Wednesday, December 23, 2009

There's Comfort in Familiar

We're stranded for the day in chilly, drizzly Portland, OR, while our
motor home gets buff at the spa (transmission work, new brakes, etc.)

And instead of treating ourselves to an excellent museum, a movie or
even a day at our own spa, we go to the dog park.

We have awfully lucky dogs.

Or perhaps we're just tired after 11 days on the road and can't think
much past what's familiar. And dog parks are familiar. We can breathe
at dog parks.

This one, Hazledale, is in a suburb of Portland called Beaverton,
where all the neighboring residents kick in a dollar or two or 10 a
year to maintain the park. And, thank you, they let us play for free.
So nice, because we need to play, where it's familiar.

But play really doesn't happen. The only other dog at the park today
is Bella, an 8-month-old chocolate lab whom Jacob (my Standard
Poodle) devils and bullies. When she sees him coming, Bella's not sure
what to do, so she crunches to a crawl position, then rolls over.
Jacob gleefully thrusts his nose into her belly and barks. Hops up and
down and barks. Bella rolls back over slowly and, with her ears
flattened against her head, slinks away.

Why do you do that, Jacob!

I call him to quit and apologize to Esther, Bella's owner.

She shrugs. Bella's young, she says. All this is new to her.

While Bella slinks and crawls, Esther tells me about her own life,


About how she's moving to Atlanta, GA, soon from Portland, the land of
her birth, her schooling, her boyfriend. She's leaving behind
everything familiar.

Esther is 20-something and about to plop herself down in a brave new
world. I'll bet on many occasions she crunches to a crawl and flattens
her own ears and slinks away.

Sally forth, I tell her. And, at first, just look for what's
familiar. Take Bella to a dog park.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Sliver of Sunshine

We're cold. And tired.

We've spent the morning in battle with a snow storm high in Oregon's mountains and are now at a truck stop, well, stuck at a truck stop because a truck has broken down. A tow company busily connects the dots to get the truck towed out.

But for now, we're stuck, blocked by the broken-down truck. And cold. But, the dogs need to stretch a bit, so we leash them up and head out to where it's even colder.

And, then it begins to rain.

We are not smiling.

What's there to smile about?

And then we see her. A reason to smile. Shadow. A pretty and perky black standard poodle, staring in disbelief at what she sees: our two black standard poodles. Her tail bobs then circulates. She's so excited.

Our boys notice her, and their tails begin to bob, and circulate.

Shadow, we learn, is a trucker's cab dog. She 2, loves chasing cattle and riding the ocean's waves. And, she's stubborn, smart and perky.

The three circle round and round, in and out. Their tails a constant flutter.

And then it begins to rain harder. A lot harder. All three of the dogs drip with wet poodle ringlets. We and the truckers bid farewell and climb back into our own lives.

Even though the cold is now really wet, too, we smile some doggie brought-on smiles.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

THANK GOODNESS it takes a village

A truck driver ratted us out. And blessed us, too.

Allen pulls into a Bakersfield, CA, truck stop and parks outside the box. What he did was pull up alongside a grassy area so we could extend our slideout safely.

Our move triggers the truck driver's anger.

He rages at another motor-home driver (not at us, but about us), who then comes over to warn us, with a grin, about this man who's out to get us. He tips a non-existent hat, then lets us know, with that grin, that the truck driver was spittin' mad and was headed to the main
office to report our immense offense.

We pull up stakes and move around to fill a regular spot.

Then, a different truck driver comes over, one who hauls for Walmart, and lets us know how sorry HE is that a truck driver would act that way. Soon, the truck driver's wife stops by because she sees our dogs and wants to say hi.

There's just too little courtesy and respect in the world, we all lament. After all, had the angry truck driver aproached us, we would have just apologized and moved. Instead, a village gets involved.

We all chat for a while. No one from the main office joins in.

 The pleasant truck driver and his wife wish us a Merry Christmas. We bid them one in return.

Such nice people.

Do We Look THAT Gullible?

We're surrounded by the desert that spills from Arizona into
California, as we do in search of a fill up.

We stop in Needles, CA, and find the price of a gallon of diesel has
leaped from $2.59 cents to nearly $4.

Well, we think, this is the desert. Things are hard to come by here.
We pull up to the pump and a man on a scooter scoots around and around
our outfit. We're kinda used to this because you don't often see a
Navion pulling a Kia Soul. People, especially car people, are curious.

Allen hops out and begins pumping the liquid gold into our tank when a
young man pulling on a candy bar hollers out: "Mister, hey mister."
Allen turns and sees the man pointing to our left front tire.

"You've got a problem here."

Allen stops fueling and walks over to see what's what.

Another man joins in. This one is much older.

"Yes, yes. I've been in the business 36 years and I can see an
accident just waiting to happen. That's what you have here."

"And over here!" The young man with the candy points to our other
front tire.

I look up and past these men to a row of brand-new tires awaiting
their new holiday homes.

Allen examines each tire and assures the men he's comfortable with the
level of wear and tear.

He finishes fueling and hops in.

We drive away.

No tires sold today.

A Chance Meeting





I think dogs talk to each other. Out loud and silently.

I'm standing inside a dog park in Kingman, Az, surrounded by unusual dogs. There's a Silken Windhound, a Rez Dog, a  American Indian Dog, a Rhodesian Ridgeback and a Chinese Shar Pei. And, of course, my two Royal Standard Poodles.

Usually, a dog park provides more common fare: lots of mixes, Boxers, Schnauzers, Pit Bulls, many Labs and Lab mixes.

The kinds of dogs we meet today differ by their pedigrees, but the result's the same: a whirlwind of activity, chasing, leaping, sniffing and more chasing. And, barking. Lots of barking. Happy barking. They all speak the same language.

And while they all talk to each other, I talk to their people.

Like Alona. She creates landscapes in oils and watercolors and owns the Windhound (pic below with Allen and Joshua; notice she's airborne), whose lineage reaches back into the long-haired Borzois and Whippets.

And  Louisa, a high school librarian. She owns Patches (no pic, sorry), the Rez Dog, who was hit by a car when she was 5 months old and survived only because Louisa came along.

While Louisa unfolds Patches' life story for me, I'm distracted by what looks like the Pillsbury Dough Boy spilling out of a car in the parking lot. The dog is so big and fat, it takes a while for the all of it to collect together as one dog on solid ground.

I soon discover this big dog has one big pedigree.

Her name is Addison. She's 3-years-old and is an American Bulldog with direct lineage to the dog who played Chance in the movie "Homeward Bound." He's her great-great-great granddaddy, says Ralph, her owner, a very big man, quite like his very big dog.

Addison was a gift from his daughter three years ago when his Great Dane died. His Dane, he says, was so tall, she'd snatch stuff off the top of his refrigerator. Addison can't do that. She's big, but she's fat, mostly because she's heavily medicated for a laundry-list of allergies.

Her weight slows her down. Noticeably. Even though she's unleashed and free to roam, she stays right with Ralph, alternately standing, then sitting. I look around and notice none of the other dogs, not even my own, stop by to play.

 And the other people in the park have spread out, giving this monstrous dog and her owner space, lots of space.

And a still overcomes the park. I hear no barking. There's no chase.

After a while, Addison and Ralph lumber away. He stuffs her back into the car, like a down pillow into a duffle bag.

With Addison gone, the still breaks; chaotic dog play resumes.

Hmmm. I wonder. Did Addison order the quiet?  Did she tell the other dogs to stay away? And they all then obeyed?


.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

An Unusual Safety Net



     We're rested and walked (more than a mile this morning with the dogs in Elk City, OK), so we don't really need to stop at this Texas rest stop.

     But how can we not? The sign outside says it's a tornado shelter. And we've never been to a tornado shelter, so we stop (way in the middle of nowhere, about 150 miles east of Amarillo on Route 66). We snoop around looking for this protected place, one we imagine to be an underground bunker, perhaps as grand as the one hidden away for Congress at the former five-star Greenbriar Hotel in West Virginia.

    No. I think not. Too expensive.

     So maybe we'll find something as rustic as the WWII pillbox bunkers seen along England's coast.

     No. I think not. Tornado shelters must be underground because tornadoes tear up stuff above ground.

     Then I remember Dorothy, clutching Toto as she kicks helplessly on the doors to her tornado shelter. So I turn my eyes groundward (ahh, a new word), looking for a door, an entrance, a
ladder even. I see an artful brick enclosure; no, it hides a series of solar panels. I see a series of poles holding a teepee-like roof. No, it's a picnic place.

     I see a woman in a uniform. Her name is Jaque (pronounced Jackie). "Where are the tornado shelters?" I ask.

