Friday, August 31, 2018

Adventurous August

Oslo Gardens
Three countries.  Five major cities and three towns.  Highs (mostly) and (one) low.  All in 31 days of August.  It seems impossible.  But as Winnie the Pooh says, "People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day."

ONE: Over the pond

We began August in Norway, covered extensively in a previous post.  I offer you a few 'leftover' pictures from that trip - I love leftovers, don't you?
Upper left: Lillehammer Commemorative Piggy Bank
Upper right: Horse and Cart at Folkemuseum
Lower left: Oslo bench
Lower right: Crochet projects at Folkemuseum

Oslo zinnia
Do you ever wonder how airlines price their tickets? We have traveled extensively, and yet we still had a bit of an education when planning our Montana/UK/Norway/Montana trip.  Booking on the web (as you do) was turning up truly exorbitant flight prices.  To cut to the chase, after spending several hours on the web, we made a phone call (imagine that!) and found out that the airlines were considering each leg of our trip as one-ways.  By adding a stop in Newcastle on the way back from Norway, it would qualify as a round-trip, much less than a one-night hotel stay near the Newcastle airport.  Done!  What does this mean for you?  Pictures of our 'last supper' in Newcastle before returning to the US.
Port and a cheese board - hard to resist

TWO: Back home again  

Red Columbine  in our garden
As much as we enjoyed our three weeks of vacation out of the country, it was sublime to return home.  Having left our new landscaping and our two cats in the care of our neighbors, I was anxious to return and relieve them of these tasks.  Maggie and Josie had adapted well to the female teenage caregiver, and the landscaping was thriving.  It was a pleasure to watch our friends open their gifts from our travels abroad.

During our vacation, I finished the last of my tea towels, and I was able to join "Sunday" with the others for a picture of the full set.

Summer isn't summer without a picnic; a neighborhood couple invited us to their ranch for supper and kayaking.  Although the picnic had to be moved indoors due to the vicious yellowjackets, the winged ones didn't keep us from paddling around Lone Lake.  Much to his delight, Spousal Unit hooked a large Northern Pike.

Smoke, not clouds!
Summer in the Northwest increasingly means forest fires, and this season has been no exception - hence the low point in this post.  We joined friends for a hike to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook (subject of a future post), and as we drove along the Going to the Sun Road at 7 am on August 12, we could see a small plume of smoke on a northern ridge above Lake McDonald.  A lightning strike the night before had ignited the forest.   Twelve hours later, as we re-traced our way west, the plume had expanded into a raging fire that scorched everything in its path, right down to the water's edge.  For us, it was almost inconceivable how rapidly the fire had grown in such a short period of time.  Standing on a south-side Lake McDonald beach, we watched tree after tree suddenly flare like bright torches.  We could hear the 'boom' of propane tanks exploding as seven private residences on the north side of the lake were destroyed (many were historic buildings more than 80 years old.  One of them had recently been renovated by our general contractor …)  We could feel the heat of the fire, from 600 yards away.  Below is a video of our view of the fire.

The small crowd gathered on the beach was mostly silent.  What could you say when your heart is breaking with grief over the destruction?  (As of last evening, the fire has consumed 12,432 acres and is 12% contained.  Cooler temperatures and some precipitation have considerably slowed its growth.)

THREE: Colorado
Evening sun dapples the hills of Glenwood Springs; view from the 
home of my brother and his wife
After 7 days at home, we jetted off to Aspen to visit #1 Daughter (see previous post).  My youngest brother and his wife live in Glenwood Springs, an hour from Aspen, and they generously opened their house to us during our stay.  After a day of rafting on the Colorado River, expertly guided by my brother, we soaked in the pools of Iron Mountain Hot Springs.

Later in the week, we savored the tasty offerings at the Riviera Supper Club in downtown Glenwood, and walked a bit of the town at night.

All of our wildlife sightings occurred on our last day in Aspen/on our way to Denver.  On our hike to Maroon Bells (see previous post), we saw a pika by the trail but I was not quick enough to get a picture.  I had more success with a video of a family of pine martens - check out this short clip.

View eastward from Independence Pass
And then, on the east side of Independence Pass, we came across a bull moose grazing less than 25 yards from the 2-lane highway.  Amazing!

