Saturday, March 29, 2014

It's spring all right

As you can see, this tree is covered with catkins, those little cylindrical hanging things that cause people like me to sneeze. I believe this is an alder tree but I'm no expert. I do know that the ground underneath the tree is covered with these things, and if it weren't for allergy medicine, I would be miserable. But fortunately for me, I treat the symptoms and once everything is nice and green, I'll be able to stop taking it.

I just learned from this link that catkins are usually on male trees; cones form on the female trees. And the name "catkin" comes from the Dutch word "katteken," meaning "kitten" because they look like kitten's tails.

Because I've recently started feeding a real cat during the day, in exchange for some petting and purring privileges, I decided to go to PetsMart to see about finding a substitute for milk that the cat might like. He loves cream but it's not good for him, so I bought a substitute. Once I got home and looked at the ingredients, it will be the last time I do that; I wouldn't drink that stuff myself; it's full of all kinds of unpronounceable additives! Not to mention expensive. Oh well, live and learn.

I'm off to the movies with Judy; we're going to see Tim's Vermeer at our local independent theater. It was either that or Noah. Anybody seen that one yet?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Mt. Erie and Sugarloaf 2014

On the trail, heading to Sugarloaf first
Today twelve Senior Trailblazers met on a rainy morning, with hopes that the weather might be a little better south of us, where we were scheduled to hike up Mt. Erie and Sugarloaf in the ACFL (Anacortes Community Forest Land) area. We've done it several times before, and last year it was in the rain. But this year? We lucked out AGAIN: four hikes in a row, and all in the wettest March we've had in ages. We managed to stay dry.
View from Sugarloaf
Usually we hike up Mt. Erie first and visit Sugarloaf second, but today we reversed the order. This is the view from Sugarloaf, and as you can see, it wasn't a beautiful day, even if we were not in the rain. Dark clouds threatened, and a light breeze at this point made up all put our jackets and gloves back on, which we had removed while we were hiking.
Looking out at the view
Since it was already after 11:00am, Al suggested we all have a quick snack before we headed off to Mt. Erie, which meant a descent before we would begin the climb to the summit of Mt. Erie. Although there is actually a paved road to the summit, there are also plenty of hiking trails to get us there as well.
Leaving Sugarloaf, on our way to Erie ahead
It sure didn't look like it would be very pleasant on the summit of Mt. Erie (as you can see in the picture above), with the top of the mountain shrouded in fog. But what the heck, it wasn't raining on us, and we would reach the summit a little after noon. Off we went.
Looking down at Campbell Lake, Rosario Strait in the distance
And what do you know? By the time we reached the summit of Mt. Erie, the clouds, still threatening, had cleared enough for us to have a lovely view as we enjoyed our lunch. There were even spots on the water that showed full sunshine in some places.
Sunshine on the water
We looked out at the bay and saw Ala Spit, a place we have visited before, jutting out from the end of Hoypus Hill, just to the north of the sunshine. You can see that there were still plenty of dark clouds overhead, but we had comfortable temperatures and a very nice lunch spot.
Bald eagle
An eagle drifted lazily overhead, and try as I might, this was the best shot I could get. As soon as I would pick up my lunch and begin to eat, he would return, and by the time I was ready to capture him, he was headed away from me. His white head and white tail feathers are not visible here, but we knew for sure we were looking at a mature bald eagle.
Returning to the cars
By the time we were heading back to our cars, the sun had begun to show through and light up the forest. Our day's exertions were less than in previous weeks; we covered almost eight miles and went up and down around 2,300 feet. I was tired but could tell it was not as strenuous as the previous few weeks. We had a good day, although we did see a monster in the forest.
Can you see the monster?
As we made our way back through the forest, Peggy pointed out this mysterious creature, maybe a serpent from days of old, with strange wings on his back. From every angle he was striking, so I decided to end my post with his visage to remind us that, if we look carefully, there might be rare and unusual beings observing as we visit their forests.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The garden is calling my name

