Tuesday, July 29, 2014

It's a Sign; Eats, Shoots and Leaves; More Signs; Size Does Matter; Clear Lake; Chindii; Abandoned!

I really get a kick out of strange signs... I'm not referring here to the metaphysical type, which often refer to synchronicities or guidance from one's guides... but rather to those that have either contextual or grammatical errors or meanings that provide mirth or consternation. Here's an example: while visiting Wrangell, Alaska, we dropped in on the local market. I looked at the sign above the door, the sign painted on a delivery van, and even my register receipt to confirm the name of the grocery: Bobs' Market. I asked my cousin Jim if there were more than one Bob, but he confirmed that there was only one. I suspect that Bob's high school English teacher must be rolling in her grave...

My high school English teacher, Mr. Langlois, is part of the reason that I have long been sensitive to poor punctuation, particularly regarding the use of commas and apostrophes. I hadn't thought much about this until I received a gift from Beth and Mike Pasakarnis - a copy of Eats, Shoots and Leaves, by Lynne Truss. The title refers to a joke - a panda walks into a cafe, orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air. A waiter asks, "Why?", as the panda heads for the door. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife book, tosses it over his shoulder, and says, "I'm a panda; look it up." The waiter turns to the appropriate entry, which states, "Panda. Large black and white bear-like mammal native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves." I will officially thank Beth and Mike here for connecting me with the greater community of correct punctuation sticklers, otherwise known as "comma and apostrophe nerds".

This sign was found at the base of an RV's right front tire in Medical Lake, WA. It seems that the owner had found several streams of urine on his tire, and either didn't like the odor or the lack of respect for his vehicle. In deference to his sign, I moved on to another less obvious (and public) target.

A bed and breakfast's advertisement in Wrangell made me chuckle. While many businesses tout their reputation as "the best in the state" or "world-renowned", this B&B owner is realistic and honest. Sadly, the owner's business plan has not been totally successful, since the B&B is for sale.

This photo was taken at Pats Lake, near Wrangell. I didn't get photographic evidence of the lack of an apostrophe on the sign, but decided that the beauty of these wildflowers outweighed the grammatical error in the lake's name. (See, I'm not a total nerd...)

The last sign to be posted (today, at least) is at the Muskeg Meadows Golf Course clubhouse. Even ignoring the misspelling of the first word, I find it novel that players are required to buy alcohol to play the course...

Lest a prudish reader assume that Your Faithful Correspondent is being crude, rude and socially unacceptable in the fourth subtitle (Size Does Matter), let me dispel their concerns by referring them to this photo of our coach alongside a very cute and fully functional trailer with the following sign on its rear: "I go where I'm towed to." I decided not to comment to the trailer's owner that ending a sentence with a preposition is "wrong, wrong, wrong", as drilled into my noggin by Coach Charlie Myers, my high school Latin teacher. He also taught me not to insult or pick fights with guys bigger than I/me/myself. (Pick your ending.)  Coach had received his grammar training in a Jesuit high school, and you don't mess with Jesuits!

We are now at Clear Lake Recreation Area, a small campground and marina run by Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane, Washington. This was our view the other night; our enjoyment of the sunset was abbreviated, but not spoiled, by a swarm of mosquitoes that threatened to eat me alive. For some reason, they did not bother Suzanne at all. (A case of professional courtesy, perhaps? As everyone knows, female mosquitoes feed on human blood, while males feed on flower nectar and plant juices.) SMACK!

Of course, one of the positive aspects to being camped on a lake is that we can get out to kayak early in the morning before it gets too hot or noisy (from the speedboats and jet skis). Paddling is one of my favorite pastimes, and here I am admiring a granite outcropping at the north end of the lake.

