The North Fork Toutle River valley, west of Mt. St. Helens, obscured in the clouds.

Earlier this month, my two dear friends Norman and Rodel invited me to spend the day with them. The plan was to drive up to Mt. St. Helens. That day the partly cloudy sky was slowly clearing as we made the trip, and we had fingers crossed for a mountain view when we got there. Sadly, the clouds remained clustered around the peak of Mt. St. Helens. We had a great day together, and the views were gorgeous (as you can see above), but we never did get to see the mountain.

Their idea stayed in my head. Sunday morning I had to run an errand, and as I was driving I looked from a hilltop near my home and saw crystal clear in front of me: Mt. Rainier, 80 miles distant as the crow flies, indicating that the air was very clear. I immediately looked East and saw Mt. St. Helens (38 miles) bold and clear, rising on the horizon. I made a decision right there to head back to the volcano, on this brilliantly sunny day.

I stopped first at the Visitor’s Center, because there is a 3/4 mile trail that’s supposed to be lovely, and has a view of Mt. St. Helens. I asked an employee where to find the trail, and she asked which trail, and before I knew it she had convinced me to skip the one at the visitor’s center and to instead drive another hour down the road to the Hummocks Trailhead.

Hoffstadt Creek Bridge is 370 feet (113 m) high and 600 feet (183 m) long.

On the way I stopped for a bridge overlook. There are four similar bridges that span deep mountain canyons on the way to the mountain, with fascinating and eye-catching architecture. I like the look of the curved bridges better, but this straight one gives you an idea of what they look like.

Do not adjust your set, this is a perfectly focused photograph of Noble Firs.

Something that always baffles me is the eye-crossing effect of looking at the forests of Noble Fir planted by the Weyerhaeuser Company. These trees are the same age and look like exact duplicates of themselves for acres upon acres. Your eyes get confused trying to make sense of what you’re seeing. A Ranger I met at the Johnston Ridge Observatory a couple years ago called them Lego Trees, and that’s apt.

The road to the Johnston Ridge Observatory is closed for winter. But the road is open as far as the Hummocks Trailhead. It’s a clear trailhead with ample parking. On this sunny weekend day, half the spaces were filled. It makes me happy that so many people want to get outside and do things in November. During the winter I’m more inclined to curl up with my laptop and a blanket. Maybe I’m projecting, but I am so proud of myself when I do something ambitious in winter weather, that I am proud of all those other people too!

Sign at the beginning of the trail.

With the sun low in the sky, I faced directly into it. That was annoying, but it also made exaggerated shadows that added interest to the scene.

I arrived at 2:45 pm and moved quickly down the trail, aware that sunset is 4:30. It felt comfortably warm at about 52 degrees, but as soon as the sun set it would drop quickly to freezing. I did not want to be caught out wandering the valley after sunset.

The trail was well-worn and easy to follow, and lovely. It travels through the famous Mt. St. Helens hummocks. These hummocks are big chunks of the former peak of the mountain that were blown off the top and side during the eruption in 1980. The whole valley surrounding Mt. St. Helens is filled with these mini-mountains, and scientists have tracked each one back to where its original location once was on the long-lost pointed peak. Why on earth they would do that is beyond me, but bully for them for completing such a daunting task.

Trail wends over and through hummocks, west of Mt. St. Helens.

For the layperson, what may be most relevant about these hummocks is that they are remnants of a volcanic blast, they form today a most interesting landscape, and that there is a trail allowing us to get a nice close look at them and even to walk on top of them.

There were also stunning views of Mt. St. Helens from multiple locations.

These hummocks are still eroding, because of the Toutle River there. This leaves the face exposed and bare, instead of grass- or tree-covered.

Hummock hills are noticeable to the left, with the volcano on the horizon. You can see here that the blast in 1980 was not directly up, but to the side. In this photo, the left side is missing, leaving a U-shaped volcanic cone.

With the valley filled with hundreds of tiny mountains, it follows that a bunch of new tiny lakes were formed.

Portions of the trail are forested. Here the trail follows a creek.

I recall the volcanic eruption from my childhood, and the aerial images of barren moonscape left in all directions for miles. Thus it is delightful for me to stand in a forest, beside a creek, and know that this has all formed since that devastating day. The size of the trees may not seem impressive at first, considering that it has been 38 years. But it’s not that the trees were cut and the forests were free to begin re-forming the next day. Today’s forests had to recover from this:

Photograph two days after the May 1980 eruption. Photo by Jack Smith / AP

My path was through fields, streams, and forests. There were ducks on the ponds. It’s a healthy land and in a quick glance does not reveal that the old forest floor is buried beneath many feet of volcanic ash, and all this beauty before me sprung out from that poor beginning. Nature keeps me in awe.

Information sign at the shores of Coldwater Lake.

I completed the Hummocks Trail loop with plenty of sunshine left, so I went to explore nearby Coldwater Lake.

The trail at Coldwater Lake is wheelchair accessible, a trail feature I often notice. I think possibly I’m making a list in my mind of trails I will still be able to visit when my future self needs a wheelchair. Hiking a nature trail is one of my greatest joys in life, and I’m reassured that if my legs ever stop working, I’ll still be able to hit some trails.

The sun was very low and that made all my photos warm with light despite the quickening chill in the waning day.

Massive logs from the volcanic blowdown in 1980 remain for us to ponder.

The paved trail turns into wide boardwalks suitable for wheelchairs.

A family plays at the waterside in the reflection of Mt. St. Helens.

The boardwalk spans over the lake.

Some kayakers were returning to shore after a foray into the lake.

On my way home I stopped at the Castle Lake Overlook and spotted not only the snowy tip top of Mt. Adams, but also Mt. Rainier! The moon became visible, and an excited little boy yelled “Daddy! The sun is rising and the moon is rising AT THE SAME TIME!” He may not have had the semantics right, but his Daddy understood exactly what he was saying.

Moon over the tip of Mt. Adams (can you see it above the lake?) and Mt. St. Helens.

The view from the overlook. Again, the tip of Mt. Adams peeks into view.

Golden sunlight strikes the remaining leaves, as well as the snowy mountain.

On my way home along Washington Highway 504, I spotted a good view of Mt. Adams and pulled over to get this better shot for you.

