Plant I.D. and a Late Summer Break

Do you know PlantSnap? It’s a three-dollar app that uses artificial intelligence to identify plants from a photo taken with a smart phone. On my first try, it provided two out of three correct identifications (the third plant was pretty obscure).

It’s wonderfully August – time for a break and for spirits to rise outdoors. I’ll be back when the days grow short, and I’ve managed some drawings. Enjoy this last month of summer, and thank you always for reading, comments, and messages!

 

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 New To Me Old Garden

My neighbor says that early in the 30-year life of this group of houses, six “little old ladies” lived here, one to each house. I wonder if one of them made this garden.

A deck – just six-feet wide – runs outside my workspace. An equally narrow strip full of perennials, between the deck and the fence, reminds me of a thicket, a hedgerow, or a stuffed bed in a real garden. This spring I’ve watched blooms come and go – rose madder rhodendron, pink-tinged white crabapple, white lilac – and now spirea turns hot pink, and a hydrangea becomes that purply French-blue.

Underneath, hostas of different leaf and flower size, ferns, white astilbe, and yellow loosestrife smother traces of a little gravel path. A five-foot rickety fence supports a Sleeping Beauty tangle of climbing roses, hydrangea, and honeysuckle. Up against the permanently propped-open gate, foxgloves make themselves at home beside a couple of struggling-in-shade peonies.

In a couple of feet along the east side of the house, two maple trees, tall ferns, hostas, a lavender hydrangea, and several lively pink azaleas crowd over a lumpy trail. In the neighbor’s adjoining garden strip, three tall arborvitae strategically block windows. I love to walk this skinny path – ferns crowd my knees, water captured in the hosta’s pleats tips onto my feet, and it’s cool on a hot day.

In front of the house, the remodel turned a covered porch into an enclosed entryway. But, against the house, two large rose bushes remain, one pink and one yellow. In a small and sloping grass patch stands a beautiful dogwood tree that blossomed white for weeks, and now begins to set red, strawberry-shaped seedpods. A chunk of the grass patch made way for a new walkway of stepping stones climbing to the front porch.

I divided four-inch pots of wooly thyme into smaller bits to grow along the stepping stones, and culinary thyme plants march up beside them. For this summer, in the bigger space where the grass is gone, I planted a delicata squash and a sugar pie pumpkin. Visitors smile and say, you’ll have runners everywhere! And with luck some squash and pumpkins.

The eight-foot wide sunny space between driveway and house, where kitchen and new entry make an L, became a small patio with a trellis. I hope sweet peas in summer and an evergreen clematis and jasmine all year will buffer the car from view. A sun-faded yellow umbrella, some pots from the bluff, and a small table cheer the recycled pavers.

It’s small and very peaceful here for now, but development threatens the lot to the north. The old house, green shed, and fine stand of Doug Firs there will disappear soon. The new buildings won’t shade us, but they will loom, and, because of density desires for this part of the island, be very close to us.

One morning last week I heard a racket, and from the upstairs window saw three guys at work wielding weed whacker, Bobcat, and chain saw.

Just an opening salvo making me realize I had better enjoy every day now – but isn’t that always the rule?

Wishing You A Fine Fourth

Do you remember the song, from around the time of the Bicentennial, with the line: “We must be doing something right to last 200 years!” Optimistic, patriotic, and oh so American in its celebration of just 200 years.

The line comes back to me every Fourth of July, because the Bicentennial is the only Fourth I remember well. Our family and my painter friend and her family – a backpack child each – hiked up to Lost Lake on the Kenai Peninsula. Planning to meet and spend the night, we each went up a different route, and we arrived to find a frozen lake amid snowfields. From the distance we could see the dad wrestling with a broken camp stove, and their energetic two-year old repeatedly circling the tent – both tiny in the mountain landscape.

We spent a cold night, and in the morning drank instant coffee and ate, by the handfuls, the cake with red, white, and blue frosting I’d carried up the trail in an aluminum pan. We packed up, walked down, and never forgot that Fourth.

This year is memorable for the wrongs the current American administration is doing. I Googled the lyric and found it used ironically in the opening scene of Robert Altman’s “Nashville.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TP94wyr5KB4)

I’m failing to tie this together. But I want to wish you a good holiday, and I’ll end with a hopeful phrase Lady B’s mom might remind me of: “This too shall pass.”

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!