Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Video chatting and weather forecast

I asked Smart Guy to take a picture of me talking to Norma Jean on iChat today. Ever since I went to visit her in February, I've talked to her this way two or three times a week, and it seems like we are right there together. She's sitting on her back porch in sunny Florida, while I sit at my desk in sunny Bellingham. I like to use the headphones because she can hear me much better, and only my part of the conversation is able to be heard in the living room. Sometimes I think Smart Guy isn't really listening to me, but then he will chime in with a word or two, and I know he's at least partially engaged in the conversation, too.

But it's really between the two sisters. Ever since I was there after her husband Pete died in February, I can be there like this and it doesn't cost us a thing! We also occasionally use Skype or FaceTime, but the quality of iChat on our iMacs tends to be the best. I visit with her, the dogs, and with her son Peter who is staying with her for awhile. He's doing all kinds of work on the house before he intends to go off to California to seek his fortune. (He was laid off in October from his job in Michigan.)

Tomorrow I'll be hiking with the Senior Trailblazers, and we have an amazing weather forecast. I don't know what exactly is going on with this La NiƱa business, because we don't usually see something like this weather forecast in the first part of December:
Don't get me wrong; I'm not complaining! It's going to be a great day with a bunch of great people, as usual. I've now been hiking on Thursdays with my friends for three years now, and although I keep going back on many of the same hikes, they are always an adventure. Tomorrow's post should tell the tale. Until then, I'm wishing for all good things to come your way.

Monday, November 28, 2011

My friend and mentor

I kept his books and reports organized
Today I received an interesting email from Mickey, my old boss, friend, and mentor. I took this picture of him sometime back in the early 2000s sitting at his desk. It's obviously fall, looking at the trees behind him. We didn't dress up at NCAR (the National Center for Atmospheric Research), and the Senior Scientists like Mickey regularly showed up for work in t-shirts, jeans, and Birkenstocks. That big bag by the trash can was one that Mickey carried back and forth with him every day.

I worked for Mickey for almost thirty years, first as his secretary (before they were called administrative assistants) and finally ending up as his writer/editor and essentially his partner in every one of his endeavors. Together we put together many international conferences, and he gave me the opportunity to travel all over the world. We published dozens of books, and I was the person who helped Mickey put into print books and reports we could be proud of. I've written about this at length in my other blog.
Mickey shopping in Hanoi 2006
Mickey would decompress from the stress of being in the front of the room and directing the workshops (usually four days long) by shopping. He found it relaxing and would give presents away to everyone he met. I remember once standing in Bangkok's terrifically crowded Mah Boon Krong shopping center with Mickey, with hundreds of people rushing from one place to another, while he guided me unerringly to his destination, a place where we could get business cards printed up in minutes. He was in his element, and I was just simply overwhelmed.
Mickey also mentored everyone he met, not just me. Once he knew what I was good at, he took full advantage of my talents. These young Chinese students are interviewing Mickey about his work, and I believe he has continued to mentor many of them through email, sometimes for years. Mickey never forgets a friend. Today in his email, he told me of the fate of the last of our colleagues in our now-defunct office. Mickey has finally retired from the frenetic pace he kept up for decades.
I retired from my job with Mickey in March 2008. Mickey took me with him on one last trip that month, this one to Rome, where I had never been before. He had a conference to attend and asked me to go with him and take notes. (It was really because he wanted to give me a gift.) Here he is in front of the Trevi Fountain, a beautiful and ancient place that brings tourists from all over the world to throw coins into the fountain, which is supposed to ensure your return to Rome. I didn't throw one in, so I guess I'm not going back to Rome.

This man changed my life in so many ways. He taught me to believe in myself, and he showed me the world. Although I am three years younger than he, I was always rushing to keep up with him as he strode through the streets of whatever city we were in. Mickey is not only a good person, through and through, but he's the only real Citizen of the World I've ever known.

