I came across this picture while cleaning my desk just now. It was purchased some years ago on a road trip from California to Alaska when we stopped in Prince Rupert, British Columbia. I was so struck by how awesome and majestic it is. I just HAD to have it.
Then the lady manning the desk told me about the local area it was taken, a place that attracts lots of these noble and beautiful birds:
the city dump.
Oh, reality! You are so ironic sometimes, aren’t you?
“Why are you holding back?” Dave asks, gesturing for me to follow after him.
“I’m afraid the bear will eat me!” I hiss and cower behind the car.
“Don’t be silly!” he scoffs, then hurries to join the 800 other gawking tourists jam-packed by the side of the road.
Three minutes earlier, while driving leisurely through Yellowstone National Park, we’d come upon a dozen or so cars parked beside the road. Eager tourists pointed and snapped photos of a mama black bear and her three rambunctious cubs. While I was thrilled to see this sight – not just one bear, but four! – I had heard one too many stories about protective mother bears ripping off people’s heads to heedlessly rush up to the bears. So it was that Dave hurried to the side of the road for a look while I hung back with visions of this in my mind:
After observing the lack of bloody death for a few minutes, I realize that the mama bear and her cubs are far more interested in eating grass and grubs than me, so I venture closer and manage to snap a picture or two.
My experience of wildlife photography went something like this:
OMG there’s a bunch of bears! Grab the camera! Dash across the road, trying not to faceplant as you keep larger and more scrumptious looking tourists between yourself and the bears. Fumble with the camera and tripod. Realize you have the wrong lens. Run back to the car and and dive into the piles of travel detritus. Paw through said detritus like a starving wildebeest after a morsel of food until you grab the right lens. Skitter back to setup. Attempt to screw new lens on while keeping track of various lens caps. Realize tripod is on uneven ground. Nervously eye wild creatures. Adjust tripod legs. Try to remember rudiments of basic photography. Fail, and put the dang setting on sports.
Try to use autofocus; hear whir of motor for so long that you flip it off autofocus and focus manually. Take a picture. Realize that you need the remote trigger, which is back in the car. Stampede back to the car again to find it. Dig through the junk everywhere and locate it after lengthy and passionate cursing.
Breathing hard, make it back to your camera again and after some fiddling, begin snapping pictures. As mama bear drifts closer to the roadside, try not to imagine her claws sinking into your skull.
At about this time the park ranger usually shows up and orders tourists back at least 100 yards, first using his nice voice and then when ignored, bellowing into his loudspeaker like a roid raging weightlifter to get back and while you’re at it, PARK OFF THE ROAD, DAMMIT.
Later, in the safety of your hotel room, review your pictures. Complain to Dave:
“They’re all so crappy compared to the professionals.”
Listen to Dave try to console you, then go back to berating yourself for general idiocy and talentlessness.
Remember the first suggestion from the photography books you consulted prior to the trip. Images should be set on high quality RAW. Check settings and find that it’s on low quality. Howl in agony.
Then come home and write a blog post. Take comfort that at least you succeed in that!
There are places that we travel to that we never forget. They embed themselves in our minds because of their beauty, majesty, symbolism, romantic history, or exotic splendor. These are the places that, when we are old and infirm, we will remember with a smile, and perhaps an embellished story or three to our grandchildren or great-grandchildren.
There are also places that we never forget for reasons not quite so awe-inspiring. Garberville, California is one such place. Last year, while in the middle of a rather agonizing bout of back pain, I decided that I simply had to go up to Crater Lake, Oregon. My long-suffering husband Dave did little to talk me out of this notion, 27 years of marriage having convinced him that when travel was concerned I would only be put off for so long. So there we were, driving our aging Nissan Maxima up the 101 freeway past San Francisco and north toward Oregon. After a drive of many hours, shortly after nightfall, we decided to gas up and eat dinner in a pleasant little hamlet of pine trees and rolling hills just off the freeway. As it was a Sunday evening, we feared that not many places would be open, but we were in luck! A little café was not only lit up, but it saw a steady stream of fellow travelers and locals.
The whiteboard above the counter listed numerous healthful and popular eating choices such as are often found in Northern California — alfalfa sprouts, tofu, and so forth. Dave was pleased to note the establishment’s beer selection, as he always is. The cafe was decorated with the flowing hippie-like artwork of what I presume to be a local artist or two, and various other hallmarks of small town life – a stand for the local newspaper, some posters about the softball league and announcements about garage sales and women’s club gatherings. We noted, with pleasure, the older gentleman with a long flowing gray and white beard who stumped up the stairs to the second level of the restaurant while carrying an old, well- used fiddle.
