Wednesday, September 23, 2009

It's A Grapefruit Moon

Moon Rising Over Canadian Rockies
South of Banff, Alberta, Canada

The light of a full, citron moon held the sky in azure blue long after darkness had fallen. Slipping into a creamy white, it lit our drive through the Canadian Rockies as we made our way to Banff from Kalispell, Montana. There we had toured Glacier National Park and had seen magnificent mountains rising into clouds, leaving emerald canyons and dales below the "Going to the Sun" Road. What a name for a road, but it is perfect for this road which climbs in elevation high enough to give your tummy a bounce. After 2 days in the northwestern corner of Montana we headed to Banff, Alberta, Canada, an alpine hideaway tucked into the side of the Rockies. We were excited as we ventured into the wildness of these mountains, hoping for a bear sighting the next day. As long as I rested against ice packs I could focus on the thrill ahead when daylight would invite us to explore. I began our journey with pulled muscles in my lumbar and sacral areas and the contractions where the hamstrings connect to the torso made my right leg ache as though it were too short for any thought of walking.

Just before the sun set we came upon a herd of big horn sheep crossing the busy road leading into Banff National Park. It was interesting to observe an entire herd crouched on a steep hillside as they watched one large male make his way among the cars in busy evening traffic. One by one they slowly came down the hill and followed his steps, each crossing the street. They had no regard for traffic and moved as though they instinctively knew the cars would stop and people would jump from their vehicles, camera in hand. This was our first exposure to the noble beauty of big horn sheep, and we were overjoyed at our luck on this summer evening.

After our arrival in Banff we had a late night dinner in our room courtesy of 24 hour room service in this grand, old hotel called The Rimrock where the chefs happily prepare what you request in addition to the menu's offerings as long as the ingredients are available. We began our journey into the wild the next day and started with Lake Louise where friends of ours had seen 2 bears ambling lakeside one morning in June. No such luck for us. Far too many people walked along the water's edge. Boaters were paddling in the alpine lake while children squealed and guests of the huge Fairmont Chateau Resort milled about in the distance. Too much human activity to bring bears out for play. The alpine lakes in Montana, Alberta, and here at home in Washington appear deep aqua and turquoise in color because they are fed by snow melt from the glaciers which carry rich glacial sediment. The water seems transparent; rocks along the bottom are as easily seen as if they lay on the water's edge. These lakes are stunning because the vivid colors contrast dramatically with the mountains which rise behind them.

Later we drove north into Jasper National Park to the Columbia Icefields to find the area where 100+ glaciers rise among these mountains, mountains whose faces are as varied as man's. Some look like rocky sculptures with intricate etchings while others, forested in many hues of green, host vegetation. My favorites were perhaps the ones which looked most like sand. Eroding stone showed the wear of the wind from so many years and now resembled sand castles with turrets and domes. The Athabasca Glacier can be seen at close distance if one wants to walk the trail to the area which still contains ice. For safety purposes it is cordoned off by ropes; huge holes can open with little warning. As we entered the parking area we noticed small roadside signs containing dates: 1948, 1992, etc., dates showing where the glacial area had once extended many years before. We were overwhelemed by the physical evidence of global warming. Our nieces' children will have no Icefields to visit here.

At every turn we found mountains of different color, different texture, different beauty, all capturing our attention and giving us a new perspective. Deer and fawns darted in and out of large wooded areas giving us new hope for sightings of moose, elk, and bear. Climbing 8,000 feet in elevation we found ourselves winding in S curves along a narrow paved road which hugged the mountainside and made me a bit dizzy when I looked out and down. Anytime cars were parked along the roadside we learned there was likely some nearby wildlife. We pulled off to find 2 big horn ewes with their 2 young lambs grazing on the side of a very steep mountain.

We continued to see wildlife during out adventures but never found a bear. Three times during our trip we learned we had missed a bear sighting by only a few moments. People near us would have photographs, but the bear had gone back into the brush as we arrived. We saw a young female elk grazing near a river in Jasper just before our last dinner in the Rockies. We had hoped for a moose but happily accepted this special moment in nature.

