Thursday, February 27, 2014

Bowman Bay and the old orchard

Bowman Bay and madrone tree
Today nine Senior Trailblazers headed south to Bowman Bay on Fidalgo Island, and because of the recent snow, we learned that the other Trailblazer group (which starts an hour later) would also be doing the same hike. The area is far enough south that it didn't get hit by any snow, but there were plenty of boggy spots because they did get a fair amount of rain.
The trail, with lots of old leaves and moss everywhere
We walked around the trails above the bay and then took off on a trail above Pass Lake to an old orchard. We add this because if we just went to the few spots on the bay, it wouldn't really be long enough to justify the moderately long drive. It was a lovely day, with no precipitation and even a few sun breaks.
The old orchard, with a magnificent tree
At some time in the past, there was a farm house where this old orchard still stands. There is still a swing in this ancient tree that somebody manages to keep in working order. (I've taken pictures of other trips here when other Trailblazers have tried the swing.)
Carol on the swing
Today Carol was one of the two adventurers on the swing. As we looked around at the old orchard, there didn't seem to be any signs of spring in evidence, until we looked closer. I was having a nice snack when Diane motioned me to come up to where she was, indicating I should bring my camera. And what did I see?
Violets peeking up through the old leaves
Violets! Yes, definitely a sign of spring. Peggy said these are not native to the area, so we must have been right in the area where the garden was kept when the farmhouse still stood. And then, through the leaves we saw other signs of spring.
Snowdrops in the form of flowers
Yes, when these flowers begin to bloom, the crocus and other early spring flowers are not far behind. We figure that in another week or so, this entire area will be alive with flowers on the ground and in the nearby bushes. That all put a spring in our steps as we walked back to the bay, where we then took a nice two-mile trip over to Rosario Point. While there, someone thought they saw an eagle in the tree, but no, it was instead this wonderful creature.
Great blue heron, I think
Sitting there in the tree as I tried to get him into focus, it didn't even look like a bird until suddenly it turned its head so that the beak was visible. It was totally serendipitous that I was able to get this shot with my telephoto. Right after the shutter clicked, it flew off, squawking with that prehistoric sound it makes.

All in all, it was a really good day, and we covered more than eight miles and went up and down around 1,800 feet. The best part was the company of my fellow Trailblazers and the lack of wet stuff coming down out of the sky. Now I am home and sipping my well-deserved wine as I write this. Hope your day was a good one, too. I'll sleep well tonight, I suspect.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I guess it was our turn for snow

Walking to the bus stop on Sunday
Here in Bellingham we haven't had much snow in the past few years, but that all changed this weekend. All day Sunday and most of the night brought us cold air from Canada and moisture from the south, which converged right in Whatcom County. Just fifteen miles south of us, precipitation was all in the form of rain, but we got anywhere from 6 to 18 inches of heavy snow. After that picture was taken, it continued to snow all day long. I know it doesn't look like much for those of you in the Midwest and East, but it was a lot for us.
Downtown sidewalks clear, but this sign is unreadable
I enjoyed it, mostly, but it was cold and when the brisk wind blew, I wasn't exactly excited to stay outside to make a snow sculpture. I did consider the idea, but once we got home after going to the store for a few groceries, I stayed inside with a very entertaining book. I'm reading Bill Bryson's book, One Summer: America 1927. The link takes you to a very good review of the book in The Guardian, written by Sarah Churchwell. She points out that the book is a light read:
Breezily written, conversational and humorous, One Summer also includes sentences such as "Then things went eerily quiet avationwise," which is positively painful prosewise. 
I had to laugh at that, because I did enjoy Bryson's style, although sometimes it made me feel as if I were at a carnival observing a rather exciting ride. So many things happened that year that I knew about peripherally, but now I feel like that period in the history of my country is much more vividly alive in my memory.

Oh, and one more thing: I've been saving that post about how to tell which of your eyes is the dominant one. I guess I'm curious how many left-eye dominant people are out there, who are also right-handed, like me. I already knew I am a lefty, because in past years I filmed videos in freefall and needed to know where to place the ring sight, and for this you need to know your dominant eye. Just curious.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

I miss my sisters

Norma Jean and me in Florida
It seems ages ago right now that we were together, but it was only a few weeks ago this picture was taken. I talked with Norma Jean on video chat just last week, but it really does seem like the events of the past month have receded quickly into the past. I downloaded some pictures from my camera, and I realized that the ones I took of the five of us together after PJ's memorial were forgotten in there. I spent some time editing and organizing them, gazing longingly at my siblings, wishing we were back together.

