Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Week 32: Colorado---and home

We've been back in San Francisco for about ten days, getting used to it. It's odd not to be anonymous. It's odd to not be in a little Dawn and Larry bubble. But it's good, too. I appreciate the beauty of California so much, the rolling green hills in the East Bay, the vast stretches of farmland in the Central Valley, the ocean as we drive towards my mom's house, where we are staying for the summer. There's so much about California that I was so used to seeing that I'd stopped really seeing it. And the pace here is so fast, the traffic, the pressures--I'm easily exhausted. I'm an easily exhausted person anyways, which is why having a nice long winter to hole up during fit the pace of me. I found myself missing the snow and the cold and the slow pace of Wisconsin. While friends in Wisconsin, Chicago, and Minnesota were bemoaning another snowfall, I was feeling sad I still couldn't be surrounded by the gentle quiet and stillness that snow offers. Indeed, the last several months have been healing, and a much-needed break and rest from the go-go-go expectations of always-sunny California.

Our return to the City
But before we got here, we had a lovely week in Colorado, visiting friends and family. Albuquerque was a simple pit-stop at a Motel 6 and a minor car repair, then we headed to Colorado, where we drove through Denver at rush hour to stop for a couple of nights with Larry's good friend and former roommate, Melinda.

Random motel where we stopped for lunch one day
Longmont was a beautiful smaller town. When we arrived, it was still warm--I wore a dress for our first night at dinner. Downtown Longmont was really sweet with plenty of cafes and restaurants, music shops, and bicycle stores. It looked like a vital town with deep roots. We loved visiting with Melinda and her four dogs--Mace, Abner, Q-tip, and her foster Bert. We had great conversations about wanderlust, the world of dogs, music, and the wonderful food we were eating. Longmont is definitely a town we could spend more time in. It had a relaxed pace, was beautiful, and Melinda was an awesome host.

Me and Bert (Melinda's foster), afternoon rest
Even though Spring was starting to arrive when we landed there, a storm was rolling in, and in order to make Aspen by the next afternoon before the storm, we woke up super early, loaded the truck, said our goodbyes, and headed out over the rockies. What a beautiful drive. We did manage to miss most of the storm, though there was a bit of snow on our our way to my brother's house.

Driving the Rockies
My brother and his wife Liesa and son Kosma have only recently moved from the Yosemite area to Aspen. It was great to see them and their new world. Aspen's a strange town, a playground for the rich, but also so incredibly beautiful. We caught an afternoon showing at the local cinema of short family-friendly films, which were brilliant. My brother is the Education Director at the Aspen Nature Center and they live on a preserve, so we went on a little tour of the grounds before the storm arrived.

My nephew is obsessed with fishing
That evening, we holed up, ate a terrific home-cooked meal, and played a marathon game of Monopoly.

Marathon Monopoly game
The next day, I was up early, and my nephew flew downstairs to visit with me and we decided to surprise everyone by making pancakes. It was fun to have some stolen time with him. After breakfast, we went on a snowy hike. We just walked out the front door and were near a trail. which is also near many trails as well as downtown.

That night, we played Apples to Apples.

The following day, Arin was back to work and Kosma back to school and Liesa took me to the Aspen Art Museum, which was a manageable space with rotating single-artist shows. The artist was a contemporary New York painter, video, and zine artist, Amy Sillman. I loved her sense of humor and her use of color. We also went to the John Denver gardens, snowed under, but beautiful none the less.

That night, we watched "Frozen," which we all thoroughly enjoyed, and then headed out early the next day. We drove through Utah and Nevada, finding a pit of a pitstop motel in Las Vegas. We reflected on our journey--32 states, nearly 8 months, 15,000 miles. We had so many incredible experiences, got to reunite with wonderful friends and family as well as meet so many interesting and welcoming new friends. We definitely have a new perspective on life since we were able to leave our daily routine. Then, early in the morning, we headed out to California.

