Peggy and I continue to shelter in place and find ways of entertaining ourselves. One is to go for extended walks around our five acres and in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest that abuts our property. Naturally, I carry my camera on these daily excursions and look for things of interest. I’ve done several posts on these ‘walks on the wild side’ over the last ten years. It’s time for another one.
Walking is one way that many of us are dealing with our extended home-stays. One doesn’t have to live next to a national forest. A local park that is still open, the neighborhood— almost anywhere that is safe— works. It gets us out of the house and it’s great exercise. Looking for things of interest adds to the fun. Peggy, for example, is infinitely curious about what the neighbors are up to. She is constantly urging me to go on detours to find out.
As I was going through my photos last week for this blog, I decided I had enough material for three posts. It’s all about weird trees today. On Wednesday I’ll feature the spring flowers that Peggy and I have found over the past few weeks, including one on the endangered species list. Friday will be pure nature as in who is doing what. For example is a bear living in the bear cave? Peggy makes me throw rocks into the cave to check before we venture in. I’m pretty sure that all that will do is irritate the bear, but I accommodate her wish. And I am sure you will want to help us figure out whether a cougar, bobcat, or coyote left the scat (poop) we found full of hair. How could you not?
But first the trees. A few years ago I decided to do a inventory of what trees grow on our property. White oaks were the most common. I counted over a hundred. For the most part, these are handsome representatives of the tree world— standing tall while providing shade in the summer and a plethora of acorns in the fall. Just about everyone joins in the harvest, or so it seems: deer, tree squirrels, ground squirrels, turkeys, bears, etc. We watch the deer play human and stand on hind legs to reach beyond where their imagination normally takes them. Ground squirrels leave the ground and can be seen precariously perched in the highest branches while they madly chomp away with sharp incisors to free acorns before the acorn woodpeckers arrive.
But not all of the white oaks stand proud and tall. Some are stubby and twisted, and ancient— almost scary. A little horror music please. They look like they could easily fit into your favorite scary flick, or a fantasy movie, or a nightmare. My post on last Friday where I featured gargoyles from Dubrovnik made me think of them. Here are some of our favorites:
When I was a child, I used to believe in the Easter Bunny who hopped around delivering brightly colored eggs to children all over the world. He was like Santa, magical, but he didn’t have a sleigh and flying reindeer. So he had to be very, very fast. I believed that he was a jackrabbit, which happened to be the fastest bunny I knew. So what if he was a hare.
As an adult, I sadly gave up the idea of one Easter Bunny. It would take hundreds, thousands even millions of bunnies to make all the deliveries. But why not. Given the proclivity of bunnies to make other bunnies, lots of other bunnies, it is completely feasible. So I now believe in bunnies, bunnies everywhere. I even found one of their bunny production facilities. A few years ago I was traveling up the Northcoast of Oregon and came to the town of Tillamook. You may know it for its cheese, or even better yet, its ice cream.
I pulled into an RV campground and found enough bunnies to easily handle the city and surrounding countryside on Easter. I also noticed bunnies chasing each other around. I stopped one and asked one what was going on. “Are you blind,” he asked in amazement. “We are making more bunnies so the old fat bunnies can retire. They get nasty if they have to work too hard.” Oh,” I had replied.
NEXT POST: It’s another arm chair travel day as I head off to the lovely city of Dubrovnik.
I have several writing places around our property. In general, all that is required is a flat spot and a comfortable chair. And a view. Inclement weather normally calls for a more protected environment, preferably with heat. Thermometer-busting heat also sends me scurrying inside. This time with air-conditioning. I’m such a wimp. But the view is still required. As I mentioned on Friday, the variety has proven particularly valuable in the Age of Coronavirus. It helps counter the stir-crazy feeling of isolation.
It can’t decide whether to rain, or snow this morning. Blue skies are predicted for this afternoon and seventy-degree weather later in the week. It’s spring! I started writing this morning at 5:30 in the living room and then moved back to the bedroom at 7:00. Peggy, on occasion (2-3 times a week), likes to be served breakfast in bed. Who doesn’t? And she likes company. Nine a.m. is our limit for getting up and about, however, and I have now landed in the library.
Today I am going to take you on a tour of my favorite outside spots. I’ll start from the top and work down.