     Inside, she says, pointing to the visitor's center, a grand concrete structure with The Lone Star of Texas cut through on three sides (picture above). The earth mounds up all around, making
it look like it's exploding from the ground. Kinda like a bomb shelter. Aha!

     But inside, I already know, is a  little museum, a tourist information desk and the bathrooms. No tornado shelter.

     I go in anyway because maybe I'll find a secret elevator or ladder that escorts people out of harm's way.

     What I find startles me.

     The tornado shelters are the bathrooms.

     Not BEHIND or BELOW or JUST PAST the bathrooms. They ARE the bathrooms.

     Seriously. Here's a picture.

     The same rooms that house the toilets, sinks and stalls serve as tornado shelters. But they are just bathrooms. Little tiles cover the walls and floors where now and then drains serve to aid in cleaning. There are no cots or couches or chairs. No life-sustaining provisions. Just toilets, stalls and sinks.

     But they are lifesaving, nonetheless, Jaque says. Just two years ago, about 75 people hid out in these bathrooms while a storm cut through the countryside less than a hundred yards away. The winds tore through the roadway, too.

     Another time, Jaque herded a few dozen people inside to wait out a storm.

     She giggles as I take a picture of the bathrooms.

     "It just seems odd to me," I say.

     She grins. "You're not the first."


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Jacob, Stop Whining!


     Jacob (one of my French Poodles) has thousands of miles under his belt (collar?) so I don't understand why he's so fussy. But fuss, he does.
     He's whining through the night. He leans up against me when I sit at the dinette, and lays his head on my chest and moans under his breath. Then he raises his paw and plops it over my knee. And looks up at me,  wistfully. Pathetic! 
     I know he's not sick. He just wants to play. With rabbits, squirrels, gophers and groundhogs. He's what I call squirrelly. He just wants to get out of the motor home and run and chase and jump and play.
     So, he whines incessantly. Gee, Jacob. Stop.
     So, I look for a dog park sooner than I thought we'd need one.
     But what do I find? Snobs. And a lot of 'em.
     I find one dog park in Terre Haute and several in St. Louis, but none willing to let a traveling family come in and play unless we bow to extortion. One wants us to pay $10, per dog, then a $10 deposit for the special key that opens the golden gates. For 30 minutes?
     Another wants $25. Per dog. Still another asks $80 for the first dog, then $25 for the second.
     These outrageous fees scream one thing: Keep out. These private-member doggie clubs shun riffraff like us. They serve their own.  Snubbed. We've been snubbed. By big city doggie parks. Hrumpf.
     But wait. What's this I see, tucked outside big-city limits in the sprawling countryside of Troy, MO. A caring veterinary called Troy Hawthorne Animal Clinic, its tidy grounds surrounded by a fence and littered with doggie toys and jumps and tunnels. The Troy Dog Sports Park.
     Jacob squeals.
     And we are welcome to come in and play. No fees required. Just a verbal promise about adequate vaccines and non-aggressive attitudes.
    See the pictures (not many and not great, but it was cold) and you'll see this little park's loads of fun.
    Go to their Web site and you'll see this as one or their core values: "Be guided by the highest level of integrity in our daily work."
    Nothing pathetic about that.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Little McHumor

        I'm standing at the counter of a McDonald's in Terre Haute when I
notice only one of the workers is younger than 30. In fact, most are
over 40 with a few 50- or 60-somethings sprinkled in.
  
    A sign of the times, I think to myself. Flipping hamburgers counters
joblessness.

    Good for them, I think. I wonder if there's a journalist back there
squirting mustard on a McDouble. Or an auto worker deep-frying hash
browns.
  
    "They're here!" my cashier squeaks, jolting me back to my breakfast
order. I follow her twinkling gaze to a box of shoes her boss sets on
the counter.

    She tilts her head toward me: "If I wear these shoes with special
treads and fall, then McDonald's will pay for the medical
bill." (She's so willing to share!)
  
    She's thrilled.
  
    "I'm 5 months pregnant and I find myself falling a lot."

    She needs the insurance. In this economy, we all need what help we can
get.

    While she giggles about her new shoes, I move on down the line to pick
up my feast from a lively and lovely 30-something, who encourages me
to enjoy my meal, have a nice day and enjoy this Christmas season.

    I'm lovin' this place. Which is good, because I get to come back.

    I grab my bag of food and scramble back to Otto. As I unpack
breakfast, I notice the McMuffin is lighter these days. Alas, I think,
also a sign of the times. Joblessness and the economy. Cutbacks.

    I shake my head.

    I unwrap the skinny treasure to find the McMuffin isn't just thin. It
has NOTHING inside. It's not the economy, I laugh. It's a mistake!

    I scramble back inside. "What'd I forget?" asks the lively and lovely
30-something. I unwrap my McMuffin and she hoots! "JUST THE MUFFIN!"

    "My fault, my fault," she assures the rest of the crew, peaking out
from behind fryers and heat lamps to see the naked sandwich.

    I get a new one. And a story to tell.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

On the road again ...

Today is Day One of another adventure.

We're heading to Seattle from Syracuse for Christmas, New Year's and a
few birthdays, then on to Death Valley, CA, maybe Quartzite, AZ, then
Padre Island in southeastern Texas. We also plan to touch base with
family in Florida at some point.

What this means is there's a lot of driving. Well, I do lots of
riding. So, unlike for adventures of the past, I lined up a few things
to do while I ride.

Today is Day One and I've done them all.

Well, I haven't completed them all. Just DONE them all.

I've finished off a few crossword puzzles, read a few pages of my
book, pulled out my needlework (cross-stitching two pillow cases),
napped, snacked on apples, grapes and cheese, and listened to "City of
Gold,"
a fabulous Christmas present from our friend, Tom. Thank you,
Tom.

I've played a few online games and read through the news. I tried and
failed to install a map on my blog that I found on another blog. So I
spent time reading other blogs.

Now I'm playing more games.

OK. Only about 3,600 miles to go to Seattle.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Envy Strikes At Midnight

It's midnight and I can't sleep.

Not because I'm over-tired, not tired enough or drank copious amounts
of coffee. No, I can't sleep because there's a raucous party going on
next door to us at Adventure Bound campground in North Truro, Mass.

They're whooping and hollering, laughing and belting out songs from
the '60s. I now see 1 a.m.

I met some of the partiers earlier in the evening when we pulled into
our campsite.

"We walk through there," a very slender, very tanned mid-50s woman
said to me, nodding to the land behind our motor home. With each nod,
silver earrings jingle jangle just beneath her bobbed, blackened hair.
She's carrying a beer snug inside a coozie. We're just about to block
HER pathway so we can hook up our essentials (the power, water, TV,
and sewer).

I'm taken aback. Shocked, in fact, at her nerve. My mind smokes:
"We're paying $52 a night to stay here. YOUR walkway cuts through MY
lot." Instead I say, politely, "I don't think our electric line will
reach if we don't back up more."

"Then use an extension cord," she smiles. Actually smiles at me. Cocks
her little head. Twinkles her eyes. Then takes a sip of her beer.

I fume. Fume!!

Instead of blurting out what I thought (HOW DARE YOU!!!), I offer a
closed-mouth smile of my own and shrug my shoulders. By that time,
Allen rescues me. He's pulled our electric cord and water hose around
and proves each can reach, no problem, without us having to block HER
walkway.

The smiling petite beer drinker invites me to a tour of her
"neighborhood." Although I'm unhappy, I go, because, well, she smiles
a lot. It's contagious. I meet some of the people who use the pathway
behind our motor home as THEIR walkway. They all smile, too, and say
"Hi."

I count about six families, all who live here for the summer. They
have a community cook kitchen inside a tent (complete with hanging
pots, a Jenn-Aire, freezer and frige), landscaped gardens, and a
community dining room of about six picnic tables set up end to end and
all painted a brilliant blue. A tarp covers the tables. Along the
sides of the tarp Christmas lights twinkle.

They have fun all summer long, she says.

And at midnight.

As the party escalates, I pull the pillows over my ears and vow to
march down to the campground office at daybreak and demand my money
back.

I toss and turn and eventually sleep.

And then awaken in the morning.

As I lay here thinking about the party last night, I remember how
pleasantly the smiling petite woman conducted the tour of her little
neighborhood. And how nice all those people were. And I knew my
frustration last night was not because I could not sleep. It was
because there was a grand party going on and I wasn't a part of it.

And I know, FOR SURE, that had I thrown on some clothes and meandered
over there, they would have welcomed me to sing along. And in time, I,
too, would have been belting out a few songs.

What the heck. It's summer. The time for fun. For everyone to have
fun. I'll sleep some other night.

Sometimes, You Get What You Want

We're walking the streets of Boston and it's got to be 95 degrees.  

Sweltering.

