Friday, September 30, 2016

This month sped by!

The end of September, and it's hard to believe. But it probably felt as though it sped past because so much of the month was spent, on the road -- and mostly on roads with a speed limit of 80 mph (that's over 128 klicks).

If you want to come along on our road trip, you probably want to start at the beginning, back here.

I can only trust that October, though it might not be as adventure-filled, will move along at a little slower pace.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Books and readers and more

Word Vancouver is one of autumn's highlights for me. It used to be called Word on the Street, but the last few years have seen that title shortened. Yet even though the title has shortened, the event itself has lengthened and now runs from Wednesday through Sunday -- with events that are free of charge to the public.

The image above was from a book binding demonstration that saw a number of us standing, watching for about half an hour while a talented artisan demonstrated his craft. His precision and skill made my efforts at chapbook making feel pretty feeble. Still, I hope I may have learned a few things that will help me improve my own book making techniques.

But Word Vancouver isn't just about books. Much of it is about the people who write them, and on the Sunday, readings in the tents outside VPL run from 11 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon. I was happy to host two chapbook events, one featuring works from Leaf Press, the other from Ottawa's above/ground press.

One of the most adventurous presenters had to be Claudia Casper, She was reading from her latest book, The Mercy Journals, a dystopian vision of what our world might be like in the year 2047.

The worm costume was certainly one way of getting our attention, though I understand there is also a connection to the book. Yet another title on my pile of must-reads. Good thing it's nearly the end of endless sunny days and moving towards better weather for turning pages.

Thursday, September 22, 2016


Today marks this year's Autumnal Equinox the date when day and night are equal -- or, at these latitudes, about as close as they get. The berries, Oregon grape, are one of the season's markers. Although bitter, they are edible and are reputed to make a better than passable jelly.

Aside from paying attention to the edibles I might forage this time of year, I have a couple of cleaning rituals that go along with this event. Some years, like this one, I get a break and don't have to do these until the 22nd. Some years, the equinox occurs as early as the 20th. But it's just our crazy calendar that causes that, not nature.

The hot tub gets fresh water, as does the Brita filter system in the kitchen. And sometimes, the cutlery drawer gets its grooves cleared too.

These traditions are partly my way of observing and honouring the change of seasons. They're also a sort of mnemonic device for a memory that doesn't always work as well as it used to, reminders that there are things I need to look after.

Maybe you have seasonal traditions as well. If you do, best wishes accomplishing them and going forward into a happy autumn, the season so many consider the most beautiful of all. It's a season that's not just beautiful to look at, but with its many arts events, it may well be the culturally richest time of year.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Homeward bound

We saw plenty of open range, with frequent warnings posted that livestock might be on the highway. Fortunately, we didn't encounter any critters on the road, though we saw plenty in the fields and on hillsides beside us: antelope, deer, elk, horses, and several varieties of cattle.

We also stopped at some inspiring and wonder-filled places along the way, one of them at the site of what's known as Custer's Last Stand, Little Big Horn.

It was very moving to see the number of grave markers there, especially those of the Indians who called the encounter the Battle of Greasy Grass.

The closer we got to home, the more we could see that the season had begun changing. While we'd had mostly summery temps, there'd been a few cool days, but the colours in the trees made it obvious that autumn was nearing.

Along with autumn approaching, I knew that my life was about to change again -- from the leisurely pace of poking my nose into new places and looking out the window as we cruised down the highways, to the sometimes-almost-frantic world of readings and workshops and deadlines.

But hey, after these wonderful adventures (and if you missed any of them, here's a link to the beginning of the trip), I think I'm ready -- to welcome autumn and to immerse myself in the many cultural activities closer to home.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Camping, with all the trimmings

Once we turned back towards home, we took some time for relaxing and stopped in a town that had caught our attention on the outbound trip, Deer Lodge, Montana. This was my morning view from bed, out the back window of The Rattler. Kind of made me want to stick around...

It's just a little bit of a town, but they've kept so much of their history, there's plenty to see and do.

You can visit the Old Montana Prison which has been converted into a museum.

The gift shop there is lots of fun, even for a non-shopper like me. Who knows, you might want to buy yourself a pair of the traditional striped prison garb. Despite their sad history, they look as though they'd make excellent pyjamas.

There's also an auto museum and a free-to-explore outdoor collection of classic rail cars.

But maybe my favourite attraction in town was the Olympic size swimming pool where I spent a vigorous half-hour (before they closed for the day) making up for some of the time I've spent sitting in the front seat of the RV as we sailed down the highways. And lucky me, aside from the lifeguard reading her book beside the pool, I was the only one there. Twelve feet deep and over 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Might be reason enough to go back.

