Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A New Birthmark? A Fishy House; North to Alaska; Wrangell Cousins; Stairclimbing in a Rain Forest

I forgot to mention this incident the other day, but wanted to get out the word out as a "lesson learned" before a similar disaster occurs to one of our dedicated readers... The day prior to departing Fort Lewis for British Columbia, My Lovely Bride decided she needed the back of her hair trimmed.  Just the back. The good news was that there was a lady stylist at the Army exchange barber shop; the bad news was that there was a lady stylist at the Army exchange barber shop. I thought about warning her of several past stylist disasters, but she was "on a mission" to get spruced up before her next presentation in Vancouver, and what do I know??? She returned from her stylist appointment weighing a pound or so less than when she had departed, and looking like a teenager. I commented on how wonderful her new haircut was (I am not completely dumb) and she asked me to look at the back of her neck. "Ty, did I ever tell you about my birthmark?" "No, Sweetheart, I don't recall your having mentioned that in our 18 years of marital bliss. Why do you ask?" "Take a peek." Well, whaddayaknow? It's rather cute, really, and happily for Suzanne, it still has length on the top, bangs and sides and she didn't get "whitewalls" around the ears. As for me, I will now always be able to identify her from the back in a police lineup.

While driving around White Rock, BC, I noted this little house with pretty flower baskets. I took a photo of it, but didn't notice that my camera had changed its lens setting to "fisheye". When I looked at the image later, I thought, "Oh, no... it looks really weird." But then I realized that it was actually a pretty cool, if not totally accurate, rendering. It reminded me of a house that's been flooded with water and is about to burst...

On Sunday morning, Suzanne delivered the message at Unity of Vancouver and then in the afternoon gave her Heart Gifts presentation. A large and enthusiastic audience was present and loved her talk about the visits and messages she has received from Wolf Passakarnis.

Tuesday found us awaking at 0400 (that's called oh-dark-hundred in the Navy) to catch an Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle to Wrangell, Alaska, via Ketchikan. "You're in Alaska?!" you ask?  Yes, the adventure continues!  We were flying to visit my second cousin, Jim Abbott, and His Lovely Bride Betty; I had not seen Jim in over 50 years. Jim served in the US Navy as a hospital corpsman with the Marines in Viet Nam, and in hospitals on Guam and in Adak, Alaska, and is a retired medical lab supervisor; Betty is a retired elementary school teacher. Today they are celebrating their 49th wedding anniversary!

Jim and Betty have lived in Wrangell for 41 years, and built themselves a beautiful home on the west side of Wrangell Island. This is the view from their deck...truly spectacular and inspirational!

During our tour of Wrangell, Jim showed us this totem pole carved by one of his friends. As we drove around, many people waved at us. Jim and Betty seemed to know almost everyone in town; it was a real change from our recent drive through the big cities of Seattle and Vancouver, where day-to-day life seems much less personal.

One of the really funny incidents during our visit came when Jim offered us a glass of wine. To say that Jim and Betty are not drinkers sort of understates the situation. They brought out several bottles of wine for us to choose from, all gifts from friends; vintages from 1985, 1994, 1996 and 2001 were all represented, but unfortunately, all of the wine had "turned", and had to be discarded. Betty laughed that the garbage man would think that they had hosted a really wild party, with seven empty wine bottles in the trash can...

Southeast Alaska, or the Alaska Panhandle as it is better known here, is very wet, getting about 90 inches of rain per year. Orlando, Florida, as a comparison, gets about 52 inches annually. The rain forest here is very green and much more dense than any I have hiked in other than the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. Fortunately, today was sunny and warm (65F) so we went on a 2 1/2 hour local hike today up to Rainbow Falls and beyond.

We did a "stairclimber" workout here, going up steep trails that are not set on dirt or rock, but on miles of fixed 2x12 boardwalks laid on 8x8 inch supports. We estimated than we climbed about 3,000 steps up and down, which is very hard on the knees and quads. The muskeg and rain forest floor is simply too wet and soft to hike on; you would be up to your ankles (at the very least) every step of the way.

Rainbow Falls was beautiful, and the trail above the falls even more challenging. We didn't see any bears, and although we were carrying an air horn for protection, we were happy not to have to use it. (An air horn???) The infamous Alaskan mosquitoes also gave us a break; we sprayed repellant on our arms and legs, and hardly noticed more than a couple of the little pests.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Sylvan Cathedral; Oh, Canada! Rising Damp? Bread Pudding; Tandoori and Vindaloo; No More Guano For You!