The 100 percent humidity threatens to steal my breath, but instead, it cascades down my face and soaks my shirt.

The heat helps us decide to hop on a motorized tour of the city instead of taking the Freedom Trail, a walking tour I've wanted to do for years.

I'm sad, yes! The Freedom Tour immerses walkers in the American  Revolution, brings them alongside Paul Revere, Bunker Hill and the Boston Massacre. I want to brush up against history. But, it's too darn hot.

So, we hop on THE DUCK, and explore Bean Town through the eyes of a sarcastic 50-something who shouts out "Hey!" to all his buddies along the route and cracks sick jokes about bombing the Teletubbies and
failing to notice Jennifer Lopez's physique. Ergh.

OK. It's not that bad. We're in Boston, after all. And we've got a steady breeze in our faces to cool us down. We get to cruise on the Charles River and see a lot of the city from the back of that Duck. Then we enjoy a fantastic tour of Fenway Park, where we get to crawl through the entire stadium and watch workers prepare the field for the upcoming series against the Yankees.

At the end of the day, we're still too darn hot. The sun is relentless. There's no breeze. We return to the famous Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall, where I lose my battle with the heat. I'm wiped. I  seek shade, preferably from a seat.

Oh, look. Over there. Benches. Shaded benches. Thank you, God!

We head that way.

But wait.

Oh, no. There's a man sitting there. In odd clothes. Sipping a Pepsi.
In all this heat, he wears a three-corner cap, a multi-button vest
over a white shirt with long billowing sleeves, trousers, knee-high
tights. Wool/cotton clothing covers this man from head to toe.

I get it. He's not odd at all. He's wearing the clothes of a patriot
and, after all, this IS Boston.

I head his way because I have to ask: "Why are you dressed this way in
all this heat?"

Turns out this man, Cliff Odle, leads tours of the Freedom Trail
(yeah! The Freedom Trail!). He wears period clothing and portrays a
real patriot, Barzillai Lew, a musician and soldier who served in the
American Revolution.

It's the end of the day, a very hot day, so we can't take the tour. But Cliff engages us with  tales about Barzillai and himself (he's a playwright, actor and historian). And admits that he, too, is too darn hot.

On the way out of town, I consider the day's fortunes: the Duck, Fenway, my Boston patriot, and, oddly, the heat. Because without it (and my intense curiosity), I would not have met Cliff Odle and his character, the revolutionary Barzillai Lew.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Lots and Lots of the Same the Same

We're still in Montana ... man, oh man. Wheat fields, wheat fields,
antelope, antelope, deer, deer, wheat fields. Oh, look! What is that?
Oh. Farm machinery. Cows, cows, hay bales, hay bales.

We hitch our wagon to the WalMart in Havre for the night. The store
clerk says it gets to 40 below here.

In the morning, we drive into town for coffee. We find some California
dreaming instead: The Arctic Hamburger joint sits right next to the
Maui Nites Casino.

Seems like a few others are looking for something a little different,
too.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Artist Transforms Rez Wrecks


I'm looking up and out.

Because we're in Big Sky country and I've never seen anything like it.

Imagine you are a tiny, tiny dot inside a Montana snow globe, but it's
not snowing, and the sun's shining. Look ahead, to your left, right
and behind you. Seas of golden wheat flitter and wave. Now look up,
and around and around.

Sky. Sky. Sky. On my. Brilliant blue sky. Everywhere.

Now and then, a stupendous mountain range, called the Rockies, juts
into the endless sky.

Because of my up-and-out looking, I almost miss what occupies me for
the rest of the day. Two warriors. Metal warriors. Atop horses. Metal
horses.

It takes a minute for my brain to register what my eyes see. By the
time I get it, and decide I want to see more of it, we've zipped past
it. We're just about to enter the the town of Browning on Route 2 in
northwest Montana when I plead with Allen (who's driving), "Go back!
Go back!"

"WHY?" He missed it, too.

I explain, and we turn around. Nearly a mile later we find our life-
sized warriors silently welcoming visitors to the 1.4 million acre
Blackfeet Nation.

I stand; I stare. I sense power from these silent metal men riding
their welded steeds. Obviously, the artist used discarded pieces of
metal to craft this amazing work. Look at the pictures. See the way
discarded auto parts are transformed into arms, legs, bodies, eyes,
headdresses, staffs and armor?

But why?

The story is lost because there is no sign, no label, nothing that
speaks about why these sculptures are here and how they came to be.

I take pictures, then load myself back into the motor home and
continue into Browning.

We need fuel, so we stop at the nearest gas station, a Cenex. I go
inside and ask the clerk, "Do you know who made the warriors?"

"My cousin, Jay Laber" she say, casually. HER COUSIN??? "He lives over
in Polson."

What she didn't tell me and the Internet did is Jay Polite Laber, 47,
is a self-taught Blackfeet artist, art teacher and amazing reclamation
man. He turns old junk cars (he calls them Rez Wrecks) and barbed
wire into art (he calls it Trash Art) that defines the life of Native
Americans.

About five years ago, Laber was commissioned by the National Assembly
of State Art Assemblies
to create his warriors. The idea was the art
would identify native lands to drivers otherwise consumed by the
magnificence of nature.

As we leave the Blackfeet Nation, about 35 miles later, we repeat the
drive-by process, only this time Allen sees the warriors and I miss
them. We still have to turn around.

It makes me wonder how many other drivers catch sight of these
treasures and know, therefore, that they've entered native lands.

And how many others drive right on by, because they are too busy
looking up and out.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Making Lemonade

Failing to make plans sometimes means plans fail.

Today we leap off the main highway and climb higher and higher into
the great expanse of Montana's northwest, aiming for Glacier National
Park.

What a glorious day, unbelievable vistas (I took no pictures ... can
you believe it?) and air so delicious it's lunch itself. An opaque
curtain of mist opens into rain showers, leaving behind that sweet
smell of ozone.

A huge lake, Lake Flathead, accompanies us on our right for more than
30 miles, Starving Horse, a painful name for a little town, titillates
tourists. Miles upon miles of ranch land feeds cattle, wild horses
and hares so big, we mistake one for a coyote. Or a fox. We aren't
sure. (It's roadkill, so I guess it really doesn't matter ...)

The ever-present Rockies loom large and luscious.

Finally, after six hours of this back-roads travel, we arrive at the
park, tired, but excited about the adventure to come. We see a deer.
Nice.

We then learn there's no room. All the campgrounds are filled (except
for one at the end of a 30-mile really dirty dirt road). And Otto, our
motor home, is three feet too long to travel the road that crosses the
park. And that road is under construction anyway with delays of up to
four hours, or did the sign say six?

We turn around and leave.

So now, we're parked overnight in a WalMart parking lot in Kalispell,
MT, after an hour of backtracking through back country roads. So
what? We might not be out in the wilds, but the Rockies loom large and
luscious here, too.

The air is crisp. The night is cool. What a glorious end to a
glorious day.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Whirligigs, Windmills, Teapots, Hard Hats and Me





Is this art?

My 11-year-old niece asked me this once about a pinball
machine sitting by itself in the center of a small, eclectic art
gallery.

I repeat the question today. To myself. I'm alone as I patrol the
chain-linked perimeter of a crowded, jumbled and decaying mish-mash of
aging whirligigs on Highway 155,  near Grand Coulee Dam in northeast Washington.

The signs say this is the Gehrke Windmill Garden. And, indeed, the
things are "planted" like a garden, inside a fence, in rows, close to
each other. Too close, however, to let each piece breath.
Can the wind even wind its way through?

Each "windmill" is stuck to a long pole that's "planted"
in a garish orange (it looks like plastic) tub. Some tubs have cheap plastic flowers "planted" around the poles. 

Weeds, neglect and disrepair overrun the whole "garden." It looks
awful.

I shake my head. Is this art?

I close my eyes. I want to see this work as intended, not as it ended
up, in a crowded square plot next to a dusty main highway.

So, I do a little research and open my mind to a time maybe 50 years
ago, when the artist, Emil Gehrke (1882-1979) and his wife, Veva,
(1902-1980) moved to this little corner of Washington from Nebraska,
where he was an ironworker. Together, however, they were artists.

They'd spend their weekends collecting items others tossed out (lots of kitchen goods, some auto parts, a few farm items).  Emil would craft them into whirligigs; Veva would paint them.

They "planted" the art on their hilly, treed lot  near Grand Coulee Dam,  and let people walk through to enjoy the results.

When Emil grew too old to care for the items, he offered them to the
city, hoping they'd be set up in a park for all to enjoy. Apparently,
the notion appalled the town leaders; they considered the whirligigs   
eyesores, not artwork and wanted to get rid of them, not display them.

