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Classroom of adult VFW students in a hotel conference room.

October 2018 I stopped working at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Can you believe it’s been a year?! I applied for retirement, and my employer officially terminated me February 2019. The retirement was approved in June. Retirement paychecks began arriving in August.

Needless to say, before it all got worked out, I was nervous about how to survive while I waited (and supported Tara, still at college in Corvallis). A previous co-worker dropped my name to someone hoping to hire, and I got a job as a contract teacher! How exciting! I taught during one week in September, and will teach again during one week in November. The students are employees of Veterans of Foreign Wars, commonly called VFW. These people spend a lot of time assisting veterans applying for VA benefits, so the hiring manager told me that ideally they like to hire people who recently left VA, because those people are current on the VA climate.

And with me, they get an enthusiastic VA Cheerleader!

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They told me what my topic would be, and how much time I had, and how many students I would have, and the dates I would be teaching. They said they needed a powerpoint presentation, handouts, exercises, and test questions. Then I went to work. VFW bought my plane ticket and my hotel room, and paid me for my work. It’s a great opportunity. How much fun it is to be a contract worker – I had never even thought of this opportunity for myself before.

I was very, very nervous before I actually taught my first class. I had never been in the environment before, didn’t know the audience, didn’t know the format, didn’t know the area, etcetera, etcetera. But I am great in front of people. Though I only slept about 45 minutes the night before, by the end of my first hour teaching, I was fine, and completely in my element. I am good at this. The student reviews were good, the feedback from the hiring manager was good. I managed to address a problem with time right away and it worked great. The students were experienced employees who should already know the material, and they were engaged, open, willing to do the exercises, willing to share their experience and also to ask questions. They were encouraging and supportive and funny.

The view out my hotel window, of the pool closed for the season. Downstairs were the classrooms, as well as a restaurant. If I didn’t want to, I wouldn’t have to leave the building for 5 days.

Typical hotel conference room classroom.

Another conference room classroom. My point with these photos is only to elicit common memories from people who have been in these rooms before!! It’s so ugly and potentially so boring!!

VFW has annual training requirements. After talking with a lot of these experienced employees, I saw that many of them are eager to receive this training. In their level of experience, these classes are mostly updates (law changes, court cases recently decided, refresher training), and so it’s not new information, but a reinforcement of what they already know. I was grateful for their great attitudes and eagerness to hear what I had to say.

The students are also a lot of fun. I bumped into a guy who lived in Idaho near where I lived. We shared memories of tiny rural communities that most people have never heard of. He and a friend of his invited me to make the 3 1/2 mile walk into the city of Annapolis, one day after class. I had never seen the town and they insisted I would love it. Though it was autumn back home in Rainier, it was still summer and hot in Annapolis – yay!! We held a quick pace and it felt great to move after too much time inside the hotel.

What the what? Yes, that’s a cemetery in the median.

My companions explained to me that when the road was put in, graves were exhumed when necessary. All the graves in this center strip were left alone. But how to get there safely?!

I realized Annapolis must be a real New England town, and I began appreciating the buildings.

Don’t you love buildings created to fill awkward spaces?

Wall art always catches my eye..

Finally we reached a place where we could see the sea at the bottom of the hill. What a pretty town Annapolis is.

It was the end of the day and we had just worked up an appetite. One of my companions said that the last time she was here she had stumbled upon a place serving fresh crab cakes and she wanted to go there for dinner. Of course we did too! It was a no-nonsense crab cafe, and the crab cakes were enormous and reasonably priced ($17 for 1/2 pound of meat). While we sat there, other VFW people showed up, which was fun. After eating, we decided to continue to explore the town.

This was officially a “sandwich,” but I ordered mine without the bread. The plate is blackened from decades of use, I imagine.

We found a hat shop and tried on hats. I never wear hats and didn’t buy any.

If I did wear a hat, I might look like this!

We were only a few steps from the waterfront, so the three of us walked around in the lovely warm evening and watched the sun go down over the water of the Chesapeake Bay.

Annapolis waterfront.

Sunset in Annapolis Harbor.

All three of us are prior military, and the US Naval Academy was right next to us. We happened to have on us the ID that would get us through the gates, so off we went. It was getting pretty dark but we were awake and ready to explore some more. With little trouble and no questions, we were allowed onto the base where we began looking at statues and entering interesting buildings.

The Naval Academy Chapel, completed in 1908, is due some repairs. The famous patina green dome will be replaced with a new copper dome that will take 20 years to turn green again.

This one looked promising as we walked up to it.

And yes, it was enormous and gorgeous inside. Dahlgren Hall was once used as an armory, but tonight there were cadets learning to swing dance.

With a sort of mini-museum there at one end.

Ship accoutrements.

Inside Lejeune Hall.

We explored different statues on campus that my friends could tell me about (they were way more in touch with Naval Academy tradition than me). One of them knew a senior cadet and texted him, and he came out to greet us and we stood in the dark courtyard chatting for some time before he had to go. We also entered Lejeune Hall, which holds an olympic sized pool, a “diving well,” boxing and wrestling arenas, and of course, a classroom. From the hallways up above, we could look down onto the cadets in swim training.

Navy mascot is Bill the Goat

Cadets in uniform move quickly through the night, returning to Bancroft Hall after classes.

Wins lauded in Army-Navy contests.

Cadets hard at work in the pool in Lejeune Hall.

My new friends wanted to end the night with a pint, and I couldn’t think why not. I had a coupla’ Guinness as a nod to my trip to Ireland with Tara earlier this year. Rather than make the very long walk home after two pints, my new friends called us an Uber and I was soon winding down, thinking about how soon the alarm clock was going to ring…

 

Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island

Some of the sign was worn off, I think. It looks like a warning that a giant pincer might grab you from the cliffs.

I have a few days left to tell you about my two-week trip to New England in May. I’ve been busy at home so it’s taking me a long time wrap up this trip. Today I’m happy to show you some great scenes I captured with my iPhone.

