Friday, March 25, 2016

Arizona Desert Respite

Sunset in The Superstition Mountains
 (Click on any photo to enlarge it for better viewing.)

Wednesday, March 16    Carol lies on the chaise lounge, asleep, the patio umbrella shielding her from the desert heat.  It must be near ninety degrees, but who knows?  Who needs to measure?  I stand in mountain pose in full sun, facing north to the nearby Superstitions Mountains.  We are just where we want to be.  A respite from lingering winter.  And from cancer, which nevertheless has followed us, shadowing us, muted for the moment.

Plank pose.  Downward dog.  Three beach towels provide an almost adequate replacement for my yoga mat, although my feet slip on the towels.  I'm grateful for the heat pressing into my back.  The pool awaits for when I finish my yoga.

Our first full day in the desert.  Pat and Bill have gone off to Scottsdale to visit friends.  We have the house to ourselves.  Quiet surrounds us.  Close by, songbirds perch atop saguaro cactus and hide in cholla, startling us with beautiful melodies that are foreign to our city dwellers' ears.  They sound happy to pass the day in the desert.  And why not?

Closer still, wind chimes the size of small organ pipes hum bass notes that hint of timelessness.  I think of monks at prayer.

Past Its Prime, With Mid-Day Moon
It's not our usual style of travel.  By now, we'd have logged our first long hike into some canyon in the Superstitions, signed up for a horseback trail ride, found bicycles to use and planned our next hike, early in the morning or evening to avoid the heat of the day.  Carol doesn't have the strength yet for all that.  Still, we are happy to be here, grateful for this day.

Last Days of Winter
Thursday Morning Early    I'm the only one up.  I have the patio to myself for Tai Chi.  The sky is freshly blue, the Superstitions still in shadow, silent and bold.  Later in the day, when the sun is high overhead, it will wash the drama from both.  As I begin, my hands feel the morning chill.  The rising sun paints an east-facing cliff before my eyes, then another and another.   As the sun peeks over the roof of the neighbor's house, its rays touch the side of my face and my hands, warming them.  Birds flit from saguaro to a bare tree and back, calling to one another.  A terrier on a walk with its human  runs to the fence of our property and stares at me, head tilted.  Who are you, his look says.  Do you want to play?

Night Approaches
Friday Morning    Carol and I take a drive to the Boyce Canyon Arboretum, twenty miles down the Superstition Highway.  We arrive before the crowds.  It's a lovely place.  Carol and I get separated right away when I stop to take photos.  We don't meet up until later, after I've walked the mile and a quarter perimeter loop alone.  I expected to catch up to her and don't know how I missed her.  I worry a bit, something I never do because she's so independent.  That's her illness, working on my mind.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum.  The photo that separated Carol and me.

Man-made pond, Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Cactus Flower, Arboretum
At the far end of the property, I spot a suspension foot bridge over a dried up stream bed with a few stubborn pools of water.  I check my map and see that it leads to an off-the-beaten-track "high trail."  Another time Carol and I would have taken this trail without a second thought.  I walk onto the bridge, feeling it undulate beneath my feet.  I stop for a moment's reflection, then return to the main loop, eager to reunite with Carol.

Saturday Morning, Temperature Seventy-Six and Rising    Mary Jo, our house/dog sitter, texts us daily with an update.  Rowdie and the house are doing well.  This morning she reports a coating of white outside and icy sidewalks.

Other Times, Other Thoughts    The massive, dramatic and stark Superstitions loom over the desert in the moonlight.  Coyotes howl. 

Strike It Rich Drive, Strong Box Lane, Desert Dawn Drive, Louis L'amour Lane, Gold Canyon Way, Mountain Vista Road, Apache Way, Pony Rider Lane, Tomahawk Trail.  Talk about a sense of place.

Carol and I walk each morning after breakfast, as far as she can handle, which is a little farther each day.  The air temperature is still in the 70's, but the sun's heat is fierce.  The dial is turned to high.