WEDNESDAY’S POST: It’s off to Athens as part of my armchair series.
Word-smiths are able to handle seclusion better than most people. Self-isolation provides writers with the focus needed to craft sentences. At least that’s true for me. The smallest interruption in the middle of a creative moment and zap— it’s gone. And boy is it grumpy about coming back! Of course, life is full of interruptions. The phone rings. More often than not, it’s a spam call. I have won a free cruise. All I have to do is buy a time-share. Woohoo.
More common, Peggy has something to share. Nothing unusual about that. As a husband and friend, it is my duty to listen and respond— in a positive way. I think she wrote that into our wedding vows. We’ve been happily married for 28 years, so I guess I’ve passed that test. And vice-versa. But Peggy is also sensitive to my needs as a writer. She made me a small hanging quilt with two sides. The side with books on it means I am writing. It’s quiet time. She walks by and smiles at me while pretending to zip her mouth. The little devil. Or plants a quick, quiet kiss on my lips. No way I can object to that. Or brings me a cookie still hot from the oven. Now she just walked out to fit me for a coronavirus mask she is sewing. But, for the most part, she honors the sign.
I turn the quilt over when I am not writing as my part of the bargain. There are lots of things I do related to working on my blogs or books that don’t require the same concentration. Doing research and processing photos are two examples. Interruptions are okay, even welcome. Except for spam calls. I particularly like the kisses and warm cookies.
Like many writers, I discovered that I can also work in coffee houses. In fact, I like to. The noise of people talking becomes background, a form of white noise. It’s a way I can have human companionship while still being able to focus on writing. Plus, it gets me out of the house. When I lived in Sacramento, I would start my day with a 5-mile hike along the American River and then head for one of my favorite coffee houses for a couple of hours of uninterrupted writing. And then move on to another, and another.
It’s not so easy now. We live 30 miles from town, on the edge of being off-the-grid. Try as I might, it is really hard to justify making a 60-mile round trip into Medford so I can spend a couple of hours writing, or even several hours. Coronavirus has eliminated even that option. I make do here. It’s not hard. As most of you know, Peggy and I live on a beautifully wooded five acres with the Applegate River on one side and the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest on the other. Views of the Red Buttes, still covered in snow, dominate our views out the front. It’s a great place to write— or hide out from Covid-19.
My primary writing space is the library. I am surrounded by books and reminders of our travels for inspiration. The major attraction, however, is my window on nature. My chair turns so I can either stare at books or check the action outside. Right now, a pair of rosy finches are pecking it out over who gets first right to the bird feeder while two grey squirrels are chasing each other around and around a tree trunk. Love is in the air.
The downside here is that nature itself serves as an interruption! And the woodland creatures don’t give a hoot which way my quilt is facing. Of course, I can turn around or look down, but how do you ignore a deer looking in the window, or bringing a fawn by, or a pair of bucks fighting over who gets the doe. Or a whole herd coming by while I am working on this post…
The creature that wins the trophy for the most flagrant violation of my quiet time is a male flicker. These large members of the woodpecker family would normally win their lady loves by holding drumming contests on hollow logs. He who drums loudest wins fair maiden’s heart. You know how that goes. One particularly large fellow has discovered that drumming on our vents creates a noise louder than the loudest log. To us it sounds like someone is using a jackhammer on our roof. And the ladies gather round. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve discussed his obnoxious behavior with him— or lobbed pebbles in his direction— it’s rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat. Over and over again.
But even here with all the beauty and wildlife to amuse me, I get restless. The need to wander is buried deep in my soul. Fortunately, there is a temporary solution. I’ve designated a number of different locations inside and outside as writing spaces. When I get itchy feet, I move between them. And that, my friends, will be the subject of Monday’s blog.
This coming Thursday we were flying out to Fort Lauderdale in Florida to climb on a cruise ship that was going to take us through the Panama Canal. There were to be stops along the way in Costa Rica, Columbia, Nicaragua and Mexico. Peggy was super excited. She had lived in Panama in the late 70s BC. (The BC here stands for Before Curt. DC is During Curt. We are hoping to avoid the AC.) She wanted to see her old home at Fort Amador, to revisit where her daughter Tasha was born, and visit the Canal again.