Music! How delightful.
Soon after he began playing, however, the hideous scratchings, howlings, and shriekings emitting from the instrument caused our opinions to change somewhat. No one else seemed bothered by the awful commotion, but we found it far from relaxing. I should note here that neither one of us are music snobs. Back in the misty years of our youth, David learned to strum a bit on the guitar, but hasn’t picked it up since, and my last musical endeavor occurred in the sixth grade when I learned — and promptly forgot — a recorder.
Dave usually takes quite a while figuring out what he wants to eat and even longer choosing a beer, so after ordering I fled to the porch, away from the “music.” Seating myself on a well-used plastic chair, I observed the surprising number of local inhabitants out for an evening stroll. I say surprising number because the town was quite small, barely much more than a few shops, now shuttered for the evening. I noticed that the two dozen or so people wandering around streets at this hour seemed to include a larger than usual assortment of dogs. Being a dog lover, they caught my eye.
“Look, dogs!” I told Dave when he came out to join me, beer in hand.
“I don’t like the looks of these people,” he said. “Keep an eye on the car.”
“But they like dogs!” I exclaimed. How could such people be untrustworthy in any way?
Dave gave me an unimpressed look. He is a great lover of dogs, as long as they don’t eat, poop, bark, destroy anything, or look at him. So, basically, the stuffed kind. Or the kind that populate that painting with all the dogs smoking and playing poker.
I looked closer at the dogs. Usually they lacked leashes, or their leashes were made of ratty pieces of rope that the dogs’ owners must have found on the road somewhere. The dogs looked perfectly content to stay in their little pack, however. Perhaps this was because the human members of such a pack rather more closely resembled homeless dogs. None of the humans seemed to be wearing shoes, man and woman alike, nor did they seem to have availed themselves of a bathing facility any time in the recent past. Several of the men wore long dreadlocks, and several of the women may have run a comb through their hair in the previous week, although it was kind of hard to tell. The expressions on these people’s faces were usually rather serene and included a happy grin or two. There was loud talking and some skipping, too, as I recall.
One and one began to add up to the expected total of two. Here we were in Northern California — Humboldt county — surrounded by people who look like they dwelled under the bridge.
It was about that time that the proprietor of the establishment came out and informed us that drinking beer on the porch was specifically forbid by law and that we needed to go back in and endure Grandpa’s horrible scratchings upon the formerly noble instrument known as a violin just like everybody else.
Well, all right, maybe they left that last part out.
Dave seems to recall that the food wasn’t half bad, although I have no such memory. Suffice it to say that we ate our meal rather speedily and continued on our way, happily unscathed by the experience.
While in the course of writing this little blog post, I asked David if he remembered our visit in Garberville. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s when we stopped in the pot capital of California. There were a bunch of bums and dogs.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a rather concise summation of this little tale.
If this is a travel blog why are you blathering about kittens, ziggurats, and palm trees?
This being my first post, I feel I should declare my intentions with this blog. If you choose to spend your precious life’s moments with me, what can you expect to find here?
Travel stuff, definitely, but perhaps not in the way you are used to reading it. Photos, notes about destinations, impressions, memories, histories, various place-related details, all these are fair game.
But here’s the thing. I love to travel and I’ve been blessed enough to do a fair amount of it in my life, so this blog will consist of what I hope will turn out to be interesting tidbits about the places I’ve seen and those that yet remain on my bucket list. But I’m also a writer, a thinker of sorts, and an idea factory. Because of that, I will at random times post about creativity, ancient history, cats, dogs, birds, rhinoceri, Tasmanian devils, my latest writing project, mosaics, sci fi television shows, bunions, pepperoni pizza, the zombie apocalypse, and ebola.
So, basically anything.
For the time being, however, I will try to restrain my wandering mind to the experience of travel.
Back in the Day
Once upon a time, in the 1960s, a recently discharged Army veteran in his late twenties named Leon fled the frigid, economically depressed hamlet of his youth – Cowansville, Pennsylvania. He drove a Rambler across the country to the sprawling desert metropolis of Phoenix, Arizona, where he promptly set up residence in a small apartment owned by an entrepreneurial Chinese man. Not only did he settle here because he wished to escape the brutal Pennsylvania winters, but he also because he desired to escape the eligible bachelorettes that would appear regularly on the sofa at precisely the time he returned from work, courtesy of his mother. Phoenix seemed a paradise to young Leon, who was welcomed by the clear, hot breeze, wide Western sky, and comely beer joints off 16th street.