What a shame. The Gehrkes, even after death, continue to enjoy
artistic renown in Seattle, where their wind sculptures decorate the
northwest corner of an electric substation (it's called public works
art). But in their own hometown, they have no fame.

So, friends, years ago, came to the rescue and had the works installed
on the land they now occupy.

I open my eyes, and LOOK! How lovely!

I now see a field of enigmatic windmills and can imagine a delicate clattering of tin against tin as the wind catches and moves the bowls, helmets, oil funnels, pie plates, funnel molds, tea cuts, saucers and sundry other lost-and- found items.

Perhaps the friends who started this project have been busy and plan
to return to straighten the tilting poles, plant real flowers not
plastic ones, replace weeds with grass and then open the gates to
let people like me mingle with the art.

And, yes, this is art.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Ultimate in Customer Service

A simple kindness made my day today. And, it made me a fan of Safeway Inc., the third largest grocery store chain in North America.

A little history:
We don't have Safeway where I live, so I have no special customer
card, which means I'm not allowed to benefit from the in-store
advertised specials.
The other day while shopping at a Safeway near Seattle, WA, , I "forgot" my unfavored shopper status and fell for
one of those promotions -- buy two boxes of candy and get the third
one free (and save all of $1.59.) Gleefully, I pluck two Mike and Ikes
and one Hot Tamale from the shelf. At the cash register, reality
bites as I'm punished into paying full price because I'm not a card-
carrying shopper.
Rats! "Don't you have a guest card you can swipe for me?" I plead
with the cashier. "So I can get the special price?"
"Oh, NO!" she darn near roars. "Why, the other day," she says, "A man
who has worked here for 30 years nearly lost his job because he used
his card for one of the customers. Had to get the union involved to
save his neck."
What kind of company fires someone for good customer service?
Well, I thought to myself, I'll NEVER shop here again!

OK. I break my vow and run into the store today for pet food, bread
and doughnuts (always doughnuts). The cashier, a different one this
time, asks if I was one of those, you know, the special people who
carry Safeway ID cards.

No, I hang my head low. I live back East. There are no Safeways there.
Just hit me with the full price. Ca-Ching!

"Well then," Mr. Perky Cashier beams. "I'll bet this fellow right
behind you (a man I never met) will let you use his!"

And just like that, I save a few pennies and Safeway gains a new
customer.

Mr. Perky Wonderful Cashier praises his employer as he bags my
goodies, saying Safeway likes to keep its employees and its customers
happy.

So why, then, (I'm thinking this in my head, not out loud) did some
other guy almost get canned over the same discount card?

"And you both win," Mr. PWC continues, talking about me and the
anonymous customer behind me in line. "You get your discount and this
customer gets cheaper gasoline."

Oh, I get it. Courtesy card users get cents off at the pump when they
shop at Safeway.

The first cashier (whose job was on the line) probably faced an
insane accusation of theft ("stealing" those cents off at the pump)
for his good deed. Mr. PWC figured out how
to avoid getting slammed while making the customer happy with the
same cents-off promotion.

Either way, I'd say Safeway has good people working the cash
registers. People who go out of their way to make me happy.

And THAT'S why I'm a big fan.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

When A Girl's Gotta Go

I'm grocery shopping in Monroe, WA,  and want (well, need) to visit the restroom.

I see the big sign and breathe. Because I'm close. I step up my step.

But wait. Why is there a teenage boy blocking the door? He's doing the
"Stop" thing with his hand.

"I HAVE to clean!" He says to me, without catching my eye. He doesn't
even smile. I do, though. Because I KNOW he's SO embarrassed he CAN'T
smile. Poor kid. I try to make it easier by not complaining. I walk
away, but I don't go far. Just up into the cereal aisle, where I can
see him leave when he's finished.

But he doesn't leave, and soon there's a line, well, just two others,
a teenage girl and an older women, maybe in her 70s, with a walker. I
know where there are two, there are two more. So I leave the cereal
boxes and go to stand in line.

Women become fast friends in familiar circumstances. And the three of
us become buddies immediately because the teenage boy is taking too
much time to clean.

The lady with the walker (she's second in line) says to the teen
(who's first in line), "Use the Men's room, it's empty."

The teen looks dubious.

I take the cue and say, "I'll watch the door. No one will come in."

She decides in an instant and scurries in.

"Reminds me of when I was in junior high," I say to the walker woman
as I block the door. "That's when I saw my first urinal."

The older woman smiles: "We have to pass the tradition on."

The teens finish as the same time, and both exit the bathrooms in
unison, he from the Women's room and she from the Men's.

They pass in the hall.

I say to the boy, "She couldn't wait."

That's when he finally smiled.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Kiss and a Pool Cue


We're in a bar. Playing pool. 

The crowd is drinking coffee, a few cans of Coke and a beer or two. It's 2009, so the smokers spill outside now and then.

I bank the two ball perfectly (YEAH!) and it drains into the side pocket.  The pressure's on to make  another clever shot (well, not necessarily clever, just successful) when the jukebox brings B.J. Thomas into the room. He's Hooked on a Feelin', just like he was in 1969. 

I close my eyes and smile. Because a wish I had back in '69 is coming true.  I was 15 back then, and when B.J. sang that song,  I wished, oh I wished hard, that I had someone to sing it to. The lyrics, "I-I-I, I'm hooked on a feeling', I'm high on believin', that you're in love with me" meant that someone loved me and, at 15, that was oh, so important.

I'm not 15 anymore, but I do have someone who loves me (l love him, too). And he's playing pool with me in  bar in Monroe, WA, just north of Seattle. So I sashay over to my husband, Al, and I sing, "I-I-I, I'm hooked on a feeling', I'm high on believin', that you're in love with me." It feels oh, so important.

Soon, B.J. leaves and in walks Freddie Mercury, followed by Jim Morrison and soon Pink Floyd. Fankie Valli pays a visit as well.

It's a memorable night all round.



Monday, July 6, 2009

Sorrow, deep, deep sorrow

I awake to insistent small-town noise -- traffic, lawn movers,
trimmers. Irritated, I make coffee, clean a little, then sit down to
read.

I read words posted online by a broken-hearted man whose mother
struggles with a dreadful disease from which she will not recover.

My chest pulls tight. I consciously breath deeply, slowly,
rhythmically. Still, the tears ... I'm helpless. I cannot bring
health back to the mother or lay a hand of comfort on the son.

So I pray: God, please comfort them both. Soften the edges of their
world.

And, thank you, Jesus, for the small-town cacophony ...

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Idahoans Stand Their Dusty Ground

The little sign on I-90 invites us, so we go: Historic Route, turn here.

We time travel up a narrow, scarred canyon in northern Idaho, where
dusty little towns with names like Gem, Yellow Dog, Black Bear and
Burke holler at us as we drive by. "No Trespassing!" "Stay Out!"
"Keep Out!" The signs populate trees, fences and door jams.

Don't know why everyone's so miffed, but we get the message. We keep
moving. And we pass a lot of abandoned old wooden houses, actually
shacks, along with a handful of inhabited, well tended, but tiny
houses, most dating back to the turn of the last century. Almost all
have tiny yards and large gravel-covered driveways and gravel-covered
storage areas. There's more gravel in this historic little area than
grass. Which is why the dust. I imagine.

Further up the creek-lined road, we see why the towns exist, or,
rather, existed: A tangled web of ore mining facilities lie in decay.
The industry sucked silver, lead and even gold out of these mountains
for years (a timeline). And when it left town, with millions of
dollars in its collective pockets, it left behind hillside after
hillside scarred with monstrous slag piles, decrepit metalworks,
rotting wooden walkways, and cement foundations holding up nothing
more than memories.

The EPA says the mining industry left behind a whole lot more: water
so polluted with heavy minerals that it kills fish. And maybe makes
people sick. So the EPA wants to clean up the area. But the area wants
the EPA to mind its own business.

It's a soap opera of a story.

When the EPA came into town to fix things up, the town threw the EPA
out. And said never come back.

OK. I get it. Those menacing signs? Not meant for us. It's the canyon
people telling the big-city people to leave them alone. To "Keep Out."
To "Stay Out."

They want to keep their way of life for as long as they can, in
sickness or in health.

