Sunday, July 22, 2012

It it's Sunday, we are Smiling!

Sunday.  The day of rest.  We could smell Maine in the sunrise and it was time to get moving.  Again, we snuck out in the wee hours without waking our hosts.  We hit our first Dunkin Donuts and headed for the ferry.  I wish we could have put our car on a ferry back in Waldport and traveled the whole way on the water.  We were the first ones in line and it wasn’t long before we were wheeling on the water to Vermont.  We took photos and laughed and ate donuts on the too-short ride to the other shore. 

You know you’re in Vermont when folk music is playing on the radio.  “What would Woody do?” was a new song for me, but since the trip began with me humming Woody’s “Roll on Columbia,” somehow it made sense and soon I was singing along.  I recently submitted an essay about Woody and salmon and dams.  “He had songs written on the soles of his shoes,” they said.  Indeed, he did.

Recently in Oregon after months of passionate debate about tolerance and tradition, the Board of Education voted to crack down on racism by banning the use of Native American lingo in high schools, leading the nation by flexing the biggest muscles against school mascots, nicknames and logos.  Critics say Indian mascots are racist, reinforcing stereotypes and promoting the bullying of Native students. Supporters say the mascots are intended as tributes and a way to honor Native American history by evoking values of strength and bravery. Eight high schools and an unknown number of elementary and middle schools have five years to use their dwindling funds change their names and logos, some of which have been used for almost 100 years now.  If they don’t comply, they risk losing their state funding.  But at the rate that is declining, some might want to do a little cost:benefit analysis on that one.  

So, just who are these bully promoters and what are their politically incorrect names?  Banks and Reedsport, “we are the Braves, the mighty, mighty, Braves.”  Mohawk, Molalla, Roseburg, and Scappoose, “we are the Indians.”  The Rogue River Chieftains and the Dalles-Wahtonka High Eagle Indians.  That’s it.  The Braves, the Indians, the Chieftains, and the Eagle Indians.  These eight will just have to find a more peaceful, PC name.  Like the squirrels.  Or the turtles.  Or the Warriors?

Because, believe it or not, the board in its infinite wisdom saw fit to determine that the name “Warriors,” which is used by seven other high schools in the Beaver State, is NOT racist and does NOT reinforce stereotypes or promote bullying.  Amity, Lebanon, North Douglas, Oakridge, Philomath, Siletz, and Warrenton all dodged the bullet and will be allowed to remain “the mighty, mighty Warriors,” except they must change their logos and mascots if they depict Native Americans.  I was personally relieved to see Siletz on this list, since they are our neighbors back home in Waldport.  Waldport, incidentally, is the home of the Fighting Irish until someone named Paddy gets a wild hair about that one.  Siletz High School is actually located on a Native American reservation and my kids and I have attended powwows in their gym where everyone simply danced together.  As a soverign nation, I think they should be allowed to judge for themselves whether or not their mascot incited any bullying of, well, themselves.  

So, we can all rest a bit easier thanks to the Oregon Board of Education.  No longer will Banks High School be singing its own local twist of the national anthem at its school sporting events, signing off with “Land of the free, and home of the Braves!”  Somehow Lake Monsters just doesn’t have the same ring.  And this would be a likely spot for me to sing you the high school cheer that Andy’s Mom, aged 97, used to sing which began, “Niggah, niggah, hoe potato,” and ended, “Golva High School, rah, rah, rah.”  But I won’t.

We continued along back country roads all the way across the Green Mountains into the White Mountains, passing places like the InjunJoe Inn and the Mooselook Restaurant.  Lucky for them, these places are tucked way away in the mountains, beyond the reach of the Oregon Board of Education, which I like to visualize like the Eye of Sauron.  Speaking of which, I’ve been looking for a moose for 50 years now and even though we passed countless signs promising, “Moose Crossing,” they failed to do so.  In East Concord, NH we passed Oregon Road.  Which reminded me of the Cape Cod Cottages back home in Oregon.  It seems we Americans take our places along with us for the ride.

As we neared Gorham, NH, I recognized many of the trailheads and peaks I’d climbed over the years and it began to look like home.  We passed through the Shelburne White Birch forest and from there I was on autopilot.  I knew these roads.  We sped along until the white spire of the Wayne church pointed into the blue sky, the church where we were married and our sons were buried.  Turning down Lord Road, the tree branches bent their welcome.  After 3,000 miles, the familiar faces of family and friends waited to greet us.  We’d arrived.  We were home. 

Here I’ll swim across the lake waters I was born in.  I’ll cook fresh peas and corn.  We’ll take the boat to the General Store for candy or to Tubby’s for ice cream.  And then I’ll fly back to Oregon, load up a moving van with Andy, and in another month I’ll do it all over again.  Because we’re moving back to Rhode Island, to our house on Mohawk Drive.  Or at least that’s what it was when we left it.  Perhaps they’ve changed it to Warrior Way.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

If it's Saturday, we're swimming with Champ!