There was a grapefruit moon suspended over the Rockies, arresting alpine scenery at every turn, crystalline turquoise lakes, glimpses at wildlife we would not ordinarily see, sumptuous food prepared by award winning chefs, and the company of my beloved all to serenade me during my birthday celebration in our Rocky Mountain retreat. Even though the week was scattered with pain this special celebration, wrapped in nurturing love and majestic beauty, was splendid. Many adventures await us in these towering Canadian mountains, and I am sure a bear sighting is among them!

All photography is from our personal collection
and may not be copied or used in any manner
without written permission.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Powerful Stuff

The summer has been very kind to me. I am almost fully recovered from my July surgery. I was uncomfortable for only about 6 days. I have been singing the praises of the high tech da Vinci Surgical System which made this all possible for me. Well, that system and 2 very skilled surgeons along with an excellent anesthesiologist who tolerated my cursing and threatening to leave the hospital when he tried to put in an arterial line prior to my surgery. This is NOT an IV line, but one that goes directly into an artery (deeper than veins) so blood pressure and heartbeat can be monitored in real time. Due to the length of my surgery he felt this was the best way to keep me safe. He finally waited until he put me under to finish since his 3 tries were unsuccessful.

I had 4 very small incisions and minimal blood loss (5 tablespoons, someone said). My discomfort was short lived. Within 5-6 days I was taking walks in the neighborhood with my husband, sitting in the gardens and, in general, resuming my routine life with a few restrictions. I learned from the pathology report in July that I had NO cancer anywhere. Yippeeeeee! After living with the threat of cancer for 2.5 years and having 4 surgeries during this time while opting for a conservative treatment protocol with medication instead of major surgery, I learned I had made a wise choice in delaying this surgery, afterall. If I'd had major surgery when I was first diagnosed I would not have had the option of this high tech da Vinci procedure. My da Vinci surgeon has only been doing the robotic surgery a little over a year. A couple of others in the area may have been doing it a little longer, but no one was ready when I was initially diagnosed. Da Vinci has 3-D vision with 10 X magnification. The surgeon and I both benefited. She had a better field of vision and a clean surgical area (without blood contamination). I had a much easier recovery with less risk of complications and very little blood loss.

Now that I can travel we will soon return to our favorite ocean refuge where we will once again climb into bed and listen to the music of the sea. We will awake to that seascape of water rushing toward us and leaving foamy bubbles and a zigzag pattern across the sand in its retreat. We'll roam a familiar coastline and find new places to explore. We will heal in the salty air. These long months of stress, months during which we buried my mother, navigated 2 surgeries for me, handled a failing economy and the continued threat of layoffs, learned my father had suffered 3 fractures during a car crash, and faced a myriad of other "cost of living" emotional expenses have been hard on us. We survived them, and now it is time to rest and play! After we say goodbye to the ocean we will drive northeast to the Canadian Rockies to adventures in Banff National Park. We will see Lake Louise's deep aqua water amidst that famous backdrop of mountain peaks rising behind her. We'll stand on the Columbia glacier in the Icefields, take a boat cruise along Lake Minnewanka, and keep our eyes perched for bears, elk, moose, eagles, deer, and any wildlife which deigns to grace us with its presence. We feel it in our bones - this is our year to see bears!

We finally saw Orca whales this past weekend! We have waited 6 years to see the Orcas while seeing every other whale that lives or swims through our waters: Minkes, Humpbacks, and Grays. In the warm Sunday sun we cruised around the San Juan Islands and headed northeast toward the Strait of Georgia. We saw so many Orcas we could not keep up with the count! It was amazing to see these whales rising from the water, flashing their dorsal fins. The naturalist told us which pod each belonged to and the name of each whale. They can be identified by their dorsal fin, by its size, shape, and color patches. Whale research agencies monitor this and know the exact Orca count at any given time in this area. Right now we have 84 resident Orcas which live here in pods J, K, and L. These resident Orcas eat salmon/fish whereas the transient Orcas which can sometimes be found in this area eat mammals like dolphins and sea lions, too. The Orcas found in Alaska are the transients, as are many off the Canadian coastline.

