Running Away (At Least for the Winter) Blog Posts Fall 2008 – Spring 2009 Clarence Griffin About Running Away After nearly three decades in the coldest part of the coldest state, we, Gay Ellen and Clarence, are going to try to spend the winter of 2008 - 2009 in places where we can take a walk in January without wearing four or five layers of clothing. Running Away chronicles the effort. The Climate Research Center at the University of Alaska offers a range of information that helps make clear our reasons for seeking different wintering grounds. The minimal daylight and extreme of winter at 64°49′N fail to provoke the same sense of adventure and excitement we experienced when we were newly arrived in the North. We still like the idea of adventure and excitement, but think we can find it in more southerly latitudes Balance 30 August The amount of stuff that we have accumulated since moving into this house is staggering. Dealing with it is a daunting task, one that reveals a fundamental difference between Gay Ellen and myself. If left to me, I imagine that everything I would want to keep might fit into the bed of a pickup truck. If left for Gay Ellen to decide what to keep, I imagine a 30′ moving van might be large enough. We provide balance for each other. We keep each other from going too far and toppling into an unfortunate void. That same balance applies in our relationship with each other. I am grateful for it. Stuff to Do 5 September A week from leaving, the list of things to be accomplished before we board the plane seems impossibly long. There are the physical things in the house, like shampooing the carpets, getting the foods out of the fridge and freezer, getting the last of the personal items stored. There are also the administrative tasks like arranging for mail forwarding, banking and bill payments scheduled, and getting tenants in place. Our huge double-bay shop has been rented to a small business, and this means organizing and moving the extensive list of items we have stored there. Another big item on the list is finding a new home for Aurora the Wonder Chicken, a home where she’ll not end up on a serving platter. I can tell that it will be a very hectic week, one that will increase in intensity as we come closer to the leaving date, the eleventh. Shocking Conduct in the South 30 September Driving south through Georgia, we stopped for ice cream and found ourselves in the midst of an orgy. Hundreds of couples were locked in coitus. They were on the ground, on the truck, in the air, in the live oaks and soon on us. We were told these were love bugs. A careful look revealed a pair of winged insects joined at the rear of the abdomen. As they crawled, paused, flew they were joined, one dominating and dragging the other along. We were told that once smashed and dried onto the grill of a car, their acids begins to etch into the paint. These insects are not well loved. Later, I poked around the Web and found that they are Plecia nearctica, a type of fly. Other common names include honeymoon bugs, kissybugs, double-headed bugs. After hatching on grassy ground, they crawl around and eat dead grass, returning nutrients to the soil and are considered useful, though most people are not aware of them. Upon reaching adulthood, they immediately copulate and stay connected; the males die first and are dragged around by the females until they lay eggs and then die. There are two massive flights yearly, one in spring and one in late summer. After the crispy remains are scrubbed away from vehicles, no one thinks of love bugs again until the next flight. LazyDays 3 October Taking advantage of an offer of two nights / three days free RV camping, Gay Ellen and I drove our new-to-us 21 foot American Cruiser RE 2000 X Class B van conversion to the LazyDays complex in central Florida. This was our shakedown cruise. “What’s this do?” “How does that work?” “Why can’t I get this to fit?” We were not in the same league as most of the others camped in the park. Most of the other RV’s were 40+ feet long, most with towed autos for running about once a destination was reached. They were also mostly of one generation older than us. We stood out, both in rig and in person. We’re special, right? LazyDays is a huge enterprise devoted mostly to the sale of RV’s ranging from $100K to over $1M. The people able to afford these rigs aren’t worried about the cost of fuel. Even though Gay Ellen and I do have to worry about fuel costs, we still had free breakfasts, free lunches, use of a great pool, WiFi, good coffee and tea, and cable TV, which we don’t have at home. The shakedown run succeeded. We didn’t catch the thing on fire, crash it, or embarrass ourselves very much. We headed back to my parents’ home in Zephrhills, checked in and picked up mail, then drove north. NE Florida 6 October We arrived recently at the oldest surviving European settlement in North America. The Spanish showed up on the northern Atlantic shore of Florida in the 1500’s, established an outpost and named it St. Augustine. The Castillo del San Marco, built in the 1600’s, still stands, complete with cannons and cannon ball furnace. Gunners would heat the balls before firing at wooden ships hoping to set them on fire. We spent the night at a state park with a 4 mile long undeveloped beach. The park was immaculate, well designed, and we highly recommend it. We’re likely to visit it again the next time we pass through the Sunshine State. Mid-October Word 17 October Time has been passing quickly. Since leaving Florida, we drove north along I-95 to just inside Virginia. Each day the sun shone, we ran the air conditioner both day and night. There were local- grown ripe tomatoes to eat. Since leaving the south in 1980, this has been the first time I’ve had all the tomatoes that tastes like tomatoes should taste. The campgrounds had cable TV and Wi-Fi. Live oaks and palms gave way to white oaks and pines. We left the interstate in Southern Virginia and took a small, state road north to a ferry crossing of the James River. I grew up in Virginia and didn’t know about the ferry. The state operates it and it’s free. We pulled the cruiser on and waited as 20 or so other vehicles came onboard. When we rolled off on the other side, we were at Jamestown Colony, the first English settlement in the New World. We drove a beautiful loop through the forest there, stopping to read informational boards that explained some aspect of the colony’s early years. One sign indicated a short trail to the river's edge and we headed out. At water’s edge, the air was calm and salty, the river brackish. Stepping along the sand, I heard two things at once. The first was Gay Ellen exclaiming something about a snake, and the other was a swish of movement by my trailing foot and a quiet splash. Turning, I saw a snake undulating under the water, make an arc, then its head emerge on the sand 15 or so feet ahead of me. “You almost stepped on it,” Gay Ellen said. I stepped closer and stooped for a closer look. The triangular head, and dark brown patterned body identified this as a water moccasin. I was lucky it hadn’t bitten me. Gay Ellen expressed the notion that she hadn’t had to think about snakes for 30 years. That is one of Alaska’s big pluses. The following day, we toured Colonial Williamsburg, a remarkable living history site. We talked with a man wearing authentic clothing, using period tools who was making cedar shakes for a cabin that was being raised in the same way the colonists raised them in the 1700’s. We talked with a milliner in a recreated shop about making clothing for the colonists. We tried keys on a newly finished harpsichord in a recreated cabinet maker’s shop. I didn’t know that the strings are plucked rather than hammered. We walked through smoke of a fire that was boiling a dye for coloring wool that had just been spun into yarn. one day was not enough to see it all. After leaving Williamsburg, we drove to Richmond. The best meal of our trip so far was along the way, at the Hogwild Smokehouse. We spent a few days with my brother’s family. He knows how to use a grill. The two of us watched a football game together, the first time in over 30 years. Next we drove west into the rolling piedmont of the state to spend a few days with my friend, Glenn. He lives on a chunk of land where he can’t see any neighbors and they can’t see him. Gay Ellen used his tractor to dig a fire pit, Glenn built an oak fire that burned down to a thick coal bed, and I cooked ribs beneath a waxing moon. Blind as I am, I enjoyed shooting a rifle with him. Glenn has five wolves. He runs a shop where he works only on Porsches. He rides a Harley to work. He is an interesting man. Yesterday, we left Glenn’s and made our way west up to the Skyline Drive, a road running along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains through Shenandoah National Park. The leaves were nearly at the peak of autumn colors and the sun made these more vivid. There are other stunning drives in America, but there are none more so than Skyline Drive on a sunny October day. Next we drove down the valley between the Blue Ridge and the Allegheny Mountains. Heading west then, we crossed West Virginia with it’s mountains and hollows, small streams, tiny towns clinging to the sides of mountains or in the deep draws. Drying tobacco hung in barns and beef and dairy cattle contrasted with the rail yards and chemical plants along the Katawah River on the western exit to the state. On into the Mid West. . . In Corn Country 18 October Fields reached to the horizon on either side of the roads through Indiana and Illinois. About half had corn dry and standing, the other half had been harvested. Most homes and farm compounds stood well back from the roads. You could tell where the houses were because trees stood there and no where else. The corn was much shorter than I remember from my youth. Gay Ellen explained that this is genetic engineering that allows the plants to put more energy into growing ears of corn rather than uselessly growing taller. It seemed like every 10 or so miles we’d come to a small town, each with a huge set of grain elevators, well maintained houses with large shade trees in the yards and along the streets, and the local version of Casey’s General Store which looked like a small town 7-11. Many of the older houses were framed two story with large covered porches and some with towers. We don’t see that in Fairbanks. Gay Ellen mentioned how pleased she was to see so many homes and businesses decorated for Halloween. Ghosts in yards, glowing bats hanging from porches, pumpkins of all sizes and expressions peered at passers by. It seems that they celebrate Halloween as we once did back before Fairbanks stopped that and started having Autumn Festival. The folks in this part of the country probably have Christmas holidays instead of Winter Vacation. I like the idea of Halloween and Christmas. In Minnesota 22 October Forty years after last seeing her Aunt Betty and Uncle Fred, Gay Ellen and I arrived at their home in Shakopee, Minnesota Sunday evening. They were expecting us, so name tags weren’t needed. Later in the evening Gay Ellen’s Cousin Becky and her husband, Harlan, showed up. Reconnecting with long separated family made for an animated evening. Shakopee, once a small town on the edge of the prairie, has been swallowed up by the suburban spill of the Twin Cities. Still, it’s clean and orderly with plenty of trees and birds. On Monday, Becky left work early and gave us a tour of the area. This included a guided, small group tour of the state capitol building. It was an impressive