When we awoke on Saturday, we discovered we were right on a river with an indoor/outdoor pool and Jacuzzi out our window and wished we had more time to linger.  The routine of getting up and at ‘em for the sixth day in a row was growing old.  It was actually raining!  Tim Horton’s was right across the street and we began our day by causing yet another debacle by procuring our inferior American dollars.  “Sorry, sorry,” I apologized to the hungry Canadians lining up behind us while the cashier learned how to calculate for our crappy currency.  We issued our profuse thanks for our doughnuts and breakfast sandwiches like they’d been donated, beating a hasty retreat.  

Then we headed down the street to the gas station where we nearly caused an international incident.  This time I actually attempted to use my credit card without first informing my Oregon Coast bank that I was leaving the country.  Denied.  American Express?  Denied.  Sigh.  Okay, in with the US dollars once again.  The cashier had to call the store owner who was possibly still in bed and who, in turn, instructed his employee two or three times how to convince the computer to accept the bills once commonly known as “double sawbucks,” but probably not in Detroit.  I had $80 dollars so I pumped $70, figuring I’d need a margin of error.  When all was said and done in that half hour of my life I’ll never get back, it was determined that I owed $78.12.  I accepted my change and left.

Crossing back into America at Ogdensburg proved to be no problem either.  We were the only ones there and both me and my wallet exhaled with relief, feeling a tiny bit fatter.  The toll was something like $20.  “Should I pay in US or Canadian dollars?” I asked the lonely border guy.  “Doesn’t matter,” he said, “they’re both about the same.”  I wanted to say, “not where I came from,” and maybe even have a teeny, tiny argument based on my recent experiences but handed him the $20 US with a smile and drove off into New York instead.  The first thing we passed as we entered America was a prison, the St. Lawrence Correctional Facility, which “uses innovation and technology in many ways, such as offering a credit card bail system to inmates.”  Nice.  I wondered how they dealt with the whole currency thing.

Next point of interest, Louisville, home of the turtles.  I kid you not.  “I wonder how their track team is,” said Bella.  Then came Ellenburg, NY, home of the World’s Best Pizza, in case you’re on a quest.  Somewhere back in Mountain time zone Isaiah had started texting family and interested third parties whenever we crossed into a new state.  When we’d entered Ontario, however, Hannah had texted back that each text cost .50 so we’d refrained for a day.  Now back on the free texting plan, Isaiah struck up a text volley with his cousin, Ava.  Periodically I’d ask him to read what folks were writing and somewhere in NY he said, “Ava just called me a snazzy piece of butterscotch.”  “Really?” I said, thinking we may have another writer on our hands.

The last things I expected to see in the Empire State were horse and buggies and straw hats and bonnets.  But it seems the Amish have been busy in the past few years hitching their wagons and heading north for the “productive and underpriced land, weather, growing season and congenial neighbors and local officials.”  Maybe it’s just me, but when I hear the words New and York, the last thing that comes to mind are cheap land, great weather, and friendly folks.  Which, I guess, is a result of the general extrapolation of Manhattan to the rest of the state.  “If you want to get away from the suburbs and the high-tech world, there are more places to hide in New York,” I read online.  And sure enough, around several bends in the road we found the Amish, hiding right there in New York in plain sight with their plain clothes.  

GPS pulled her usual stunt as we neared our destination in Plattsburgh and we got just a little lost but soon the smiling faces of Brian and Amy were within reach.  And within the hour we were onboard their comfy red and white boat cruising around the craggy islands of Lake Champlain, which is huge, as in 125 miles long and over 400 feet deep.  Amy was raised on the lake and is one of the hundreds of people who have actually seen Champ, the American cousin to the Loch Ness critter.  “But that was in the southern end of the lake,” she assured.  Still, one couldn’t help scanning the surface for the mascot of Vermont's lone Minor League Baseball team (we are the monsters, the mighty, mighty lake monsters…)  In keeping with our theme of domination, it should be noted that both the Iroquois and the Abenaki tribes called this creature who may or may not be a Plesiosaur but is definitely not a Brontosaurus by the perfectly fine name of "Tatoskok."  Which doesn’t exactly roll right off your tongue but you could get used to it.  And also which may or may not mean “log,” “fish,” or “eel,” which is what some folks think the monster actually is.

