Boom-Crash and Overnight in the Mountains – Part II

Mrs. Hughes’s welcome suggestion meant backpacking for me without any packing (only my own warm clothes and snacks in a daypack) – the dads did all the rest!

Mr. Carson gathered bikes, helmets, and bike rack (he and Lady B planned to ride the access road part of the route), food, sleeping bags and pads, warm clothes, a tent – and all the small essentials: stove parts, water filter, eating utensils, bug dope, sunscreen, stuffies, coloring books, snacks, and more.

Clouds darkened departure day, but the sky cleared as we loaded up and headed toward the mountains. Large parking lots at the trailhead testify to the popularity of Powerline Pass with hikers, bikers, and skiers in winter. Just 20 minutes above Anchorage, it’s always been a favorite destination – so close and so beautiful.

After unloading gear and downing watermelon slices, the bikers set off, and Sweet Baby, her dad, and I followed behind at three-year old speed. Sweet Baby talked the whole three miles while speculating about Lady B up ahead and singing “no bears, no bears, today.”

One of Sweet Baby’s dad’s best old friends (and backcountry hiking companion), and his four-year old daughter, also on foot, caught up with us. She wore a flouncy net skirt over leggings, and carried, or her dad did, a glittery pink backpack.

At the bridge over Campbell Creek, the route leaves the road on a steeply uphill path. We climbed, scrambling a little, glad to see Lady B and her dad signal to us. They’d begun to set up camp on a broad ridge beyond a little gully full of wildflowers.

With mountains on three sides and Anchorage in the distance far below, this little plateau is dotted with clusters of wind-bent black spruce and softened by a thick mat of lichen, crowberry, and still dark-green bearberry. I remember so many trips in this valley, and the mountains around, with our sons when they were young.

And now with these three little girls! Dads put up tents, and girls explained to each other about sleeping bags and arrangements as they ran between the tents, widely separated on the tundra and away from the designated kitchen area.

It was 7:30 p.m. by the time tents were up and water boiling for dinner. I felt like privileged royalty sitting in a little folding chair carried up by Sweet Baby’s dad, while Mr. Carson cooked and served my freeze-dried chili.

This far north, the sun sets about 11:30 p.m. – an orange ball descending past Anchorage and sinking into Cook Inlet. Then, mountain damp and chill crept into the tent. I slept in Sweet Baby and her dad’s tent, and donned a wool hat and everything I brought (borrowed from Mrs. Hughes) and then over it all, another pair of long underwear and a fleece – finally attaching to my socks, thanks to Mrs. Hughes, two “Little Hotties” (miraculous iron filings that warm up feet or hands). Toasty.

It’s quiet in a tent in the mountains, so quiet. You can hear the small creek, occasional airplanes overhead, and familiar rustles of tent and sleeping bags. In the middle of the night, when tucked in a warm sleeping bag, it’s awful to contemplate leaving the tent to face cold air and wet feet on spongy tundra. But, if you do look up and around, it’s magic – the mountains’ stark silhouettes, the sky milky with stars. And then it’s bliss to crawl back in the tent, zip and zip, cocooned again.

A mellow, sunny morning – hot tea, oatmeal, and no agenda – a little talk of climbing higher to reach snow and Hidden Lake, but no great push. I loved hearing the dads speak of past trips (backcountry adventures where I’ve just been the worrier-at-home), and most of all, it tickled me to watch them talk to their girls, offering food, solving problems, comforting. Great dads, all.

We packed up and headed down – a hot and busy Saturday now – lots of day hikers. This time the littler girls perched on top of their dads’ shoulders – above already heavy backpacks – and sometimes reached across to hold each other’s hands.

Earlier, Lady B had wandered apart. Eating a bag of peanuts, I followed her and asked idly what she was up to. “Looking for a view,” she said. I asked if I could come, and she picked an outcropping with a 360° view. Soon the littler girls joined us, fascinated as Lady B drew in her notebook, some super heroes, but also our whole group – mountains, tents, and fine companions.

I’m grateful for this trip – and for the use of this image to capture it.