The morning dawned lovely so we thought it would be a good day to visit the Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island, where we were staying. The Cliff Walk is a National Recreation Trail designated in 1975. It is 3.5 miles (5.6 km) with the sea on one side and beautiful old mansions on the other. Once we finally found a place to park, we joined the trail with many other people who had the same idea. There are a couple places where you can get to the water, but it’s safest to stay on the trail. The private residences typically had tall barriers to keep the public out, so views of the places were best at a distance. We only walked a portion of the trail because we had a lunch date.

Mansion on the beach

“Join me at my beach house this weekend?”

I noticed this photogenic snail shell along the way.

Next we drove up to Boston again to have lunch with my friends Romain and Madhawa. After that the day was warm, and I love the heat, so I thought the perfect activity would be a long, tough hike up a hill that overlooks Providence.

We found the trailhead of Wolf Hill Forest Preserve. I was interested in this one because one branch of the trail was named World War II Memorial Loop and I wanted to see the memorial. We started off in high spirits though it was muggy that day and Will indicated that he does not love heat as much as I do. Right away I noticed one of my favourite wild plants ever: wild orchids. These were lucious, fat, extravagant beauties and I dropped to my knees genuflecting before them as I gushed in pleasure. I do not know what kind we found, and I have not seen this type before. I was impressed by their size and showiness.

Low angle of the sun lights up a wild orchid.

Another decadent flower lit in golden sun.

As we climbed up the hillside, stopping every so often to gasp for breath, we were both feeling the effects of early summer, which tends to drop a hot day on you when you least expect it. We both drank a lot of water.

It wasn’t long before we found the memorial, and it was more than I expected to see up there on a trail in the forest.

On this location 5 August 1943, three US servicement perished in an aircraft accident. Otis Portewig, Herbert Booth, and Saul Winsten.

All too common at the time, there was an engine failure and the airplane they were flying plummeted, landing here and deposting part of the fuselage onto that big rock. The rock now holds small rocks that people have placed in honor of the servicemen. Now I understood why a memorial was in such an out of the way place that was difficult to get to. There is another memorial in town, for people who cannot make the trek.

We were grateful for the shade. I spotted this murky pond and splashed my face and arms.

Lovely bunches of flowers near the top of the hill.

Will pointed out this sight. One might call it a dead tree. We saw life.

Splendid green beetle caught my eye.

We continued climbing the hill. My hiking app on my phone told me there would be views at some point. We thought we might be close, so we kept going. The trail was not well marked, so I used GPS on my trail app to keep us on the path. A bit tricky.

And viola! We crested near a broken down chimney. Someone had built a house up here and enjoyed the spectacular view for a while. Likely the only thing remaining was the thing that got rid of the rest of the house. We sat down on a rock and looked out over the high buildings of Providence that we could see over the tops of trees. Someone doing trail maintenance had cut down all the trees in front of us so that the view was not blocked.

Will walks up to the chimney at the top of the hill.

All that’s left of someone’s dream home.

And here is the view. The white specks are the high buildings of downtown Providence.

We sat until we felt well rested, and drank more water. Then it was time to head back down. It was evening by this time but there was no respite from the heat and humidity, and we suffered. Will looked at his map and found a public beach we could visit. I reminded him that we had parked right next to a pond. He didn’t remember the pond and it sounded too good to be true. I kept talking about the pond, to keep his spirits up. I was sure I remembered it. I began feeling very badly that I had let my joy of heat and hiking get in the way of looking out for my friend. He never said an unkind thing, and barely complained, but the conditions were too much for anyone not in love with strenuous activity in the heat, the way I am. The trail seemed to get longer the more we walked.

The sun went behind the trees and light grew more dim. It wasn’t dim enough to dim my excitement when I found more orchids near the bottom of the hill.

I just couldn’t get enough of them.

Finally we reached the car and I exhaled in relief to see that my memory was correct. We had parked 60 feet from a pond and fishing area. First we drank all the warm water from the water bottles in the car, since our own bottles were long empty. Then we walked to the shore and sat on some roots and stripped boots and socks off and put our feet in the water. I splashed myself and splashed Will (which was not appreciated but I was doing it for his own good). We sat with our feet in the water a long time and finally decided that the only correct thing to end the day with was ice cream. We got our shoes back on and found Powder Mill Creamery, a darling ice cream shop that was clearly a local favourite, since there was a line stretching through the parking lot. By the time we had our ice cream it was almost completely dark outside. We made our way to picnic tables in the grass around the ice cream shop and sat with other happy and hot people and enjoyed our dessert.

King’s Chapel faces a whirling vortex of wind in Boston’s downtown, at the corner of Tremont St and School St. {photo by Will Murray}

We found out there is a vortex in downtown Boston, right in front of King’s Chapel. It took us all day long to realize this phenomena was specific to the intersection of Tremont ST, Beacon ST, and School ST.

King’s Chapel was originally an Anglican church attended by Royalists (supporters of the British King), but not supported by the Puritan founders of the city of Boston. In fact, when the Royal Governor demanded that land be provided for construction of the church, the Puritans refused. So, he seized some land already used as a burying ground and had a church built. Before he got a chance to worship there, the Puritans found out that King James II had been deposed, so they captured the Governor and shipped him back to England.

The original wooden church of 1686 was replaced with the current church in 1754. Rhode Island architect Peter Harrison (called America’s first architect) built it. The stone chapel does not have a steeple because the Royalists ran out of money. (The Puritans chuckled with glee, and did not buy anything at the Steeple Bake Sale.) It became Unitarian in 1785 under the ministry of James Freeman, and with that the establishment of the Unitarian Christian faith in America.