structure, as much about art as architecture. Above the entrance stood a life-sized, gold plated sculpture representing Minnesota’s glory and progress. It had recently been reguilded and now access was limited to guided groups to prevent spontaneous gold mining by visitors, such as the ones that had prompted the renovation. I told Becky that I had searched several maps of Minnesota, but had yet to find Lake Wobegon. She explained, “Lake Wobegon is everywhere, don’ cha know.” While riding through downtown St. Paul, Gay Ellen spotted the Fitzgerald Theatre and point it out to me. The next time I listen to A Prairie Home Companion, the experience will be a bit richer. Frost covered the lawn yesterday morning. It’s time to turn south, where I can put on my short pants again. I will miss the dramatic red and yellow maples, but not the frost. Unplanned Stop 25 October At 21 feet long and nearly 9 feet tall, the Cruiser makes a dandy sail. Driving across the cornfields of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa, the wind and our dandy sail conspired to snatch control of the Cruiser from us. After hours of that, stopped at a rest area designed to look like a barn, we found a brochure for a small brewing company in the nearby town of Northwood. Hmmm . . . What to do, what to do? We decided to spend the night parked at the rest area after a visit to town, seven miles away. We drove to Northward and found it to be an old fashioned town with one main street backed by a few streets of well kept houses. “The Top of Iowa” was platted before the Civil War, and many of the brick buildings along the main street were built in the 19th century. Names on businesses and signs were Fallgatter, Bratrud, Wirtz, Kragenbrink, Brunsvold, Helgelund, Hengensted. One of the oldest buildings on the main street housed the Worth Brewing Company and its tiny Tap Room. They brew only 10 gallon batches for local consumption, and are possibly the smallest licensed brewery in the US. Size doesn’t matter in this case. They are only open 3 nights per week, and we happen to hit one of them. We sampled several varieties, all superior beers. The oatmeal stout is the best I’ve ever tasted. It was wind and chance that led us there this time, but next time we’re roaming around this part of the continent, we’ll stop by design. Rooting Around in Missouri 27 October In Independence, Missouri we did some searching and arrived on the street where Gay Ellen lived for a few years as a child. Her old house looked as she remembered it, and her grandparents’ house at the time was still next door. Across the street was Fairmount Elementary where she started her schooling. The plain brick building is still in use and in good repair. The cornerstone was dated 1924. By one of the side entrances doors, a Fall Out Shelter sign still hangs, aging but recognizable. I wonder what the students there today make of it. Later we visited the Truman Library and Museum, just a couple of miles away. Inside, we learned about the 33rd president from informative exhibits including original documents, photographs, video footage and short documentary film, thoughtful and clear texts and illustrations.. Harry led America through the end of World War II with the use of atomic bombs, the start of the Civil Rights struggle in the Supreme Court, the creation of Israel, the start of the Cold War. He advocated a national health insurance program, but even then the AMA was too powerful. The Korean War began on his watch. We stayed until they chased us out at closing time. The next day we drove south about a hundred miles to the town of Golden looking for the grave of Gay Ellen’s brother, Joseph, who died in infancy. The graveyard lay between a field of soybeans and the town’s grain elevator. It didn’t take long to find the family plot with her brother’s gravestone and those of other relatives, some remembered, some not. Serious About Wind 30 October “Hey, what is that thing?” I asked Gay Ellen as we were driving out of Lamar, Colorado. I was looking at something very large and white sitting in a yard on Main Street. “Is that a wind turbine blade?” She swung the Cruiser around the block and came back so we could take a closer look. Displayed at the visitor center, it turned out to be a 112 foot blade like the ones used on the 158 wind turbines located 20 miles south of town. They stand 328 feet above the prairie, each with a three blade rotor that spans 231 feet. Each one generates 1.5 megawatts of power. The woman staffing the visitor center said that a Dutch company was coming to install new and larger turbines, 5 megawatts each that would stand 600 feet tall with a rotor diameter 413 feet. Colorado is serious about clean energy. Desert Wood Lot 4 November Between Gallup, New Mexico and Winslow, Arizona (where a guy once stood on a corner and saw a girl in a flatbed Ford slow down to take a look at him) the Route 66 RV Campground squats in the desert. There’s a large, neatly lettered sign visible from I-40. After driving through the north end of the Petrified Forest NP where we pondered the Painted Desert but saw not a chip of petrified wood, we pulled into the campground to park for the night and found a petrified wood lot. A petrified log about 20 feet long and several rock-sawed rounds formed a barricade in front of the office. Over by the owner’s modest house were two pens. In one were chickens and a rooster that crowed at 2:00 AM and other random hours. Gay Ellen felt certain that he was saying, “I’m stew meat!” We both liked the hens better. In the other pen, more silicated wood pieces were piled chest high. They ranged from a few pounds to hundreds of pounds, and colors ran from gray-white to deep red-brown. There was a heavy duty scale and a sign that read: Petrified Wood - $1.00 / pound. We didn’t buy any. Arcosanti 6 November A thousand feet above and sixty miles north of Phoenix, the planned community of Arcosanti is slowly spilling across the edge of a desert mesa. From the rim above a dry wash to the SE, it looks for all the world like a city found on some alien world, like it might show up in a Star Wars movie. In 1970 an architect named Paolo Soleri developed the concept he called arcology, the blending of architecture and ecology and used that idea to plan this city in the Arizona desert. Designed to house 5000 people, the community would have a minimal footprint on the land, be energy efficient, and self sustaining. It’s not the kind of project that the big cooperations or the government are willing to fund. Today, about 10% of the structures are complete, about 100 people are living there full time. Driving southward, toward the sun and short pants, I recalled a documentary film I had seen last year about this project, and thought it was somewhere in Arizona. I mentioned it to Gay Ellen who was in the navigator’s seat. She picked up the map book to see if it was marked. It turned out to be 2 miles from the place we planned to stop for the night. We spent most of the next day at Arcosanti. Generating income are a bakery, a cafe, a bronze foundry, a pottery works, and a gift shop where they sell unique wind bells that are either bronze or ceramic. The people living and working there are mostly young adults on an idealistic mission of sorts, and are no doubt having a great experience that they’ll remember the rest of their lives. Gay Ellen and I found it fascinating, and considered going back next year to take one of their 6 week workshops on arcology while staying on site and working on some part of the slow but ongoing construction. Lately 8 November Gay Ellen’s niece, Heather, and her husband Frank have a beautiful new baby named Mya. We spent a couple of days visiting them in the Phoenix area. Mya is their first, and so part of our visit was just holding her so Mom and Dad could take a break. We even shooed the new parents out one night so they could be two for a change, rather than three. Until we visited Joshua Tree National Park, I had never seen a tarantula in the wild. We got a close look at one while out for an afternoon stroll. It was climbing down a boulder when we first spotted it. It continued down to the ground, crossed a sandy wash, and then turned around when it encountered the brush. Who can say where he was headed, or what his mission was? Food? Romance? Adventure? Yesterday in Joshua Tree 12 November Yesterday Gay Ellen and I walked from our campsite to Skull Rock. The formation’s name seemed obvious. The great fleshless head looked to have been a sculptor's work. The sun was warm, the breeze gentle, and the lunch enjoyable. The trail wound around huge boulders and through yucca, creosote bushes, and joshua trees. The desert seemed asleep. We saw not one of the six species of rattlesnakes that are native to the park. This was a small disappointment to me. After nap / reading time, we built a fire and cooked smoked sausages and marshmallows. To wash it down, there was some of California’s finest $2.50 / bottle wine. Hey - don’t laugh - after two glasses it is all good. While we attended to the fire and food, the moon took over the sky as the sun left, pulling the colors of the world with it. North and West 13 November Leaving Joshua Tree NP, we drove North through the Mojave Desert for hours, a barren and desolate place. The dry rocky mountains reminded me of the mountains in Denali Park. The road was good and traffic mostly light during the first part of the day. At the edge of the desert miles to the north, we left the town of Mojave and climbed west into the hills. Near the top we passed wind generators standing on the ridge above the road, and met the smog. It was the air, a blue-white haze that obscured the distant ridges in progressively thicker patinas. The dry rocky hills gave way to grassy rolling land with trees. Continuing west, we kept dropping and came to level country given to agriculture. There were orange and lemon groves, vineyards, nuts of some sort. Irrigation systems hummed. Near dark and road-tired, we found no RV parks and so settled for a cheap motel. Showers and wi-fi, HBO, and a bed much more comfortable than the Cruiser’s made the price seem worth it. Today we head into wine country and to the coast. We Like It 17 November We’ve been tracing the ragged westeren edge of America for several days as we move northward along Route 1. San Simeon, Big Sur, Santa Cruz, Pacifica, San Francisco, Mill Valley, Stinson Beach, Tomales Bay, and now Bodega Bay. Sitting on the dark beach before the moon and sleep last night, I listened as the surf thrummed, recognizing the steady heartbeat of the living ocean, palpable there on the rim of the continent. Along the coast, we watched two bull elephant seals dispute claim to a patch of beach, slept in a day-use parking lot because the campground was too expensive, made chili with beef and butternut squash, bought two pears at a farmer’s market that were the best either of us has ever tasted. Today, we ate lunch on a shard of beach beneath cliffs and watched for hours as the surf crashed on nearby rocks. Later, we followed the sound of barking seals across a headland to find scores of them on a huge rock at the mouth of the bay. We like the coast. Long Day 20 November Too far, too long today. We ended up in an RV park where the propitiator made it clear that our late arrival was a particular burden to her. No WiFi. We’ll leave here early tomorrow, even if we only change parks, staying in the Crescent City area. Yesterday we left Rt 1 and drove inland to Rt 101, a larger, less sinuous road that took us north among the vineyards at the heart of California’s