FOUR: Back home again (reprise)

This time, I could put away the suitcases - our next trip in December is a long way off!  We caught our breath, and started planning for family who arrive on September 7.  Two big projects loomed:  the screening room and the outdoor fire circle.  Our new couches arrived on August 9, and in the last couple of weeks, Spousal Unit has installed the screen, projector and speakers.  For many of you, it won't be a surprise that a Bruce Springsteen concert will be the first show to be viewed on the 135" screen!

The fire circle is coming along well, especially now that Spousal Unit found a company willing to deliver 7 cubic yards of yellow gravel without charging us an arm and a leg!  And today, Stage 2 fire restrictions have been lifted - we won't have to use our imaginations while sitting around the fire pit, or make s'mores in the microwave and bring them outside!

FIVE: In the rhythm

Top: Josie and the box
Bottom: Maggie and the sun
Despite the projects, life has begun to fall back into its normal rhythms.  Morning coffee.  Lovin' on the cats. 

Running the back hills - fall is on its way.

Gardening.  Cleaning.  Checking the trail cam - the badger is STILL AROUND!

Volunteering.  Blogging.  Evening walks with Spousal Unit.

P.S.  If you haven't seen the Christopher Robin movie, I highly recommend it.  The bear with little brain has some remarkably profound things to say.

"Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart."  
August 27 - a stroll by our lake with Spousal Unit - priceless!

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Sunday, August 26, 2018

Aspen: An Unexpected Ride with Hunter S. Thompson

Theatre Aspen Lobby viewed from
John Denver Sanctuary
Through the centuries, the human race has been inclined to categorize and stratify itself: the rich and the poor, the conquerors and the natives, the inner circle and the oddballs.  The list could go on.  Unexpectedly, the impact of such labels came home to me in a number of ways during our recent visit with #1 Daughter (#1D) during her summer stint at Theatre Aspen.

Kinda deep for a vacation, right?  How could this theme develop when I was surrounded by John Denver's Rocky Mountains, or lapping up the last drips of a summer ice cream?

It began with a visit to the Wheeler-Stallard Museum.  Jerome B. Wheeler built this Queen Anne style Victorian in 1888 for his family.  Situated on an entire city block, the home was one of many stately properties in Aspen's West End neighborhood.  Despite his plans, his wife Harriet Macy Valentine Wheeler refused to leave their mansion in Manitou Springs, Colorado and the family never lived in the house.  Edgar and Mary Ella Stallard moved in during 1905, eventually purchasing the home in 1917.  The family lived here for 40 years.  The house last served as a residence of the Aspen Institute's president before the Aspen Historical Society purchased it in 1969.  The first floor of the Museum is interpreted as a Victorian Aspen home and the second floor gallery features rotating exhibitions to explore area history.

It is the second floor gallery - that's what got me.  As we entered the house, the docent on the front desk that day asked "Do you know about Hunter Thompson?"  Without thinking, I said "Yes".  How many Hunter Thompsons could there be?  It must be the same Hunter Thompson that penned our family motto (see previous post).
Hunter Thompson

Spousal Unit was not so quick to claim the man.  "Do you mean Hunter S. Thompson?" he asked.  She replied, "I mean the Hunter Thompson that ran for sheriff in Pitkin County - the exhibit upstairs is about his campaign."  Well, that threw me - perhaps I did not know as much about this man as I should have before I chose his quote as a guiding principle for the last 10 years.  It was time to get educated.

Under the label of "Freak Power", Hunter Thompson's 1970 campaign for sheriff started as a political stunt to upset local conservatives, but morphed into a viable bid.  He hoped to expand the role of the office to address social reforms.  Rampant real estate development, draconian law enforcement, harassment of hippies, downtown traffic congestion and protection for the local environment were all issues that he aspired to tackle.

A few things struck me: How little has changed, almost 50 years later - we are still grappling with many of the same problems, even if the labels (hippies minorities) may have changed.  How Thompson advocated for the disillusioned, disenfranchised and disinterested to rise up and use their power through voting.  How a word like 'freak' can evoke such emotion as to lose potential voters.  In the official count, Thompson lost the "Battle of Aspen" by a small margin.