We pulled the boat up to the town beach and nestled in amongst the other Saturday boaters outside the roped-off swimming area.  The water was shallow and cool and we all got out to play.  I decided I’d take a swim and wrestled my cap and goggles on.  “Just swim along the buoys,” Amy suggested.  So I marked a course just beyond the swimming area and began stroking down the line from white buoy to white buoy.  I was doing my best not to think about Champ and, like Steinbeck’s “most Americans,” was really enjoying moving after sitting for so long.  When I swim I can’t hear well because of my cap and the water which inevitably fills my ears.  And try as I might, my goggles usually fog up too.  So there I was, stroking along in my own little watery world, blind and deaf, when I spotted something red a few feet in front of me.  No Champ sighting had ever mentioned red so I knew it wasn’t him.  I stopped and lifted my goggles to find a very young lifeguard in a red kayak, instead. 

“Wah, wahh, wah, wah,” he said. 

“What?” I said, lifting my cap to clear my ears. 

“I said you can’t swim here.” 

“Oh,” I said, although swimming was exactly what I’d thought I’d been doing. 

“Well, where can I swim?” I asked, looking around. 

“In there,” he said, indicating the swimming area with his paddle.  We both looked over at the throngs of people packed within the ropes, all “swimming” in water not much past their knees.

“That doesn’t look very possible,” I said, “how ‘bout I just swim back to the boat?”

“No, you can’t do that,” he said with his best 14-year-old imitation of authority.  I refrained from asking him how he could possibly work while missing the Disney Channel and resigned myself to swimming a few strokes toward shore, then stood up and hiked out. 

“I got kicked out of Lake Champlain,” I told Amy who was at the snack stand with Bella. 

We had a great time anyway.  Later, we took a glass of wine down to the lakeside beach in front of their townhouse and chatted.  Vermont glowed in the setting sun way across the water on the eastern shore.  The wind died down, the water calmed, and Brian paddled Bella around on his board.  That night we could see fireworks, again, on the lakeshores of both Vermont and New York. 

Christiana called to say she’d had a run-in with a rattlesnake in Caliente!  Seems she’d gone behind a bush and looked back to see if her team could see her and when she turned around, a 4-foot rattler was stretched out in front of her giving her the hairy eyeball.  It rattled, she screamed and ran, and her team heard both.  I asked if they carried antivenin and she said no, they relied on air evacuation.  The next week I picked up a Field and Stream magazine which happened to have an article on snake bite treatment.  It said in Montana, treatment costs $75,000 to $100,000.  Apparently antivenin is expensive, avoidance is free.


Friday, July 20, 2012

If it's Friday, we're heading for Canada!

Friday we awoke early and tip-toed out of the beach house while the ladies slumbered, Mike having left much earlier to get in a day’s work in the city so he could return before sunset.  We had an international travel day ahead of us and another hot one to boot.  I stopped at Bella tires to get my air pressure checked, thinking I might need more air in them, but was surprised when the guy actually let air out.  I dutifully had a check-up at Les Schwab before leaving, but that was back in the 60’s and it was already approaching 100, that whole hot air expands thing.  I’d never seen Detroit outside of the airport and, as it turns out, that might be the best part of the city known for poverty, crime, and fallen businesses, according to Lonely Planet, or maybe I made that up. 

I’d heard that gas prices were higher in Canada so turned down a street just before the international bridge and found a corner station within a few blocks to fill up.  Suddenly, we were immersed in another culture and I was definitely the only white woman in the hood as I stepped out of my minivan with Oregon salmon license plates and a bumper sticker that reads, "Certified American Tree Farmer."  I pumped my gas as coolly as possible, silently cursing my lack of preparation in not dressing like my favorite rap star (possibly because I don’t have one), while trying to avoid the obvious stares I was eliciting.  Drawing on my automatic Peace Corps cross-cultural survival response in a further effort to appear casual, I hummed the only tune that surfaced from my rock library—Detroit Rock City.  Really?  Kiss?  Ghostface Killa might have been more appropriate but I didn’t even know he existed until I just googled Top Rap Artists.  Which is when I also “remembered” that Eminem got his start in the Motor City.  But it’s questionable whether or not a blonde, white lady wearing sunglasses and flip flops humming “Lose Yourself” would have made the right impression.  And even though my bladder was as full as my gas tank, I opted not to step inside to inquire about public facilities.    

The Ambassador Bridge lived up to its name: the Americans took our money ($25 US/$22.50 CA) and the Canadians read our passports and we were international, eh?  First stop, McDonalds, where we began our lesson in shame, producing our crap American dollars as payment with an apologetic shoulder shrug.  And used the facilities.  As I drove towards Toronto, I admired the Canadian road signs.  Somehow they seemed so much more genteel than our own, like they’d issued from the proper lips of a Canadian Grandma with a slight British accent.  “Seatbelts compulsory,” she reminded us with a slight wag of her finger.  Can you even read the word compulsory without a lilt?  “Fatigue kills, take a break,” she reminded, sipping on her afternoon tea and somehow you simply wanted to pull over at the next exit and join her.  “Tailgating kills, leave some space,” she suggested.  They really could use her in Chicago.  

