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Archive for the ‘The Journey’ Category

If you know any Virgos, I’m sure you’re already aware that we tend to have very busy, restless minds.

Because of my busy-busy Virgo brain, and in spite of all my spiritual and philosophical training, I have finally given up on traditional empty-your-mind meditation. Now I just let the thoughts run, and pay attention only when the nattering gets interesting. (Nattering is one of my favorite British-isms, snogging being the other. Nattering is superficial chatter.)

I’ve found that the two pastimes which elicit the most fun and useful nattering are showering and long drives. The shower usually unearths great writing ideas; while I’m driving, my monkey mind latches on to whatever’s passing by and spins off from there, sometimes with pretty silly results.

This particular train of thought was jolted into consciousness the day we left Banff, British Columbia and my brain was looking for diverting but not dangerously absorbing things to tinker with as I drove. (In case you’re wondering, my daughter Julia, navigator, critter manager, advisor and heavy lifter, is unable to drive due to disabilities … so that’s my job).

What triggered the mental journey was a truly gorgeous deer crossing sign which showed up for a brief period somewhere in eastern British Columbia or western Alberta.

You see signs all over the US, wherever deer or elk present driving hazards, and until that day I’d never seen anything but the homogenized leaping stag pictured below that I supposed every state must buy from the same source.

The unique Canadian deer crossing sign I saw that day had all the power and iconic punch of a cave painting. It was spare, evocative rather than realistic, and I wished I could have stopped the car to take a photo for posterity. It truly was a work of art!

I later googled “deer crossing sign” and learned that there are some other styles, and hundreds of both athletic and overweight versions of the homogenous, ubiquitous stag, and even duck, goose, otter, squirrel, horse and rider and turkey crossing signs, but nothing to match the Canadian cave painting version, sorry to say.

This, of course, started me thinking about my habit of always checking out deer crossing signs, especially in remote areas, to see if someone had gone to the trouble to give the deer a Rudolph Red Nose. I typically judge an area’s cultural personality based on whether or not the deer have red noses.

If there are people living there who are willing to go to the local office supply store for a sheet of big red dots, and then travel around in the dead of night decorating deer crossing signs just to make travelers smile, then that’s a place I’d probably like. In Humboldt County, California, in Redwood country just south of the Oregon border, which I explored thoroughly over a 16-year period, I don’t recall ever seeing a red-nose-less deer. And I loved it there.

The cave-painting-esque deer sign appeared for only a short distance on our route, followed by signs identical to the ones in the states, and then followed, once we entered Saskatchewan, by an odd creature with deer antlers, a blobby, moose-like snout, and not a red nose in sight.

And then, back in the states, we returned to the homogenized leaping stags, and I resumed my traveling pastime of assessing locales based on the state of the deer’s noses.

Until we reached Maine, where the first thing we saw was a big sign – words only, no images – cautioning us to watch for moose on the highway … and I haven’t seen a deer/elk sign, with or without a red nose, since we arrived.

I’m sure there’s something profound to be made of this, beyond warning me that we’re not in Kansas any more, Toto … but I haven’t figured what yet. When I do, I’ll probably post it.

Anyone out there have a deer sign story to share?

Well, it’s time to start re-packing for our move-in Tuesday. Talk to you again soon!

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Goddess Fortune continues to smile on us.

Not only are we presently wallowing in the lap of luxury at the Marriott Residence Inn in Scarborough (Sheba is modeling the chaise below, just to give you an idea of the wake-me-up décor. And in case you’re with Marriott, she didn’t get up there again – promise!) …

… but, after just three days in Maine we found a perfectly wonderful place to live.

As you can see below (don’t forget to click on photos if you want to see a better resolution version), I’m not going to have to search for ways to actualize my determination to Get Back Into Shape Immediately.

We have been gifted with the Stairs from Hell, and what you see in these photos is only the beginning, since we’re on the second and third floors. After arriving at the front door, you climb another steep set of stairs to the main floor, and there’s yet another equally steep set up to the bedrooms and second bath. I anticipate slimmer hips in a month or less, and not a dollar spent on a Stairmaster.

And why are we moving into such a rigorously demanding condo? Besides the charming appearance?