Probably the most important thing he taught me was learning to give without any thought of return. He has friends all over the world, and I know that if I ever needed anything, Mickey would bend heaven and earth to help me. The email he sent me today reminded me that my blogging friends should know about this great guy, too.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Quiet serene holiday

Smart Guy took this picture of our Thanksgiving dinner, showing some of our favorite things behind me in our apartment. The triangle box contains the flag that was given to me at Chris' burial; the Chinese wall hanging with the two galloping horses; our printer on the bookcase behind me covered with a silk scarf; and salmon, salad, and a fabulous delicata squash dish spread before me. The squash turned out to be the star of the day this year. Usually I simply cut them in half and bake in a glass dish, but this year I wanted to "dress up" the vegetable for the holiday.
Without being sure how it would turn out, I sauteed several cloves of garlic that I ran through a garlic press with an entire yellow onion in a bit of olive oil. Once the onions began to get transparent, I added the sliced delicata squash, a dash of salt, and a little water. Covered the pan and turned it to simmer until the squash was done. Oh! What a great dish this was! It was so sweet that it could easily have been a dessert (which we didn't have).

The salmon, a gift from a fisherman friend, was caught this summer and flash frozen. He told me that salmon should never have a smell; if it does, it's not totally fresh. This salmon was sublime; I'll have the rest of it for dinner tonight. We also had some 100% rye bread that we could spread with a fresh basil dip. (I just made that dip up, too, with leftover fresh basil from an earlier dinner. It wasn't as wonderful as the squash, but it was pretty good.)

In traditional fashion, we left the dinner table filled to the brim, but without any wheat or dessert, we did NOT fall into the expected coma. It was a wonderful meal and we have tons of leftovers, which is also traditional in my experience. I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, too!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Then and now

These pictures of the two of us were taken nineteen years apart. We met in 1992; when the first picture was taken I lived in Boulder and was visiting him in his San Francisco apartment. The other picture was taken last summer at Snohomish Skydiving after a jump we made together. It makes me realize that, although I still feel like that fifty-year-old version of me, I'm not there any more. I didn't have ANY gray in my hair, and Smart Guy didn't have a beard, much less a white one. I didn't wear glasses all the time like I do now, and he never went without them until he got cataract surgery. Now he could go without glasses if he didn't feel like seeing things crystal clear when driving. And I can't function without mine, whether driving or not.

It's funny how things evolve so imperceptibly you don't realize how much has changed until you compare then and now. In the first picture we didn't even live together yet, and in the second picture, those two live happily together in Bellingham. It took many years of hard work, talks and tears (mostly mine) to find the happiness that we now share. We hit some rocky shoals and turbulent waters, but today, the contentment that shapes our days could not have been imagined by those two young whippersnappers. Many of my blogging friends have been with their significant others for a lifetime. It took me many fits and starts to find the right person. I thank my lucky stars that I finally did.

I've been retired for almost four years now, and the present structure of my days simply would not allow a forty-hour-a-week job to fit in at all. It seems an impossibility to me that I accomplished so much in a week's time. That also has been an imperceptible change, once we got through the stress and strain of moving from Boulder to Bellingham. Today I worked out in my exercise class and noticed how many of the regulars are now friends of mine. Although we all came from different places, you sweat together a few times a week and before you know it, you're buddies. That's where I met my friend Judy, and we go places that our spouses are not interested in (like the opera). I am one lucky person.

My Thanksgiving will be spent with my guy, with salmon gifted to me from my fisherman friend Gene, some excellent organic delicata squash from the Farmers' Market, and a fabulous shrimp salad I'll whip up tomorrow. Our usual hangout places will be closed, giving the employees a day off, and things will start back up again on Friday. There will be no Senior Trailblazer hike, of course, and I'll sure miss it.

I am sending you, my special blogging friends, sincere wishes that your day will be filled with warmth, family, and blessings. For me, Thanksgiving 2011 gives me a chance to say THANK YOU.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Signs of the times

Our Farmers' Market has dwindled down to just a few vendors, with many of them selling products for the upcoming holidays. We woke to crystal-clear blue skies this morning and a heavy frost, but nobody is complaining. I think these pretty ornaments will find some takers, and there are still a few vendors selling veggies. I realize that we are very fortunate indeed not only to have our market continue at this time of the year, but to have an amazing variety of local veggies still available. The market will continue until the last Saturday before Christmas.
People were out everywhere, enjoying the cold crisp air without a cloud in the sky. I went for my regular Saturday morning walk with the Fairhaven group. It was the largest yet, with probably two dozen women and one man all out to enjoy a six-mile walk at a very brisk pace. We started right at the corner where the Farmers' Market sets up and, after a nice coffee and company, we ended just in time for the market to open at 10:00am. I went over and got these pictures and made a purchase or two, thinking about Christmas presents. All of the cut flowers are gone, but these beautiful dried flowers caught my eye.
After spending a few minutes looking around, I headed over to the Y and got in my usual half-mile swim. It was really nice to finally have returned to my Saturday schedule. I felt like a million bucks as I headed home to have a nice lunch. I have absolutely no cravings for wheat or sugar these days, and although I'm not following any particular diet, I am definitely feeling quite virtuous.