This was the site of our meeting place for the Boston By Foot Road to Revolution tour we were about to take. The weather was sketchy, but with only one day in the city, we had no choice but to show up in our rain jackets, and wait for our guide under a bank’s entryway while watching other tourists begin their Freedom Trail tours. The wind was astonishing! It whipped through the streets between tall buildings, blowing hats off heads, hurtling discarded Starbucks cups airborne into bushes, stripping tender early season leaves off the trees. Rain flew sideways, making umbrellas useless, even if they hadn’t already been yanked inside out by gusts. I watched as the wind grabbed a woman’s plastic poncho and pulled it nearly off her body. With her arms through the holes, she maintained possession of the poncho, while it flapped madly in the wind and rain above her head, a wet angry flag. When we spotted our tourguide, Linzy, she was surpised to see we hadn’t canceled. The others had.

Bravely the four of us (Will, me, Linzy, and her friend) all determined to go through with it. Linzy walked with us for a 2-hour tour past the physical remains of key moments in the political history of what is today called the United States of America. It’s an awkward story for me because it includes the invasion of my indigenous ancestors, but for today I’ll just set that aside and talk about the white man’s version of the tale.

Linzy told us about King’s Chapel, one of the symbols of the newly settled country, and a place visited by men whose names, like George Washington, appear in our founding mythology. The bell that rings today is one that was repaired by Paul Revere in his own foundry. We moved along the street and only a block away, the wind died down and our umbrella could be used as designed.

Benjamin Franklin is the most famous student from the Boston Latin School.

We walked to the Boston Latin School, founded on April 23, 1635. It is the oldest public school in America, and when it opened, offered a free education to boys of the community, regardless of what resources the family had. A statue of Benjamin Franklin, once a student there, honors the site of the original school.

The Old State House in the center of Boston, and in the center of U.S. history.

My favourite Boston building is the Old State House, built in 1713. The first floor was a merchant exchange and the second floor held offices of government, including that of the Governor, appointed by the English King. Until 1775, the Governor addressed the people from a balcony overlooking King Street.

The Old State House is adorned with the lion and unicorn, royal symbols of the King.

One of the lovely Boston churches.

Eye-catching frame of the Custom House Tower.

The Old State House is the oldest surviving public building in Boston. The plaza in front of the lion and unicorn is the site of the Boston Massacre. In March 1770, some boys taunted the British sentry until the sentry hit back. This drew a crowd of laborers, sailors, and bystanders, some carrying clubs. Seven soldiers were sent to defend the sentry, and they surrounded the crowd. The mob became cacauphonous and in the melee, the sentry fired his gun. The soldiers thought an order had been given, so they fired into the crowd. Five people died as a result, and many call this the first bloodshed of the Revolution. (Though that’s in dispute, as our tour guide in Salem explained how technically the first blood was spilled in Salem.) Six years later, the Declaration of Independence was read in the very same spot.

A statue of Samuel Adams in front of Faneuil Hall, currently swathed in protective covering during rennovations. {photo by Will Murray}

Nearby is Faneuil Hall, famous today as an indoor market. Peter Faneuil was the wealthiest merchant in Boston, and had no family or heirs. He proposed in 1740 that Boston have a central marketplace, and he offered to fund the construction entirely. The vote passed and the marketplace was built. As an afterthought, he added a second floor for a meeting space. The meeting space was immediately valuable as a public hall for gatherings, meetings, and ceremonies. 277 years later, it is still used in this way: market on the first level, gathering space at the top.

In front of Faneuil Hall is a statue of founding father, Sam Adams. Adams was born in Boston, a relative of President John Adams, and very active in politics. His family owned a company that produced malt used for brewing beer, and today there is a popular beer named after him.

We walked through an older part of Boston, with cobbled streets too narrow to fit a modern car. It’s hard to believe there are still places like this in the U.S.

Looking toward the Union Oyster House, from Union Street. (The Holocaust Memorial is right behind us, but that’s history for another day.)

Linzy told us about the history of Boston.

From there we walked past a hundred authentic Italian restaurants, in Boston’s Old North End. Linzy remarked as multiple tourists passed us with boxes of pastries from Mike’s, that it is where all the tourists go for authentic Italian pastries. “The locals go to Bova,” she added. We made a mental note.

Paul Revere owned this house from 1770-1800. {photo by Will Murray}

A statue of Paul Revere, with the famous spire of the Old North Church in the background.

It turns out, Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride, and the famous ‘one if by land, two if by sea’ plan, did not go down exactly as legend has it. Longfellow did the guy a solid for some reason.

During the planning stages of the revolution, there was a secret provincial council meeting in the town of Concord, Massachusetts. A spy network was organized between Concord and Boston, so the council could hear any Boston news. One enthusiastic member of the spy group was Paul Revere. People in Boston found out that British Regulars were planning to go out to Concord and confiscate an arms cache, and then arrest the council members, so the spy network was engaged.

There were two main routes to Concord from Boston, one was longer but entirely a land route. The other was shorter but required crossing the mouth of the Charles River where it emptied into the Bay. The spy group knew the British were about to move, and split up. Revere had been the one who told the sexton in the church about the lantern plan, and he may actually have been the person who went over there and told him to put up the two lanterns to send a signal across the water. THEN, Revere snuck illegally across the river in the night (because times were so tense the British had initiated a curfew and no one was allowed on the water after dark) ahead of the British Regulars and that’s when the ride began. Revere and others saddled up and tore along the road in the night, alerting everyone along the way to Lexington. As people found out, they jumped on their own horses and joined the spy group, alerting the countryside. Revere was captured by British soldiers before he made it to Concord, but he did play a key role that night.

The Old North Church, famous for holding the lantern signals.

We ended our tour at Coppy’s Burying Ground. The cemetery is the final resting place of many Boston patriots, including Robert Newman, the sexton at the Old North Church who hung a lantern. There are also unmarked slave graves here. By this time the weather was lovely. We sat on a park bench in the sun, drying out and resting after being on our feet for hours. Remembering the tip from Linzy, we bought some pastries to go at Bova, then had drinks at the very old Bell In Hand Tavern, operating since 1795 (except during prohibition).