For now, I reckon I'm satisfied to get onto the road back home. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The wrong name

If you've seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind, you'll be familiar with the site called Devils Tower. Driving there, you can see it from miles away. And while the draw for us wasn't as crazed as that portrayed by the characters in the film, the closer we got, the more exciting it felt.

When we got there, we spotted a few brave adventurers climbing high up on the rock (you have to look closely -- or else, click on the image to zoom in some), but settled for following the path on an easy walk, not much over a mile, around the base of the rock.

While we walked, we couldn't help noticing that some of the trees had bits of coloured cloth or medicine bundles placed on them. Signs cautioned walkers that these hold religious significance and are not to be disturbed or removed.

There's a bit of a story of how this rocky mountain got the name Devils Tower (including of how it lost its apostrophe -- somebody's typo), There's also more than one telling of how those 'claw marks' on its side came to be. If one can imagine them as really being the marks of a bear, that bear must have made a grizzly look like a miniature.

Considering the negative connotations of anything with 'devil' in its name, I'd like to hope that it won't be long from now when the site can be renamed. I like the idea of calling what the Lakota people did, Mato Tipila, or in English, 'Bear Lodge'.

We were lucky enough to get a campsite near the base of the mountain and the pink rays of dawn on the rock were awe-inspiring. The whole place truly felt like much too sacred a site to be stuck with the name Devils Tower. And while this was a wonderful place to camp, the next place was also great, but in quite another way.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Dynamite art

I'm not sure whether that's actually the name for it, though that's certainly what it is. When the side of a mountain gets turned into a sculpture, the only tool big enough is TNT.

When we arrived at the Crazy Horse monument, the fog was thick -- enough so that our vehicle (by this time we'd joined up with pals who had a car) -- was granted half-price admission and a note stating we could come back for free, provided we could do so within the next three days.

Hoping to wait out the weather, we visited the treasure-laden museum. Of the exhibits, the art that most fascinated me were works by Denise Lajimodiere. She's skilled at a technique called birchbark biting. It's a traditional method I'd never seen or heard of before. My only regret is not buying one of her pieces.

After we'd wandered through the museum, we entered the auditorium for a very informative DVD presentation, So, even though we still hadn't been able to glimpse the mountain, we felt reasonably satisfied with all that we'd learned. But then, when a hoop dancer's performance was about to start, we decided to stay a while longer.

When the dancer (and the children he'd invited to join in) was nearly finished, a beam of sunlight struck through, burning off the fog and revealing the magnificent representation of the warrior Crazy Horse.

So far, only his head is complete, but the plan for the sculpture is ambitious and will show him on his horse, pointing to his lands. There's a certain amount of irony in this monument as, by all accounts, Crazy Horse never permitted any photos of himself -- apparently owing to the belief that one's soul could be stolen by the camera.

The biggest stumbling block to completion of the monument is the fact that the project is funded only by private donations.

The sculptor who began the project, Korczak Ziolkowski, determined that no public monies would ever be used. While this may seem pig-headed, especially in light of a large amount having been offered by government (and turned down), it's an imperative that his descendants seem to be honouring.

So, when we went down the road (less than 20 miles) to Mount Rushmore, I have to admit that it seemed a bit of a letdown. Maybe because I'd already been up the noses of some of those presidents (thanks to Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest) or maybe because I'd just seen a similar sculpture that dwarfs the art on Rushmore, the place was less than I'd expected. And who knows, maybe it's just a lack of rah-rah US patriotism in me. That might well be what you need to be blown away by this particular example of dynamite art. But our next stop represents another kind of art -- one created strictly by nature.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Wildlife abounds

So many different examples of wildlife live within the bounds of Yellowstone. In many instances, we'd spot them because the side of the road would be lined up with cars, people in and out of their vehicles, clicking with cameras and phones. I admit, I was certainly one of them, or I wouldn't have managed the above shot of the bear climbing down from the tree he'd been in (although yes, I stayed in the truck and used my zoom).

Still, there were many times we'd just watch as the animals grazed or strolled about.

In some ways, the elk were the ones that made me saddest. They'd obviously grown so accustomed to humans, they gathered in the town of Mammoth (on Yellowstone's north side) and lay around beside the buildings, taking advantage of the shade. Although there were many warning signs to keep one's distance, many foolish souls ventured (I thought) too near. With all that forest and grassland about, it was downright weird to see them lolling about on lawn.

The nearby town of Gardiner had antelope grazing on its high school football field. I suppose they keep the grass down nicely, but clearly, they too were accustomed to humans. There's something about this intersection of people with wildlife that makes me wonder who will win out. Somehow, as I consider coyotes, raccoons, deer -- and even bears -- who keep 'invading' what we like to think of as 'our' space, I question whose space is whose, or can land really ever be claimed by anyone?

