Thursday, January 17, 2013

Kicking It Along the NW Coast

Black Bear in Whistler, BC
I am still around in this on-line world, mostly reading blogs written by friends. Facebook has become my daily vehicle of choice in staying in touch with friends and those I have met via blog writing. I am updating this blog to keep it online in case a purging occurs for inactive blogs. During the past couple of years we have continued our life here in the PNW, have spent time traveling in British Columbia and Alberta, Canada; Oregon; Montana; Idaho; Washington; and the eastern US. We've seen 30 or more black bears, several as recently as July, 2012 in the Whistler, BC area. We continue to commune with the Orcas in the waters off the coast of Canada. When we saw one doing cartwheels across the Salish Sea we were as thrilled as children. We've sailed under red sunsets that looked like the sky had been set on fire, watched fireworks drop into the Pacific Ocean, and saw others illuminate the sky from a small, chartered boat in a tiny Canadian cove surrounded by mountains off the Strait of Georgia. We've attended musical concerts, heard the Oregon symphony play, enjoyed good food and entertainment at a local Jazz Dinner Club, and laughed heartily at well written and perfectly delivered comedy routines. Impromptu day trips are still a favorite way to entertain ourselves as we explore our magnificent PNW world. The local seafood nourishes us, and we eagerly anticipate May each year when the Copper River Salmon from Alaska arrive here en route to the lower 48. There is nothing quite like our local summer farmers' markets and Seattle's Pike Place international market to remind us of the natural gifts of the earth and seas.

The gardens looked a bit different this year after 3 conifers were removed, opening an area to more sunlight with a new island of real estate for planting. The trees were replaced with spring blooming magnolias, one in buttery yellow and the other in magenta purple hues. These joined a Teddy Bear magnolia which looks much like the large Southern Magnolia but in dwarf form with fragrant white saucer blooms. New azaleas in yellow, apricot, and wine added even more color to the new area, all planted near a deep purple peony, large purple rhododendrons, and a pink Japanese dogwood. Spring will be a feast of colors and fragrances, and we can hardly wait!

Summer brought containers filled with annuals in every color to mix into the landscape. Pink and cranberry spirea bloomed at the end of the season, and yellow potentillas finally picked up a growth spurt, lighting the lower gardens in sunny yellow. A large urn of red geraniums, purple lobelia, and yellow million bells sits a level higher so blooms can spill out above the potentillas. The flagstone pathway begins its curve here and meaders through a woodland area populated in ferns under conifer boughs. Hostas, multi-colored impatiens, blue and white hydrangeas, red hellebores, deep scarlet Martha Washington geraniums, and magenta bergenias surround a large birdbath and Asian pagoda. An Oregon grape is showy with chartreuse yellow blooms near one of my favorite shade loving plants, a native huckleberry with tiny, delicate leaves. A camellia may finally bloom this winter with the additional light now available to that area. We'll see. It and a Japanese pieris have shown very little growth since being planted 5 years ago. The huge leafed fatsia rising behind a garden bench has been pruned to contain its growth several times. Apparently it is much happier than its friends. We like the silver speckled lamium that falls from a container and the gold-dust acuba japonica which add light and color to the shade and mix well with the and burgundy rhododendrons nearby. When the sunlight is right it is a glorious mix of colors, but any loss of needed light will rob the area of blooms.

This year's project, postponed from 2012, will be a water feature. Water will fall from a huge natural boulder that has been on the property since the house was built. This area is filled with basalt rocks and boulders. The water will appear to fall from the boulder into a pond surrounded by river rocks and smaller boulders which we will add. Then we'll fill in with plants and strategically placed pots of colorful blooms that spill over rocks.

La NiƱa ensured we had a very slow drying spring and delayed summer in both 2011 and 2012. We have no idea what to expect this year. Summer in 2012 did not arrive until early July and even then only provided minimal warmth. I don't recall ever leaving home without a jacket for the late afternoon and evenings. Some called it a "green tomato summer," never enough heat to ripen the tomatoes. We did not even plant veggies the past couple of years. Not enough heat around or a long enough growing season to ripen the fruit/veggies.