Oh, and tomorrow I'm going to the opera with my friend Judy. We went to see Puccini's Tosca last Sunday and I really enjoyed myself. These are filmed operas, shown at our independent theater. They have a winter series called "Opera in Cinema" showing various filmed operas and ballets. Last week's was performed at the Royal Opera House in London, and we had English subtitles for the Italian. Tomorrow it will be Verdi's La Traviata. And the best part? I don't have to use opera glasses or dress up!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Chuckanut Falls and fun guys

I couldn't resist the play on words in the title. This is a picture of Chuckanut Falls, my first time seeing it, with a great fun guy in the foreground. That's what we kept calling all the fungi we saw on our hike today. Ten Senior Trailblazers set out on a one-way trip using a shuttle system. We left one car at one place, drove to another and then shuttled back after we were done. It worked out quite well, and the best part is that it never really rained today! Although we didn't have any sun and it was quite cold (below 40 deg F, 4.5 C), we hiked on some parts of the Chuckanut trail system that were new to most of us. The trail going to the falls is relatively new, and we knew we were headed in the right direction when we saw this sign.
Notice all the leaves on the trail, too. Yesterday it was windy enough to get all the rest of them off the trees and onto the ground. It rained and blew all day long, so we suspected we would have a not-so-nice day, but it was more than adequate. Peggy found this one leaf that amazed me with its size. The leaf is from a large-leaf maple tree (no kidding)!
Steve led our group today, as Al had a family illness going on. I must say that, although we missed Al, Steve was a very capable leader. I could never have found my own way through all the twists and turns we went on to end up back at our single car, but he never missed a beat. He has a very droll sense of humor, so there were times when he was pulling my leg and I didn't know it. Here's a picture of our lunch stop, with Fred behind the camera.
That's Steve on the right in the blue hat, with me, Peggy and Amy having our lunch. Behind the tree on the extreme right are Marjan and Frank, and four others are not pictured. As you can see, we weren't all that warm, but believe me: any day when we are ready for rain and we get just a few sprinkles is a good one! We took a side trail to Raptor Ridge and intended to have lunch there, but there was no view and a very brisk, cold wind greeted us instead. Along the trail, Amy had the gumption to stick her hand in this hole. Who knows what animals could have been lurking in there! She actually stuck her entire head inside, looked around and declared, "it's hollow." Good thing!
All in all, it was a really good day. I would have gone even if it had been storming and raining when I left the house, because next Thursday is Thanksgiving and we will not be hiking. The dark, overcast days leave me in need of time spent outdoors, and it's always hard to make myself go unless I know I'll be in good company. Today we covered more than nine miles and almost 1,800 feet of elevation, so it was a moderate hike when we were expecting a hard one. Steve isn't nearly the slave driver that Al is!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mood swings

I wonder sometimes what causes my mood swings. On October 25, I went up in the High Country and got this picture of Iceberg Lake. I was in a good mood that day, partly because I was with my trekking friends and we were on an adventure. We didn't know if this would even be possible so late in the year, and I think it was the very next day that the road to Heather Meadows (the start of this hike) was closed for the season. If you enlarge this picture, you can see there's already a fair bit of snow on the trees, the mountains, and on the path in the foreground. Now it's probably an entirely different scene as the snow has been flying almost nonstop up there ever since.

Murr Brewster left a comment on my last blog post that got me to thinking. She said she had heard that going wheat-free can affect one's mood, and to pay close attention and let her know, since she's not "giving up my olive bread with slabs of butter for nothing." Her blog is one of my favorites, because I can count on having at least some giggles and maybe even some fall-over-laughing fits when I read it.

The weather certainly has a strong effect on my mood. I notice that walking out to the bus when it's raining hard and the gloomy skies show no signs of lifting, I'm not usually smiling and singing. One thing about this part of the country: when the sun comes out, everybody I see around me sheds their outer clothing and walks around with bare heads. The opposite happens when it's raining: dark faces obscured by hoods and rain gear are the norm. Of course, how could it be otherwise?