 

My friend Curt over at Wandering Through Time and Place introduced me to his friend Bone, the bone, last year. He was telling Bone about my place, and when Bone talked to Curt about a visit, a plan was quickly put into action. He put on his favourite leather vest and came up to northern Oregon for a few weeks last year, and at the time I posted a photo of Bone with my bees, and a little later, Bone in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I intended to do a Bone-centric post and it slipped through the cracks. So, without additional delay, here is the full story of Bone’s visit.

As I mentioned, we visited the bees on my property first.

Here, a bee tells Bone something that I didn’t hear.

Bone really liked my back yard and thanked me for my hospitality. I said I was happy to have such a pleasant guest.

Next, Tara and I took Bone to the coastal town of Astoria. Sometimes people are reluctant to climb the Astoria Column that overlooks the mouth of the Columbia River as it empties into the Pacific Ocean, but Bone didn’t hesitate at all! He was on vacation and wanted to do it all. So I helped him climb the 164 steps to the top.

Bone told me a joke right as Tara took the photo. Lucky I didn’t fall off!

We had sushi for dinner. Bone was fascinated by watching the chefs prepare our meal, but was not interested in tasting any of it.

He never did get tired that day. Bone was hopping around, trying to look out the windows, so Tara let him sit on the dashboard to watch the road as we drove home.

The next week I was in Oklahoma, at the invitation of the Cherokee Nation. The week started off with a three-day conference in Tulsa. Of course, Bone came along.

Inside the Hard Rock Casino in Tulsa, we Cherokees spent the whole time viewing the Cherokee art throughout the facility. Bone and I liked this one by Jane Osti best.

To the bottom left, you can see Bone trying to decide if he feels lucky.

When the conference was over, my group of visiting Cherokees went out to Cherokee country and were treated to up close visits at some important historical sites. At the Saline Courthouse, we walked around till we found an old cemetery. I had not done my research prior to this trip, and inspected gravestones at random, based on how interesting their appearance from a distance. Thus I missed the one that says, “A. J. Colvard. Born April 12, 1858.” and it then lists the date Andrew Jackson Colvard was murdered. It actually says “murdered” on the gravestone! I am so sad I didn’t see that in person. Interestingly, I did get this gravestone, which is linked to Mr. Colvard’s:

Bone likes exploring cemeteries.

Another place we visited was the Cherokee Heritage Center. This center for Cherokee culture, history, and the arts is located where the first Cherokee female seminary used to be. In the 19th century, Cherokee prided themselves on exceptional schools. In the traditionally matriarchal society, girls’ education was as important as boys.’ The first Cherokee Female Seminary was a boarding school opened by the Cherokee Nation in 1851. A fire burned the building in 1887 and all that remains are three columns.

First Cherokee Female Seminary, courtesy Wikipedia.

Bone quietly contemplated Cherokee history as he gazed at the columns.

The heart of Cherokee country is the city of Tahlequah, where the Chief and his administration are based.

Can you see him sitting on the bricks?

While waiting for the speakers to get organized, Bone gasped and pointed. There was Chief Bill John Baker!

We both learned quickly that when Cherokees get together, there will be food.

And before we knew it, our trip to Cherokee land was over and we had to go home. Bone wanted to stay longer with the Cherokees, and so did I, and he was pretty sad while we sat in the airport waiting for our flight.

Sad as he was to go, Bone couldn’t resist watching the planes load and unload.

Bone slept almost the whole flight back. I had finally managed to tire him out. His emotions are hard to read and I’m never quite sure if I can catch a facial expression, but it seemed like he was smiling while he slept. When we arrived back in Portland, I asked him about it. Bone said he was dreaming about Cherokees, and imagined that he got to meet Sky Wildcat, Miss Cherokee 2016-2017 and Lauryn Skye McCoy, Junior Miss Cherokee. He described the two young women so well, it almost seemed like it wasn’t a dream after all.

Bone with Sky Wildcat and Lauryn Skye McCoy.

This is the final version of my painting before I gave it away.

You may recognize the image above. It’s similar to a photograph I took when I was in Myanmar in February:

Our first view of the Golden Rock from a distance.

I’ve been wanting to paint more, but hadn’t been making time for it. So I tricked myself into it. For me, overcoming challenges in life is often a matter of using the correct psychology on myself. Self-care and personal health don’t seem to motivate me enough. However! I am very good at keeping obligations to others. I signed up for a night class at the local community college, and now at a bare minimum, I paint once a week on Wednesday nights. My responsible brain goes to class because I respect the teacher’s time. A bonus is that I paint, which I love, and it fills my heart and makes me happy.

The instructor recommended we paint from a photo, and as a helpful suggestion, said that his students in the past painted scenes from their travels. I had been thinking of this one for a long time, but was avoiding it because it seemed too ambitious. When no other ideas came to mind, I started it.

This much I did at home, prior to classwork. One of the instructor’s first suggestions was to fill in all the white area. Paint the background a dark colour, and complete the sky. I should paint the tree and rock over the top of the sky, rather than inside the white areas.

So I did.

Each Wednesday night I painted at class. Usually I painted during the week also, because the painting was still on my mind.

I particularly love how the sky turned out. There was a lot of burning happening in the region, as local people cleared land and burned the brush piles. The sky was hazy from smoke and I think you can see that in the painting. It was sunrise as we arrived at the rock, and in the photo, the sun had only reached halfway down the rock. Everything else in the photo remains in the shadow of morning.

It was suggested that I paint the things farthest away first, then move to the foreground.

It’s hard for me to paint in class because the flourescent lights are terrible and 5-8 pm is my lowest productivity period of the day.

My artistic friend Lloyd saw my very first draft (with all the white parts) and was excited about the painting, and asked me to keep him updated. I sent him new pictures of my progress every time I painted, which was usually twice a week. He was ecstatic with enthusiasm each time, and that helped me stay motivated. It felt like we were doing the project together.

Almost done!! I added people, landscaping, and finally began plodding through the masses of foliage in the foreground.

I sent Lloyd this close up. Look! People!

Lloyd and Genevieve got married over the weekend, and I had a gift in mind that they would both love. There was really no question who was getting the painting when I finished it.

I grabbed a couple of quick photos before I headed to the wedding.

Comparing the painting to the photo here in this post, I see that I needed to add glints of sunlight to the rock. It is not bright enough where the morning sun touches it. I’ll have to bring some paint next time I visit my friends.