California, where gas is a dollar more a gallon than in the rest of the country. California, which is beautiful. California, where we both became baseball fans.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Weeks 30 & 31: Chicago, Columbia, Kansas City, Oklahoma, and Texas

Crossing the Mississippi
As you can see by the title of this blog, we covered a lot of ground in the last two weeks. We left Wisconsin's three feet of snow and drove South to spend a quick night in Chicago, where our friends Kendra and Kapil took us to Devon Street for some great Indian food. After a great visit with Kendra and Kapil (and their dog Chester), we left early the next morning and headed to Columbia, Missouri. Larry got to watch opening day of baseball season, and his team, the Giants, with a fellow Giant fan and relocated San Franciscan, Sean, in Columbia. It was an exciting game, and the Giants came back from way behind. After a great breakfast and a quick tour of downtown Columbia, Larry and Sean got caught up and I went to meet a poetry and spiritual mentor, Scott Cairns, for lunch. I hadn't seen Scott since New Year's Day 2005, but his feedback on my poetry has meant a lot to my growth as a poet. More importantly, his book, A Short Trip to the Edge, about his own spiritual journey to Christian Orthodoxy, and his responses to my questions and his faith, finally led me to convert to Christian Orthodoxy in 2010.

New Orthodox Church in Alpine, Texas
It was too short of a visit to Columbia, but we had a lot of ground to cover, so we headed on in the early afternoon, and drove through to Kansas City, to a small town just across the Missouri border, Prairie Village, in Kansas, to visit with my best friend from junior high school, Matthew and his partner, Brian. I hadn't seen Matthew and Brian since around 2000, but we picked up like no time had passed, talking about our work as educators, and theater artists (Matthew's a scenic designer).

After another too-quick visit, we spent the day driving through Kansas and Oklahoma, staying the night in Wichita Falls, Texas.

From Wichita Falls, we drove straight to Alpine, Texas. I'd lived for four years in Marfa, Texas, a town 26 miles from Alpine. My aunt lives in Alpine and I worked and went to school at the state university in Alpine. This was an amazing trip, full of reunions with old friends, family, and a chance to explore the gorgeous high desert landscape.

Results of Puppet-making party in Alpine, Texas with friends Chris and Ellen Ruggia
Even though I left Marfa in 2006, the sky and landscape and quality of friendships have stayed with me. I often write about my time there with great longing and fondness. We hope to come back soon, to spend more time with my beloved friends there.

In the Bluebonnets with friends, Alpine, Texas
Even though we spent a packed six days in West Texas, which included a day trip to Big Bend National Park, the time was too short. However, we are on a mission to get back to San Francisco after this long journey, and had to say our goodbyes. . .
Road to Fort Davis
Alpine Mural
Alpine Mural
Ocotillo in bloom, Big Bend
Yucca, Big Bend
Santa Elena Canyon, Big Bend
Big Bend
In the Basin, Big Bend National Park
Window Trail View, Big Bend National Park
Pronghorn on the road from Big Bend to Marathon

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Weeks 28 & 29: Cross-country skiing, crafts, and bats

We're leaving Clam Lake tomorrow, Sunday. It's been an amazing stay. I'm not sure we mentioned that we are right in the middle of Chequamegon National Forest, 1.5 million acres of forest in the North Woods of Wisconsin.

We've also really enjoyed listening to WOJB, an NPR station on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Native Reserve near Hayward, Wisconsin. The station, besides having all the regular NPR features, often has Native Music Hour as well as Dead Dog Cafe, a Native Comedy show out of Canada. WOJB sponsors many shows at the Park Theater, a music venue where we saw two concerts. The one we saw last week was a young, wonderful indie Milwaukee band, Field Report. We love how WOJB interviews the bands that are playing at the Park Theater that night. We had the chance to hear part of the interview with Field Report and hear them play live in the studio. I was totally blown away by Field Report. Their lyrics are dense ("Got your ghost ghouling all over Milwaukee") and their musicianship was amazing. Definitely the kind of art that inspired me to go home and create, pushed me to push myself harder.Here's one of their songs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fzkdzXy03E4

We also went back to the Rookery Restaurant in Cable to hear another lecture hosted by the Cable Natural History Museum on the decimation of Bats in America due to a disease called White-Nosed Syndrome. I've always been fascinated by bats; they were frequent visitors to my backyard evenings in Marfa, Texas. It's amazing how much work bats do for our agriculture in terms of pest control and what an important mammal they are. I'd have to write several blogs to cover everything Brian from the DNR said about bats that night, but I felt worried for them and re-inspired to build a bat box, if I ever live anywhere with bats again. They need our help. And we need them.

I also went to two craft workshops at the Cable Natural History Museum--one on rag-rugging and one a buckskin-pouch stitching workshop. It was great to use my hands after being in my head with so much writing. Here are my works. The rug is still a work in progress and I'm looking forward to putting it in the bathroom wherever we land when we end the trip in a few weeks.

