Stories along the way: I Have to Try.

Today is the memorial service for Anne P. Lanier, MD, MPH in Anchorage, Alaska. She was 77 years and died from a stroke suffered during the Gold Nugget Triathalon. No ordinary woman, she thrived on challenges including making her way in the mostly “good old boys” Public Health Service in the 1970’s. In Alaska, she foresaw the coming cancer crisis among the Alaska Native people, and established a registry to track data to better prevent and treat cancer. She was ahead of her time and as Dr. Greg Marino said, “her death is the end of an era”. Dr. Steve Alberts who came from the Mayo Clinic for her service said “Its so hard to try to put her accomplishments in a single paragraph,” as he contributed to her obituary. Retired colleague Jim Williams sent a message, “I was so surprised, I expected her to live to be 100.” We all did, especially her three children.

I met Anne when I worked at a remote hospital in Dillingham, AK. When I moved to Seward to work at the Alaska SeaLife Center, we kept in touch. I provided her with whimsical anecdotes about life at the Center, and she providing financial support. Knowing that I missed working with the Alaska Native People, she, along with Dr. Greg Marino and Dr. Kevin Stange finally wooed me back to Anchorage to develop a cancer program with the promise I could develop, along with it, a statewide palliative care program…my passion. At the time, Dr. Lanier, retired from the Public Health Service, headed up the Office of Native Health Research and it was staffed mostly with women researchers who knew of her dedication and willingly gave up other more lucrative career paths and uncertain funding to work with her. I spent the final 10 years of my career at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC). We also had some fun “not work” times together.

This past week, Emily Read and Ellen Provost, former colleagues, and I talked and texted ourselves through the shock of Anne’s death and planned to meet at the memorial service. Since I am retired, this is the only chance to celebrate Anne’s life with friends and colleagues and her family that I know from her stories. I planned to drive 4 hours to Anchorage on Saturday morning and back the same day or next morning. I no longer have a condo in Anchorage.

As body challenges arose two days before the service, Jim decided to take me. Then that plan became a challenge. I had spent too much time working in the uneven gardens, not using my poles enough, and my thrice surgeried knee complained….loudly. Rosa the stoma and the colostomy raised more protests and worst of all, the nerves in my lower body, as a result of the removal of the sacral hemangioma , poked my lower body at the most unpredictable times causing me to yelp or wince in pain….often. The more anxious I got, the more my 2 times Traumatic Brain Injury and 1 brain tumored head with it’s one sided hearing, kept telling me, “DON’T GO.” Even my bicycle -accidented facial muscles started twitching.

It’s Saturday morning. The service is at 2 pm. I simply can’t risk it. I feel vulnerable. It’s time to be sensible. I let Ellen and Emily know I won’t be there. Perhaps I’ll spend the beautiful day down at the cabin on the water thinking about Anne. But it doesn’t feel right. Am I being too conservative? Would it be foolhardy to try to get there? How do I balance needing to go to be among many people who loved and worked with Anne with not over- challenging my body?

A memory pops into my head. When Jim and I were in Seattle for his cancer treatment and I was recovering from major back surgery at Mayo Clinic, and learning to manage lower trunk paralysis, a problem appeared a week before we planned to head back to Alaska. I called the UW appointment line and a bright young voice answered. I explained the problem. “One appointment came open,” she said. “Today in 20 minutes.” “I can’t,” I said having just transitioned from a walker to a cane. “Yes you can,” she said with the courage of the young. “You can arrive 10 minutes late. Hang up now and get a cab. You can do this!” And I did it.

After trying three times to manage an online flight reservation system, I finally book a flight to arrive in Anchorage at 2:02 just after the service starts. A 20-minute flight is manageable. The four-hour drive is not. I can turn back at any time. I have a safety net.

I text Emily and ask her to save a seat in the back. I am nervous about the church being full and I would have to stand for the whole service.

“I’m flying,” I tell Jim who is ready to support me. I get ready for the 1:30 flight, about 25 minute drive from home: I take cannibus oil and Alleve; change my colostomy bag and put on my hernia belt; put on support stockings in case my ornery right lower leg decides to swell, add unattractive wide-heeled sandals for better balance; put on Depends; add a heavy pad and self-cath—I don’t know when a bathroom will be available. I pack extra supplies of everything in a large handbag including my knee brace. Life is not simple any more.

Waving goodbye to Jim down at the lake, I ask the street name to the Kenai airport. “Second light,” he calls. “I love you,” we say to each other. We say it often because we don’t know how much time we have together. Cancer and tumors and six decades make us aware of how fast our limited time flies by.

It’s a beautiful day and I’m on my way. This feels right. Suddenly fog surrounds me and stays as I near the airport. Will the flight take off? On the road to the airport, a new mother moose and her gangly-legged calves walk across the road.

I park the Mini and head into the terminal to check in. Note to non-Alaskans. Small planes, small airports in smaller cities and no TSA mean quicker trips…if all goes (rarely) according to schedules. Only one flight went out today because of the fog. I head to the restroom, I have time to cath one more time and limit fluids. Of course, stress makes me want to drink more water.

Time to board the Dash B-100 for the short flight. We walk outside, and up the stairs into the plane. The robust flight attendant dressed in black, including a logo miniskirt is efficient. We leave early and arrive early. Hopefully if I can get a taxi, I’ll arrive in time for the service. I calm myself with contingency plans. If the pain worsens I can find a hotel and fly home. Or I can go to the ER. But I have to try. If I don’t try, to me it means I give up more of my mobility freedom. “You can do this,” the words of the UW student echoes in my head.

Happily the plane arrives on the same level as ground transportation. I walk as quickly as I can, my cane clacking along the tile. I try to be careful–it is so easy for me to tumble. I reach the taxi stand with its brooding drivers lounging on their cabs. It’s a minivan for me and my handbag. I provide directions and since it is a short distance from the airport I give the driver a little extra as we pull up to the door. He thanks me and grumbles that he was in line for 90 minutes at the airport.

I made it. No.. …. I MADE IT!!

In the lobby, I gratefully chat with friends and acquaintances and move to the seat with Emily as the service gets ready to start. It’s unplanned, but our row is all my former colleagues at ANTHC. Gratefully, one woman hands out tissue as the service begins. The church is full of people that have worked and loved Dr. Anne Lanier as colleagues, friends and family. It is one of the most beautiful services I have attended and good to share grief with others. From her new place, I know Anne loved it.

I tried and made it. Everyone would have understood if I didn’t. But not me. I don’t like the phrase “It is what it is.” It should be “It is what you make it.” The young UW woman will never know how she inspired me.

Photo: Emily Read, Anne Lanier, Christine DeCourtney off work.

 

Stories along the way: I Have to Try.

Stories along the way: Malaspina Ferry Sitka to Haines, Alaska

 

The Sitka ferry dock is seven miles from downtown and, in the Alaska way, the taxi charges “per head.” Downtown is icy, a plague of the freeze/thaw Alaska cycle. Thankfully I have my walking sticks with me. We see the Fearsome Four from the ferry, whose ages I have downgraded to mid-20’s. We’re going to a Lounge,” they say. I think I am a mother figure to them, maybe it’s the traveling pearls or the red silk scarf.

We slip and slide to the Highliner Coffee Shop, a favorite of mine. With purchase I get my own special Internet code for 90 minutes. Jim enjoys a hot chocolate (with whipped cream) and a warmed blueberry coffee cake while I type away silently cursing the lack of high speed Internet in Alaska. I get spoiled in Portland and Salem.