One day I was sitting at the dining room table and heard a thumping in the cupboard. I had a suspicion that I knew who was in the cupboard, and began recording. Viola! My cat, Racecar, emerged from where she clearly does not belong. I explained to her about cats and clean pots, shooed her away, then did some dishes. Sigh.

Early this spring, my financial advisor told me that in his opinion, I could afford the kitchen remodel I have wanted since I moved into this house. There is great light coming into the house from the north side, where the small kitchen and dining room are. It’s dark as a cave on the south side, where the living room and woodstove are. My idea: knock down the wall and make one giant open room!

My sudden loss of a job last month was unplanned, but much of the upfront fees for this kitchen remodel had already been paid.  I had no choice but to follow through, despite the fact that right now is bad timing for spending money unnecessarily. The bright side is: I am home and available to let construction workers in.

Before photo. From the living room, looking toward the kitchen. You can’t see the kitchen because there is a utility closet (door on left) and a pantry (door on right) blocking your view.

My front room is a very big room, and off in one cramped corner was a kitchen. The appliances are black and the cabinet doors dark brown. Inside the cupboards were particle board shelves on plastic pegs with peeling, wrinkled contact paper. The countertop was old school formica with gold flakes in it. I plan to update everything.

You noticed in the paragraph above, I used past-tense verbs.

First step was to remove the furniture and art, and to empty the pantry.

The next step was sorta drastic.

Everything that had to be removed was removed. The water heater will be replaced with a tankless (on demand) water heater in the future. For right now, they will leave this tank here so that I still have hot water.

This is what it looks like right now, the first week of November. See the extra framing to extend the dropped ceiling?

There is still a problem with light. I just have a dark house. I’ve included some of the better photos above, so you may not notice the darkness. With the room opened up though, it is significantly better, and that makes me happy.

The plan is for the new cabinets (already completed and sitting under a tarpaulin in the garage) to be installed against the two walls you see. From the electric panel to the corner, and from the corner to the big window. There will also be an L-shaped island where the pantry used to be. The floor footprint of the kitchen will match the dropped ceiling area.

Old floors had three styles meeting. The tile has all been ripped up and the natural wood on the right will cover the kitchen as well.

Dark cupboards are gone! I am holding a sample piece of oak with the new light finish.

I am not allowing myself to get excited yet. This project has taken so long just to barely get started. I know construction always takes longer and costs more than expected, but I can’t tell you how impatient I am already. Like I said at the top, this began in the Spring. I settled on a plan with the contractor in April, and it is still only this far. I’m trying not to go crazy, ha ha. He assures me that it will only be another 6 weeks, possibly 8. So there is a potential for this to be done by Christmas. I’m going to plan on a Valentine’s Day kitchen instead!

This pin acknowledges my time as a public servant in the Air Force, as a NOAA weather forecaster, and as a Decision Review Officer with VA. I am proud to have been able to give so much to my country.

While texting a friend last night about his career as a musician, he said he has been overcoming challenges and right now is focused on manifesting something much better.

This morning I got the email reminder that my Leave and Earnings statement from my federal government job is now available for review on the .mil website. It’s the one I’ve been worried about, and it took me a while to open up the website and take a look. With relief, I see that it was the best I could have hoped for, which is 73% of what I usually receive. It means that I was credited every last hour of vacation leave and sick leave I had left. Until now, I wasn’t sure if there were any wonky rules that would end up restricting use of some of those hours. But yes, I was paid for it all.

While Human Resources helps me through the paperwork, I am now in Leave Without Pay status. It makes me anxious. Today I received my last paycheck from VA. I’ve been questioning myself over and over and over: what the heck am I doing? Trulove, are you crazy?!

My job at Department of Veterans Affairs is stressful, and I may have expressed it now and then over the ten years I have been blogging. They do not manage people well, and it is hard on employees. The government takes forever to fix a problem, and that is only after they’ve taken forever to even admit there is a problem. VA has not yet realized, as an agency, that it doesn’t manage people well. Clearly the fix is not going to happen soon enough for me.

With the new White House Administration, the screws have been tightened more than ever before, and our managers are being squashed under unrealistic demands and expectations. It trickles down even though many managers try to shield us.

On a personal level, I have been struggling more than usual. I have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to multiple sexual traumas in the military. Since my job requires reading medical records of veterans so that I can make decisions about benefits, I’m reminded often of my own trauma. There is a case on my desk with someone who has PTSD every single day. It’s that common.

October 2017 sexual allegations against Harvey Weinstein exploded into the #metoo and #timesup movements. I wrote, at that time, about how I can feel this kind of news story in a physical way. A jab in the stomach every time I hear the news. It has literally been in the news every single day for a year.

Beginning October 2017 my performance at work began to decline, and it just got worse. My managers had to get creative to protect me from getting fired due to my mistakes. A month ago, I hit a wall and could not go back. The combination of everything spent my resources and I couldn’t get out of bed. I have not gone back to the office. That explains why I used up every last hour of paid time off.

So here I am.

FYI, I can afford this for right now. I have talked with my financial advisor, and it’s ok for awhile. Tara can stay in college. I can make plans without time pressure. It’s a relief.

And I’m doing better. I’ve been sleeping through the night, which I think is the same as medication. I’m painting much more. I’ve had time to visit friends. I’m working on my photobook for my trip to Myanmar. These are the things that fill the fuel tank rather than drain it.

The surge of anxiety this morning with the notice that I just received my last paycheck was the most anxiety I’ve felt for a couple weeks. It feels normal to get anxious now and then over some scary news, instead of anxious every day.

A few hours ago I sat at my computer, carefully updating my financial spreadsheets, and worrying about future unknown expenses. The words from my musician friend came back to me and I realized he had given me the emotional boost I needed today. As scary as change is, I am doing a good thing. I am manifesting something much better, though I don’t yet know what that is.

Margaret and I went to Ashland for Shakespeare as I wrote about earlier, but also to explore the local area a little bit. Sunday we went to Wildlife Safari, that I covered in my last blog post.

Wolf Creek Tavern in southern Oregon

Built in 1883 and continuously operating since then.

After Wildlife Safari, we stopped at The Historic Wolf Creek Inn for a cocktail. This stop was a delight because it’s in the middle of nowhere and I didn’t know anything about it other than having seen the highway signs for it for many years as I passed through on I-5. Henry Smith built his third hotel to be “the upscale one” along the stagecoach route. Built in 1883, Wolf Creek Inn is the oldest continuously operated hotel in the Pacific Northwest.