This was a LOT of work
My garden spot, small as it is, has worn me to a frazzle, just getting this much cleared from all the buttercups and chickweed that had decided to take over this winter. The plot on the left of mine is still untouched from last year, but the one on the right (Nate's spot) is already planted, I think. Now I just have to decide what I want to plant in there this year.
The Garden Claw
This is Carol's spot (the nice cleared one in the middle). My new downstairs neighbor inherited the one on the left, which hasn't been touched yet this year (obviously). But Carol introduced me to this nifty little tool, The Garden Claw. Since we've had quite a bit of rain lately, the soil is soft, and I was able to stick those claws down into the ground around a pesky weed, give it a twist or two (while listening to the satisfying sound of roots being torn out of the ground) and then shake the dirt off the roots.

It took me two days of sunny weather, Sunday and yesterday afternoon, to completely clear my own plot of those marauders, plus some dandelions. The only thing nice about buttercups are their name, trust me. Oh, and by the way, I thought I was in good shape! This morning in exercise class I realized that my hamstrings are very sore, as well as my left palm from twisting the Garden Claw with all my might. Even though I walk and hike every week, I don't stand and pull weeds, so those hamstrings got a real workout. Now I need to peruse some catalogs and decide what will go in there. Sugar snap peas, of course (they were a wonderful addition last year), beets, and maybe, if I can find them, some purple carrots!
Tree in blossom
Speaking of purple, this beautiful flowering plum caught my eye on Saturday. However, on a somber note, at the same time as this picture was taken, a terrible mudslide hit just a few miles south of us. Linda Letters wrote a very moving post this morning about it, with some terrifying pictures of the slide area. I've been on that road many times myself with my hiking friends.

How quickly our lives can change. I'm so very grateful for my life, and an event like this one always makes me pause and reflect on how much the present moment means.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A nice sunless Saturday

North Shore trail
When the walkers met at the North Shore trail of Lake Whatcom this morning, it was only 30 degrees F (-1C). Brrr! And the sun wasn't shining, either, like it did all day long yesterday. However, this trail is a little more than three miles long and almost flat, so we briskly trucked along, and I was warm in no time at all.

I kept up with the faster walkers for the first part and then let myself fall behind and walk a little slower for the return trip. We still averaged 14-minute miles, so it was indeed a brisk pace. It was the first time for a new knee brace, which I need to break in before taking it down to southern California, to keep myself from injuring my bad knee any further while skydiving. I was very pleased at the way it performed today and will give it another workout next Thursday, where we will hike up and down Mt. Erie.

Once I arrived home this morning, Smart Guy and I drove 75 miles south to Snohomish to pick up my parachute, which has been inspected and had the reserve repacked. I will take out the main parachute and repack it myself. It's less than two weeks before I leave, and everything is beginning to revolve around that event. I'll be traveling on Thursday April 3rd, so I'm not sure what I'll be posting instead of the usual Thursday hike.

I was hoping to make a skydive at Snohomish before showing up for the Masters Skills Camp, but the weather here is still very cold and uninviting. There was a day when I wouldn't have missed any chance for a jump, but that was a few decades ago. I'm no longer jonesing for a jump. (If you've never heard the term before, click here for an explanation.)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Burnout Road and Fragrance Lake