Was it just a little more than a week ago that I traveled home? Catching a cold and recovering from it took some time and energy, of course, but it just doesn't seem possible that PJ died this month, but yes, we are still in February. And all that has transpired since then.
Markee and Fia in Texas
I miss my other two sisters as well. Markee lives in Canada, and she's returned to her own life and job, while Fia has gone back to work at her job in a doctor's office in Fort Worth. They are very close to one another, too, and although twenty years separates me from Fia, we will always be connected by the threads of family. Now that one of us has gone, it feels poignant every time I think of our loss. Since PJ was not a part of my everyday life, I sometimes forget how drastically my family circle has changed.

My brother Buz and his wife Phyllis are on my mind, too; when I travel to the area I always enjoy staying with them and soaking up some of their good vibes. Although we are living in different parts of the country, I expect everything to stay just the same as it was when I was last with them, but that's not how life goes. So I'll continue to cherish my memories and hope we can get together again soon for something really positive.

By the way, about my last post: I have not found another person yet who normally clasps their hands together with the right thumb on top like I do. The link I found stated it should be 60-40. Are you an anomaly like me? Just wondering.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Rock Trail and Fragrance Lake

Fifteen Senior Trailblazers met at the Senior Center to discuss today's hike. We were scheduled to hike from the Larrabee State Park trailhead up to Burnout Point, but we decided instead to hike up to the Rock Trail, which is a side trail off the Lost Lake trail that leads up to Gates Overlook. Then we would hike back down and stop for lunch at Fragrance Lake.
Running into Marjan and Frank on the trail
On the way to Rock Trail, we ran into Marjan and Frank, who were headed in the opposite direction. They both did a lot of the trail work on Rock Trail, and they hoped we would enjoy ourselves on the new trail. By the way, we hiked to Lost Lake back in December, and I got a picture of that same waterfall in the first picture, but it was mostly frozen. You can see it in this post if you want to see what a difference a few months can make (it's the last picture). Today was supposed to be iffy, weather-wise, but it wasn't at all. Last night's rain left, and we didn't see anything but a few muddy spots as we made our way to the trailhead.
Rock Trail plus a little mud
To get to this starting point, we had to hike upwards and then lose a fair bit of elevation before beginning this trek up to Gates Overlook, where we encountered almost 200 steps up. Notice that you can see some nice blue skies between the bare trees. It wasn't exactly balmy, but compared to what we were expecting, it was definitely pleasant. And then... the sun came out!
Licorice ferns draped nicely on the rock
Peggy was the one who told me that these are licorice ferns, probably having that name because their roots have the smell, but nobody was quite sure. One of the interesting features of this hike is the wonderful rock wall that one gets to walk next to, up close and personal.
Al explaining some of the characteristics of the rock
After we made it to Gates Overlook, we hiked along Chuckanut Ridge until we got to the Fragrance Lake trailhead, where we would stop for lunch. Peggy needed to be back home early, so the Ferndale Four left us once we were almost to the lake. We hiked around to the sunny side, so we could have a nice lunch in the sun.
Rebecca eating lunch in sunshine
After I finished eating my hot chicken soup in the warm rays of the sun, I decided to try to get some pictures of the little water striders I saw on the water's surface. At this time of year, I have no idea what they might be finding to eat, but there were a lot of them. I got this picture of one, just by chance, and I had to show it to everybody because I think it's so good.
Water strider on Fragrance Lake
You can see that the water strider is somehow balanced on the surface tension of the water, and he had just created those concentric circles as he moved forward. The squiggly line above him is the reflection of a twig in the water.

And then it was time to head back to the parking lot and our cars. By the time we got there, we had covered more than ten miles and our regulation half-mile of altitude, around 2,500 feet up and down. As I sit here writing this post (with wine by my side), I am feeling very content to be reclining. My body is tired but happy, and although I did my fair share of blowing and wheezing, the worst of my cold is behind me. I hope the coming days will bring us all glowing health!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


Captured on a summer's day a while back
The picture has nothing to do with the post, it's just pretty, and after days and days of wind and rain, I needed to see it. Not to mention share it with my blogging family who have faced week after week of the white stuff.

