ON our first Thanksgiving  Day as partners, 2014, Jim was fighting for his life at the Seattle Cancer Center while I rested at my daughter’s house in Portland, OR on my way back to Seattle from a Mayo Clinic Rochester, MN pre-surgery appointment for a back tumor with surgery scheduled for December 31. In 2015, I was recuperating from a 2nd 10 hour surgery in less than a year at the Mayo Clinic with Jim by my side.

It’s Thanksgiving Day and, though neither of us mentions it, we want a traditional turkey dinner. It’s not just the food; it’s the memories of families and friends, cousins and aunties and family time. We drive through the small town of Globe in eastern Arizona and stop at an open grocery store. In a front display, under a heat lamp, there are mashed potatoes with gravy, stuffing in take-out containers and a turkey breast!! I add a can of cranberry sauce to the cart. Salivating with anticipation, we search for a camping spot, following directions on the ALLSTAYS app.


We drive through Staffford, AZ passing fluffy, white cotton fields on both sides of the road in the flat countryside. Jim stops by the side of the road and I pick up stray cotton just to feel its softness. It’s sunny and unseasonably warm in the 60’s.

We turn left off the highway towards Gila Box. It’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land managed jointly with Arizona State Parks. A flat road stretches through barren land. There is no campground in sight. Hmmmm. Then the road turns hilly, and narrow.

IMG_2683  White-knuckled Jim drives the single lane road around cliffs with a huge drop-off. What am I getting us into? What if the campground is filled? What if there ISN’T a campground. Will we have to drive all the way out? Jim is already tired from driving. We cross several washes with warning signs about flash floods. The scenery is gorgeous—big and primitive. fullsizeoutput_7de

GILA BOX, RIPARIAN NATIONAL CONSERVATION AREA– Historically, riparian habitats within Arizona constituted only 2% of the state. Within the past 200 years, 95% of this acreage has been destroyed or altered due to clearing, channelization, over-pumping, improper livestock management. But in the Gila Box, cottonwood, willow and Arizona sycamore thrive. Mesquite trees form large woodlands, an increasing rare habitat type in the US.  


IMG_2643Finally, we reach the small, 13-site campground. Each spacious site is near the edge of a cliff looking down to the river hidden by deciduous trees. The picnic table has a metal roof over it and a water spigot is close. There are rustic, but clean toilets. The camping charge is $5 per night–$2.50 for us with our senior national park pass. It is a beautiful, clear late afternoon. I sigh with the happiness that comes from knowing a peaceful, beautiful time stretches before us

Jim sets out our folding loveseat for sunset viewing while I transfer our Thanksgiving dinner to plates, gather silverware and napkins, and set the picnic table. After a few minutes pause to give thanks, we dig into our grocery store dinner, laughing with the joyfulness of an enchanted natural setting and better health. It’s filled with the tastes, smells and laughter of Thanksgivings past and the hope for future Thanksgivings. It feels that all is right with the world—our world at least. 

It is hard to get Jim to settle and relax and not move to a new spot every day, but he does in Gila Box. We stay three nights. We watch the sun rise each day through the large window at the foot of our bed and feel the warm sun filling the Sprinter. Jim gets up to make tea and coffee and slides the big side door open. I stretch and luxuriate in the feeling of being in a fluffy, warm bed outside in the clean air.

Eventually I get up and make breakfast, always enjoying my changing “kitchen” view of a new location.IMG_7003


There are vague paths that we follow down to the river one day. We both use walking sticks to traverse the large rocks leading down to the river. From there, the ground is a little flatter and scattered with cacti.fullsizeoutput_262

But, oh, the rocks, so many colors and shapes. We continue carefully down the hill. We hear the river, but can’t see it, hidden behind large trees. We walk over small, dry washes to the riverbank and sit down on the grassy slope. The river runs quickly down small rapids and smooth stretches below us. Across the river are giant clay coloured cliffs. One looks like a windowless castle. The Gila River is well known for float trips and there are strict rules to the size and type of boats depending on water levels. No rafters pass us this morning. We explore a little more and head back up the hill, my pockets bulging with rocks.

Each night as the sun goes down we enjoy turkey leftovers, sitting in our loveseat watching the magnificent desert colours unveil an hour before sunset. We climb into bed, our solar reading lamps recharged, enjoying the quiet and the peacefulness during our reading hour. Since we are both reading books about the area, sometimes we felt the need to read each other a section that touched us. And we sink into bed, happy, and so much in love.

The days are warm, the nights cool, but we don’t need the heater. The rising sun soon spreads its warmth through the windows. The stars “put on a show for free’ that we watch fromthe big window behind our pillows.