Three weeks wheat free now, a head cold and then an unexplained sore throat during that time, and I'm still feeling pretty sunny most of the time. It's impossible to tell what is causing what, because the sun is out right now and I'm feeling great. But our hike this Thursday is not supposed to be so nice. We were blessed with two Thursdays in a row with wonderful weather, surrounded by the days before and after filled with rain and wind. This week's hike is looking like it's going to have a bit of both, with some snowflakes possible as well.

I'll get the first good chance to see if my new expensive raincoat works as advertised. I'll be prepared, and it will also be a test to see if my good mood continues. Of course, mood swings might be much the same as the weather: how can I tell if I'm in a good mood if I don't have down days?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Rain, wind and a walk

This is the view looking south from my front porch. Although it's not easy to tell from this picture, it's raining. It's been pouring now for a couple of hours, but early this morning I went out with the Fairhaven walkers (there were more than a dozen of us) all bundled up in the cold, expecting it to rain, but it didn't. In the most amazing timing ever, as I walked back to my car after our six-mile walk and well deserved coffee klatch afterwards, the rain began spattering my windshield. I wouldn't have gone this morning if the rain had already reached us. Satellite images were clear, showing the rain several hours out.

I love this group of walkers, led by Cindy. We meet at 8:00am every Saturday, rain or shine, at a place she chooses. She reminds us where we are going by email a day or two beforehand. The only time she cancels this walk is if it's icy and the footing might not be good. Most of the trails are around Bellingham, and I've been introduced to many of the beautiful places that are tucked away out of sight, some of them just a quick turn into woods from city streets. You just have to know the town as well as Cindy does.  I first joined this group on the only time each year she starts the walks at 9:00am: New Years Day. On the first day of the year, several of the long-time walkers bring food, and Cindy provides coffee and hot chocolate. Here's a post about my first visit with these friends; I realized when I started writing this that it's been almost two years now since that day.

Many times during the summer I'm out skydiving with my friends in Snohomish on Saturdays, so I miss this walk, but usually I try to get my knees in the breeze on Sundays so I can join them for a four- to six-mile walk at a brisk pace. Cindy was a world class race walker years ago, and she moves her tiny little body so fast across the ground that it seems like she's standing still, zipping from the front of the group to the back time and again with her dog Luna. Today we went up some very steep hills and down again, with the trail covered with damp leaves that had recently fallen from the trees. So many of the trails are in deeply forested woodlands. When we moved here, we knew about the nearby mountains and Bellingham Bay, but these numerous urban trails were a happy surprise. Two of my Senior Trailblazers told me about this group of (mostly) women and their dogs on leash, if they choose to bring them. Today we had fourteen walkers and three dogs.

Just a quick aside before I sign off: it's been almost three weeks since I've been wheat free (and free of any added sugar) and I notice one interesting side effect: my stomach is getting flatter and my waist is beginning to reappear. And here I thought it was gone forever! Is it possible that wheat can really cause that? I haven't lost any more weight and just want to keep what I've lost from creeping back up during the winter months. I remember once long ago seeing a cartoon showing the three shapes a woman can expect to have in life, using keys on the typewriter:
) (    Young babe
|  |    Premenopausal but no longer young
(  )   Postmenopausal old lady
Maybe it's not always true!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Lizard, Lily, and North Butte

