Monday, December 1, 2014

In Service Of Others

Not So Punny

Small through mid-size churches across the United States use their white marquees with dark letters to post one of several pieces of information: the time of Sunday services, the name of the pastor, the theme of the upcoming sermon (is that like a coming attractions notice at a theater?), or a clever little pun about religion or faith or God.  In fact, there are websites devoted to these clever phrases so that a small country church in Oregon may have the same pith as one in Vermont.  Welcome to witty religious retorts of the twenty-first century.

In truth, posting the times of the services, from my analytical perspective, ranks as brilliant.  If I am recently relocated, what better way to open the church doors and see all the people than to let passersby know what time to be here on Sunday.  As to the name of the pastor, I doubt that makes or breaks potential attendees, but what if Pastor Doe doesn’t even reach the amusement of the clever comment on the signage – does that make a difference in whether or not he is remembered or forgotten by the sporadic attendee?  If the sign out front gets a searching soul in the door, how can that spirit be retained?

What We Say Versus What We Do

Maybe I misread the banner strung between the two small trees, but I pass a sign at a neighborhood church that seems to present an entirely different take on its services.  No, the banner did not remind its congregation to be there by 9:00 or 11:00, but rather it broadcasts to the surrounding community, “Look at us!  Here is what we can do for you,” and includes a litany of support for those who seek refuge. Granted the words may have been less sensational than some cheeky play on words, but the vinyl sign, secured in each corner by rope, shared with those, like myself, who happened to be passing by, identifies what the church does for others, for its community, for its members, and for the betterment of those who step inside its doors.  Service, in its doors, is not a time, it is action.

What if this becomes the norm, rather than a clever comeback?  What if websites include less about amusing words and more about impactful actions?  Maybe such sites exist, but I see more of the former than I do of the latter and as a writer, I spend endless hours developing a clever turn of phrase, but what really affects the lives of others is a turn of heart.  After witnessing a recent automobile accident where I choose to check on the status of the driver at fault, while all other witnesses attend to the victim, I acknowledge everyone can use a helping hand rather than a quick tongue.  In service of others should be our mantra, rather than a quip on a marquee.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Above The Kootenai River

Today my thankfulness blossoms from the beauty of nature I have experienced,
and the sense of tranquility and fulfillment it provides my life.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Could I Conquer The Kootenai?

Another Phobia

As previously mentioned, I am not a fan of tight spaces.  Low ceilings, caves, small openings, and even getting tangled in my blankets unnerves me (see “Hidden Beauty” from March 2012).  Equally as worrisome to me is acrophobia.  I have attempted on multiple occasions to overcome this affliction, including skydiving, but nonetheless, being at an extreme open height scares the dickens out of me.  I have been to the top of the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) and I found the view inspiring and the distance above the earth perfectly safe, yet a balcony on a low-story hotel makes me uneasy.

When crossing the Rio Grande River west of Taos, New Mexico, I worried about the possibility of my camera falling to its demise, but fretted for my own security any time a truck would pass and the entire span would bounce.  As a child me parents took freakish delight in my apprehension about crossing the suspension bridge transversing Royal Gorge, more than a thousand feet above the Arkansas River in central Colorado.  In my humble opinion, bridges should not allow anyone crossing it to peer between wooden slats that make up the crossing surface and view the jagged earth beneath it.  Bridges should be solid structures, with high sides preventing any confusion about which side I and my personal property belong and securely shall remain.

Crossing The Rubicon (And The Bridge Over It)

There comes a time when fear must be conquered, when it is time to face the nemesis of our mind, or in my case, the extremely physical barrier between an open bridge and the possibility of what may or may not be my demise beneath it.  The time to embrace my phobia came with a simple logic, “Did I come all this way to see this and then I am not going to enjoy it simply because it terrifies me?”  In the past, I might have easily answered my own question affirmatively, but here in the Kootenai National Forest, stretched across the identically named river and its cascading waterfalls, also so named, no one would know if I braved the crossing or merely looked at the scenery from the safety of the river’s bank.  The only way to know if I successfully cross this narrow, shaky span would be if I document the moment and prove I am embracing my inner crazy.