We then went back to where we had parked, to drop off and get stuff from the car. As we left the City Hall Plaza and entered the intersection in front of King’s Chapel, we were bombarded with wind! It was a ferocious wind that nearly knocked us over. All day I had been thinking that the morning’s vortex was a product of the stormy weather, but no, apparently it’s a micro weather force, created by the arrangement of tall buildings and streets.

Copp’s Hill Burying Ground. See that skinny house between brick buildings?

This home is apparently not small. It faces the brick wall, and here, we are looking at it sideways.

Bell In Hand Tavern. Lovely atmosphere, crazy expensive drinks.

We walked over to Boston Commons and ate our pastries beside the pond, then walked across the channel to the giant milk bottle. The 40-foot wooden Hood Milk Bottle has a tiny restaurant in the bottom of it, closed for the night. We walked back to the North End and chose an Italian restaurant and had a splendid dinner.

Lovely Boston views as we walked through the city. Hard to believe this weather is the same day as the weather we had in the morning.

Lights add sparkle to downtown gardens in the evening.

View of the Boston skyline across Fort Point Channel.

 

The view beyond the back yard of the Airbnb place in Cashel.

We woke up to storybook fog. Our hosts wished us a wonderful day touring castles. Our first stop was the Rock of Cashel, only 7 minutes from where we spent the night.

On our last full day in Ireland it was time for us to see some castles. We had been seeing ruins of fortifications and towers for days, but the two well-maintained and managed places we decided to see up close were in Cashel and Cahir.

View of the Rock of Cashel as we approached.

The city of Cashel disappears into the fog below us, as we stood at the top.

Wonderful foggy views surrounded us from the Rock of Cashel.

Ubiquitous Celtic Crosses stand clear in the foreground of the misty day.

The cemetery at Cashel is at the base of the fabulous round tower.

A lone sheep sentinel stood bleating in the fog.

The Rock of Cashel is not the name of the structure on top, but the name of the whole prominence, and all the structures on it. The Rock of Cashel, also known as St. Patrick’s Rock, was the seat of the kings of Munster from the 4th century until 1101 when it was presented to the Church in a political move. Structures include Cormac’s Chapel, finished in 1134, the Round Tower, also built in the 12th century, St. Patricks Cathedral, built in the 13th century and used till the 18th century, and The Hall of the Vicars Choral, built in the 15th century. There is also a castle, which was the bishop’s residence.

Our admission fee included a tour of the whole site except the Chapel. We purchased tickets to tour the Chapel as well, which is locked to visitors unless they are attended by a guide. The Chapel shows multiple global influences in its architecture, with the message of unification. A Chapel for worship was meant for all people, in other words. It is remarkable inside and worth the extra Euros.

Tara explores the inside of the Chapel.

This sarcophagus was moved inside because its outside location subjected it to detrimental effects of the weather. One corner was not protected by a roof, and you can see the damage done by rain to the soft limestone.

Roof of the Chapel shows remains of murals.

Much of the stonework inside contained detailed faces that our guide explained were all symbolic of either saints or wicked spirits.

On the tour of the whole site, we began in the Hall of the Choral, and it was explained to us that the Vicars Choral was lavished with luxury. This beautiful building was built for the singers to live and practice their skills in assisting with chanting the cathedral services. They received the best accommodation and food, in hopes of attracting the most talented choral members. Hopes were that God would be most glorified by the most talented choral, and if it became well-known that they had the best choral, Cashel would gain prestige, power, and wealth.

Inside the main common room in the Hall of the Vicars Choral.

In an idea that reminded me of the Muslim belief that it is a sin to create art of living things and therefore presume to copy God’s creation, this tapestry was woven with intentional flaws. It shows that humans are not perfect and cannot mimick God’s creation. Look closely to see a one-legged man whose right leg has a left foot. The boy next to him has a hoof instead of a foot.

There is a small museum in the entrance building. Here different Coats of Arms are displayed.

Here there be dragons!

Standing inside the ruined cathedral, looking to the tower outside.

It was a cold visit, up there on top of the hill where breezes were stiff and it rained the whole time in the fog. We found a small theatre showing a film in German. The theatre was heated. Tara took a seat but I hovered over the radiator through the rest of the German film, and then through the English version that followed. Finally warm and dry again, we went down the hill and found a lovely restaurant to have a hot lunch.

Fortified, we moved on to Cahir. Tara deftly used the navigator software called Copilot they had downloaded a few days previous. We did not have cell service, but were fully functional in areas with Wifi. While we had Wifi, Tara downloaded the Copilot app, and then a map of Ireland. Phone GPS continues to work even when you don’t have cell service. So outside of Wifi access, Tara had a fully functional navigational tool to plot or replot our path, and constantly gave me updates on speed limit and upcoming traffic circles.

Good heavens there are a lot of traffic circles in Ireland! Also – note to the driver in other countries – when you enter a traffic circle in Ireland, you turn LEFT!

Also note: Wifi was available, and free to visitors EVERYWHERE. Every train station, convenience store, point of interest, coffee shop, or gift shop had free wifi. Menus at restaurants had their wifi passwords on them. It was super fast and reliable at all times. We went to the most incredibly remote spot I can imagine finding in Ireland, on the tippy tip of the Dingle Peninsula, and boom – reliable wifi from our host. Um….America? Can we fix our obvious failure in this category?

We drove just 20 minutes to the town of Cahir, and quickly found the carpark for Cahir Castle. There are signs posted at the carpark that list all the movies in which Cahir Castle has made an appearance. One look explained why: it’s picture perfect.

Movie-worthy scene with geese, a swan, and a rook at Cahir Castle.

Our guess at how to approach the castle was incorrect, but serendipitous, as it led us through the grounds in a wide circle behind the castle. It was still raining and foggy, but had warmed up, and we were in good spirits as we walked the grounds and got soaked again.

Walking in the wide lawn behind Cahir Castle.

Cahir Castle from the grounds.

Cahir Castle up close, with a cathedral spire in the background.