For us, not all was lost - our entrance fee to the house also bought us admission to the Holden/Marolt Mining and Ranching Museum, just a 15-minute walk from the house  The area's mining boom started in the early 1880's and Aspen quickly became one of the largest producers of silver in the country.  

Originally sprawling over 22 acres, the Holden Works boasted state-of-the-art technology used to extract silver from low-grade ore.  The stoutly built 'sampling' building held large, heavy machinery that pulverized the ore; that building now houses the museum and is the only structure that remains of the original complex.  

In the fall of 1893, just 14 months after the new plant opened, the US Congress repealed the Sherman Silver Purchase Act and sent the Holden Works into bankruptcy.  The plant fell into disrepair as residents cannibalized the buildings for materials during Aspen's leaner years.  Mike Marolt bought the property for $1 in 1940.  The Marolts combined it with the Midland Ranch on which they raised sheep and cattle and planted potatoes.  By the late 1950s, the family started to sell off parcels.  The almighty dollar was stronger than any commitment to continue grazing sheep or raising cattle on this land.
Upper left: examples of the "Devil's Rope" - barbed wire;  Upper right: Oliver "Red River Special" Thresher
Lower left: barbed wire on the bottom is the most familiar style and is called Glidden's Winner
Lower right: Mining frame
That evening, we attended a performance of Ragtime at Theatre Aspen; #1D was the Rehearsal Production Assistant for the show, which deserved its standing ovation.  (We were delighted to be joined by my brother, his wife, their two sons and the girlfriend of one of the boys.)  Ragtime tells the story of three groups in the United States in the early 20th century: African Americans, represented by Coalhouse Walker, Jr., a Harlem musician; upper-class suburbanites, represented by Mother, the matriarch of a white upper-class family in New Rochelle, New York; and Eastern European immigrants, represented by Tateh, a Jewish immigrant from Latvia.  I found my mouth open during much of the performance; so many of its themes resonate with today's issues - the ongoing struggle for minorities, women and immigrants to be seen for their talents and not for any other characteristic.  After the show, we asked ourselves about the timing of the writing - imagine our surprise that it was based on the 1975 novel by E. L. Doctorow.  We have not come far.

OK, lest this whole post become a bummer, let me talk about redemption.  I observed several examples of 'open spaces' that have been generously preserved by the early Aspen families and the community.

We toured the John Denver Sanctuary, and discovered that it is aptly named.  An oasis in the city … a garden in which you can imagine that the issues of the day CAN be solved .. a place where all labels and divisions fade away …. He died too young, but his spirit and his words will continue to inspire those who grew up with his music, as well as those new to his legacy.

Strolling the aspen-lined streets of the town, I was like a bee to the honey with the bountiful flowers - in pots, on fences, in front yards.  Even the shops had gardens.  Something about growing things, and the desire of the human race to be surrounded by such beauty, helps to restore my faith in humanity.  (#1D, Spousal Unit and I were mesmerized by this hummingbird moth.)

We thoroughly enjoyed a performance of Godspell at Theatre Aspen (also attended by my brother and his wife); #1D served as Assistant Stage Manager for the production (thank you, my dear, for bringing back cherished memories of my time on light crew for our high school Godspell run).  The lyrics to Light of the World struck a chord with me (pun intended).

You are the light of the world
You are the light of the world
But if that light's under a bushel,
Brrr, it's lost something kind of crucial
You got to stay bright to the light of the world

You are the salt of the earth
You are the salt of the earth
But if that salt has lost its flavor
It ain't got much in its favor
You can't have that fault and be the salt of the earth!

So let your light so shine before men
Let your light so shine
So that they might know some kindness again
We all need help to feel fine (let's have some wine!)

You are the city of God
You are the city of God
But if that city's on a hill
It's kinda hard to hide it well
You've got to stay pretty in the city of God

So let your light so shine before men
Let your light so shine
So that they might know some kindness again
We all need help to feel fine (let's have some wine!)

You are the light of the world
You are the light of the world
But the tallest candlestick 
Ain't much good without a wick
You've got to live right to be the light of the world

On our last day, we hiked the popular route to the Maroon Bells.  Dozens of people completed the 3.8 mile trek out and back - tall, short, runners, walkers, seasoned folks, young'uns, those with boots and those in sandals.  Despite our differences, we had a common goal.  Isn't that what it should be about?  Everything should be about?