My sister PJ was left-handed, and all the rest of her five siblings are right-handed. While gathered with family, we discussed the statistics of handedness, and of course I opened my laptop to find out what the internet had to say about it. I always suspected that when I was little, I might have been forced to write with my right hand. The reason I wondered about it is that there are many things I do with my left hand, like deal cards, where a "normal" right-handed person wouldn't.

Nobody is around any more who could answer that question, but in my research I was really surprised to find out there are actually four different types of handedness: left, right, mixed, and ambidexterity. You can read what Wikipedia has to say about it here. Interestingly, I discovered that it's probable that I am naturally mixed-handed, as about a third of people are. Around ten percent are left-handed, and true ambidexterity is exceedingly rare, although it can be learned, and all the rest are right-handed.

Fascinating! In our six siblings, we had one lefty, four right-handed, and one mixed. I also learned that there are several different ways to determine your natural laterality. (Isn't that a great word?) One is to clasp your hands together. About 60% of people naturally put their left thumb on top (I put my right one). Or, even more interesting, how about folding your arms across your chest? More than 60% of people, no matter their handedness, fold their left wrist on top (so do I). I found all this information on this site about handedness statistics.

When we were at my brother's house discussing all this, he said, "I smell a blog post coming." And he was right; here it is! I'm on my way to the eye doctor's office for my annual visit in a few minutes, and I'll have to leave it here. But coming up soon: do you know how to determine which is your dominant eye?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Well enough to go walking this morning

Squalicum Harbor at Zuanich Point Park
When I woke this morning, I decided I was well enough to go out and walk with the Fairhaven walkers, even though I still have a sore throat. My sneezing has stopped, so I quickly went online to see whether it would be a good idea to exercise or not. I discovered that, according to WebMD, one should do the "neck check" to decide whether to exercise or not. In other words,
If your symptoms are above the neck, including a sore throat, nasal congestion, sneezing, and tearing eyes, then it's OK to exercise. If your symptoms are below the neck, such as coughing, body aches, fever, and fatigue, then it's time to hang up the running shoes until these symptoms subside.
We walked five miles or so at a fast clip, and I felt just fine, except for that pesky sore throat. I was careful not to hug anyone or spread my germs in any way as we walked to Zuanich Point Park from downtown. You can see in the above picture that it wasn't raining, but there was also no chance of having any sunshine.
The walking group
 We even had a man join us this morning, where we usually have a large group of women only. Most men get a bit intimidated that there are no other men around, I guess. They don't often return for a second trip. Afterwards, several of us went for coffee, and I got a chance to see Rita's new cast.
Rita and her lime-green cast
She was tap dancing when she slipped and broke her wrist. She had a brace for awhile, but when she went to the orthopedic surgeon, he felt that a cast was a better idea and asked her what color she'd like. She decided to match it to her iPhone case! I guess she won't be hiking for awhile, since she can't very well use her trekking poles or put her backpack on easily. She was given some pain medications but needed to ask her next-door neighbor to open the childproof package.

I do feel better after exercising, but it sure does feel good to be home and cozy in my own warm home. I guess now I can feel okay about binge-watching the second series of House of Cards on Netflix!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

I didn't go hiking today

Last week's group while I was in Texas
I arrived back home last night after an uneventful flight and long bus ride from Seattle to Bellingham. Everything was just as it should have been, except for one thing: my nose was running, I was stuffy and sneezing, and I realized at some point that I've got the cold I always seem to catch whenever I'm traveling. Whether it was the stress of the past week or all the hugs and handshakes, it doesn't matter: I'm not feeling well.

While in Texas, I received the above picture in a text from Rita, the photographer, meaning there were eleven intrepid hikers last Thursday when the temperature was well below freezing. I got a really nice email from Peggy, telling me that Fred pulled out his smartphone and read my Thursday post for them when they stopped for a very quick lunch break.

Really, I was so looking forward to hiking with them today, but it just didn't seem like the prudent thing to do, with me probably contagious and not actually willing to be on a day-long hike when I'm feeling like this. I did go to the Y this morning and worked up a sweat, which I hope will help me get over this more quickly.

