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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.

 

Jerry and Terry Holder are annual favourites because they are so much fun on stage, they’re lovely people, and we love their music.

I went to my third backyard music and barbecue yesterday at Roy and Lucy McAlister’s home. Remember how enchanted I was the first time? It’s like that every time. Roy McAlister is a luthier, and consequently knows a lot of musicians. He and Lucy host a gathering every summer at their home, where they invite neighbors, celebrities, local stars, old friends and brand new friends to take the stage and perform for all of us lucky people who are invited. The music is always exceptional. The people who show up – every single soul – are always exceptional.

Damp but optimistic audience.

We’ve had an unusually hot and dry summer here along the coast of the Pacific Northwest. Day after day of temperatures in the 90s have finally dried out the earth to dust and much of the greenery has yellowed. So in between two solid weeks of clear blue skies and 90-degree temps, there was one day – a single day – of rain in the forecast. Any other day we would be cheering for the much-needed rain, but instead we remarked about the bad timing. And then… we appreciated the rain a little bit anyway, because we live here and have made peace with rain.

It intermittently poured, then broke up and splashed sun on us – teasing us and getting our hopes up – then started pouring again, for hours. We fretted about the electronic equipment under plastic sheets, hoping nothing would get ruined, hoping there would be a way to have an outside concert eventually. And yes, around 6pm the clouds began to break apart in earnest. By 7pm it had cleared up for good and people moved permanently out of the house. We sat on wet lawn chairs and got ready to be delighted.

A series of fabulous musicians took the stage!

This photo is from 2017, since I didn’t take any good perspective photos this year. Behind the stage you can see the glowing windows of Roy’s shop.

Steve Hawkins was gracious enough to start off the night with some beautiful songs. One song was interrupted by low-flying aircraft, and he calmly took it in stride and incorporated the demonstration into the show. Now there’s a performer for you.

Rick Ruskin is another familiar friend and performer. His ease with his guitar made the audience forget it was a show and just get caught up in the music.

Roy McAlister, left, introduces Andre Ranieri and Diana Brown. It was their first time on stage and Andre impressed us with his lead guitar while Diana wowed us with her vocals.

Andre has been a beloved friend for years.  We met through a mutual friend and musician, Marcus Eaton. In fact, it’s because of Andre that I received my first invite to McAlapalooza in 2015. Andre plays with Diana, and so she made the journey from the TriCities to be here tonight. I loved her of course.

Peter Jacobsen used his guitar to accompany his outstanding voice.

Christine Gill and John Resch knocked our socks off with their great songs! John played a guitar he built himself.

Christine and John get a second photo because this one was too good to leave out. They are such a loving, open, humble, and generous couple. I begged them to come and play again next time.

Pianist and singer, Grace, a McAlister family friend. This young woman’s talent will take her places. (and look how much fun she’s having)

Our hostess Lucy took the stage to introduce Save the Bees, a new act and immediate favourite once they began belting out brilliant harmonies.

This is where the guitar magic happens.

Andre plays his new guitar.

As I watched Save the Bees, Andre gestured to me from the other side of the lawn to follow him and John Resch up the hill to Roy’s shop. When I arrived he announced, “This is my new guitar.” We admired the nearly-finished instrument (missing accessories like a pick guard and strap button) that Roy has been making for him. It’s a sister to Marcus Eaton’s guitar, that stirred up so much excitement in 2015. Andre humbly handed it to John, who tuned it and played a few pieces, and then Andre finally got to hold his new baby.

Diana showed up a little later and played it too, Jerry and Terry Holder stopped in to watch the delight settling over Andre. Terry showed us her mostly-built ukulele that Roy is making. Then Andre played while Diana sang, and I was a quiet, wide-eyed witness to musicians simply reveling in the joy of making music.

Jerry backs up Terry who wrote a new song while teaching herself to play the ukulele.

I had been stuffing myself with food all evening. That’s one of the fun things about McAlapalooza: guests trickle in from 3 to 8, and everybody brings something: salads, blueberry tarts, roast potatoes, noodles, fresh vegetables, cake, and artichoke dip. The grill was fired up and then chicken and sausage appeared. Every time I walked into the house, a new dish had found a place on the table and I had to sample it. It was late, and dark, and I was tired and full of delicious food and wine. I missed the final act, James Anaya, and climbed into the Jeep and set the GPS for home.

bat+open door = oops

So. Much. Stuff. Happened. Last night.

Except sleep. Sleep did not happen much.

The evening was fine until I got a text from someone who pissed me off. And I could not stop thinking about it. I was mad, mad, mad. I went to bed and stared fiercely at the shadowy ceiling while I tried not to worry about the 6:30 am alarm that would be coming soon.