Jim and I taxi back to the ferry just in time.  As the elevator door closes, I see my glove on the ground. A burly arm reaches out and stops the elevator door from closing so I can fetch it. The passenger list now exceeds 300 with the addition of more happy athletes from Sitka and Mt Edgecumbe (which is a respected boarding school for primarily Alaska Natives but open to all). It’s lasagna for dinner, which Jim can never resist and so we find a corner of the cafeteria as the din increases with the new passengers. Juneau is 10 hours away and I can’t imagine the teens will sleep.

On the way back to our cabin, we encounter the Fearsome Four who have commandeered the no-wi-fi-no-sleeping-no-sitting-on-the–tables computer room, sleeping bags already on the floor and the lights out. “We are so tired of kids,” says one of them. Ironically they have left that age group just a few short years ago.

We retire to our “stateroom” for the night as it is the only corner left uninhabited. During the night we hear “call-outs” for Hoonah and Juneau. In the early hours we feel the ferry moving more and we sway in the beds. Squeaking noises appear around the cabin as the strain of the increasing seas rock the ship. Jim makes tea and coffee (a must) carefully pouring the boiling water over the coffee in the strainer. He’s much better at it than I am.

Jim heads to the deck anxious to see what is going on with the weather. He comes back quickly. “You have to see this,” he says. The ferry is eerily quiet now as the teens left in Juneau and we head to front row seats in the forward lounge. The wind whistles through the ship.

The seas are wild with huge waves and whitecaps everywhere. The front windows are covered with sea spray and it is hard to see through them. There are only a handful of passengers in the lounge and everyone is watching the ferry bounce in the violent seas and wind. The ferry’s engines never quaver and it proceeds forward. Suddenly I see a black hooded shape moving outside the windows trying to get to the bow. He has a hard time, buffeted by the waves and turns back. Sometimes a crewmember goes to the bow and so it’s really bad when he can’t get there.   He has hard time pulling the door from the deck open and comes into the lounge. It’s one of the Fearsome Four, the redhead!! “I couldn’t make it,” he says.

A stocky, balding man in a t-shirt sits in one of the chairs casually watching the ferry’s progress and laughing at the Fearsome One. He is obviously a frequent ferry traveler. The stocky man doesn’t change his relaxed position and laughs quietly.

“I keep thinking of Harry Chapin’s Dance Band on the Titanic,” I tell the Fearsome One. “ I realize the blank look means he has no idea what I am talking about. “Your’re too young.” I turn to the stocky man, “but you do.” He nods and smiles. “Ok now you will have it stuck in your head for the whole day,” I tell him.

We pack the “stateroom” consolidating as much as possible to make one trip to The Grey Panther then go back up top to watch the ferry plod forward. There will be a two-hour delay as the captain searches for a different route to avoid the worst of the high seas. Jim and I have both been in smaller boats in high seas and they are not pleasant memories, but it’s fun to watch now. No one panics about the delay—this is Alaska and delays are part of life.

What shall I do with the little bouquet of flowers that has made me so happy in the cabin? I know the young woman in the lounge has too many things to handle with her baby. I walk down the hall and see a dark-haired youngish crew woman seriously studying her clipboard. “Would you like these flowers?” I ask. “You don’t want them?” she asks surprised. “I’m leaving the ferry,” I said “and want to give them to you.” She looked from me to the flowers. “I love them!” she said. “I’ll take them to my cabin.”

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Back in the lounge Jim and I sit near the young woman with her baby and we chat in the casual Alaska way. The happy baby has a beautiful quilt and crocheted blanket made by her grandmother and great-grandmother. She is traveling to Haines where her husband is running their heli-ski operation from February to May 1. Until the baby arrived she was his partner. He has not seen his daughter for a month now and she reflects how much harder it is being in total charge of this little life. Their home is in Montana. She admires my black lowtop boots wanting to know the brand. It makes me feel a little younger. She points out a spot on the coast, “We had a house there until last year,” she said. “But it was so hard to get water. When girl friends came to visit and constantly flushed the toilet, I kept thinking, that’s 2.2 gallons!” I decided not to tell her about my stay at the Buddhist temple in Santa Fe that does not allow you to flush unless absolutely necessary. I notice a tiny bottle of nail polish on the window ledge–from the teens. Jim said that there will be a pile of “left-behinds”

I watch an old man sitting near us. In Sitka while we were at the dock he struggled to the bow and took some photos. I am curious, he’s not a novice. Now I watch as he studies the ferry’s course and goes back to sitting near us in the front row. Finally he puts on his scarf and eventually his worn jacket. I know he has a story but time……..

Shore call, time to go and we head down to the car deck and to The Grey Panther. The Fearsome Three hug each other. Surprisingly the black pick-up truck in front of us from Virginia belongs to one of them, while the long-curly haired man climbs into the Sprinter beside us. It has a Utah license plate. We wave goodbye and drive off on to the dock passing a truck with a rocking chair and skis. The Third member, in a white car pulls up with a Texas license plate next to the pickup truck and wait for the Sprinter—not quite ready to say goodbye to their new friends in the Alaska Frontier. That’s just the way Alaska is……..

We drive around Haines a little and eat at the Chilkook Bakery and Restaurant that serves Thai food. And has British soap in the washroom. Awww Alaska. We notice a Tiny House for sale

We’re getting close to home now, spending a night in a hotel before we tackle the 1,000 miles and plan to leave early for the 400 mile drive to Tok where the temperature is expected to reach -35 degrees. Then onto Grandview overlooking the Matanuska Glacier to see friends we never get to see often enough. We will reflect on our ferry ride as we absorb it as another wonderful adventure.

The Shooting of Sam McGee

Were you ever out in the Great Alone, when the moon was awful clear,

And the icy mountains hemmed you in with a silence you most could hear;

With only the howl of a timber wolf, and you camped there in the cold,

A half-dead thing in a stark, dead world, clean mad for the muck called gold;

While high overhead, green, yellow and red, the North Lights swept in bars? —

Then you’ve a haunch what the music meant. . . hunger and night and the stars.

Robert Service

Stories along the way: Malaspina Ferry Sitka to Haines, Alaska

Stories along the Way: Aboard the Malasprina ferry, Bellingham to Ketchikan

Cold, rainy Bellingham. Last minute errands before mandatory 3 hour line wait for ship boarding. Feeling rushed. In Target an agile 70+ Japanese man motioned me to his line and began scanning my items. Suddenly he started to softly sing “oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day” from the musical Oklahoma. We sang it together. He knew all the words I hummed the parts I can’t remember. “Thank you,” I said as he handed me my receipt and I walked out with happy spirits. Thinking back, he had probably been interned as a child during WWII, a shameful event.

Scheduled to sail at 6pm from Bellingham, WA, we arrive the mandated three hours prior to departure and line up in the vehicle staging area glad we aren’t the dogs sniffing cars or working in the cold, driving rain. We’re sailing to Haines, AK as we head home to Nikiski. There is too much winter on the Alaska Hwy to drive all the way. We will still drive about 1,000 miles through some of the coldest areas in Alaska, e.g. Tok (-25 degrees) stopping at friends along the way. The ferry is not cheap–$2400 for a simple, 2 bunk, windowless, no refrigerator room, the Sprinter (camped on the car deck), Jim and me. That’s with the winter and senior discounts. Haines is as far north as the ferry goes until late spring when a trip across Prince William Sound adds another $1000 to the fees. But we are adventurers so we look at every part of our trip as exciting. It gives Jim time to rest from driving. He realizes that he doesn’t like to drive long trips as he did before cancer (B.C.) and when he was younger. My little bouquet of flowers adds a dash of colour to the drab cabin with the traveling pearls draped over them at night.