P.S. As I was getting ready to publish this morning, Spousal Unit read me this Barack Obama tweet - it says it all.

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Sunday, August 19, 2018

In Search of a Mountain Man

"We have 9 months of winter, and 3 months of visitors", declared a long-time resident of  the Flathead Valley, as we chatted one day in early May.  The implications?  Make necessary reservations 6 months in advance (oops, too late).  Prep the guest room(s).  Bake the huckleberry pie.  Arrange for wildlife sightings.  And then, enjoy a steady stream of superlatives as newbies to the region absorb the glory of our stunning state.  It may be 'work', but it is work with plentiful rewards.  In several chapters over the next few months, you can ride along with our summer visitors as they get a taste of northwest Montana.
Home-made huckleberry pie

CHAPTER ONE: The morning sun slanted through the back windows of the 4Runner as we headed west on Highway 2.  Within 10 miles of our house, Spousal Unit braked suddenly.  Deer, I thought.  But in this case, "visitor's luck" was on our side - yes, Day 3 and my in-laws witness not only a cow moose, but also her baby, grazing peacefully in the marsh just to the left of the road (see video below).  A jealous resident would cry out "Not fair!", but as a perfectionist tour guide, you smile knowingly and take credit for putting your visitors together with the wildlife in real time.

We journeyed on uneventfully to our first destination of the day - Kootenai Falls.  The falls is one of the few large waterfalls along a major northwest river that has not been harnessed for electrical power.  Nestled in the Cabinet Mountains, the falls drop around 200 feet in an almost unspoiled setting.  The site is also famous since it was used to film sections of "The River Wild", starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Bacon.  How ironic that we should arrive at the rocky outcropping near the falls, and find a film crew equipped with a large drone!  Chatting with the crew, we learned that they were filming background reels for an upcoming live action Disney movie.  They had also been on location in Hawaii, and were headed to South America next.  They would not reveal the name of the movie, but we saw "Jungle Cruise" printed on the placard near the drone.  How exciting!

An adventurous hiker can go down the left fork of the trail to the Kootenai River Gorge and walk across a swinging bridge.  As we approached the bridge, bighorn sheep were resting in the shade of sparse trees, high on the opposite bank.  Only their occasional shifting of position revealed their location, so well do they blend into their surroundings.

Following a picnic at the trailhead, we drove south to the Ross Creek Cedars.  This grove of western red cedars features some trees that are more than 8 feet in diameter and more than 400 years old.  Looming 175 feet above Ross Creek, many of the trees still growing in the grove today were here before Columbus set sail for the new world.  The nature trail follows the banks of Ross Creek, which often runs hidden beneath the rocky stream bottom.

Yaak Falls
"Do you know Yaak?" asked my father-in-law, some months ago on a Skype call. Stunned, Spousal Unit and I exchanged a glance before answering in the affirmative, and we immediately asked how HE could know Yaak.  "Well, I am watching this show called Mountain Men …" Turns out that Mountain Man Tom Oar is from Yaak.  Isn't it a small world, that my father-in-law, from a small coal mining village in the northeast of England would be familiar with a town of 250 people in the remote northwest corner of Montana?

So Yaak was on the must-visit list.

As we went north from Ross Creek to Yaak, the roads narrowed and the trees leaned in.  The region, referred to as "The Yaak", is isolated and rugged, with no cell service for miles.  The Yaak River (an Indian name meaning 'arrow') is known for its excellent fishing.

Eventually, we pulled into the village of Yaak, denoted by the Yaak River Tavern on one side of the road, and the Dirty Shame Saloon on the other.

"Do you know Tom Oar, the Mountain Man?" queried my father-in-law, to the waitress in the Tavern.  Not the least bit surprised by the question, she responded, "Oh, sure, he comes in regular.  He only lives a few miles off the main road."
We didn't find the Mountain Man, but my father -in-law toasted
 him all the same

Only in Montana would "main road" signify that Tom and Nancy Oar live nestled on 6 acres surrounded by the Yaak National Forest in a cabin they built themselves!  Tom sums up his life in this simple statement: "I feel good about where I'm at and what I do."  

Wouldn't it be paradise if we could all say the same?

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