I don't think I've ever been to a movie theater with twenty-five screens.  Twenty-five!  The Harkin Superstition Springs 25 is my first.  Every staff person is not only unfailingly polite but also engages us in brief conversation - the ticket seller, the ticket taker, the concession worker who sold me my popcorn.  At the end of the movie as we exit the theater, a young man with a large trash barrel and a broom waits at the door for the theater to empty.  "Thank you for attending," he says.  "I hope you enjoyed the movie."

We see "The Lady in the Van."  Carol and I always end our movie discussions with the question, would you recommend it?  Carol:  to someone who just loves movies or is a Maggie Smith fan.  Marc:  to any one who likes a good story well-told.

Past Its Prime, Sunset
Pat and Bill's cat is a genial sort.  She's not allowed out of the house.  The yard is fenced, but there are breaches in the defenses through which rabbits and roadrunners can hop in and, presumably, kitty cats can scamper out.  She often sits motionless, watching, tail flicking.  Is it a quail?  A vole?  A bunny?  She stares so long and so intently that I want to open the screen door for her and say, "Go!  Run!  Be free!"  In reality, if she got out all she would eventually be is dinner for some coyote.

Other times, when the cat isn't asleep on a favorite chair, she sits patiently by the side of the sliding screen door, waiting for one of us to drop our guard as we enter or exit.  The call of the wild is strong.

Each evening as the sun sets, we walk the perimeter track of the golf course, which lies just beyond a small patch of desert outside our patio.  Each night we walk, until Carol gets tired, toward King's Ranch Road, a few hundred yards away and a small fraction of the perimeter.  Last night we set out in the opposite direction and kept walking until we had circled the perimeter.  A small victory on the road to recovery.

I've laughed out loud a lot this week.  Something to savor.

Evening Walk
Ocotillo Under A Full Moon
On Our Evening Walk
On one of our evening walks, I say to Carol that I am trying to conjure a coyote, or maybe a javelina, walking in the desert scrub nearby.  I badly want to see these creatures.  She replies that she is trying to conjure no wild animals.

Our Last Day in the Desert    Carol and I are up early for a drive to Tortilla Flat (not the Tortilla Flat that John Steinbeck wrote about, which later became a motion picture).  We stop early  for a mini-hike in Lost Dutchman State Park, on the other side of the Superstitions.

The Superstitions in Lost Dutchman State Park

The Superstitions in the Morning, Lost Dutchman S.P.
Brittle Bush
The drive from Lost Dutchman to Tortilla Flat is a beautiful and slow meander through the mountains over twisty, curvy roads.  We negotiate a switchback and round a curve and are startled to see below us the brilliant blue waters of Canyon Lake, created when a dam was built between 1915 and 1925.  Oversized pick-ups hauling boats are road companions now.  Such an incongruous sight after a week in the desert.

Tortilla Flat can't be much different than it was when it was founded in 1889.  In short, not much there.  It's a turn-around point for us.  Beyond Tortilla Flat the road narrows, becomes gravel and, according to an article in the March 12 Star Tribune, Arizona's Wildest Ride.

We are back at Pat and Bill's, after a stop at the Apache Junction Library to print our boarding passes, in time to loll away our remaining hours by the pool.

Little Church in the Desert
Bill and Pat Proulx, Good Friends, Crafty Card Players

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Palm Springs '16 - A Short Escape from Winter and Cares

Friday night, ten p.m., a dozen hours before our flight to Palm Springs.  I receive a frantic email from our Air BandB host in Palm Springs suggesting an immediate phone conversation.  He has flown from New York to check on his recently renovated mid-century condo only to find that the renovation is not only incomplete but the condo is uninhabitable.  He is distressed.  So sorry!  What can he do to help us find a place to stay?  Before the phone call is ended, Carol is at my side with her laptop with three new rental possibilities.  We decide on the one with great location and a private spa steps from the front door.