What are we looking at?
Our luck held again today! Yesterday it rained and rained, and we wondered if we were in for a wet hike today. But no, the rain stopped and the sun came out, at least for most of the day. It was a cold start, with the temperature in the mid-thirties. Sixteen Trailblazers showed up to share today's hike from Larrabee State Park trailhead, up Burnout Road to the top of Chuckanut Mountain.
Samish Bay, with Mt. Erie in the middle
This was our first view on the road. It's a hike on old logging roads for the first part, but the view here was quite lovely. Last time we went this way there was no view at all. In the middle of this picture, you can see where we will be hiking next Thursday, Mt. Erie. If we have nice weather, it will be four in a row.
The high point of today's hike
As you can see, it wasn't all clear, at least not early in the day. There was sunshine here and there, but at this point it was a little breezy and not at all warm. We had just finished quite a long upward haul to this point through a clearcut area, so we took a quick break (after adding more clothes) before heading down to Fragrance Lake for lunch.
Peggy, Diane, Rita, Carol, Sue
Some of the ladies were lined up on the log and I asked for a picture. I had to get everyone to stop snacking for a minute so I could get a decent shot; this one shows the feeling of the day: good views, good company, not warm but not raining, and more adventures to come.
Another view of Samish Bay
At the top I also took this view of Samish Bay, quite a bit higher than the earlier one, and with the last of the clouds beginning to clear out. From this point we headed down to the South Lost Lake Trail to make our way to Fragrance Lake, where we stopped for lunch. There were several other groups already there and our good spot in the sunshine was taken, but we enjoyed a nice rest and lunch break. I had brought hot soup, which really hit the spot, as I was still not all that warm. It was delightful, and then we took the Fragrance Lake Trail down to the parking area.
Mossy stump and trees
As we walked around Fragrance Lake, I saw this beautiful old stump, which had been logged so many years ago that it's no longer an eyesore (like the stumps we saw in the clearcut area up higher). That's one thing about living in this area: trees are being logged constantly, and many of our hiking areas become defaced by logging activities. But every once in awhile you see a tree that was spared.  Peggy was glad to see we were going on the trail rather than the road, because she wanted to show us a tree she had noticed last time.
Peggy's big old tree
We stopped and admired the tree, and speculated about why it had not been logged with the others. If you look closely at the bottom of the tree, you can see a cut that had been made in it many decades ago. It has healed and for whatever reason, this marked tree was not logged. It's at least 800 years old, and we made up stories about why it was spared. We will never know, but it's a beauty, isn't it?

By the time we reached the cars, we had traveled 9.7 miles (another long one), and somewhere around 2,500 feet up and down. I am plenty tired now, but it was all worth it. We are quite a bunch of strong, dedicated hikers who live in a magnificent part of the country. Fred (tongue firmly in cheek) said he would be looking forward to reading the blog post to see if we had a good day or not. I think I can affirm that, yes, it was a great day!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

My coffee shop crowd

Robert, Leo, Gene
When I put that picture of Leo and his dad in my post last week, a few friends asked how Gene is doing, so I asked if he would let me put a picture of him in here. You can see that he's doing just fine, in full beard and wearing some kind of psychedelic t-shirt. Leo told me that he and his dad were going to their class at the Y and we would be there at the same time, both attending our class held 9:00-10:00am.
Leo climbing and Dad belaying him
I slipped out of my class a little early so I could take a couple pictures of Leo going up the climbing wall, while Robert kept him safe on belay. He had just reached the limit of how high he wanted to go here and was asking his dad to catch him as he let go of the wall. My little pal is learning to become a rock climber!
Safely back down on the ground
Once the kids had all finished, they received badges to show how well they had done, and Leo came running up the steps to show me. Several people thought I was his grandmother, proudly taking pictures, but I told them no, he's my friend. It sure would be nice to be his granny, but I'm not. He wanted to see the pictures I took before heading off with his dad to meet his mother, so I obliged.

I've known Leo for all of his five years (except for his first six months of life), and it's been amazing to watch him grow and change. Next year he'll be in kindergarten during the time we usually meet, so I'll be needing to visit him at home, I guess. He's a fine, smart young boy. I almost sound like a proud granny, don't I?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Bits and pieces of my day

Top o' the mornin' to ya (snagged from Facebook)
Yes, we are getting close to St. Paddy's Day, on Monday. Today when the walking group all met in front of Boundary Bay Brewery, I could see that festivities were already getting started, with green beer being served already! There was a five-mile walk just beginning where we met, and everybody was dressed in green. I also learned that around noon there would be a parade. Tammy Bennett, who is the lovely lady on the right, is the Parade Marshall every year (and the Fitness Director at my local YMCA).
Pussy willows for sale at the market
This is also the last Winter Market Day, with the regular Farmers' Market starting up next month. It isn't a warm or especially nice day today, but since it wasn't raining while we walked, all the ladies were happy to get in our six miles before having our usual coffee.