The Malasprina, named for an Alaska Glacier, was launched to great excitement in 1963. It still makes the trip through the Inside Passaage in Southwest Alaska carrying vehicles, people and goods to destinations along the way. In 1997 it was supposed to be retired, but it is still sailing faithfully. They are large dated paintings of Alaska’s wild animals in 1960’s style hung during the Malasprina’s early years.

It holds 450 passengers but only 79 travel on this trip. When you live in Alaska, you learn flexibility and patience quickly. If the ferry needs repairs the day before your departure, there are no options. The fare is returned and rescheduling is attempted, but “no guarantees”. There is no optional transportation when traveling with a vehicle until spring clears the highways of snow.

During the winter, Alaska residents are the main travelers. They know the Alaska Highway is too dangerous and welcome the time to sit back and watch the stunning scenery along the way or wander the decks, read and sleep There are strict rules about where you can and can not sleep for the traveler with a sleeping bag and lacking funds for expensive cabins. During late spring, summer and fall the ferry is packed with passengers traveling to the Last Frontier. Limited vehicle space requires reservations months in advance. Deck space is at a premium when tents are set up and the lounge is littered with remnants of “tiny living”. The ferries are a chance to do stopoffs at ports along the way continuing your trip another day when the ferry travels its regular route.

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I feel a little like an airplane traveler when an announcement is made that “we are waiting for a part and it should be here any minute.” Harry Chapin’s “Dance band on the Titanic” starts playing in my head. Two hours late we leave Bellingham…..without the part.

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We muster for the life jacket presentation in the café with it’s primarily meat and potatoes menu. When it launched in the 1960’s, an exquisite dining experience was part of the trip. It’s a ball-cap-plaidshirt-bluejeans-Carhart crowd with more men than women. As the saying goes, in Alaska the odds are good, but the goods are odd. Tattoos, sloganed-tshirts add to the mix. A couple of small families with young children, solo travelers and a few couples make up the passenger list. It’s easy to spot the occasional “old timer”. With his scraggly red beard, worn ball cap and semi-fingerless red gloves he represents the image of mining, logging and fishing Alaskans. The gloves are not to use his smartphone but as a result of long years of use. But then again, he might be a rocket scientist. Only 29 passengers attend the safety demonstration to the annoyance of the presenter.

Other passengers include a nicely dressesd couple reading NYTimes recommended books; a man wearing a plaid golf type hat and Northface Scandanavian sweater with two pairs of glasses around his neck—obviously a reader; a young couple with toddlers and singles in all adult ages.

Pets must remain in the vehicles on the car deck. Four times a day a 15 minute vehicle visit is announced. Dog owners rush to the car deck to feed, water and walk the barking dogs happy to see their owners. Several signs remind passengers to clean up after their dogs. One man gets out his dog’s dish and smells it ??? while holding his energetic dog on the leash.

We are soon in Canadian waters and a sign warns passengers without international cell plans they will face large charges. Luckily, I have a Canadian plan. However, for much of the trip there is no cell coverage and no wifi at all adding to the need to just…PAUSE.

There is no handout of a written schedule and the current schedule is posted at the purser’s station. I understand why when Hoonah is suddenly added to the schedule and Sitka says “To be Announced” Different signs pop up periodically including: tentative times for rough waters, a large group of high school students will board the ferry in Ketchikan bound for the basketball championships in Juneau leaving the ship in the wee morning hours, and movie titles and times.

Travel is tame now compared to the 1960’s and the 1970’s when the bar was the central meeting place filled with booze and smokers trying to “out tell” Alaska experiences. Joel McGinnes’ book Going to Extremes represents this Alaska well.

We fall asleep in our little cabin to the rhythmic sound of the churning engines with occasional swaying. We brought tea and coffee supplies in from the Sprinter last night and Jim makes our morning drinks

Leaving the cabin, a blue sky, sunny morning with a few cloud puffs and anthropomorphic white clouds in the sky greets us. After breakfast we go for a walk around the decks, breathing in the beautiful Alaska and Canadian air—cool, clean with touches of sea and forest. The ferry winds it way through narrow passages lined with tall evergreens and open seas. Very simply, it is beautiful in the most natural way. It’s too early for the whales’ journey from Hawaii to Alaska but the passing landscape is breathtaking.

A couple of women walk the decks around and around with a brisk pace, a man expertly jump ropes in the sun, a bar-hard woman expertly flicks her cigarette ashes on the deck since smoking is banned inside the ship. Jim heads for a nap, I realize how stressful driving in Seattle is for him and now he relaxes, or maybe it was my IKEA trip? I head outside and sit on a sun-warmed red life jacket container soaking in the peace. I forget the draw of the North until I come home again.

The day passes quickly with naps, reading, scenery gaping, and knitting. Jim keeps his binoculars handy to check out the surrounding waters and land.

A young woman dressed in black Mountain Hardwear gear on the deck outside the fore lounge happily boogies to her music with a cigarette in one hand and a water bottle in the other hand. The way she raises it to her mouth makes me suspect that it is “flavored” water. She chats with other smokers as they come by. A man walks along the outside deck with his cane and cigarette. A curly long haired woman sitting outside turns her book over to talk to a man who stops by. It’s windy now and the temperature is falling.

We pass the first communities we have seen, the Canadian Old Bella Bella on the left and New Bella Bella on the right. There are no roads and so float planes and boats provide the only access to the communities. A tall totem pole stands next to a dock.

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The fore deck is set up theatre style, with “no sleeping” signs posted. The ongoing movie that is offered is the finest National Geographic special. People gather for the 2nd film of “Sun Rise. Sun Set” as darkness ends the day. They linger to see the last bit of light surrender to the night.

Tomorrow morning we arrive in Ketchikan for a four hour stop after a 36hr trip from Bellingham. We’ll welcome excited high school basketball players as they casually travel on the ferry to Juneau. They are used to flying or taking a boat to their games.

We sail at 1130 hours.

Stories along the Way: Aboard the Malasprina ferry, Bellingham to Ketchikan

STORIES ALONG THE WAY: “I go to the sea to breathe” t-shirt words

One day I will walk on a sandy beach and not stop to pick up a stone, stick or shell. I won’t stop to watch a scurrying crab, a little girl in pink with her bucket and big plans, foamy waves and other seaside distractions, but not today.

We’re having a lovely respite from driving at the Ester Lee motel in Central Oregon, in our 1940’s cottage with four big windows looking out over the coast. It rains off and on but the sun peaks out occasionally and the temperature is good.

The Oregon coast was a solitary, replenishing venture for most of my visits over the years. But now I’m happy to share it with Jim. We rest the first night content to watch the sunset from comfortable chairs near the large windows. Jim’s still a little gun shy regarding “rogue waves” after one unexpectedly tipped us over a year ago when we were weaker. His concern is magnified by a story of a man and baby who perished when they were taken out to sea by a “sneaker wave” so we wait for low tide.

The sun and the tide are out and we head for a walk wearing rubber knee boots to wade across small streams that cross our path. A tattooed man takes off his shoes and socks to wade across a cold stream. Somehow a block of sand remains intact on a rock in the stream.