(A reminder: a single click on any photo enlarges it to full page.  
A single click outside the photo returns it to regular size.) 

The condo we thought we had rented - not quite move-in ready.
Our only problem is that we don’t know if our application will be accepted in time.  I add an email to our application, letting our new host understand our urgency.  We go to bed.  In the morning we have a sympathetic reply with an acceptance of our application.  By mid-afternoon on Saturday, we’ve met our forlorn would-be host, Donald, and seen the condo we didn’t get to rent.  It was, indeed, a mess - plastic sheeting, dust everywhere, sheetrock waiting to be installed, furniture covered with protective plastic and a toilet sitting in the middle of the bathroom floor.  We commiserate with Donald and offer encouragement.  Carol and I leave to join our friends, Jerry and Clare, and are soon sipping wine and suiting up to slip into our private spa jacuzzi.  All’s well that ends well.

Sunday morning, we’re off to our first movie at the International Film Festival.  "Atomic Falafel" is a zany Israeli comedy with an anti-war theme.  After the movie, we are treated to an interview with one of the stars, who has just flown in from Tel Aviv.  In the afternoon, we take in the small but stunning Palm Springs Museum of Art satellite museum in Palm Desert.  Carol and I then catch the exhibit at the Architecture and Design Museum in Palm Springs minutes before the show closes.  Clare fixes the first of her excellent dinners.  Wine flows.  All’s well that ends well on our first full day.

A star of the Israeli film, "Atomic Falafel," speaks after the showing.
Palm Springs Art Museum satellite museum in Palm Desert
A Pause for Reflection in the Sculpture Garden
Monday, Carol and I are off to Joshua Tree National Park, while Jerry and Clare remain in town to hike in Murray Canyon to Seven Sisters Falls, where they sketch and do water colors.  We hike to the Lost Horse Mine.  We optimistically take the longer loop - six miles that offer solitude, a wild and stunning landscape and perhaps a little more of a workout than we were prepared for.  Another excellent meal from Clare followed by time in the hot tub.  Day #2 begins well and ends well.

Joshua Tree
The Trail to Lost Horse Mine
Small Beauty, Joshua Tree National Park
Nearing Lost Horse Mine
Tuesday, we are scheduled to take a ranger-led hike of Tahquitz Canyon.  A forecast of rain leads to a cancellation.  But we have options.  Caroline Banks’s cousin, Christine Reily, has given us lots of hiking suggestions and we head off for the South Lykken north trail (not to be confused with the South Lykken south trail, the North Lykken south trail or the North Lykken north trail - really).  We lose the trail within ten minutes.  Fortunately, an ascent of several thousand feet on our left and the entire city of Palm Springs lying below us to our right ensure that we are not in mortal danger of getting lost.  We get a short hike in, as the rain increases in intensity.  It pours all day and into the night, a happy surprise for the locals.

Carol and I tour Elvis’s honeymoon house, which he leased for one year and shared with his new bride, Priscilla Presley.  (Jerry and Clare demurred on the tour.  Go figure.)  A very cool piece of mid-twentieth century architecture that is for sale right now for seven million, reduced from ten; make them an offer.  The tour guides point out that for that bargain price the future owners will get regular tour bus drive-by’s, as well as people roaming the property and ringing the front door bell.  We will wait until the price dips below five million before giving any serious thoughts.  A built-in sixty-four foot curved sofa is awfully tempting, though.  We imagine all of our guests at our summer solstice party seated on the sofa with their champagne flutes for the annual photo.

Elvis slept here.
In the evening, we meet Dick and Darlene Carroll for dinner at Sammy G’s Tuscan Grille.  They are in town with Road Scholars for the Film Festival.  A pretty good dinner and a great time with friends.  A man enters the dining room shortly after we’ve ordered our drinks.  He wears a white sport coat (minus the pink carnation) over a black open-collar shirt and a white fedora.  The mafia?  Here in Palm Springs?  No.  It is the lounge singer, whose voice is so perfect that we debate all evening whether he is lip-synching to a good sound system.  As we rise to depart, he stops mid-song to say good-bye and unknowingly disprove our lip-synching theory.

