Thursday, September 22, 2016

Mountain to Ocean, Peak to Bay, Skiing to Swimming

22 September 2016

“Whereas the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveler belonging no more to one place than to the next, moves slowly over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another. Indeed, he would have found it difficult to tell, among the many places he had lived, precisely where it was he had felt most at home.”

― Paul Bowles, The Sheltering

I found this quotation on a travel website, and really liked it. Sort of describes our life at the moment.
We travel, we hang out, we live wherever we are. People ask, don’t you have a base? Our reply is that we have a storage unit.

For the moment, Bellingham is
home. Where we are for now. Our time here is lingering longer than we had hoped. Doctors are baffled over Richard’s hitchhikers, who have been around so long, they’ve become trespassers. Other doctors keep finding new things to check out for me, despite the fact that everything has been normal thus far. Such is aging, or something like that.

Of course, life isn’t all doctor visits. We waited until we had a clear sunny day
and headed up to Mount Baker, hiked around and admired the views.  The scenery is so incredibly beautiful, it almost looks like a movie set in all directions.  As if it isn't real.  It's too perfect and beautiful and scenic to be real. 

Okay, really, we went up to the Mt Baker ski area, where people take the ski lift to ski on Mt Shuksan. Makes perfect sense, right?

In the photos, the rocky pointed mountain is Mt Shuksan.  The snowy white dome that looks like ice cream, hiding behind the clouds, is Mt Baker.  Some days Baker is visible, but this day the peak was hiding.  Scenic and beautiful, but hiding.

Mt Baker is a sort of active volcano. Not active enough to
threaten the neighboring towns at the base. Not active enough to rumble, or leak lava, or shoot out anything more than the occasional puff of steam. But that little puff of steam keeps it alive and not asleep or dead. According to what I’ve read online, Mt Baker isn’t the kind of volcano that erupts violently. Something about the geologic evidence shows that, at least in the last 14,000 years, it hasn’t had an explosive eruption.
Baker is the baby volcano of the Baker volcanic field, being only about 80,000 to 140,000 years old. (The volcanic activity here has been going on for 1.5 million years, for comparison.)

The Native American name for Mt Baker is
Koma Kulshan, meaning “white sentinel with a puncture wound” – the puncture wound being most likely the crater, although during the warmer months some of the rocks show through the glacier and that could be it too. The name Baker came from the British sailor Joseph Baker, third lieutenant on the ship of explorer George Vancouver; Joe B saw Baker on 1792, and Vancouver renamed the mountain and recorded it in his journal, which was later published. Thus the name Baker became official.

Mt Baker is 10,781 feet high (3,286 meters), making it the third tallest mountain in Washington state. After Rainier, Baker is the second-most glaciated volcano in the Cascade range.

Baker is pretty much in Bellingham’s back yard. People here grow up skiing on Baker (or Shuksan). We know it’s a clear day when we can see Baker in the distance.

And then there’s the Ski to Sea event. This is a 93.5 mile (150 km) long team relay race with seven legs, each one being a different sport. The race begins at the ski area where we were today, at 7:30 AM. (The “racing pistol” is a blast of dynamite.) The first leg is 4 miles of cross-country skiing; next is 2.5 miles of downhill skiing (although snowboarding has recently been accepted as an alternative). Then a 2.5 miles downhill run, where participants lose about 2,200 feet in elevation. The fourth leg is a 42 mile road bike race, followed by a two-person canoe trip of 18.5 miles on the Nooksack River. (There are the occasional log jams or submerged trees along the way.) The sixth relay is cyclocross biking on 20-plus miles of trails, fields, and “some street sections thrown in,” according to the Ski to Sea website. Finally, the last leg is sea kayaking 5 miles across Bellingham Bay to the finish line.

So each team needs eight team members. And then there’s a huge party, with all the exhausted team participants and their supporters.

The entire race takes about six to eight hours for the typical team. Not a race for the faint of heart. Nor the couch potato.

But the Ski to Sea is a huge deal around here, with something like 300-350 teams competing. Spectators line the route, cheering on friends, acquaintances, or just cheering because it’s a pretty exciting event. I’ve had friends in Seattle come up to compete, it’s that big a deal. 

Local business sometimes put together a team to compete in the Ski to Sea (no swimming though).  Our favorite breakfast spot, the Bagelry, placed in the Ski to Sea race for something like ten years in a row, starting by coming in third place and working their way up to first place for several years.  