My California friends may want to sit down for this part. We are getting 1,000+ square feet, 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, a huge kitchen, expansive living room, back deck and mud room for $725 a month. And, no, I didn’t leave off any digits. $725! And we were paying $1,500 for a poky and highly unsatisfying 1 bedroom in the San Francisco South Bay area. Not only that, this is a very quiet cul de sac, and at a high enough elevation to afford a great view of oncoming weather. And new insulation was installed in the spring.

Here we have beauty all around, a very large patch of woods in our back yard. Our hunter kitty Sneakers will be in heaven, and so will we. And if I ever feel the stairs are insufficient exercise, I can hike through the woods to the “Y” or head down to the playing fields across the main drag.

It was when I asked about those incredibly daunting stairs that I first heard a stock Maine saying which I’ve already come to understand has many layers of nuanced and complex meaning, and which is always delivered with a charming mixture of affection and exasperation:

The phrase? “Well, this is Maine, after all!”

I’ve gotten that answer so many times I’ve lost count … a few I remember are when I asked about a glitch signing up for Comcast telephone service, when my daughter Julia and I searched store after store without success for some sleeping bags to tide us over until our stuff arrives from California (3 weeks minimum), and when I suggested to the Portland Whole Foods deli manager that they might want to sell the terrific parsnip pancakes I found at other Whole Foods across the country. Actually, what the deli manager said was, “Well, don’t be surprised if you have to wait a year or so. This is Maine, after all.”

To add interest and challenge to all this good fortune and delight, I’m finding that, in spite of early Mainers’ assessment, I am going to have to work on a couple of areas in order to really fit in, so far most notably on my sense of humor and my style of driving.

I’ve never been honked at so much in my life (and not just when I’m not sure where I’m going, or when I’m trying to squeeze a largish car down freaking impossibly narrow streets), but – hey! – maybe it’s just the California license plate. So far ours is the only one I’ve seen since hitting New England, although I have seen some Washington state plates.

Also my ironic humor is usually greeted with blank faces and/or confused silence. Very disconcerting!

But everywhere we go we drive next to or over waterways, and the ever-present woods actually began to turn color on the Equinox yesterday.

My favorite moment so far, though, occurred while we were walking thru the charmingly quaint downtown of Bath yesterday. I looked up to see a man silhouetted against the water visible through the wide open doors of a very old warehouse-like building, and he was actually hand fashioning a wooden keel rib for a large boat! It was like seeing a woodcut come to life.

It’s too bad I didn’t have my camera, because I swear the photo would have been an award winner.

We’re moving in to our new place on Tuesday, so the next few days will be busy with packing and provisioning (not many gluten free stores in that area, but plenty around Portland). I do have one more silly story to tell which I’ll upload for tomorrow, and then the next post depends on when our internet is up and running.

Till then … may your fall be abundant and full of beauty.

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Okay, where were we when we were so rudely interrupted?

Or, more to the point, why were we so rudely interrupted?

Well, let me tell you!

First, my apologies. I promised a lot and haven’t delivered, and I hate it when that happens. But I have been taking lots of notes, and have several interesting stories to tell, so perhaps that will make up for the lack of news recently.

Now, as to the why …

While we were in Banff, because of the complicated logistics of traveling with two people with special diets, plus a large dog and 2 cats, I had to start planning the next stages of the journey right away. My daughter Julia and I were looking forward particularly to seeing the part of Canada surrounding the Great Lakes, places like Thunder Bay. But it was like beating my head against a wall.

There was a three day stretch of look-at-the-scenery driving where I simply could not find any pet friendly hotels or places to get the food we needed … and at that point I had literally run out of protein I could eat without uncomfortable backlash. And I wasn’t having any luck figuring out where to get it before Ottawa or Montreal.

Then, to cap it all off, we realized that my prescriptions (and our elderly dog’s) would run out in a little over a week.

And, finally, three mornings in a row, I was awakened with a phrase running through my head which seemed relevant … especially since most of the really important personal input I receive from my guidance comes that way.

What was the phrase?

Well, if you’ve read Tolkein’s The Hobbit, or seen a cartoon version, you probably remember that the wizard Gandalf showed up at Bilbo Baggins’ house one evening out of the blue with a bunch of rowdy dwarves intent on dragging Bilbo off on an adventure. When asked if he’d like to join them, Bilbo said something like:

“Oh, dear me, no! Adventures make one late for dinner.”