On another, sadder note, I came home and perused the news while having my lunch, since I'm a little bit obsessed over this whole Malaysian Airline mystery. It now seems it was a deliberate act, and I have surmised that the passengers are probably all gone, one way or another. Some have said on the news that if they ascended to 45,000 feet and then depressurized the cabin, everyone would have died quickly. And then what? It's the biggest mystery I've ever puzzled over, for a whole week now. I just hope there is some resolution soon for the families, who must have been going through absolute hell this past week.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

British Army Trail to Lizard and Lily Lakes

Sign off old logging roads
Thank heavens for search engines! I knew that sometime when we hiked this trail before, I had researched why this particular trail on Blanchard Mountain is called the "British Army Trail." You can find out here, my post from two years ago, also in March. Turns out that we always seem to hike this trail during mid-March, and from my posts I've learned that we always seem to luck out with the weather.
The long group of hikers
Today was projected to be sunny, and it was, causing seventeen Senior Trailblazers to show up to hike this trail today. Al decided to do a one-way trip, starting from one place and ending up at another. The drivers took their cars to the ending spot, after they had deposited the rest of us at the start, and then we waited until Mike appeared in his car with the drivers so we could start the hike.
Lizard Lake
The British Army Trail ends at Lizard Lake, and by this time the sun had broken through any lingering fog, giving us clear blue skies. It wasn't exactly warm, but the sun helped make us very comfy, as long as we were moving. After going to the lake, we decided to head up to North Butte, not exactly on the schedule, but it was such a fine day that is where we went to sit down and have lunch.
Lunch spot at North Butte
The only real problem with this lovely spot is that it's on the north side (hence the name) and didn't have any direct sunlight. There were spots of sun that broke through the trees behind us, but nobody really minded because it was actually quite a spectacular view of Samish Bay, with a little fog still hanging around below us.
Samish Bay through the clouds
After lunch we headed down to Lily Lake, which looks almost exactly like Lizard; I didn't get any really good shots. We then started back to the Lower Trailhead at Barrel Springs Road, which was quite a bit longer than the first part of our hike.
Sun-dappled trail
By the time I took this picture, I was getting very tired. Before we got back to the cars, we had traveled almost nine-and-a-half miles (again!) and gone up and down 2,100 feet of elevation. I felt every step in that last mile, and I know I wasn't alone in my tiredness. Rita (with a cast on her arm) was with us, and I could tell she was tired, too, but she gamely continued on without complaint.
First skunk cabbage of 2014
However, Al pointed out a sure sign of spring: skunk cabbage growing in the mud, happily beginning its journey to become really huge plants that have a definite odor of, well, skunk. I've grown to love that smell, and now as I sip my wine and enjoy my reclining position, the day has already morphed into perfection! Gone are the moans and groans (unless I stand up), and there's no doubt I'll sleep well tonight.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

It's always something

How much will it cost me?
Boy, it seems like every time I turn around these days there is another outlay of cash required. First it was the glasses, which I needed and was sort of prepared for. Then when the annual bill from the YMCA arrived last week, I realized I had forgotten about it. Paid that yesterday.

I also received a recall notice last week from my car's manufacturer that the passenger-side airbag needed to be replaced, so I took it to the Honda dealership, and they happily did the work for me. Oh, and by the way, ma'am, your front brakes are worn out and need to be replaced.

Well, I already knew they were close because my car mechanic had told me, and it was next on my list. But I was unable to get out of the dealership without having them do the work for me. There was a special on brakes, he said, and I was still using the original Honda brakes after 100,000 miles, so don't you really want to replace them with Honda brakes?

He had me there. So I just spent another couple hundred and sighed with resignation. My renter's insurance had just popped up in my radar screen, too. Isn't it always something? I was reminded of Gilda Radner's book by the same title. Do you know it's been more than twenty-five years since she died of ovarian cancer? It seems like just yesterday to me. I loved Gilda Radner. I loved Roseanne Roseannadanna. And she was right: it's always something.