And no, we've never participated.  Richard and I aren't fans of snow, or cold water, or even racing.  We haven't been in Bellingham for the event, which happens over the Memorial Day weekend.  But, maybe next year.  

Since I need this knee replacement surgery, we'll schedule it and come back in time for whatever prep stuff.  We're thinking June.  But maybe we should get back to Bellingham for the Ski to Sea.  It sounds like a blog-worthy event, right?

The gorgeous dahlias are from the Bagelry.  The guy who started this bakery/café also grows beautiful dahlias.  Even though he sold the business and is now retired, he still brings in his dahlias to decorate the place.  (Best bagels in the state!)

That's about it for the excitement here.  There are always more photos than the narrative, so enjoy the views!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Catching Up on Everything

7 September 2016

I can't believe how quickly August sped by.  Of course, part of the month was spent celebrating my birthday, which probably was the highlight.  Though we started the birthday celebrations in New Jersey, they continued through much of August.

We spent the month in Washington state, and we're still here in September.  We've been visiting family both here in Bellingham and in the center of the state in Yakima.  And friends from forever ago, mostly in Seattle.  Plus taking Dad's hat around to familiar places, like our favorite bagel place.  The hat was thrilled to see the bagels again.  And have a visit to the beach that should have been named Maury Schwartz Beach, but won't be.  (We may just go with a memorial bench once the beach is cleaned up.)

It seems that when one sees doctors only once a year for the annual check up, more things show up.  Like, oh, me needing knee replacement surgery.  Of course, this seems to be a popular surgery amongst the Baby Boomer crowd, so my doctor isn't available until late November.  Richard and I are agreed that we don't want to spend the winter in Bellingham while I recuperate and do physical therapy.  And my knee can't get much worse than it is.  So our new plan is that I'll wait until March, call for a June surgery date, and we'll take it from there.

The doctors in Bellingham are having a good time trying to identify Richard's hitchhikers.  Who probably are trespassers by now, and most likely tenth generation or so.  These little guys seem to be quite tricky and out of the ordinary, so the doctors are all playing detective and trying to figure out what (or who) the mysterious hitchhikers are.  And how best to kill them.

Between good times with the medical profession, we managed to drive out to Yakima to visit my brother and his family, pick up and go through a year of mail, and collect some fresh clothes from our storage unit.  We're not sure where we'll head in November, but we're hoping it's somewhere warm.

We also had a great weekend in Seattle.  It turned out to be the 25th anniversary of Hempfest, a big pro-marijuana festival.  We wandered through the site, which sits along the waterfront just north of downtown Seattle, so the views were gorgeous on such a sunny day.  Most interesting were the blown glass accoutrements, which made an interesting still life arrangement.

Just to the south of the Hempfest is the Seattle Art Museum's Olympic Sculpture Park, so I walked on down there.  Interesting modern sculpture by artists such as Alexander Calder, Mark di Suvero, Richard Serra, Louise Nevelson.  Okay, so that probably means something only to my artist and art educator friends.  But it was interesting to walk along and see all these sculptures, and try to guess what they were named, or what they represented, or what the artist may have been trying to portray or say.  Especially with the Space Needle in the distance.  And the Olympic Mountains in the opposite direction, across Puget Sound.

This part of the country also has wonderful murals painted on various walls.  The first mural is in Bellingham, next to the art museum.  The next several murals are from Seattle, on the wall of a veterinarian clinic.  (How perfect is that???  I love it!)

And, of course, a wonderful manhole cover from downtown Seattle.  

We've had some excitement with hotels, because, well, we manage to make excitement.  The hotel we stayed at last year is now under new management, and they couldn't book us for a month at a time.  So we stayed here for a bit, then went to Yakima, and came back to Bellingham to stay at another hotel.  Went to Seattle and wanted to leave our large luggage, since we'd only be gone five days.

Well, Bellingham is close to the border with Canada.  There have been some incidents with Homeland Security, or various criminals trying to cross the border and getting apprehended in Bellingham.  Hotels now do not have luggage storage rooms available to guests who were at the hotel and would be returning shortly.  Nor could we find a place with storage lockers.

But we really didn't want to schlep everything to Seattle for five days.

Our hotel came up with the idea of keeping our large bags in their courtesy shuttle van, parked right in their lot.  Which actually worked out quite well, but is also a really funny solution.