Other people come out to enjoy the day—couples, kite-fliers, a runner, agate hunters and solo walkers. But the summer crowds are gratefully missing. “You’re smiling ear to ear!” Jim says. No matter how I feel, what I am worrying about, walks along the sandy beach cheer me up, and invigorate me. I’m using walking poles and we walk a long time as I fill my pockets with treasures.

A driftwood forest rises on our left, and a long four -trunk beached tree, its leafless bones half-buried in the sand lies next to the water. A mighty force of wind and water moved it to the shore. Its roots are intact so perhaps it tumbled off a cliff as it eroded. We turn back and Jim counts the rings in another tree thrown far up on the beach. It’s as tall as he is and about 100 years old.

He goes ahead while I follow, stopping to observe shells in a rock, pick up more treasures to stuff in my bulging pockets and study a coco cola pallet and a driftwood “dodo” bird.

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Jim waits patiently for me knowing how happy I am right now. Back in our cottage, we take off our boots and I sink into a comfortable chair by the window and sort my treasures. There is no need to leave the cottage except to walk, we eat what we have, when we are hungry.

I am fascinated by small rocks with a shallow carved in them by the wind, water and sand. I like to find a stone to fit in the hollow. I first saw them by a vendor at the annual “Bad Girls of the North” art show in Anchorage. She grew up in northern California and Southern Oregon and found them during her walks. Ever since I look for them on my walks and find stones that fit.

We’re tired and it is good to watch the sun slowly set changing the colour of the sky and the water many times before darkness wins, but the sound of the sea still charms me as the tide comes in. Maybe tomorrow I won’t pick up a stick, a stone, or a shell.

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STORIES ALONG THE WAY: “I go to the sea to breathe” t-shirt words

STORIES ALONG THE WAY—Cousins do Texas

Close friends since we were 14 years old, Gail and I have shared many adventures, big, small, good and bad over the past decades. It began in the 60’s with 13 page hand- written letters disclosing affairs of the heart and other critical teenage angsts to telephone calls and now email as well as planned and hastily arranged visits depending on family crises and travels. We support each other through good and bad times, laughing or crying together and sometimes doing both. Our mothers are sisters and as such we quote the same poems and stories to each other finishing off each other’s lines with a jubilant laugh. Visiting my mother once, she said, when I got off the phone, “You were talking to Gail.” “How did you know?” I asked. “So much laughing,” she replied.

As cancer widows whose husbands died 9 months apart, we started traveling together again, testing our compatibility with small trips before we tackled a month long trip to Turkey. It was a joyful trip filled with the things we like best, shopping, eating, learning, drinking tea, sharing stories, grief…. and laughing.

When the opportunity rose to take a break along the Grey Panther’s road trip with Jim flying off to see his sister in Alabama and Bethel AK friends in FL for a week, Gail arrived in Austin from Toronto, Ontario, just as Jim flew off. Gail had spent no time in TX and I only attended meetings in Austin, Houston and Dallas. It wasn’t on our A list of travel plans but we are always ready for an adventure. We just weren’t sure how a pair of liberal Canadians would enjoy Texas.

Gail is a great travel researcher and landed us a place to stay in New Bruenfils, between Austin and San Antonio. It was a dated complex on the Guadalupe River but with two bedrooms and bathrooms, a full kitchen and laundry facilities. As we age, we don’t share a ¾ size fold up couch in my parents’ family room as we did for many summers when Gail came for a long visit. Aunt Dorothy, mother of two, worried about inconvenience for such a long stay. My mother, mother of five, said one more wouldn’t matter.

We had not had a fun trip since Turkey. Gail came to my surgery at Mayo to help me while Jim was getting cancer treatment in Seattle. We met again in Traverse City when my son was hospitalized and family and friends gathered.

Now, with no other agenda except fun, we were ready. First order of business was to put the kettle on for tea even before unpacking.

Gail had recently traveled to India, a trip we hoped to do together, but my walking limitations and other modified body parts negated my travel—our trips always include lots of walking. On Saturday morning Gail set off for a vigorous, morning walk on a sunny day without me. She began to see my travel limitations, not for lack of desire, but because of physical status. We went to the Saturday farmers’ market, driving, when we would have walked before. This was my chance to gain experience driving The Grey Panther, much to Jim’s angst. Heh heh.

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We wandered New Bruenfil’s main street. We didn’t realize that Texas has a large German influence (since 1850). First stop was an old hardware store with wooden floors and bins up the wall. I needed a bathtub stopper. I usually travel with a generic one but it disappeared. I was led right to it.

A large antique store in an old building invited us in. We split up so we could wander the many aisles and thousands of items displayed. When we met up, Gail said, “There is a small tea cup from Occupied Japan.” I said, “I was just going to mention it to you.” We went back and looked at it in glass display case and I bought it. We don’t know its story but it intrigued both of us. I looked wistfully at the Royal Doulton “Balloon Man” and “Balloon Woman” that I had loved since childhood when we would go to Jones China Shop in the small Canadian town I grew up in. I also bought a still-working-old-heavy waffle iron. In a move, my old waffle iron that I used for many years making wonderful waffles for my children disappeared. I bought a new one but it was light and the waffles not near as good. Can’t wait to try when we get back to Alaska!!

Time for lunch. We walked down the sidewalk to a café with a French menu. It was a delicious meal with bread, salad, salami, cheese and French glace. We chatted with the head cook who makes everything, including the delicious baguette.

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Off to a hotel in Austin for the night. We had signed up for a photography workshop on Sunday, “Photography as Art” by Art Wolfe who we both admire. It was stimulating as he compared a history of artists to potential styles of photography that could be abstracted into designs from nature. Heading back to New Bruenfils, our talk focused on potential photos.

Leisurely mornings were the mutually agreed on rule—nonstop tea and nonstop talking in PJ’s. Monday afternoon drove to San Antonio for a half -day visit. We wanted to try some new photo shots as well as seeing the sites.

Note: I take snapshots to illustrate my writing. Gail is a serious photographer and walks around with a giant camera and lens around her neck even though she is only 5ft tall. I claim it is a man magnet—attracting all males from 8-80yrs old. If I were looking for a man, I would just buy a cheap camera shell and walk around with it. I parked near the Alamo as we belted out “Davy, Davy Crockett…..” Ready for adventure, the wide sidewalk with shops and restaurants lured us on. We went inside a store with beautiful items from Turkey, nostalgia swept over us. I asked the Turkish owners how Turkey was fairing with the political upheaval. “The best thing you can do for Turkey,” he said, “Is to travel there. We stopped to visit to giant lions on wheels in front of a store. Imagine, you could just roll the lions to wherever you felt threatened!

Around the corner from the Catholic church was a sculpture on a bench titled “Homeless Jesus.” I paused and took a photo because it was so simple and so meaningful. It remains a strong memory with me.

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Homeless Jesus

After a quick lunch we jumped on a double decker tour bus that had jump-on jump –off privileges. It was a sunny, warm day and the country music blaring from the speaker fit the day. Alas, the art museum was closed.

We stepped off the bus to go down to the River Walk to wander and take abstract water photos. Having a strong interest in the workings of the 1930’s WPA and CCC, I noticed that the bridges were constructed by WPA workers.   It was only when flood control was put in place that it  become a tourist attraction. TIn the Menger Hotel where many famous people stayed, there was a telegram that was sent to the sculptor of Mt Rushmoe who had a studio in the hotel.he Alamo was the last stop before we headed home.