Because everyone expected me to be there, complete with my usual brownies, I sent an email to Al to let him know I am under the weather. He wrote back with a "you too?" and said he "did trail work with his face," Rita fell and broke her wrist, and another hiker is in the hospital with atrial fibrillation. I am assuming his remark means he fell and banged up his face.

Although it was a very healing experience in many ways, last week was really hard. Being with my siblings and our extended family was wonderful, but I guess it's to be expected that my immune system couldn't keep up with the stress. Every morning I was at my brother's home, I would rise before anyone else, open my laptop and visit my blogging universe while I drank a cup of freshly brewed coffee.
My laptop in the Stewart living room
I took that picture to remind myself of the place I liked to sit in the morning when at my brother's home. He and his wife Phyllis are the salt of the earth, and if I had to be anywhere other than in sunny Florida, or my own home town, it can't be beat. But I do hope I won't be going back there any time soon, unless it's for a joyous occasion.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Return home tomorrow

Buz on our cold but dry walk
I smiled ruefully when I got ready to go out and walk this morning, finding that here in Texas it's colder than at home in Bellingham. Every day since I got to Arlington I've walked around this track at Stovall Park with my sister Norma Jean, but she went back to sunny and warm Florida yesterday, so I persuaded my brother Buz to go with me today. We walked four miles in windy 30-degree weather, which made it feel like 23 degrees F.

It's been a good visit with family, even though it wasn't what I expected when I made reservations in December to travel to Florida in February. PJ's death brought us all together this week with a determination to create the best tribute we could to our sister. I wrote about the Celebration of Life here, and tomorrow it's time to return to my own life. We are all stronger and more bonded from this week's events, and I feel incredibly fortunate to be part of such a family.

While walking this morning, I saw this batch of mistletoe in one of the bare trees in the park.
Mistletoe with berries
In reading that link above (about mistletoe), I learned that even though it is a parasite, it is a beneficial one to many different species of trees and bushes, since the berries attract birds. From that link:
Mistletoe was often considered a pest that kills trees and devalues natural habitats, but was recently recognized as an ecological keystone species, an organism that has a disproportionately pervasive influence over its community. A broad array of animals depend on mistletoe for food, consuming the leaves and young shoots, transferring pollen between plants, and dispersing the sticky seeds. 
I also learned that in pre-Christian Europe, mistletoe was seen as a representation of divine male essence, and thus romance, fertility and vitality. That means I can wish all you ladies romance for Valentine's Day in the spirit of mistletoe!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Today is the Celebration of Life

Pictures from the Family Dinner
Last night we got together for a family dinner of those who have gathered from near and far to celebrate my sister PJ's life. Stewart, PJ's husband, is the lone person in the red cap. He asked for us to congregate and last night told us that, to him, this dinner is the most important way he wished to remember PJ and her family.

The two people in the upper left are PJ's son Joseph and his wife Stephanie. Below them is her other son Jason with wife Golda, and two sets of twins, Isaac and Levi, and Annebelle and Jonah. PJ was inordinately fond of her four beautiful grandchildren. I get to see their progress on Facebook. In the lower right are the surviving sisters, Norma Jean, me, Markee, and Fia (with Stewart in the background). In the upper right are PJ's brother Buz and his wife Phyllis. (Norma Jean and I are staying with them.)

There were others who were present, of course, but I wanted to share with you PJ's closest family. She was a teller of jokes, and I'm sure today we will share some of our favorite moments with her. I keep being distracted as I'm listening to Buz and Norma Jean sharing with each other some of their favorite stories about PJ. She added a certain level of levity to our family gatherings, and she could always be counted on to pull out some kind of game for us to enjoy. Many times I was reluctant to play, but when I did it was always fun.

It's the best thing of all to be with family, isn't it?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

What a change from Florida

Wintertime in Florida, picture taken by Norma Jean
Well, I did get two wonderful days of sunny and warm Florida. In fact, it was almost too warm for me yesterday: it got up to 85 degrees F during the day. We went for a nice walk around the ponds in her retirement community, and I got to swim twice with her in the outdoor pool at the Y. It was wonderful, but now it's time for family duty. Norma Jean was able to get a cheap flight from Tampa by taking two flights, and I'm now sitting outside her gate at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport having a coffee and writing this post. She will arrive in another two hours.
DFW Airport view
This is what it looks like where I am now, 19 degrees F and snowing. Our brother will come to pick us up after Norma Jean arrives and we'll start the next phase of this journey. PJ's funeral (or memorial service, I'm not sure which right now) will be held in the afternoon on Saturday at Lucas Funeral Home in Grapevine. Until then, I'll be gathered with the remaining siblings and extended family. I always love to stay with my brother Buz and his wife Phyllis, but this won't be any kind of vacation for any of us.