Famous guests include Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, and the bed they used is still in use today in the largest guest room. Mr. Gable liked to fish in the nearby Rogue River. The most famous guest was Jack London, whose room is considered so special it can’t be touched, and everything is maintained today as it was for Mr. London when he occupied it.

The Women’s Parlour

Jack London’s Room. Complete with Jack London’s chamber pot.

Our next stop was to find a covered bridge. Oregon has many, and I never tire of seeing them.

Grave Creek Bridge

Touring Wildlife Safari, then Wolf Creek Inn, then a covered bridge, was enough adventure for Sunday, and we dropped to sleep happy at our hotel in Ashland.

Monday morning we left to try to find a trail to the top of Table Rock. This is a volcanic mesa with a wide flat top that is easily seen from I-5. We found trail descriptions for Upper Table Rock and Lower Table Rock trails and made a wild guess that the one we wanted was “upper,” since we didn’t know there was another one, so the other one must be “lower.” We guessed wrong. But the trail was wonderful.

An interpretive sign at the beginning of the trail explains that these mesas were formed as the result of lava flow from a volcano 7 million years ago. Most of the flow eroded away, but the parts that remain are eye-catching plateau formations today. A website I found later claims that the volcanic flow was 9.6 million years ago. The website also explains that the Takelma Indians lived there when the area became overrun by miners and settlers in the gold rush. The Indians fortified themselves on Upper Table Rock and then launched an attack in 1853 to reclaim their lands. Apparently a reservation was assigned to them that included the Table Rocks area. (And there the website narrative ends…leading me to wonder if the Indians ever got to live there in peace, and at what point was the reservation dissolved, since there isn’t one there right now. And frustrated that anyone can say, “The Indians were given some land,” and can pretend with a straight face that it’s the end of the story. Ok, sorry. End of rant.) *

Up close look at the anthracite formations at the beginning of the trail.

Fabulous red trunks of madrone trees that are common along the Oregon coast.

The trail was super short and easy, but Margaret and I extended our time there by delighting in the beauty of the views and the lovely forest of black oaks and madrone.

At the top we headed directly for the edge of the mesa and were impressed with views of the Rogue River Valley.

Margaret looking toward Medford, Oregon.

We chatted with other hikers up there as well.

In the distance I spotted Lower Table Rock, the one I’ve seen a hundred times from the Interstate.

Canyon in the U-shaped mesa.

The top of Upper Table Rock is not as flat as I assumed it would be. As an unrepentant volcano-lover, I was excited to see these formations.

After our hike we went into the darling town of Jacksonville to wander shops and antique stores and enjoy the lovely weather. Next we went to the Rogue Creamery Cheese Shop and sampled some too-die-for blue cheeses. I confess, I purchased a couple pounds of it. Across from there is Lilliebelle Farms Handmade Chocolates, where we also sampled. I was tempted by the chili chocolates, but ended up purchasing the lavender sea salt caramels.

On Tuesday we decided to find another hike before our matinee show. This time we chose what looked like a loop, titled Toothpick Trail to Catwalk Trail Loop in our hiking app. It was a forest trail with a single view of something other than forest, very little interesting nature, and in the end, no loop. Turns out, there is a road the trail eventually intersects with, and you can return down the road, making a loop. Not what we had in mind.

The one and only viewpoint from Toothpick Trail was indeed lovely.

Intrepid hikers that we are, we found things of interest anyway, to keep our spirits up. As with the hike the day before, this trail was super short and easy, so once we realized it connected to other trails, we just kept going. There is a maze of trails on top of the ridge, and I was tickled to find their names all Alice In Wonderland themed, such as Caterpillar, Lewis, Jabberwocky and Bandersnatch.

These trails are popularized by mountain bikes. We were passed by multiple people on bikes, all of them polite and careful not to run us down. There were plastic ribbons strung between trees all over the place to keep the bikes on the best paths, lots and lots of warning signs and informational signs for the bikers. Probably helpful for them, but really ugly for us. We were intrigued by the trails built with humps and banked corners for bikes. This is trail construction we had not seen before.

Humps and banks built for mountain bikers (I cropped the photo to remove all the plastic tape strung between trees).

Trail marker for mountain bikers.

The other amusement we found on the trail was when we came across some experienced older male hikers. M and I must have looked dubious in our light, girly tourist clothing, carrying no pack whatsoever and a single water bottle between us. Makeup, jewelry… you get it. No one else knows that M and I both have over twenty years of backpacking experience. The reason we showed up looking completely unprepared for the forest is because we are *so* experienced that this truly was like going for a walk for us. None of these trails was more than a mile from a road, we were merely trying to kill time waiting for our Manahatta matinee down the hill in Ashland. We weren’t winded in the least, and did not consider the trails a challenging hike.

So. We spot some other hikers and we beeline for them, because we’re hoping to get some insider knowledge on how to make an actual loop out of all this hilltop wandering we’ve been doing. There are three men, 50-60 ish, in full Outdoor Gear, hiking poles, day packs, water bladders, specialty footgear, protctive hats – all of it. They tell us they are locals and hike up there all the time. They are immediately concerned for us, considering that our first question was “Is there a trail over on this side of the mountain that will link us back to Toothpick Trail?” which they interpret as us saying, “We don’t know where we are.” They ask us if we’re hungry, can they share their water with us, are we lost, are we ok? Oh good grief. I don’t think they ever really understood what we were doing up there. We kept saying we were fine, we weren’t worried or lost, we were only trying to make a more interesting hike. They assured us that there was no link back to Toothpick Trail and our best bet would be to return the way we came. “Can you find your way back?” they asked. We managed not to roll our eyes and waved goodbye and thanks. I hope none of them lost any sleep worrying that there would be two emaciated and terrified women trapped on the hill that night. I imagine that must happen around here, with the bazillion tourists who show up for plays like we did.

We got to the play on time and now the timeline goes back to my original post of this trip.

* Quick research on Wikipedia indicates that the Table Rock Reservation lasted a whopping three years. After which, fighting broke out again. Some Indians were marched Trail-of-Tears-like, on foot 300 miles to another reservation; others were put onto ships and moved, all of them that lived eventually ending up on reservations south of Portland.

Looking across the landscape of Wildlife Safari from the bears area.

Wildlife Safari is in Winston, Oregon and is the only drive-through animal park in the state. It covers over 400 acres, is home to over 500 animals, and hosts over 200,000 visitors a year. Margaret and I bought tickets for a close-up cheetah “enrichment encounter” at 11am before we drove through the park.