Alaska Part I: Boom-Crash And Overnight In The Mountains

The California members of our spread-along-the-coast family adventured in Alaska this month, and I couldn’t resist everyone (except the hard-at-work scholar) being together.

On this visit I spent much pleasurable time with Baby Brother. These days he’s all about “boom-crash” – the generic all-encompassing term for any kind of heavy equipment or large truck. First thing in the morning he suggests “playground” (it sounds a little like “King Kong”), which also means the search for machines at work. On many sites in summer Anchorage, giant excavators crawl and compactors pound, busy at their repetitive tasks, carving out foundations by scraping down to measurements determined by a “worker guy” in hard hat and reflector vest.

In one fortuitous sighting, right on Downtown Abbey’s street, a Bobcat operator scooped a whole pile of dirt from a front yard and loaded it into a dump truck, while we watched from the sidewalk. After a “bye-bye boom-crash, see you soon,” we headed home, where, imagination fired up, Baby Brother set to work with a small snow shovel in a pea gravel path.

He communicates remarkably well and appreciates it if people listen and understand. When talking, he moves his hands expressively for emphasis, and gives an arms-shivering shudder to indicate something scary – like the toy Triceratops I brought that moves, or a confused chicken in a cage near a playground that crows like a rooster.

His reflexive please and thank-yous charm me. When I respond to a request like “bagel pease,” he says “tink you Kaytee.” Sometimes he seems to think about how to answer our questions, casting his eyes a little skyward (a look I remember from his dad).

Baby Brother is incredibly good-natured, but when required, can employ what his family calls his Pterodactyl scream – a definite warning of boundary crossed. It’s probably necessary for a little brother to have such a sound, but Lady B does play with him with much patience. She told me that she loves it when she tells him something, and he replies, “oh yeah” – his understanding expressed by drawing out the “yeaah.”

He has periods of absorption in play of his own – Downtown Abbey a wonderland of toys. He loves to be read to, but is often happy to pull books from the lowdown shelf of kids’ books and turn pages while talking the familiar words to himself. His mom told me of his delight upon discovering the book, “Mike Mulligan and Mary Ann” (a steam shovel) on the shelf.

And then there’s Alexa, the new family member. (I admit to getting a kick out of how easily you could summon a song – or the “Hamilton” soundtrack). Baby Brother has a much-loved song “La vaca Lola,” and he asks Alexa, “lexa, play aca lola.” She’s notoriously bad at accents (also two-year old language), but Lady B says clearly “Alexa, play La vaca Lola,” and soon both are singing with her. (It is a pretty catchy tune.)

Early on, before the L.A. family went off to the Kenai Peninsula, we managed two meals all together. During the second one, our sons talked about a fathers and daughters overnight backpacking trip to Powerline Pass above Anchorage.

Mrs. Hughes leaned over to me and asked: “Do you want to go?” I was taken by surprise – but said “Yes, I’d love to go!”

(To be continued.)

 

 

 

Three Days With Lady B and Many Dinosaurs

Lady B came to visit – by herself! A week ago Sunday I met her and her mom at the airport, and after big hugs for her mom (flying on to Oregon), we set out for the train, our first walk of the 15 plus miles we were to walk in the next three days. Lady B let me take her backpack but pulled her roller bag, up stairs and curbs, through crowds, and while holding hands to cross streets (for my sake). She listened to the station announcements, predicted our stop by the route map, and (after placing her ferry ticket for the scanner to read) pulled her bag onto the boat.

Comfortable is the word most coming to mind for her demeanor – even that first day. At ease and brave really – never having been away from home without her parents and never having been to our new house! It’s smaller, but painted red like hers, and full of familiar things. She settled right in.

Relegating the early-rising student to the room upstairs, Lady B and I had a slumber party in the bedroom downstairs. She slept on a blow up air mattress on the floor, cozy with stuffies from here and ones from her suitcase.