Wednesday morning, we are delighted to awaken to blue skies.  High above in the San Jacinto Mountains, yesterday’s storm has left several inches of new snow to brighten the peaks.

We walk to Cheeky’s to meet Christine for breakfast.  It is quite a hot spot, with a line waiting for a table all morning.  Christine knows the drill, and we’re one of the first parties to be seated.  Fabulous breakfast!
They line up early for a gourmet breakfast at Cheeky's.
Mobile Sculpture, Palm Springs
Christine asks if we were awake for the earthquake this morning.  Earthquake?  Yes!  I was!  I lay in bed, eyes on the ceiling, pondering the coming day, when it felt as if someone bumped into our bed and made a brief racket.  It lasted all of a second and a half.  It was so weird that I immediately wondered if I had drifted off to sleep and dreamed it.  A north woods camper, all I could think was there was a critter in our room.  I even looked around a bit.  Earthquake was not even on my radar.  Jerry announced that it registered 4.5 on the Richter Scale.  Check that off my lifetime list of experiences.   

Jerry and Clare spend the day sketching and painting.  Carol and I hike Murray Canyon to Seven Sisters Falls, a good four-mile hike.  Yesterday’s heavy rain makes the many stream crossings interesting and challenging.  We pass several people on the way, and a group of six departs from the falls as we settle on a flat rock for lunch.  We dine in private, and have the trail to ourselves on our return. We finish as the next rain shower commences.  We try the hot tub in the rain - not bad at all.

Seven Sisters Falls, Murray Canyon
The four of us take in our second movie, "Body," a strange Polish character study that leaves me squirming to leave after twenty minutes.  The other three are surprised that I don’t like it, although they don’t rank it all that high on their scorecards.

Thursday morning, we finally take our ranger-led hike into Tahquitz Canyon, a starkly beautiful place dotted with colorful sycamores.  The waterfall at the end of the trail is even more dramatic than Seven Sisters.  It is a mystical place where centuries ago shamans of the Cahuilla people came to renew their strength.

Tahquitz Canyon, ancient retreat of tribal shamans.
Detail, Taquitz Canyon

Jerry, Clare, Me, Carol in Taquitz Canyon
 In late afternoon we visit Christine at her place in Mission Canyon.  We get to see her lovely pottery and exceptional photography.  Then it’s off to the Palm Springs Art Museum.  Jerry and Clare take in the street fair (“a lot of painted rocks for sale”) while Carol and I take in the first floor of the museum before running out of gas after a long day.

Friday morning, Carol and I are off early to get in a hike at Coachella Valley before a one o’clock movie.  We have planned on a challenging hike at Pushwalla Canyon, but Sue, the host at the visitor center, encourages us to take the stroll to McCallum Oasis and then continue into Moon Canyon, with a side trip up Herman’s Hike.  Great choice!  Moon Canyon is aptly named, and Herman’s Hike a quick climb to views of snow-capped mountains.

McCallum Oasis
Oasis path, after a rare downpour.
High above Moon Canyon on Herman's Hike
Above Moon Canyon, Mt. San Jacinto beyond.
Jerry and Clare arrive at Coachella an hour later.  Sue convinces them to take the same hike, but we never cross paths.  I believe they were painting in the oasis when we passed it by on our return.

Then it is back to the Mary Pickford Theater to see our last movie, "A Grain of Truth," a Polish crime thriller and the best of the three films we have seen.

Clare fixes a fine salmon and roasted vegetables dinner for our last night.  We finish our week’s cache of wine, one bottle at the hot tub, one at the dinner table.  Saturday morning, it all comes to an end.  The four of us take a long walk through residential streets on the north side of town to stretch our legs good before heading for the airport.  Frigid weather awaits us in Minneapolis.