Cheetah celebrity of the day.

She sat patiently while people stood behind her and had their photos taken by park staff.

Margaret and me with the beautiful cat.

At the cheetah encounter, everyone stood in a semi-circle and gazed at a cheetah while she had her photo taken with other tourists. The park employees explained that they have one of the top cheetah breeding research centers on Earth. Here in Oregon is the number one cheetah breeding facility outside of Africa & number two in the world. I recalled coming here as a kid on school field trips and for birthday parties. Back then, when you drove through, for fun the cheetahs would run in packs beside the cars, close enough that I would be tempted to reach out and pet them. Today, the big cats are kept behind fences.

After the encounter, we hopped into the Jeep and went through the gate where we were handed a map, then drove into the park. The rules here are to go slowly, stay in your car, and don’t touch the animals. Brochures say, “Where you are captive and they roam free.”

We were absolutely delighted by everything, and surprised how frequently other vehicles passed us because we were going too slowly. We stopped and gawked at every creature we saw, talking to them and laughing.

Some of the enclosures are so huge that fences couldn’t even be seen, and that helped us to imagine these animals really are free. I used the photo of the bear at the top first, to help you understand what it really looks like here. As you gaze across the vast landscape, there are fences and roads and buildings and other cars. I tried to cut those out of most photos.

This was my actual view. Everything from inside the car. There’s me in the rear view.

Clever photography helps one erase the reality of being inside a car the whole time.

Giraffes are barely interested in us.

Long legs can pose a challenge for getting food off the ground.

Common Cape Eland grazing on a hill.

Common Cape Eland closer to the road.

Small group of zebras. My memory tells me that when I was a child, this was a larger herd. Maybe the others are behind the hill.

We also spotted Southern White Rhino, Whitecheek Gibbon primates, Yaks, Watuski cattle, and Gemsbok, but these were too far away for decent photos. Blog photos come from my Nikon, and both of our phones. We grabbed whatever was easiest to use when we spotted an animal. Consequently, you’ll see the poor resolution in some of the phone photos.

Margaret noticed some hippos on a nearby road and insisted we use a staff access road to get to them before they went back underwater. The photos were incredible!

About as close to a hippopotamus as I want to get.

I backed up and returned to our place on the other road before blocking another tourist’s passage, nervous the whole time about authorities telling me I wasn’t allowed to do that. My friend teased me that the Fun Police were going to get me.

East African Crown Crane showing us his balancing skills. That looks like a turkey behind him.

Predators like the African Lions were behind fences.

I think Margaret may have enjoyed the Brown Bears the most.

This shot shows their impressive claws.

This photo makes me laugh. Not sure if he was eating something, or what. Look at that hump on his back!

While we were there, two Brown Bears stayed close to the road, so she was able to get many great photos.

There was a small herd of American Bison that moved back and forth across the road in search of good eating.

This one keeps an eye on Margaret’s camera while it eats.

Roosevelt Elk are always gorgeous, but plentiful where we live, so not very exotic.

The stripes on the White Bearded Gnu look like paint dripping in the rain.

This African Elephant spotted trainers nearby and stood up on its back feet and did a pose, hoping for a treat. It got the treat. We were so astonished to see the voluntary trick we forgot about our cameras.

Margaret was excited to see their giant ears.

Around one curve was a little hut where a staff member answered questions and sold little cups full of animal food. She said for the next mile, we were allowed to feed animals from the car. The animals knew this, and surrounded us.

I couldn’t identify this buck, who took the food right out of my palm. So much for not touching the animals.

A Sitka deer waits for food.

This one didn’t appear to be interested in the food pellets.

This Rhea and all her cousins were very eager to make our aquaintance.

The Emus were the biggest crack up, with their curly mop of feathers on top, and those giant red eyes. I could swear that half of them were posing for photos. Conditioned by my own chickens, I was convinced they wanted to peck me, and stayed way back.

The Black Buck is a very pretty animal.

When the cup of treats was exhausted, we were at the exit, and we parked once more and explored the grounds at the entrance. This is more zoo-like, with smaller cages, a restaurant, gift shop, feed-the-giraffe tours, and the like.

Flamingos are free to go where they will.

A couple of cheetahs are in this area, for people who can’t make it to the drive-through park.

We spotted a lemur

Black Swan

An anteater! I had no idea they were so crazy-looking.

Margaret fed some Koi and Mallards

Fat happy fish

There was a walk-in aviary filled mostly with Budgies.

We saw many, many more animals than what I’ve been able to show here. It’s a great place to take the family, or as I’ve just demonstrated, a great place for girlfriends to find hours of fun. A point I’d also like to make is that it’s very inexpensive, compared to similar tourist attractions, and it was explained to me that this is because they are not for profit. All proceeds are merely invested back into the park. It was $19.95 to drive through, and $15 for the special cheetah encounter. Everything in the gift shop was reasonably priced and high quality.

Our backstage guide, Sal, talking about the Elizabethan Theatre.

I made my debut on the Elizabethan Theatre stage!! Then they asked me to get off – for safety reasons. Ha ha ha ha!!

Margaret and I met up for a vacation a little closer to home than our two most recent trips to Chile and to Myanmar. This time, we went to southern Oregon! She drove north 5 1/2 hours from Santa Rosa and I drove south 5 1/2 hours from Rainier. We met at a hotel in Ashland.

The town of Ashland, in Southern Oregon, is famous for its Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF), founded in 1935. These days it’s a pretty big deal. Wikipedia says “Each year, the Festival offers 750 to 800 performances from February through late October or early November, to a total audience of about 400,000. The company consists of about 675 paid staff and 700 volunteers.” The website also notes that by 2015, 20 million people had attended.

Even though my mother went to high school in Ashland, and my grandmother lived here when I was a kid, and I have family that lived in the area for decades, and even while I traveled through constantly on my way to northern California to pick up and deliver Tara while their dad and I were sharing custody, and even though I have lived in Oregon for the last 11 years, this was my very first visit to Ashland for the purpose of seeing Shakespeare. It’s about damned time.

We had tickets to two matinees (they’re expensive – I couldn’t afford more), one Tuesday and one Wednesday. We arrived Saturday night and entertained ourselves with other things Sunday and Monday. We did a couple of hikes, one of them the morning before our Tuesday show. I’ll get to all that stuff later. Stay tuned.