Here are more pictures from this potentially polluted, definitely
decaying slice of America.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Montana Ranch Humor



Randy and Flo exchange ranch tales like old buddies.
Randy: "My friend up at the Double Bar used to pay me in bullets to
pick off the gophers up his way. But them bullets got too expensive."
FYI: Randy's about 35. (He's shown with his dog, Chip.)
Flo: "I run 'em down with my car. You outta hear 'em go splat." She's
79. (She's shown with her dog, Duggan.
The two of them laugh. And rock back, Randy on a bench and Flo at the
picnic table at the Bozeman (MT) Dog Park off Haggerty Lane.
OK. I am grossed out. Inwardly horrified they find joy in brutally
killing an animal. Oblivious to my disdain, Flo and Randy keep
laughing, all the while pointing at something. Courteously (OK,
prudishly), I tilt my head to see what's what.
I let out an unexpected "HA!"
My lovely Standard Poodle Jacob has his face smashed into a gopher
hole and is digging furiously with his front two feet, snorting the
dirt out his nose. Chip, a bird dog, is likewise engaged. Magpies
line the fence like cheerleaders, cackling to goad them on.
HA! HA! I can't help it. It's comical. The Gulliver-sized dogs think
they can squeeze into Lilliputian holes. They look so funny with
their butts stuck up in the air, their tails announcing their joy,
and their heads thrust down those holes like ostriches.
I can laugh because after all, there's NO WAY the dogs can hit their
targets.
"Why just last week Chip got three of 'em," Randy says. "Had 'em all
ate up by the time I got there."
Please, please, please, God, don't let Jacob catch a gopher.
He doesn't. And Chip doesn't. The magpies disperse.
Thank you, God.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Starry, Starry Night

It's amazing how little it takes to entertain me.

We pull into a Flying J truck stop in Beach, ND, for the night. (Great
name isn't it?) The lot is nearly empty, so we commandeer an aisle of
parking slots as our own, set the brakes and begin to relax. It's very
quiet.

Then I hear something over a loudspeaker about the lights going out at
midnight. Is that really what I heard?

I stroll inside the little store because, well, there's not much to do
at a truck stop late at night unless you stroll into the store. And, I
wanted some jelly beans. And I wanted to find out about the lights.

I see signs posted on windows and doors about lights going out at
midnight for seven hours, while the local electric company performs
annual maintenance. Everything electrical is going down at midnight,
which means no gas pumps, no cash register, no lights, so no shopping.
Everything goes dark at midnight.

Cool. This happens once a year and it's happening on the night we pick
to stay overnight in Beach. I wonder what it'll all look like.

The Flying J is in the middle of farmland; the only lights to go dark
are at the truck stop.

So I quick buy my jelly beans (it's nearly midnight), head back to the
motor home and wait. Four minutes to go. I stare out the window.
Transfixed.

It's midnight. Nothing happens. I stare. It's two, four, eight minutes
after. Nothing. I'm sad. I want to see what it looks like when the
lights go out. (Silly, silly, silly. It's like wondering what you look
like with your eyes closed, so you go stand in front of a mirror and
close your eyes.)

I soon stop staring out into the lighted world and play a computer
game. At some point, I realize the lights outside are gone. It's dark.
I missed therm going out

Of course, I see nothing.

We climb into bed. I reach up to draw the shades and stop. I'm wowed
by what I see, by what makes the whole evening memorable.

Without man's lights, I can see God's blanket of stars as I've never
seen it before. Huge. Thick with multi-layers of pinpoints of lights.
A gazillion million trillion stars.

Gloriously, the sky twinkles, shimmers, undulates.

I fall sleep. Totally entertained.

My Past In Replay

Can you hear it?

The theme to "The Twilight Zone." Do do Do do Do do Do do.

It's playing because history is repeating itself.

My personal history.

We're in Fargo, ND, with Jake and Josh, our Standard Poodles, at a
dog park. Jake beelines toward a woman and her dog hanging out under
the shelter at the far end of the lot. I, too, head that way. Because,
well, I'm social.

Here's where the theme music gets louder.

The woman is reading a book. John Irving's "The World According to
Garp." A book I read when I was 24, the year it was published. It's an
odd book. It's all over the place. It's not high on my list of great
books to read.

So I ask, "How's the book?"

"Odd," she says. "It's all over the place. I'm almost finished. But
I'm not sure I'd recommend it to anyone."

She says she's 24.

Do do Do do Do do Do do.

"There's a movie, you know, starring Robin Williams," I say.

"Really?" she smiles. "Well, I know what I'm doing tonight!"

We've connected over a book, albeit an odd one, so we chat about a
lot of others things.

Amazing how things go around.

But, for goodness sakes, Garp?

The High Cost of Cleanliness

Can things ever be too clean?

Apparently.

Fastidiousness is key to living comfortably for weeks and weeks in 24
feet. Our motor home (named Otto) is about 24 feet long, so the living
space is a bit shorter. I putter constantly to keep out the litter,
household refuse and clutter.

Socks go in the basket.

Dirty spoons, cleaned and back in the drawer. Soap in the dish, with a
lid. No scum in the sink.

Our other home, the one with many more feet to live in, graciously
consumes the leavings of our life without complaint. But not our motor
home. One thing out of place devolves my harmony into chaos.

So, we (really I) keep things clean. We (really, we) empty the trash
often.

Trash in, trash out.

Herein lies a problem.

We stop at a truck stop in Swanton, Ohio, and, surprise, the diesel
pump declines our credit card. For security purposes. OK. I know the
drill. We pay cash, climb back in Otto, grab the phone and prepare to
call the number on the back of the card. Only I can't find my card. I
have to use Allen's.

We make the call, square things away (another story for another day)
and get back on our way.

But, where is my card?

Think, think, think. When did I use it last? What was I doing? Where
was I going? What was I wearing?

Then it all comes back. A punch in the gut.

Two days ago, we stop at the Warners rest stop just outside Syracuse
for coffee and snacks. I carry a $20 bill and my card inside with me.
I spend $2 and change, use my card, then try to juggle the food and
cups and cash and card as I head back to Otto. I can't do it. I have
no purse. No pockets.

So, I spill my card, the cash and change into the bag with the hot
pretzel.

I hop in Otto, divide the goods, snack, sup, then, yup, scrunch up the
trash. We toss it at the next rest stop.

Remember the bag with the pretzel and my card and the money? Well, I
didn't. Until two days later. Far too late because of my
fastidiousness to rescue the card or the cash. The pretzel was yummy.

Trash in, trash out. Sigh.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Who's Been Sleeping In My Bed?

We're home. Which means this blog rests until we refuel Otto, pack up
us and the dogs, and head out again. Which will be in about six weeks.

But part of what has happened, happened because we were traveling. So,
by extension, it fits. Here's the story.

While we were away, someone stayed in our house. Without an invitation.

We arrive around 5:30 p.m. and our neighbors come out to greet us. One
is back from college (in Florida; we didn't know he was there!) and
another is back from getting dinner (Chinese takeout.) It's nice to
see people we know again ... to have conversations lacking the
requisite bio information (where are you from, how long have you been
on the road, are you retired, do you have children, etc.)

Don't get me wrong. I ADORE life on the road, meeting new people,
hearing their bios, telling mine. But, unless you spend a few days
with someone new, the conversations rarely become deep. Thought
provoking. Our neighbors tell us about the windstorms that swept
through the area (taking a few of our trees with it ... but we have
many, many more) and how our timers worked perfectly over the winter.
Lights on. Lights off. Lights on ... Lights off. There was no out-of-
the-ordinary activity in our house.

Deep. Thought provoking. We grin. We love it.

The dogs seem to grin, too, as we unleash them into their fenced back
yard. They ignore us as we walk along a portion of the fence, making
sure it's intact. They LOVE being home. And free.

We do, too. We hang the leashes up. We're finally untethered.

We throw open the doors and a pleasant, spring scent greets us. No
musty or rank greeting. Just a fresh, clean scent. I think it's the
infusers my girlfriend gave me before we went away. The whole house is
gentle with this aroma.

So we start the routine of returning the house to our living place.
Push the stove and refrigerator back against the wall and plug them
in. Turn the hot water heater back on. Remove the timers. Oh. What's
this? Why is this lamp on the floor?

And, oh, look at that, all of the pictures from the window ledge lay
scattered on the floor. And, OH, EWWW. What is that dried liquid
splattering down the front of our couch? LOOK AT THAT! A foot print.
About the size of a quarter. Four or five toes (I can't remember now)
and now I see, heavens, poop. Little lincoln logs here and there. A
trail of them, leading us through the house. Showing us where whoever
was here went while trying to get out.

And he went everywhere.

None of our window ledges display their pictures or books anymore (the
floor does). Stuff on top of window-front tables is scattered. A jar
of lentils from the kitchen window lay in the sink, next to a broken
coffee cup (that broke, obviously, upon impact from the lentils).

Whoever was here, tried heroically to get out. Going from window to
window.

Somehow, he got in and somehow he got out. We don't know how. But he's
not here now.

We are. We're home.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Homestretch

We cast off from Jekyll Island Tuesday, it's now Wednesday and we'll
be home Thursday.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Failure and Success, Lost and Found

A huge amount of living and giving can happen in two hours.

