs and clear away the rocks.  In seconds, the rocks were being rolled back off of the road (with some assistance from older, more mature members of the community—there was a man in a 3-piece suit helping); passengers zipped up and dashed back onto the bus, and we were on our way.  

Thirty minutes later we were at a roadside buffet, I’d peed (squat, no paper), and we were eating some sort of curry and rice.  We decided that the young men in the previous town had been interested in extracting bribes, since it was clear that they weren’t going to be able to legitimately make money if everyone was already stopping 20 km away. 

One of the difficult things about traveling in Kenya, the whole Kenya, and the real Kenya, is that there are such vast distances—cultural, socioeconomic—between peoples.  There are still nomadic pastoralists, including the Maasai, the Samburu, and the Turkana.  The Maasai, even today, had herds of cattle grazing in the outskirts of Nairobi. “You can’t reason with them,” one of our drivers said. “’You can’t graze your cattle there,’ a policeman will say to them, and they just look confused. ‘Are you going to eat this grass?’ they ask. “Because our cows need this grass.’ Crazy.”

First world entitlement and first world guilt work at cross-purposes in Kenya, leading to, at least for me, some moral discomfort. It is so easy to avoid the grubby, over-stimulating, foreign parts of Kenya. Stay in the airports and the air, in the beach resort hotels, in the five-star tented camps. Travel with Abercrombie and Kent (and Prince Charles). Visit Giraffe Manor. You’ll stay clean, safe, well-fed. But you’ll completely avoid pickpockets, traffic that appears to be handfuls of Matchbox cars dropped from the heavens, the unique stench of tropical cities, families teaching their young children to beg.  Awesome, you say, give me that Kenya any day! And we did enjoy the coolth and quiet of a fancy, air-conditioned hotel room in Mombasa, and giraffes, and a private safari. But that Kenya is only a few grains of salt in the pig (most of those grains not going to Kenyans), and the whole experience tastes a lot more gourmet if you dump that pig out and spread the salt lavishly around your visit.  Instead of feeling guilty about your good luck, take a bus ride. Stay in a cheap hotel. Use local transit. Note: if all you want is grubby, over-stimulating, and foreign, plus cloths and jewels and excellent food, Mombasa is just what you’re after.

* a sort-of “swahinglish” euphemism coined in 1993 by my schoolmates and me: “huraka”: hurry/fast; “kaka”: brother.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Quick post just to say we have some pictures up, and THEY ARE NOT PHOTOSHOPPED.  Follow the link to Ian's Picasa site. Keep checking back on the site, because we can probably post pictures more regularly than I can write into blogger.  Enjoy!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Counting Down

Away we go, into the wild blue yonder (not more wild than is good for us, we hope), in just a couple days hours.  Here is one of the things I’ve been thinking about in the last few weeks while I’ve been doing pretty much everything under the sun but writing: this is a gorgeous, gorgeous part of the world we live in here.  I found myself laughing, marveling, at the ridiculous magnificence of a Wallingford street late Friday afternoon. The sun, dancing with the thunderclouds, had spotlighted a towering golden ash in the distance; immediately outside my car, maples of crimson and burnt orange shivered in gusts of frigid air, their leaves spinning slowly down to carpet the sidewalks in royal splendor. For once in my life, I drove slower than the speed limit, gawking like I’d never seen plants. I love this season.

Here is another one: the human body is [naughty expletive beginning in F] AMAZING.  Take our skin, for example.  It’s porous, but solid.  It’s stretchy, yet it keeps its shape, and it can do that through a surprisingly large range of sizes.  Or our eyes, which enable us to experience the rich colors of nature (nature, too—awesome, right?). I’m just so impressed by us humans.  I mean, we are shockingly capable things.  Life ROCKS.

And here is another thing humans do: we connect with each other.  On Thursday evening, Ian and I had dinner with several members of a Kenyan family, one member of whom I’d met twice before, although she was not at dinner because I’ve met her in Idaho, when I’ve been visiting K&A. On my most recent trip to Jerome Creek, I reminded K&A that Ian and I would be going to Kenya, and as we were going to be traveling in the outrageous comfort of British Airways’ Club World, we could check more bags than we would need, and would A&D (D and his family being long-time friends of the R’s, D and Dr Jason having worked together harvesting wheat in their youths) like to send anything with us back to family in Kenya?

Well, they were thrilled with the offer, and A&D in Idaho collected up a duffle and sent it to Seattle with K&A who came in Wednesday to see K’s mother.  But then, A’s sister in Federal Way also had some things to send back home, and would we please come to dinner and meet them and collect their duffle, too.  And so we had an excellent home-cooked meal and met three generations (the youngest is an adorable, active, and whip-smart 4-year-old who can already count to ten in three languages).  Upon arrival in Nairobi late Tuesday night (overnight tonight to London, overnight in London, over day Tuesday to Nairobi) we will be met by the wife of one of the dinner attendees who will take the extra duffles off our hands and then we’re off to Giraffe Manor.  But a couple days later, we’ll be staying in Nairobi with yet another family member, and next Saturday there is going to be a huge family party at the home of the fourth generation (or maybe the first)—Ian and I are invited to the family’s “thanksgiving” get together at the grandparents’ house!  