I was equally excited. Just watching Peggy would have been enough. But Panama, Columbia and Nicaragua were new countries for me and I am always up for seeing new places. Cartagena has been on my bucket list for a long time. I figured I would get enough blog material to last up until summer! But it wasn’t to be.
We watched nervously as coronavirus made its way from China into other countries. Given the nature of the disease and its rapid spread, the President’s words that we had only 15 cases in the US that would soon number zero rang hollow. It seemed to us like it was time to gear up and get ready, not play down the danger. It was hardly rocket science, or so it seemed to us.
Nothing focused our concern more about the trip than people being stranded on cruise ships with a highly contagious disease. Countries were refusing to let them land. Reluctantly and sadly, we came to the conclusion that the trip wasn’t worth the risk and cancelled. A few days later Princess Cruise Lines cancelled all of its cruises. That’s how fast this pandemic has developed.
As my post goes up this morning, I expect that our Governor, Kate Brown, will issue the same stay-home order for Oregon that our neighbors in Washington to the north and California to the south have. Our trips into town will be limited to quick in and outs to buy groceries and other necessities. (And no, we aren’t hoarding toilet paper.) We will practice the same social/physical distancing and hand washing/use of sanitizers that people throughout the world now find themselves doing. And we will try ever so hard to avoid touching our faces. The mere thought of it makes my nose itch.
We are lucky in that we live on five acres out in the boonies with our property backed up to a million acres of national forest. Social/physical distancing doesn’t get any easier. Our property is excited that we are going to be around to give it more attention than in normally receives— and the star thistle is bummed that I will be around to yank it out by the roots. It’s a nasty plant that spreads rapidly like coronavirus, kills off native plants, and sucks up precious groundwater. I’ll probably do a blog on it. Woohoo. Also on my to-do list: go looking for Bigfoot. There’s a reason why the world’s only Bigfoot trap is located three miles from our house. And I may go searching for gold. Why not. An old gold mine is located a few hundred yards behind our house up in the forest. Maybe Bigfoot hangs out there. I’ll let you know.
And speaking of blogging, it is hard to imagine a more positive activity in these perilous times we are facing. For one, it is the ultimate in social/physical distancing. Two, it keeps me occupied. And three, most importantly, it allows for safe social interaction with a number of people I have come to consider as close, Internet friends over the past several years. So keep blogging, stay safe, and don’t scratch your nose.
NEXT POSTS: Still thinking about Wednesday. I may take you back to my journey down the Pacific Crest Trail, or off to Europe. Since travel is out, I have plenty of posts to remind me us of the how fun, interesting, and exciting travel there can be. Friday will be special. Peggy and I just made a trip up to Crater Lake National Park to see what it looks like in the winter. One word comes to mind: beautiful.
I figured the Devil had to cook with ghost peppers, and that got me excited. I like my food spicy hot and it doesn’t get much hotter. A tiny bit goes a long, long way, even for me. Lacking that, I thought I might at least find a churning, boiling sea like you find at the Devil’s Churn. Instead, I found a quiet, bucolic scene. Crooked Creek flowed peacefully out to the ocean.
But wait a minute, I thought. The Devil is sneaky, right. Maybe Crooked Creek was indeed crooked. Maybe it tricked people into crossing and then sucked them under with quicksand. With this in mind, I went seeking other subtle reminders of the Devil’s presence.
NEXT POST: The Wednesday Photo Essay. Four years ago in February, Peggy and I went for a ride on the Alaska Railway from Anchorage to Fairbanks with our son Tony and his family. Join us as we check out Mt. Denali and attend a world championship ice carving contest.
I was up on a cliff studying one of Washed Ashore’s sculptures made out of ocean trash when I heard the statement. It was a classic. The perfect senior moment! “Excuse me ma’am,” the young woman called, “do you know there is no dog on your leash?” I turned quickly. At 76 going on 77, I take notes on such incidents for future reference. Yes indeed, a bent, elderly woman was walking down the pathway holding a leash that was strung out behind her— without the dog. She turned, glared at the leash, muttered something, and stared back down the trail like Clint Eastwood on steroids. There came Fido (the name has been changed to protect the innocent), who was equally old in dog years, about 30 feet down the path, tottering along with no obvious desire to catch up. I could almost hear him chanting “Free at last, free at last,” as he stopped to smell the dog pee and dream of his puppyhood days.