Today fourteen Senior Trailblazers headed back up to Lily Lake (we went by there last week from Chuckanut Drive), Lizard Lake, and took in the view from the North Butte of Blanchard Mountain. Although this picture is out of focus, I couldn't resist using it, showing the overcast day (part of the reason for the lack of focus) and the profusion of leaves that have fallen from the trees. We had mild weather and were expecting a warm and sunny day. That's not what happened, exactly. It was indeed much warmer than last week's hike, but we kept waiting for the sun to break through the clouds. It did happen, but not until afternoon when we were heading back.
Since we drove south toward Alger and hiked up the east side of Blanchard Mountain, we were able to visit the two lakes, with Lizard Lake our first stop. Both of these lakes look very similar to one another, but the wind had not picked up yet, and the reflection of the trees is really clear. I didn't see any lizards. After a quick stop, we then headed up to North Butte, where we would have a nice view of Samish Bay from a rock outcropping. The view is not much different from what we saw last week, but we had come at it from an entirely different angle.
Once we had climbed the rocks to reach this view, the wind had come up and it wasn't exactly warm. Although there were a few sun breaks, some of us headed down out of the wind to have our lunch. However, I took a picture of some of the group as they came up the rocks.
By the time everyone had arrived on top, nine stayed on the rock for lunch while I joined four other sensible hikers at a lower spot out of the wind. As you might notice from the gloves and warm clothing, we were not exactly basking in the rays of the sun as we had hoped. After lunch, we joined up again and headed to Lily Lake, where we saw some signs of wildlife.
Although we didn't see any beavers, we know they are somewhere nearby, probably working in the dark of night when people aren't around to bother them. This tree undoubtedly will not be standing when we see it next. I learned that beavers are required to chew down trees as their teeth continue to grow throughout their lives. (I wonder if this is true, but I believe it.) After passing by the second lake, we began our descent back to the cars. This is when the sun came out and was shining through the dense forest, making for some lovely scenes, some of which were even in focus.
By the time we returned to the trailhead, we had covered almost ten miles and 2,200 feet up and down. It made for a very nice day, and since we had little distance to drive, we were back home by 2:30 in the afternoon, and I'm sitting here looking at full sunshine through the window. There is something pretty wonderful about having so many beautiful places to visit, with good friends, on a day with no rain and only a gentle breeze.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fall food choices

Buy from Amazon here
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote on my other blog about a book that was recommended by my friend TechnoBabe, called Wheat Belly, written by a cardiologist who felt compelled to expose what he calls the reason for the massive increases in obesity and overweight in Americans over the past few decades. Nobody who pays attention to these kinds of things could fail to notice the growing numbers of really really fat people. I sure see it here in Bellingham, whereas in Boulder I rarely saw people on the street as fat as those I see around here. Of course, part of the reason for that might be linked to the winters in the Pacific Northwest: long stretches of rainy days with little to no sun.

Whatever the true reason for the increase in our waistlines, I decided to buy the book. I actually downloaded it onto my iPad2 so that I could support our local independent bookstore. (This was my first and possibly last electronic book; I really like to peruse and flip through pages that I've read without a lot of bother. Plus this book had notes in each chapter and I could not easily look them up.) I read it avidly and agreed with many things he had to say about wheat. Basically, the idea that wheat has become ubiquitous in our diets, in so many different products, is indisputable. His real premise, with which I agree, is that the wheat we ingest does not bear much resemblance to the "amber waves of grain" that we think of as wheat. It's been genetically modified in order to make it produce more at a lower cost, and all without any research on whether it is harmful to those of us who eat it. Here's a quote from p. 6, called "Wheat, the Unhealthy Whole Grain":
Of all the grains in the human diet, why only pick on wheat? Because wheat, by a considerable margin, is the dominant source of gluten protein in the human diet. Unless they're Euell Gibbons, most people don't eat much rye, barley, spelt, triticale, bulgur, kamut, or other less common gluten sources; wheat consumption overshadows consumption of other gluten-containing grains by more than a hundred to one. ... I focus on wheat because, in the vast majority of American diets, gluten exposure can be used interchangeably with wheat exposure. For that reason, I often use wheat to signify all gluten-containing grains.
Dr. Davis makes a great case for stopping the consumption of wheat. I tend to go along with what he says about it, as well as the observations he has made about all kinds of fructose sources (often hidden with esoteric sounding names) and their terrible consequences on the body when consumed in even small doses. And here I had started eating agave nectar, thinking I was doing good things for myself (not!).

Anyway, I did some research on other gluten-containing grains, such as rye, and I found out some very interesting information. For one thing, since rye has a much lower gluten content than wheat it is usually combined with wheat when used for making bread. I looked for straight rye breads and found that my local health food store does indeed carry some, but there's not much. It needs a sourdough starter if it doesn't contain any added sugars. A variety of pumpernickel is imported from Bavaria, although there is actually a 100% rye bread made locally that is hard as a rock. It's good, though, and I'm using rye as a replacement for the spelt bread I have grown so fond of at the Great Harvest Bread Company. Their spelt has lots of honey to make it rise, and I noticed that I would often crave the bread for its sweet content. One place that has lots of interesting facts about rye is Grindstone Bakery. I will continue to keep rye and brown rice in my diet, since I have no gluten issues. I asked the owner of the GHBC if they make spelt without added sugar, and he said they experimented with it, but it wasn't successful. It needs a fair amount of honey.