As I approach, a young couple who appears far less concerned  about the height and stability of the crossing receives a warm invitation to precede me across the bridge.  With only a few narrow boards of width, should I abandon the safe harbor of the river bank out towards its center, the two would have no ability to return to their starting point if I hesitate in my journey from the left bank to the right.  I eventually release my grip and venture out beyond a secure distance, so if they do reappear, I must rush forward or retreat.   As I progress on my uneasy crossing, I find my eagerness barely nudging me ahead, yet off they go, leaving the span bouncing over the cold rapids, and me to face my phobia.  I know somewhere inside I have the courage to ease my way away from the bank’s safe edge, and I eventually swallow and walk boldly to the center without stopping.  The young couple have long since left me alone on the wooden planks and I reach into my pocket and withdraw my camera (its strap clasped tightly around my wrist) to document and prove to the world what I have already proven to myself: I triumph over acrophobia.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Taste of Alaskan

Brewery Bound

During my first voyage to Alaska, I partook in an activity I rarely experienced in my corner of the world: bicycle riding.  Admittedly, I experienced a wealth of activities in Alaska that eluded me in my southern lifestyle, but pedaling through the state capital rejuvenated me and reminded me of my capabilities when I push beyond my comfort zone.  To top off the sights, sounds, and sensations, we ride to the local brewery for a sampling of the fare, and when back aboard ship, I order a bottle to remind me of the brilliance of the day.

Fast forward fifteen years and I find myself again on two wheels pedaling my way through Alaska.  So much has changed in a decade and a half: Mendenhall Glacier receded deeply, my skills on two wheels floundered, and my favorite brewery changed locations.  Nonetheless, I keep cycling knowing the end of the journey brings me to the delightful tastes of Alaskan Brewery.  New seasonal tastes accompany and enliven my encore visit and I am reminded how much I enjoy the tastes that a distance of 3,248 miles enhances.  And although the adage sometimes rings true that one can never go back, I did, and deliciousness ensued.

Saying Goodbye to Summer

I sit on my front porch tonight, surrounded by the remnants of the first snowfall of the season.  Mother Nature keeps her own calendar and unlike mine, she believes winter arrives more than a week before the official start of autumn.  Despite thinned blood, I face her head on and I prop up my feet on the edge of the front porch and bask in the waning sunlight and ignore the thirty-six degrees.  I will enjoy my last unofficial day of summer regardless of her parting gift.  Across the country students have been back in school, some for nearly a month, but I make enchantment in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming as long as the season will allow.  But the foot-plus glistening white blanket Mother Nature cloaked over the ground yesterday signals the end of a glorious summer in this spectacular setting.

Melancholy moments such as this one challenge me not dwell wistfully on the time that passes, but to appreciate every day, every sunset, every excursion, every wildlife sighting, and every twinkle of the night sky that I have enjoyed.  The grandest highlights and the quietest periods of reflection combine into a summer full of memories to rival a lifetime of travel.  My summer home, my quirky cabin, my vast mountains, and my porch view surround me.  My skin tingles from the cold air.  The smell of the forest accompanies each inhalation.  A foraging squirrel squeaks out his success in acquiring a stash of pine nuts for the winter.  And to my right, the final sunset of my summer fades brilliantly behind the bank of trees.  My senses savor these fading hours, and I cap off the farewell to summer with the last bottle of beer in my refrigerator: Alaskan Summer K├Âlsch-Style Ale.  Summer never tasted so sweet.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Mystery Of Sage

Sense of Sage

When it comes to clothes, I rarely shop on the Internet, in fact, I never shop on the Internet.  If I received a one-hundred-percent assurance that my size would be reflected accurately in a single size that never changed from one style to another, if I knew with certainty that every designer used the exact same numbering system for my waist, bust, and hip sizes, if I could imagine effectively that the fabric would feel as soft, or sturdy, or smooth as I imagine it does on my screen, and if each item of clothes would appear as identically flattering when I lift it out of a cardboard box as it does on the web model, I might reconsider my choice to purchase every article of clothing I own only after evaluating its true appearance in a long mirror inside a dressing room previously occupied by equally intrepid online consumers.  And, of course, if I had any idea what color “sage” really looked like in person, rather than the various shades it encompasses on the worldwide web, then I might, just maybe reconsider online shopping.  But I doubt it.

Sage bumps into this same challenge in a variety of areas.  If you wanted to paint a wall in the earthy tone of sage, what would that sample look like from brand to brand?  If you added sage to a recipe, how much would you add, and would sage leaves taste different than ground sage.  Is the sage fresh, or has it been in a spice rack since the 1970s?  If you drive through the desert or cruise through the mountains, does sage even look like the same plant?  Darn it, sage, you are just too challenging to nail down – I just don’t know where you stand in nature, in the hardware store, in my kitchen, or in my wardrobe.

