Olympic: Not Just Any National Park

Located in northwest Washington, Olympic National Park is like no other place I’ve visited. After reading about the glacier-capped mountains, wild Pacific coast, and the temperate rain forests,  I placed this destination at the top of my bucket list.

My husband and fellow adventurer, Herb, planned our trip to celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary. However, he did not plan on Hurricane Irma’s arrival in central Florida, one day before we were scheduled to leave. Our flight to Seattle was cancelled which threw our itinerary off. When we arrived in Olympic on September 13, we relished our escape from the stress we experienced prior to, during, and after Hurricane Irma.

As we hiked the Staircase Rapids Trail,  I felt like I’d walked into nature’s cathedral. Huge conifer trees stretched heavenward in their quest for light. The fresh woodsy scent of cedar permeated the air. The gentle ripples of the Quinalt River refreshed my tired body. The experience was like a dream.  It was as if we’d suddenly been transported to another planet.

IMG_0513Little did we know, the beauty of Staircase Rapids was only a prologue to the wonders awaiting us.

The second day in the park we hiked to Hurricane Hill. This area is named for the seventy-five mile per hour winds which buffet the ridge. We joked about the name “hurricane.” Of course I had to send a picture of our location to my friends in Florida, with the comment, “Wish you were here.” Nothing like rubbing in our good fortune.

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I struggled with the seven hundred foot elevation gain, but the views of the surrounding mountains were worth the climb.

IMG_7083 Herb photographed a marmot in an alpine meadow.  This little guy was very excited. We heard him sounding an alert to his marmot friends.

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At the top  of Hurricane Hill we met a gentle deer in a grove of trees.  We were never this close to either of these animals. Herb used his telescopic camera for these images.

The mountain ecosystem of Olympic is in the center of  922,651 acres of  wilderness.  Highway 101 circles the  perimeter of the park and few roads lead into the interior.

We stayed in all four of the lodges operated by the parks service. Our favorite was Kalaloch Lodge, located on the Pacific Ocean. We saw a beautiful sunset from the porch outside our room.

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The beaches of Washington are very different from Florida. Few people swim in the freezing water. The shores are rocky and littered with dead trees.  We were thrilled to arrive at Beach 4 at the right time to see the tide pools.

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What a delight to witness a world that is usually underwater. I felt like I was trespassing. IMG_7574

These sea stars (starfish) and sea anemones reminded me of alien creatures.

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Sea stars come in various colors and walk using tiny water filled tubes located under their arms. Fascinated, I could have watched the pools for hours, but as the tide was rising, we had to retreat from the rocks before water surrounded them.

Olympic National Park is home to one of the most spectacular temperate rain forests in the world. The Hoh Rain forest receives up to twelve feet of precipitation each year.  Not only do trees compete for light, they compete for space. In the rain forest, plants grow on top of plants.

PGBF5398 Various kinds of moss hang from the limbs of primeval trees.

Trees also compete for space on the forest floor. When one tree dies and falls to the ground, other trees sprout on top of it and absorb the nutrients from the decayed tree. These dead trees are called “nurse logs.”

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When a nurse log disintegrates, the result is a very strange looking tree with a bend in it.

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During our two week visit, I tried to learn the names of the giant trees which have lived here for hundreds of years. We saw the oldest spruce tree in the world.

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And what about our anniversary celebration? Over dinner on September 17, we tried to remember how we spent our previous 39 anniversaries. We could only recall ten of them. I think we’ll remember this one.

 

 

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Two Hurricanes in Three Weeks: Lisa’s Story

Lisa regularly flies from Orlando to Texas to visit her elderly parents. However, her most recent trip was one she’ll never forget. On August 24 her plane to Dallas was delayed. She missed her connection to Beaumont and was forced to take a later flight. After spending hours waiting in the Dallas airport, she wondered if it was an omen of bad things to come.

Lisa was aware of Hurricane Harvey’s location in the Gulf of Mexico but didn’t think it would affect Beaumont.  Her parents, Glenda, 84, and Lindy, 90, had a relaxed attitude.  At their age they’d seen many storms come and go along the Texas coastline. The weather forecast predicted thirty inches of rain for their area. Her parents thought it would never happen. Still, Lisa encouraged them to go shopping for extra bottled water and food, just in case they might not want to go out in the rain.