wine country. We stopped at the Real Goods compound and spent time wandering around the “Sustainable Living” campus with its solar arrays, green technologies, and intriguing solar calendar. Spent the night in a narrow hollow in the coast range where mallards provided alarm services and the other campers seemed to be single men living there and working in the area. Today we turned off Rt 101 onto the Avenue of the Giants, a small road winding through groves of redwood trees. Dark and damp woods that survived the loggers’ saws reminded me of what the land used to be like. This side trip led us to the late stop at a less than desirable site. We promise ourselves that tomorrow we won’t go as far or as long. We’ve thought that before; i hope the plan holds. Feeling Small 21 November Many years have passed since I felt the energy of a wild place that is utterly indifferent to human presence, a place where so much is in play over which humans have no control. The last time I felt that energy was in the Alaska Range, on some windswept col above grinding glaciers spilling down from young mountains. Ice fall, rock fall, crevasses, wind, sudden storms, whiteouts, incomprehensible cold are a part of that world. Any one of those could easily lead to human tragedy. In a place where disaster whirls, I feel more alive than at any other time. Part of that feeling is being reminded of how insignificant humans are, how I am only a tiny piece of the world. It has helped keep my tendency to arrogance muzzled. Over the past week or so, we have spent at least part of most days standing on the beach looking out at the Pacific Ocean. Safe there on land, the shadow of that feeling crosses over me. I am aware of some of the forces at play in the wild ocean world — waves, tides, currents, storms. Without venturing out in a small boat, without donning a drysuit and scuba gear and walking down the continental slope until slipping under the waves, I’m not likely to have that high energy feeling. Just looking at the mountains doesn’t give me the feeling, doesn’t check my arrogance; I must be in them. It is the same with the ocean. Looking out there won’t do it. My arrogance could get out of hand. Fur and Feather 24 November Poking around the Coos Bay area we stopped at an overlook to, well, look over. Stepping out of the Cruiser I heard wind and the barking of seals - many seals. Below was a rocky area with a shelf above the waves. Stellar’s sea lions and harbor seals were around it, climbing onto it, and resting on it. They numbered at least a hundred. The wind was blowing hard offshore, and still the barking was loud. Today we visited Heceta Lighthouse. Pulling into the parking lot, Gay Ellen said, “I think that’s a pelican out there.” I grabbed the binoculars and confirmed it. Then another two landed near the first. Then another, then two more, then another, then three. Soon at least two dozen bobbed just offshore, fishing where a stream flowed out of the hills and into the salt water. The Oregon coast mixes ocean, rock, forest, and marine life perfectly. New Toy 27 November A bit of Christmas arrived early. Gay Ellen’s mom and step-dad gave us a Garmin GPS, a generous and thoughtful gift for their roving daughter and son-in-law. Getting from city to city is not a problem, but navigating in strange cities and negotiating multiple freeway interchanges can be a problem. The Garmin will be most helpful. Gay Ellen drove around Eugene yesterday while I rode shotgun and played with the GPS. “Drive three tenths mile and turn left at Norkenzie Road.” On the screen, a car icon moved along named roads on a map, our speed and the posted speed limit were displayed, as well as our compass direction of travel. Need gas? Ask it to find gas stations near you, and a list pops up, ordered from nearest to more distant. Hungry? Ask for restaurants by “All Foods” or by Italian, TexMex, Chinese, etc.. Choose one and it will plot the route and begin speaking directions while onscreen the way is highlighted on the map. This is a useful tool as well as a cool tech-toy. In Eugene 7 December "That's so Eugene," Gay Ellen commented, pointing out a cyclist in a bike lane. He wore eye popping tie-dyed tights, a neon-green jacket, aero-helmet and carried two small panniers on his bike. A serious commuter. After being here for nearly two weeks I see that she is spot on with her observation. After living decades in Fairbanks, it is refreshing to see bike lanes on so many streets, to see extensive public parks that are well maintained - things in short supply up north. There are flowers yet in bloom, trees that haven't dropped their autumn leaves. Farmer's markets are still selling fresh produce. There are Democrats - I'm not kidding. The city recycles household waste. There are cafes with menus that don't list meat. Gray beards and ponytails stalk the grocery stores, streets, parks and libraries. There are a number of brewpubs. Eugene is a different world, almost alien to someone so used to Fairbanks. Let It Snow 13 December Wet and fitful snow fell as I emerged from the Cruiser this morning. A light skiff lay on the bushes and grass. Before long, it had stopped snowing and the skiff had melted. For a week the TV weather forecasters have been describing the snow and cold that is coming down on the good citizens of Eugene. They use maps of various formats to illustrate how the jetstream will slip down from the North and pull frigid air masses from Alaska and Canada. Moisture from the Pacific gets stirred in at a few points, likely conjuring snow from barely an inch in lower elevations and up to 4 feet up in the Cascades. They call for a few days of temps in the upper teens (above 0) at night - coldest in years according to them. The local news has had interviews with road maintenance captains and power company chiefs that want to assure the public that they are geared up for whatever the weather throws at the innocents of Eugene. It has interested me to see the stir this foretold weather has caused. I remember the same thing from my years in Richmond, Virginia. It probably gets snow about as often as here. Like here, it’s usually gone within a few days, but the fact of it and the anticipation cause quite a ruckus. Two winters in NW Montana and then 26 in Alaska have desensitized me to mention of snow and cold. I remember being excited about the prospect of snow, even through my first years in the North. The possibility of having a day off from school always caused me to wake up early and peer out the window, hoping to see the world transformed. It remains to be seen if the promised weather arrives. My feet or a bus can carry me anywhere I may want to go. Let it snow. Lucky Us 16 December After a week of anticipation on the part of local weather forecasters, snow fell in Eugene Sunday night. Stepping out of the Cruiser Monday morning I found the scene little different from a December morning in Fairbanks. Two inches of white obscured the details of yards, shrubs and vehicles. The light was muted with a cloud and dawn a few days shy of the solstice. Quiet that comes with snow draped across the neighborhood. Inside the house, the TV showed scenes of an 8 car pile up, a jack-knifed tractor-trailer rig blocking an onramp to the freeway, literally dozens of cars in the ditch or spinning helplessly, snowplows at work. The news lady told of the many school and business closing. They finally gave up trying to verbally list them and ran a scrolling list at the bottom of the screen. The weatherman came on every few minutes to tell that it had snowed and the roads were icy. He also predicted that the sky would clear and the temperature plummet in the coming hours. It did. Eugene is experiencing its coldest spell in at least 10 years. Lucky me . . . Gay Ellen and her mother flew to Minnesota Sunday due to the death of Gay Ellen's aunt. In addition to all that goes with such an affair, the temperature was below zero when they stepped off the plane. In a phone call Monday night, Gay Ellen told me that it was exactly as if she was in Alaska. Lucky her . . . Escaping Eugene 21 December Beneath a gray but uncertain sky we pulled out of Eugene on Amtrak's Coast Starlight, bound north to Seattle where we would meet Kali. Leaving the snow covered city seemed like an escape, Florida on our minds. During the relaxed and comfortable train ride there was time to consider how different the deep South would be from the last week in the NW. As dusk fell, the snow was gone from the landscape. In the miles of darkness that followed, the ground whitened again. Arriving at Tacoma, we found the air downright cold. The wind blew. It took a long time to get a cab to the hotel. The hour was late and the food options limited. We ended up taking another cab ride to Denny's where we ate a huge breakfast at midnight. Back at the hotel, we fell into bed, exhausted. At the airport waiting for Kali's flight, snow began to fall. After collecting Kali, moving to a different hotel, walking to a nearby restaurant for dinner, returning to the hotel it is still snowing - hard. There is a good chance of a delayed flight in the morning. The shuttle leaves here at 6:00 - if the driver shows up. The joke in all this is that we're not in Fairbanks to escape snow and cold. We're not doing too well on that just now. Lucky 25 December At 6 AM on the day we were to leave Seattle, we piled into a shuttle van with a couple from Vancouver and a driver that didn't look as if she wanted to be where she was, and even less wanted to be driving. The roads were dark, covered with snow and ice. It soon became clear that the driver was inexperienced. She explained that she had never driven in snow, having only moved to Seattle a few months ago from southern California. This revelation did little to inspire certainty in reaching the airport on time. Eventually we did arrive unscathed and in the same vehicle that we started in. As we got out of the van, it began to snow again. More uncertainty followed. First there was the longest line we have ever stood in, waiting to check baggage. Once past security we made it to the seating area at the appropriate gate not long before boarding time. As the light came up, we watched the snow fall and swirl in the wind. A voice from the PA system told us that we would be boarding once the plane had been de-iced. An hour later, we were told the same thing. A few moments later, a different voice came on to announce a long list of Alaska Air cancelations. We held our collective breath, and the assembled would-be passengers cheered when our flight was not named. Another hour passed, and the tale of waiting for the de-icing was repeated. A longer list of cancelations was read and again our flight was not named. More cheers. Four hours late, we took off, again to cheering. When the plane touched down in Orlando, cheering erupted again. A Part of Florida 29 December On Monday we arrived as welcomed guests at my my parents' home in Zephyrhills, Florida. We sighed relief at finding ourselves in a place with no hint of snow or ice. Daytime temps have ranged in the 70's - low 80's. It pleases me to wear short pants again. My folks turned on the air conditioner yesterday. We've been using the outdoor pool. This is not the part of Florida with cigar boats and yachts, $1000 per night hotel rooms or hip nightclubs, not the part where Ernest Hemingway fished, wrote, closed down bars. This is not where college kids converge in Spring. This is not where property insurance is unavailable. You can't find mouse ears or Tinkerbell t-shirts here. No water slides tower above the