At last, we pulled into our friend’s driveway in Peterborough where we took a picnic to a park on Chamong Lake and the kids swam while Cath and I visited.  If you only have one evening together, you make the most of it.  And we did.  We’d met on the Christmas sands of Costa Rica in 2010 where Bella and Annika became amigas and we all picked right up where we left off on the summer sands of Canada, eh?  When darkness threatened and we realized we were the only ones at the park, we called the kids off the swing set and headed into town, arriving at the downtown Holiday Inn for the night.   


Thursday, July 19, 2012

If it's Thursday, this must be Michigan...

The next morning, Thursday, I awoke at 5 and checked my cell phone, no messages, no texts.  Unable to sleep for worrying about Christiana and with high heat warnings ahead of us, we made some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the lobby and hit the road early.  It was, as predicted, hot already.  I found an NPR station from Madison and learned that two fireworks shows had been halted the night before after they’d set the grass on fire.  And the highway pavement had buckled in three places from the heat, but fortunately that was all behind us.  All was well traffic-wise as we travelled past Madison on this day-after-the-confusing-holiday-being-on-a-Wednesday-and-all.  As Pacific Time awoke, Andy called to say he’d finally talked to Christiana and that she was okay.  Seems she’d had a stomach flu, perhaps from the MRE’s they were eating.  I called her a little later and she said she was on fire watch recovering.  They’d contained the “small, 4,000-acre” fire and were moving on to Caliente.  Which sounded hot. 

Lake Michigan was calling, but Chicago loomed large in our shimmering future.  GPS, in her infinite wisdom, decided to take me on a tour of back roads between Wisconsin and Chicago, for which I cursed her soundly.  Then she decided I should drive right through the city ahead.  I called my friend, Mike, and asked for better directions.  Then I proceeded to ignore her for the rest of the morning, making her search endlessly for alternate routes to the city then disregarding her every command to exit like a distracted parent.  “Hmm? Did you say something?”  So there.  You know you’ve been traveling a bit too long when you start talking to your GPS.

Even though Fargo is the halfway point on the map, Chicago marks the place where the nation divides between relaxed road trip and road rage.  Suddenly, the east coast population density was upon us and my shoulders begin to rise with the tension of drivers cutting in and out and the way too many exits.  After three days of cruising the freeway virtually alone at 80 mph with hundreds of miles to think about exiting, the theme from Survivor suddenly popped up on my personal playlist.  We cruised past Chicago at a safe distance, paid our first tolls of the trip, and happily rounded the bottom of Lake Michigan, passing through a tiny bit of Indiana and up into Michigan.  Suddenly, we were on Eastern time!  One more exit and we were dropped by GPS once again, suspending route guidance, so there, but soon we were pulling into Beachwood, our friend’s beach house on the shores of the lake, and shifting to park for the day.  Lovely. 

Suddenly, for us, it was summer.  Oregon hadn’t seen over 64 degrees and we’d just soaked up the second rainiest June on record.  We dug out bathing suits still smelling of last year’s sunscreen, packed a lunch, loaded up Mike’s bike cart, and strolled along a lovely wooded path to the lake.  Did I mention it was hot?  My flip-flopped feet were still soft from a year encased in rain boots and once we descended the stairs to the beach, each flip of mid-day sand burned the bottoms as we ran across the boiling gauntlet to the water’s edge for relief crying “ouch, ouch, ouch, ahhh.”  The beach stretched endlessly in each direction and the blue-green lake as well. 

We set up chairs and an umbrella, slathered sunscreen on our glowing rainforest skin, and hit the water.  It was calm, clear and warm.  We were in Lake Michigan!  I swam down the shore while Mike played with the kids.  Happy when wet, I was in Heaven.  We spent the entire afternoon enjoying every minute.  The kids played for hours in the water while Mike and I relived our Peace Corps days, reminding me of the saying, “Old people like the olden days best because they were younger then.”  We immersed ourselves in Jamaica so thoroughly we were surprised whenever the kids interrupted.  “What?  Where did you come from?” we asked, feeling like we were 24 and sipping a Red Stripe on Doctors Cave Beach.

Towards dinner time, we dragged ourselves away but left our chairs as a promise of later.  Catherine and Ella were on their way back from play practice in the city.  This lovely beach retreat is only an hour or so from their home in Chicago and an essential part of living in a city—the escape.  Oddly enough, Beachwood is on Eastern time while their city house is on Central so I guess that must somehow impact their viewing of Americas Got Talent but I can’t figure out what.  We showered and dressed and met them for burgers and fries and onion rings at Redamaks, a local institution since 1946.  I wondered if Steinbeck had eaten there and, if so, if the sign back then had also said, "Bite into a Legend."  Then we packed up some Red Stripe Lite (who knew, posse?) and headed back to the beach for sunset and fireworks.  The kids swam and the night was warm and summer had begun.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

If it's Wednesday, we're heading for Wisconsin...