But you know, it's only money that I'm seeing flying out the window right now. As far as I know, I'm healthy and willing to continue to spend money next month when I fly off to southern California for a vacation in the sunshine. Remembering Gilda, I also realize that life is short. Mine is now almost twice as long as hers, and look how much she accomplished, how much joy she gave to the world.

Okay. My attitude has been sufficiently adjusted. I hope you have a great day; I intend to stop worrying and start smiling. I might also order that twenty-year anniversary edition of Gilda's book and read it again. I'm up for a good cry. And laugh.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A fine sunny day

Robert and Leo at Avellino's
This picture was taken yesterday morning at Avellino's Coffee Shop, the place where I first met Leo when he was six months old. The slant of the sunshine coming in as Leo drew pictures for me while his dad Robert read the New York Times—it all reminded me what a great life I've got going here in Bellingham.

The coffee shop has local artists display their wares here, and a new collection came just came up. I love this picture of the legs, especially when sunshine gives it an even more interesting play of light. Leo was busy drawing a picture of the Loch Ness Monster, which he told me was a plesiosaur, an extinct dinosaur. Well, I believe him, since Leo is a dinosaur expert.

I'm putting this post up to appear on Saturday, when I usually have a post, but I'm actually writing it Friday night. I'll be spending the day tomorrow (today) at Skydive Snohomish, attending their annual Safety Day event. When I was skydiving every weekend, I didn't really need it as much as I do now, when I go for the entire winter period without a jump. Since I'm flying to Elsinore in southern California early next month, I need to get current again. Although I won't make a skydive, I'll be reminded of aircraft safety, freefall safety, and will be reminded of what to do if I have a malfunction with my gear. It's all very important, and it feels especially poignant, since I do believe it's my last season of skydiving.

About my infected hangnail: my visit to the Physician's Assistant, Keith, was not a whole lot of fun, but he did drain the finger and gave me a topical antibiotic to put on it after I give it a good soak three times a day. He also prescribed an oral antibiotic to take if this doesn't clear it up in a few days, but I can wait to see if this works. He said that the infection was getting better but it wouldn't hurt to get the stuff out. (He was wrong: it hurt, trust me.)

Today (Friday) the sun came out for long periods, and I enjoyed it so much, noticing how many people were smiling as they went about their business. I saw these pretty primroses at the Community Food Co-op, and they made me smile to think that winter is definitely coming to an end, and spring is, well, springing up all over the place!
Primroses for sale
I hope you have a great weekend! I plan on making sure I have a good one; even though I no longer go to work, my weekends are still special days. The rain is set to return, but I'm just thinking about all the pretty flowers I'll be seeing in a month.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Raptor Ridge from Arroyo Park

Hikers making our way through downed trees
We were nine today, which again amazed me. Since it rained hard all night long and the weather forecast was for more of the same, with a little break here and there, I wondered who in the world would be as crazy as me to join Al for today's hike in the Chuckanuts. It's our usual stomping grounds, nothing spectacular, and with rain much more likely than not: I'm not the only crazy person!
Diane in front of Chuckanut Falls
As we started out, all ready for the rain, some stray raindrops fell... and then stopped. I noted that the first hour of our hike was dry, as we made our way to Chuckanut Falls, where we figured there would be lots of water since we've had so much rain. We were right.
Tree, Chuckanut Falls, Kirk
I am always enchanted with the greenery we have here in the Pacific Northwest, and I asked Kirk to pose for me to make the picture even better. Notice how light it seems? Well, the sun actually came out, and the rain stayed away! We made it to Raptor Ridge, but even though there was no rain, it was extremely windy, and nobody was willing to stay for long.
Raptor Ridge
The clouds were low at this time, but they still held their moisture. We marveled at our good fortune and went to Madrone Crest for lunch. The weather was about the same as this, so I won't bother to add any more pictures of it. However, to get to Raptor Ridge, we took a new trail, the Huckleberry Trail, which is still in progress but seemed pretty nice to us. There is a viewpoint from the old part of the trail, which I have shown before.
Huckleberry viewpoint
At lunchtime I was moaning about my finger, which still hurts, and once Al took a look at it, he insisted that I see a doctor. Steve said that he never wants to hear a doctor say to him, "well, if you would only have come in sooner." So right then and there I called my doctor's office and have an appointment to see him (actually a physician's assistant) in an hour. I felt a bit sheepish saying it was for an infected hangnail, but they wanted to see me today. I'll keep you posted.