The reason for my endeavor into a wheat-free diet is to find out if cutting out wheat and all added sugars (other than from fresh fruit) will improve my cholesterol numbers. I was so convinced that I would be looking at great numbers after losing fifteen pounds and eating lots of healthy foods. I ate my spelt bread and sourdough wheat breads, occasional excursions into pizza when eating out with my friends, but otherwise not much wheat. I don't eat processed foods very often, but I am now thinking that I need to make an effort to keep my glycemic load to a minimum. I now check on this website (Diet and Fitness Today) to find the glycemic index and glycemic load of the various foods that I eat. In January I will again have my blood drawn to see if the numbers have improved. Oh yes, one more thing that I added: I started taking fish oil daily at my doctor's suggestion. Although I'm not going to be able to tell what might have changed my numbers, I'll know I'm on the right track if they go down. (My total cholesterol was 259, up 15 points from January of this year.)

Whew! This post got a lot longer than I wanted, but I'll stop here and release my readers to other endeavors. I do hope to hear from you about any ideas you might have about these steps I've taken.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Summer's best hikes

Fred asked me if I would be willing to post my favorite hikes of this past summer. Since we actually had eight extra hikes (usually on Monday) added to Thursday's regular treks into the High Country, this was quite a few to contemplate. There were no favorite hikes in June or July because of the late snowfall. The picture above was taken on our trip to Thornton Lakes on August 8th, the first of my favorites for the summer. (Each link will take you to the original post.) Special thanks to Mikey for the picture. Notice that even on that August date, there was lots of snow. This was a new hike for us.
Next comes Welcome Pass, which we did on August 18. It's kind of amazing that we chose this particular one, because in years past, just the name of this hike would cause people to stay away. The 67 switchbacks in a very short distance is part of the reason, but this year the late snowfall also caused the wildflowers to come out in breathtaking profusion. Both spring and summer wildflowers were everywhere, making it feel like we had walked into the set for The Sound of Music. (In fact we were singing and smiling all day long.) Thanks to Diane for this picture.
And then on the 25th of August, we went up Church Mountain, one of our usual trips into the High Country. Another beautiful day filled with sunshine and warmth, with amazing wildflowers yet again, this was perhaps our third attempt during the summer to reach the summit. We not only got there, but we all enjoyed this hike much more than we have in the past. It's interesting how different a hike can be from one trip to the next.
Another exciting and new (to us) hike was Stujack Pass. That's Fred trying to pull us slower hikers up the last grueling and steep switchbacks to the top of the pass. This was the fourth favorite hike we did in August. This was on the 29th, almost into September. Four of my favorites ended up being in August. Just look at those flowers in the foreground.
Although the weather wasn't as beautiful as we had on the August hikes, the trip we made up Mt. Dickerman, another first for me, was simply extraordinary. We had been warned that it is a hard hike, and we must have been ready for something much harder than it turned out to be, because we simply cruised right up. (All those extra hikes in August might have had something to do with it.) This one was on September 19. We also saw seven mountain goats!
And even though this final hike was technically during the fall (October 9th), our trip up to Hidden Lake Peaks was also stupendous. I'm running out of superlatives, and this is the final one I've chosen for the season. We have had some great hikes so far this fall, but I don't want to get too far out of the summer season for this particular post. This one was special not so much for the wildflowers (although they were still out when usually they would be completely gone), but for the amazing variety of views, weather, and a cool lookout cabin.

The other four extra hikes we had this summer were also truly great (Monte Cristo, Cow Heaven, Goat Lake, and Mt. Higgins) and I would definitely revisit some of them, but the really outstanding ones are the six I've mentioned here. It was a GREAT summer and we can only hope for one this good again.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Oyster Dome 2011