Before leaving our Bellingham campground, we went on another hike though the forest. This time, though, it wasn't at 4 in the afternoon with lots of noisy boys and adults chattering about their love lives. At 0830, we had the trail to ourselves for most of the way, and the very few people we did pass were, like us, reverently silent and enjoying the cathedral-like atmosphere of the deep woods.

Shafts of soft early morning light cut through the trees and illuminated the undergrowth and fallen trees with a surreal glow. When you're in this church, you know that there is a God or Mother Nature in charge.

Even this humble cedar stump took on an unusual, other-worldly aspect...

Arriving at Fragrance Lake, there was not another person to be found, except for this Lovely Lake Nymph standing on a rock. (After a lengthy discussion, I convinced her to return home with me...)

We departed Bellingham on Friday morning and are now back in Canada... British Columbia, to be precise. I have to admit that the border crossing was not as pleasant as it could have been. The electronic road sign said that there would be a 60 minute wait at the I-5 crossing, but it would have been much shorter had it not been for the line jumpers. Here's the setup: there are two lanes of traffic lined up for a mile or so, and the third lane on the right is for NEXUS subscribers, individuals who have preregistered, had their backgrounds checked and irises scanned, paid a $50 fee, etc. Huge signs painted on and above the roadway clearly identify which lane is for the very few folks who use NEXUS. But as we were waiting patiently in our lane with hundreds of cars and RVs ahead and astern of us, here are dozens of yahoos driving up the NEXUS lane from far behind us and then cutting into the lane ahead of us, adding lots of time to our wait. I wanted to go out with a baseball bat and smash the offenders' headlights, but My Lovely Bride convinced me that a Canadian jail wasn't the optimum way to meet the locals. We finally got to the check-in booth, and as we drove through, I was gratified to see the Mercedes with California plates that had cut in one car ahead of us pulled over and being searched. I hope that the Canadian border authorities had selected his car (and those of other scofflaws) for very time-consuming inspections.

British Columbians have a different flavour (yes, they spell funny up here, Eh?) than that of their cousins south of the 49th parallel of latitude. Having lived in England for two years, I note a definite sense of Britishness here. Some similarities: bars are called "public houses", umbrellas are for wimps and tourists, "rising damp" is an affliction of residential buildings and not just a British sitcom, and the provincial flower is mildew. There is also a phenomenon here that is shared with Seattle, Washington... the concept of "sun breaks". During winter (Oct 1-Apr 30), when it is overcast and rain falls almost every day, the local radio stations announce a break in the overcast, and indoor workers grab a cup of coffee and rush outside for their two minutes of (very occasional) sunshine. It is so damp that every flower, shrub and grass known to man grows here very nicely. The roof of this shed is typical; covered in moss, with luxurious ferns thriving quite well without any help from humans.

BC also has the prettiest flower baskets in the world, beautiful mountains and forests, and a happy, friendly population. Its world-famous Buchart Gardens in Victoria, which we visited when living in Seabeck, Washington, 15 years ago, is one of the most beautiful public gardens on the planet.

The afternoon we arrived, Suzanne gave a reading to a couple from Vancouver, BC, and when I returned from a local coffee shop, found that they had left a very thoughtful gift: a freshly baked bread pudding (having read in this blog about our weakness for that dessert). It was enough for an entire platoon of hungry Marines. Thank you, Mabel and C.K. Chan! It may add an inch or three to my waist, but the bread pudding was delicious. (Here Suzanne is trying to tell me that I only deserve a tiny bit, but I waited until her back was turned and ate a huge piece!)

MLB and I got out for a run today in between light rain showers (it is BC, after all... what did you expect?). I had recon'ed some running trails in a provincial park about 10 klicks (that's kilometers... we can't use the word miles here). The run was gorgeous, as nice as our hike the day before, but less hilly and with a few more people around. The Canadians like their green spaces, and do a super job making trails and walkways accessible to walkers, runners, the wheelchair-bound, bicyclists and equestrians in numerous city and provincial parks.