On Saturday, August 26, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Corpus Christi and looked like more of a threat for Beaumont. Lisa encouraged Lindy to fill up his gas tank. He did. That night bands of rain arrived and continued off an on for four days. Lisa emptied the rain gauge in the yard every time it was full. They received thirty- five inches of rain on their property.  The family was amazed their home did not flood, nor did they lose power. Every time the water would rise on the patio, the bands of rain would stop long enough for the water to recede.  Lisa attributes this miracle to the prayers of friends and family.

On Thursday morning she turned on the faucet to make coffee and there was no water.  Flood waters from the Natchez River contaminated the city water treatment plant. The local news reported the water would be off for several days. Lisa and her parents were resourceful. They gathered buckets and coolers and put them in the back of Lindy’s pickup truck. Lindy drove to a nearby soccer field which had become a retention pond.

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Lisa helped her parents carry buckets of water from the flooded soccer field to the truck. Back at home, they used this water to flush the toilet. They still had bottled water to drink, but wondered how long it would last.  Without water, it was necessary for every store and restaurant to close.

Originally Lisa planned to visit Beaumont for five days. With the airport closed, and roads flooded, she was stranded. Still, her main concern was the welfare of her parents. She knew they had to find a way out. If they could evacuate to her sister’s home in Dallas, her parents would be safe and she could get a flight back to Florida from there. She managed to access a Texas Department of Transportation website that posted passable driving routes.  One road, Highway 90, was passable.

Friday morning Lisa, Lindy, and Glenda threw their suitcases in the back of Lindy’s truck and started driving. The trip was frightening at times, especially when they drove onto a bridge across the flooded Trinity River.  A drive which  normally took six hours turned into nine, but they made it. Along the way they watched scores of vehicles coming toward Beaumont to help people evacuate. The lack of water forced those in hurricane shelters to leave.

Lisa flew home from Dallas to Orlando September 2.  Within two days she and her husband Bill were busy preparing for Hurricane Irma. Because of her experience with Harvey, Lisa’s first thought was to stock up on bottled water. Panic ensued. Publix and CVS had no water left on the shelf. She bought empty containers at Target, filled them with water and placed them under their carport. Hurricane Irma was a long time coming, and the path kept changing. Finally, the morning of September 11 hurricane force winds hit Orlando. Lisa and Bill’s power went out and stayed out for a week. City water was unaffected.

Between the two hurricanes, Lisa states her experience with Irma was much more difficult. “Living without air conditioning in Orlando’s heat and humidity is a big challenge.” By Friday night she and Bill checked into a hotel. Their power came on the next day.

Prior to all of the hurricane madness, Bill and Lisa had planned to take a cruise scheduled to depart from Puerto Rico. It was cancelled of course, by another storm named Maria. Lisa was fine with the cancellation. “I didn’t want to see a third hurricane.”

 

 

At Home on the Road

Greg and Ann’s home looks like any other cozy apartment inside. The kitchen includes a stove, convection oven, dishwasher, and microwave. The door on the full size refrigerator/freezer is plastered with family photos. A washer/dryer unit and half bath are conveniently located off the kitchen. In the living room a soft leather sofa sits across from a wide screen TV. A short hall connects the kitchen to a master suite with a king size bed and full bath.

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This home seems normal except for one thing. It can be driven! In 2016, Greg and Ann sold their house in Las Vegas and purchased their dream RV. Since last December they’ve traveled across the country, eventually arriving in Florida to spend time with family. I caught up with Greg and Ann while they “camped” at Mayport Naval Base near Jacksonville.

ALL THE COMFORTS OF HOME

The couple selected their 2016 Holiday Rambler Endeavor because of the amount of livable space inside.  Beautiful woodwork and cabinets make the RV feel like a home instead of a camper. The unit features three slide-outs that increase the width of each room. The Endeavor is forty feet long, contains three air conditioners, and features a huge amount of outside and inside storage. “I love the icemaker,” Greg remarked as he sipped his iced tea. “That’s something every home needs.”

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A JOINT DECISION

Greg and Ann’s journey into full time life on the road began years ago with shorter RV vacations. After Greg retired they took extended trips, spending six months at a time away from their house in Las Vegas. Whenever they returned it took them three months to catch up on maintenance and yardwork. Finally they realized the expense and effort involved with keeping their house wasn’t worth it. So they joined the many retirees who have chosen to live in their RV fulltime. Greg advises couples to “jump in the shallow end of the pool” before making the decision. “Don’t do it unless you both agree.” Life on the road involves adjustments.

Since their marriage in 1974, Greg and Ann have never had to share one car. They tow a vehicle behind their RV for day use. The couple must consider one another’s needs before making plans. Ann joked, “Since we live in closer quarters, we’ve learned to shout at each other, more quietly.”

WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR STUFF?

Even with the ample storage, it’s impossible to fit the contents of a whole house into a forty foot RV. Greg and Ann sold many of their possessions. Greg admits he misses his home workshop, but the experience of seeing so many beautiful sights makes it worth the loss. Two of his favorite possessions, a kayak and an ATV are in storage. The couples policy regarding purchases: “For every new item brought into the RV, one item goes out.”

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SELECTING CAMPGROUNDS

Since Greg is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, they are eligible to park their RV at military bases. The couple also joined Passport America which offers its members a fifty percent discount at individually owned campgrounds. While in transit they plan their route one day before departure and reserve their next campsite the same day they expect to arrive. If they want to stay in one area for more than a few days, Ann makes a reservation further in advance.  Greg and Ann also benefit from a membership in the Escapees Club. This club offers mail service and educational tips for full time travelers.

MISCELLANEOUS TIPS

During our visit, Greg shared that they are currently in the process of selecting their state of “permanent residence.”  Florida, South Dakota, and Texas are the top choices for establishing residency for those who travel full time. These states offer no income tax, and low vehicle registration fees. When choosing medical insurance, its also important to select a policy that travels with you.  Requirements to drive an RV also vary from state to state. In Florida, RV drivers are exempt from obtaining a CDL. However, Ann is planning to take a hands on class in order to feel more comfortable driving. Greg completed the CDL requirements of Nevada.

LONG RANGE PLANS?

Greg loves baseball. The couple has seen games in twenty-one of the thirty cities with baseball stadiums. Like most outdoor enthusiasts, they want to visit every national park in the country. Both love the coastline of Maine. Long range plans? They’ve agreed to reevaluate their lifestyle in five years. Greg laughed, “I know of some retirement RV communities where you can hook up permanently.”

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Now I’m Sixty-Four

When I was fourteen my best friend and I listened to Sergeant Pepper’s until our ears bled.  This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the album’s release. A popular song on the album is When I’m Sixty-Four.  Paul McCartney’s lyrics describe what it might be like when two lovers grow old together.  In 1967 I thought people who were sixty-four probably needed canes and hearing aids.  And now here I am.

As a teenager, I couldn’t relate to When I’m Sixty-Four. It didn’t speak to me so I would usually lift up the needle on the record player and drop it down on A Day in the Life.  Now there’s a song with social significance, a satire about the news media! Like other baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, I challenged the status quo.

My first attempt at reforming the world occurred in 1970 when I was elected student council president of my high school. I petitioned our local school board to change the dress code to allow girls to wear “pantsuits”. Unless Ohio temperatures dropped below ten degrees Farenheit, girls were required to wear skirts or dresses. Students thought it unfair as temperatures frequently dropped below twenty, but rarely below ten.   Imagine my surprise when the school board agreed with me and changed the dress policy to permit “pantsuits” (no jeans yet) year round.  I was the heroine of our small community.

Baby boomers work hard to achieve their goals. When we started kindergarten in the fifties, schools were overcrowded. We had to perform well to get the teacher’s attention. When we graduated from college competition for jobs was intense. This made us competitive and ambitious. We relish achievement. Our identity is often tied to what we do.

Is that why old rockers keep on rocking? I attended a Paul McCartney concert in 2013. At age seventy-two he moved around the stage like a young man. He performed for three hours without taking a break. The concert made me feel like I had just taken a dip in the fountain of youth. Afterward I realized my life was slipping by too fast.  So I left my teaching job to write and travel more.  I wonder what Paul McCartney might think if he knew he inspired someone in their sixties to pursue their passion?

Like everyone, I don’t know what lies ahead. I feel good now, but what will I feel like in ten years? Twenty years? Remember my motto?  I want to do as much as I can for as long as I can with no regrets.  Is sixty really the new forty?

By 2029 the number of Americans over age sixty-five is expected to be 71 million (twenty percent of the population). At least I’m in good company. Although my generation is known for changing what we don’t like, aging is unstoppable. We can try to hide it with hair color and anti-wrinkle cream but time marches on.

My mother tells me, “Old age is not for the faint of heart.” It takes a certain amount of courage to accept the reality that aging brings physical decline. How will I handle old age?

“Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 84?”

 

 

 

Back to School

It’s that time of year again. The lazy days of lounging at the pool are replaced with harried schedules. Today, August fourteenth, is opening  day for many Florida schools. I retired from teaching third grade four years ago. I still think about and pray for teachers often, especially since I know so many who are still on the front lines, including my daughter.