Smell of Sage

Mono Lake, nestled east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the eastern edge of California, feels less like a mountainous retreat and appears more like an aquatic dump.  Its environment and habitat hide a wealth of diverse plant and animal life, but unable to drain into another water connection, the salt content exceeds levels in many western waterways.  When I roll down my car window as I drive around its western edge, I expect an ocean aroma, but instead the fragrance baffles me with its sweetness.  As I continue around its southern exposure, I expect perhaps a change in the wind direction might lift its salty residue into the air, and yet the smells bombarding my nose confuse me.

When I finally pull off the road and take a closer look, or a deeper, unobstructed whiff, I find the culprit in this confusing sensual overload: sage.  The desert plant, while not in bloom, covers the low, dry hillsides beyond the water’s edge and for miles into Nevada and onward toward the east.  Nearly overpowering in its richness, the smell tantalizes me, and now that I am surrounded by the growth, I continue to breathe as deeply as possible, attempting to ingest as much of the aroma into my memory as into my lungs.  And with much success, I continue to recognize the sweet smell of sage years into the future, despite its nuances from the Great Basin into the high ridges of the Rocky Mountains.  Describing it in words, online, lacks the full enjoyment of its effects, the way it lifts above its stubby branches, the way it infuses the air and envelopes the wind, and the way it feels inside and around my being.  Yes, you just cannot understand sage on the Internet; you have to experience it in person.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Baltimore Nevermore

Downtown Baltimore

Notoriously, I swoop into a place with only an hour or two to enjoy the scenery, the historic site, or, in the case of downtown Baltimore, the snippet of literary history.  Except on this occasion, I allowed myself a lengthy twenty minutes to track down an extra added bonus to the weekend’s Civil War / War of 1812 excursion.  After a drive through Harper’s Ferry and around the Antietam Battlefield, then an entire day combing Gettysburg’s historic sites, and a full scale tourist assault around Fort McHenry, why not squeeze in one more site in the whirlwind view of the nineteenth century mid-Atlantic states?  Into the heart of the city I am ushered.

Upon dropping coins into the meter, a well-meaning, yet somewhat verbally irritated Baltimorean, pointed out to us, repeatedly, that at four o’clock the tow trucks begin sweeping the one-way corridors of the Charm City and our little rental would disappear.  I smiled, thanked her, and proceeded on to my destination somewhere in general vicinity where I had parked.  She may not have realized I possessed a knack for historic fly-bys; what I did not realize was that my parallel parking prowess on the corner of Fayette Street and Greene Street placed my exactly where I wanted to be.  She need worry nevermore.

Grave Hunting

Edgar Allen Poe, one of the quirkiest and most peculiar American authors (thus my interest in the site revealed), lies in repose on the grounds of Westminster Cemetery and in the short span of time between the quarters clanging in the metal meter and the tow truck hoisting its cables, I scurry about the grounds in search of the marker, and around the first corner, I poetically stumble into the author’s sanctum.  The literary fates, as well as the travel fates, shine their eyes upon my excursion.  Within fifteen minutes I return to my automobile before the regional wreckers have a chance to even glance in my tell-tale direction.

While not the first time I have visited a gravesite for the express opportunity to snap a photo and muse about the cultural curiosity the spot holds for me (see “Moonlight in Minnesota” from September 2013), the master of macabre seems appropriately placed here in the center of a city.  His contributions to American literature continue to reach the masses and almost all high school students find his name on their required reading lists.  Much like A Visit from Saint Nicholas has become a staple on Christmas Eve, Poe's nearly one-and-three-quarter-century-year-old poem should be worth at least as much time on an equitable holiday as the brief window I spend descending on downtown Baltimore in quest of his memorial.  If you’ve never read The Raven, please do so this Hallow’s Eve for the love of God, Montresor.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

100 Miles And A Couple Centuries

Last of The Mohicans

If Daniel Day Lewis is not in your “Top Five” list, he most certainly will be after watching this film based on James Fenimore Cooper’s classic tale of life on the American frontier.  In Cooper’s time, the frontier stretched all the way into upstate New York and democracy still remained a vision to be scribed, much less lived.  Nonetheless, Lewis’ portrayal aptly created an impression of life in the colonies during the French and Indian War, when the spattering of cities and the frontiersman beyond their reach still aligned with the crown and an actor in leather could make any British daughter (and most any female viewer) swoon.  If anyone ever told me, “Stay alive; I will find you,” with such passion, I would readily obey.  If Daniel Day Lewis instructed me accordingly, I would develop successful cryogenics technology to enable such a possibility.