We pack our lunch (celery and peanut butter, radishes, cookies and
Coke) hop on our bikes and head out to explore a scraggly beach
across the way. We head down the bike path, divert a brief distance
into the woods then spill out to the sea.

Allen is so taken by the man vs nature competition he sees (the sun
bleached, wind blow trees leaning away from the jumble of broken
concrete pieces assembled into a sea wall), that we stay here for lunch.

While we eat, I hear a noise out on the road about 100 yards away. It
sounds like thin metal crunching. We shrug and continue to eat.

A family of four stops by, pushing their bikes through the sand. The
mom looks out to the road and asks, "What's happening?"

I stand up, turn around and am shocked by what I see. Firetrucks.
Rescue vehicles. Ambulances. Policemen. This is a small island. I've
never even seen a cop car.

I volunteer to go snooping (the reporter in me). In addition to all
the rescue personnel and onlookers (me included), I see a motor
scooter on its side, next to a white truck with a crumbled left rear
fender. (Ah. The "crunch" I heard). And I hear cries of pain.

A woman, a sprite of a thing, about 55 years old, is on the pavement,
her head and spine in a neck brace and men, about six of them, trying,
gently, to roll her over onto a litter. Each time they touch her, she
cries, horrible cries. They shy way, and try to calm her. At least
she's living.

I hear a witness tell police the woman was speeding down the road
and lost control of her scooter. She whammed into the truck, then was
flung head over heels about 10 feet away. She was wearing no helmet.

I go back to report my findings to Allen and the awaiting family, who,
like the woman, were riding bikes without helmets. I warn them of the
obvious dangers.

When we ride our bikes past the crash scene after the ambulance
left, I see bubbly red ooze on the road where the woman's head was.
I think it was part of her brain.

I shudder.

And, I wince. I should have gone to investigate the sound when I heard
it. Perhaps I could have been of comfort to the woman as she waited
for help. Perhaps. Perhaps.

Later, I get another chance to offer aid, in a minor way. But I felt,
well, forgiven for failing the earlier Good Samaritan test.

We take a shortcut through the woods, only to discover ourselves
winding aimlessly about on fireroads, laden with sand, leaves and pine
cones. I learn something about the deep woods. The wind doesn't blow
in here. There is no sound but us. It's so still, I can hear
mosquitoes discuss their attack strategy before they take flight. And
it's so hot and humid, my brow perspires like a spigot, flushing my
glasses right off my nose.

Up ahead, I see a gaggle of kids slogging through on their bikes. A
boy, about 10, topples off his, rights himself, then just stands
there. Everyone else keeps going.

As I pass, I look back and say, "Are you OK?" He cocks his head and
lowers his eyes. "I'm OK." He murmurs. He sounds very sad.

"Want some water?"

"Yeah!" The offer perks him up. I can tell he's overheated. He
swallows enough to regain his composure, then pedals off to catch up
with his crew. I feel better, too. I passed this test.


We keep pedaling, too. It seems like we've been here for hours, lost
in the deep woods (see the pic) on sandy, rutted roads. Somehow, my
legs hold up under this abuse and keep moving me forward. Twice we
dismount to carry our bikes over trees and other debris.

Finally, I hear a sound. A hammer. Soon, we see houses. And,
eventually, I hear, what, wind? The sea? Traffic? At least I know were
are close enough to a space open enough to generate sound.

It was all three. We spill out to a side street, which leads to the
main road and our campground is just three miles away. There's the
sea, traffic and I feel the wind.

But the time we arrive, we're exhausted.

And I discover we've been gone not six hours, not five or even three.
Barely two hours.

We did a lot of living in that two hours.

Just a Slice of Life at the Speedway

This is a first for me.

We're watching car races, sitting on wobbly metal bleachers at the
Golden Isle Speedway in a town called Waynesville, GA.

I understand little about qualifying rounds, heats, stock cars, late-
model cars and the like. But I'm loving the action.

Smokers surround me. The man on my left smokes. The woman on my right
smokes. And the man behind me smokes. I'm a reformed smoker. The worst
kind. I can't stand the smell and usually gag or get up and move.

But initially, I neither gag nor leave because when the cars zoom
round and round, I can't smell the cigarettes. Because once the cars
hit the track, it's exhaust, not cigarette smoke, that envelopes me.
Exhaust mixed with burning rubber and dust billows off the track and
coats me. My teeth are gritty. The air is visible.

I'm having a great time. Go figure.

In addition to the air pollution, there's noise pollution. As the cars
zoom round and round, their engines scream at varying degrees of
insanity. And there's a pop and sizzle that explode like firecrackers.
If a car spins out, the track slows while emergency vehicles do their
sweep. But the noise intensifies as the drivers anxiously rev their
engines. Growl. Growl. Growl.

I look around. What a crowd. I enjoy watching them as much as watching
the race. Maybe even more.

Lots of dads brought their sons. You can tell, because the kids are
younger versions of the older guys, in dress, stature and, obviously,
interest.

Whole families have made this their night out. They walk in dragging
coolers filled with stuff to eat and drink, then have their kids haul
the heavy load up the wobbly risers. (Sit high, see more.)

Some people show little interest. A woman behind me, to my left, wears
a camouflage jacket to match her husband's. But she doesn't match his
interest in the race. She reads a book instead. A steady stream of
teens and pre-teens pay more attention to each other and the snack bar
than to the multiple heats warming the track.

A man to my left wears an orange shirt with screaming skulls and a
headwrap of black, red and white bones. He's with an older man in
denim, who's a pretty popular guy. Lots of people stop by to give him
a hug, holler up "Hey!" of just give him a wave.

Many of the women (large and small) wear cropped pants, showing off
tattoos on the sides of their legs, running from their ankles to their
knees They're hanging on to guys (also large and small) wearing cowboy
boots and T-shirts that used to fit better.

The absolute best are three little boys (shown) down to my right who
wear ear protectors and imitate the big boy's game behind them. They
play with their own miniature race cars on one of the wobbly benches.
Someone even spread a bit of red dirt on the seat to emulate a track.

They're having a great time. And so am I.

Friday, April 24, 2009

My AHA! Moment



A co-worker once quipped  I was smarter than I pretended to be.

Although his sarcasm is legend, the truth kernel is, too. On many levels, my ignorance amazes me. And at times, charms me. Like today.

Jacob (a standard poodle who pretends to be a bloodhound) and I are geocaching. (Well, I'm the treasure hunter, following my GPS, while Jacob  just follows his nose.)

As we near the intended site (historic ruins called the Horton House on Jekyll Island), I see a scrawny raccoon frozen in mid-step about 250 feet ahead of us at the side of the road. Jacob stares right at him, but shows no hunterly response. No arched ears, no lowered head, no raised foot to point (yes, Jacob pretends to be a pointer, too). Does he NOT see this creature?

The raccoon, confident he can move along and not retreat, scoots across the road and into the brush that leads to a great salt marsh, where I'm sure his dinner unknowingly awaits.

We move on our way, too. Suddenly Jacob GOES NUTS! He runs in circles  with his nose to the ground, and he whines/sniffs, sounding like a hyperventilating drama king. I get it, Jacob! We're standing on the very spot the raccoon occupied seconds earlier. Hunter Jacob redeems himself.

I calm him down. But it takes a while because he's so excited.

Now, here's my moment. Here's when I notice something that shows for a smart little cookie, I can be so dumb.

I see a path from the spot I am standing on (where the raccoon was seconds ago) back into the woods. Then, across the street, I see the ]continuation of that path, on toward the marsh. And I ponder it. I look back and forth. It's a well worn path.

And I get it (you probably already know it): The raccoon's wanderings are not random. This is the same route he takes daily. Maybe even at the same time daily. Habitually. Epiphany: Is this the genesis of CREATURE OF HABIT? (How charming, if it's so.)

This well worn path in front of me provides safe passage for this scrawny little racoon. Because it's familiar. He knows what to expect. So when we amble into his world, he recognizes potential danger immediately. And freezes to assess it. When he determines no threat exists, he scurries on his way, on his well worn path, on proven grounds. Aha!

All my life, I just assumed wild animals dart or meander about covertly, constantly avoiding potential danger. And, because danger lurks predictably everywhere, the animals skitter here and skitter there, trying to stay out of harm's way. They stay nowhere long enough to carve a path.

I just figured all those paths I crossed in the woods growing up were made by other kids growing up ahead of me. Oh my word. I walked with wild things. And didn't know it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

66 and Still The Best



I love birthdays.

To me, the most important day of the year is the day I was born. It's not a pride thing. It's all about possession.