trees. This is not a part of Florida that is widely known to the rest of America. The people here like it that way. This is Central Florida, more than an hour long drive from the Gulf Coast, two from the Atlantic. There are live oaks hung with Spanish moss. If you want to fall one, you must first obtain a permit. Scores of palm varieties abound. There are alligators around, but mostly no one bothers them and they only occasionally eat a toy poodle or snatch a careless blue heron from the air. The most visible birds are egrets and ibises. In late December there are roadsides stands where you can buy oranges, cucumbers, avocados, tomatoes, onions, strawberries. At some, you put the money in a can, as no one is minding the stand. Beef cattle graze dead-level pastures. Phosphate is mined here and shipped by train across America. Thrift shops and antiques shops are easy to find. The restaurants are not upscale, but the food is good. You can find muumuus but not skinny jeans. You can buy a golf cart that looks like a golf cart or a dune buggy or a sports car and ride it around your neighborhood. This is a town whose population in July is around 10,000. In January, it balloons to 100,000. The snowbirds stream here from summer homes in places like Maine, Quebec, Wisconsin, Iowa, Pennsylvania. People without gray hair standout in public places. These migrants live for a handful of months in developments with names like Arbor Oaks Retirement Community, Forest Lake Estates, Palm Tree Mobile Home Park, Spanish Trails Senior Village. Some people simply park their fifth-wheel trailers or large motorhomes on rented or owned lots and live in them, others have invested in "park models" and have often added rooms, carports and sheds. There are strict rules that prevent anything but the neatest and cleanest appearances. At first glance, you do not suspect that you are looking at mobile homes. Zephyrhills is not for everyone, but it is a fine place to spend the heart of winter. Bring your appetite for fresh fruit and bright flowers, and bring your swim suit. Homosassa 2 January Want to stand close to a 12 foot alligator? Want to get a close look at two of the remaining whooping cranes? Want to see the creature that inspired sailors long-at-sea to bring tales of mermaids back to port? These and much more can be found at Florida's Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park. On Sunday we piled into the car and drove the hour or so this the park. Originally a private animal preserve with many exotic animals, it is now operated by the state park system (twice voted the best in America) and contains only native Florida animals with one exception - Lucifer, the hippo. He was grandfathered in when the state legislature made it illegal to hold exotic animals in public facilities. He's old and grumpy, and no one else wanted him, so they let him stay. The stars of the park are the manatees. These close relatives of elephants come up the short Homosassa River to stay warm during the colder months. The river begins in the park, rising from a large spring that produces millions of gallons of earth-warm water every hour. There is a large viewing platform built above the spring, where visitors can watch the manatees and fish, or walk downstairs to the underwater observatory for a better view. I've never seen so many species of animals so close before. It was a splendid day spent seeing and learning in the company of family. N 28°8′55″ W 82°45′29″ 3 Jan 09 Sponges are no longer at the heart of Tarpon Springs, but the history of sponging gives life to this small town north of Tampa - St. Petersburg. The last outing we had with my parents was to this town with the highest percentage of Greek-Americans of any city in the USA. Perfect weather, great food, a tour boat ride, and family made the day memorable for us. The Greeks came to dive for sponges that once seemed inexhaustible. In the late 1940's a red tide destroyed most of the sponges in this area of the Gulf. Many spongers began fishing and shrimping, others switched over to tourism, converting sponge related businesses to restaurants, museums, and tourist shops. Life went on for the Greeks and for Tarpon Springs. For me, the highlight of the day was the hour and a half boat ride down the river to the Gulf and back. We passed a few sponge boats that are beginning to work again, a few shrimp boats, pleasure boats both sail and power, beautiful waterfront homes, an osprey on a nest high in a snag. Mullet were coming into the river and were jumping along the shore. A dolphin was fishing and our boat stopped so we could take a closer look. By the time we were turning around, I was wishing there was more of the trip. Never-neverland 5 January As our jet screams northwest, Orlando sprawls across a large chunk of Central Florida now fifteen hundred miles behind and six miles below us. Never-neverland would be a good name for it. It is built entirely from wishes to be somewhere other than where you live and to do things outside of ordinary experience. The people with whom we streamed along well maintained freeways, waited with in lines, rode trolleys and monorails with, hoteled with had swapped insulated boots, parkas, hats and gloves for short pants, tee shirts, sun dresses, sandals and sun visors. People were happy. Why not? It was 80 degrees. A few days ago, while people waited for the new version of the ball to drop in Times Square, Kali, Gay Ellen and I were sipping hot chocolate, waiting for the moment and attendant fireworks to arrive in Never-neverland. It did. The sky above Universal Studios theme park lit up to the approval of thousands there for the event. It would be hard to imagine anyone being disappointed at the display. We had spent the day wandering around the park, finding pleasure in most of what we chose to see and do. We each agreed that Krustyland was the most fascinating and fun "ride" we took. It's a new attraction at Universal, based on the Simpsons TV show. We thought it to be a roller coaster ride, but it wasn't, and yet, it was very much so. You'll have to go and find out what that means. Brutal Travel 7 January The morning after Kali was swept off her feet by a dashing and shirtless pirate, we began a period of brutal travel. It is only now, 3 days later, coming to welcome end. I think we are whole, have all our gear, our butts are losing the numbness, and our joints are operating freely again. The wake-up call came from the hotel desk at 5:00 AM. Five and a half hours of flying delivered us to SeaTac. There followed about 10 hours of waiting for Kali's mom to meet us. Snow began to fall with the waning daylight, and lines began forming at airline service desks. Snow accumulated, flights were canceled. In the end, Kali's mom's flight did arrive, and our 2 short weeks with Kali came to an end. Somehow our flight managed to take off past midnight, only an hour late. Four and a half hours later, aided by a 200+ mph tailwind, we touched down in Atlanta. After quick march to the farthest gate from the one at which we landed, we boarded a flight to San Jose, Costa Rica where we landed after another four hours. The hostel where we were to spend the night had sent a van for us and after a half hour drive we arrived at the hostel, fried, even scorched. Before rest, we got directions to the bus station, walked there and bought our tickets to David, Panama for the the next morning. On the way back to the hostel, we ate a very large, cheap dinner at an open air cafe. Back at the hostel, we fell into bed at 5:00 PM, stones dead to the world. The next day's wake-up call came at 6:00 AM. After a very pleasant breakfast in the courtyard of the hostel, we taxied our gear to the bus station and rolled out of the yard at 7:30. The road was bumpy, winding and mountainous which was mitigated by the verdant, often spectacular scenery. There was a stop mid-day, when again we had good food for cheap, then more bus ride. At the Panama border, everyone was hustled off the bus with their bags. There was shuffling between exit and entry windows, papers to fill out, passports stamped and re-stamped and after an hour, we were on the way again. An hour and a half later we rolled into David. We immediately dragged our gear along and found the bus to Boquete. That was another hour of travel. Darkness fell along the way. Once in Boquete, we tried several hostels before finding a night's lodging. Dinner at the Bistro Boquete, and then to bed and sleep by 8:00 PM - again, stones dead to the world. Today, we move to the hostel where we have a reservation for two weeks. It will be fine to be at rest after so much motion. Duel in Boquete 09 January The day began early and with sobering gravity. Before the last of the stars faded from the sky, before the street vendors offered coffee or fresh fruit, before the landscape showed its face, a duel played out next door to our hostel two blocks off the main street in Boquete. Each contestant was certain his machismo was superior; both were dressed in flamboyant colors. Each stood to face the other, a small cluster of family standing by, offering quiet support to their champion. The first volley rang through the neighborhood, waking nearly everyone, including Gay Ellen and me. From a few meters away, the opponent fired his return salvo. Everyone held his breath to see if a winner was standing. Both still stood. Ten seconds later he fired off another round. It was returned. Back and forth it went, neither able to take down the other. Several hours later, at the hostel breakfast table, someone suggested rooster hunting as sport, as food gathering, as insurance of a decent night's sleep. Coffee Time 9 January I didn't know as much about coffee as I thought I knew. This realization settled on me yesterday afternoon as I walked around a hillside above Boquete. Learning new things has always been a great pleasure to me, and this was no exception. Gay Ellen and I took a guided tour of Kotowa Estate, a farm that has produced and processed the winning brew at the world's most elite coffee competition for the last 4 years. We looked at different species and subspecies of coffee trees, learned how micro climates, soils, elevation, and sun/shade variations effect the finished cup. We learned how and how not to pick the beans. A rain shower chased us into the processing building where we followed the beans through all seven trillion steps to the final packaging. At the end of the tour, there was a "cupping." Our guide prepared coffee from the same batch of beans: light, medium and dark roasted. We compared the flavor qualities and body of each. I (and most everyone else) was stunned to find that the light roast has far more flavors than the dark roast. There is no body to it, though, and doesn't taste much like what most Americans would call coffee. Taste buds were busy trying to identify the 15 or so distinct flavors that experts recognize in a single cup. In the medium roast (cooked 30 seconds longer), more than half of the flavors are lost to the heat, but the cup now has body. The dark roast (cooked 30 seconds longer than medium roast) has only one primary flavor remaining, referred to as dark chocolate. The body is heavy, which so many serious American coffee drinkers prefer. Now I have a good deal mare to consider when buying and drinking coffee. There was so much information offered that I couldn't process it all. I intend to go back and take the tour again. Until then, I will keep enjoying the best coffee in the world: grown and processed on a hillside above Boquete. Point A to Point A 12 January When you get on a local