The first play we saw was Manahatta, by Mary Kathryn Nagle at the Thomas Theatre. It was my choice that we see this one, because the playwright is Cherokee, and I continue my quest to learn about my Native history and support other Indians when I can. Two stories are told at once, overlapping. One is set in the 17th Century when Dutch colonists were recently arrived on the island called Manahatta by the occupants and while trading with the local Lenape Indians, decided they wanted control of their land. The other is set on precisely the same piece of land, 380 years later called Manhattan, as a modern Lenape woman fights her way into employent at the white male dominated Lehman Brothers bank and begins to make a name for herself on Wall Street.

The young woman in both stories is at first filled with hope of youth and all the possibilities of life ahead of her, and both are eventually devastated through wrenching tragedy. The Dutch trick the Lenape into allowing them to settle on the island, and then the kick all the Indians off the island and build a wall to keep them out, then shoot and kill her husband and father of her unborn child. The wall is later immortalized in the name of a street in Manhattan, synonymous with a financial center. Lehman Brothers is embroiled in sub-prime mortgage lending and fails and the young woman knows she was a part of the bad practices, while simultaneously the woman’s childhood home is foreclosed upon, making her own mother homeless.

The author said one of her goals in Manahatta was to show the audience how our history is always part of our present, whether or not we realize it. The final line of the play was when the modern Lenape woman speaks introspectively about the interaction of the Lenape with colonists saying, “Ever since they arrived they have been trying to get rid of us, and we are still here.”

That line wrecked me. I am no Indian activist, but I guess with the years that I have spent learning over and over and over how to recognize subtle and sometimes unintentional but always consequential attempts to erase indigenous Americans, I too have begun to feel a resonant idignation at how hard it is to convince people that we are here. Right in front of you all: we are here! Living in 2018, using smart phones, running companies, getting graduate degrees, flying cross country to visit grandma, standing in line at Starbucks, watching Netflix, marrying and having families and shopping at Target.

Ahoy, ye mateys!

The lights came up immediately and I was bawling so hard I couldn’t speak. Margaret practically had to lead me by my arm to get me out of there. She insisted that I needed to go next to the fabulous gift shop and try on masks and hats on display for Halloween. I acquiesced, and it definitely helped. (Thank you Margaret)

That night my friend decided that we should do a backstage tour the next morning, only $20 each. We both went on line to try and book one, but we couldn’t make it work. She called the box office to buy tickets and was informed that first of all the backstage tours are only available to OSF members (minimum membership $35), and second of all the tours were sold out for Wednesday. The man on the phone said that sometimes there are tickets available just before the tour, when someone returns tickets they can’t use…but they are still only available to members. Margaret did not recognise any particular obstacle.

At 9:30 am we showed up at the box office and asked if any tour spots had opened up. None had. Margaret walked out the door and began questioning people sitting on rock walls and benches waiting for the tour to begin, “Hi! Do you have any extra tickets?” Can you believe it: after asking her third group of people, a woman nearby overheard and came over to tell us that her daughter could not come and would soon be returning two tickets and she would not accept payment for them. Viola! Margaret waited and sure enough, soon she had the other woman’s tickets. She took those into the box office and asked to get them converted to our names. Margaret was told she couldn’t use them because 1) we are not members and 2) these are special tickets for handicapped people anyway.

My ballsy friend met me outside with all the other waiting people who were now queuing up at the doors of the Thomas Theatre, where the tour would begin. “Just get in line,” she says to me, conspiratorially. As we arrived at the door, the man taking tickets burst out laughing at something someone behind him had said. Still chuckling, he took our tickets and added them to his growing stack of tickets, and joked to us about the funny thing that happened. He then turned to the people in line behind us. He never even LOOKED at our tickets!

Boom. Backstage Tour. For free. Not members.

In the Thomas Theatre, we were told about the history of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and about the amazing versatility of Ashland’s newest theatre: the Thomas Theatre, in which every single seat can be moved and the audience and stage rearranged in any configuration you like. We were handed off to a second tour guide, actor Christopher Salazar, who asked us to call him Sal. We crossed the street to the Elizabethan Theatre and went underground to the tunnel connecting it to the adjacent Bowman Theatre. We sat in the Green Room and learned about the incredible choreography of making this festival happen. Think about it: typically when there is a play, it continues on the same stage daytime and evening, for months until the run is over. However! In Ashland, festival directors want visitors to be able to see every single play in 10 days, or to be able to choose from multiple options each day, no matter how short your visit. This season there are 10 separate productions using three stages. That means a complete breakdown and set up of the stage twice a day for two theatres and once a day for the other theatre. Wow. We then walked over to the Angus Bowman Theatre, named for the founder of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Sal told us about his favourite part of OSF: the outreach productions into communities not able to participate in the festival itself.

Our final stop was backstage at the Elizabethan, an open air theatre, where Sal (currently an actor in multiple productions at the festival) described how many of the people are employed behind the scenes, stories about inspiration for costumes, economies for typical actors at OSF, and what it’s like to have to change from one character to another in less than a minute, while running from exit to entrance behind the scene, dropping pieces of costume onto the floor and pushing arms into clothing extended by waiting assistants.

The tour was fabulous! And highly recommended, even if you need to go the route of obtaining membership, followed by purchasing an available ticket.

Henry V, a good man

We lunched, then explored lovely Lithia Park that borders the theatres, before returning to the Thomas once more for our matinee show of Henry V. In the intimate Thomas Theatre, we recognised Sal right away in one of the five roles he plays in Henry V. He all but winked at us when he spotted us, only 15 feet away.

This was my first exposure to Henry V. I hadn’t even read it before. I learned long ago that it’s helpful to research prior to seeing a Shakespeare play for the first time, so I had crammed a little in the hotel room the night before. Basically the story tells the tale of King Henry V as he has just ascended the throne and no one is quite sure what kind of king he’ll be, especially considering his history as a carouser. He turns out to be a good king: strong, fair, and in multiple ways still a confused young man. His leadership is outstanding and he conquers France by sheer force of will, and finds his match in a woman.