We are overwhelmed by the friendliness of these folks, and can’t wait to be back in Africa.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Virtual Journey

It turns out that I really want to write about everyday things, such as the UFO I saw during my trip home from Idaho last Monday evening, or my most recent visit with ET (for travel in Kenya: Mt Longonot is safe; Mombasa is fine before dark; Tsavo is safe from a jeep; give Lamu a miss).  I want to share my life—all of it—and shut off the flow of energy into cancer.  It will get the attention I absolutely need to give it—attending appointments, scans, treatments, etc—but that’s it.  I’ve learned a lot over the last several years, and I know that what I’ve learned has helped to demystify the disease, at least somewhat, for many others as well as for me.  But I’d like to put my not inconsiderable interests and strengths into something new.  So the virtual journey to which this post title refers is the journey from I Thought I Was Done With This to All This and Then Some More—I will point out that “this” in the first title refers to cancer; “this” in the second title refers to EVERYTHING IN EXISTENCE.  

Time to broaden mine.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Ol' Stomping Grounds

Hermaphroditic slugs making more slugs.

The view from up in the cherry tree.  Fun!

Spackle looks hopeful.  I'm staying in the tree.


Clearing in the woods.  This woods is MUCH wetter than the Idaho woods I'm used to.

An old inner tube wedged in a stump--a massive stump--down at the bottom of Mom and Marsh's driveway.

Spackle and Hoover on the driveway.

And, good ol' Loper. He is truly an amazing speciman of old doghood.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Half and Half