bus, your intention is usually to go from Point A to Point B, say, from downtown to the university, or from your home to the grocery store. Over the last few days, Gay Ellen and I have used the local buses and taxis in Boquete differently. They, like public transportation in most developed places other than the Kingdom of Petrofuels, are cheap and run frequently to anywhere you would want to go in a given area. We have found that this is a way to get a cheap tour of the area. We ride from Point A to Point A. The buses are mostly small vans with extra seats. They each have marked places around the town square where you find them. With our scant Spanish, we ask the cost of riding the full circuit, then pile in with other riders. They are usually full, especially just now as the International Festival of Flowers and Coffee is happening in town. Under a brilliant tropical sky, Saturday's ride was an out-and-back due to the washout of a bridge last November. Now the former circuit is serviced by two buses, one taking the route above the river crossing, the other the lower portion. It took about an hour to ride to the crossing and back. The bus carried us up, down, and around the steep, volcanic slopes on a narrow road. Expansive vistas alternating with dense forests. There were coffee plantations, fields of beets, potatoes, and tomatoes. We passed houses both large and elegant, and small and graceless, most somewhere in between. Point A to Point A is a good way to see a place. Day at the Fair 17 January Perhaps the Feria de las Flores y el Cafe is the biggest event of the year in Boquete, but this year it almost didn't happen. November's heavier than normal rain flooded the Rio Caldera and it washed away five houses, undercut the foundation of a new hotel, killed one person, and carried away the flower gardens and more from the town's fairground. With the feria to begin in January, the people of Bouquete rallied, contributing money, materials, equipment, time and energy. Though not as splendid as shown in photos from years past, the gardens live again and the feria opened 8 January as scheduled. It runs through the Sunday, the 18th. Yesterday, Gay Ellen and I made our second visit. At $1.25 per ticket, even we could afford it. To reach the feria, we walked across the bridge over the Rio Caldera. The fairground spreads upstream along the opposite side. New beds are built and flowers blooming. People are strolling among them, children being posed, with varying success, for photos in front of striking colors. You can also see the remains of a couple of the houses destroyed by the flood. Across the bridge, the road leading past the gate is lined with the tents of vendors - foods, sunglasses, clothing new and old, leather goods, even a couple of games of chance. The entrance gate leads into a hall filled with more vendors and their wares. These are more upscale, more sophisticated crafts, jewelry, etc. Many of these goods are handmade. Beyond the first pavilion, we wandered around the flower beds, Gay Ellen naming almost every species. We passed smaller, permanent booths selling goods or foods. It was the middle of the day when we arrived, the crowds not there yet. The wind blew down the river, keeping us comfortable. Bright art was displayed in halls. We bought a child's Ngobe dress, a mola, a ball cap, a woven wool shoulder bag. The rides were still, the operators likely asleep after the late night. At the far end, several discotheques were standing quiet in the afternoon sun. More people arrived as the day progressed, more stands opened. The noise level grew. The last thing we did before leaving was eat. In America, fair food tends be extravagantly sweet or salty, very fattening, and foods that most people wouldn't bother to fix at home. Most of the foods at the feria were regular Panamanian dishes with the addition of hamburgers and perros calientes (hot dogs). Most booths had identical menus. We had roasted chicken, some noodles, a pineapple smoothie and a Panamanian beer. We couldn't find a crepe, gingerbread, or a steamed artichoke anywhere. Still, it was cheap and tasty. One aspect of the Festival of Flowers and Coffee was disappointing: the coffee. Only 2 or 3 local coffee producers had booths, and you could buy a cup or a bag of beans, but there was no mention or sight of the high-end varietals, no cuppings (tastings), no informative displays or presentations. I would have thought that a grower who produced a batch of gesha varietal coffee that fetched $131.00 / pound on the international market last year would want to make more of it. Maybe it's a secret they want to keep . . . Though we left by 4:00, the fair lasted much longer for us. Starting about 8:00, the discotheques cranked up, the mega amps and speakers blasting dance music across the Rio Caldera, up through town, and down the valley. A good bit of it spilled into our room. The volume varied erratically as the wind swirled, gusted, changed directions. I suspect there are few in town over the age of 40 who will be sorry when the night quiet returns to Boquete well before 3:00 AM. Moved 20 January Hostel Refugio del Rio was lovely, but too pricy, so we started looking around for a more modest, longer-term place to stay. By Sunday, just before siesta time, we had found one, had moved in. This is also a hostel, though the rooms seem to be mostly private, the occupants planning on staying longer than a few days. We're hoping for two months. No fruit in the yard here, but lots of flowers. The large living room is glass across the "Home" in Boquete south and east walls. To the south we look down the valley. To the east are steep, forested mountains. We can walk anywhere in town in ten minutes or less. Lest you get the wrong idea, it's not a perfect place: the cooking stove is puny and slightly dangerous, the hot water is uncertain at best and shared with the other guests, and there is no in-house wi-fi. To access the internet, we must go to one of several internet cafes. Still, it's a nice house and the price is right - cheap! It's somewhat funky nature matches our own. A Chance 20 January Along with a group of expats and vacationers, Gay Ellen and I sat today in a Boquete restaurant and watched Barack Obama sworn in as President of the United States, saw him give his inaugural address displayed on the large, high-definition screen usually reserved for sporting events. The watchers ate lunch and sipped our drinks in silence, focused on the screen and the words we were hearing. When he finished, boisterous cheers and applause erupted across the room. There were hopeful smiles all around. We cheered and applauded again as George Bush left the proceedings in the helicopter, Texas bound. The new president said many things, but the two that grabbed me most, made me feel as if there is a chance for America, were these: a) We reject the notion that we must choose between security and our ideals. b) America is the friend of every nation. Over the last eight years, in the name of security, America has abandoned its ideals, compromised its integrity, and made enemies of once friendly countries. It has become something like the rich-but-senile uncle to other nations. There is a chance that President Obama can, with the help of the people who elected him, turn this around, can make America a country in which we can again be proud to live. Evening Entertainment 22 January Yesterday, thick mist driven by gusty wind prompted a day of low energy activity. We cooked, read, napped, read, cooked, napped . By late afternoon we were ready for something different. A local restaurant was showing the first half of a movie, the second promised next week. We walked into town for dinner and the show. The mist had stopped, the wind nudged us from behind. We arrived in time to get good seats and order dinner before the show started. Stacy Keech played the lead in "Hemingway." It was very much like watching a movie at the Blue Loon in Fairbanks, only there was no heater, the waitresses spoke Spanish, and the beer cost $1 per bottle instead of $4. Sitting next to us was a fellow who had been a DJ for a Chicago radio station when Hemingway died. He recalled announcing the news during his show that day. We enjoyed the first half of the film and look forward to seeing the conclusion next week. After the show, in the face of an uphill walk into wind and mist that had resumed, we took a taxi back to the house. Sitting on the covered porch were several people staying at the hostel. We sat and joined them. People hailed from places like New York, Germany, and Holland. There were stories of abandoned ocelots, little-known islands off the Panamanian coast, retired Greek-American restaurateurs at play in Greece, and of living at minus 40ª. We talked and laughed well into the night. Sleep came easily. A Cloudy Day 25 January It wasn't a situation of Life or Death, Health or Infirmity, nor even Good or Evil, but, we spent a big part of yesterday under dense clouds of anxiety. Cumulonimbus, altostratus, cirrus are clouds we can happily enough live with. Anxiety clouds we can do happily enough without. A travel wallet turned up missing in the late morning. What's in a travel wallet? This one held a passport, a driver's license, credit cards, and some cash. The anxiety clouds quickly gathered. Careful consideration led us back to a fork in the universe. It had been left at a grocery store the previous evening, or it had been left in the cab we took from the store to the house. We walked to the grocery store and found that it had not been left there. Clouds darken a shade. We turned up the other fork, the cab. There were two other people in the cab when we got out. We had not noted the number of the cab, weren't even sure if it was an independent driver. The clouds darken as we walked to the police station to see if it had possibly been turned in there. It had not. "Come back Monday morning at 8:00," we were told. We were also admonished to note the number of the cabs in which we rode. Got it. From the police station, we walked to an internet cafe to see if the credit cards had been put to use buying cruise vacations, high-def, big screen TV's or the like. If we reported the cards lost, it would automatically cancel all of our auto-pays for regular bills back home, not to mention make getting cash here a nightmare. The clouds were darkest at this point. Checking each card's account in turn, we saw that there was a cell phone payment pending on one, and other than that, no activity. The clouds lightened a shade. While we sat deciding how much time to allow the wallet to turn up, the clouds suddenly evaporated, the sun beamed, cherubs flew about scat singing "Take Five." A woman staying at our hostel was at the cafe and received a call from her husband back at the house. The cab driver had brought the wallet back after remembering where he dropped us; passport, credit cards, license and cash were all in place. We had been told by several people who live here that it was unlikely this would turn out badly, that people in Boquete were very honest. We now hold the same belief. Expat Meeting 29 January On Tuesday mornings, 30 to 40 expatriates or long-term visitors gather at Boquete's Hotel Fundadores for a weekly meeting. The meetings serve several purposes, though the main one seems to be social networking. You can see Canadians, Dutch, Americans, Germans and others. There is a program with a speaker, followed by announcements, questions and then socializing. We have attended three of these and found value in each. The programs are on topics like immigration law, plumbing