I became a bit frustrated Sunday not knowing in which direction to focus my attention. Just as I looked to the right I would catch a peripheral glimpse of a whale on my left! We rocked on the waters for a long time since the captain killed the engine to give the whales quiet space in their personal waters. There are regulations regarding distance boats must maintain. Twice Orcas swam directly toward our boat, and we all squealed at our thrill. There were times when we all shifted from one side of the boat to the other since the whales were swimming on both sides. Making a wise choice, my husband headed to the back of the boat saying he was sure a whale on our right was swimming directly there. He was right! We did not return to shore until 9:40 PM and were fully exhausted from a day on the water and the excitement that had stirred us. Many will never know the thrill of seeing whales swimming in the wild, and we are very grateful for our luck.

In early August we made a trip to Mt. Rainier to see her glowing face up close. The last time we visited her she was so covered in snow we could not get too near. On this perfect summer's day we were able to travel as close to her face as the winding road would allow and had a picnic lunch overlooking a valley where a green carpet was overgrown with wildflowers. Even in the heat of summer, her top is snow-covered, but there are glimpses of rocky terrain along her face. She glistens in the sun in beauty which is overwhelming.

The day before our Rainier visit we took a friend for a late lunch on Puget Sound and then headed north to Anacortes to see the sunset from Mt Erie, a mountain which climbs along the shoreline. We missed all photo ops of this setting sun because we were on the wrong side of the mountain for vista pull-offs as it descended, but we saw the red burst through the sky like a burning wildfire and caught sight of it through the tree tops. It was a similar sun that we saw on Sunday as we ended our whale watching, a sun rising out of clouds she had painted pink before spilling streaks of fiery red and then splashing them with a force that colored everything in sight! I don't think we have ever seen a sunset quite as red or piercing as this. The light was so bright it refused to be captured as perfectly as we could see it, a circle crisply shaped along its huge circumference, a very pale yellow set against the reds it threw across the sky and water.

As our boat rocked along the water, sometimes rough enough to cause me to reach for rails to steady myself as I stumbled and swayed, I thought about my summer. These rough waters had brought us the thrill of the whales and a sunset more exquisite than words or photographs can capture. My own rocky waters had found me unsteady and scared but had eventually led me to a healing of body and mind. I hope that I'll remember when I once again face a situation which contains such fear or risk that the journey ahead of me can also bring exciting and rewarding results.

Here are a few photos from our summer. Some of it we spent in our gardens, some of it on day trips. Some time was spent on the Sound having delicious seafood and watching sunsets, some of it was spent in medical appointments and the hospital. Some of our summer was spent being thankful for good friends and loved ones, both here in our real lives and in virtual space. We are glad for the good wishes and prayers, for the positive energy sent our way from all over this country, for the stuff that brings healing and comfort and love. It is powerful stuff, all of it - friends, love, family, wishes, thoughts, prayers, sunsets, gardens, whales, surgeons, technology, mountains, oceans, and the waiting arms of my beloved. Blessings, indeed.

All photography shown here is from our private collection and may not be used in any manner without our written permission.

To enlarge each photograph, just click on the image

Monday, June 22, 2009

Healing Elements

Sunshine summons me, and I find myself outside much more lately. The gardens give their splendid gifts of color and texture, saturate me with their emerald glow, give life a new dimension, and bathe me in serenity. It is what I need right now. My husband created these gardens from rocky soil which he had to work by hand, day after day for many months. My Mother's love of gardening is now his gift to enjoy. He creates magic with gloved hand, amended soil, correct light, and Mother Nature's blessings. Self-educated in this art, he has listened carefully along the way, has taught himself well, has paid attention in order to make the right decisions. It shows.