Fredricksburg was Tuesday’s trip. I was glad we could take a back road instead of the freeway. It was a 90 minute drive. It is a German town, and I was curious how it became the center of a memorial for General Nimitz of the Pacific theatre WWII fame who was born there I did see an unusual photo signed by him wearing a cowboy hat and holding a guitar in ….

Independent bookstores, whose demise I find, is greatly exaggerated, are a priority. .On the counter in a basket was a fluffy, sleeping cat who blended in with the adjacent old books. It seemed he wandered in one day, a feral cat, whose tip of the ear was cut off, the universal sign that the cat had been neutered. He was now a permanent fixture, the owner told us, only answering to the name of “Kitty” which was the name of Anne Frank’s cat. He kept the old building rodent free staying there all day and night. Ambling the sidewalks, we found a couple of interesting clothing shops, oh so nice. I found my “mother of the bride” dress for my daughter’s wedding in June—French linen made it Italy and yes a few more things. With my colostomy body I wear mostly tunics now—a good excuse for new wardrobe pieces, I think.

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The days passed quickly with warm, sunny weather. A rest day was in order and we committed the next day to a proper rest—unless something called our name. Of course it did. We know each other well. Late afternoon, off we went to a nearby town, Gruene (German for Green). It had been a cotton town founded by a man…wait for it…named Gruene. He built a beautiful home, and one for his daughter when she married.

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The town has many other buildings including the still functioning Dance Hall. The boll weevils came along and the Dust Bowl—the town died. Some time later, a young student found the abandoned town along the river and figured it would become a great tourist town. He was right. An old fashioned general store with blaring country music, dance hall, the wonderful Gristmill restaurant on the river greeted us in rehabilitated buildings. My favorite was the Black Swan antique store housed in Gruene’s daughter’s house. Many beautiful antiques including a large rectangle tea kettle and items I had never seen. The workers were very gracious and lovely piano music played. I bought a ceramic replica of a coach foot warmer for Jim’s and my cold feet. Alas, the wealthy people had beautiful ornate foot warmers that were very pricey. But what caught my eye, and how could I resist, was Paris Rain bath salts!! And soap which she cut into 3 pieces that she recommended for easier management. Definitely a special memory. I told her about my claw foot bathtub in the woods at Jim’s and she insisted that I show her pics and drooled over the Alaska scene.

Gail dragged me out to check a couple of other stores before closing. Another antique story with thousands of items in an old storefront drew us in and there was the tiny harbor seal in a cluttered glass display cabinet looking quite forlorn.

“Vintage harbor seal,” the tag said. “$14.95.” How did he get there? He’s beautifully made with the right neck angle and big, warm eyes and tiny, perfect stitches, the sign of an expert skin sewer. What is his story? Alaska? Canada? How did he end up here? I walked away, ready to leave the story and the seal behind. But, I just couldn’t. He seemed so lonely in his little corner. I went to the counter to get the clerk to unlock the case. A young Texan, chatty and helpful, but no idea the origin of the little guy.. And now he’s perched right next to me and seems a little happier, even though he doesn’t even know he’s going home to the North. But, the seal is now ready to travel with a new owner with an important mission. Stay tuned.

There was the Royal Doulton Balloon Man all by himself, twice the price of the one in New Bruenfils. As we walked outside to look at an old building converted to an inn that had been Gruene’s house, the smell of grilled steak filled the air. Not normally a beef eater, the smell and hunger called us. We were sure the popular restaurant would be filled Luck was with us and we were taken to a table next to the water once I assured the waiter I could walk down the stairs. It was a lovely meal as the sun set over the river.

On the way home, I turned right and found open parking spaces next to the river. As the sun set, there were many birds in the water as well as white egrets? All flying on and off one tree. Truly a magical site, and we stopped to watch and take photos. Once more, a memorable day in a Texas town.

The week passed so quickly. On our last day together we packed, took nearby river photos and went downtown New Bruenfils. I bought the Balloon man and Balloon Woman.

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We wanted one last lunch together and stepped into a small old home and disappeared into a German restaurant, beautifully decorated with the original brick showing and gentle German music playing. Lunch was special as well, Schnitzel and accompaniments. I really meant to save half for Jim, but it was so good I had to order a takeway for him!!

It was time to go to the airport and drop Gail off to return to Toronto and pick up Jim. A memorable week with my cousin and as we always say to each other “I don’t know what will happen tomorrow Mr MGarrity” (google Maggie Muggins). Jim had good visits and was happy to see the Sprinter was ok. I haven’t told him yet of having to take it to a Mercedes dealer to fix the right mirror that I somehow dislocated. Shhhhh.

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National politics are in turmoil and we followed them while exploring Texas. But, we found good people living good lives in small Texas towns –caring about all people. Life is good!!

STORIES ALONG THE WAY—Cousins do Texas

STORIES ALONG THE WAY: TO MY GRANDSONS–THE IMPOSSIBLE WILL TAKE A WHILE

Dear Rasmus and Maximus, I’m retired now and traveling around with Jim in the Grey Panther, our camper van. We both faced life limiting health challenges recently and know it is time– it is time to MAKE time to do what we love. The only sure thing is today. We travel on a loose schedule with a loose plan and take time to experience life. Sometimes the smallest plant or people encountered or scenery, or a sudden decision to take a side road, makes us glad to be alive. Occasionally we experience something that is so meaningful that we spend time thinking about it and learn all we can

There are two sites that we visited that are special—because one man at each place had an “impossible” dream and didn’t listen to naysayers. As the two of you get ready to launch yourself into the world, I want to share with you these impossible dreams for you to remember if you feel discouraged, or tired ,or doubtful when you pursue your own dreams to make the world a better place.

BLACK HILLS WILD HORSE SANCTUARY

“She is the lead mare of a herd of wild horses that run the range. When people come to capture them, she leads t he herd in a run for safety. But trucks and helicopters drive the horses into the pens. Imprisoned behind barbed wire, the fire in the mare’s heart is reduced to embers.”

Wild mustangs roamed across the West in big, free herds until settlers, ranchers and farmers came west to settle. They had no use for the horses that roamed free, disrupting their herds, ranches and farms. Soon the horses were rounded up, loaded on trucks and taken miles away to government holding lots. The pens were crowded and some horses were sick. “Spirits broken, unwanted, either too old, too ugly, or too independent to qualify for the adoption program.”

In 1988, Dayton Hyde, a writer, WWII veteran, naturalist and author, originally from Michigan, saw the pens with the horses crammed together. He was so upset and his heart broke for the wild mustangs that had roamed free across the land. He had to do something. He couldn’t get the horses out of his mind. He had no money or fund raising experience. He began slowly talking to people about the horses. Hyde spent all of his time trying to convince the BLM, animal friendly groups and individuals to help. He was persistent and raised enough money for a down payment on a 11,000 acre sanctuary near Hot Springs, South Dakota, and convinced the Bureau of Land Management to send him its unadoptable wild horses.

It wasn’t easy. Money for food and animal care was hard to come by. But the example of one man eventually allowed the sanctuary to become a safe, healthy, wild place for the Mustangs.

Today, Hyde, 91 years old, still helps at the sanctuary. Seven hundred horses roam the 10,000 acres. Fund raising is critical to support the horses and allow them to roam free. http://www.wildmustangs.com

One man had a dream and knew he wanted to do something– he had to do something even though many people said it was impossible. Nothing stopped him, nothing discouraged him from making his dream come true.