I mentioned the other day that we don't go out to eat much, except for sushi. In a surprise move, I decided to treat MLB to an ethnic meal out tonight at Little India in White Rock, BC. We enjoyed a variety of dishes, including Tandoori prawns, chicken and cheese; naan; paneer masala curry; and lamb Vindaloo. They were accompanied with two frosty Kingfisher beers, which took a bit of the bite out of the "two pepper hot" dishes. (We can't imagine what the full "five pepper" hot would be like.)

White Rock is a beach community where Vancouverites go for fun and sun. It has a European feel with lots of sidewalk dining (and, dare I say, more than a few drinking establishments, purely to allow folks to watch hockey in style) along a narrow strip of land fronting Semiahmoo Bay.

White Rock is named for the 286 ton granite boulder on the beach in the background of this photo. It is a glacial erratic, deposited far from its source by a glacier that melted because too many Canadians drive SUVs. It was made white by centuries of guano deposited by sea birds, and was long used as a navigational aid by sailors. Today the local city parks department has replaced the guano with white paint (hey, it keeps them in work; this is a mostly socialist country, after all).

Thursday, July 17, 2014

From the Universe; Dee-lish! The Mountain; Seattle Event; A Big Red Cedar; Larrabee State Park; Another Web

You may have heard that I'm a sensitive, "New Age Kinda Guy"... My Lovely Bride can confirm this with a recent example of my "connectedness". We were riding our mountain bikes at Fort Lewis and I commented to her, "Sweetheart, I have observed that the Universe is sending unwanted gifts to the Army here at Ft. Lewis." She replied in a baffled voice, "Ty, what are you talking about?" I pointed and said, "Lookee there!"

Now, back on an earthly plane... Being from New Orleans, I like good food. We rarely go out for meals other than sushi because we are so often disappointed in the quality of food at many restaurants. The other morning, I prepared traditional N'Awlins French toast for MLB and myself. Yes, Bob, it uses real French bread, as well as vanilla extract and almond extract, and a liberal dose of confectioner's sugar over strawberries... it will give you a great sugar rush!

After a hearty breakfast, I went kayaking on American Lake while Suzanne gave a reading. Not only is it a good workout, but the view of distant Mt. Rainier was impressive. Known here simply as "The Mountain", snow- and glacier-capped Rainier dominates the horizon. There is no other peak near its height (14,410, the fifth-highest peak in the lower 48 states) in the vicinity. Considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world, Rainier has 26 permanent glaciers, more than any other US mountain outside Alaska. Summiting the mountain normally requires 3 days of extremely hard climbing. Unfortunately, a campground neighbor told us that one of her office mates was missing after day-hiking part of the 93-mile long Wonderland Trail that circles Rainier. The 64-year old has been missing for five days, and is in our prayers.

Wednesday afternoon found us driving the car up to Seattle where Suzanne was giving her popular Heart Gifts presentation at East West Books. An enthusiastic group of attendees, many of whom had suffered losses like us, were spellbound by her recounting of Wolf Pasakarnis' story. Wolf's Message, her latest book, should be out soon on Kindle, with hard copy available this Fall.

Here is Suzanne with Lisa "Skripps", who said, "The evening was a mind-blowing and totally inspirational gift to experience."

This stump from a 20 foot diameter, 200 foot tall Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata) is on display at a rest stop between Seattle and Bellingham, WA. It is also called giant arborvitae and shinglewood. This tree died in 1893 after a fire burned its hollow base. It was reputed to be at least as large as the Quinalt Lake Red Cedar, the current holder of the world's record for the largest red cedar still standing. We wanted to hike among these trees, and were headed to a state park near Bellingham to do just that...

Larrabee State Park was our destination for one night, and as soon as we arrived, we donned our hiking boots and hit the trail. The Fragrance Lake Trail is a very pleasant but occasionally steep trail that winds its way up through second-growth red cedar and Douglas fir.

Suzanne found a unique (if not very comfy) seat on these roots to do some communing with the trees...

 But the most amazing sight we observed was this spider web. I have never seen one quite this complex or beautiful. Look carefully at the two tiny heart-shaped light refractions. Mother Nature had truly smiled upon us this day...  Considering Suzanne's presentation last night was called "Heart Gifts" and it focused on the interconnected web of All That Is, we were quite stunned by this apparition on the trail.