With the help of the young woman, Fido was soon recollared and the three went on their way. As did I. But I wanted to write down the story down before it wandered off like Fido. And since I was still hanging around Bandon, I decided to show you more rocks today instead of the American River flowers I promised. I am sure you are excited. Plus, Friday is Valentine’s Day, the perfect day for flowers.
NEXT POSTS: I promise flowers for Valentine’s Day. On Monday we will visit the Devil’s Kitchen. Scary? We’ll see.
I dropped Peggy at the airport in Medford on Friday. She’s off to spend a couple of weeks in Virginia on grandkid duty while their parents make a quick escape to Mexico. “Please come Mom,” Tasha had requested while Clay had sent her first-class tickets. Hard to ignore that appeal. I was invited as well, but having just spent Christmas and New Year’s back east, I opted for a solo trip in Quivera the RV over to the Oregon Coast with plans for making my way south to Redwood National Park in Northern California.
That’s what I am up to now as I put this post together. I decided what better time to write about our coming travel/blogging plans for the year than when I am out traveling. I’ve just spent the past three days in the small coastal town of Bandon, which has some of the most impressive rock formations on the Oregon Coast. They make up several of the photos for today’s blog.
Travel-wise, we have a full year planned. 2020 started with our trip home on Amtrak from Washington DC, which I’ve already blogged about. This is trip number two. (Although it’s sans-Peggy, I’m counting it.) In late March, we are taking off for a 16-day cruise focusing on the Panama Canal. Peggy lived down there in 70’s for a while in her life before Curt. It is where Tasha was born. She has been wanting to get back there for a very long time. When I mentioned the possibility of the cruise, she jumped on it. Peggy’s sister Jane and her husband Jim are going along. In addition to Panama, we’ll be making stops in Costa Rica, Columbia, Nicaragua and Mexico.
We plan to kick off our backpacking season with a 40-mile trip down the Rogue River trail. It is beautiful in spring and makes an ideal beginning of the season hike. Peggy turns 70 this year and wants to make sure she celebrates properly. She also wants to explore more of the Pacific Crest trail through Oregon this summer as well. I’ll plan a 70-mile trip to go along with her years and my 77. We also have a 7-day kayak trip planned.
The biggie in celebrating her 70th, however, is a 7-day Rhine River Cruise from Amsterdam to Bern. We’ve invited our children and grandchildren along and, needless to say, they are excited. We will be in the middle of our trip when Peggy has her birthday on July 5th. Afterward, we will pop over to France to spend several days with Peg’s brother John and his wife, Frances.
We have tentative plans to return to Burning Man this fall. That, of course, depends on our ability to get tickets in the BM lottery, never a sure thing. Throw in the fact that we will be in the middle of the Panama Canal with iffy internet connections when the lottery takes place, I am not optimistic.
Peggy is off on another cruise in September, this time with her sister Jane from San Francisco up to Victoria, BC, a girls’ trip. I’ll take advantage of it to drive Quivera south down through Santa Cruz, Monterrey, Carmel and Big Sur. I love that area and have been escaping down there since the 60s and 70s, when I used to camp out along the road in my VW van. It’s as close as I ever got to being a hippie.
October will be time to jump in Quivera and do another month-long exploration of the Southwest. This time we want to include Death Valley NP, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Zion NP, Bryce NP, Capitol Reef NP, Canyonlands NP, and Arches NP. (This may be news to Peggy, grin.) After that we will be traveling east to spend the holidays with our kids. We are contemplating using Amtrak again, following different routes. Does that sound like enough for the year? Do you think I will have adequate material to blog about? Heck, I still have lots from last year? I never seem to catch up. Do you? And then there is the book I am writing…
I’ll conclude with a note of parental pride, if I may. Our son Tony just received the Coast Guard’s second highest award for coordinating the massive rescue effort the Coast Guard undertook in the Bahamas during Hurricane Dorian. The storm was a devastating category five hurricane with record-setting winds of up 175 mph. He and his fellow Coast Guard helicopter pilots spent 5-days more or less without sleep on the ground and up in the very dangerous air. The Commander of the Coast Guard and the Secretary of Homeland Security awarded Tony with the medal.