To me, the most majestic of the animals were the bison. Whether they were standing atop the crest of hill, or simply grazing in a grassy field, they are such a powerful reminder of what this continent looked like not even 200 years ago.

Our luckiest viewing of them was one where we were (for quite a few minutes) the only people who'd spotted a small herd of them attempting to ford the Yellowstone River.
The bull who was obviously their leader watched from the shore as a group swam out into the river. Although I couldn't hear it, he apparently gave some sign and, as one, the herd turned back. Soon after, they set out from a spot slightly further north on the shore and this time, they managed to make it. Quite the sight, and one I will long remember -- almost enough to make me think I might be living in the 1800s and not the techno-2000s.
After they crossed the river, we thought we might have seen the best of Yellowstone, so again, we moved on -- this time, into South Dakota.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Yellowstone rocks!

Apparently, Yellowstone can't help being a place that rocks, as it's home to over half of the world's geysers. I learned that from a fabulous piece in the May 2016 issue of National Geographic -- an issue that's worth getting your hands on -- almost as good as a visit. [Note: Okay, that's a huge exaggeration, but perhaps the NG might offer consolation if you can't go.]

And just as I was taken aback by the power of seeing the Grand Canyon 'in person', I had a similar experience with the geysers and steaming pools at Yellowstone.

For one thing, scent isn't part of any visual presentation, not even in an IMAX theatre. And scent is definitely part of the Yellowstone adventure. Although there were variations, the smell was primarily of sulphur. Stinky, I suppose, though -- along with the steaminess -- it enhanced the reality of being there.

Another thing about Yellowstone is that the geysers are just about everywhere. Looking out over a field of grass where elk were grazing, I'd see whiffs of smoke here and there, as if a raft of careless campers had failed to put out their fires.

While 'being there' is much different than any vicarious experience, 'being there' in 2016 is one that has clearly been affected by social media.

I was amazed (and frankly, horrified) by the number of people who seemed interested only in doing a selfie with whatever monumental phenomenon might be behind them. It was as if the park were only scenery for a fashion shoot --Sports Illustrated used the park for one of its swimsuit issues -- but the people taking selfies were definitely not in the league of professional models.

The most astounding example of this was in evidence at the eruption of Old Faithful, the giant geyser that since the earthquakes of 1959 and 1983 is not quite as 'faithful' as it once was. We saw two 'performances' of this geyser, and oddly, in both instances -- even though people had waited around for the eruption to begin -- as soon as people had taken their photo, they left, without waiting for the explosive waters to subside. It was if they were merely checking off items on a 'been there, done that' list.

There are plenty of videos of Old Faithful on line, and while they're not as good as the real thing, they give you a small idea of just how impressive this testament to the power of nature is.

But there's more to Yellowstone than geysers. Click here for some of the wildlife we encountered.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

On the road again

We're not as ambitious this time as we were for our road trip in 2011, when we drove and camped across North America and back -- Pacific to Atlantic and back to the Pacific again. Still, this should be an interesting journey, as the goal is Yellowstone, and a bit beyond.

We don't go as fast as some of the traffic, though we keep up our pace and pull off to the side when we can for speedier vehicles. Now and then we pass someone who deserves to have their photo taken, as was the case with this vintage RV and car.

As you can see, we had passed them, but did so too quickly to get off a good snap. So instead you get to see them through the eye of the side mirror, complete with a snippet of our own beloved RV, The Rattler which has taken us so many wonderful places.

A rainy day, not so good for hiking, but great covering a lot of miles. Onward! To see our next stop -- click Yellowstone.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

A new understanding of Architecture

Where this is the day so many of the faithful (and probably the not-so-faithful) make their way back to school, I thought about what I'd write if I were assigned one of those 'How I Spent My Summer Holidays' essays.

Among things I learned was to fret less (at least I think I did). As a reminder, I kept as reference the character from Bridge of Spies whose response to why he wasn't worrying more was, "Would it help?"

But another 'lesson' that came my way was one from the blackberries. I prune them regularly from March through August, sometimes if only to allow me to get in there to pick. They grow so densely -- and as I observed this summer -- the 'wild' branches do more than block the berries from pickers. They provide strength and 'propping up' to the berry-bearing branches. They do this by forming arches, the original weight-bearing structure. As a result, I finally deduced the source of the word, Architecture.

This probably seems like a bit of a 'duh' realization, but it's one that made me only admire my beloved berries all the more.

So, that's how I spent my Summer Holidays. For now, I'm just glad that I don't have to go back to school.