We read, meander, talk, laugh, eat and relax in the peaceful setting. We take short walks and two-hour hikes, two days in a row!! It feels so good to hike again. Granted, I am really slow, but TWO HOURS!! The hikes are important for both of us. Jim’s cancer treatment neuropathy in his feet and my various numb, paralyzed body parts and poor balance makes even walking a challenge.

We won’t soon forget Gila Box and how good a grocery store Thanksgiving dinner tasted on a picnic table in the great outdoors. Another wonderful Thanksgiving memory.

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 Roosevelt




Home and Whitehorse




October 15, 2016

“Welcome home,” said the Canadian border guard as she examined our passports. “Welcome to Canada,” she said to Jim and told him to remove his sunglasses.


I’m always a bit happier when I’m back in Canada and happy to be headed to Whitehorse. It has changed dramatically from when I first came through in 1990—far less eclectic and frontier but still fun to visit

Jim was very tired of driving, but claimed he would be even more tired if he let me drive. It was early evening and the beautiful golden light enhanced the rich brown hides and white antlers of a small elk herd grazing by the side of the road. I checked the “allstays” camping app for a place for The Grey Panther. Several provincial campgrounds, but many closed. I hesitated on Wal-Mart, normally taboo for my snobbish ways. However, a comment praised its off-the-highway location as quiet and safe with free Wifi. I knew there would only be a few campers in October. We selected a quiet spot and put up the makeshift curtains we normally do without. We had a couple of errands and Jim went to Canadian Tire for batteries for the Sprinter keys (“They sell more than tires, Jim”). Two of the three had just failed. Yikes!. Jim started the Wallis stove/heater and I made our first dinner chicken cacciatori on rice. The built in-tile inlaid cabinet with fridge, stove, and sink is wonderful along with the great views, except in parking lots. An unplanned bonus is the warm air blown by the Wallis fan while I cook. We snuggled into our soft, warm bed with Jim quickly falling asleep. With my nerve-damaged painful feet, sleep comes slowly.

Morning and the sun came, the Wallis had kept the temperature around 40 degrees. This is a temperature that would, in previous years, been welcomed to both of us crawling out of a tent in Alaska. But, now, our bones crave more warmth. Next year it will be insulated.


I was ready to prepare tea and coffee on the Wallis, but Jim, the converted American, was ready for Tim Hortons.

We drove past the almost empty Starbucks into the crowded TH parking lot. Tim Hortons is more than a fast food restaurant, it is a gathering place. It is the same in any Canadian city. I can’t think of a chain in the U.S. this is similar, not Starbucks, not McDonalds though both are present in Whitehorse.

I have always enjoyed the courtesy of opening and having opened doors for me. The man coming out of the restaurant went a little further, gallantly holding open the inner door with his back foot. Fresh raisin tea biscuits in the case! Breakfast sandwich menu with one side devoted to healthier choices. Brewed half and half for Jim—half coffee, half half and half, hot steeped tea for me with milk. Ahhhhhh. After eating, I sat back with my tea to people watch.


It was a mix of people in the crowded restaurant—First Nations, Indians (from India), white, Chinese, old, young, single, couples, groups, construction workers and well-dressed retirees. With the exception of one parka -clad wizened old timer who sat at his plugged-in ancient Toshiba taking advantage of the free Wifi, most people were just talking to each other in happy, morning voices. Two singles at adjacent tables had phones in hand, but then put them down to chat with each other. A bank official in logo fleece, came in, got his drink and began greeting people as he headed to his table and chatted with former strangers around him. The murmured sound of many voices felt warm and friendly.

We left with raisin tea biscuits in a paper bag and went across the road and railway tracks to the small park to watch the mists rising on the mighty Yukon River– the lifeline for so many frontier people in Canada and Alaska, still providing millions of salmon each year. The air was deliciously crisp and clean. We crunched across the frosty grass to the bank of the swiftly flowing river. It was hard to image that this is the same river that flows 20000 miles to the Yukon Kuskokwin Delta in Alaska where Jim taught school for many years, and then out to the Bering Sea. When we continued driving, we would see the headwater rivers at the start of the Yukon.


Off to the Superstore for a few Canadian supplies. I love new grocery stores; Jim hates most stores and shopping. Sigh. I agreed to meet him in the bakery……the likes of which do not exist in Alaska—even in Anchorage—from plum pudding, stollen and fruitcake for the upcoming holidays to croissants, reasonably-sized single whole wheat hot dog buns, bagels and breads of all types (including a package of square triangle cut crustless white bread ready for tea sandwiches)… a grinning Jim with a big box of butter tarts in hand.

Home and Whitehorse