We hiked nine-and-a-half miles, going up and down around 2,300 feet, so it was a pretty good workout for all of us. When we were only a quarter mile from our cars, the rain started, hard and steady! It only made us laugh, because we were feeling incredibly lucky! A game we played as we stood in the parking lot, getting drenched, was to guess how far and how high we went. I vastly underestimated the number, by two miles, while one other overestimated it, but not by much. It was a very good day, and now I'm off to the doctor to have my paronychia examined, otherwise known as a hangnail.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Entertaining selfies

Not easy taking this selfie
I tried to get a picture of my poor index finger, but it wasn't easy to focus on it while holding the camera, and trying to find the button on the camera that would actually take the picture. See that red around my nail? That's the final stages of what I learned is called paronychia. Last Wednesday, almost a week ago, it started: it felt like a hangnail had gotten inflamed, but by that evening I wasn't able to sleep without taking some ibuprofen for the pain. I also hoped that the inflammation would be reduced by it as well, and it did help, I think. When I woke in the morning there was a small pustule on the right side of my nail. For the next three days, I was in pretty much constant discomfort, but after researching the problem, I found that unless it begins to get worse, it should clear up by itself, and it's definitely better.

I think I caused this by incessant hand washing after I got that cold and didn't want to give it to Smart Guy. It might have been caused by something else, I have no idea what, but now it's no longer painful except right where it is reddest, and there is no more swelling or throbbing. I think by tomorrow or the next day it should be completely gone. I'd never had this before, but if you look at the link, you'll find it is a very common infection of the hand.
My new glasses
Yesterday I picked up my new glasses. I'm getting more and more nearsighted in my left eye, mostly because of a hefty cataract in there, and a much smaller one in the other eye. By this time next year, I'll be getting cataract surgery, I suspect, but for right now my vision can be corrected to nearly 20/20 with glasses. The lens on the left is much stronger, as you can see from the refraction on the outside of my left lens. It looks like my head is caved it, but it's an illusion, I promise.

I was surprised when I put on the new glasses at how much older I look: I can see ALL my wrinkles now in chilling detail. I thought about touching up the picture before I published it, but heck, by the time you are 71, you are entitled to these marks of distinction, right? That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

More signs of spring

First of the season
When I walked out of the YMCA yesterday, I saw these beautiful crocus that were open and soaking up the sunshine. This spot gets lots of sunshine and gave me my first sight of these beautiful flowers this year. I guess it's really true that in only three more weeks spring will officially be here.

Today, however, winter has returned. The bitter north wind coming down from Canada and cloudy skies have made a return after those nice days of sunshine we experienced. We are even expected to get a little snow again tonight and tomorrow. But for now I'm sitting in a warm room and looking forward to seeing a play with my friend Judy this afternoon. We're going to the matinee showing of The 39 Steps at the Mt. Baker Theater. It's sold out, so I'm pleased to know she thought to get tickets last week. If it lives up to the hype from the above link, I should get more than a few laughs today:
Mix a Hitchcock masterpiece with a juicy spy novel, add a dash of Monty Python, and you have The 39 Steps, a fast-paced comic whodunit for anyone who loves the magic of theatre. This spectacular treat is packed with nonstop laughs, over 150 zany characters (played by a ridiculously talented cast of 4), lightning fast quick-changes, an on-stage plane crash, handcuffs, missing fingers, and some good old-fashioned romance.
Ohhh! An on-stage plane crash? That's about the only place I'd like to see one of those. And then I'm back home after the show to hunker down and wait for the weather to hit. More later...