On Wednesday morning after coffee and Finneman rolls with Ant Weenie, we hit the holiday roads along with, well, ourselves.  Happy Birthday America!  Everyone else must have been chilling in a lake.  Driving North Dakota is endless but easy, one straight highway, speed limit 75, just you and your fracking dinosaur fuel.  Another day, another time zone.  The radio searched and searched, yielding only news from Saskatoon, which immediately reminded me of one of Micah’s favorite movie lines:  “Hey, you American ladies ever been up to Saskatchatoon, eh?”

The kids were lost in the land of Mordor so I began listening to Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley” in which he set off in 1960 from Maine to rediscover America.  It was interesting to hear his observations from the year just before my birth (yes, Bella, they actually had cars when I was born) while observing this fair land for myself some 50 years later.  And on its birthday.  “Nearly every American hungers to move,” he informed.  No kidding, I said to myself, shifting in my seat.  We met in Fargo which, as I learned from John, is the halfway point of our land, east to west.  Sure enough, we folded Bella’s map and there on the edge sat Far-go.  Steinbeck’s Fargo had a population of 40K but three times as many folks had flocked to the state’s largest city in the interim, along with the four white pelicans I spotted circling in the ND sky.  “The only good writer is a dead writer.  Then he couldn’t surprise anyone any more, couldn’t hurt anyone any more,” Steinbeck reminded me.  Hmmm.

But before I leave the state whose official language is English and official drink is milk, I should mention that while Andy’s Mom, who is 97 years old, hails from the western border, his Dad was from Casselton on the eastern line.  Besides Andy’s Dad and its population of red squirrels (yep, “We are the squirrels, the mighty, mighty squirrels!”), Casselton is known for its can pile.  As we neared the exit, I therefore began scanning the roadside for this landmark which I have seen before in my travels at one speed or another.  I secretly admit I was rather looking forward to seeing the silver cone-shaped structure as I’d driven the unremarkable-save-for-the-badlands-300-or-so miles from Beach.  Made entirely from thousands of oil cans and named by somebody most decidedly not Captain Clark (and not engraved by him neither), it is known simply as “The Casselton Can Pile.”

At 45-feet, the Casselton Can Pile is actually the world's largest pile of, yes, cans.  It was created in 1933 by Max Taubert at what was then a Sinclair gas station.  Max, who I like to think of as a frustrated artist stuck pumping gas in the squirrel capital of North Dakota, began tossing oil cans in a pile around an old windmill tower, perhaps as an act of rebellion, perhaps simply because recycling wasn’t an option.  Until one day when he finished yet one more oil change and had an epiphany.  A glint of sunlight shone straight down from the heavens and Max began to visualize his life’s purpose.  Most of the cans, naturally, were Sinclair oil cans whose logo is the dinosaur-formerly-known-as-Brontosaurus, which is now called Apatosaurus or by the more technical name of “long-necks,” thanks to the Land Before Time series.

Fun fact.  Maybe you already know this, but the Brontosaurus “mix-up” goes back to 1879, when a paleontologist who shall remain nameless (hint: a male who was also clearly terrible at jigsaw puzzles) stuck the wrong head on an Apatosaurus body and called it a Brontosaurus.  Sticking with the less-controversial Land Before Time nomenclature, this “plant eater” was displayed at Yale for almost a century until scientists discovered the mismatch.  Woopsy!  But instead of politely playing along like the Native Americans at Pompey’s Pillar, they struck Brontosaurus from their books.  And when the US Postal Service tried to issue a stamp in 1989 with the Brontosaurus on it?  Well, it’s been all downhill ever since for them.  Even though the incorrect name still lingers in people’s minds, like my own.  But I still struggle to say sea star too.

Anyhoo, in 1932, a lengthy campaign was begun by Sinclair to choose their mascot, the squirrel already being taken.  They discarded the more frightening T-Rex and Dino was born out of a desire to express the fact that Sinclair oil came from Pennsylvania crude oil, which was millions of years old, and had been around since the age of the dinosaurs.  The company believed that the oldest crude oils make the best refined oils, and they felt that a dinosaur would get this point across to the public.  The peaceful plant eater, whatever his name was, appealed to the public and garnered the most interest.  According to the internet, like most of this, people thought that the Brontosaurus represented power, endurance, and stamina, which are the qualities that Sinclair Oil Corporation wanted people to associate with their products.  But in spite of how much brain energy Sinclair credited us with dedicating to oil, be it crude or refined, the truth is I rarely, if ever, think about it.  Although unlike what I dare to say are “most” Americans these days, I did actually know that oil and gas are fossil fuels which means they may or may not include the remains of dinosaurs, a subject of much healthy debate, it seems.