 

CRAZY HORSE MONUMENT

Not far from Mt. Rushmore, is another monument, a private one, called Crazy Horse. Crazy Horse was a Native American war leader of the Oglala Lakota. He took up arms against the U.S. Federal government to fight against encroachments on the territories and way of life of the Lakota people

“One does not sell the earth upon which the people walk.”

My lands are where my dead lie buried.”

Henry Standing Bear (“Mato Naji”), an Oglala Lakota chief and well-known statesman and elder in the Native American community, recruited and commissioned Polish-American sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski to build the Crazy Horse Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota. In October 1931, Luther Standing Bear, Henry’s older brother, wrote sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who was carving the heads of four American presidents at Mount Rushmore. Luther suggested that it would be “most fitting to have the face of Crazy Horse sculpted there. Crazy Horse is the real patriot of the Sioux tribe and the only one worthy to place by the side of Washington and Lincoln.” Borglum never replied. Thereafter, Henry Standing Bear began a campaign to have Borglum carve an image of Crazy Horse on Mt. Rushmore. In summer of 1935, Standing Bear, frustrated over the stalled Crazy Horse project, wrote to James H. Cook, long time friend of Chief Red Cloud, “I am struggling hopelessly with this because I am without funds, no employment and no assistance from any Indian or White.”

In 1939, Henry Standing Bear wrote to the Polish-American sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, who worked on Mount Rushmore under Gutzon Borglum. He informed the sculptor, “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too Standing Bear also wrote a letter to Undersecretary Oscar Chapman of the Department of the Interior offering all his own fertile 900 acres in exchange for the barren mountain for the purpose of paying honor to Crazy Horse. The government responded positively and the National Forest Service, responsible for the land, agreed to grant a permit for the use of the land, with a commission to oversee the project. Standing Bear did not want government support for the monument and relied instead upon influential Americans interested in the welfare of the American Indian to privately fund the project.

In the spring of 1940, Ziolkowski spent three weeks with Standing Bear at Pine Ridge, South Dakota, discussing land ownership issues and learning about Crazy Horse and the Lakota way of life. According to Ziolkowski, “Standing Bear grew very angry when he spoke of the broken Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868). That was the one I’d read about in which the President promised the Black Hills would belong to the Indians forever. I remember how his old eyes flashed out of that dark mahogany face, then he would shake his head and fall silent for a long while.”

Standing Bear explained that the Indian has a concept of honoring their great heroes that’s totally different from the white man’s. It was difficult for me to understand at first…The Indian uses the direct approach. He says: that man was my ancestor, and he was a great man, so we should honor him-I would not lie or cheat because I am his blood.” Ziolkowski

Ziolkowsi began the work alone, building his model and then chipping away at the rock There wasn’t money to hire help and so he worked tirelessly long hours, day after day.. The monument, of Crazy Horse on a horse pointing to his lands, is so big that Mt Rushmore could fit under his outstretched arm. Eventually, he married, had ten children who all helped with the work as they grew up. Eventually as fund raising began, men were hired to work on the monument. When the sculptor died, his wife took over project management. Soon a private, nonprofit board was formed to help manage the project and raise funds. Several buildings have been built with others clearly outlined in the plan. It is meant to celebrate all Native Americans and craft examples from many tribes are displayed as well as those for purchase in the gift shop. The pride of the young people working there is clear. They are the ones that will carry Crazy Horse into the future, carrying on the dream of Chief Sitting Bull and Ziolkowski.

Can you imagine how impossible this project was? A monument so big, Mt. Rushmore fits under the arm of Crazy Horse. Somehow an American Indian convinced a Polish sculptor to take on the project with no money for the project. The sculptor became so dedicated, he worked alone chipping away at the mountain until there was money for equipment and workers. This impossible partnership of these two individuals took a long time, but they succeeded. www.crazyhorsememorial.org

So, dear grandsons, I wish you many impossible dreams that come true. Love, Nana

STORIES ALONG THE WAY: TO MY GRANDSONS–THE IMPOSSIBLE WILL TAKE A WHILE

STORIES ALONG THE WAY: Come wander with us

The best part of traveling in the Grey Panther after rigid career schedules is the ability to wander here and there changing our minds as we wish. We explore small monuments, parks and other spaces that we would probably neglect when on a tight time frame. Here are a few…..

SCOTTS BLUFF is a national monument in SW Nebraska. We stopped on our way out of town after a night at a hotel. It is a monument to the Oregon Trail–the people and wagon trains that traveled west to seek a better life. Between 1841-69, 350,000 people joined wagon trains. It also tells the stories of discomfort, breakdowns, illness and death the pioneers endured. The pioneers were split into 2 groups—the Mormons, including many Europeans who traveled on the other side of the river on their way to Mormon Lake, choosing not to travel with the “sinners,” and all other pioneers.

Lucky for me there are gift shops in those stops—I can only handle so many historic facts, unlike Jim. What I like is that the shops, in addition to the usual items, include special items made locally. In this shop there were calico bonnets for $14 (I couldn’t figure out what I would do with a calico bonnet so didn’t buy one) and special dolls, black and white, made from scraps—typical of those made for children on the wagon trains. The Sprinter just made the measurements to drive through the tunnels and up to the bluff. From there we could see for miles and miles….and almost see the wagon trains fighting the way west filled with dreams and hopes.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK was next on our agenda and we desperately tried to find a campground as the night darkness quickly surrounded us. We finally settled on a rundown motel for the night. Most of the hotels in Estes Park are expensive and filled since it was the weekend. I checked in at the desk with the raggedy-dressed, baseball-capped, but polite and articulate young clerk who asked the model of our car. “Sprinter.” Ford? “Un no, Mercedes.” His eyes got big. However, the towels were fluffy, the bed clean and the bathtub decent.

The next morning was bright, sunny and snowy as we entered the park. I was happy to buy the Sunday NYTimes for the first time in weeks. The snow and blue skies reflected on the spruce and pine trees. Many hikers and skiers were out to enjoy the day. We drove through the park, planning to reach the other side and ddown. Jim didn’t believe the sign that said the highway was closed for the winter a few miles down or I should say, up the road. There was icy snow on parts of the road and Jim did a “controlled fishtail”. Sure enough, the road was closed AS STATED, and we went down again to continue on our trip. The best thing about the park was that it was the headwaters of the mighty Colorado River. On the Park’s west side, in the Never Summer Mountains, the Colorado River begins as a tiny stream fed by snowmelt. Downstream, it will provide water to 40 million humans. The Rocky Mountains form one of the world’s longest ranges, stretching almost unbroken from Alaska to Mexico.

Less than satisfied with our Park visit and reluctantly headed to I 70, (we avoid interstate highways) we turned off the Idaho Springs exit to reach I 70, We suddenly found ourselves in a real life fantasy world. The sunlight was still strong .

Tumbling streams flowed on both sides along the winding road. On the left an elderly man stood in the shallow water fly-fishing with his equally aged golden retriever standing patiently by his side. Next we passed rock climbers practicing climbing on the roadside cliffs. The car parks were full and hikers and families joyfully embracing the beauty of a day made in Heaven. Soon enough we reached I 70 and the rushing life of the” need to hurry”.

We drove past ski areas and skiers were out for the day on the limited number of slopes open. For the first time we actually saw a semi-trailer that had just bulleted into a emergency ramp for runaway trucks. Red cones marked it off and a police car was at the bottom. The trucker had managed to stop in time.