What I do hope is that we will be able to celebrate PJ's life and accomplishments in a way that will make everyone feel better, including me. I keep thinking that she didn't suffer... that means a lot. She was only 63, with a birthday due next month, so she almost made it to 64.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

In sunny Florida, but not for long

Norma Jean, Icarus, and golf cart
I arrived here in Florida after a fairly grueling day of travel, but the really hard part has been all the family turmoil going on behind the scenes. My sister PJ passed away late Saturday or early Sunday. I found out about it while I was writing my usual Sunday morning post on my other blog. I was almost finished with it and at the last minute I found a picture of PJ that I took at our last reunion and posted it. After a flurry of back-and-forth telephone calls, it was decided that I would go ahead and travel to Florida and once we knew the plans for the week, we would fly to Texas to be with our family as we arrange for a memorial for her. PJ's two sons and her husband are in charge of details, and Norma Jean and I will fly out of here on Thursday, the day after tomorrow, to a very cold and blustery Dallas area.

Norma Jean and my sister in Canada will both return home on Monday, and I will stay in Texas with my relatives there until my original return flight on the 12th. So, it's today and tomorrow here, then off to deal with the trauma we are all facing regarding the loss of the first sibling of six of us. I thought it was last fall when PJ had a serious heart attack, but I learned it was actually in the spring, and she had survived for almost a year before succumbing to another, final episode on Saturday. She was rushed to the hospital, but there was nothing they could do for her.

Last night the family all had a group call on Skype (audio only) and we worked out the details of when we would have the memorial service. It looks like it will be this Saturday. There just didn't seem to be any reason for me to return to Florida for one day and then travel back home the day after that. This is not the vacation I was expecting, but one does what one must when life's exigencies require it. Three years ago, I spent three weeks with Norma Jean after her husband Pete died, and now this. At least we will all be together and can support each other through this trying time.

Today and tomorrow I will make an attempt to soak up as much of the Florida sunshine as I can. This morning I joined Norma Jean in her usual swim at the Y, although I was only able to swim for half as long as she did. Tomorrow we will do the same, and then early on Thursday we will travel to Texas to be with the rest of our siblings and their family. This morning we went through all the old family pictures Norma Jean had from over the years, looking for pictures of our sister to share with the others, captured moments with PJ that the others might not have seen.
Patricia June Stewart Merrill 1950–2014
I took this picture of PJ at our Thanksgiving feast in 2012. It was the last time that the six of us were all together, and although it will be hard, we will share the sorrow with one another, and remember the very special person she was. I will probably miss my usual Thursday post because of travel, but you never know. Be well, hug your family, and give thanks for this wonderful day, until we meet again.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Chinese New Year and more

Canadian mountains seen from Bellingham
As I was driving to the meeting spot at Boulevard Park to begin the walk this morning with the Fairhaven walking group, I happened to see these gorgeous mountains lit up by the sunrise, with a narrow strip of sunlight and grey clouds overhead. Beautiful! I had to share this with you. We walked more than five miles at a fast clip and had coffee together before heading home.

Did you know that yesterday was the first day of the Chinese New Year? It starts with the first lunar new moon of the calendar year. This is the Year of the Horse, one of twelve animals that cycle through their calendar. I was born during a Horse year, not to mention at the end of the year under Sagittarius, making me doubly horsy, I guess. Anyway, that link gives some predictions about the upcoming year.

And tomorrow, well, you know where 100 million Americans will be, don't you? I was shocked to find out how many people watch the Superbowl, and you can bet that many Washingtonians will be watching on pins and needles. Go Hawks! My Seahawks thumbnails are a little battered but still hanging in there.

The day after tomorrow I will spend all day traveling to visit my sister Norma Jean, and it looks like it's just in time: the next week is going to be quite a bit below normal here in Bellingham, but lots of sunshine and warm temperatures are expected in Florida, now that their cold snap is gone. Next Tuesday I'll post from there, hopefully showing me having fun!