“The summer heat didn’t bother me,” Leon proclaims, remembering. “I would come home from work and cool down by taking a cold bath.” He then whiled away his evenings in the local bar, further cooling down with the aid of cheap beer.
One day Leon’s landlord stopped by his place and, wiping a glistening trail of sweat off the end of his nose, proclaimed, “Why don’t you turn the cooler on?”
“It is on! This is as cold as it gets in here,” Leon told him.
Whereupon the kindly Chinese landlord rushed off, looking embarrassed. Soon, the evaporated cooler was repaired and the thermostat dipped beneath triple digits for the first time since he had arrived in town.
“I just thought that’s how it was here,” he says. “I didn’t know any different.”
Fast forward to the late 70s, when Leon’s family – wife, daughter (me!), and son – now lived in a brick ranch-style home off Roma avenue in central Phoenix. Here we children whiled away bucolic summer afternoons picking cholla cactus spears from our arms, lying limp with heat prostration in front of the television set, and splashing away in the cold, chlorine soaked waters of the neighborhood swimming pool. For some reason, my brother and I occasionally walked the three blocks to the pool without wearing shoes. This inevitably became a sort of exercise in agony as we skittered across sizzling hot asphalt streets and leaped upon whatever scraggly bit of grass was tough enough to survive the blast oven heat. There we would pause as the pain from our burning feet subsided and we steeled ourselves for the dash to the next tiny urban oasis until at last we reached the sparkling crystal waters of the city pool. It was those same sparkling crystal waters where I got my first look at an adult male penis. Granted, it was underwater, and for some bizarre reason the owner of said appendage had it wrapped up in an ace bandage, but still. One should mark such momentous occasions.
Now, where was I?
Yes, life in Phoenix. It is very hot, and dry, and few green plants grow there. Scraggly bushes are called trees (manzanita). When you open the car door you are met with an explosion of face-singeing air. People who exercise at midday are routinely given psychiatric referrals. Adults terrorize children by reading histories of the time before air conditioning, when people sprayed down adobe walls and slept on the rooftops to cool off. It is a place of fire ants and German cockroaches and water bugs, that most horrid of all creatures because they not only appear, in their three inch long dull brown glory, but they fly around at night like those demonic monkey men from the Wizard of Oz, only worse. The buzz of cicadas is a loud, ceaseless drone, and in July and August the oppressiveness of the heat splits apart under the onslaught of dust-laden monsoon winds. Temperatures drop, lightning splits the sky, and a torrent of hard rain dumps onto bare desert earth, filling arroyos with rushing brown water.
Summertime also brought an event of a different kind to our family. We put aside our popsicles, flip flops, and short shorts (it was the 70s, people), piled into our cab-over camper/Datsun pickup and rumbled across the country on that most American of activities – a road trip. I will rhapsodize about the joys of eating nothing but bologna sandwiches and drinking nothing but Carnation instant milk and staying in off the beaten path KOAs, and in some other post. Suffice it to say that after many miles, just when the camper smelled as ripe as a soccer player’s Dr. Scholl’s insert, we arrived in Cowansville, Pennsylvania, that most glorious abode of my father’s side of the family.
Here, I beheld a green-cloaked paradise unlike any I’d ever experienced. Plant life choked the forests – ferns and vines and leafy deciduous trees dozens of feet tall. Cool creek water tasted free of harsh-tasting minerals. Creaking wooden floors and the smell of mildew. Lightning bugs and deer bounding proud but frightened across grassy fields. Weenie roasts and distinctive eastern accents and wide steel gray rivers spanned by rusted, arched bridges. One lane country roads and sweet summer corn sold in carts. The sky peeked out through dappled leaves, and the air heavy and wet, clung to your skin like warm lotion. The houses here were multistory, with dark damp basements and bat-cluttered attics.
My cousins laughed at me for wearing a jacket in the evening cool, but that was all right, that was fine, because it was beautiful here, and our arrival was an event, and no one knew it, no one really understood it, but this became the definition of travel for me. Newness and wonder and sensory overload. Delight and open-heartedness, and the mountains in the distance, purple at the horizon but craggy, regal, and piercing the sky itself. Calling for elemental forces and creation, and me.