There's a reason why the Senior Trailblazers set out on days like today that have a 70% chance of precipitation. Around here you can't wait for a favorable weather forecast: most days have at least some chance of rain at this time of year, and if you're lucky you can have a day like we had today.  Last night it rained heavily, but this morning it had come to a stop and, although these leaves are wet, the green ferns and the trail absorbed most of it. And more never came.
The hike starts steeply uphill from the Chuckanut Highway where we parked, and doesn't let up much until you reach the top of Oyster Dome. Since the weather was fairly warm and we had no icy patches, we decided to cross this rickety bridge (one at a time) to visit the Bat Caves before heading up to the Dome for lunch. In previous years, we skipped this part of the trek because that bridge was just too scary.
Here we are looking up at Oyster Dome from the Bat Caves, where we will eventually stop for lunch, but the caves themselves didn't give me any real pictures. (Some were blurry.) But you can see the sheer rock why the Dome gives us such a good lookout over Samish Bay. Notice that sky: it's blue! And by this time we were all very warm from the uphill nature of this hard hike.
Ah, lunchtime! We've reached Oyster Dome and are getting ready to sit down and have our lunch in the sunshine as we gaze out over the Bay. But the clouds began to come in since it is, after all, November. We had a fairly quick break and headed down to Lily Lake, so that we wouldn't have to come back down over the same steep and treacherous uphill. (It adds more than two miles to the return, but it's much less steep.) Even though the picture below shows us packing up after eating our lunch, I couldn't resist including it. I really like the red pine needles in the foreground contrasting with the trees.
We had a new hiker who joined us for the first time today. Here you meet Holly, who moved to Bellingham one week ago and is looking to learn the local area. I can speak from experience that she has found the right place! She and her husband decided that they are done with the Idaho winters and since they have family in the area, moved to the "right" side of the Cascades. (That's just my opinion.)
She was busy taking a picture, but I caught her smiling at me and hope that we will be spending time getting to know her over the Bellingham winter. Today was such a beautiful day that I didn't even mind that we have left the High Country behind for the season. We are back to the Chuckanuts! Today we climbed almost 2,500 feet up and down and covered more than nine miles before we strolled back to the cars.

Fred has asked me to write a post detailing my favorite hikes of this past summer and fall. Since we had so many extra ones, courtesy of Fred and Al doing the research, I am happy to do it. The only real problem I'll have is to determine which ones I liked the most. I figure I did at least seven brand new hikes (to me at least) and with the delayed wildflowers, we had some of the most amazing flower displays late in the season I've ever witnessed. Hmmm.... processing....

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

November scenery

Yesterday as I was walking back to catch the bus home, I saw these rocks covered with autumn leaves and a spattering of raindrops. Although I will never be able to duplicate the artistry of some of my favorite blogging friends, especially Hilary over at The Smitten Image, it will not be for lack of trying. If you visit her post (I've linked it), you'll see what I mean. No false modesty here.

Today I walked by the same stones. The leaves turned brown overnight and the scene in the picture is simply gone. I'm glad I caught it when I did. Sometimes you need to take the shot, no matter how inconvenient it might be, since life just keeps right on going by. Photography, however, is one of my favorite things these days: both my own and that of others. The hikes that the Trailblazers made in the High Country this past summer and fall are all preserved in my pictures and posts, and the Chuckanuts now beckon. (Not really; the Low Country hikes are nowhere near as stupendous, but possibilities for arty shots are just as good.) I always have my camera on my backpack's waistband so it's right where I can get at it. My fellow seniors don't like to stop and admire the scenery much; they are out for the exercise.
You know you can click to enlarge, right? :-)
Yesterday I also saw this black squirrel in the blackberry bushes right off the deck of my front porch. The bushes are at least as high as I am, covered with thorns, and extend deep into the vacant lot to the south. I have no idea how he got up on top of the thicket, but there he was, snacking away on the berries. He's not a very big guy, but he's persistent. The five squirrels that sometimes are all on my porch at once (three black, two grey) fight over the scraps dropped by the birds onto the deck, and they will sometimes chase each other away. It's a regular squirrel rumble out here at times.

At the bird store the other day, where I spent too much of my money, I asked the owner what she thinks about feeding the squirrels. She's got squirrel food (corn cobs, peanuts in the shell, etc.) offered for those who want to buy it, but according to her, the squirrels propagate all too often and don't seem to need any help from humans. There would only be more of them, and neither of these varieties are native, I learned. They are immigrants from the Northeast. The only native squirrel around these parts is the Douglas squirrel, which I don't think I've ever seen. They are small and aren't necessarily urban dwellers, and they would be at a real disadvantage around here in competition with the larger squirrels.

But I was happy to capture these two pictures. I'm feeling much better, almost completely over my cold and ready to brave Thursday's Low Country hike that has, according to today's forecast, a 70% chance of rain.