and other building concerns, cultural sensitivity, real estate law and the like. Last week the topic was exercise and I admit that I spent the better part of the program resting my eyes. Gay Ellen said it was interesting. The announcements for the week vary. This week, a Super Bowl Party organized by the Rotary Club was being held, with betting pools, and other non-football games of chance should the game turn out to be less than interesting. A new knitting group (stitch and b______?). Someone showed up and announced that he was slaughtering calves and would take orders for half an animal (you butcher it). There were several takers. A new pet bordering business was starting up, so you could leave Fluffy if you didn't want to take him when you went to Panama City or Brussels. They always ask if anyone heading back to the US during the week would be willing to carry letters and drop them in a US Mail box, the Panamanian mail service being less than ideal. For me, the best thing about them is that a British lady has a used book sale before and after the meetings, and the books are cheap. Both Gay Ellen and I have found a number of titles to carry away. Most of them are $1 - $2 for hard backs. Noam Chomsky, Annie Dillard, Annie Proulx, Loren Eisley are a few authors we've found. With no TV, there's time for reading, even for Gay Ellen! Trip to the Big City 30 January A shopping trip to David, Panama's 3rd largest city, and the provincial capital, seemed in order. Thursday, after a breakfast of fresh pineapple (piña) and coffee (café) we walked to the town park and climbed aboard one of the yellow school buses fitted with heavy duty tires. They leave every hour or so for the 26 mile trip to David. It was a pleasant ride, gradually descending from near 4000 feet above sea level here to about 400 feet asl at David. The trip took a little more than an hour, and the cost was about $1.70 / person. The bus terminal in David is big, with large and small buses coming from all around Panama as well as from Costa Rica. Like Europe and much of Asia, public transportation is important, well developed, and cheap. Maybe Americans will catch on one day. The terminal was lined with small kiosks selling about anything you can name from food to handmade saddles. 25ç to use the toilet, women are handed a small roll of paper when they pay. The terminal was a busy place. We grabbed a cab and tried with our still-lame Spanish to say we wanted to go to a shoe store to buy sneakers. About one block away from the station, we pulled up in front of a shop displaying Nike, Puma, New Balance and Rebok shoes. We felt pretty silly. We both bought good shoes for about half the cost in the US. After the shoe store, we went to Rey's, a large, national supermarket chain store. Inside, we found it to be little different from any big supermarket in the US, complete with florist, deli, a bank branch office, and the like. In Boquete, the municipal market has great produce, but the two small grocery stores have a very limited selection of other goods, so Gay Ellen particularly enjoyed the shopping. Her big find was Earl Gray tea, mine was a selection of European beers, a welcome change from the light cervezas that are the Panamanian national brews. That was more than enough for one day, and we headed back to the bus terminal, and then back to Boquete. Our cupboard is full and we now know where to find the sweet stuff. It was a good day. Morning Stroll 2 February After it had tried for a few hours, I finally let the rooster next door urge me out of bed this morning. Within a few minutes I set off for a walk up a small road, heading into the hills above town. My watch read 7:10. It began with almost laughable steepness, an angle to make Summit Drive's 7 or 8% grade seem suitable for wheelchair racing. After a couple hundred meters, it laid back to just an uphill walk. At that point, the houses of town fell behind, were replaced by tall pines that lined both sides of the road. Beyond the pines, coffee plantations spread out. The pines provided shade for both me and the ripening coffee. I began meeting Ngobe (the indigenous people of the region) men and women carrying baskets or buckets filled with newly picked coffee berries. They were walking them to an area where they are spread to dry in the intense, mountain sunlight. Neither Juan Valdez nor his donkey weren't to be seen anywhere about. After a mile or so, I stopped seeing the pickers, and it was just me, the pines, the coffee, and the other steep, volcanic hills beyond the ridge my road followed. I walked through alternating shade and sunlight, long views and close. Bird song was loud, varied, and constant. In a place with so many species, competition to be heard and recognized must be strong. Insects added their part. Wind in the tops of the pines added a final touch to the aural landscape. After an hour and a half of uphill walking, I turned around and began the walk down to the house, to brewed coffee, and breakfast. I wondered what the Ngobe had eaten for breakfast. Something Different 7 February The Caribbean side of Central America has been hammered by storm this week. Days came with wind howling around the clock, great whipping bolts of rain, sheets of corrugated roofing flying through the air, watching birds fly backward, loss of electrical power. It is a good time to see some other areas of Panama, namely parts that are on the Pacific side of the divide, the side not effected by the Caribbean weather system. We are spending two nights in David at the Hotel Iris, located by the Parque Cevantes. Today we visited the farmer's market, where you can buy anything from bundles of semi-dry tobacco leaves to hand-tooled leather belts, from produce to vials of jasmine oil. In the afternoon we saw "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" at a cineplex. We both liked the film and were surprised to see that it was based on short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Next we plan to take the bus to the beach, maybe Playa de Las Lajas or Boca Brava. Assuming things work out well, we are likely to stay there a couple of nights and then head back to Boquete. We hope that the storm will have dwindled and that power will be restored. Short Stay at Boca Brava 12 February We picked a bad time to visit Boca Brava. The weather was sunny and hot with a breeze that kept the heat manageable. The food was excellent, prices reasonable. The island was gorgeous with two attractive beaches. There were virtually no bugs. The problems were two: a bed and a knee. Boca Brava is one of about a hundred small, forested islands in the Gulf of Chiriqui, most uninhabited, many part of a national marine sanctuary. To get there, go by road from David to Boca Chica, then take the $2 water taxi a few hundred meters across quiet water. There is only one restaurant / hotel, Frank's Place. Frank is a German national who married a Panamanian and built the complex on one end of the island. There are several buildings including a few private cabañas, and a few buildings with open, dorm-style rooms. The restaurant was large, covered but open, and looked out over the water to other islands. The food we had was delicious. We weren't the only people seeking refuge from the Caribbean storm, and the place was over full. Our "room" turned out to be a very old, spent mattress on the concrete floor in a room with another such mattress. In the room next to us six hammocks hung in place, each spoken for. Gay Ellen's back could only stand one night of that. We were number 5 on the waiting list for a room with a real bed - not good enough. The two beaches were out of reach for Gay Ellen because of a knee problem. It is painful to watch her walk even short distances. She had this a year or so ago, and it eventually went away - I hope it won't last too much longer. The bad knee and the bad bed made our Boca Brava stay shorter than we had hoped. We both would like to go back under different circumstances. Training Needed 13 February Like smokers puzzled that others may not share their enthusiasm for burning tobacco, some pet owners go about unaware that zealous indulgence and affectionate appreciation are not universal responses to their furred, feathered, or finned darlings. Such is the case with a couple here at the hostel. The object of their adoration is a small, white, poodle-ish dog sporting an expensive coiffure and a ridiculous mustache. The dog has not been well trained. She jumps up on people. She grabs at pant legs. She mouths feet. Her bark is loud and shrill with an unpleasant pitch common to small dogs. Sometimes her bark is prompted by her owners who think it cute. One of the owners recently wondered out loud why they could not teach her to chew her bone only when on her rug. I am no animal behaviorist, but that sort of thing sounds like a topic covered in Dog Training 101. The problem is not the dog; it is the lack of training. I woke from my siesta yesterday to find our laptop´s power adapter cord chewed through in two places. The owners immediately assumed responsibility for its prompt replacement. Since this an Apple product, and since we are in Panama, this is going to be expensive and complicated. I hope this episode will inspire interest in better training for the dog. If not the Wonder of Creation that the owners see, others should at least see an unobtrusive and well mannered pooch. Everyone would be happier. Valentine's Day 16 February Valentine´s Day did not go unnoticed in Boquete. A clothing store on the main street had a window display with red hearts, cupids and a feminine mannequin wearing pink and black pajamas, decidedly more conservative than a window at a Victoria´s Secret store in the USA. Nearly all the restaurants advertised some sort of special fare and festivity to mark the day. Gay Ellen and I attended a dinner and dance party. The food, the people and the music helped to make it a memorable night for us. Oh, the fact that it was under an open pavilion with flowers blooming all around was different than our last nine Valentine´s Day celebrations, too. The best dancer was a gentleman around sixty years of age. His body and the passionate Latin music seemed a single entity. The women were lined up to dance with him. At some point a small boy, about four or five, bounded onto the dance floor and for twenty continuous minutes pulsed and moved, oblivious to all the world but the complex rhythms and compelling horns. After watching these two for a time, it seemed the little boy was a temporal-mirror image of the mature dancer. Fifty years hence the boy would be the man with whom all the women would want to dance. We had two surprises during the evening. The first was that we won the door prize, a very nice box set of two Chilean wines. I cannot recall winning anything before. Our other surprise was that when we were ready to leave, there were no cabs available. A man in his seventies offered to leave the party early and give us a ride home. We found out that he was raised in Boquere, moved to California at age 32 without being able to speak a word of English, and after retiring, he and his wife had moved back to Boquete. “There is no better place to retire,” he said. He may be right. Zanzibar 21 February At the North edge of Boquete, close to our hostel, is Zanzibar, a jazz bar. We´ve passed it many times, but until last night had never been inside. A flyer announced live music to benefit The 3rd Annual Boquete Jazz Festival. After dinner, four of us walked over and went inside. It was the nicest bar we´ve seen in Boquete. The decor was Malaysian. Though