During the past couple of years a few people we love have died; their absences felt deeply, their friendships missed. One friend left us totally unexpectedly and far too soon, and I am still reeling with the shock of it. A sudden and overwhelming loss can shake you to your core. So many dreams were left behind. She and I enjoyed 20+ years of lunches while working on projects through our jobs. We discovered interesting garden shops and speciality Asian design stores, shared a love of animals, and made many memories together. So many thoughtful gifts she's sent when she found something she knew I would love. Our wedding gift was a beautiful antique Asian wedding headdress which is framed in a shadow box in our entry way. My husband and I planted a Peek-A-Boo Deutzia in our gardens in her memory in spring. The blooms resemble apple blossoms and were plentiful in late July. Later we scattered wildflower seeds along the top edge of a high river bank as a tribute to her love of nature. She, too, was an avid gardener. At Christmas I miss her most. She gave us many special ornaments over the years, and we always called her while decorating the tree and took a walk down memory lane with her, laughing and reliving fun moments.

We are ready to see our beloved ocean but have no firm plans yet. We spent a couple of weeks in GA in mid to late July in response to a family health emergency which continues. Related issues have brought far more stress into my life than is good for my health, but there are some things we must do when circumstances demand. I became ill with a respiratory infection and high fever in early September, and it did not want to let me go! Rest became the password for our life over the holidays, and I intend to give myself that gift as often as possible in 2013 so I can fully heal. I have been dragging for 4 months now.

Here's hoping you all climbed out of the heat and drought of a long summer if you are in other parts of the country and that winter has been kind so far. I hope these past couple of years have been good ones for you. I remain stunned at the violence in the country and concerned about climate change and the effects we see now. Natural disasters are always alarming. The destruction of Sandy all along the NE coast and other similar disasters in various places worldwide leave us all in disbelief, eager to help, overwhelmed by how. The deaths in Colorado, Arizona, and Connecticut, and the countless other gun related deaths which don't garner the same level of media attention are horrifying. I hope we wake up and dig our heads out of the sand. No remedy is foolproof, but we must protect our children and ourselves.

Until later, I send wishes for comfortable days filled with joy and good health and a new year that totally suits your fancy!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

And Life Is Good

Jackie in Georgia

The four months of living since I last posted here contained many shifts along a sometime bumpy road, keeping us periodically a little off center. It has been a busy time in our lives. In September we celebrated our first nephew's birth. His family lives in a bedroom community a few miles north of Zurich, Switzerland and part time in Aberdeen, Scotland. The first young male in our family on either side, he is journeying at 4 months old through another continent, meeting family who are thrilled to welcome him to this world. We had fun shipping gifts across the sea and imagining his tiny arms and legs sliding into his fuzzy, warm clothes.

After we harvested apples from our tree in fall, we chose a new Brooks plum to replace an injured and dying Japanese Maple in our front rock garden. Told we could pick it up in November to insure a safer transplant in dormancy, we ultimately made 2 trips south of Seattle, enjoying the long drives and lovely orchards while we viewed Mt Rainier rising in the distance. Garden chores called loudly as we raced against the clock to get things done before winter arrived with her running faucet of cold, dripping rain. New bulbs and a shrub were planted, and a few transplants were done before the temperatures dropped. We are eager to see the blooms of our new mountain laurel in late spring and have great expectations for a full blooming Sappho rhododendron, now living in more garden space. We had to keep it severely pruned in its previously limited garden bed, and this significantly restricted its blooming.

Traveling along scenic Highway 2 beside the Skykomish River, past Stevens Pass where skiers busy themselves all winter and through part of the Cascades, we made our way to Leavenworth, Washington in late October. We enjoy shopping in open air markets where we buy pumpkins, fruit, and hand made soaps. Leavenworth's quaint shops and festivals greet visitors any time of year and add pleasure to our annual adventure of autumn leaf peeping. We always look forward to dinner with a friend we don't see often enough and had a delicious meal together at Viscontis.