Maryland's Eastern Shore, September 2015

Our life was knocked off course in an unplanned and certainly unwanted manner on June 30 of this year, when Carol was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  Since that awful day, we have striven to live our lives as close to normal as we could.  Throughout a summer of chemotherapy and the physical and emotional strains that accompany treatment, Carol's inner strength has come to the fore.  She has met the challenge of cancer head on with great intelligence, courage and determination; not to mention a lively and positive attitude.

Before her diagnosis, we had planned a trip to Maryland's eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay.  In the early planning with our oncology team, one of the first concerns that Carol voiced was whether we could take this trip.  Assured by her oncologist that she could indeed travel,  Carol endured her treatments by keeping the prize of our east coast vacation foremost in mind.  The prospects of this trip kept us both going.  It was one thing we could both control.

Carol is more of our own historic treasure, but this was the best sign we could find.
Finally, September 25 rolled around and we boarded our flight for Washington, D.C.  On Saturday we reunited with our good friends of over forty years, Jay Bartner and Claire Doheny, in the sleepy town of Oxford, Maryland.

With Jay and Claire at Martini Cottage, Oxford

Private Residence, Oxford
 On our first full day, we planned a bike ride to the town of St. Michael's.  It started with a ferry ride across a channel of the bay, followed by a ride through serene countryside that reminded Carol and me of some of our cycling days in Dordogne and Provence.  Both going and returning, Carol set the pace.

Four bikes and one car on the Belleview-Oxford Ferry
Renting the bikes was an interesting look at how laid back things are in Oxford.  On the phone before we left Minneapolis, Rick, the owner of the rental shop, didn't want to bother with a reservation.  Don't worry, he said; he'll have bikes.  When we arrived, there were bikes outside the open door, but no Rick or any other staff in sight.  After about ten minutes, I called the shop number and was informed by Rick that something had come up and he couldn't be there.  Go ahead, he said,  pick out  some bikes and helmets and have a good day.  We could settle up later.  He even told us go go back into his workspace and find the wrenches we needed to adjust the seats.  There were bike locks as well, but "nobody bothers to lock up around here."  City folk that we are, Carol and I couldn't free ourselves of habit and took a lock and used it.

Antique Shop on the road to St. Michael's
We returned from our day's ride, to be greeted at the ferry by our friends Bob and Marcella LaChance, who had driven up from their new home in Raleigh, North Carolina, to spend time with us.   We logged some porch time catching up on each other's lives and set out for dinner.  There are only a couple restaurants in Oxford, but they all served excellent seafood for us.

Later in the evening, we were treated to a full "super moon" and still later, a total eclipse.
On Monday, Jay, Claire, Carol and I forsook the bikes and opted for a cruise on the Rebecca T. Ruark, a skipjack sailboat skippered by Captain Wade Murphy out of Tighlman Island.  What a treat that was.  There was barely a puff of wind, but that didn't matter.  Under Captain Wade's direction, we hoisted the sails, cut the engine and lazed along.  Captain Wade put Jay at the helm, hauled out an armful of binders chock full of information and historical photos and held us in his thrall for two hours with stories of the 130-year old Rebecca T. Ruark, his own life (including failing kindergarten and surviving the sinking of his beautiful skipjack in 1999), the history and ecology of the Chesapeake Bay and the "watermen" who have eked out a living harvesting oysters and crabs on the bay.

The Rebecca T. Ruark

Captain Wade, as he's known in these parts
Bob and Marcella had opted for a tour of the Maritime Museum in St. Michael's.  We met later to recount our day's adventures for one another on our front porch.  The six of us engaged in lively conversation for hours before someone noted that we hadn't eaten dinner.  We wandered next door for a late meal at Pope's Tavern.

The Popemobile?  If he was, in fact, having some down time in Oxford
on his trip to the United States, we never saw him.
 Bob and Marcella left Tuesday, an overcast, humid day that didn't lend itself to getting on a bike.  So we lazed about all morning after taking the small
but very interesting Oxford Museum.  In the afternoon, Jay and I took turns trying out the kayak that came with the cottage.