My birthday is the only day of the year that actually belongs to me. In my head. It belongs to me. I don't need presents or a cake or a big todo (but when it happens, I smile). I don't even need anyone else to know that it's MY birthday. Because I know. It's the day of my birth. I've always loved my birthday. 

Today is my husband Allen's birthday. It belongs to him. I'm a part of this day that belongs to him. And I smile.

We light a match stuck in a cookie to celebrate his birthday. And he smiles. 

I love birthdays. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Just Another Day

The day starts perfectly. With a new friend, Lorraine, stopping by the
motor home to say good-bye.

Lorraine designs and creates exquisite sculptural jewelry (stunning
stuff, really) she then sells at upscale art shows across the country.
She and her husband, Walter, plan to sell at a Hilton Head show this
weekend.

So she's sitting INSIDE my motor home on Jekyll Island, a guest. I get to entertain.
What to do? I offer coffee. She'd love some.

I get the pot perking and we chat, about stuff like God, dogs and
husbands. A good, but brief, girl chat.

The coffee is finished, and the missteps of the day begin. The coffee
is terribly weak. Lorraine loves Starbucks. She takes cream, or at
least milk. We have none. So much for entertaining.

We both sip our bad coffee and promise to write, maybe even get
together again. Makes me smile. Bad coffee's not that big a deal.

Now for misstep No. 2: Allen and I go geocaching. What fun! It's our
first time. We take our GPS and we think we know what we are doing.
But it's so very confusing. We bike and hike for about a mile and
after searching the underpinnings of a bridge for a few minutes, we
realize the booty hides elsewhere.

No big deal, but the GPS tells us, I think, to go back the way we
came. Could that be right? We lose interest. So we return to the motor
home. Where I discover my mistake: I've copied the GPS coordinates for
a different cache, one down the street, not the one ... well, let's
just say it's no big deal.

Now, for misstep No. 3: I've lost my purse. We look everywhere inside
and outside the motor home three times, climb through the car, then
through the craggy corners of our brains trying to remember where we
saw it last. WHEN we saw it last.

I don't carry the purse around much. I don't need to. Allen's wallet
holds the important stuff. Like money. But, my purse has the health
insurance cards, back-up credit cards, my driver's license. And, most
important, my little pink Bible.

So, we've decided the purse is gone. It dropped out of our lives at
some point way back somewhere when we opened the door.

This is a very BIG DEAL.

I will miss that little pink Bible. Everything else can go. But, I
will miss that little pink Bible because of all the stuff I've written
in the margins. And it was a gift from a dear friend.

So the day is now ending, and it's perfect again (well, except for the
purse). I made perfect coffee, yummy chocolate cookies and fixed my
GPS coordinates.

And, you know, I have another Bible.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

My Cold Shoulder and The Little Beggar

We are at the beach on Jekyll Island. Without the dogs.

It's been a long time since we headed out for a day of fun without them.

But we do. And I feel like a bum. Leaving them behind in the motor home (with the air on, of course). When they love the beach so much.

But being at the beach with the dogs is no day at the beach for us.
They don't like to lay in the sand and sunbathe, or nap, or read a
good book. They don't sit and stare at the horizon, just in case a
dolphin leaps into the air or a whale blows his spout. A boat might
unfurl its sails right before our eyes. But the dogs don't care.

They want to chase the birds, jump the waves, run, run, run, play with
people, play with other dogs, and inevitably nature calls and then we
walk around carrying the goody bag until we leave the beach.

That's what we did yesterday.

Today, we leave them behind. And we're sitting on the beach,
sunbathing, staring at the horizon. Just in case.

Dozens of little birds skitter about a few yards away from us (if the boys
were here, these birds wouldn't be.)

We watch them and enjoy their company. There are two larger birds
among these biddy ones. One, who wears a black hood making his eyes
really pop, trots our way. And trots and trots. He stops barely 10
feet away. (Again, not if the boys were here).

He stares at us with those pop eyes. And stares. I know what he wants.
My sandwich.

Allen and I are eating PB&J at the beach and this little guy wants
in on the action. How cute. But we don't feed birds at the beach. They
need to fish for their food, so they don't starve when the tourists go
away.

That's what I say to this little bird.

Still, as I keep nibbling ,  he walks closer. Hmmm. Nibble nibble. Walk walk.  He doesn't believe I'm serious. 
As my sandwich gets smaller, he draws nearer.

He's only about five feet away now and it's breaking my heart. I KNOW
he won't starve, and it's just a little peanut butter. If I drop a
piece in the wind, I think to myself, it will blow over his way and he won't
know I gave in to his begging.

NO! I STAND MY GROUND. I WILL NOT be a part of this bird's death by
starvation.

I WISH THE BOYS WERE HERE.

I close my eyes to the seaside mooch  and gulp the remaining two bites
of my sandwich in one. The  little bird knows it's over and
 flies away. Toward another family eating their lunch at
the beach.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Real Treasure on Jekyll Island


What fun! What fun! What fun!


I'm walking Jacob, my large standard poodle, who unexpectedly darts off the paved trail down a woodsy path to, oh, I don't know, chase specks of dusts in the air. That's just Jacob.

But when he darts, I do, too, because we're tethered to each other, me and this dog. He scrambles through a copse of live oaks, their boughs dripping with Spanish Moss, to the edge of a great sea marsh. So there I am, too, with Jacob, looking out over this great sea of grass.

Jacob and I both look down to see how far we'd have to climb (well, me climb, him jump) to continue this dog's journey. 

"Wait!" it's one of the few commands Jacob often obeys.

What I see excites me to the point of gasping.  Excitedly. I'm thrilled.

Jacob has led me to a treasure. There, embraced by a tree trunk, I find a beat up, metal ammo box and I know exactly what it is. I clap my hands. Like a schoolgirl. Goodie! Goodie! Goodie!

It's a geocaching box, something people hunt for for hours, sometimes days, using their GPS and latitude and longitude coordinates they find online at www.geocaching.com. It's a worldwide adventure game I've never played. But have wanted to play for years.

And today, I'm playing it. Without warning. Backwards. I find the treasure first. But I'm playing it, thanks to Jacob.

I open the box and find it filled with trinkets from other people's lives: a little can of Playdoh, a baby-blue plastic flower ring, an orange rubber bug, a golf tee, an Army patch, religious tracts, seat belt safety notices, a little bag with one sea shell (see the slide show below).

In geocaching culture, you take a trinket, you leave a trinket. That way players collect booty for their treasure chests while replenishing the supply. I take nothing (I want no reward for Jacob's effort) but I leave behind a yellow hair thingy. Just so a piece of me is now in play.

I also find a red spiral notebook, a log, a diary of sorts from the successful treasure hunters, who've left  their sentiments and memories behind for others to read. I sign in (admitting it's an accidental find). Then  I flip through the pages and now know there used to be a golf ball in that can, but it was swapped for a tennis ball. Which was also swapped because it's not there anymore. 

I sit down on the tree trunk because there's so much to read. 

Someone took the wrist band and left a bouncy ball. Someone traded the bag of shells for Arnold the pig. (Must be that little bag had more than one shell at one time.)

And someone "took nothing but memories." Awwww.

Back in the motor home, I continue my backwards game. I log onto the geocaching Web site, join and track down my particular find using the island's zip code and a google map.

After a bit of online sleuthing, I learn my special box went into play Nov. 22, 2005. The guy who left it says this:

"This cache is located on a little finger of land overlooking the marsh. This is one of the best places on the island to watch the sun set. My family spends the week of Thanksgiving on the island and has watched many sunsets from this location. In the summer time don't come without bug spray. The container you're looking for is an ammo can."

I also learn 247 people before me peaked inside that can. I'm No. 248.

I also learn another geocache treasure is hidden on the island.

Goodie! Goodie! Goodie! Tomorrow, I'm playing this game forward. What fun. What fun, What fun.









Saturday, April 18, 2009

Lots of Country To See -- Later

I've sat here, in the motor home as Allen drives, for three days.
Passing by some potentially fabulous nooks and crannies of the USA.
They're in our dust. Unvisited. Because we're in a hurry to reach the
Atlantic Ocean.

Our destination: Jekyll Island for eight days. Which is like a
vacation for us. That's an odd way to look at it, isn't it? We've been
"on vacation" since Jan, 3, when we left a wintery Baldwinsville, NY,
to snow bird in the South.

Since then, though, we've rarely stayed put more than a few days.
We've traveled to Texas, to Florida, back to Texas then to southern
California, then up the West Coast, all the way up, to Seattle, then
back down, and back across the US.

We're tired, and weariness focuses Allen on getting to the beach. So I
watch the world fly by. And mourn the loss of each little nugget of
potential fun as we zip along Route 82 through the Arkansas Delta, the
Mississippi Delta, rural Alabama and then the boonies of Georgia.