We filled the days with reading (an A-Z mystery about London and Windsor Castle), and painting (pottery plates at a cheerful shop on the Winslow Green – hers decorated with a triceratops and mine memorializing the visit with the date and a so-so stegosaurus). On our many walks to and from town, we were always careful to not step on sidewalk cracks (she changed the “break your mother’s back, which bothered both of us, to a zillion other rhyming variations, the best being, “get a pat on the back”).

With summer sunshine every day, we ate lunch in town outside under an umbrella, saw the marina and the historical museum (her request because of various artifacts outside the building) and the art museum (to pick out a stuffed otter for baby brother because “he loves otters,” and take a quick look at the book arts room).

One day we drove to a playground with structures for climbing and pretending, and stopped to visit my young friend and her mom. We borrowed their motherload of Lego bins – two generations worth – perfect for quiet times with Poppa Jim in the afternoon. We mostly ate dinners here – spaghetti, mac and cheese, corn on the cob, a lot of watermelon, and one lousy homemade pizza (my failed attempt, quickly replaced by a burrito).

The highlight? A Seattle day to visit the Burke Museum on the UW campus. We walked to the ferry (I was in awe of Lady B’s walking with nary a complaint – 6.2 miles this day), rode the light rail to the U, walked across campus to the museum, and met Poppa Jim after his class. We sat on the Quad beneath huge trees, ate sandwiches, grapes, and chips, and watched groups of potential students on campus tours. (We overheard one of the tour leaders declare the most popular class at UW to be “Dinosaurs.”)

Last summer in Montana, paleontologists from the Burke Museum discovered the remarkably well-preserved head of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. The staff works on it now (behind a glass window) removing the surrounding sandstone and rock and reconnecting displaced parts to get it ready for display. We were thrilled to be able to enter the room and talk to the head preparator. He told us the texture of the fossil is “classic T. Rex skin” (textured and leathery looking). We peered up its nostril, examined teeth and eye sockets, and learned you can tell the sex of a dinosaur – sometimes.

We explored the rest of the museum, and as we headed back across campus to the train, I asked Lady B why she liked dinosaurs so much. The answer came quickly, “because they are really old and dead but it’s not sad, and they’re interesting!” We got off the train near the Pike Place Market to watch the fish guys toss a salmon, take a photo of Lady B sitting on the giant brass pig, and best of all, get gelato! We walked along First Avenue in the warm shade past Hammering Man, eating our delicious gelato, and speaking of dinosaurs, friends, and super heroes.

It’s always been companionable to be with Lady B, she’s an observer and a good sport, she’s inquisitive and plucky – a fine traveling mate. My painter friend said Lady B made a lot of good memories – I hope so – I know how many she made for me as we walked the routes I take every day, now enriched by her comments and her laugh.

Our last afternoon she packed her bag for an early departure Thursday morning, then made a book for her brother – a complete story of the two of them riding a Triceratops and encountering a T. Rex – with her own handwriting and spelling and, of course, her illustrations. (One is used here by permission.)

 

 

 

A University Day

The Access Program at the University of Washington allows anyone over 60 years of age to audit any class for free. My husband is taking a class this summer, and I tagged along on a dry run to see if the 6:20 a.m. ferry to Seattle would get him to class in time. My assignment was to time each segment.

Using Winslow’s short cuts, worn by footsteps along the edges of developments or private property where owners allow the tiny trespasses that shorten a commuter’s walk, it takes 15 or 20 minutes to walk to the ferry from our house, all downhill. Not quite replicating a school day, we took the 9:30 a.m. ferry, and planned the rest of the route during the 35-minute crossing.

Seattle’s light rail system runs from the airport to the University, along a corridor through downtown with two stations a few blocks from the ferry. The ride to the University, which seems complicated and long when you drive, is only 17 minutes by this underground train. Arriving at the University Station and riding escalators three flights up, put us at the base of a wide tree-lined walkway – a grand, 20 minutes-by-foot approach to Drumheller Fountain, and the center of this venerable campus. (Total elapsed time door-to-door – about one and a half hours – I confess to losing track a little.)