the pieces were very unique, they worked well together. The people were mostly young Panamanians and middle age gringos. We were the seniors in the crowd. A quartet played fusion from the late 70´s and newer jazz pieces. The standouts were the sax player and the lead guitarist. They did an excellent version of Chic Corea´s Romantic Warrior, including crowd pleasing improve solos for each of the musicians. There was drawing for 3 Boquete Jazz Festival tee shirts. Gay Ellen won the first, and one of our friends won the third. That´s our second door prize for us this week. The shirt is a good souvenir to carry away from Boquete. Both we and the band wound down about quarter to midnight. We wandered back to the hostel after a night of good music and lively company. Catching Up 8 March For one lame excuse or another I haven't posted anything lately. There is no particular theme or topic here, just a few notes on what's been happening here in the Chiriqui Highlands of western Panama. We took a tour of the Ruiz coffee operation, one that is quite different than the Kotowa operation we toured in January. Ruiz is a much larger operation, one that sells most of its coffee "green," meaning that the beans have been processed, but unroasted. It goes to specialty roasters in Europe and the the USA. They are gearing up to produce the varietal called geesha. They have over ten thousand starts now that will take five or six years before they produce coffee berries. Unroasted Panama geesha brought $184 / pound last year. The ten thousand starts represent a significant capital investment. We learned the harvested berries are placed in water and ones that float are skimmed off, and handled differently than the non-floaters. A berry will float if a bug, fungus, or disease has hollowed out air space inside. Guess who buys these cheap, inferior beans - companies like Folgers and Nescafe, called "Floaters" and "No Es Cafe" by our guide. The past three Wednesdays we have gone to Amigos restaurant for movie night. The three Godfather movies packed the place each Wednesday. Gay Ellen had never seen any of them. She closed her eyes when something bad was about to happen. She was willing to put up with that for the sake of the social enterprise. I met a retired printer from upstate NY while out hiking one day. We ended up hiking buddies for the next three weeks until he left to return to the snowy Adirondack. We walked early in the day, before the heat and our respective spouses rose. Gay Ellen and I walked up a ridge road one day and stopped to look at a house that was for sale. Before we made it back down to the house, we were drenched by a steady rain. The months we've been here, the dry season, have been unusually wet according to the local people. Just one more place where the weather is out of whack this year. I will point out that even though we were wet, it was not cold. That's novel for me. Looking out the window one morning, I saw a man starting to fight another man on the sidewalk near the house. Punches and kicks were flying in both directions. They were working their way uphill and soon were out of sight. Soon, the one who seemed to be the primary aggressor came back into view, now back-stepping, and looking uphill. Next came a 70 year old woman wielding a big stick and shouting at the man. Behind here came the second man. She pursued the man until he finally turned and walked away downhill, looking back over his shoulder to check on her whereabouts. We later learned that the aggressor attacked the other man simply because the second was gay. Prejudice is an international malady. After restraining myself as long as possible, I finally insisted that the poodlish dog at the hostel, the one that chewed the power adapter cord to our laptop, not be allowed on the furniture. This brought a sudden hissy fit from the owners who yelled about "imposing your values on our dog," asked if I had been drinking, questioned my character and resorted to name calling. Part of what made this response notable is the fact that the couple is actively working to set up a new-age "healing center" where they will help paying clients find their centers and then purge the physical and emotional toxins from mind and body. In the end, the dog was not allowed on the furniture, and a week later they left. No one misses them. Yesterday, 23 days after we lost the use of the laptop, the replacement adapter arrived and we are once again working with our own computer. To access the internet, it has been necessary to go to "internet cafes" which in Boquete are not cafes, but rather large or small rooms with multiple networked computers. It costs 75¢ or $1 for an hour of time, extra to print anything. Don't take your computer for granted. Our airline tickets to leave Panama are dated for nine days from today. How can that be? It seems like we just arrived. We may stay longer. I can't think of a single unarguable reason to leave so soon. Let's see . . . snow and ice or fresh pineapple and blooming orchids? Hmmm . . . Looking at Land 9 March The notion of buying property in Boquete, with or without a house, is attractive. The views, the climate, the friendly locals, the fruits, flowers, vegetables, and more recommend this as a place to live, at least part of the year. Prices range from several million dollars down to $50K or so. Close to Boquete prices are grossly inflated. Farther out, things are more reasonable. We looked at a house just up the ridge from town. Coffee and forest dominate the neighborhood, with just a few houses nearby. We saw two bedrooms, living / dining area, one bath, kitchen, covered porch across the entire back of the house looking out onto volcan Baru and its forests, a carport, nice yard with orange trees, a few coffee trees, and many flowers. There were no appliances. When next able to get online, Gay Ellen found some more information. The house had been vacant for several years. The lot size was 2.1 acres (less than half cleared). The price is $350,000. The owner is dreaming, delusional to a degree that would disturb his psychiatrist. In contrast, we looked at a different house that was roughly the same size with a lot of 1/3 acre. This had one bedroom, one bath, living / dining area house with a covered porch, brand new range, oven, office, laundry room with new washer and drier, new light fixtures, new paint, new plumbing. The yard had both mature and growing trees, including orange and a mango tree that was heavy with fruit. Orchids and many other flowers were in bloom. The owner is asking $89,000 for this house, a good value. Another place we looked was in Potrerillas Arriba, maybe 30 minutes away from Boquete. This was just land. The lots had water and power, the ground well drained. The property was surrounded by sugar cane and orange grooves. Cattle were grazing there. The area is decidedly undeveloped, with only Panamanians living in the area. Prices are more as they were in Boquete before it was "discovered" and listed as one of the top 4 places in the world for retirement. An acre and a half, with a stream and volcan Baru view were selling for $50,000. Building a small house would cost about $30K or $40K. There is a 20 year property tax exemption for new construction in Panama, so that makes this alternative even more appealing. We hope to return next winter, rent a house or apartment for our stay, and look more closely at properties. With the economy around the world in such a turmoil, things could be drastically different a year from now. Appalling News 10 March For several weeks we have known that we needed to change our airline tickets, allowing us to stay among the flowers and the coffee for another few weeks. When Gay Ellen went to tend to that yesterday morning, we were appalled to find that to push back our departure was going to cost about $250 for each ticket. The exorbitant cost, we decided, means that we will head North as originally scheduled. This is disappointing. We will leave Boquete late Friday, riding one of the school busses to David. We'll spend 2 nights there and buy the tickets for the bus traveling the long road from David to San Jose, Costa Rica on Sunday. Monday morning we fly from San Jose to LAX. The plan is to ride the train north to Eugene and the Cruiser. We're just not ready for this, but then, I guess we'll get ready, won't we? Just Before Leaving 13 March On our last full day in the Boquete area we took a drive with Wayne and Carol. They picked us up at the hostel and we first drove to Potrerillos Arriba where they have several lots for sale. There was no mistaking the fact that it is a lovely spot and that the pricing is reasonable. If we had the money, we would buy one of the lots. That notion is similar to "If we had the money, we would drive a Mercedes sedan," or "If we had the money, we would own a chalet at Snowbird or Aspen." From Potrerillos, we drove to Concepcion where we briefly met with a fellow who works for Wayne. It looked to me as if there were only four gringos in town, and they all came in our vehicle. We bought coconut and pineapple shave ices from a vendor at the central park. The cold, sweet treats were pleasant in that lowland heat of Concepcion. With the cool temperatures in Boquete, we forget that most of Panama is hot. Leaving there, we headed back into the highlands but on the west side of Volcan Baru. The land there is gorgeous, more of it devoted to farming than on the east (Boquete) side. The largest town on that side is Volcan, an agriculture support center. Higher up we came to Cerro Punta, and finally Guadalupe. The area looked for all the world like a tropical Switzerland. Steep volcanic hillsides with areas under terraced cultivation, a flat, narrow valley floor also under cultivation. Most of the produce consumed in Panama is grown in that area. We lunched at the restaurant Los Quetzales. Back home, I walked down and bought some coffee to take back North, we did laundry, and then visited with other hostelers, including a couple newly arrived from Australia. Another fellow is from Canada, but has been living the past seven years on Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean. He thinks it cold here, wears a jacket and neck scarf while Gay Ellen and I wear short pants and tee shirts. The conversation ranged from Alaskan blueberries, to Australian wildfires, to scuba diving and well beyond. The group was animated and the talk stimulating. It was our last night here; I'm glad it was an enjoyable one. Moving Again 17 March The day-long bus ride from David to San Jose held little excitement because neither of us wanted to leave Panama. On top of that, we left one of our small bags in a cab in David and didn't discover this until unloading from the bus at the Costa Rican border. After deciding life would continue without it, we carried on, did the crossing, got on a larger, more comfortable bus for the longest part of the trip. It seemed all river valleys, small farms and steep, jungled mountains. We arrived at Hostel 1110 in San Jose in time to walk to a restaurant for dinner. We found well dressed gentlemen with acoustic guitars and folk songs serenading the diners. The next day, in the bright tropical sunlight, we watched a theatre company performing a version of The Wizard of Oz. That night we saw a brilliant modern dance performance. Later we dined at an Argentine restaurant where I ate the best steak I've ever eaten. Yesterday we climbed into a cab at 5:45 AM for the trip to the airport where we paid $52 "Departure Tax" in order to leave Costa Rica. The flight took us to Atlanta where a US customs agent