Saturday, October 10, 2015

AUTUMN - Just off the Road

 On our recent visit to the Japanese Garden in Seattle, I was stopped in my tracks by this almost unreal Japanese maple tree.  Living in Alaska for so many years, I'd almost forgotten that autumn can last more than a week.  The variety of trees around here may not be as great as on the East Coast, but they're beautiful none the less, and I feel the emotion that the season always brings to me as I wander through the leaves.
 I'm not sure how these Ornamental Carp (Koi) feel about autumn.  It's unlikely that their pond will freeze in Seattle, but I wonder if they dislike the feeling of the water growing cooler as the season progresses.
One thing is certain, these cormorants won't let any cold weather stop them from perching on the ferry pilings, keeping a lookout for any likely lunch, or maybe they're just waiting for the next boat.  When I think about it, I realize that with each passing day I grow to love this place more.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

GETTYSBURG - Just off the Road

On my recent visit to Pennsylvania, I visited my favorite place in the state - Gettysburg National Military Park.  Each time I visit, I find myself moved in ways that surprise me.  The National Park Service is doing an amazing job of maintaining this hallowed place in the condition that existed at the time of the battle.  There's a diorama created in 1884 that represents Pickett's Charge and high water mark of the confederacy.

 There are many monuments commemorating those who fought.  Each state that participated has erected a memorial with the most impressive being this one for Pennsylvania.

The most moving site for me is the Devil's Den, where Federal and Confederate troops attempted to take the ground between Little and Big Round Tops.  The pictures taken after the battle include bodies strewn among the rocks. 

In my family archives is a letter written by one of my ancestors who took part in various Civil War battles.  But there's more than that connection for me when I visit Gettysburg.  As I stand where Abraham Lincoln once stood and read the words of his address, I realize that the phrase "freedom is not free" is truth personified here on this hallowed ground.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

SLOWING DOWN - Just off the Road

I was born and grew up in rural Pennsylvania with a Pennsylvania Dutch heritage.  Recently I visited my brother and his family who still live in the same area.  Now don't get me wrong, we were not Amish and did not get around by horse-drawn carriages, but on my visit, I was somehow comforted to see that, in this day of technology threatening to take over, some people still find that horses go just fast enough.

As I sat and watched this one-horse mode travel down the road, my mind took me back to simpler times, when hurrying from pillar to post wasn't as important as smelling the roses.  As I age I've slowed down from my younger pace, but there are still moments when I feel rushed, stressed, pressed for time.

I've made a vow that, when those times crowd in on me, I'll take a moment and picture myself moving down the road, enjoying the clop-clop of horse's hooves, smelling the roses along the way.

RURAL LIFE- Just off the Road

 Rural Central Pennsylvania is different!  On my recent visit to my brother's house, I woke one morning to the sound of turkeys.  Bob and Brenda don't own any turkeys so I was confused until he told me that his neighbor owns turkeys.

These are free-range turkeys in the truest sense of the word, in that they range the neighborhood, searching for the random bird seed dropped from Brenda's feeders.  How they discovered this treasure from across the road and down a way is beyond me. 

 Bob and Brenda rescued a duck from a grandchild who really loved it as a duckling, but not so much when it started doing grown-up duck things.  They installed it, strangely named Duck Brown, in the pen with their goat (told you it was rural) and the two have become fast friends.

Goaty-Goat is one-of-a-kind.  He loves the duck, but hates Brenda and will come after her should she dare to enter his terrain.  Another of Brenda's loves is cats, and she's succumbed to the need to care for all the feral cats in the neighborhood, feeding around 30 at last count.  I remember when I was small we had lots of "barn cats" as we called them.  We'd occasionally pour them a bowl of milk but their diet consisted of mice, rats, birds, or anything they'd scavenge.  Not good enough for Brenda, she provides two daily meals and even warms milk replacer for the runts of the litters.