Life in school is a subculture. It always amazed me how so few adults could be so out numbered by children and maintain control of a community. My years as a teacher were blessed by good administrators and parents who supported the staff. When children came to school they knew what kind of behavior was expected and they usually conformed. Just think about how hard it can be for practically anyone to stay in their seat, and raise their hand to speak. But they did.

I always thought the best teachers are those who can inspire students to learn. My favorite teacher as a child was my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Masters. Back then, sixth grade was still part of elementary school and we had one teacher the entire day. Mrs. Masters plastered her classroom walls with inspirational writing. Messages like “you can do it if you try” and “never give up” worked with me. Whenever I thought something was hard I would keep trying to do better.

I’ll admit, I didn’t always have an easy life as a teacher. It’s a challenging profession. Teachers have to think on their feet. They carry a huge responsibility of maintaining discipline and teaching at the same time. One year I had a group of rough boys in my class. I went to the assistant principal for help. He had a sign in his office, “Tough times never last, tough people do.” I asked him if I could make a copy of it to hang near my desk. That sign kept me from quitting that year.

At night I still have dreams about teaching.  In my reoccurring dream kids are usually running around the classroom, and I can’t find my math book to begin the lesson. I suppose it’s typical. That was always one of my biggest fears. Not being prepared. Organization is the key to everything for teachers.

Each day began with over the top multi-tasking. Taking attendance on my computer, listening to announcements, collecting homework, and reading notes from parents. If this wasn’t enough, some students required prodding to begin their morning board work. After all, idle minds make for a devil’s playground!

Reading was always the first subject taught to third graders. Afterwards depending on the day of the week, the students participated in art music, or P.E.  That was my planning time, often spent in meetings with other staff or making copies.  Math was usually after lunch. Somewhere in the six hour day we squeezed in writing, science, and social studies. It was hard to plan for and teach five subjects. It became harder when special reading intervention groups were instituted at the end of the day.

When the dismissal bell rang there was teacher “duty” to make sure every student left the campus safely. Then I could relax with a diet coke and read my emails before I gathered up all the papers to grade at home.

But I loved school. I loved the kids and they kept me coming back year after year. Teachers have a huge impact on students. Some children spend more time with their teachers than they do with their parents. I doubt if many teachers have time to read this, but I commend you for the work you do. If you can keep a child interested in learning, you are a success.

 

 

 

Camping with the Long Key Crabs

Almost one year ago I wrote a post entitled Being.  I shared the value of doing nothing during a trip to the Florida Keys.  Last week my husband and I revisited Long Key State Park with our Viking  trailer for five nights of camping and relaxation on the shores of the Atlantic.

Sure it’s August. Sure it’s hot. It’s hot everywhere in Florida, so folks might as well camp near the water where they can get wet. The word must have gotten out about the constant sea breeze which cools the campground like a giant fan, because the park was full most nights. In fact we felt fortunate to reserve a site.

As in the past, our first day was blessed with a refreshing tropical breeze. We were surprised the second day when the tropical breeze turned into a tropical storm. The rain bands lasted eight hours.  We hunkered down in the trailer, read our books, and played numerous rounds of the card game, Lost Cities. Whenever the rain let up a little, we ventured out to walk our dog…one of the joys of traveling with a pet.

The remainder of the week was dry with a light wind. We enjoyed swimming, kayaking, and a couple of short hikes. With the exception of a day trip to Bahai Honda, we spent most of our time in our camp chairs, just being still and soaking up the beauty of the place.  What is it about the sea that refreshes a person’s spirit?

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One night  when I was preparing dinner our dog Buddy, barked at something. I stepped out of the trailer to see a large crab scurry into its burrow at the edge of our campsite. The crab was at least six inches across. It was grey in color and one claw was larger than the other.

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After that happened I paid closer attention whenever I walked to the campground trash bin with a bag of garbage. I noticed several crabs along the side of the road and dozens of burrows in between each campsite. Later I learned these shy creatures are called blue land crabs, and rank the largest in size of Florida’s semi-terrestrial crabs.  They spend most of their adult lives on or near the beach, but return to the sea to breed.  Blue land crabs burrow several feet underground to allow moisture to seep inside their tunnels.

I found the crabs were more active in the cooler parts of the day, around dusk and dawn.  Primarily vegetarians, blue land crabs eat tender leaves, fruits, and berries.  I felt like I’d really accomplished something when I managed to snap a photo of one with a blue shell before it skittered sideways into its underground home.