Too quickly, the reunion was over.  Jay and Claire headed north and Carol and I set out for D.C., where we'll spend a day and a half with another longtime friend, Wolsey Semple.

Wolsey and Carol at his home on Lamont St. NW
My niece, Katie, and me on a rainy day.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Santa Barbara - Visitors Come and Go. And then, we go too.

Our final week in Santa Barbara was Guest Week.  Two days after Jan arrived, Carol's sister, Pat, and her partner, Kathy, came into town on Amtrak after a visit to Disneyland.  Next came Jan's friend, Dave.  After seven weeks alone, we had a lively time with all our visitors.

 (A click on any photo enlarges it to screen size.)
Carol, Kathy and Pat at the Boathouse Restaurant, Hendrys Beach
Hendrys Beach
Seaweed, Hendrys Beach
We went on a whale watching cruise.  We saw a lot of gray whales, but they're sneaky quick and hard to photograph.
Dave and Jan on our whale watching cruise

Where's Whaledo?

Rowdie was happy to have Aunt Jan visit. Luckily, Jan loves dogs.
We drove to the Santa Ynez Mountains for a fabulous hike in Aliso Canyon.
Aliso Canyon, Santa Ynez Mountains  (Forget Waldo.  Where's Carol?)

Descent into Aliso Canyon
Lupines, Aliso Canyon
Aliso Canyon.  After the 2011 fire, new life.
Carol's bike gave her some problems, so she took matters into her own hands.  Always willing to take on a challenge, she set out to do her own repairs.  The problem was that she had no tools and no real experience at bike repair.   So the Queen of Finding Things found a bicycle cooperative where for a small donation she had access to all the bicycle tools she needed and to her own bike mechanic to provide guidance.
Carol learns to true a wheel at Bici Bikes
Bici Bikes,  Where Old Bikes Never Die, But Become Art
We took Jan and Dave to Knapp's Castle, where Carol and I had watched the sunset the previous week.  Knapp was a wealthy man who, in the early 20th century, built his dream home high in the Santa Ynez Mountains.  He sold it in the 1940's.  A few months after the sale, the castle burned to the ground.  It is said that the woman who bought the castle from Knapp was the only person to ever lose money on real estate in Santa Barbara.
Remains of Knapp's Castle
Cachuma Lake, reservoir for Santa Barbara, as seen from Knapp's Castle
Knapp's Castle Detail - Flowers Among the Ruins
Our guests had departed, and our time in Santa Barbara was short. On a beautiful Sunday morning, we got on our bikes and set out to enjoy the day.  After cycling to Montecito, we strolled the beach there before returning to downtown Santa Barbara, which is quite a happening scene on Sundays.  I'll end this journal with photos from our bicycle excursion.

Beach scenes:

Hard at work
Sea Urchin

Playful Pooch.  The chocolate lab was a laugh riot.  I spent several minutes getting shots of him.
Montecito Peak from the bike trail
Wall Detail Along Bike Trail
Santa Barbara on a Sunny Sunday:

Art Fair
Art Fair
The skateboard park was alive with action on Sunday.
Balancing Act in Motion  (He hopped up onto the rail somehow, slid along it to the end and skated away!)
Taking Flight
Crowds strolled along State Street.  The sidewalk caf├ęs were full.  Bands played in plazas.  The man below played the bongos for a lively Latin band.  At one point, he left his drums and announced, "I need a dance partner."  This young woman stepped out of the crowd and obliged him.

Two days later, we packed up the RAV4 and the following morning hit the road for home before the sun was up.  You've seen what draws us back to California's Central Coast each year.  

I'll end up with a final photo of one of the big draws that pulls us back home to Minneapolis.

Our beloved three amigos:  Wesley (6), Aidan (9), Julien (4)