My cat Racecar likes to sleep on my neck. It’s hard to breathe, but she’s soft and warm and she’s my comfort blanket. Except last night it was 87 degrees and neither one of us could get comfortable. I had opened the deck-side sliding glass door a little, and the window, but there was no cross breeze. Racecar walked across my throat, stepping on a boob now and then, back and forth, back and forth, but could not pick a satisfactory place to curl up on my neck. Too hot. She finally found a place at the foot of the bed and it suited us both fine.

Even with my comfort blanket down at the foot of the bed, the damp sheets, and no cross breeze, I finally fell asleep, who knows when. But I do know it was 11:47 when I heard a “mrrroowr! meeeooowww!” from a strange cat that woke me out of a dead sleep. It had managed to squeeze through the opening in the sliding glass door and got all the way to the kitchen to eat my cat’s food, and then couldn’t find it’s way out. I started yelling and it found the door and skeedaddled. Racecar, worthless cat, was still curled up at the foot of the bed, clearly not defending me from foes.

Then I was awake again.

Ugh. It was so hot. Against my better judgement, I went to the other side of the room and opened the door to the back yard. And opened the glass door wider, trying to bring the outside air in. I figured the strange cat probably wouldn’t come back. I tossed and turned for at least another hour. I was hot and mad, trying to sleep. You know how you silently yell at yourself, “go to sleep NOW!” and it doesn’t work?

Then I started wondering what that fluttering sound was. Such a soft, pretty sound. Probably a moth. Fluttering around and around the room. Racecar got up and started following it around the room. “Good girl,” I thought in my fogginess. “Eat the moth so I can sleep.” Flutter flutter. Moth wings have a sort of fur on them, which must be making that lovely sound. Then there was a quiet “eeeek” on one of its passes over my head. Funny, it reminded me of a bat. Racecar started jumping as the moth swooped close.

Actually the flutter was pretty loud. That must be a damned big moth. I picked up my phone and turned on the flashlight app and shined it up to the ceiling so that I could see into the blackness…and saw a BAT swooping around my bedroom! Shadows cast by my phone covered half the room. Wing shadows, probably teeth shadows, but I didn’t hang around to look. Obviously it came in through one of the wide open doors and now couldn’t find it’s way out.

A bat! A Bat! In my bedroom!  I slunk off the bed, crouched, arms over my head, and duck-walked to the door to the living room. Once out, I closed the door behind me. The bat could find it’s way out of my bedroom eventually, but I needed to sleep in a bat-free zone.

I checked to make sure kitty had come out of the bedroom with me, then padded down the hall in bare feet to Tara’s room (unoccupied while T is at college), and climbed into bed, pretty much awake.

I took deep, slow breaths, calming myself, thinking some more about the 6:30 am alarm. Still mad about that text message, planning all the clever mean things I would text back in the morning. Tara’s room was a little cooler, and the bed is comfortable. My eyes began to close and I began to drift off.

thump I hear from the living room. Thump thump…bump. CRASH! What the?? I sat up and listened. Whack-bump! thud.

Jeeze Louise.

I got up and walked into the living room in the dark and found Racecar leaping from the furniture into the air, trying to get the BAT that had followed us out of the bedroom! I ducked.

I wouldn’t even walk through the living room. I went out the front door of the house, outside in my bare feet, around the house to the deck, opened the living room sliding door so the bat could get out, then through the sliding door into my bedroom again, and dropped to the still-damp sheets. Is this for real?

Fully, fully awake. I checked my phone. 2:12 am. I went to the bathroom and swallowed a sleeping pill. I had to work in the morning. Sleep was critical. It worked after another 45 minutes, and I finally fell asleep after composing a perfect text response in my mind.

There was a time warp and in four minutes, the alarm went off. “Like hell,” I mumbled. Turned off the alarm and went promptly back to sleep, only to be awakened immediately by cluck, cluck, cluck…brrrrr cluck? Clearly chicken sounds, and clearly too close. “Arrrggghhh!” I said to no one, looked at my phone, which said 6:33. I heard it again, cluck cluck?

I got up and opened the door to the living room, and crept in while crouched, eyes at the ceiling. No bat. But there, in the living room, was one of the Hussies. Of course this would be the morning Tawny got loose, and of course she came up on the deck and found all the doors open, and came on in. Because, she’s a chicken. Chickens are dumb, and annoying. I love them, but it’s an honest relationship.

“Come on, chick! chick!” I called, and dumb, happy Tawny followed me out the door, across the porch, down the steps, across the grass, and to the chicken pen. I’m Momma Chicken to her.

Back in the house, I checked for poop (none! yay!), and resigned myself to starting up the work day.

As I settled in at the computer in my home office, I heard CCCRRRREEEERRRR….CCRAAAACCKK! BOOM!

Pretty little elderberry tree by the creek.

Exactly 24 hours later. Can you see the massive tree that has fallen across the creek?