Nonetheless, the plot of Last of the Mohicans revolved around the idea of doing what is law versus doing what is right.  And as each character chose between each option, the story unfolds in a breathtaking setting, albeit cinematically altered, to give the impression that the uppermost British colonies on the North American continent offered vistas lost to the time of nobility, gentry, gallantry, romance, and heroism.  Those were most assuredly days long gone, in scenery transformed over two and a half centuries, but a click of the DVD player brings them, and brings Lewis fabulously back to my living room.
Lake George
With a toddler and a first-grader in tow, I cruise upward from Albany into the lush mountains of eastern New York.  We barely set foot inside the expanses of the Adirondacks when we begin our climb up to the hundred-mile view.  Not as imposing as the Bitterroot Mountains (see “The Rivers of Idaho,” December 2011), these peaks stretching down into Saratoga horse country and up just below the border with Quebec characterize much of the contrast between the state’s most renowned escapes and the state’s most renowned city.  The Adirondacks, while a focus of tourism yet without the skyscrapers of the city, still offers views far above the highway, gazing across the lakes and rivers, peering into Vermont on a tranquil, clear autumn afternoon.
Son Number One knows the basic highlights of American history at age eight and Son Number Two knows the basics of human communication as he approaches age two, yet they both sit quietly, enjoying the solemnity of the scene.  Below them on the shores of Lake George, more than two hundred years before their birth, a band of state militia fought to defend Fort William Henry from the threats of the French guns.  On where now exists little more than a souvenir stand, the characters from Last of the Mohicans paraded in a formal surrender before the French have the delight of burning the structure to the ground.  Here at this site, two boys sit quietly, sit closely, and sit patiently as their mother enjoys the history of this place, the tranquility of the view, and perhaps a wistful thought to Daniel Day Lewis’s portrayal of the something historically memorable, not to mention visually yummy.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Six Horses

Lately my travels have included a new and unusual term: tardy.  Of course, recent excursions have also included a series of new concepts: impetuousness, spontaneity, and broadening (as in my horizons), even more than my past adventures.  I have given up the luxuries of convenient motels and cozy beds and have experienced camping in its most basic form.  Admittedly, the tent in my back seat should provide adequate shelter for this new phase of my travels, but due in large part to my tardiness (and impetuousness, and spontaneity), I arrive at my campsite after twilight and discover the scenes to be too dark to pop my tent without making a disaster of my campsite or a nuisance to my adjoining overnight neighbors.  So by default, I have spent each night at my intended tent sites as the occupant of the folded-down seats of my SUV.  Delano, my affectionate mode of transportation, offers a hard surface, but a half dozen blankets, an air mattress, and a couple feather pillows make even a stormy night an exceptional, restful experience.

On one occasion, I reminded myself that time was of the essence in reaching my campsite to allow for adequate assembly of my tent.  Wavering between my driver’s-side window and my windshield, the sun swayed from front to side as the road twisted and curved and in the back of the car, the sack containing my tent begged at long last to gaze upward at the night sky.  Yet as I rounded a bend on County Road 585, I saw ahead on my starboard side five tall, brown horses galloping intently over the next rise.  Were they charging the length of the fence or towards the rails paralleling the road?  The angle of the road masked their true direction.  As soon as I topped the next hill, I saw the quintet stopped at the fence line, gazing longingly across the road to the corralled field on my right.  There a single gray horse sauntered towards the neighboring rail as if to tease the five stallions and greet their anxious impatience on the opposite side.  I wanted to pause for five or ten minutes to take photos, including a panoramic shot of the two contrasting scenes reminiscent of ladies’ night on the farm, but the clock was ticking, the tent was anxious, the campsite remained more than thirty miles away, and the sun was descending.  The equine meat market remained a memory.

For Sale

Pressing onward, a casual, yellow, hand-painted sign states simply, “Honey for Sale.”  I used the last of my supply only days before and how convenient that I would receive a shopping-list reminder late on a Sunday evening.  But at this hour, the vendor would have retreated for the night.  To my absolute delight, the marketplace remains open, yet unattended.  Making a u-turn, I double back to the wooden structure featuring a bevy of sweet selections.  Buckets and bottles and bears offer a range of sizes and samplings.  A box of free honey recipes adds a personal touch to the fare.  A single metal tin – a leftover from a holiday cookie exchange of many years ago based on its wear – sits simply on a shelf, waiting to be opened by a random passerby.  I try not to spill its contents and I discover nearly twenty dollars worth of previous purchases, and a notepad for a brief comment to the unknown merchant.  I deposit my five spot, scribe a note of appreciation, sign my name and the date, and snag a bottle of Devil’s Tower Honey.