"Dust devils" are very localized whirlwinds, much smaller and less powerful than tornadoes. Typically, they range from .5-10 meters wide and 3-1000 meters tall. We passed this one just west of Spokane. Whereas tornadoes are associated with thunderstorms, dust devils form as a swirling updraft on clear, sunny days. Several disparate cultures associate the phenomenon with spirits:
- the Navajo refer to them as chindii, the spirits or ghosts of dead Navajos
- the Australian term willy-willy is believed to be a derivation of an Aboriginal word meaning a bad spirit that often disciplines (or abducts) children who misbehave
- in the Middle East, they are called djin, genies or devils
- in Egypt, the fasset al 'afreet translates as a ghost's wind
- the Kenyan Kikuyu tribe calls it a ngoma cia aka, or women's devil/demon
(I was loath to include the Kikuyu interpretation, as some might accuse me of gender discrimination, but since my head is still ringing from the mosquito-related Smack!, I figured, "What the heck...")

Finally, My Lovely Bride is about to abandon me. Not literally, of course, but figuratively. She is about to fly back home to enjoy a week with her Lovely Sister Janice and her Lovely Mom Ruthie. Suzanne and Ruthie share a birthday on August 1, and Janice will visit from West Chester, PA for the festivities. I have alerted all of the local girlie hangouts to be prepared for the arrival of the Three Wild Things. I hope that their escapades will not get so rowdy that the local constabulary has to be called in, but you know how girls get when they are on their own...

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A New Book; Dachshund Prey; Fish and Crab Feasts; Muskeg Meadows; Petroglyphs; Boneyard; Chief Shakes; Skunk Cabbage; Gonif; Woof, Woof!

Great news, blog followers: Suzanne's newest book, Wolf's Message, is out! You can find the Kindle version on Amazon, with the hard copy coming out in a few weeks. Suzanne has also posted a really cool YouTube video on the new book's page on her web site, www.LoveAtTheCenter.com

One of the most scenic spots we visited on Wrangell Island was the Nemo campsite area, perched on a high ridge in the Tongass National Forest overlooking the Zimovia Strait. Here are Jim and Betty Abbott (on their 49th anniversary, by the way) at an overlook, with the peaks of Etolin Island in the background. With an area of 339 sq. miles, Etolin is the 24th largest island in the US, and had a population of 15. There are more elk on the island than people. Urban sprawl is not considered a serious problem here.

Rudy and Gretchen have been enjoying our Alaskan adventure. Next door is a grassy area where this cute little cottontail (and others... you rarely find just one - why is that?) is often munching grass and sunning. Of course, our puppies haven't caught one, but the chases have been entertaining for all concerned... well, okay, maybe the rabbits haven't gotten a vote, but R&G certainly had fun.

One of the other advantages of visiting my cousin Jim in Alaska has been the fabulous seafood his wife Betty has prepared for us. We have enjoyed halibut, home-smoked salmon, Dungeness crabs and shrimp over the past few days, some hand-delivered by their lovely neighbor Denise, whose husband had just come back from crabbing. You can't get any more fresh than that! Here we have the Abbotts and My Lovely Bride steaming and picking crabs. The meat is actually sweeter than most blue crabs I'm used to from the Chesapeake and Louisiana, and one big crab makes a meal. (Suzanne is trying to consume half a crab without picking it... hmm, a bit crunchy...)

Golf isn't the first thing you think of when you plan your trip to Alaska. When Jim arrived in Wrangell back in the 70s, there was no golf course for a couple of hundred miles. Being an avid golfer, it took him awhile to get the US Forest Service, the state, town and other entities to approve the project, but Wrangell's Muskeg Meadows golf course is one of his big accomplishments. Thousands of hours of volunteer work and fundraising resulted in a beautiful course that is both challenging and unusual, with snow-capped peaks in the background. It is USGA rated and sloped (Blue 70.2/119, White 67.8/110, and Red 68.4/112). And oh by the way, Jim won their major tournament back a few years ago.

Wolves and bears are occasionally seen on the course (fortunately, no golfers have disappeared - so far), and there is a special "Raven Rule" that allows you to replace your ball without penalty if it is stolen by one of those pesky birds (provided there is a witness). The course was carved out of second-growth rain forest on a hillside near town, and several creeks and huge boulders replace traditional sand traps. The rock in the center of the fairway here is about 20 feet high. Jim states that golf balls bounce really well off granite... unfortunately, most ricochet into the woods. If your ball goes off the fairway, it's virtually impossible to find, because the undergrowth (mostly alders) is so dense.

