Into the smoke and out again

As I talked about in my last post, I hosted my Bruce and nephew at my house for a while and then drove them home to Montana. They had been rising late mornings the whole time, so when I woke them up very early on travel day, I was surprised that they stayed awake. Of course, we did swing through a coffee place and get them both drinks with sugar and caffeine which had become a habit while they stayed. So when we came upon the exit for Multnomah Falls at 8:30 am, I make a quick decision to pull in. It’s the most visited tourist spot in the state, but I thought at that time of morning we might have a chance to get up close.

As we approached the falls, new big signs announced that no one was allowed in without making a free reservation first. I had never heard of this development, but I wasn’t shocked. This place is so consistently packed that the parking lots are nearly always closed because there just isn’t room for more vehicles. The trails are often jammed as well. My guess is that this is an attempt to reduce crowd sizes. I was stubborn though, “Stick with me and let’s see how far we get,” I said to the kids. The whole place is surrounded by metal fencing now (so ugly), and there is a single gate with a table and an umbrella over it, for the guard to stand and check reservations. No one was standing there except some tourists looking around and wondering what to do. I went zoop, right through the gate and around the table, and nonchalantly walked up the trail to the waterfall, kids in tow. I’ll get a reservation next time, now that I know this exists.

A couple of accomplices to my criminal acts. The shot made it all worth it.

We rode in the car for hours and hours, kids periodically trading places to share the front seat. They stayed mostly awake the entire day, and we chatted sometimes and were quiet sometimes. We came upon smoke from wildfires once we entered Washington state, and the smoke got thicker as we passed into Idaho, and then Montana. We got bored after a while, and with many hours left to go, I tried radio. No local signals of course, because they faded as soon as we left a town, so I plugged in my phone and dialed up a podcast, Stuff You Should Know, which is seriously entertaining and for all ages. But the topics were unfortunate this time – I got squirmy and skipped to the next topic, which made me squirm even more. When we stopped at a Starbucks, I logged onto their WiFi and downloaded an audio book that I remember liking, that was about the right length. Then we began listening to The Twenty-One Balloons, by William Pene Du Bois. It’s a fantastical tale about a fed up teacher who decides to escape his life by flying away in an amazing hot air balloon and accidentally comes across a secret society on a lost island that kidnaps him in order to ensure their continued anonymity. Three days later the volcano Krakatoa blows and everyone escapes the island by the skin of their teeth. The teacher is found in the sea and becomes an instant media sensation, thus the opposite of his dream. But the story ends with him planning yet another hot air balloon escape. It ended twenty minutes before we arrived at their home. Perfect.

The kids helped unload and within minutes were gone with friends. As it should be. My sister-in-law was at her night shift at the ER. Tanner and I went over to the neighbors so he could help them move out the old couch and in the new couch and matching chair. Then we settled down and talked well into the night before I finally dropped off to sleep.

The next morning I got to say hi to Laurie when she got home. She gave me a tour of their awesome huge garden and then said goodnight. The rest of the entire family, including the dogs, all piled into the truck and off we went to find a lake.

Morning sun through the telltale orange of wildfire smoke.
These were the Montana skies as we drove to the lake.

My brother told me that the skies over Montana have been swathed in wildfire smoke for a long time. One of the very big ones is close to Big Hole, where he took me last summer, but none are close enough to worry them about safety. At one point during the trip, I tried to tease my brother about criminal activities, which prompted Brandon to immediately throw me under the bus and say, “You mean like sneaking into a waterfall?” A point for you, Brandon. A point for you. Once we got pretty high up into the mountains, Tanner pulled to the side of the road and said there was a waterfall he remembered. We all got out to see. It turned out to be so amazingly beautiful and fun to play in that we spent a long time there.

Who’s a happy dog?!

I handed Tanner my camera to take a picture of me, and he was content to hold onto it and just keep taking photos. That worked out well. I was able to play more and then got to see all the treasures on my memory card when I got the camera back. This part of the river cascaded across huge slabs of rock, as you can see. They were wide and smooth and very easy on the feet. Where you see us holding arms in the air is for balance, since some rocks had algae and they could be slippery. It was so hilarious watching the dogs gain confidence and begin leaping about, even the tiny one, Ryno. Everyone was enjoying this stop.

The lake, under smoky skies.

Tanner had thought for a Tuesday the road would be empty and held out a hope that we might have the lake to ourselves. We passed many people on the narrow, gravel road however. It was clear that the pandemic habits of going outside for fun were still in full force. When we arrived at the lake, the shore was full of people and Tanner was amazed. He said he had never seen so many people there, and that was on a weekend. But we found the one last place to park and access the lake from the road.

Brandon beat everyone to the lake and was soon fishing. No surprise there. Once I changed into a swimsuit I began easing into the cold lake water. Brandon got jealous and eventually put down his pole and joined me swimming. Tanner inflated the SUP board and Megan, I mean Bruce, asked if anyone else wanted it first. We declined and she headed out into the lake. The dogs went crazy from the shore, so she paddled back and all three jumped on!

Bruce paddles a happy Rizzo, Wrigley, and Ryno.
I loved watching her out there with the dogs. As the day progressed, the skies grew smokier and more ominous.
Off they went to the horizon.

Tanner began fishing and I played on the stand up paddle for a while too. The dogs weren’t too sure about trusting me to keep them safe on the lake. But the little one, Ryno, jumped on board and we went for a ride. Once the other dogs saw that Ryno came back alive, they started whining and I pulled close to shore and they jumped on too. I handed control of the board back to Bruce, and wandered around taking photos of wildlife.