That’s the phrase that was waking me up at 3 am. To me it meant, essentially, that timing was getting important, and that it was time to quit fooling around and get where we were going, or we’d miss our “dinner.” It seemed to me that it meant that housing opportunities, and job opportunities, would be missed if we didn’t get our respective rear ends in gear. We’ll see if my interpretation is correct … I certainly am not up for anything like Bilbo’s adventure at this point in my life!

Yeah, yeah, I know Bilbo’s adventure rocked all of Middle Earth … but, when you think about it, things would have been easier -at least in the short term – if he had stayed home, though of course we would have missed out on one of the great stories of our time. Tough choice.

Anyway, I shifted planning gears … and, amazingly, as soon as I started looking at a route through the US to Maine, it was simple to find housing and the food we needed. Plus the journey would be a week shorter. So, okay, that door opened when the other stubbornly remained closed, so we headed for the US border with all speed.

(And crossing the border will be featured in a future post … “Being Different – the Good, the Bad & the Ugly.” A tale full of sound & fury, I promise!)

We raced at an angle from Banff through Alberta and western Saskatchewan, crossed into the US in North Dakota, and sped through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire in 9 days … and we finally arrived in Maine yesterday. A blur of cheesy hotels and occasional gorgeous scenery highlighted by periodic philosophical spinoffs, some worth telling (at least I think so!)

During that whole drive I kept wondering why I wasn’t excited. I mean, I was about to achieve a 40-year dream, so why was I feeling so grim? The grimness must have been the result of grinding through 8-hour driving days and marginal accommodations with reluctant pets … and because of lingering feelings about our border-crossing experience …

… because it lasted until about 5 minutes after we crossed the border into Maine, at which point I felt such a lift that I thought I might end up with permanent goosebumps, I was so flooded with energy and emotion. And the first couple of stops we made for prescriptions and other necessaries, when people found out I was from California, they said things like, “Huh! Well, you look like you belong here.” Music to my ears!!!

Julia isn’t quite as excited, because getting her settled is going to be far more complicated and time-consuming, and frankly she isn’t looking forward to the amount of hard work she has facing her to prepare for the GRE and start pitching herself to the research programs where she wants to study … but she’s rolling her sleeves up and getting to work tomorrow, right after we scope out currently available housing.

That brings you up to date. Next blog posts will be about some highlight experiences, and a couple of fun and silly philosophical rants about things like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. And a bit more about some things we really liked about Canada.

Thanks for bearing with me! I hope you’re well, and that your life is giving you clear signals.

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On Wednesday my daughter Julia and I left the cats snoozing in the condo, loaded the dog Sheba in the car and took a day-long trek through the Canadian Rockies, specifically the Banff and Jasper National Parks.

Once Sheba figured out that not only were we NOT going to the vet, but that she was also actually able to stick her nose out the window (didn’t have to worry about cats escaping) and revel in the aromas of the Rockies, she had a blast. We all three did, actually.

Since I expended my vocabulary describing my first encounter with these incredible mountains (see “Squandered Superlatives”), I’m going to let pictures do most of the telling … but first some geologic commentary.

Julia was able to add a lot of interest to this journey because of her degree in Environmental Science, and because she’s always loved geology. Since she doesn’t read the blog, she didn’t know about what I’d said about mountains shoving fists or elbows up from the earth, so when she quoted her favorite geology professor, saying that the mountains looked like the result of a “continental fender-bender,” and (after I stopped laughing), I felt more confident of my impressions.

The Great Divide scenic stop was a further hint, as was a déjà vu moment as we were headed up into glacier country. Looking back over our route from a pullout close to the top of the pass, I could see the river winding through steep mountains, everything telescoping down to tiny cars in the distance, and I remembered vaguely seeing something almost identical at Estes Park in Colorado. When we got home that evening I hauled out my map and confirmed that, indeed, as most of the world probably already knows, the Rockies extend at an angle along the continental divide from New Mexico through Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Alberta and British Columbia.

To me the Canadian Rockies look bolder, harder edged, more muscular, but it’s easy to see that they’re part of the same family as the Colorado Rockies.

And now, without further adieu, here is our quickie tour of a park that would undoubtedly richly reward years of exploration. Don’t forget to click on any photo you want to see clearly …

It isn’t hard to guess that this first amazing sight is called … Castle Mountain!