Well, I guess if those eyes were gazing beseechingly at me, I might just accidentally drop a bag of cat food in my cart...  Love the country!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

TORTOISES - Just off the Road

     Evan's fascination with turtles has been fulfilled!  He got up close and personal and even he was intrigued with how big they are, and how docile.  Never one to be close enough, he found another way to really get inside their head, as it were...
     Evan is a tall 5'9" and as you can see, he fits pretty nicely into this tortoise shell, though the getting out was worth watching!  They really are huge, and did I say docile? 
     It appears that these two are having a difference of opinion, with the more aggressive one on the right eventually backing down the smaller model on the left.
     This saddle-backed tortoise has adapted to a different diet of Opuntia cactus that grow high above the ground and must be reached by extending one's neck.  I think I'm beginning to get the idea of where Charles Darwin is coming from.

AMAZON BASIN - Just off the Road

     Our trip with REI and our 12 other companions was pretty comfortable in this Mercedes van.  We had the most amazing and knowledgeable guide in the person of Miguel Vera who was a walking wikipedia on Ecuador and all things historical, not to mention flora, fauna, and every other topic.
     Our first destination was the Amazon basin which involved crossing a 13,000 foot pass over the Andes.  We even took a hike near the top with no ill effects for anyone.  The road was much better than we anticipated, and with Miguel to narrate, the trip was actually fun.
    Our lodging was the cutest lodge in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, strangely named Hakuna Matata.  I'd thought from my viewing of "The Lion King" that 'no worries' applied to Africa, but here, in the Amazon, aside from the bugs and the torrential rain, worries seemed far away.
     During a long hike, we came across this version of plumbing which made all of us glad for the indoor facilities of our lodge.  I must admit that we were impressed with the ingenuity of the owners.
     After a 4-hour Class III river rafting excursion, we found ourselves with some time on our hands, and wandered to the small river near the lodge.  The thing about travel is that, rather than checking a place off my list, I usually find myself adding a place to which I must return.  Hakuna Matata definitely qualifies and a further exploration of the Amazon Basin is now on my lengthening bucket list.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

QUITO TRAFFIC - Just off the Road

     As I mentioned before, a few weeks ago we found ourselves wandering around Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and exposing our grandson, his mom, and us to the wonders of traveling in South America.  Though it's hard to see, this family of FOUR found a way to get around on the back of a small motorcycle with no problem whatsoever.
      There are other options, of course.  For those who want variety in their mode, this colorful bus which included musicians in full volume, presented a unique opportunity to get around.
     We didn't see many convertibles in Quito, but as we were leaving the city, we came upon this local version, flying down the road, with it's own version of air conditioning.

     My favorite of all the types of travel we saw didn't actually involve a vehicle, but rather people who stand in the intersection and entertain with waving flags, as these ladies, or sometimes by juggling bottles, balls, or any number of other items - all with the hope of a small donation for the free show.
     Quito is somewhat unique in our travels thus far since it's perfectly clean, people are friendly, and even though our Spanish is somewhat lacking, they are extremely patient and good with hand gestures - the positive kind.

QUITO - Just off the Road

      See that group of tea-drinking people?  Can you believe that we're having tea inside the Basillica of the National Vow in Quito, Ecuador?  How did that happen, you ask?  It all came about as the result of our grandson's early love of tortoises.  Since he was a little guy, Evan had a fascination with turtles and, always eager to please, we began showing him pictures of the Galapagos tortoise and somewhere in there, we promised him a visit to see them for real.  He's 13 now, and last year he sat me down and said, "JoJo, you know I'm not getting any younger."
     Now what's a grandma to do but sit down with Grandpa (otherwise known as "G") and lay out the options which were actually very few  We began researching Galapagos trips and came across a family adventure organized by REI Travel and the rest, as they say, is now history.

     Evan wasn't too eager for the sightseeing in Quito until we climbed our way to the top of the Basillica and he got a look around.  Did I forget to mention that Quito is at 9,000 feet ASL?  It took some huffing and puffing, but we made it on our first full day in the city, and were amazed at the city which is spread all over hills and into valleys to accommodate its 2,000,000 residents.  And we hadn't even got near the Amazon and Galapagos which were our next stops.   Thanks, G!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

RUBY BEACH - Just off the Road

Our first camping trip involved doing some exploring in new parts of Olympic National Park.  Jim did the research of places to go, and included a short drive to Ruby Beach.  I'm so glad he did!  This is really a beautiful, serene place, especially early in the morning.  It features sea stacks, those monoliths of rock which seem to rise from the ocean for no particular reason.