After dinner, we hiked down to this rocky shore along Samish Bay. We had been waiting to get reacquainted with the rocks, seaweed and tide pools since our last visit, and we were not disappointed. It's easy to understand why people have fallen in love with the beauty of this coast for centuries.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Three in a Shower? Cleaned Up; Ural Gear-Up; Hello, Cupcake; Stronger than Steel; A Good Motto; The Sound of Freedom; Scott Lake

I was in the shower with a redhead and a raven-haired beauty when My Lovely Bride called from Scottsdale. This wasn't a wild bachelor's dream. It was reality. And I couldn't answer the phone...

Okay, now that I have your attention, here's "the rest of the story". It was doggie bath time, and Suzanne was in Arizona. Rudy and Gretchen like baths about the same as most dogs. They run and hide. After rounding them up, I set to work. I didn't take a snapshot of Gretchen in the shower; like any girl, she's shy about such things. Rudy, on the other hand, didn't complain, although he doesn't look very happy.

After drying off (towels and yes, a warm blow-dry with My Lovely Bride's Con-Air), they were soft and fluffy and looking like little show dogs. Long-haired Miniature Dachshunds are mostly hair; Gretchen is the lightweight of the family (her nickname is "Ten Pounds of Fighting Fury") and Rudy weighs in at 17.5 lbs. They stay in fighting trim by chasing squirrels and gophers (on lead, of course; they've never caught one, so no letters from PETA, please!). Here's dainty little Gretchen after her bath, standing guard duty at her post in the starboard side window. She thinks she's a Doberman; a fearless girl, she actually once lunged with teeth bared at a Rottweiler. We had to restrain her so we wouldn't get sued.

Rudy (nicknamed "Elvis", or "The King"), on the other hand, is more laid back, although he can bark with the loudest of Dachshunds. A neighbor in the campground saw us walking today and said, "Gee, based on their barking while you were gone, we thought you had really big dogs!" (Uh-oh... but in fairness, he was walking his own dogs past our coach, and our little guys were just trying to protect their territory.) Rudy is a dark red Doxie; we've actually had people ask if he was a short Irish setter...  yeah, very short! Now they're fluffy and looking sharp, ready for their Dog-Mom's arrival tonight! They both clean up good!

Most readers will see "Ural Gear-Up" in the title and wonder, "What the heck...?" History and geography buffs will of course recognize the Urals as western Russia's mountain range that runs from the Arctic Sea to Kazakhstan, and which served as the Russian industrial heartland when Hitler's armies overran most of the country west of Moscow in 1941-42. Ural Motorcycles is the primary manufacturer of Russian motorcycles, originally based on the BMW model R-71 with sidecar in the 1940s. During WWII, thousands of Urals (known then as Cossack motorcycles) were manufactured to help the Soviet Army's transportation requirements over poor (non-existent?) Russian roads. The company now sells off-road capable sidecar motorcycles around the world, and while they do not meet the quality standards of Harley-Davidson, Ducati or BMW, they are rugged machines.  Evidently one soldier here at Fort Lewis wanted one, because this photo is of a Ural Gear-Up model (with engageable sidecar wheel drive). Note: Russian automobiles (and airplanes) still cannot meet US safety and EPA standards, but after extensive modifications, this motorcycle has been cleared for the US market. (And yes, I still believe that anyone who would fly with a Russian pilot must have a death wish.) 

"Hello, Cupcake..." That sounds like a line that an old guy would use to a sweet young thing. Yeah... so what? Well, it's also the name of a real cupcake shop in downtown Tacoma. Unfortunately, it was closed when I walked by so I couldn't sample the wares, so to speak, but it's on my list for my next visit. Their July special cupcake is banana split - chocolate banana cake with cream cheese frosting. Sounds decadent.

We were biking through the woods recently and stopped right next to another one of Mother Nature's wonders. It wasn't a majestic waterfall or a snow-capped peak, but a device created by an eight-legged arthropod out of proteinaceous silk... also known as a spider web. Here's some arachnid trivia: the tensile strength of spider silk is indeed stronger than the same weight of steel, and has much greater elasticity; its microstructure is being researched for possible uses as artificial tendons and improved bulletproof vests.