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I researched some additional interesting facts about these animals. Their reproductive activity occurs during the full moon of summer. Uh-oh, there might have been some hanky-panky going on at Long Key because the moon was practically full!

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A female blue land crab produces anywhere from 300,000 to 700,000 eggs in one spawning season.  She carries them under her body to release them into the sea. However, most crab larva are eaten by fish and very few survive. It’s unlawful to harvest any blue land crabs in Florida between July 1 and October 31. And of course hunting or capturing wildlife is against the rules in state parks. I have no idea what blue land crabs taste like, but some people consider them a delicacy.

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Female blue land crabs can vary in color from blue to white.

For the record, in mid-October Long Key State Park campground will be closed due to beach renovation for one year.  On our day trip to Bahai Honda we saw some beachside campsites.

Maybe we’ll move our “do nothing” location further south until Long Key reopens.

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The High Sierra Wilderness of Yosemite

What comes to mind when you think of wilderness? Wide open spaces? Pristine lakes? Miles and miles of forests? Maybe something more scary including wild animals, or worse yet, no internet?

For most people wilderness is a place without roads, vehicles, or permanent structures. In 1964 the U. S. government created the National Wilderness Preservation System for the protection of American wilderness. Today 110 million acres of undeveloped land exists for our enjoyment. However, these places of solitude and renewal must be accessed by foot, horseback, or boat.

In 2013 my husband and I visited the High Sierra region of Yosemite National Park. Herb and I left our car at the trailhead on Tioga Road, and walked up the May Lake Trail, a distance of 2.4 miles. In our backpacks we carried a few basic necessities for an overnight stay at May Lake Camp.

Contrary to the overpopulated valley of Yosemite, the High Sierra region is a rugged, solitary wilderness. Upon our arrival at the lake we rested and soaked up the view while we munched on trail mix and granola bars.

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The water was calm and clear. Across the lake, the salt and pepper colored granite of  Mt. Hoffman rose up to meet the cloudless sky.  The 5.6 mile trail to the summit was listed as moderate in our guidebook.  We were determined to hike up as far as our legs could carry us.  I’m a flatlander from Florida. For me the hike was extremely rocky and rough. As we continued to climb above the tree line the trail seemed to disappear. We could only find our way because of the rock cairns left by previous hikers.

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I pushed myself to keep plodding along, stopping to rest every twenty yards or so. Each time I looked out at the surrounding spectacular peaks I felt refreshed and energized. From Mt. Hoffman at 10,000 feet, May Lake looked like a pond.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were completely alone. Eventually I reached an impasse, unable to continue because of loose rocks under my feet. I was fearful of falling. We took a photo of our stopping point.

IMG_0226On the way back down My husband suddenly froze and pointed nearby. “Mountian lion,” Herb whispered, “Follow me.”  I was silent and followed his lead. We walked a different direction away from the outcropping of rock the mountain lion was sleeping under.  When we felt it was safe, we began our descent.  I must say we walked a lot faster going down the mountain, than up!

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My legs were weak by the time we made it back to May Lake Camp. The tantalizing aroma of roast pork made us realize how hungry we were. All of the guests in the camp eat together family style. As we enjoyed a delicious meal, everyone shared their adventures. Five camps are located in the High Sierras, all a day’s hike from each other.  Some folks had walked ten miles to May Lake and planned to move on in the morning.  Hikers can spend a week or more in the High Sierras. It’s a great vacation, hiking all day and spending the night at a camp where someone else prepares your meals.  Food is carried into the camp by mules the same way Phantom Ranch receives supplies in the Grand Canyon, (Click on the link to read my previous post about that experience.)

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After dinner we retired to our tents, which we shared with other travelers, bunkhouse style.  I couldn’t get to sleep.  I tossed and turned, wondering about the mountain lion we encountered on our hike. What was it doing now? Could it be on the prowl nearby? And what about bears, everyone knows they frequent this area.  In the wee hours of the morning I finally drifted off to sleep.

Without my knowledge, my husband rose early and walked down by the lake to see the sunrise. He captured my feature image of the beautiful reflective waters of May Lake and another of Half Dome from the backside. (A sight unseen by visitors who stay in the valley.)

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Wilderness intrigues me. Its rugged beauty captivates and terrifies me at the same time.  In the wilderness anything can happen.  It has a spirit of its own, powerful, and untamed by man.