Classes aren’t in session right now, but individual departments were holding their graduations. Many young people passed us wearing black academic gowns over festive summer outfits. Rain began to fall, but like most Washington folk, they eschewed umbrellas.

The Registrar’s Office was closed for lunch, so we headed to the Suzallo Library, which used to house the Special Collections (now moved to a climate controlled modern building, safe for books, but missing romance). These days a startling Starbucks is just inside the Suzallo. In a huge room retaining the old stained glass windows, at many tables and comfy chairs, the graduates and their support teams took a break from the rain. A mural high on a wall is dedicated to coffee from bean to cup, and the critical role of coffee in the pursuit of knowledge and camaraderie.

The target class is Accelerated Greek (8:30-10:30 a.m., five days a week), so we headed to the Classics Department in Denny Hall, the oldest building on campus. A remodel has updated the building, but classical sculptures stand by windows and hint at the academics within. We located Parrington Hall where the class will be held, returned to the Registrar’s office, then walked to the University Bookstore –– a place we’ve often been for books and art supplies, but never an assigned textbook. Seriously flagging now, we caught a bus back to the light rail station, headed down to the ferry, rode across, and walked home.

I admire my husband’s unquestioning ability to get up in time to make that class – and enjoy the discipline of the whole experience. Such a beautiful place with much potential for learning – many exciting possibilities!

 

What Country Are We?

This isn’t the post I meant for today. But I was sick all day yesterday at the growing news of how “our” government is separating children from their parents in the name of the “law” (in truth an easily reversible policy), and “just doing our job” (doesn’t that have a familiar ring?). I could go on about this cruel, immoral policy, but you already know. How do the people responsible sleep at night? Or hug their own children? Or explain to their children!

And then I heard that audio tape. The audio tape of the six-year old, with the other little girl crying for her papa at the same time. https://www.propublica.org/article/children-separated-from-parents-border-patrol-cbp-trump-immigration-policy

The so-called leader of this country of immigrants is doing lasting damage by using children as bargaining chips. A pediatrician who visited the camps called what’s happening “Federal child abuse.”

And to do nothing does make one complicit. People I respect and trust have suggested these links as ways to help, and I donated yesterday. I’m sure there other opportunities.

The Florence Project provides free legal and social services to detained immigrants in Arizona: https://firrp.org

RAICES Family Reunification and Bond Fund helps detained immigrants to pay the required immigration bond. Donations directly support legal services for detained, separated parents: https://actionnetwork.org/fundraising/bondfund

I responded to Save The Children’s appeal and signed their petition telling Congress that Families belong together:  https://savethechildrenactionnetwork.org/actions/tell-congress-that-families-belong-together/

So often I speak here of children and parents and love. It’s heartbreaking to write this post.

Cloudy California And Sunny Sweet Baby

Despite uncharacteristically gloomy SoCal weather, after Alaska we spent a week following Sweet Baby (turned three in March, no longer a baby either) as she went about her activities.

She attends a beginning ballet class on Sunday morning. From the hallway adults watch on video, as the teacher mixes classical ballet positions with exuberant movement for tiny tykes in leotards and ballet slippers. Sweet Baby practices at home – sits just like a little Degas ballerina with arms wrapped around one knee, the other leg tucked under her, then rises when the spirit moves her, skips, and becomes a butterfly. She loves the bounce of a tutu, loves all costume-like dressing – combines gauzy skirts with layers of aprons and headbands and often a floaty cape made of something repurposed.

And Tuesday and Thursday she attends pre-preschool with one of her parents. California is a different setting for school than I’m used to – the classroom is in a huge old house, two gracious rooms with windows and high ceilings. Wooden blocks, wagons, dolls, dollhouse, and dress-up clothes litter the wood floors during playtime. Circle time is shorter.

So much activity is outdoors, Sweet Baby’s class eats snack at a curved table under a pergola, plays in a garden full of tall hollyhocks, blooming jasmine, and vegetables beds planted by the children.

The rest of the old house and other buildings around the grounds are for the higher grades. I watched first graders, wearing sun hats and wielding shovels, working in their garden, and middle schoolers heading off to orchestra practice, hauling their instruments along paths under huge oaks.