This one has a peep-hole carved into it - a strange phenomenon and makes me wonder how the water was able to carve such a cute opening in such a big rock.  I'm more than happy to tote the tripod down the beach on such a beautiful summer day.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

HIKING IN THE HOH - Just off the Road

 The 4th of July was the shake-down cruise for our new (used) 21' Class B+ motor home.  We've been thinking about getting one, and the more we talked about how convenient it would be for my honey and me to take short and sometimes long photo trips, the more it made sense.  We selected the Hoh Rain Forest in the Olympic National Park as our first destination. The Hoh is filled with huge trees, some of them 300' tall, hanging moss, sword ferns and simple peace.
In my job as tripod-carrier, I often get to stand back and watch while my husband dedicates his entire being to getting the shot.  The Hoh River is running rather low this year, since we're entering a period of serious drought on the Olympic Peninsula, but it is still photo-worthy

My husband's artistic eye led to this shot, from his knees, while I stood back and just listened.  The sound of water over rocks is soothing somehow, but it can also get you excited to continue exploring..

And explore we did.  There are the most magnificent maple trees in the Hoh Forest, each one higher and more grand than the others.  We really did have a great weekend, and our motor home proved that it will be a great home base for our adventures.

ST. JOHN USVI - Just off the Road

We went far off the road for this picture.  To St. Thomas and St. John in the US Virgin Island.  My honey qualified for the trip through his work, and to my delight, it included ME.  We've been there once before, and all I really remembered was the amazing underwater trail at the USVI National Park in St. John.  In our short time there the first time, we never encountered the skeleton of a snorkeler, but now here it was, right beside the boat launch.  After giving the whole affair some consideration, we boarded and set out to St. John.

 Snorkeling in water this warm and clear is a true delight.  Not so much the weather which was in the 80's and 90's and with what felt like 100% humidity but one must make sacrifices.  As someone once said, "it's a dirty job but someone's gotta do it."

Trunk Bay is really an idyllic spot, and makes one appreciate the serenity of island life.  While it's a bit different from our little piece of heaven in Sequim, it's not bad.

GOLF IN WASHINGTON - Just off the Road

"It's the US OPEN and it's going to be in WASHINGTON!!!"  When I heard my spouse exclaiming at the top of his lungs sometime last winter, I had no idea that this event would become a family reunion of his 3 brothers, their families, and a bunch of golf bags and cameras.  The Chambers Bay course is located about 1 1/2 hours south of us, so we made plans to go and ordered our tickets early.

Not surprisingly as the event neared, our packing included not only his golf clubs but every camera, lens, filter, and other photography accoutrement in his possession.  Sadly, my shoulder is acting up right now, so when I took a practice swing in the backyard and ended up on my knees, clutching my arm, I decided that I'd be content to carry the tripod and extra camera for this trip.

There's another benefit to attending a PGA tournament.  Our nephew, John Wood, caddies for Hunter Mahan on the tour, and since the closest we normally get to him is seeing his arm on TV, this would be a chance to actually see him in person.  Happily, one of our brothers lives near Chambers Bay and he and his wife offered the use of their lovely home on a golf course, no less, so we had a place to stay and dine.  The rest of this story involves the acquisition of a 21' motor home, but that's for another time.

Our first day at the tournament was practice day, and since this was our first PGA event, we didn't know what to expect.  Turns out that practice is cool, since the players don't really care about a score, so they actually toss the ball to different locations to see how it runs, and do all sorts of other pro things.  Even Tiger Woods looked relaxed, and we had our first chance to chat with John - the nephew.  As we walked around the course, it was apparent that this would be no easy task for the players.  I'm no expert, but Chambers Bay looked like a killer to me - I won't be playing it anytime soon, even with two good arms.

Friday's play was amazing - I'll never know how those guys actually get the ball from tee to green in par.  Of course, some of them didn't, but it was still pretty impressive, watching the beautiful swings and putts.  The best part, though, was the family reunion, and the time spent sharing something that the four brothers have in common.  They love this game!