My friend Daina was really excited about my first glimpse of Lake Louise, and it was as incredible as she intimated.

And, a little further down the side of the lake, here’s Julia.

And here’s a hotel near the lake which has the riot of English cottage garden-style flowers which you find everywhere in Banff, Harvie Heights (where we’re staying) and Canmore (a great little town full of hotels and lovely shops also near Banff).

We were amazed at our first glacier – Crowfoot Glacier – spilling over the edge of the mountain at the speed of geologic time, but we soon found out we hadn’t seen nuttin’ yet!

Athabasca Glacier, at the southern end of the Columbia Icefield in Jasper Park, is so huge that the tour busses buzzing around the crevasses look like insects and you’d really have to squint at the enlarged version of this photo to see the people trekking up a winding dirt road to the glacier.

But, as awe-inspiring as the glacier was, for me the most unforgettable part of the day were the blue, blue lakes we saw on the way back. Somehow the brilliantly clear blue sky, the mountains and the lakes themselves combined with the angle of the sun to produce truly extraordinary colors.

Today we hiked around a fen (wetland) which coexists beautifully with downtown Banff, which I’ll report on next … and, I am aghast to realize that tomorrow is not only my birthday, it’s our last day here (sniff!). But there’s plenty more excitement to come, including a major change in plans for the journey, so stay tuned.

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Ever since we left Abbottsford at the Washington/British Columbia border I’ve bounced wildly back and forth between delight and frustration … delight at the absolutely magnificent scenery, and frustration over the fact that Canadian highways don’t seem to have view points, so I couldn’t take pictures of all that magnificence. So I worked on composing descriptions for the blog.

For example, there was an extended drive between Abbottsford and Kamloops along Trans Canada Highway 1 that was bounded by steep, heavily forested cliffs with craggy granite faces snugged against one side of the highway, with a shallow, rocky river on the other, and a mountain, dancing in the distance, towering above a sky full of snow-white, wooly clouds.

Then, further on that day, the landscape softened and opened out, still running next to a river, but dryer and riddled with patches of what appeared to be diseased trees. Next, Kamloops was in a wide, dry beautifully shaped bowl in the mountains, a very prosperous, modern town (touted as the food processing and commercial hub of the region). Everything was brand new, with lots of chain stores you also find in the US, like Toys R Us, McDonalds, Bed & Bath & Beyond and so on. Our hotel was a very pleasant overnight stay although for some reason the critters didn’t like it much.

Revelstoke, our next overnight stay, was scruffy, full of mountaineers, bicyclers and hikers, with the loveliest mountain I could see out the hotel room window, flirting with me behind gauzy wisps of cloud that would come and go.

But when we got to Banff I felt like the breath had been kicked out of me. My mind went blank and then the weirdest thought crept in … that I’d squandered all my superlatives on the way here, and had nothing left to say in the face of such (literally) breathtaking scenery!

As we drove through on the way to the Banff Boundary Lodge I kept flipping through my vocabulary and discarding words … magnificent (not quite right), awe inspiring (certainly, but not good enough), spectacular (well, yeah, but … missing something), dramatic, splendid, rugged (pallid), and so on. Nothing satisfied me, so I took pictures and instructed my subconscious to get to work on what to say (my Inner Writer is a diligent and wonderful partner).

The next day (yesterday) I just sat around adjusting to the altitude (about 4500 feet above sea level), flipping through guidebooks for good hikes and car trips, and letting my impressions simmer. This morning I could walk up the stairs in our condo without pausing for breath, and when I was gazing at the mountains through the shower window, the concepts I needed bubbled to the surface.

The mountains around Banff, bare of all but glaciers in early September, are powerful, muscular, with knife-like ridges and striations of glaciers which show very clearly the tremendous force these mountains exerted as they emerged … sometimes the striations are as steep as 45 degrees, giving the impression of a powerful elbow or fist that had smashed through the earth’s crust, giants exploding from deep underground to stand sentinel over this wild, green land.

The only things I’ve ever seen that can hold a candle to these mountains for sheer, raw energy and power are a series of sculptures by Michelangelo called “Slaves,” sculptures which many people call “unfinished.”