On our way home we agreed that the smoke had thickened during the day.

Too soon, Tanner told us it was time to go. Brandon had football camp, and the grown ups were planning to go to an outdoor Shakespeare performance in a town south of their town. Football camp worked out, but Shakespeare did not and we exchanged it for an awesome sushi restaurant instead. The food was wonderful and I finally got to hang out with Laurie, who is always working nights and I don’t get to see much of her. After dinner we went and had drinks at their favourite local dive bar, and it was everything you want a dive bar to be! The server knew Tanner and immediately began berating him for pulling a prank at a competing bar that she got blamed for. While we sat there, friends came by and pulled up chairs and were unanimously pleased to see me, having heard about me already. It was trivia night at the bar and we played heartily but were terrible at it. It was so much fun.

The sunrise in smoky skies.

The next morning I left early and the skies stayed orange and hazy. When the sun rose in front of me I could look directly at it and while it should have been full daylight, it felt like dusk. In Coer d’Alene, Idaho the skies finally cleared and I actually went to a car wash and washed my car to get the film of dried ash off the outside of it! I made terrible time and hit construction and crawled through narrow mountain passes, but when signs mentioned a view point for Mt. Rainier, I could not resist.

Mt. Rainier, at 14, 411 feet (4392 m) is stunning on the landscape. Especially when skies are clear.
I used my fancy camera to zoom in.
…and zoom in some more. See the ice climbers? (jk)
A mother and daughter, probably as tired as me of being in a long line of cars crawling along after being stopped in construction, took my photo. I took theirs too.

Finally I arrived home and kissed my kitty and slept in my quiet house once more.

13 thoughts on “Into the smoke and out again

  1. It’s fun to read about your ‘new-found’ family, Crystal. What a gift. I enjoyed both the tales and the photos. What nice kids and good of you to play auntie!

    Smoke has been hanging over us as well. This time from California. And our new heat wave is here, as I suspect it is where you live. Adding insult to injury, our air conditioner went south on us. We are now sitting in our living room with a fan providing much needed relief. Our AC man is supposed to show up this afternoon with a new fan for our heat pump. After that we will zip into Medford to retrieve Quivera who suffered from major ground squirrel damage! We had a population explosion this summer. As of yesterday, I’d caught 100 and taken them across the river to Squirrel City!


    1. Yes, I am enjoying getting to know my new family. I haven’t had a real chance to be aunt to anyone until now, so it’s a treat. ÔŁĄ

      Oh dear, poor Quivera. It's hard to imagine ONE HUNDRED dang squirrels. They must have thought Quivera was Shangri-la and planned a whole new colony in there. Doesn't it just figure that the AC would go out during another heat wave? Pedro and I have missed much of the smoke already. Skies were mostly clear up until we left town Monday. Our area has been spared this summer so far. We got home Friday night and it's smoky. New fires, or new wind direction, or something. We're under orange skies again, like everyone else.

      1. We’ve sure enjoyed our role as aunts and uncles Crystal. I regard it as an opportunity to turn our nieces and nephews into nature lovers. ­čÖé If they become environmentalists and more liberal… all the better. ­čÖé
        Poor Quivera, indeed. She’s being gussied up now for a new family. Peggy and I are buying a new truck and trailer and will be hitting the road. More on that in future blog…
        I’m looking out the window now at smoke that has been hanging out here seemingly for months! Or at least weeks. Fortunately, our area has escaped fires so far this year. I feel for Northern California, however. The Caldor Fire brought back oh so many memories of growing up, playing and working in the area. ÔÇôCurt

  2. I’ve been reading your posts in bits and pieces but never get to the comment stage. Having a hard time sitting still very long. I’m so glad you got to spend more time with the new family. I loved reading all this and the next one. Beautiful scenery and golly, the deer! Hope you are staying out of this smoke. I’m not going outside at all. Thinking of you. Sorry I’m so far behind. I’ve torn up the house.

    1. Marlene, never a need to apologize! I am delinquent with reading posts always. I’m glad you are able to shelter from the smoke. I’ve been watching the satellite loop today and I see that the westerly winds are clearing out a lot of the smoke from our area. We are fortunate. I hope the air will seem a little cleaner to you tonight and tomorrow. What’s happening at the house that you’re tearing it up for? And yes!! I am grateful to be having the chance to get to know my new family and I’m glad they have welcomed me into their lives. I am grateful for this crazy new story line in my life.

  3. Oh my!! That is a tall mountain you have there! ­čś« I had no idea it was that tall. What a great creek stop you made! I’d love that too. And the photos of the dogs and the girl on the sup are brilliant. You know how to have a grand time. Over here it will be a bit different (still grand but not like this).

    1. That mountain is just outside of Seattle. It’s often a visitor’s first glimpse of the city as they fly in: the tall buildings of the city with a gigantic volcano RIGHT THERE. Portland has something similar with another beautiful mountain called Mt. Hood, which is smaller, at “only” 11,240 feet (3,426 m) which is just outside of the city and is a remarkably sight when you’re on an airplane flying in. ÔŁĄ (I'm a little bit kookoo for mountains…)

      1. In Ljubljana you will see some mountains too if visibility is good. Which reminds: bring warm clothes! It can be chilly there. I remember an American visitor saying that Ljubljana reminded him of Portland. Or was it Denver? Hmmmm.

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