Monday, May 11, 2015

MYSTERY - Just off the Road

  Hiking in the woods near Marymere Falls in the Olympic National Park, we were surprised to happen upon this mysterious little house built into the base of a giant tree.  There was no sign of where it came from, who built it, or who lived there.

  Our grandson got on his knees and peeked inside, but could find no sign of life.  The story we invented was of a little family who came around only when there were no "normal-sized" humans to disturb them.

  We live close to the area where vampires and werewolves roam, courtesy of The Twilight Saga series of books and films.  Consequently, we rather expect to find unusual beings or at least signs of them.  But this little home, too small for either Twilight species, is not threatening, nor is it explicable in human terms.  It simply exists in a little spot in the forest, beckoning passers-by to invent stories to fit inside its small rooms.

  I've heard it said that imagination is necessary for life.  What a neat place we live in that encourages imagination to take wing!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

WHAT IS IT? - Just off the Road

 Taking pictures of everyday things can get a bit boring, but not when my husband is around.  The other day, he called me over to his computer and showed me this series of photos and asked me to guess what they were.
Naturally I could see that they were bubbles, but how in the world did he manage to get the exotic colors, and the textures that seemed to be changing in front of my eyes.

After several attempts, I gave up and he disclosed his secret - he had poured water into a Pyrex bowl, added some canola oil, set it on a cardboard box, and slid one of his favorite, colorful sweaters under the bowl.  To get the movement, he barely stirred the oil and water and voila!  Magic!!  Who knew I had a magician in my very own house?

SUNSET - Just off the Road

Our little family spent a day recently near Forks, WA on Second Beach - the beach made famous by the TWILIGHT series.  If you ask me, though Twilight was pretty cool, this beach really doesn't need a book or movie to give it credence.

My husband, the photographer, insisted that we go prepared with water, lunch, snacks, and headlamps, since the only way to get a sunset picture is to stay until the sun sets, after which it gets dark.  I must admit that, after seeing this incredible sunset, the hike went by in a flash.  We were all dazzled by the beauty that God shares with us if we're only willing to hang around and watch.

WARMER CLIMES - Just off the Road

Last week we spent a few days in a warmer place... Laguna Beach, CA.  It was warm enough to swim in the pool, or even the ocean.  The resort had multiple pools, with the wall of one adorned with rather cool fish and sea kelp.

In California there are lots of plants that we don't see around here.  Cactus, ice plant, bougainvillias, and other species that like hot, dry weather.  So different, but after a few days, I realized that I really don't like California too much.  It's beautiful, but busy, impressive but expensive, warm but wearying. 

Don't get me wrong, it was nice to get up early and walk on the beach. visit amazing galleries, dine in fabulous restaurants, but when all is said and done, I'll take our lovely, quiet, quaint little town anytime.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

FOOTBALL - Just off the Road

Driving around the week after the Super Bowl, I couldn't help but replay that last minute in my mind.  Why oh why didn't Marshawn get the ball?  What was Pete thinking?  Would they have another chance next year?

But then my 12th Woman kicked in, and I realized that in my car was this Seahawks cup, just waiting to be photographed by my loving 12th Man.  He's gazing across a field, just waiting, still fierce, and determined to WIN THE SUPER BOWL in 2016.  Go Hawks!!!

FEATHERS - Just off the Road

 There are lots of birds where I live.  All types, colors, and sizes.   I never paid much attention to birds before, but now I'm an unofficial bird-watcher, thanks to my daughter, a variety of feeders, and my friends at Wild Birds Unlimited in Gardiner.  Who knew that they even sell books that feature bird feathers?

Never one to miss an opportunity, my husband took this Northern Flicker feather and made it the focus of his recent class in close-up photography.  We spent a full day in the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, seeking out backgrounds for my flicker feather.  "The Feather as Art" is the result. 

Beginning with moss, moving to bark patterns in a Western Red Cedar stump, progressing to sword ferns, then rocks, he was able to create a photo that highlights the beauty of a simple bird feather.  This is such a special place if you take the time to look.