Daniel Jose Molina is phenomenal as Henry. I understand now why the Henry V performances sold out so fast. Molina lets himself go so freely that I think for the first time I recognise, in hindsight, that every other actor I’ve seen has been holding back the tiniest bit. I was all in from the first scene. What really strikes me with this actor is his body language and facial expressions that go beyond flattering hyperbole I’ve heard before. This stuff is for real. Just watch his FACE, and somehow you know what’s in the character’s mind, and then…watch it change as the character has a new thought…and realize even before the next line is spoken, that the character has told you what he’s going to do and you’re right there in on it with him. What an extraordinary, personal way to be introduced to this typically massive play, in a small theatre with only 12 actors other than those in the ensemble. I was so close I could see the notch in his eyebrow: not sure if it’s from a scar, or is a bit of fashion.

I found Molina’s Instagram page and I’m following him now, because he (like my actor friend, Sheldon Best) is going to blow my mind periodically with his artistry, and I want to be there to see it.

My other favourite actor in Henry V is Rachel Crowl who was an understudy that stepped in for the original actor. Crowl acts in multiple roles but is most memorable and excellent as Pistol. I noticed her instantly, as she took the stage in the chorus as the play begins. I saw a person presenting as a woman but also reminding me of a man. Rachel plays multiple men’s roles, and as Pistol has a deep, gorgeous voice that cannot be mistaken for anything feminine. I am delighted and fascinated, and now have so many questions for some future transgender actor I meet: Are there additional layers of conflict compared to a gender normative person who plays a different gender? And also, is your transformation to play both male and female roles a more familiar task than many actors with the same challenge?Do you have more insight? Does this give you an advantage? Is everyone else jealous? haha

As soon as the lights came up, we slipped out of the theatre ahead of everyone else and got totally soaked in the rain as we hurried to the Jeep (glad I wasn’t in the Elizabethan just then). I gave M a ride back to the hotel to get her car. Then we hugged goodbye and hit I-5 going opposite directions.

{I’ll post soon to tell you all the other stuff we did.}

Colchuck Lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington state. Aasgard Pass is to the left of Dragontail Peak. Colchuck Glacier is to the right.

I slept very well in my tent and woke up refreshed and eager to get along the trail. First though: freshly brewed Peets coffee. The Sulawesi-Kalosi is my favourite.

The trail to Colchuck Lake required some backtracking about 2.3 miles to the trail junction, then another 2 miles uphill. The climb is apparently 615 feet and is very steep in places. Washington Trails Association was there in 2017 and did some great work on the trail. While they did not make the climb any less steep, they made it easy to follow, and stable, putting in many many granite boulder “steps,” for example.

These two had also camped at Stuart Lake with me. “We only have passes for the Stuart Zone,” I heard multiple times from hikers. It was true for me as well. We are headed for the valley between the two hills on the right.

Me, along the Colchuck Trail.

From this vista point, I could see the valley where Lake Stuart lies. Can you see the brown burned trees? (click the image for a larger version) Those are on the slope above my tent.

The hill above my camp shows signs of wildfire. So glad it didn’t burn down to the water’s edge…but I wish I didn’t see so much fire sign when I hike.

I climbed up, up, over roots, around boulders, across streams. I stopped to gasp periodically, while I waited for my heartbeat to slow down again to something near normal. There weren’t any meadow landscapes like the Lake Stuart trail, just climbing the granite stairs to the top.

And then… wow! The jaw-dropping blue of Colchuck Lake hit me. I describe the colour as a mixture of aqua and tuquoise, and a wholly unanticipated hue in the landscape of predictable green trees and blue skies.

This was my very first glimpse of the lake. It stopped me in my tracks and I took a photo from right there.

I must have taken two dozen photos, trying to get my camera to show you the colour I saw. This comes close, but nothing is like it was to be there.

I made a beeline for the lake and found the first of many many beautiful white smooth granite boulders that line the shores. After eating ALL the snacks I brought, and drinking a lot more water, I felt restored, and ready to explore.

Colchuck Lake is larger than Lake Stuart and I easily spent two hours following the trail on the Western shore, taking tons of detours to the beach, or to the multitudinous smooth boulders that are excellent for sitting on to relax in the sun and stare in awe at the colour of that water. This lake has many more great viewing spots than Lake Stuart, and due to its size, there are more campsites. Next year I am for sure going to try to get an overnight pass for the Colchuck Zone.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with The Enchantments in Washington, its beauty and proximity to Seattle make it a very popular place for backpackers and campers. So many people enter the wilderness that the area was getting destroyed from the many trampling human feet. There are now rules in place to control the humans. An unlimited number of people are allowed to walk through on the trails, but the number of people allowed to camp overnight is limited. The passes are disseminated via a lottery.

It was cloudy while I visited the lake, but periodically a sunbeam would burst through and light something up.

Looking south from Colchuck Lake.

I explored several beautiful beaches on my way around the lake.

Exceptionally clear water.

A tiny adjacent lake that is unnamed. Perhaps during high water it is part of Colchuck Lake.

I had heard of the famous Aasgard Pass, and I wanted to find it and hopefully spot Thor, or Odin.

No, not really. Aasgard Pass is the gateway to the Core Enchantments area from the west side. I have always entered from the east side, and never made it as far as the pass. So I just wanted to get a look at it and see how I felt about trying to climb it with a full pack one day, if I should ever have that option.

At the southernmost end of the lake is a large boulder field, and the trail crosses this, as I could tell from the cairns. I climbed across half of it, still trying to get a sense of which saddle hikers climb: the one with the glacier, or the ones to the right or the left of the glacier. I couldn’t tell by looking, and the boulders were a challenging scramble for merely trying to find a trail, just to turn around and come back. In any case, I had my answer: the boulder field was hard enough with only a day pack. I did not have any trouble this day, but there were times when I had to balance on a toe and leap to the next rock. That sort of thing is much trickier with 50 pounds on your back, messing up your center of gravity.

I found out later that Aasgard Pass was this one, directly ahead of me as I climbed over the boulders. Can you spot the cairns?

This beautiful Tamarack is along the boulder scramble to Aasgard Pass. I caught it just before the needles turned yellow for the season.

Looking north at Colchuck Lake.

The tiny lake next to Colchuck Lake.

At the tiny lake, the water is more green than aqua. And a group of Tamaracks on the slope are getting ready to turn yellow.

It was afternoon and I was ready to head back down the trail to my camp. My knees fiercly grumbled about going down granite steps and over roots for a mile, or however long it is. But as I descended, the skies cleared and the weather stayed warm and lovely. I talked to so many lovely people on the trail, who eagerly told me where they came from, where they were staying (most of the people were day hikers only, with no overnight passes), and what their plans were. Curiously, people along the trail trust each other. Perhaps beause of the shared experience.