During a trip to the Huntington Gardens on Wednesday we saw their children’s garden – no conventional playground equipment but rooms to explore and tunnels to crawl through created by green hedges. Little fountains in stone bowls on the ground feature fish that spout a knee-high burble of water randomly, apt to splash the unwary and delight small folk. A topiary volcano erupts with water mist and, in a greenery-surrounded room, jets of cold steam make a fog so thick that Sweet Baby worried when her mom disappeared into the mist.

Fridays are for swimming lessons at a huge complex of swimming pools near the Rose Bowl. But it was cancelled that Friday, our last day and the only sunny one, so we visited an old-fashioned garden center in Pasadena and came home to spread three big bags of compost, plant hollyhock and lamb’s ears, and sit under the pergola Sweet Baby and her dad built over many weekends last year.

Every night we stretched out the Royal Wedding into a week of pleasure by watching the rebroadcasts – didn’t you love every bit?

It all ended too soon, Sweet Baby’s Thai relatives visited for almost two months just before us, so this departure snuck up on her. When we left, her dad told us she said: “But what we gonna do?”

Plan more visits north and south I say!

Alaska And A Name Change?

For four days in May, while Mrs. Hughes celebrated her birthday with her sister and her best friend in New York City, we flew north to help Mr. Carson hold down the fort. (He doesn’t really need much help.) Chill from the north wind dampened the days of our visit, but didn’t dampen Alaska spring activities.

Pretty much nothing is cuter than a six-year old girl with braids and a ball cap playing her first baseball game (after just two practices). Standing by the dugout full of tiny teammates, I watched the swing and heard the satisfying smack when bat connected with ball pitched by her coach. Braids flying, she headed to first base, a little uncertainly at first, and then swiftly!

One day Lady B’s kindergarten teacher planned an excursion to the Municipal Greenhouse and nearby woods, and asked me to lead a little watercolor demonstration. She provided good materials (that can make all the difference with watercolor) – tiny palettes with six real watercolors, fine line pens and brushes with points. The students didn’t need much direction, and soon scattered around the greenhouse to draw – watercolor paper taped to clipboards – then came together in a circle to paint. The penline and watercolors produced amazed me by their careful observation of shape and color, each unique to its creator.

It struck me that the days of Lady Baby are behind us. That little girl in the orange t-shirt, worn over a red, long-sleeved thermal shirt with Tyrannosaurus rex on the front, seems far from anything with baby in the title. The girl formerly known as Lady Baby has school life and social relationships of her own now – two best friends, a girl with a mop of blonde curly hair, and a boy with dark curly hair and big glasses. Maybe now I call her Lady B, a more grown up title, because Baby Brother (who rapidly outgrows that moniker) calls her Bopal.

We spent great days with Baby Brother while Lady B was at school. Playgrounds please, but nothing is as popular as “owside” – the back yard with swing and slide and balls to kick – or a slow amble down the sidewalk out front.

He loves books – specially ones with pictures of “boom boom crash” providers, particularly enormous bulldozers and crane trucks. Lady B reads to him, revisiting all the favorites (dinosaurs). He laughs with the same joy and relief at the resolution in “Knufflebunny” that I remember from her.

When we first arrived I marveled at his mom’s understanding of his language, but as the days passed I began to get it better. He repeats everything said to him – so the structure and intonation becomes more clear, and you realize how much he can communicate, if only his listener understands. He says all the family names, but somewhat curiously, Lord Cromwell became “Bacram.”

It sounds odd to say of someone so young (he’ll be two in early September), but he seems contemplative as he thoughtfully considers things. I say: “Look, chickadees – chick-a-dee-dee-de.” And he listens and looks, head tilted to one side, before repeating the call. It’s easy to be totally silly with him and make up nonsense, eliciting great grins and chuckles.

I loved watching Lady B and Baby Brother greet their mother when she came back. Both brave while she was away – and overjoyed at her return!

*Image used by permission of the artist