One weekend, I doubled up on craft workshops, going to a card making workshop at the little log cabin library in Cable. It was taught by an award-winning card maker. She was awesome. We used punch shapes, stamps, and paint to make Easter cards of our own designs. The workshop removed all the mystery of fancy card making for me, so expect to find more masterful Valentine's cards in your mailboxes next year from me.

Finally, we went out cross-country skiing again. This time, on a gloriously sunny day, taking the well-groomed loop trails off the American Birkebeiner trails and going out on the Hayward Hospital Trails a couple days after a fresh snow and after they'd been nicely groomed. The Hospital Trails were great because they were so flat, so . . . no falling and easier for just being in the woods. I could get used to this.

We also had some time for socializing. We went to the Empty Bowl fundraiser in Cable, where soup was served to raise money for the Food Shelf. There were over 200 people at this event and we met several really kind people. I then had Emily Stone from the Cable Natural History Museum over for a lovely visit and lunch. An amazing nature writer, educator, and naturalist, Emily writes a weekly blog and column that is well-worth reading: http://cablemuseumnaturalconnections.blogspot.com--she's a blogger and writer to admire! I count Emily as a new friend, and I felt sad when I dropped off her old skis at her work and said my goodbyes. . .

Larry bonding with Little Guy and Darby, two of our charges in Clam Lake
I also had the chance to visit with Diana Randolph, an artist and writer, who has Once In a Blue Moon Studio. She really nails the quality of light in the North Woods in her exquisite paintings. http://www.dianarandolph.com Diana is a lovely person and I regretted I hadn't connected sooner with her on this trip.

Tomorrow, we head for a quick over night to Chicago before heading to Missouri for a few days. We're going to be moving quickly back to the West Coast, needing to get home sooner than we originally planned--because, well, as amazing as this trip has been, we miss home.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Weeks 26 & 27: Elk, Cross-country skiing, and music

Dawn asked me to be the guest writer on our blog this week. Since I'm a bit lazy and not a writer, I hemmed and hawed then finally agreed. So, here we go. Bear with me dear reader.

The past two weeks have undergone quite a change in weather, for northern Wisconsin, that is, so we decided to finally do some outdoor stuff we had been putting off. Mainly cross country skiing. Each year the largest cross country ski event in North America, The American Birkebeiner (www.birkie.com), takes place a few miles from where we are staying. And The Northwoods of Wisconsin has as many ski trails as anywhere in America. Since we've been here we have been meaning to go cross country skiing, something neither of us have tried, but with temperatures averaging below zero we kept putting it off. Finally we had a bit of a warm spell, a week of temps in the high 20s to high 30s. Our warmest day was 54--I almost wore shorts. Dawn borrowed skis, boots and poles from our friend and naturalist at the Cable Natural History Museum, Emily Stone. I borrowed a pair of skis and poles from a neighbor whose dog I have been walking. I rented some boots and off we went. We were told the Drummond Trails were probably the most beginner friendly and had beautiful sights. We set off on a 6 km loop that was rated "easy" for degree of difficulty. 

Although I have downhill skiied in Tahoe a half dozen times over the last few years, cross country skiing is a whole different animal. We both spent a lot of time falling down and getting up. Most of my life, my favorite outdoor activity has been walking or hiking, so this type of skiing was ideal for me. It's a good workout but a lot like a walk in the woods. I loved it and I think Dawn did also. Two days later we went on a guided family nature ski event led by Emily, who is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the plants and animals of the area. About 12 people attended and we would ski for a bit then stop briefly while Emily would give a mini lecture about birds (she pointed out some very vocal chickadees and told us the difference between their love songs and territorial marking), trees, otter (we saw some tracks) and a beaver lodge about 30 feet out from the edge of the lake. My favorite bit I learned was that, influenced by European Catholics, who loved their beaver meat, the Bishop of Quebec in the 17th century appealed to the Pope to declare the beaver a fish so they could eat it during lent and on Fridays. And he did. 