We made a big loop and never found an entrance, so we ended up back at the carpark. Luckily for us, this time we noticed the signs for how to pay, as well as a parking security car moving along the other side of the lot. Ooops. I sent Tara on ahead and paid the 2 Euro fee before the security car got there, and ran to catch up. Our entrance into Cahir Castle was free that day because they were in the middle of uploading a software fix, and couldn’t run the computers to take our money. “Enjoy!” the man at the desk told us. We did.

This rook greeted us at the official entrance.

Inside the grounds of Cahir Castle.

Cannon displays inside Cahir Castle.

During the whole trip we had been noticing the attractive flowers and ferns growing from old stone walls.

We had so much fun exploring Cahir Castle, situated on the River Suir. The grounds are huge, and there is so much to see. And then there is more to see, if you keep looking! We found delicious dungeons, and tower overlooks. We followed one spiral staircase up, up, and still up, and kept finding new rooms not previously explored. We found museum displays and mock rooms set up to look like they would have when the castle was lived in.

Cahir Castle is in excellent condition, well cared-for, and very interesting. What luck for us to add this one to our list, when we know practically nothing about Irish castles.

A room in the castle.

Fabulous rack mounted on the wall in one of the castle rooms.

Peering at the city of Cahir through panes of glass.

Looking onto an overlook point from the highest room in the tallest tower.

Tara stands at the overlook and gazes at Cahir and the River Suir.

One museum display had a large and beautiful mock battle of the seige of the castle by Oliver Cromwell in 1650. The lord of the castle surrendered without a shot being fired, despite cannons being at the ready, inside and out. This lack of cannon fire may be responsible in part for the intact walls today.

After hours of happy exploration, we returned to the front desk to ask questions about some arrow slits we had found that fanned open on the outside of the castle, which didn’t make sense to us. If you’ve ever seen arrow slits before, you know that they are tall skinny windows in V-shaped windowsills, to allow the shooter a wide field of view, and ability to shoot from multiple angles while remaining protected. Tara and I found those V-shapes on the outside of the castle walls, which was not intuitive, and seemed like a mistake. The docent explained that these are actually fanned both inside and out, and are partially with a thought to retaking the castle should it ever be captured. I had never heard of that idea! We headed back to the car, still admiring the beautiful place.

River surrounds the castle like a moat. You can see one of the “backward” arrowslits.

Looking toward the front entrance of the Cahir Castle.

The swan posed for me, as though he knew he was helping to create the scene.

The scariest part of my drive was ahead: back into Dublin! Only we were fortunate to be heading to the airport car rental, and that is well outside of the city. We were able to take a circular highway around the outside of Dublin, and thus never had to brave the city itself. Totally unsure of what to expect, we fumbled our way into the parking lot and were treated immediately with calm assurance and tons of help. They took our car, checked it over quickly, asked if we had any problems (we didn’t), then called us a cab. While we waited for the cab, we posted photos to Instagram using – yeah, free Wifi.

That evening we found a nearby restaurant and had our last Guinness in Ireland.

The next morning we had an easy 7am wake up, and got to the airport in plenty of time so we shopped the duty free and bought Ireland mugs and some Slane Whiskey to honor our visit to the Slane distillery. We went through pre-flight customs that allowed us to skip customs when we arrived later that day in Newark. Woo Hoo! Going through US Customs is a pain in the ass and it takes forever. In Ireland it was friendly and quick. By midnight we were home and in our beds in Oregon.

This scene made me laugh because it reminded me of all the traffic circles I had been through recently. There’s a real roundabout in the bottom left of the photo.

Lovely Irish countryside, with a circle in a subdivision, and a quarry too.

Ireland finally dropped so far below me that I realized it was time to say goodbye.

Will and me partway up Beacon Rock, on the Washington side of the Columbia River.

Will came to visit from Rhode Island for two weeks. Prior to this visit he had never stepped foot into Washington or Oregon. I was delighted to be able to show his virgin eyes my favourite part of the world. On our first day back home after Seattle, the day dawned sunny once more, and that meant we had to get outside and explore!

Beacon Rock beside the Columbia River. Photo by Jen Thomas.

This time we went out into the Columbia Gorge on the Washington side because Will was interested in climbing Beacon Rock. The rock is not only remarkable to see, standing alone like a sentinel as it does, but it also has interesting stories behind its formation and its use as a viewpoint.

The rock is a remnant of a volcano that erupted 57,000 years ago – recently, in geologic time. When the eruption was finished, lava that had filled the core cooled and hardened. Between 15 and 13 thousand years ago, a massive event known as the Missoula Floods sent wave after wave of incredibly high floodwaters crashing to the sea, carving and shaping the gorge that I love today. The water eventually eroded the mountain, leaving only the hard lava core.

In 1805, William Clark described and drew the rock in his journals, and in 1806 his traveling companion Meriwether Lewis gave it the name it still holds today.

They were obviously not the first people to note the rock. American Indians used it as a landmark to identify the last dangerous rapids to negotiate – if traveling by boat – before reaching the sea. The Bonneville Dam is visible from the trail as one climbs the rock.

View from the top, looking east toward Bonneville Dam. For a larger image so you can see the dam, just click!

In 1814, Nicholas Biddle edited the journals of Lewis and Clark for publication. Almost exactly 100 years later, his descendent Henry J. Biddle purchased the rock for $1 and began building a trail. He finished it in 1918. Biddle’s children gave the rock to the state of Washington in 1935 so that it could be made into a state park.

My purpose in acquiring the property was simply and wholly that I might build a trail to the summit.   ~H. Biddle

The trail remains today and is one mile long with 53 switchbacks. There is a small viewing place at the top, 848 feet up. There are great views all the way up, so you don’t have to reach the top for a reward. However, if you do press on (and if you skate over the icy patches we found on the shady west side), you have a 360-degree view from the top.

It looks scarier than it is. But yes, it’s basically a path on the side of a rock.

The view west toward Portland/Vancouver.

There are many many switchbacks that make you gasp for breath.

The solution for gasping is to take photos along the way.