Meanwhile, back at Exit 331, search as I did, I couldn’t spot the leaning tower of cans.  And the kids were still trying to get to Mt. Doom with Frodo.  So I carried on.  I wondered if perhaps a tree had grown up in the way or a tornado had ravaged the silver pile as I headed for Fargo, only to learn today that the Casselton Can Pile faced demolition in 2008 but was rescued and relocated, of all things.  I also learned that a Sinclair Dino Oil Can sells for anywhere from $10 to $250 on E-Bay, which just goes to prove to the happy company who bought the world’s largest can pile that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  Which may bring unintended encouragement to all the can tossers and other “collectors” on the Oregon coast.

We sped through Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes although we didn’t even see one, scurrying around Minneapolis with the ones still smelling of sunscreen who had.  Minnesota means “sky-tinted water” in Dakota Sioux, which makes you want to say it again, right?  Perhaps even with a feather in your hair or in a sentence including the stereotypical word, “how.”  Dakota, incidentally, is the Sioux word for either “friend” or “pasty white guys,” depending on which website you believe.  And North, well, you already get that one, right?  But I’d be remiss if I didn’t inform that Minnesota’s state motto is “L’Etoile du Nord” which, if you say it in the official state language of North Dakota means “The Star of the North.”  I don’t think this necessarily means that the official state language of Minnesota is French or the official drink wine, however.  I think they might simply be a bit confused.  I blame Canada. 

I-94 cuts across the twelfth largest state at its waist like a slightly crooked belt, reminding me of the joke Hannah tells: “Q: What did the 0 say to the 8?  A: Nice belt!”  Breathing a sigh of relief to be done with the twin cities and fresh out of Minnesota jokes, we crossed over the border river of St. Croix, a tributary of the Mississippi, and promptly entered Wisconsin where we got as far as Eau Claire before stopping for the night at the AmericInn. 

Too tired to drive down to the park for fireworks, Bella and I headed for the hot tub and pool, then watched them from our window under a rising moon instead.  Andy called to say that Christiana was in the hospital.  Seriously?  Two weeks prior she had started her summer job working for the US Forest Service as a Timber Tech, which is supposed to entail relatively safe tasks such as surveying timber sales with the caveat that they are called into firefighting duty as needed.  She was only out of training for one short day when duty called.  As we embarked for the east, she headed south with her crew to fight wildfires in Ely, Nevada.  Andy had received a call from the Forest Service saying she was sick and they’d taken her in for bloodwork.  I tried calling and texting her.  Nothing.  So while we watched the bombs bursting in air and fell asleep, I worried about my second-born, the fainter, under my cool, white AmericInn sheets.  


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

If it's Tuesday, this must still be Montana!

Tuesday we tackled Montana.  Did I mention it was hot?  Windy and 110 in Billings when I got out to get more Coke and gas, felt like a heater was blowing full blast on my legs.  Montana is, well, large.  Which makes sense because it is the fourth largest state!  Who knew?  “They always focus on the top three,” sighed Montana.  It took us all day to cross but the terrain is never boring with Superfund Butte, Rocky Mt. highs, gateway to Yellowstone, and all.  Wishing to see a grizzly bounding up a hillside or a moose dining in a river, all I saw were three white pelicans.  Pelicans?  Apparently they like to change things up, salt water Costa Rica in winter, fresh water Montana in summer where they seek out protected islands in the vast western prairies to give birth to their helpless babes.

Our book on tape for the day was “Witches,” a good Roald Dahl selection which kept us entertained from Butte to Bozeman to Billings.  After 450 miles on I-90, we’d traversed 13 counties, all bigger than the state of Rhode Island with or without the water ( and switched to I-94 at Billings for the last little 250-mile stretch to North Dakota.  (Fun fact: you can fit 95 Rhode Islands in Montana.)  As you probably already know but I only just now discovered on Wikipedia, I-94 is the only purely east–west interstate to form a direct connection into a foreign country, namely Canada.  Facinating.  Here, the Rocky Mountain high receded in my rear-view mirror like a John Denver song as the landscape changed from the majestic peaks the state was named for (Montana is Spanish for, you guessed it, mountains!) to simpler sandstone buttes which appear to be the inspiration for those layered candles we used to make as Girl Scouts at the beach. As depicted by these photos which are not from Wikipedia. Although they could be.
Totally engrossed in the dramatic development of “Witches,” we sped right past Exit 23 for Pompey’s Pillar National Monument which, as you also probably already know but I just learned, is a 150-ft high, 2-acre sandstone butte.  Because it’s the only sandstone outcrop on the south side of the Yellowstone River for several miles in either direction, PP has been a landmark for centuries and is one of the most famous sandstone buttes in America.  Can you name another one?  I didn't think so.  The butte (long u) was named by Clark of “Lewis and…” in honor of Sacagawea’s son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau.  Get it?  Of course not.  Clark, apparently the Official Nicknamer of the dynamic duo, fulfilled his duties by calling little Jean “Pomp.”  “I hereby declare this to be called Pompey’s Tower,” Clark declared.  And so it was.  At least, that is, until the official editor of the expedition decided to exercise his artistic license by renaming it Pompey’s Pillar.  All of which is way more information than any of us needed to know about this place we passed right on by.