The San Juan Islands have been an important part of my life, and have played a role in my memories, from way back at the start of the mental film strip.  When I was four years old, my parents and the parents of my Much Admired Cousin Sheri (just enough older than me to be awe-inspiring, but still attainable as a friend and a life goal) shared an 18-foot bow-rider ski boat (much like the boat Ian and I currently enjoy; in fact, the inspiration, at least for me, for our boat).  In keeping with the natural tones of all motorized gear in the late ‘70s, indoor appliances and outdoor recreational equipment alike, the Larsen was a lovely milk-chocolate brown with tan upholstery.  My family would haul this ski boat up to Lopez Island every summer for a month’s rental of a beach shack on Shoal Bay.  There was a private mooring buoy—no dock space—associated with the beach shack, and somewhere we would back our boat into Puget Sound and motor it around to that buoy. 
A ski boat is small—much smaller than some dinghies for yachts I’ve seen docked in Roche Harbor.  There is not a lot of space to put a dinghy on a ski boat, is that point I’m making here (and is an issue Ian and I deal with in our modern-day San Juan ski-boat adventures), and so we had any number of strange contrivances (well, boats) to convey us and all our day-trip needs and superfluities from shore to vessel.  One was a red, white and blue inflatable (or rather, usually, deflatable) craft and plastic oars, which one adult or another would row as quickly as possible before we all (two or three adults and several children under five) sank into the 46 degree bay.  One thing going for the inflatable was that it had multiple air “zones”, so maybe it would be part of the floor that was flaccid, which wasn’t such a big deal as when the sides sighed their filling out.  Then there was the little, orange, double-hulled Sportyak that Dad brought home on top of the car, late one night before a trip, and ran it into the carport roof, damaging the roof and rendering the boat just as leaky as the inflatable (it was hastily patched with some thick, noxious gray glue, and made the trip).  Or the next dinghy he did that with.   
One afternoon, after successfully loading five children under age five and three adults on board, we took off for an adventure.  We can’t have gotten very far before the water pump cooling the engine broke and left us drifting, but we had gotten too far for anyone to swim us back to shore.  We flagged a passing boat, tied a line to our bow, and hitched a ride to the marina on Blakely (I think).  I remember all the parents being quite adamant that none of us kids go up to the bow, in case that line snapped, whipped back, and took off our heads.  In the event, we arrived safely, heads intact.  As I remember it, Dad spent a couple hours working on a VW Beetle that a mechanic had been fixing, while the mechanic looked over our boat instead.  We kids got popsicles at the store. 
We eventually moved up from the ski boat/beach shack to a 26-foot cabin cruiser which was large enough to carry a dinghy along with it—we had a Livingston with a sail package, and so learned rudimentary sailing skills.  Around late middle school or early high school, though, we got the Big Boat. 
The Finnish Maiden (named for the previous owner’s wife and never changed, and for years people would stop on the dock and speak in Finnish to us) was 36 feet long, could sleep six, and came with an 11-foot Boston Whaler with a 35 horsepower engine that we could ski behind, as dinghy (technically, the Whaler was only supposed to have 10 hp).  Now THAT, we kids thought, was FUN. 
A couple years before we acquired the larger boat Dad started playing his French horn again, after a several-year hiatus.  He and Mom, and then Deane, as he got older and more skilled, would bring their horns on the boat and practice or play duets and trios, sounding off against a cliffside in Princess Louisa Inlet, or singing the sun to rest off Matia. 
There’s an arrogance implicated in such noisy shenanigans—a French horn is no guitar, for example—and there may have been people who hated any rupture of the watery quiet—no matter how dulcet—as much as Dad hated the yapping dogs they brought on board with them.  But I don’t remember hearing any complaints, and Dad’s playing was sweet, and clear, and warm, and lovely—if loud.
This year, Saturday, 13 August marks the 19th anniversary of my father’s death.  It also marks the day that the length of my life without him starts to extend beyond the length of my life with him.  I am finding this to be, somewhat to my surprise, a momentous event.  I feel a bit like he’s just now falling behind me, fading into the past.  Like he’s been with me, step in step (but oh, so far away), until now, but he’s starting to let me go on without him, to really see who I’ll be on my own.  What will the next 19 years be like?
I was talking about this with our friends D&K and K’s mom, G, on our most recent trip to the San Juans.  We were camping for a couple days on Lopez Island, all of us, at Odlin County Park (D&K supplying the dinghy service), before Ian and I headed off alone to hope for dock space on outer islands.  D mentioned the beauty of Reid Harbor on Stuart Island and I said yes, I knew it well, and Ian and I had made a pilgrimage there a couple years earlier.  I spent a few minutes explaining why pilgrimage and telling of my father’s death (fouled propeller; yellow jacket), and the last couple experiences I had shared with him.
Walking with Dad along a dock in Friday Harbor on the 11th of that August, heading out for a bike ride, I had chuckled at a small fishing boat called the Irish Wake.  “What is a wake, exactly?” Dad asked.
 “It’s a party you have when someone dies,” I said, “to celebrate their life, instead of mourning their death.” 
“I think I’d like to have a wake,” he mused.  And he did, less than two weeks later, with over 300 friends attending to cheer him on. 
And on the evening of the 12th of that August, in Reid Harbor, with everyone else on shore, Dad and I played a last game of double solitaire, and I won.  For the first time.  Ever. 100 to 90.  He was impressed; none of us had ever beaten him (we could occasionally convince him not to play).
And the next morning he died.
“Wow, and you still come back!” said K, and “You’re very strong,” or something like that, said D, and I replied that I couldn’t stay away, and wouldn’t they choose such a place to die, if they could?
Later in the afternoon, Ian and I went off to the far eastern edge of the campground, to the main office, to buy some more firewood.  As we turned to walk back to our site (which was down on the beach, midway through the grounds where the road starts to climb up a cliff into the woods), I heard a French horn, sweet, and clear, and warm, and lovely, playing a horn call that Dad played every single time he ever picked up his horn. 
“That’s a French horn!” I said breathlessly to Ian, and hurried on toward our site, and toward the sound. 
Wha?  thought Ian.  I can’t hear anything . . .
“Dad used to play that!” I went on. “It’s maybe Wagner?  I don’t know for sure, but he would use it as a warm up!” 
Suddenly the music switched to Mozart, one of the concertos, I couldn’t remember which but I’m thinking it was maybe number 3 3rd movement.  “Ian!  It’s now playing Mozart!  I PLAYED THIS WITH MY DAD!”
“Okay!” said Ian, awed (and somewhat relieved). “I can hear it now!”
We hurried into camp and dropped our wood.
“There’s a French horn, and I have to find it,” I said, still breathless. 
“What?” said everyone there.  “We haven’t heard anything at all . . . but then, we’ve been playing music . . .” and they were, quietly, but just enough that they hadn’t noticed the horn. 
“No, it’s definitely a French horn,” I said, “playing Mozart, just like Dad did.”
I rushed on up the hill, pulled by the past, Ian trailing along behind.  At the top, off to the side in one of the sites perched on the cliff-edge, I walked right up to a young woman sitting on a picnic table, smiling at me, and a young man (mid-twenties?) standing near her, holding a French horn. 
“Oh!” I said to him, “my father used to play the exact same things, 20 years ago, here in the San Juans, it’s so beautiful!  You have such a lovely tone!  Was that Wagner?”
“No,” he said, “Strauss.  Every horn player knows it.” He smiled at us.  They never seemed to have any fear that we had come to complain. 
“Are you in an orchestra?” asked Ian.
“Not since high school, just a pick-up band.”
“How long are you staying?” asked the girl.
“We’re leaving tomorrow,” said Ian.
“Oh,” said the guy.  “I’m playing at an open mic on Thursday evening here.”
“Well, I’m afraid we’ll miss that, but this, this was wonderful,” I said.  “Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful playing with us.”
We said goodbye, and made our way back down the hill, serenaded by more Mozart, ringing joyfully through the trees and out over the bay, celebrating life.
Thank you, Dad.