Will climbs a rock staircase onto the viewing platform at the top.

At the bottom of the hill, we next crossed the Bridge of the Gods, which gets its name from an American Indian legend that talks about another Bridge of the Gods found in this same place in the river. If you read the book, or saw the movie “Wild,” with Reese Witherspoon, the character chooses the bridge as her final destination before quitting the Pacific Crest Trail.

On the other side of the river is the state of Oregon. We hit Interstate 84 and turned west toward Portland again. But we had to make another stop. Will’s virgin eyes needed to see the astonishing waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge. I pulled off the highway exit to Multnomah Falls, one of the most visited tourist attractions in the state of Oregon. It is named after one of the gods in the bridge story I mentioned above.

Multnomah Falls is a familiar sight, but I never tire of it.

Looking from the bridge out to the tourists below and the Columbia Gorge out there in the sunshine.

Sometimes the best view of the falls is from the parking lot, where you can see the whole thing. On this day, the snow and ice confused the view. The Blue Star Highway sign honors US Armed Forces.

We walked up to the base of the falls and Will was duly impressed with the 620 foot falls. “Just like in Rhode Island!” he joked. We hiked up the trail to the bridge you can see in the photo.

By then we were starving, and it was time to indulge in the fare at the Multnomah Falls Lodge. The lodge is gorgeous outside and inside, featuring walls of glass panes so that we could look at the falls while we ate. The lodge theme is maintained inside the restaurant, with rustic and historic decor, and a massive fireplace. The food is always high quality.

Adventuring spirits and bellies sated, we made the long drive back home to Rainier.

Only Multnomah Lodge can make a burger and a gyro sandwich look so good.

I spotted the Golden Gate Bridge beneath my plane’s window, as we approached San Francisco for a landing.

In early February I took a trip to Nevada to visit my cousin Debbie. She is one of my favourite people in the whole world and we had not seen each other for years. Several snowstorms were rolling through the region during that time and I became afraid that if I made the two-day journey by car, I would get trapped in one of those storms. Instead I made the one-day journey by plane for less than the cost of gas!

I arrived just before a storm hit. On our way home from the airport it started to get bad and we even had to re-route due to an accident on the highway. By the next morning, their neighborhood was a winter wonderland.

These hills are right outside my cousin’s neighborhood and I decided to hike up to them.

I had brought winter gear with me, so I bundled up and walked out the front door with my camera. We had not yet had any snow at home in Rainier, so this snow was the first snow of the winter for me!

I walked through the sagebrush and juniper and spotted a dozen rabbits bouncing through the fresh snow, leaving their tracks everywhere. I wanted so badly to capture them in photo, but as I tried in vain, I remembered the expression quick like a bunny.

My views of snow, sagebrush, rabbit tracks, and mountains as I plowed through the snow up the gradual slope.

Here I found a rabbit highway.

Sagebrush has a beautiful smell that rose up around me as I tromped through. I picked a few branches to take home with me.

I don’t know what this bush is, but it is also pretty.

Every now and then the sun would break through and light up the landscape.

We had been checking the road conditions online all morning, waiting to see if a particular pass would open up so we could head up to stay the night in a cabin we had reserved in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. The overnight snowstorm had closed highways all over the place. Lines of trucks showed up on the traffic cameras, one line waiting to go East, and the other waiting to go West. Everything stopped in the middle due to 4-8 feet of freshly fallen snow.

We had decided earlier that if the roads weren’t open by 2pm, we would have to give up on the trip because we would need a couple hours of daylight to safely drive up as far as we could go, then snowshoe into the cabin, hauling our gear for the night, and dig the cabin door out of the snow so we could get in. It would not be a good idea to take any chances in this kind of adventure when temperatures drop quickly after dark and we would be in snow depths over our heads. I checked the time and saw that it was time to head back to make sure I was there by 2pm.

When I turned around, I saw the neighborhood at the bottom of the hill.

Snow can make even a mud puddle look pretty.

Highway 88 remained closed all day. The next morning Debbie and I were getting restless. We packed up for a road trip up there anyway, just to see all the snow. We brought our cameras, but it was hard to get many good photos. It was still snowing in the mountains, even though there was blue sky and sunshine in the valleys. We quickly crossed the Nevada/California border and spent most of the trip in the California Sierra. Roads were open as far as Kirkwood Mountain Resort, but just after the entrance into the parking lot, we could see the gate across Highway 88, where no traffic was allowed because the plows had not yet been able to clear the roads sufficiently.

At Kirkwood Mountain Ski Resort, the snow was absolutely appropriate.

Parking lots were packed with people excited to get onto the slopes buried in several feet of new snow.

This car had obviously been parked here yesterday, before the storm began. I had to chuckle that the owner was thoughtful enough to raise the wipers, but apparently had not planned on 4 feet of snow!!

Looking across the creek that runs through the center of the Kirkwood resort. You can see the ski slopes behind the buildings.

When we were done looking around at the ski resort, we then looked for places to take photos. That was a challenge because plows had only time to clear a path for cars, but not enough time for luxuries like clearing extra space on the side of the road to pull over, out of traffic. Deb and I could not find many safe places to stop.

Here is the wall of snow at one of the plowed pull-outs that we found.

A ray of light burst through snow showers.

In this one I was trying to highlight the icicle in the branches.

And then the sun blinked out and it was back to snow.

Down in the valley again, there was less snow but more sun.

My cousin Debbie is an accomplished photographer.

The road trip into the snow kept us from feeling the disappointment of not being able to stay in the cabin overnight. The next morning we all woke up early and Debbie took me back to the airport in Reno. My flight left on time, just ahead of another snow storm.

Photo a few days later from the same place I was standing when I took the above video.

Like I mentioned in my last post, my delight with the unusual snowfall was wiped out quickly by tons of rain that flooded my property.

I ran around this morning taking photos of the same spots that were flooded on the 12th. Scroll through and compare. Wow! That was a lot of water!