We all then went across the street to the community library for hot chocolate and cookies. It was a very nice Saturday morning: educational, physical, social and spiritual. I think I may take up cross country and give up downhill when we return to CA. Especially since it looks like we'll be living about an hour and a half from Yosemite when we return. http://www.yosemitepark.com/badgerpass_crosscountryskiing.aspx

We finally got a chance to hear some live music. We both love music and theater and have been seeing quite a bit of both on this trip, mostly while in Chicago and on the East Coast. We hadn't been to either since our arrival in Clam Lake. We'd been told that The Park Theater is a great venue and there was a band playing that did alternative (kind of progressive rock) versions of Celtic folk songs. Lehto and Wright was the band and they were great. www.lehtoandwright.com Two guitarists and a drummer. They first played an acoustic set then and electric one. For the electric set one of the guitar players switched to bass and it became a bit more foot stompin, hand clappin, makes ya wanna dance kind of stuff. A thoroughly enjoyable evening. 

Clam Lake is the elk capitol of Wisconsin (http://www.clamlakewi.com/clamlakewisconsinelkherdinfo.html). In 1995 the Dept. of Natural Resources reintroduced elk to the area and the local herd currently numbers approximately 175 covering a 90 sq. mile area. We saw 3 elk our first day here, Jan. 13, but had not seen any since nor had anyone we talked to. There is a small island in the middle of the lake and we had been told they were probably hunkered down there. Evidently, the warm weather stirred them because the day the temperature hit the high 30's we saw four that afternoon. The afternoon of the first warm day I looked out the window and saw one walking across the lake toward the shore and our house. It took him a while but he finally came walking right up in to the back yard. I then saw another one come off the island and walk toward the other shore. Soon I saw two more, what looked like a mama and her calf walking toward our yard. They are beautiful creatures and like to eat the deer food so I have to scare them off if they get too close to the deer feeder. The DNR does not want locals to feed the elk so we may have to quit putting corn out for the deer soon. 

If you are still reading, thank you so much. I really appreciate that Dawn has kept our travel blog up for the last 7 months. She has also been the best traveling companion. And thank all of you for following. We will leave Wisconsin in about 2 weeks. And although these past 8 weeks here have been wonderful in so many ways I am looking forward to heading west and seeing our friends, families and animals soon. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Weeks 24 & 25: Barkie Birkie, Lake Superior, Bobcat

Hello followers! Thanks for coming along with us to the hardest winter in Wisconsin in twenty years. It's really beautiful, but everyone is starting to grow weary of it. We're glad when we have temperatures above zero and for days when the sun comes out, putting a shine on everything and giving the illusion of warmth. The best part of the harshness of this winter is that I'm able to keep my nose to the grindstone and stay in and write. I'm still working on my book. It comes, slowly, but surely. We've been watching lots of movies and Larry's enjoying the spring training baseball games while I write.

These past couple of weeks, we've had some adventures, including one right here at home. Two beautiful Bobcats showed up in the yard, hanging out near the bird feeders for awhile. We initially thought they were the elusive Lynx, but the Department of Natural Resources told us they were Bobcats. I still like to think of them as Lynxes. It makes me feel special to have been visited by them, even if they are Bobcats. It's a hard winter for all the animals here, so they are roaming where they might not roam.

The American Birkenbeiner takes place near here, with the finish line on Main Street in Hayward. It's the largest cross-country ski race in North America. About 8000 people show up for it. We opted out of the traffic and crowds required to see the Birkie, but we went in a day early for the "Barkie Birkie." There'd been a big storm the night before. (We lost power and there was a still a storm warning in effect when we drove out.) We'd gotten a foot and a half of snow. Still, the snow had stopped, the visibility looked good, and we made it out of the driveway, so we headed to Hayward to watch all these sweet dogs pull (or not pull, depending on their mood) their owners on skis. It was super fun. We sat and had coffee afterwards and then stocked up on provisions on our way out of town.

One particularly sunny (but cold) Saturday, we drove to Duluth, MN, had lunch at the Duluth Grill, and then took a drive from Duluth along the coast of the north shore of Lake Superior. Some of it was frozen and some not. It was a gorgeous day and a beautiful drive.

Our other big outing (besides the few days a week we drive into town for coffee, groceries, etc) was to hear a lecture at the Rookery Pub on the state of the American Martens in the area. The Marten is a small carnivore that was re-introduced to the area but is struggling. When we walked in, there were three women talking about the Sweetie Pie performances, which made me feel famous. The lecture was great, informative, and we had a chance to visit with various members of the Cable community. 

It's supposed to get up to 20 and even 30 next week. We sure wish we could send some of this snow to the Sierras and help out our friends in California during the drought. 

Thanks for reading.