We are staying at Fort Lewis, which is the headquarters for the US Army's I Corps (also known as "America's Corps"), consisting of 20,000 active duty soldiers assigned here and another 20,000 reservists from many other states as well as Washington. The heart of I Corps at Fort Lewis is the 7th Infantry Division, whose motto, "Light, Silent and Deadly", reflects the modern Army's emphasis on rapid response and enhanced mobility in restrictive environments (mountains, deserts, etc.). Their vehicles are primarily Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicles (ICV), faster than tanks but much more lightly armored, and only armed with .50 cal machine guns and grenade launchers, rather than the 120 mm gun carried aboard Abrams tanks. They carry a crew of two plus an infantry squad of nine soldiers plus their personal equipment.

Riding around the base, I noticed this door with a sign appropriate for the young men and women assigned here who regularly have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in their nation's defense. What better credo for warriors than "Everybody Fights; Nobody Quits"? HOO-AH!

While we had visitors over for drinkees tonight, we heard "The Sound of Freedom"... for the uninitiated, that's "military speak" for jet and helicopter noise at a military post or base. It could also refer to any loud noises that are military-related: artillery or small arms fire, grenade and explosive ordnance detonations, tank engine rumbling... you get the picture. Military operations are often loud, and those who have served take noise as a matter of course. But when several CH-47 Chinook helicopters fly over your RV, you get up and take a look. For an hour or so, these helos were making approaches onto American Lake alongside our campground, where they hovered, dropped rubber boats and swimmers, and then returned for personnel extraction 15 minutes later. The rotor wash was enough to almost knock you down, but it was a great air show.


Finally, I'll leave you with this picture of serenity in the Cascades. This photo was taken at Scott Lake near McKenzie Pass in Willamette National Forest, Oregon, elevation around 4,800 feet, with the Sisters in the background. If it hadn't been for (a) the mosquitoes and (b) the fact that this was US Forest Service land, I might have looked to buy an acre here and put up a cabin for The Pack's summer abode... Sigh...

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Tacoma; Quiet Waters; A Smart Weed; Knotty Art

The nearest city to Fort Lewis, where The Coach is staying a few days, is Tacoma. Last night I went downtown for dinner, but had some problems... Restaurant A was kinda dumpy; B was a college dive; C was closed for renovation; D, Pacific Grill, was great, and I had a delightful server, Diane, who made sure I ordered the right menu items and kept my Pinot Noir glass charged. This smoked salmon appetizer was exceptional; I also had a grilled salmon entree. (I would have liked to have caught the salmon myself, but they aren't running right now. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!)

The restaurant was just down the street from Tacoma's old Union Station, with its beautiful copper dome. Opened in 1911, it is no longer a railway station, but is used for weddings and exhibits.


This morning I went kayaking on American Lake, which is shared by Joint Base Lewis-McChord (where we are staying) and the local community. I wanted to get out early before the power boaters and jet skiers disturbed the silence that blankets lakes early in the day. My regimen while My Lovely Bride is away is to launch the kayak and paddle briskly for an hour, returning home for breakfast about the time the noise comes up. I do carry a small digital camera in a zip-lock bag, so that if I capsize or get drenched, it may survive with minor damage.

I did share the lake with a couple of other boats, but no ski boats or pesky jet skis. This gaggle of Canada geese (Branta canadensis) - distant cousins of mine, perhaps - were keeping a tight cruising formation worthy of Navy destroyers just off my port bow. The lake's luxurious water plants make a good feeding ground for waterfowl.

My initial guess on plant identification for this pretty pink floating variety was a fragrant water lily, but after extensive floral research, I identified it as the insultingly-named water smartweed (Polygonum amphibium). It is an important plant, providing seeds for waterfowl, marsh birds, upland game birds and songbirds. Indians used it as an antiseptic and as a poisoning cure.

This partially-submerged log with an empty knothole and blooming wildflowers caught my eye. The wildflowers probably arrived as partially-digested seeds in bird droppings (birds are very handy for that sort of thing).

A close-up of the knothole shows interesting textures in the wood as well as algae (or perhaps moss?) growing near the high water line. I tried sighting through the knothole to see if maybe it had been used to show the location of pirate treasure, but was unable to locate the chest of booty.

Finally, just to show that I take water safety seriously (maybe more so than in my mountain biking?), this selfie proves that I am wearing a proper Coast Guard-approved PFD (personal flotation device). I also carry a hand-operated pump to bail out the cockpit in case of an inadvertent water entry (capsize). Fortunately, neither has been put to the test... recently.