Now that the water has receded somewhat, you can see what my property is supposed to look like. You can also see logs and other debris (and some trash) that the flood waters dragged up onto the grass. I have some cleanup work ahead of me, but I still need to wait for the land to dry out because it’s still pretty soggy out there.

Also…anyone notice all the mole holes? Grrr…. those annoying little beasts. I hope some of them died in the floods.

The high water closer to the house was more amazing to me, simply because I spend more time in those spots. Anyone who has seen photos of my place before may recognize this scene with the fence posts on the left. You can also see my boot tracks from earlier in the day when I walked through before the water got higher!


The water never got high enough to threaten my house, but it threatened critter houses. I noticed some raccoon tracks in the snow. The tracks went all along the creek on my side, and I could tell someone was trying to get across to their home on the other side. I went out multiple times in the day, and saw new raccoon tracks each time, as the critter tried and tried to find a way across. I never did see the raccoon itself.

Also, I worried about the Hussies in their pen. From my deck it seemed like the water was very close, but when I went down to their pen to check on them, I saw that their chicken house stayed about 5 feet above the water line. In flood levels, five feet is a lot, and I was pretty sure they would be safe. But I didn’t know what would happen in the night. When I got up the next morning, the first thing I checked on was my chickens. Those lucky Hussies did not have to learn to swim overnight. Whew!

Raccoon tracks in the snow.

Someone wants to cross the creek.

View of high water behind the chicken pen, from my house.

 

 

My pond in the winter, and a sign alerting visitors to faerie activity.

I grew up in Idaho. Winters could be brutal, with weeks of temperatures below zero, and heaps of snow that never melted. Then I left home and spent winters in Illinois, Washington, Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Vermont, and Massachusetts.

So. Many. Brutal. Winters.

Now I live in Rainier, Oregon! Winters are grey and wet. People ask me, “Doesn’t all that rain bother you?” My answer: “I don’t have to shovel rain!” Sometimes winters get cold enough here where the snow will stick on the ground, but usually you can still see the grass growing up through the snow because the layer is too thin. In 2016/17 we got a good snow. Last winter, I recall one day in which flakes fell from the sky, but the ground stayed too warm for snow to collect and make a layer of white. That was our snowiest day of the year.

I miss the snow in years like that. Not that I want another Idaho winter, but there are things about snow to love. This year, winter lasted for a week!

Looking up the hill at the house.

My little creek in the snow. You can see it off to the right.

I think it’s so beautiful when snow is heaped on trees.

For a few days the snow fell, and then melted a little in daytime warmth, then snowed again at night. For my area, this was a massive major snowfall and I was having a blast. I built a snowman and made a snow angel and giggled at the Hussies in the snow.

snow angel

Fern for hair

I followed the Hussies around, giggling at them trying to make sense of the snow. They pecked at it…scratched in it…and then in a group decided to go back into their purple chicken house where there is no snow.

Hussies in the snow.

Some of the deepest snow was in the early morning or at night, when the temperatures stayed cold enough for it not to melt.

Early morning snow on the deck.

Nighttime snow on the deck. Who made those tracks?

When you have to shovel snow for only one snowstorm all winter, it’s fun!

I think this photo captures the snow at the deepest point. It had been snowing and then melting a little, off and on for a few days.

All good snow storms come to an end, especially if you live where I do. Soon it got warm. And then more upper level moisture moved in. From what I hear, it dumped another foot of snow on Seattle, but it was warmer here, and dumped rain. And rain. And rain.

My snow buddy valiantly stood in the rain for as long as he could, but like so many of us, succumed to the winter blahs.

{Stay tuned. Guess what happens when tons of rain falls onto a thick blanket of snow? Yup. Flooding.}

While my kitchen, living room, and dining room are torn up for the remodel, I haven’t been able to enjoy Christmas in my own home. I mean…sort of. Tara came home from college and insisted we get a tree and decorate the TV room a little. It was good for my soul. I love Christmas and this remodel project has been underway since May and I am *so* frustrated that it’s still not done. Not even close to done. And my Christmas was all discombobulated because of it.

This is the TV room, crammed with furniture (and appliances – you can’t see the refrigerator, oven, and microwave to my left) from the kitchen and dining room. Note the desk to the right, that has become my new kitchen, with toaster, electric kettle, coffee and tea. And the bookcase piled with dishes.

It was a good time to go spend some Christmas holiday time with someone else. So Tara and I headed to Boise, Idaho, to visit my awesome brother Eli, his inspiring wife Addie, and their boys.

We set out early Friday morning. There were three mountain passes along the way, and the total trip would be 8 hours of driving. I wanted to have as much daylight as possible. We had coffee and granola bars and jumped into the Jeep. After two hours of driving, we were famished, and that was perfect because we had reached the town of The Dalles, Oregon. Home of our favourite breakfast stop in the region: Petite Provence.

Our favourite breakfast place is in a tiny town called The Dalles, along Interstate 84 in the Columbia River Gorge. Authentic, delicious, French fare at Petite Provence.

The weather Friday was promising. I checked the whole route and saw that no precipitation was expected that day. Still, I’m always nervous about micro-effects tucked away in the river gorge, or between mountain tops where the weather radar can’t see. We were lucky though, and the roads were in excellent shape all day. We arrived in Boise at dinner time, and met the family at a favourite restaurant close to their home. I think it has been four years since we saw them all. I could have sworn it’s been less time than that, but sadly, I think that’s how long it’s been.

We all went to my brother’s beautiful home and chatted while the very exciteable boys vied for our attention. I am touched that Eli & Addie have constantly talked to the boys about Aunt Sis (that’s me) and Cousin Tara so much, that the boys were genuinely excited to see us, even though they didn’t remember us at all.

Tara and me enjoying the hospitality in my brother’s home.