I first saw them in my teens during a tour of Europe (see “Coming Home with a Thump”), and found them absolutely staggering even then. Our tour guide, an art history professor at San Francisco State, told me that, rather than being unfinished, he felt Michelangelo intended to show the figures as fighting their way free of the stone encasing them. And you can see below their indomitable will and the powerful struggle of bulging muscle and straining sinews.

One of the sculptures is the focus of the World card (XXI) of James Wanless’ Voyager Tarot deck, probably a big reason I first bought that deck, and why I still use it professionally.

More on the area after we’ve done some hiking and driving and watching for wildlife … originally we’d planned to leave Wednesday, but there are so many tempting activities, and our condo is so lovely and handy with a real kitchen and 2 bedrooms upstairs (and the critters are SO blissfully happy to be staying in one place!) that we’ve extended our stay.

Since we’re going to remain until the day after my birthday, September 10, I will have plenty of time to map out the next stage of our journey, start the process of house-hunting in Maine, and polish some of the articles I’ve promised … including a discussion of Runes for the next stage of our journey, the pros and cons of being different, helpful hints for traveling with 2 cats and an 80 lb dog, Google maps versus paper maps and what they reveal about one’s approach to life, and memories of traveling with my mother’s parents.

May what you see out your window be a feast for your eyes and heart!

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We saw some truly spectacular scenery today, mountain vistas to take your breath away, and magical patches of wildflowers. Since I’m sharing those, I thought I’d first also share why I’ve been muttering about Forks as the Twilight zone.

First, Forks, Washington. You may know (I didn’t) that the Twilight series of vampire books are set in the Olympic Peninsula, and particularly in Forks. Under the Twilight mania which has developed, Forks is still a pretty funky old logging town, and I got some photos to document the interesting, sometimes silly, and sometimes uncomfortable juxtaposition of the two.

Remember, if you want to really see any of these photos, click on ’em!

First, here’s the Twilight tour center and bus:


Next, we have a really nice Native Art gallery which has jumped on the bandwagon …

And I guess this hotel owner decided not to jump on the bandwagon …

Now, on to the magnificence of the Olympic Peninsula mountains, as seen from Hurricane Ridge.

Here is our first glimpse.

Then, here are some views from the top.

Then, on the way back down we saw some wonderful patches of wildflowers:

And here are views from the other direction, on the way back down the mountain.

And here’s Miss Sneakers, completely worn out from all that sightseeing … and, make no mistake, she watches out the windows as avidly as our dog Sheba.

We’ll be plowing through urban areas tomorrow, so probably no pix or deep thoughts. But the next night we’re in Kamloops, British Columbia, then Revelstoke, then Banff, and one of the three women mentioned in the “Walking the Dog” post from earlier today told me we would probably hear the wolves singing at night in Banff. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

Till later, then …

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You know the old saying that one of the best ways to meet people is by walking your dog? Well, I have an even better suggestion!

If you want to meet people, especially studly guys, all you have to do is drive around towing a PulMor trailer, and park it occasionally. For those of you just tuning in, here is a picture of our trailer … (click on the image for better resolution)

These days, all I have to do is park the car, zip in for something quick like coffee, and when I return there is at least one, and sometimes as many as 3 or 4 hunky guys standing around wanting to discuss the specs and any and all technical details. The other day there were 2 fly fishermen still in their waders, a Sam Elliott kind of a guy leaning on a truly gorgeous Harley motorcycle, and a lean and lanky bicycler, all in the same parking lot.

I even had a great conversation with a 3-generation family of women at our hotel in Forks, all of whom are sports enthusiasts of one sort or another and knew just how to put a PulMor to work! Honestly, it’s gotten so prevalent that Julia is constantly rolling her eyes, and may soon resort to swatting them away like gnats, just so we can get back on the road with less delay.

My big comedown, however, came this afternoon on Hurricane Ridge, when I walked by a couple of motorcycle guys who’d had an in depth conversation earlier at our hotel with me and our dog Sheba … when I walked by and commented on our earlier conversation, they just looked blank. Guess without my PulMor and wolf dog I’m not *quite* as sexy!

If you want to try this fabulous new way to meet guys, you should know that  this magical effect may only last as long as the trailer is fairly new on the market, so I recommend you get yours soon, because I’m really spreading the word!

Got some great photos today … if I get a chance I’ll upload them later tonight.

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