I ran outside, and saw that a huge Alder in my back yard had just fallen. No wind. No storm. It just…gave up and fell. An enormous tree that now lies in the creek. Just last night I had stood there, captivated by glowing evening light on the elderberry bush beside it. That must have been an omen, the light on the bush. Earth was saying to me, “Pay attention and enjoy this moment of peace. Because… well… you know.”

It was pitch black through my nighttime adventures, and I couldn’t get a photo, not that I was even thinking of it. I told a few people today, I’m gonna write a blog post about it, and Allie Brosh will do the illustration. Sadly, I don’t know Allie personally. So I had to do the illustration myself a-la-Hyperbole and A Half.  This is me, crouching behind my bed, arm up as protection against the bat:

In lieu of Allie Brosh.

Here’s another photo of the downed tree. You still can’t get sense of how big the tree is by looking at the photo, but it’s a little better.

All those sideways branches=one tree

 

Mt. Hood above Timberline Lodge

After our long trip to the Fossil Beds, Vlad and I decided a short trip to Mt. Hood was a good choice for our next mini road trip.

I spent time reminiscing. Tara and I used to live in Portland, on the east side of the river. That meant access to this particular recreation area was quicker and easier than others. Heading for the Mt. Hood area was our go-to. Also, my Grandma Trulove used to live near Mt. Hood, and I visited when I could, and took her to optometrist appointments. All my memories from those days came flooding back. I pointed out the road to Grandma’s retirement home, the road to our favourite camp site, our favourite breakfast place, our traditional stop-for-sweets place.

It had been raining all day, so we had no views of the mountain. I was disappointed because in my opinion, the magnificent view of Mt. Hood up close should not be missed. But…I have not yet found a way to control the weather. As we got to the lowest slopes, however, we broke into sunshine and blue skies.

A surprising crowd of snowboarders was making the most of the snow that hasn’t yet melted. The snow field makes it all the way to the parking lot.

I was surprised at how busy the mountain is…but then I realized that June is early in the summer. That means, all the snow has not yet melted. Most schools are out and the kids are getting in a last few snowboarding runs before it’s too late. The chair lifts weren’t running, so skiers hauled all their gear up the mountain on foot!

We walked from the parking lot up to the lodge and I remembered how much my mother loved this lodge. She had a particular fondness for old Park Service lodges, and I remember her delight here. I remember some of the things she especially liked, such as the mail slot in a log, and the carved stairwell posts. I recalled when we snuck through the guest doors and ran through the hallways exploring anything we could get into, just because she loved it so much. Oh man, I miss my mom.

Entrance to Timberline Lodge

Huge fireplace is the centerpiece of this beautiful lodge.

The chimney disappears into massive timbers.

The lowest level

Generous use of wood and iron is found throughout.

Timberline Lodge sits at 6000 feet elevation. The average snow depth in season is 21 feet. If you decided to hike from the lodge to the summit, it is 3.6 miles away with an elevation gain of 5000 feet. The Lodge was built in 1937. There are guest rooms and two restaurants, and four levels. The lower level contains several small museum-type displays of bits about the history of Timberline Lodge, with original cast-iron hardware, a replica of the bedroom where President Roosevelt stayed, a replica of what an old rescue center looked like, dedications to the U.S. Forest Service and the Camp Fire Girls (A group similar to Girl Scouts. My mom was in Camp Fire Girls for many years because my Grandmother was the troop leader.) Care has been taken with the choice and display of artwork inside. There is a three-story fireplace. How do they do that?!? In full view everywhere are massive, massive timbers holding the place together.

Happy Birthday Elisia!

We ate lunch at the Rams Head bar and toasted to my friend’s birthday. Then we headed out for some exploration. We followed the main trail that all the snowboarders were taking, to walk to the top of the snow field in order to ski to the bottom. And then do it again. The trail is steep and I was gasping for breath. Luckily there were amazing views so I kept explaining that I needed to stop and take photos for my blog. Wink wink nudge nudge.

Behind the Lodge are many trails that criss-cross up and around the mountain, including a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.

This chipmunk was a normal size, unlike the one we saw at Mt. St. Helens.

To the South we could see Trillium Lake and Mt. Jefferson behind Timberline Lodge. Mt. Jefferson is 46 miles from the lodge. In this photo you can see people lugging their ski gear up the hill to the top of the snow field. You can also see the snow field with teeny tiny snowboarders going down to the parking lot.

Up close and personal with Mt. Hood

I played in the snow on the way back down.

It was warm up there – in the 60s. I had a sweater but didn’t wear it. I also tore off my long-sleeved t-shirt and just wore a summer top. I wondered how warm the skiers were in their coats and boots and backpacks. We passed one man on the trail heading up who turned to us and said, “I’ll give you a dollar if you carry this for me.”

When we left the mountain and headed back home, we burrowed beneath clouds and drizzle in no time, and it was a grey cold trip all the way home.

One of my many guises

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