Oh! Can I tell you the funnest human-related discovery of my whole hike?! Women! Women outnumbered the men far and away. It is the first time I have ever seen this on a backpacking trip. I must have passed around 100 people in three days, and at least 60 of them were women, though I wonder if it was closer to 70. Groups of women in their 20s, pairs of women in their 70s, solo women, women and men hiking together. I love them all for making this an activity for everyone. I want my people back home to stop freaking out whenever I say I’m going into the wilderness for a few days.

The 60-something woman camping next to me on the beach said she had hiked the previous month with her husband.

“Oh, he couldn’t make this trip?” I asked.

“I told him I wanted peace and quiet and to read my book,” she replied.

Ha ha ha!! High-five lady!

This is happy, tired me, with a bit of a sunburn. Waiting for water to boil so I can have supper.

Skies remained gorgeous all evening and I sat on the beach and watched the sun go down till I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.

I boiled angel hair pasta (quicker than spaghetti), then mixed in a raw egg from the Hussies. Added pre-cooked bacon and carmelized onions and then dumped in grape tomatoes from my garden, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Viola! Spaghetti carbonara mountain-style. A metal mug of white wine went with it perfectly.

 

Lake Stuart from the little beach at my campsite. Mt. Stuart (9415′) is the peak in the background.

I purchased overnight camping passes for the Lake Stuart Zone in the Enchantments area of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington state. It’s due east of Seattle and north of Mt. Rainier. It takes me 4 1/2 hours just to get to the trailhead, but I can’t help myself: it is so beautiful there.

Interstate 90 in Washington state, heading east of Seattle first thing in the morning Tuesday.

I’ve been through the Enchantments several times, and always from the Snow Lakes trail which approaches the Alpine Lakes from the east. It’s a long through trek, and I have never had the stamina to go all the way through to the lakes on the west side. This year I simply began on the west side!

I think it is a nice touch that the U.S. Forest Service always makes these signs asymmetrical.

At a fork in the trail, I saw signs that left me puzzled. At first glance, “foot log” and “horse ford” sounded like landmarks I had never heard of. I had no idea what trail to take until I calmed down and took the words literally. A log for foot traffic, and a place for horses to ford.

Viola! “foot log,” otherwise known as a log bridge for those traveling on human feet.

One lovely thing about the west side approach is that the Stuart/Colchuck trailhead is higher in elevation than the Snow Lakes trailhead, so I climbed the first 1000 feet (or more) in my Jeep. That was pretty sweet. Once I began hiking, much of the trail was a rather gentle slope, and a couple of steep spots a few miles in. Nothing like the grueling switchbacks at the start of the Snow Lakes trail.

The trail beside Mountaineer Creek.

Look at these scrumptious red roots. Or branches. What are they? Gorgeous, that’s what.

Autumn is the most glorious flamboyant season, don’t you think?

I saw several of these cones on the trail. I don’t think my photography captured it, but they are a deep dark purple.

I’ve said before, my hike pace could best be described as “mosey.” I’m solid on the uphill stretches. Slow, but steady, I can just keep going up, up, up. But steady includes a lot of stops to look at all the waterfalls and pretty foliage and the squirrels and interesting pine cones.

It feels good to be on a trail again. I have not hiked much the last couple of years. My theory is now that I live in the wilderness practically, I don’t have the driving need to escape people and hit a trail as much as I used to. In any case, however wild my own property may be, it’s nothing like truly being in the mountains.

While pausing in a meadow with fireweed going to seed, a gust of wind came and filled the air with flying seed pods. Look closely, and you’ll spot the faeries.

Finally! First glimpse of the mountains. These are exactly the moments I live for on the trail. I get tired, I wonder how far I’ve come, how far there is to go, whether I should stop and rest, and then…. I get a view of mountains. This inspires me.

Another mile along the trail and blam! This, people. This is what it’s all about. My tanks are filled and I’m gushing.

I met a bold, fat chipmunk that practically climbed onto me while begging for food.

And this was a pika that might have been shy around me on another day, but this day rather had to get an urgent message to his buddy across the rock fall.

The pika was so hilarious I watched him for a full five minutes, and listened to another one shriek back at him. He would give a series of short, sharp, shrill shrieks, then occasionally would spew a jumble of high-pitched syllables strung together. I talked to him for awhile, saying, “Hey! Do you see me? Are you not afraid?” Nope. Not afraid. He had to talk and my presence was no deterrent. As I watched him, I imagined the following conversation. Very shrill and urgent:

“Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve!” Silence. “Steve! Steve!”

From 50 yards away across the boulder pile, the reply: “Tony! Tony!”

“Yo!-I-can’t-play-tetherball-Mom-says-I-have-to-do-my-chores-but-I’ll-come-over-as-soon-as-I’m-done!”

“Tony! Tony!”

“Did-you-hear-me-I-can’t-play-now-but-wait-for-me-ok? Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve!”

Listen, when your hiking pace is “mosey,” it involves a lot of imagination.

Suddenly I spotted a sign that said “No campfires beyond this point.” And I don’t know what crazy person ever starts campfires this time of year, but to me this sign means “the lake is pretty close.” And sure enough, only a little while later, the trees parted and there it was. Only 4 1/2 miles along the trail, an elevation gain of 1665 feet, and I hit Lake Stuart.

Lake Stuart

(Can’t you just hear Anne Shirley saying, “That is not the right name. I think it should be: Lake of Shining Waters.”)

At the far end of the lake, looking back.

I love how the sun lights up those pale green grasses and horsetails in the water.

Many spots were occupied, but when I found this lovely little beach, I knew it would be my home for the next couple of nights.

Um, yep, that would be my campsite. Recurrent theme for camping in the PNW: always gorgeous campsites.

I admit, I crashed early. You know with my exceptional gastronomic tastes, I always bring a pack filled with amazing food, which means: HEAV-VY! I get so wiped out when I have a full pack.

For supper I mixed up the easiest thing on the menu, taco salad. Fresh chopped lettuce, corn chips, beans, tomatoes from the garden, green chilis, hominy, sour cream and salsa all stirred together. An obnoxious chipmunk came to raid my bowl while I left it on the beach and went to get the wine. I was impressed to see that the prize it chose was a big chunk of taco-spiced lettuce and not the chips!

One of my many guises

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