On small country roads, in the corners of Wyoming [or Maine, but that was a matter of firewood], a commodity sits safely curbside.  I am equally delighted by the presence of honey in this vast openness on its own rustic shelves and by the confidence, trust, and sincerity of the vendor.  On a swath of hilly road, a selection of merchandise, a small deposit of cash, and an offer for preparation tips of the treat greet a complete stranger like me.  Trust abounds.  Transactions occur.  The wind blows in the otherwise silent store.  A pound of Wyoming sweetness travels away from its home and in Delano’s possession.  Of all my souvenirs from this outing, a simple jar of honey may be my favorite.  My tent cringes as it realizes it will spend another night unassembled in its sack because the impetuous purchase of my sweet tooth, the spontaneity generated by a simple yellow sign, and my continued broadening of my horizon by taking the road less traveled all take precedence over the sun’s position in relationship to its own horizon.  As I finish my exchange with the wooden box, a van also succumbs to the sweetness and sincerity of selection.  We exchange salutations, and I know another jar of Devil’s Tower Honey will grace the table of a random traveler, and the pot of trust will grow.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Little Bit of Something Is Better Than A Whole Lot of Nothing

Key Lime and Key Moments in Key West

Back in the day, when I held the moniker of “cool parent,” we jetted on New Year’s Day to Key West.  Admittedly, the flight from Orlando was a short jaunt – less than an hour – but as one of a handful of passengers, we enjoyed a vast selection of seats on the plane, and to save time, we placed our drink orders before we ever left the gate.  This may have been the easy way to the southernmost point in the US, but it reduced our travels by more than a full day and in a matter of minutes, we were in the tropical islands.  Before long we arrived at our bed and breakfast and cruised Duval Street with slices of key lime pie, key lime soda, key lime souvenirs, and key lime everything.

Son #2 enjoyed the tourist view of the city.  Remnants of the year-end celebration lined the curbs with confetti and tissue paper muted into the nooks and crannies of the town.  We treated ourselves to pie on a stick dipped in chocolate, we laughed at stupid, cheesy t-shirts, we obtained cold drink cozies, and we observed the range of lush plants gracing the residences between our inn and the queue for the photo opportunity at the southern-most point in the Unite d States.  This is where the tourist line up but we snapped a quick shot from the far side and skipped the craziness of the Keys.  Once back at the B&B, Son #1joinedme for a chance to cruise the adult side of the last of Florida’s chain, sampled the margaritas of this ‘ville, meandered in the darkness that leaves Key West in the Florida version of winter, and stumbled home on a lovely buzz of tequila and fun.  We dabbled in a little bit of something for everyone.

Day Two
When we depart early this morning, heading for the excursion out of Biscayne National Park, we really have no business being awake before sunrise.  Yet arriving in Marathon, we see the sun peek over the horizon of scattered islands and inlets bathed in the rich oranges and deep roses of early morning delighting us with the view of the Keys that those cursed with hangovers fail to appreciate.  Most of Florida misses this sun-drenched view, and as I snap a photo of its beauty, Son #1 serenades the sunrise with his harmonica.  We know how to absorb the best of the moment, complete with musical accompaniment.

Upon arrival south of Florida’s narrow east-coast metropolis, we press on to our destination, and then patiently wait to embark on the cross-bay excursion to Boca Chita.  Still technically a Florida Key, downtown Miami looms in the distance and we ignore its presence and head for the small speck of land and the lighthouse guarding its shores.  The northern end of the chain lacks the excitement and ambiance of Key West; Hemingway was never mesmerized by the simple ride from just above the Turkey Lake Power Plant to this simple plot of land.  For a single mom and her sons, though, an afternoon off the mainland, away from the nine-to-five of the office and the routines of everyday, this simple spot of land close to the city yet far enough away to feel like an escape reminds me that even for a few days, reveals and reminds that a little bit of something is far more enjoyable than a whole lot of the nothing in every day’s humdrum, delivering a few hours of simply wonderful.  I appreciate the boys’ silliness, the escape from the rest of Florida, the basic beauty of the lighthouse, and the tiny island of Boca Chita.