But before we move on, the reeeallly interesting thing about PP is that the monument bears the only remaining physical evidence of the entire Corps of Discovery Expedition, appearing today on the sands of time exactly as it did 200 years ago, as far as we can tell.  For it was right here on July 25, 1806 that Captain Clark, perhaps not realizing that some day this would be illegal, saw fit to carve his name on the face of the butte.  By then, he was on the second half of his two-year stroll across the country so perhaps was feeling a bit nostalgic and wanted to leave his mark as a momento, fearing he’d never return.  It was, indeed, the trip of a lifetime before I-94 and cars and all. 

Now, mind you, the Native Americans had already given this big butte the perfectly fine name of "the place where the mountain lion lies," which I actually prefer.  I like to imagine the possibilities of how the story might have ended if, say, a mountain lion had jumped on Clark as he was busy defacing our national monument, perhaps even breaking his carving tool.  I know kids who’ve been kicked out of school for doing the same thing, after all.  (Yet another reminder not to try this at home.)  But, as usual, the Native Americans were too cool to correct Clark’s ambition. Or perhaps they were all preoccupied with party planning for Custer’s welcome hoopla which was coming right up just south on I-90 in another 70 years or so, a mere blip on their calendar.

Had we been driving at the end of July on or around the 25th, we might have enjoyed “Clark Days” with the PP Historical Association.  Then we could have “reenacted” Clark’s canoe voyage by floating down the Yellowstone, arriving in the afternoon at the Pillar-formerly-known-as-the-place-where-the-mountain-lion-lies to stroll along the boardwalk where we could view the defacing signature and then enjoy a traditional buffalo barbeque complete with entertainment.  Most of which didn’t actually happen after Clark sharpened his stick in 1806.  But it was only July 3.  We were too early and all this was lost on us anyway as we sped on. 

Seven more large counties later, we arrived at last in the final Montana outpost of Glendive, home of the Dinosaurs.  (We are the dinosaurs, the mighty, mighty dinosaurs?)  In addition to waxing nostalgic about past craft projects as one drives along this striped landscape, one also half expects to see a T-Rex come bounding across the freeway any minute like a Montana-sized deer.   

We kissed the shivering pavement of The Big Sky State goodbye and arrived in the unlikely town of Beach, North Dakota, home of Andy’s maternal Finneman family line and severe thunderstorm warnings.  It was still hot, dry, and windy, which meant that there would be no celebratory pyrotechnics allowed in that entire nineteenth largest state.  Long ago I realized my kids automatically called their east coast aunts “aunts” and their west coast aunts “ants.”  And if you haven’t read “Truman’s Ant Farm” you should.  We found Andy’s Ant Weenie on First Street watching America’s Got Talent at 7 p.m.  Ready for a fun time zone fact?  Apparently it is cheaper for Central Zone time folks to broadcast shows live from Eastern time so they are on an hour earlier and even though these Mountain time folks have to tape them, they chose to follow Central timing.  When Jay Leno came on at 10:30, I assumed it was because these workers of the land are early to bed and early to rise.  (Which, as you know, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.)  But it was this zany time zone thing. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the world is flocking to the fracking just north of Beach in Williston in a modern-day oil rush where vehicles sporting every license plate from North America are being slept in.  Which is what we would have been doing if it weren’t for our Ant Weenie because there are, indeed, no rooms at the inns.


Monday, July 16, 2012

If it's Monday, this must be Montana . . .

Last week we drove across America.  Which means I am currently in the throes of Coke withdrawals as I kick the caffeine habit which kept me running while my van consumed $500 worth of fossil fuels. (cheapest gas = Montana)  Instead of giving you the whole week at once, I figured I'd post each day separately to give you a break.  (My Unintended Motto: Why say less when you can say more?)  Originally this trip would have been taken last week but we had to move it up a week when my Mom stood up from reading in her chair and broke her femur.  (Yet another example of how reading can be hazardous to your health.)  I come from a long line of weak Mayflower chicas with skinny white ladies disease, aka osteoporosis.  And being the oldest female in this generation, I'm next.  Some day I, too, will set aside my reading glasses, stand up from my Lazy Girl to do something innocuous like answer the phone, and my leg will fall off.  Like Barbie. Like the whole pile of Barbies with missing extremities which Bella recently declared unwanted.  So if you're feeling antsy and need an armchair adventure across America, read on.