It was time to find a place to camp for the night along the highway that wasn’t noisy and crowded. I found a BLM “one site” campground near Gypsum and navigated to the campground, not sure what we would find. Within a mile and a half, we had left the bustling highway and drove through a quiet canyon, except for the large stream running next to the campsite. Indeed, there was one carefully designated campsite—beautiful in the woods with a picnic table and a grill. The creek ran joyfully over the rocks nearby.

What a beautiful awakening this morning! In our secluded spot the sun reached out to the bare treetops and spread golden light down the tree trunks, the canyon walls and into the Sprinter window where I lay in bed watching the day begin upside down. Jim got up to make tea and coffee and I turned over to observe the cheery morning right side up. I enjoyed tea in bed watching the day unfold while Jim read. I’ll get up shortly to make breakfast—a Denver omelet with sourdough toast and the remainder of Elise’s special blackberry jam. Awakening to such a morning in the woods fills me with an overwhelming feeling of good will to the world—everything will be all right. I got up and prepared the omelet and toast. The large windows over the stove let in all the natural night we needed and I cooked listening to Joshua Bell’s Romance of the Violin. Jim had checked the picnic tables, but since the thermometer registered 32 degrees, we decided to eat in the Sprinter. Filled with happiness, we sat down to eat. Suddenly, Jim’s nose started bleeding and we froze. This was a problem when he was in the hospital getting cancer treatment. We know his last checkup was good, but still…… We got it stopped, finished breakfast, explored a little along the creek, but the day was a little less bright. Thankfully, the nosebleed did not start again.

 

ARCHES NATIONAL Park and Moab was our next stop, but fatigued we holed up at the most delightful budget hotel for four nights. We had seen the arches on our earlier trip so limited ourselves to short trips during the day and getting to know Moab a little better. We had taken the back way into Moab and were rewarded with early twilight magically spreading over the sandstone cliffs and the Colorado River. A bookstore store stop resulted in a bag of happy expectations and free shopping bag, for buying so much. The 60+ ex civil engineer happily picked three books for Jim he felt he was sure to enjoy. It’s always fun to watch a booklover enthusiastically share his favorites. I went away with the last three of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series and two more locally interesting books The thousands of visitors to the Arches allows the busy independent bookstore in the small town to stay open. And, of course, Desert Threads.

Well rested we were ready to get on the road again, looking forward to new adventures.

It was unplanned, but Jim and I were both reading books that included information about the Colorado River, its politics and the desert—Edward Abbey’s 1968 “Desert Solitaire” and recently published “The Emerald Mile” which quoted Abbey. We often read relevant parts of our books to each other. Highly recommended.

MESA VERDE COLORADO, a world heritage was next. It was created in 1906 to preserve the archeological heritage of the Ancestral Pueblo people who lived there since 550 AD. We arrived near closing time. A quick stop at the visitor’s center and a long drive up to the Museum and back was all we could do. But, again, the reward was the setting sun on the cliffs. The next morning we left our snow-covered campground to spend the day in Mesa Verde. The sun was bright and quickly warmed the desert air. If possible, we always watch the introductory show at the visitor center. It gives us a good understanding of what we are about to see. Mesa Verde was no exception. We were fascinated with the story of the cliff dwellers, the Anasazi, or the ancient ones. Some of the multi-storied dwellings housed 150 people. After seeing the film and viewing the museum artifacts including the dress made from turkey feathers, we decided to drive around to see the dwellings around the canyon. Since there were only a few travelers, we nonchalantly pulled into roadside parking with no competition and had a chance to take as much time as we wanted to view and absorb the amazing engineering and architecture feat of the dwellings. We had time to watch and imagine life in the dwellings uninterrupted. We exchanged knowing smiles when we ran across an occasional traveler. I sooooo love off-season travel!! Gift shop pottery was copied from pottery remnants found during the excavation.

Note: Because of a loose itinerary, we sometimes see a pattern from parks and monuments such as where the Asanazi moved when they left Mesa Verde. However, there is no clear understanding as to why the dwellings were abandoned.

CANON de CHELLY in Chinle, AZ occupied us for two days. It has been inhabited since 2500 BCE. We camped in the adjacent Navajo managed campground with less than a handful of other campers. Amazingly, one of the other vehicles was a Sprinter with Alaska plates!! Of course we connected with them and exchanged information. We spent two nights in the campground. The Canon was too full of wonders to skim through it. In many ways I think it is more amazing than the Grand Canyon. There is only one site you can hike down to one of the ruins, but I knew that I would not be able to do it, so we were satisfied driving to different sites and getting out and walking to the edge of the canyon. We did the south rim drive starting at the furthest point. Again, the dwellings, not as big as Mesa Verde, were intriguing. They were smaller in numerous locations. There is some indication that the Asanazi from Mesa Verde moved to this area. At the bottom of the canyon, it was very green and farmers and ranchers still lived there. However, some of the American West “heroes” were really murderers and torturers like Kit Carson.

In 1863 Col Kit Carson began a brutal campaign against the Navajo. In the winter of 1864 Carson’s troops entered the eastern end of Canyon de Chelly and pushed the Navajo toward the canyon mouth. Resistance proved futile: most Navajo were captured or killed. Carson’s troops returned in the spring to complete their devastating campaign. They destroyed the remaining hogans and orchards and killed the sheep. Forced to march over 300 miles, called the Long Walk, to Fort Sumner, scores perished from thirst, hunger and fatigue. Poor food, inadequate shelter and disease brutalized the survivors. In 1868, they were allowed to return home, but found it mostly destroyed.”

Today, about 40 people still live in the canyon. Standing on the edge, you can see free running horses, smell the burning juniper and sage and see the small homes and hogans. Navajo tours are available to drive to the bottom of the canyon.

I believe there is a great deal wrong with American school textbooks that do not tell the REAL story of what happened to the American Indians. We know about the Trail of Tears that drove the Cherokee to OK, but obviously there were many other forced marches. Too often, in the national parks and monuments we see that the American Indians, military and white people lived peacefully together until another military figure arrived and caused havoc. SO wrong and SO sad.

While “vending” in the park is not allowed, we did buy some beautifully painted tiles by two Navajo young men casually painting in the back of their pickup truck and 2 juniper bracelets from a Navajo elder to ward off nightmares. We could have easily spent a week in the park contemplating everything that had happened and what exists today.

Tradition says that “Haashch ‘eeh dine e, the Holy People, created plants from the air, water, light and soil to beautify the land and provide for the Navaho People. The Navajo respect plants as perpetually renewing gift and as being connected with all things on Earth.”

MONTAZUMA WELL AND CASTLE in the desert was our next stop. Small monuments on the map, but I enjoy navigating to areas that are less known. The Well, inappropriately named (it was thought, but not true, that the Aztecs lived there). It is a limestone sin formed long ago. The mysterious well is 65 feet deep with no fish (heavy metal like arsenic) or fauna except swimming leeches that come out at night (ick). Every day the Well is replenished with 1.5 million gallons of new water. Like a bowl with a crack in its side, the water overflows through a long narrow cave to the southeast rim to which is cool and watched the water flow into it.

We drove to the Castle. We walked from the parking lot and into the visitor’s center and out the other door to an amazing walkway. It had large deciduous trees that were turning beautiful colours. I felt I was in the middle of a beautiful fall again. We walked along the path and looked at the dwelling made high on the cliff, again wondering how the work was done.