I absorb the countryside via billboards I read quickly as we wind
pass. Here's what we didn't do:
* Check out the historic Blues Highway in Arkansas (Route 61)
* Visit the Delta Blues Museum
* Stop by the Jim Henson exhibit near where a little Jim Henson
played with his best friend Kermit. (No kidding.)
* Explore the BB King Museum and Delta Cultural Center
* Visit catfish hatcheries
* Drive the Natchez Trace
* Learn about the cotton industry at the Cottonlandia Museum
* Explore a prehistoric Indian burial ground, then a modern cemetery
near where a Baptist Church will soon be built
* Visit a Jefferson Davis historic site (it's where he was captured by Union soldiers)
*Attend a Sacred Harp Sing
* Walk through a Confederal Soldiers Park
* Take in a race at the Golden Isles Speedway (we MIGHT still do that
one)

These tourist treasures aren't lost to us. I've added them to the
possibilities of next year's agenda, when we might return to Route 82
to take us all the way to White Sands, NM.

Well, maybe not next year. But I know we will be back.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Coming To Terms With Dinner

We'd have never found Olivers if we hadn't had a fight.

Well, not so a much a fight as a coming to terms, again, about just
where we're going to eat. His terms: Something familiar, common,
dependable, reliably clean, like McDonalds or a fine steakhouse. My
terms: Something off the wall, indigenous to the land we're driving
through. Like Big Al's Big Butts, the BEST smoked B-B-Q in the World.

We cooled our "coming to terms," gnawed on hunks of cheese instead,
and got back on the road.

Of course we got hungry again. And in Cuthbert, Ga., on Route 82,
Oliver's homemade roadside signs buttered up both of us: down-home
barbecue (for me) and sumptuous steak (for Allen).

We nearly pass it by because it doesn't look like a restaurant at all.
It's a simple, small pine-plank rectangle, nothing special, stuck
between a few fields (We park in one of those fields).

Once inside, again, nothing special. Eight tables, A few diners and us.

Then as the people began streaming in, I notice something special.
Everyone seems to know each other. A young boy in a baseball outfit
walks in with his mom and dad and everyone wants to know: Who won?
(His team won.) Newlyweds snuggle up to one another on the same side
of a table. How do I know they're newlyweds? Because the waitress
talks to them about their wedding she attended.

And a little girl dining with her grandparents draws a picture for the
waitress to hang on the wall. The waitress, the owner's daughter-in-
law (see, I'm getting to know everyone, too) leans over a little
banister and coos over that picture. The little artist clasps her
little hands under her chin, grins and twirls on one foot. She's so
proud.

Ken owns this down-home goodness. And he's pretty curious about the
strangers in his midst (us). So, he ambles over for a chat.

"Where y'all from?" he's grinning so wide.

"Just north of Syracuse, NY," I'm grinning, too.

"Why, y'all lost!" He's laughing at his own joke. We're giggling. We
can't belly laugh because we're too stuffed with perfectly moist,
tender barbecue (Allen didn't order steak after all).

Ken's a storyteller (that's why I put that funny picture of him -- and
a customer -- on this blog ... he's just a cut up; more serious pics
are below). While we finish our peach cobblers, he entertains us with
amazing things about this little eatery. It's only 6 months old.
Before that, this man and his son (who does most of the cooking) were
-- ready for this? Roofers, down in Florida, cashing in on hurricane
repairs, while looking for another line of work.

Neither of them did much cooking, except when they were out hunting.
But that hunting food was good, Ken said, good enough to convince them
to cook for others.

Therefore, Olivers, their last name, was born.

Ken leaves us to visit with others as his son, daughter-in-law and
Lori, the hired help, see to the business. I get it. They do the work,
he drums up the business.

As we leave, I find Ken outside, storytelling with yet another
customer (about birds stealing stuff from a hornet's nest). I bet
that man comes back for more, like us (if we're ever in these parts
again), not just for the yummy barbecue, but for the goodness served
up with it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Stop, Look and Listen


Pine Bluff, AR, got our business today because of a roadside sign for
diesel.

It'd get lots more business if it added a roadside sign for its murals.

Thirteen of these masterpieces stretch out sideways from Main Street.
We walk back and forth across the main drag like laces on a sneaker,
heading up to the historical courthouse featured at the end of the
road and on one of the murals (the one above ... click on it ... see 
how massive it is? How lifelike? That's Allen in the middle, with suspenders. )

We're alone, though, like Pine Bluff wasn't expecting us. Which is
sad. Because it embarked upon this mural project to attract tourists
and one Web site said it was working. But it doesn't look like it's
working today. We're alone. Well, almost.

There's a barber shop still open for business, and a few customers
hang around outside. A few doors down, a man in a pink suit and white
hat sits in front of a closed store and next to a buggy overflowing
with stuffed garbage bags.

It looks like it's just us and them.

Most all the other shops either closed for the day (it's after 5 p.m)
or have been exhaled into the suburbs, knocking the breath out of this
little historic downtown.

I look around and see a classic take on aging gracefully -- or not.
Imagine a town from the 1940s, like Bedford Falls. That's what Pine
Bluff feels like to me. Only George finally left to tour the world.
Classic architecture embraced by renovation stands in the shadows of
its cousins in disrepair. A dynamic aviation mural leads to a ghetto-
like collection of apartments. The promise of restoration enlivens a 
gorgeous 1924 movie house. But when?

To enjoy these paintings, we navigate past these buildings and through
a sea of shards, rusted pipes and a roped-off excavation sites.

Well, it's not nearly as bad as it sounds. The town is clean and the
wide streets allow for safe zig-zagging.

And the murals. Wow. Ignore my blathering about the town's bad
breath and be consumed by the art.

My favorite is the main street scene from 1888 (above). It captivates
me. I stop. I stare. I start taking lots of pictures.

I listen. From somewhere, over my head, I hear a clear, tenor voice,
singing a beautiful, unfamiliar collection of notes. A riff. Where's
it coming from? I look over my shoulder, thinking I'd see a nearby car
with the windows rolled down, the radio blasting or a loud speaker on
the side of a building angled my way. Nope.

I continue to take pictures, but the voice sings to me to stop. And
just listen. I stand there, eyes closed and listen. It's surreal.
Who's singing?

And then I see him. Around the corner. It's the man in pink (below). The man
pushing the grocery cart, wearing a pink suit and a white hat. He's
singing. Please. Don't stop.

He doesn't. He's crooning. Serenading an unseen audience.

I give him a silent ovation as we walk away.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Real Dog Day

Today, Bo joined the Obamas in the White House.

It's a milestone day for dogs, so I'm telling a dog story. This one is
about the ugliest dog I've ever seen in my life. And I saw her today.

I'm sorry I left my camera behind. Because now I have to describe this
little dog. And you'll just have to believe what I say is true.

We're in Norman, OK, at a dog park, hoping our Standard Poodles can
work out their motor home kinks. As we enter the small park, I
notice bales of hay set up inside.

Then I notice a young, delicate woman, maybe 20, sitting on one of the
bales, cradling this ugly dog.

I stare (how rude). I think the dog's a failed Jack Russell Terrier/
Chihuahua experiment. Something went badly wrong. She is a little
bigger than a normal Chihuahua, with a chunky midsection and sporadic,
wiry blonde hair.

I mean, it grows a little here, a little there.

Her pointy ears are hairless, as are her tiny feet and rat-like
tail. She has wavy, very thin hair on her back, legs and snout, and a
mohawk of blonde on her head down her neck. Her skin is mostly pink,
with accidental splotches of brown.

Long, whimsical eyebrows straggle above her bug eyes. Those brows flutter
when she growls. Oh, yes. She growling because I  extend a hand
in friendship and she's not impressed.

"Oh, she's mean," her owner apologizes. "Just a plain ol' mean dog.
She doesn't like people or other dogs."

Mean Dog's eyebrows flutter. She stares at me (how rude!) and dares
me to just try that hand of friendship again. I learn fast.

Here's Mean Dog's story.

Her owner found her alongside the road about three years ago.

"How'd you pick her up if she's so mean?"

"She was hungry."

After a few bowls of food and a good night's sleep, Mean Dog showed
her mean side.

"Each time she'd growl at me, I'd whup her butt," her owner said. "I
did a lot of whuppin'."

Who'd a thought this delicate young woman would raise her hand and
whup. (For the record, I disapprove of hitting animals. I endorse the
voice-activated control system.)

It didn't take long, she said, before she finally whupped Mean Dog
into submission.

It's clear the ugly, cantankerous old pooch feels safe on her owner's
lap and enjoys the warmth of their friendship. She's content to sit
there, not be touched by anyone else, and just growl if anyone tries.