There is even a beautifully-groomed 250 yard driving range with eight stations. A tournament was scheduled for the day after we left, so I was unable to show Jim and Betty my renowned skill and prowess at the game. (Suzanne, why are you laughing?)

One of our stops on the Wrangell Tour was Petroglyph Beach State Historic Park, where you can see the largest collection of Native American rock carvings in Southeast Alaska. The word is derived from the Greek words petra (rock) and glyphe (carving). The specific reasons for the carvings is unknown, but experts suspect that they were intended to commemorate important events or to ensure success in hunting and fishing. The petroglyphs here in Wrangell are carved in dark gray metamorphic rock just above the high tide line. This petroglyph represents an orca, or killer whale (Orcinus orca). In the local Tlingit native culture, the orca (called Blackfish) is one of the most powerful creatures in nature. It has a definite supernatural quality, representing an extremely powerful and deadly force of nature to every creature except man, whom Blackfish is said to look after. The Tlingits also believe that nature's creatures are equal to man (if not more worthy than most humans)... after reading the latest news, I think I agree completely with the Tlingits.

Near Petroglyph Beach we found a boneyard with three abandoned fishing boats. Built of wood, they are slowly returning to their natural state. Wood deteriorates quickly in this wet climate, but for now they make for a scenic photo. (Note: a boneyard in this context refers to a place for storing retired aircraft or boats.)

In Wrangell Harbor is Shakes Island Historic Site, location of a replica of a 19th Century Tlingit tribal house, reconstructed in 2012-2013. Chief Sheiyksh (pronounced Shakes) is the traditional Tlingit leader's name. There is no relation to the English idiom, "no great shakes", which after exhaustive research, appears to have originated in the 17th Century as meaning "nothing to brag about" and is apparently related to a gambler's poor throw of the dice with low points (no 7 or 11). (Who knew?)

I have learned a little about horticulture and Alaskan plants from my cousin Jim, who is a Master Gardener. My Lovely Bride and I noticed this huge plant on the Rainbow Falls Trail the other day, and shot a photo of it. Jim identified it as western skunk cabbage (Lysiciton americanus), named that because of the "skunky" odor produced when in bloom. The odor actually attracts its pollinators, scavenging flies and beetles. The leaves are the largest of any plant in the Pacific Northwest, 20-53 inches long. It grows very well in marshy conditions, and was introduced to the United Kingdom (which is mostly marsh, anyway) in 1901 as an ornamental. Here in Alaska and British Columbia, its roots are eaten by bears after hibernation as a laxative (I am not making this up), but it is not known if that is a secondary reason for its importation by the Brits... For those vegans thinking of cultivating skunk cabbage as a main course, the following warning from Wikipedia may be of interest: "Caution should be used in attempts to prepare western skunk cabbage for consumption, as it contains calcium oxylate crystals, which result in a gruesome prickling sensation on the tongue and throat and can result in intestinal irritation and even death if consumed in large quantities".

Next, our Word for the Day: gonif, noun, alternative form of ganef; Hebrew or Yiddish for a rascal or thief. (Thank you, Ken Ring, for this entry.)

Finally, this snippet will probably get me into trouble (again) with My Lovely Bride. Back on August 27, 2013, I posted the "dog salmon" story of when MLB got a great deal at the grocery on keta salmon, "a real bargain at $2.00/lb". As we were eating, I looked up keta salmon, and found that it was actually called "Chum, or dog salmon, used by the Eskimos to feed their sled dogs because of its poor economic value". My big mistake was barking like a dog during dinner... MLB threatened to pour red wine over my head if I didn't cease and desist. I told this story to Jim and Betty, and when we visited the Wrangell City Museum, there was a board with carved salmon, including dog salmon. Here she is getting a close-up of the offending fish... I don't understand why, but Suzanne was less amused than were Jim, Betty and I at her encounter with Oncorhynchus keta.

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.