We headed to Fossil Creek Lane in the National Forest to camp. A bumpy road, but not far and we spent a wonderfully peaceful night alone in the desert with a sky bursting with stars. We walked a bit the next morning over the rolling hills and came across a “stone teepee village”. No idea how long it had been there. We headed out on the highway, vaguely south.

TONTO NATURAL BRIDGE STATE PARK, the sign said, even though nothing out of the ordinary was in site. We turned on to the level road but soon found ourselves winding along cliffs looking at a prosperous green valley below. We came to a former lodge that houses the park staff. It was resplendent with antiques. The plan is to finishing restoring it and rent it to groups. It was a beautiful park with big trees still shedding their leaves, manicured grass, signs pointing to trails, picnic tables…and a small group of javelins. We seemed to have again stepped into a beautiful Midwest fall day. The real excitement was out of view, at the end of the trails.

It was not worth considering. There was simply no way I could walk all the way down and back up the trail to the natural bridge. I was content just to look at it from above. Before my surgeries, of course, I would have automatically headed down the steep trail. 

I got my walking sticks and Jim and I walked over to the viewing area of the natural bridge, the largest natural travertine bridge in the world and looked down from the secure railing. Water poured down the waterfall near the bridge. Water splashed over the rocks below. In the protective large rock overhang, giant boulders stood tall. To the left of them was the Natural Bridge opening. We watched people walking on a narrow bridge to get to the opening. A volunteer ranger came by and talked about how hard the first part of the trail was and the switchbacks. “But when you get down there”, he said “you can sit on the deck as long as you want—It’s almost like being in a cathedral.”

I thought about it some more and Jim and I started walking over to the trailhead—just to see. I passed a warning sign for anyone with health problems, NOT to do it. That it was extremely hard. Then I remembered that US Parks tend to exaggerate sometimes. I have first hand experience, though that Canadian Parks DO NOT exaggerate difficulty. We walked to the top of the trail and started down. A couple, younger than us, came up the trail puffing and panting. We continued slowly down the rocky, uneven trail, with Jim turning to help me with difficult steps. My walking sticks provided security and helped me balance. Finally, we reached a few short switchbacks, and for a few steps, it was easy. Then we reached the bridge and continued on to the end of the trail and the deck where we rested. It was magnificent! I had made it!! The hardest hike I have done in 2+ years!! It was like a cathedral, but with school out, there were lots of families on the rocks and on the deck. While I would have enjoyed a solo experience, it was fun to listen to watch happy children scrambling on the rocks. A young couple, he with a marathon participant t-shirt had managed to crawl up the giant rocks and were tucked in a crevice watching the scenery and the children. I had forgotten the amazing balance and energy of children. Even Jim was not willing to scramble on the rocks. After a rest we headed up the trail, stopping for me to rest along the way. In many ways coming up the trail is easier than going down. But, I made it back up in good time. We walked back to the Sprinterl and got in. I was done, having exerted much of my energy reserve.

Jim drove over to the waterfall trail. “Do you want to go down it,” he asked. NO. He did and went down to the trail and disappeared. When he came up he was breathing hard. Then I realized he had walked down and up 110 stairs each way!

The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets, which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired in value. Theodore Roosevel

We left the park and headed down the road to find a camping space. We were climbing in elevation, 7800 ft, and evergreen forest around us grew taller. We drove into a national forest with a few white spots of snow around us. Even though it was cold, we got out for a walk.

What’s the sound I asked Jim, thinking it was water or the highway. “Look up,” he said, it’s the wind blowing rustling through the tree tops.”

I decided it was time for bed, even though it was only 4:30pm. I was very tired, but very excited about our physical feat. I slept 16 hours, except for a brief wakeup to share a piece of pie with Jim. The bed was so warm and cozy and the stove/heater was just right.

The next morning, we ate a quick breakfast and left. We found a state park with trash bins and showers. It was worth $7 to get rid of the trash and refresh with a shower. I was not ready for another hike, but Jim took a short one. We are very impressed with Arizona state parks. It’s amazing how state parks vary among the state

It was Thanksgiving and, though neither of us said it, we wanted a traditional, turkey dinner!! We went through the town of Globe and stopped at the grocery store. In a front display, there were mashed potatoes with gravy, stuffing in take-out containers and a turkey breast!! We happily bought our T day dinner, salivating with anticipation, we headed out to find a camping spot.

After stopping at The Gila Box (see separate story), we drove to south of Tucson to visit an 83- year- old widow who splits her time between Alaska and Arizona. Jim has done work for her including a very long custom deck for her house on a lake in Soldatna, AK. She considers Jim “a son” and always has the best cookies available. We headed back up towards Tucson for the night.

I found a BLM campsite off of the highway. It was an unusual place, mostly flat with cliffs behind it and small trees in various spots. We ended up spending 2 nights there, easy to get to and not crowded with beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Apparently it gets crowded during the holidays. It was nice not to have to drive miles through canyons, clinging to cliffs along single lane roads—but we still appreciated it!!

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We had a “city” day visiting the Tucson botanical gardens, especially the orchid/butterfly house with many butterflies flying around us. We had to go to a special room before leaving to make sure a butterfly wasn’t leaving with us. Once again, the weather was so perfect for us, perhaps a little cool for Arizonans but not Alaskans. On finding the Japanese garden next door, I found new energy.

img_6843Different kinds of ikebana were on display inside and out as well as wonderful peaceful gardens and basic Japanese wooden buildings, so simple, so serene.

PEPPERSAUCE CANYON-Coronado National Forest. We looked for a new campsite on the east side of Tucson, trying to keep elevation low. We drove miles to the Canyon, which is a small riparian area down from Mt Lemon. There were winding rounds and cliffs again which I quite enjoy, but not Jim the driver. We reached the campground, letting a flock of wild turkeys cross in front of us. It had a beautiful old growth forest with ancient Arizona sycamores still shedding leaves. Each picnic table had a large metal stand next to it with a hook on it. I thought it was a meat hook but Jim assured me it was a lantern hook. Apparently, the area is frequently used by hunters. The next morning, Jim awakened first and noticed the wild turkeys walking around the Sprinter. We heard one try to jump on the hood. They left as soon as they heard us. The previous evening, a young calf wandered by. It was a beautiful morning. We had a relaxing, sun enhanced walk among the trees in the canyon, easily crossing the dry stream with warnings of flash floods near it. I gathered fallen sycamore leaves and pieces of fallen bark. Four National Forest workers pulled into the campground—90minutes from their home base. They were cleaning up the campground. “It’s a beautiful day,” I said to one worker as I walked by. “Most days are”, she replied. “Good point, I replied and we both smiled at each other.

As we drove out of the canyon, we realized we are learning more about this unfamiliar desert environment on this trip—which is slower. We learned about the cactus that puts out its beautiful stalk and flower—and then dies. Over cliff to the right, was our old friend the Gila River bordered by bright coloured deciduous trees.

We headed to Sedona for a week’s stay in a tiny cottage—a rest we greatly needed. We will fly home to Alaska on December 14 and back to Phoenix and an eastward journey mid January, with a marine highway ferry trip early March back to Alaska. This is such a good time of life, retired and an ability and desire to learn about everything, soaking up the knowledge the land from its interpreters, human and other, provide.

To follow,are separate stories about Crazy Horse/Wild Mustang Sanctuary and Gila Box—very special experiences.

STORIES ALONG THE WAY: Come wander with us