NEXT POST: It will be time for my Wednesday Photograph Essay. This time it will be mainly flowers I photographed along the American River Parkway in Sacramento, California.
I know, I know… I promised to cover our train trip on this post but I got side-tracked (in more ways than one). On Saturday, I was diligently working away in our library writing about the cast of characters who ride the rails when I looked out the window and noticed three deer madly dashing around our yard with their tails straight up signaling “Danger! Danger! Danger!” They charged up the hill, jumped the five-foot fence into the neighbor’s yard, did a 180, flew over the fence again and disappeared into our canyon going all-out. If you’ve ever watched frightened deer running, you know how fast this is. Seconds afterwards they burst out of the canyon and repeated the process. I called Peggy in to watch.
“Something big that likes venison must be visiting and the deer smell it,” I speculated and suggested that the local cougar might be back.
A few minutes later the deer had hightailed it up the mountain. Our property, which is normally busy with deer, squirrels, numerous birds, and other wildlife, had become eerily silent. Even the ever-squawky jays that I depend on to tell me when dangerous predators— like the local cat— are about, were uttering nary a peep.
Since we needed to do our daily mailbox walk and a fair amount of snow from the storm that I featured in my last post hadn’t melted, I proposed we keep an eye out for cougar tracks. The walk is close to a mile with the mailbox being at the halfway point. We do a round trip, leaving by our back road and returning by our front road. There would ample opportunity to look for tracks.
We found them near the mailbox! I confess I felt a bit like the deer, ready to raise my tail and dash off.
We were on the homestretch, heading up the hill to our home when we saw the next set of tracks. They came out of the canyon and headed straight for our house. That added a bit of excitement (he noted in understatement). Peggy and I quickly checked around the house. Sure enough, the big cougar had wandered around in our backyard the night before and possibly onto the snowless section of our deck. If so, it would have been about six feet away from where we were sleeping. That’s Peggy’s side of the bed. (Grin)
Things were more or less back to normal on Sunday. The deer were back, a bit jumpy, but none-the-less munching away. The bird feeder was a circus with six species contending over who got the sunflower seeds. And three squirrels were busy chasing each other in a row with love on their minds. They shot up, down, and around trees nose to tail, nose to tail.
Monday, Martin Luther King’s Birthday, had a slight twist. There was no mail, so we decided to hike up into the forest where we had taken our snow hike. This time, however we would veer off to visit what we call the bear cave. Not that we’ve ever seen a bear; it’s an old gold mining operation. We named it the bear cave to give our grandkids more of a sense of adventure when they visited. I once took our grandson Cody up there when he was five on a bear hunt with our sling shots. He’d been excited to go on an adventure with Grandpa. The closer we had got to the cave the more reluctant he had become. We’d stood back from the cave and lobbed pellets in to scare the bear out.
This time, my lovely wife was the reluctant one. She suggested we go for a walk on the road instead. Could it be that the cougar had her spooked? I laughed and away we went up the mountain. We had made the cutoff when we saw a set of huge tracks heading in the general direction of the cave. Bear tracks. Peggy let me take a couple of photos before she insisted that we beat a hasty retreat.
Following are some photos of the various tracks we came across.
NEXT POST: The train trip! Unless, of course, someone else comes to visit. 🙂
I am taking a brief break from the desert Southwest, today. Peggy and I just returned from a three day trip over to the Oregon Coast and explored the interesting town of Charleston near Coos Bay.
That we ended up in Charleston, Oregon was a complete happenstance. Peggy and I wanted to make a quick trip to Shore Acres State Park on the Oregon coast. The park puts on an annual Christmas display of over 300,000 lights that feature coastal themes focusing on Pacific Ocean wildlife. Normally we take Quivera, our RV, and camp at Sunset Bay State Park, which is just down the hill. This time we were motelling it and I found one named Captain John’s in Charleston. The town is three miles away from Shore Acres. It was just a convenience— until we went for a walk.
NEXT POST: Back to Georgia O’Keeffe at Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu in New Mexico.
The Bush Devil Ate Sam is an important record and a serious story, yet told easily, and with delightful humor. This is one of the most satisfying books I have ever read, because it entertained me thoroughly AND made me feel better informed. —Hilary Custance Green: British Author... Click on the image to learn more about my book, the Bush Devil Ate Sam, and find out where it can be ordered.
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