at one station forgot to stamp our passports. At the next station we were pulled from the cue and waited 45 minutes for them to discover that no, we hadn't tried to sneak past the first station, but rather that one of them made a mistake. Our flight to LA was delayed because of bad weather. At about 10:00 PM we arrived at our hotel in Los Angeles. The prevalence of English was notable, though a cook at a local Irish restaurant shown on TV news talked in a thick Spanish accent about preparing cabbage and corned beef. With the free shuttle to the beaches and the heated pool, we decided to stay here one more night before boarding the train running north. California to Oregon 19 March We spent most of Saint Patrick's Day strolling along Venice Beach in warm, bright sunlight. Aside from the many shops with curios and objects illegal in most states, we watched a man wearing only a G-string standing on top of a tall stepladder playing with rubber snakes that at first seemed real. We watched a man pull passersby into his one-man dance show where it was obvious that white boys can't dance. We passed up our chance to buy medical marijuana at a "clinic" being hawked along the boardwalk when the police were out of sight. The warm weather had all the buff guys bare-chested and many of the girls in bikinis, so different from the conservative society in Boquete Yesterday morning we left Southern California aboard an Amtrak's Coast Starlight, rolling north. Mile after mile of city sprawl turned into mile after mile of the Pacific coastline. The train made a brief stop at Paso Robles, where we had spent a very pleasant afternoon last November. The leaves were at the height of autumn colors that day; yesterday there were blossoms on some trees and new green showing on others. Next came endless fields of produce in the central valley. When darkness fell, we were still rolling through America's kitchen garden. Sleep was fitful at best, but still better tan aboard a plane. Waking this morning and looking out the black window, rags of snow began to appear, followed by the shapes of conifers and rocks. This was far northern California and we soon crossed into Oregon. A Few hours later, the snow outside the train window looks about 2 feet deep. We knew we were leaving Boquete too soon. I guess we left Southern California too soon, as well. A Feather in Eugene's Hat 23 March Saturday night we danced to Argentine tango music at Eugene's Tango Center. We happened to notice the milonga (tango dance) advertised in the newspaper and decided to go. It was one of the most enjoyable nights of our trip. Four years or more have passed since we danced tango together. Both of us have missed it. We happily went early for the lesson held before the milonga. Maybe 20 people attended that. It was a great refresher, the teacher offered skilled instruction and by the end, we had regained enough confidence and were ready to dance. The DJ played a well organized selection of classic tango music. At milongas, there is a tanda, a set of four songs with similar characteristics, followed by a cortina, a brief snippet of music not related to tango. The cortinas provide a chance to change partners, leave the dance floor without running into someone. We danced two of the four songs in each tanda. When not dancing, we enjoyed watching the other couples and their interpretations of the music. With 80 others in attendance, it was obvious that tango is alive and well in the Willamette Valley. That's one more feather in Eugene's hat, as far as I'm concerned. If We Have To, I Guess 1 April - Castle Rock, WA "I am a man, But I can change, If I have to, I guess." The Man's Prayer - Red Green Renter issues have necessitated our return to Fairbanks sooner than we had hoped. Looking at the image captured by the webcam mounted on the News-Miner building, we can see that there is yet snow, yet ice covering the Golden Heart City. This brings to mind the prayer that begins most meetings of the Possum Lodge Brotherhood. Forsythia, john-quills, daffodils, Japanese plum, tulips, crocus, and other blossoms grace Eugene, and we are sorry to leave them. Still, the idea of being in Fairbanks for the return of the geese appeals to us. We left with the last of the geese; it is fitting we should return as they begin their return. Meeting Family 3 April 09 Seattle WA In the Emerald City, Gay Ellen and I met our granddaughter Wednesday afternoon. With the help of our GPS unit, we found Alycia Gabrielle Griffin and her mom, Anita, in the Infant Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at Children's Hospital. Recovering from heart surgery, Alycia is beautiful in the way that babies are. She was connected to Star Trek-looking monitors and machinery by a tangle of tubes and wires, but is recovering quickly. We took it as a good sign that when nurses opened her blanket to fiddle with connections, Alycia voiced loud, indignant protest. Yesterday, during our visit, it was decided that Alycia no longer needed the level of support provided by the ICU. We helped move her and some of her electro-mechanica to a regular room. This was a big relief for all the adults in her life, especially Anita. She and Alycia have been there since late January, The move is a sign that they are heading toward the day when they will be able to return to Fairbanks. We'll be there when they arrive. We're hoping the snow will not. Ferry Ride 7 April Haines AK In the past few days we have traveled up the Inside Passage and watched the seasons turn back, watched the snow reach farther and farther down the mountains. Late Friday afternoon in Bellingham, Washington, we drove the Cruiser onboard the Alaska Marine Highway's MV Malaspina, and drove it off the ship 38 hours later in Haines, Alaska. By Haines, the snow had reached the sea. Some of the world's most spectacular scenery lies along the coastline of Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska. We watched it spool by from the Malaspina's deck, from the observation lounges, or from our starboard side cabin's window. The weather was mixed. Brilliant sky above azure water and the green conifers running up to the snowy alpine tundra made the world at times, spectoral, topless ridges coalesced and dissolved, seeming to float in some vast and watery diorama at other times. The people taking the ferry to places like Ketchikan, Wrangell, Juneau, Haines or Skagway all seemed to be Alaskans on this trip; the tourists haven't yet appeared. One way to tell was that no one shouted "Oh, my gosh! A bald eagle!" We saw a humpback whale, many dolphins, scores of bald eagles. We talked to several people who had been away for the winter and were returning. Some had been south to buy a new truck or boat and were taking it back north. A pack of home-schooled kids roamed the ship and never bothered us, but the purser had issues with them and a couple of times used the PA system to remind parents that children were never to be unattended. A pickup truck with a blade on the front was plowing snow out of the ferry terminal's parking lot when we docked at Haines. It is not the welcome back to Alaska we had hoped for. Almost Home 9 April A drive from Haines, Alaska to Fairbanks is no trivial jaunt. The two communities are separated by six hundred and forty-six miles of lonesome road, a pass that rises above tree line, nearly six degrees of latitude, over twelve degrees of longitude, and a foreign country. We reached Tok last night, and hope to roll into Fairbanks later today. On Tuesday we left Haines in the early afternoon and followed the Chilkat River upstream, passing a pair of swans in an open area of water. The higher we went, the deeper the snow lay on the ground. Leaving the river, we crossed into Canada's Yukon Territory, and continued to climb into the pass. I couldn't help recalling bicycling through this area in 1985 over gravel road that was under construction, the cold, howling headwind, and the yet-to-green-up tundra of early June. The heater in the Cruiser whirred quietly as we rolled comfortably through the snowscape over recently paved road. We stopped for the night at Haines Junction, a sad looking settlement draped in the dirty snow and slop of early breakup. Wednesday's start was earlier and allowed us to reach Tok before stopping for the night. The road from Haines Junction to the Alaskan border tossed and heaved with hard winters and breakups, making travel slow, tedious, jarring. The landscapes, particularly around Kluane National Park, were stunning and thus softened the brutality of the driving. Once in Alaska, the quality of the road improved and we were able to relax. Three caribou sauntered onto the highway, giving us a good look. When we arrived in Tok, we were more than ready to climb out of the Cruiser and be still. We plan to finish the drive to Fairbanks today, though an early start isn't in the making. Streaming KUAC radio broadcast as I write reports the temperature of 20ºF in the Golden Heart City this morning and predict a high of 48ºF later today. Sounds good to me. Back in Fairbanks 11 April Fairbanks Seven months after leaving Fairbanks for the winter, we rolled into our driveway on Glacier Avenue about 3:00 PM Wednesday. Snow is maybe a foot deep in the yard, there are scattered bare spots, puddles along streets. The sound of dripping and the scent of wet earth and pavement are pervasive. Familiar sensations. Across the front page of yesterday's Daily News-Miner spread a large photograph of the season's first two geese at Creamer's Field. Apparently they arrived Wednesday afternoon. Though early, the four of us are back in the North, soon to be followed by more birds, more people. I don't know about the geese, but it would have been OK with me if we had waited a bit longer, at least until the ground was bare. Wednesday happened to be Aaron Heath's 27th birthday. Whirling dervish of a woman that she is, Gay Ellen managed to put together a birthday dinner for him. We hosted six for the event. The group made short work of a big Copper River salmon from our freezer, a pile of fresh strawberries, cream, and shortcake baked by the dervish only a few hours after climbing out of the Cruiser. Spring here is busy, and our first evening back proved a reminder. Epilogue 13 April After nearly three decades of winters in Alaska, Gay Ellen and I managed to spend one of the coldest on record elsewhere. We consider ourselves fortunate to have been able to do this. Looking out windows, we saw flowers rather than frost patterns. Going for a walk we dressed in shorts, tee- shirts, and sandals rather than over-pants, parkas, insulated boots. We visited places familiar to us as well as new ones. We spent time with many fine, generous and interesting people who helped make our time away from Fairbanks enjoyable and memorable. They ranged from family to old friends, from fellow travelers to just people we happened upon. Spending time with just the two of us was one of the best parts of the trip. We know more about each other and about us than we knew back in September. I am pleased to report that most of that new knowledge is positive. Running Away was created to keep family and friends apprised of our doings and whereabouts. I hope it has served that purpose adequately. It also provided Gay Ellen and me with a somewhat formal and selective journal of our travels, one that contains nearly 17,000 words. I believe that in years hence it will be fun to pull it from a box and review. This is the last post to the blog. It will remain up awhile and then will be taken down – there's enough clutter on the web already.