I will be having major surgery in 2 weeks. It is a bit complicated and scary, this 4 hour procedure I must undergo. When I come home from the hospital I will be recovering among these flowers and shrubs, sitting among these towering evergreens. I will be lounging in the sunlight on the courtyard, surrounded by roses and the exotic fragrance of sweet alyssum flowing from pots of red geraniums and white bacopa planted with deep purple petunias and light, airy lobelia, as blue as the sky. I will be looking out onto a landscape of magestic lilies, white and plum and mauve, at perennials cast across a canvas in hues that bleed together like watercolors, listening to the birds call and sing, and watching them splash in their garden baths. Their competitors at the feeder, the fuzzy squirrels, will entertain me hiding peanuts, even from themselves, and chasing neighborhood squirrels away. Windchimes make quiet music in the breezes here and will add more tranquility to these moments. Everything around me is conducive to healing and joy. My husband and his love, our gardens and their beauty, the wildlife and its mysteries, and nature's all consuming, exquisite magic. Just what the doctor will order.

In the coming weeks we will take some photos of the lilies which are just now beginning to open. Until then, please enjoy the photos we have of our May and early June gardens.

Thank you all in advance for your good wishes during my surgery and recovery. I need and appreciate all the support and healing energy sent my way. When I feel up to it I will post an update on Facebook for those of you who are there, and I will try to get some photos of the lilies posted here. Until later, good cheer to us all!

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.”

John Muir

Click on each photograph to enlarge for details.
All photography shown is from of our private collection and may not be used
in any manner without our written permission.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Springtime Hypervigilance

Weeping Cherry Blossoms

Some people would call us addicts. We move through the gardens searching for a new bloom, checking the soil for new green tips crawling up toward the sun. We seem to always be looking for our next "fix," the moment when we spot that perfect assurance that spring is alive and well and is living in OUR gardens! Eyes move across stems and branches, always exploring, noting changes from yesterday. We scan our colorful landscape hunting for the new bloom or a bud which might have burst open in the morning light. We are often surprised at the magic which can happen between the darkening night sky and the morning's first light.

We were sorry to learn that our extremely cold and snowy winter brought the loss of a few of our plants and shrubs. We lost a tea olive we had planted in memory of my uncle. It was his favorite plant, a lovely evergreen with fragrant blooms several times a year. An escallonia, another evergreen, may return in time. It was lovely last year, huge and full and filled with pink blooms all season. Now it is reduced to bare stems with 3-4 leaves. One of our treasured George Tabor azaleas lost most of her leaves. We will pamper her back to health as one pampers a sick child. We ordered her and her siblings from Georgia and spent many, pretty pennies on them. Almost all of our purple wall flowers were killed. Two of our heavenly bamboo shrubs were significantly damaged, but both should survive. One daphne odoro is dead; the other, healthy and covered with blooms until recently, always fills the late winter air with exotic scents. One immediately begins to search the gardens to find the host of the intoxicating fragrance.

We are seeing the lilies rise up and begin to show their buds. The alliums are growing tall and making huge bulbous buds which will open into my husband's favorite early summer blooms. Tiny leaves are now showing on multiple perennial stems which always look like dead twigs until spring removes the mask of winter. The columbines are up and full - their blooms will follow soon. Some early blooming azaleas are in bud now. The viburnums are bursting forth in clumps of white buds which will open within the week. Candytuft is covering the bank in small, white blooms, but its companion, lithodora, which always dots that white blanket with tiny, blue blooms, was almost killed back by a late spring snowfall. Now it looks dead. It is beginning to show tints of green amidst the gray/black hue of its clumps, but we don't expect much show of bloom from it.

Right now in bloom we have tulips and daffodils; purple heather; blue and purple reticulata irises which are on their way out; white candytuft; pink, purple, sage green, and white hellebores; early blooming rhododendrons; the chartreuse green and red blooms of euphorbias; pink and white bleeding hearts; and yellow and white bucharica irises. The hyacinths are about gone, and despite the fertilizing we do some have become too frail in bloom to keep. These will be replaced. I have no photos yet of a huge clump of purple/magenta tulips which are now in bloom. When I remember that we need a few photos of these magnificent trophies which opened recently it is either dark or raining. When it is light and sunny I am too distracted to think of it. There will be many other photos of our gardens so it will be added later.

Here are a few photographs of our spring garden. We hope you enjoy them!

All photography is part of our private collection and cannot be copied or used in any manner without our explicit, written permission.

Click on each photograph to see the details of each image. You will find a spider happily enjoying the white narcissus in the last photograph.