Addie is a genius at decorating, and making a home feel like Home. I can’t imagine the immense amount of work it must have taken to make their place so beautiful – like a magazine spread. There were tasteful, gorgeous Christmas touches in every single room: even the boys’ bathroom. The couch was heaped with fluffy soft Christmas blankets for curling up with – and we used them every chance we got! They doted on our every need, tried to anticipate needs we hadn’t thought of yet, and made us feel like showing up was the best thing that had happened to them in a month. I truly admire people who can do that. I am humbled by what beautiful people they are.

The next morning the boys were very eager to find what new thing had been done by their Elf on the Shelf, named Rocky. For those not familiar, many homes have an Elf on the Shelf ever since a book by that name was published in 2005. The story is that in order to help Santa know if children have been naughty or nice, the elf begins visiting their home every day, and flying back to the North Pole to report each night. The elf looks like a toy, but is alive, and holds very still during the daytime, when the children are around. Each morning, my brother’s boys get up and run around the house to find Rocky and discover what new thing has been left for them. Sometimes it’s mischief like moustaches drawn onto family photos in Mom’s lipstick. Sometimetimes it’s a treat or a project.

Eli watches as the boys mix the ingredients to grow candy canes. Forgive the grooming, we had all just climbed out of bed.

Saturday morning, Rocky left some materials and instructions for a project. There were two big bowls filled with sugar, and small bowls filled with gumdrops and M&Ms. There was an instruction card explaining that the recipe was to grow candy canes. The boys poured in the ingredients and mixed. Over the next couple of days, if they left the bowls alone, candy canes would grow in there.

Addie paints Tara’s toenails.

My fancy nails

We lounged for most of the day. The boys played a lot of video games and we grown ups drank mimosas and talked. Addie was excited to have an estrogen infusion into that bunch of testosterone, and brought out all her nail supplies and hair supplies. We did manicures and played with hair while Eli made holiday phone calls.

Tara and Addie

Nephew getting ready for Bingo night

Finally it was time for us to go to our evening events. My brother’s family has a Bingo night Christmas tradition that they were so excited to attend! The family got all dressed up in funny clothes. We were invited of course, but Tara and I had purchased tickets to see our friend Marcus Eaton perform. We had invited Eli & Addie, but they were going to have too much fun at Bingo night to give it up. So, we happily went our separate ways, all wishing the two events weren’t on exactly the same night.

Another fun thing for Tara and me was that our friend Andre had flown down to Boise from Seattle to see Marcus play as well. We managed to be seated at the same table. Tara hadn’t seen Andre or Marcus for years, so it was fun for them to all reconnect again. Because we are special friends of the artist, we were invited back stage to hang out in the green room with Marcus, Andre, and other friends before the show.

Marcus at the Sapphire Room, entertaining his hometown crowd.

Then we ate dinner in the lovely Sapphire Room of the Riverside Hotel in Boise, while we watched the show. Andre livestreamed the first hour and a half of the show for Marcus’ fans on facebook, but finally put his phone down when his arm got tired. Andre had brought his new guitar, a sister to Marcus’ guitar, to the show. The same luthier made the two guitars, using the same piece of wood. Andre loaned his guitar, tuned in a different key, and Marcus switched out during the show. Marcus also explained that Andre’s guitar is #1 in a series by the luthier, Roy McAlister, who has created the “Marcus Eaton edition.” So you too, can have one of these guitars.

Andre with his very special guitar.

Marcus sings a song from his upcoming album. You can see Andre’s guitar behind him.

Marcus has been writing songs long enough that he managed to fill the whole performance with exceptional ones – favourites for all of us. He also played a debut live version of one I’ve only seen in video (I’ll put the video at the bottom), and he played two brand new songs I had never heard. Some are so beloved that the audience was singing along. He dedicated one to Andre, and one to me. We all sang Happy Birthday to his mom, whose birthday is December 25th. Marcus brought his dad (another performer) up on stage and they did a song together.

Setlist:

  1. Shadow of a Bird
  2. Flying Through the Fire
  3. Step Aside (live debut)
  4. Black Pearl
  5. Better Way
  6. Barbie Song
  7. Handed Down
  8. Calm Beneath
  9. Drug
  10. Sunrise Lets You Down
  11. What’s the Difference
  12. Stir It Up (Bob Marley)
  13. Closer (live debut)
  14. Picture of Us
  15. Up and Over
  16. Lucky Me (featuring Steve Eaton)
  17. Fiona

After the show we went back to the green room with Marcus again. This time with his mom and sister too. They are a loving family and were so kind to us friends and fans.

On the way home we stopped to admire a house in my brother’s neighborhood. It’s astonishingly bright with Christmas lights. Tara noticed that the windows were covered in thick curtains, likely for both privacy and so the inhabitants can sleep at night.

Incredibly bedecked home near my brother’s house.

Christmas-O-Rama!

The house sits on a corner in an intersection, and every viewable angle is packed full of lights, including an arbor of lights over the sidewalk.

The next morning after coffee and cocoa, we left my brother’s house. The family had stayed the night at their friend’s house where they played Bingo, and told us they didn’t expect to get back home anytime soon. We were anxious to get started because of forecast snow. So we left a love note and off we went.

The snow didn’t begin till late morning, so I had Tara drive the first few hours. We stopped for gas and slid all over the road in the snow as we turned corners and slid to a stop at stop signs in the little town. After gassing up, I took over the driving.

A rest stop along the way.

A tiny snowman at the rest stop.

Closer to home it’s warmer, because of the marine influence along the Columbia River. So it was pouring rain for the latter part of the drive, making small lakes across the highway, and with high winds my Jeep was tossed about and spinning tires in the water. Yikes! But the rain had lightened up by the time we got home. Tara relaxed about an hour, got something to eat, filled their water bottle, and took off for another 2 1/2 hour drive home to Corvallis that night. Tara is house- and pet-sitting for friends and had to get back to check on all the critters. Long day, poor kid.

To my delight, the kid then turned around and drove all the way back home to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with me. My holiday turned out perfectly after all. ❤

My kitty Racecar stretches out on my legs, glad that I am home again.                       Me too, kitty, me too.

 

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.

 

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