Our November trip to Georgia started off as a reunion with friends from Miami who flew in to meet us for a few days before we traveled on to spend time with family. Along the way we saw my childhood friend and her husband, sharing stories, love, and deep laughter in the way only those who share long history can. Good food is always part of these visits, and there is a comfortable lingering at the table where chatting takes place over long-ago emptied plates, an activity I have come to believe may be more southern than not. Jackie, their daughter-dog, entertained us as she played soccer with her basketball and made us think a lot about adding a puppy to our own springtime home.

Family visits, at least for us, are splashed with emotional fire power which can shatter the continuum from A to Z. Considering my father's mental health we thought ourselves lucky that our holiday celebration went as well as it did. My father managed to get through 5 days with only one major flare-up, and my husband and I were happy to have missed his temper tantrum. Sadly, my sister was not as fortunate, but things calmed down rather quickly. Seeing my sister is always one of the biggest treats of our trips, and I leave Georgia with tear-tracked cheeks knowing it will be a long time before we meet again. En route to the airport for our flight back to Washington we joined 5 friends we had not seen in years for lunch south of Atlanta. A homecoming of good friends eager to see each other quickly became a mix of joy and sadness as we learned one had been recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She received bountiful love and words of support, assurance that she would conquer this serious challenge, but a buzz of fear traveled around the table like an electrical shock wave.

Within 2 days of returning home I fell sick with an upper respiratory virus, an ailment I frequently get following November air travel. We'd both had our swine flu vaccines and used Purell so often I was surprised our hands were not chapped all in hopes of avoiding a major viral infection, but it was not meant to be. Within 10 days of my symptoms, hubby had his own so we had to scratch all plans for holiday travel, meals, celebrations, and entertaining, opting instead for kleenex, Mucinex, antibiotics, neti pots, cough drops, and naps in our recliners. Not even a tiny bit of fun!

Each of us ran a 3 week course of illness, but hubby was able to work from home much of the time, a plan chosen to avoid infecting anyone else. He decided to cancel his vacation leave so he could take a nice break later. Our only holiday activity was a Christmas breakfast buffet at a nearby hotel and an outing to "It's Complicated" which was so hysterically funny that the entire theater was laughing loud enough for viewers to miss some spoken lines. Unfortunately, hubby's laughter resulted in his coughing so he had to zip it up and smile while sucking on cough drops and drinking water. Afterwards we were too tired to even consider a holiday meal so canceled our reservations at a glitzy Seattle hotel and restaurant and went home to take a nap. No tree, no lights, no wreaths, no decorations, nothing Christmassy at our home but red noses.

Shortly before Christmas my father decided to create one of his major trauma-dramas across the miles, coast to coast, something which caused both my sister and me much consternation and pain. This dance insured we would choose to have no contact with him during Christmas and for weeks beyond. We are weary of his disrespect, mental health issues or not. He has given us little rest since our mother died in February, 2009, and we need peaceful moments away from the constant courting of chaos.

January, free of paternal manipulation and verbal abuse, has been a much improved month for us all. The rainy weather kept us confined a bit and delayed weekend road trips, but we are feeling healthier and happier and grateful. Recent sunshine reminds us why we love the Pacific NW and teases us into thoughts of spring with daydreams of colorful explosions across our landscape. A new year is here, and we will soon be gardening and admiring the splendor before us, traveling along the rocky Pacific coast, cutting roses for vases, exploring Canada's coastline, whistling to our Steller's Jay, watching Orcas roll playfully in the Sound, waiting for a sighting of a black bear, and choosing where we will vacation in late summer. Now we eagerly await the first snowfall of 2010. None is forecast; it will be a grand surprise. And, life here in the Pacific NW is good.

Seattle Skyline Across Puget Sound

Pacific NW and personal photographs are from our private collection,
and may not be copied or used in any manner without explicit and written permission.

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.