Waking with the Monday loggers, we kissed a sleeping Waldport farewell in the wee half hour of 4:30 and headed east over Mary’s Peak to Corvallis to drop off Christiana’s rent, then north up the Willamette valley to Portland to drop Micah off at work, then pointed the GPS east again towards the Atlantic and squeezed through the Columbia Gorge into the rising sun.  Hood River was just waking up when we passed and I spotted the stern wheeler rolling out in the middle of the river, the same boat I’ve ridden on two Labor Days across to the WA shore singing "Roll On Columbia, Roll On," before jumping off and swimming back to Oregon, eyeballing Mt. Hood for guidance.  Carved by water, the gorge is splendid and I regaled the kids with tales of Lake Missoula which burst through its ice dam in events as difficult in magnitude to comprehend as Noah’s flood.  Next up, Celilo, where we can now only imagine the falls which once raged next to the oldest gathering place in America when Lewis and Clark stumbled in, calling it the Wall Street of the West. You know you’re out of the National Scenic Area when the wind turbines are spinning on every hilltop, their white blades bringing form to invisible wind currents in sharp relief against a blue sky.  Driving along the Columbia brings to mind the poem I will write some day about the towns in Oregon, places with names like Dufur, Ione, Deadwood, and Irrigon. 

Washington in June means one thing.  Cherries.  Rainiers, Bings, Royal Annes, and Chinooks, to name a few.  Cherries also worthy of poetry.  Cherries brought to you courtesy of the WPA and the likes of Grand Coulee Dam which transformed a high desert into one of our nation’s bread baskets thanks to irrigation water from the mighty Columbia.  So when we stopped for gas somewhere in the Evergreen State, we sidled on over to the typical fruit stand set up under a tent in a corner of the parking lot where I popped a pea pod and enjoyed the sweet green balls while perusing the cherry selection.  A rather bored senorita sat in front of the Bings and Rainiers while I sampled them both, deciding which was sweeter.  Her Papa, looking freshly pressed in spite of the heat, slid our way and spoke to her in Spanish.  So we chatted a little in his native tongue, a little being as far as I can usually get.  He asked Bella her name and she responded in between bites of her strawberry shortcake ice cream bar with proper pronunciation, which always amazes me when it spills from her lips.   I decided on the Bings and the chica listlessly bagged them for me while her Papa smiled and asked me if Bella was my granddaughter.  My fond Latino feelings evaporated with my smile like a drop of water on the sizzling pavement just beyond the shade of the tent.  “No hable Espanol,” I said.  We took our cherries and left.

Crossing Idaho at the panhandle, I gazed longingly at the sparkling waters of Lake Couer D’Alene, vowing to return some day and swim in them.  We traversed two mountain passes in the Bitterroots of the Rockies.  There was snow on the Fourth of July pass but the kids were sound asleep so I didn’t stop for a quick snowball fight, although now that sounds like fun.  My goal was to be in Missoula at the Jamaican Posse rum bar by around 6 and I was making good time when Andy called and reminded me I’d be crossing into Mountain Time.  Sure enough, the sign appeared around the next bend as we crossed the border at Lookout Pass and I lost an hour just like that.  The hills in Montana, known as mountains elsewhere, were blanketed in purple wildflowers which would have made a lovely photo if I’d stopped to take one.  But I didn’t.  I sped along the Clark Fork River, renewing my admiration for its Caribbean-colored waters.  The kids woke up and we finished listening to the adventures of “Ribsy,” our daily book on tape.   

At long last, our destination dropped from 14 hours on the GPS to less than one.  I could almost hear the Red Stripe caps popping and Gregory Isaacs singing "Night Nurse."  As were exiting the freeway, the phone rang. It was Hannah.  Calling from the hospital.  Biking home from Target in DC she'd had a bike accident and broke her hand.  I tried to pay attention to the rather alarming conversation while navigating my way to Steve and Heidi’s house where I hadn’t been in four years or so.  Naturally, GPS chose that moment to announce that she was suspending her route guidance, unable to find the local landmarks or too tired or sick of leading us or whatever.  Which happened again and again just as we neared our destinations each evening.  We’d follow GPS all day and then she’d drop us at the end like a hot potato with a “no hable Espanol.”  Sigh.  So Hannah, who is scheduled to swim across the bay with me in two weeks, is now wearing a pink cast.