And then there was the morning when Richard was calling some medical place to make an appointment.  Suddenly there was knocking at the door and people yelling "Are you okay in there?"  We rushed over and opened the door, and the manager and assistant manager were right there, looking panicky!  We're fine, we replied, is there a problem?  Turns out that Richard accidentally dialed 911 (which is the emergency number is the US, for our non-US-based readers).  Yup, dialing 9 to get an outside line and somehow dialing a call that wouldn't go through actually called the emergency services number, and the ambulance was on the road!  The manager called the desk and told them to call the real 911 and cancel the call.  There was no emergency.  Just, telephone dialing problems.

We're glad they were so understanding!

Our original hotel was able to book us for the month of September, which was a more economic way to get a hotel.  So we went over and paid for a month and a day.  We arrived, and were informed that the hotel had been sold.  That the closing was almost complete.  And that we could only stay for two weeks, not a month.  With assurances that we'd be reimbursed half the monies paid.  

Of course, being a person who enjoys math, alarms went off in my head.  We paid for 31 days but would only stay for 14 days, and would be refunded an amount representing 15 days?  No, that doesn't work.  So I ran the numbers, wrote a letter, ran it by my legal advisor (husband), and then went over the situation with the lady who is currently taking care of the hotel.  We have a bit of a language issue, as she's from Korea and doesn't always understand what we're saying.  But we now have been refunded the pro-rated amount so that we're only paying for the 14 days we're staying.  And we'll move on to our backup hotel for the remainder of our time in Bellingham.

We're not sure how long we'll be here, it depends on the test results and Richard's recuperation from several upcoming medical procedures.  I've finished almost all of mine and am good for another year (or ten, depending on the test).  

Where to next is our big question.  Definitely somewhere warm.  Autumn has arrived very early this year - August was getting chilly, and early September is turning out to be downright cold and wet.  Hot drinks, lots of layers, and rain jackets.  We're prepared.

I also met up with friends in the town of La Conner.  This is one of western Washington's scenic and historic seaside towns, full of old Victorian buildings and artsy shops and cafés.  The town goes back to the 1860s, but the current population is about 900 residents (from the 2010 census).  The town is home to author Tom Robbins, and there are a number of artists as well as local politicians who come from this area.  

La Conner is built on the Swinomish Channel, which is partly natural and partly dredged.  It connects two bays, and separates Fidalgo Island from the mainland.   We saw a seal swimming around in the channel, in addition to all the sea birds flying around or diving in the water for a meal.

I visited the butterfly garden while waiting for my friends, and found beautiful flowers as well as large butterflies painted on the pavement.  The garden is on a hill with great views overlooking the channel.  The bridge across to Fidalgo is a locally famous landmark, a familiar orange arch of a bridge.  

And, well, quirkiness.  Bellingham is just quirky.  So is La Conner.  And probably many of the towns in this part of the world.  I'm not sure which came first:  Are people here quirky because the area is inherently quirky?  Or is the area quirky because so many quirky people migrate here?

There's no way to tell.

But, well, quirky.  Yes, these are photos of a life-size plastic cow in a supermarket.  I'm not sure why.

I first encountered the cow in the meat section.  Which seems rather reasonable, in a very macabre and sadistic sort of way.

But then, on my next visit to the same supermarket, there was the cow with a calf, in a corner by the magazines.  Again, no idea why.

It seemed appropriate to take photos of the cow and calf.  And I tried fashioning a bandage for the calf, who seems to have a wounded leg.  The store employees laughed at my bandage for the plastic calf.

Yeah, I fit right in.

So, I'll end with the sculpture at the Bellingham bus station.  Some people might recognize the style of this sculpture, which moves and rotates and revolves with the wind.  Yes, this was designed and built by Anthony Howe, the artist who created the huge sculpture featured at the Olympic Games this summer in Rio.  The large moving sculpture that was located behind the Olympic flame, swirling and whirling and multiplying the light of the flame.

Howe is a somewhat local artist, located on Orcas Island, in Puget Sound and not far from here.  

This piece is titled "Axiom Dyno Trilobyte."  No idea why, or even what that means.  There are spiraling curves with scoops, like graduated sized bowls attached, on the inner part of the sculpture.  The exterior is a series of curves, creating sort of a globe enclosing the spirals.  The whole thing is attached to a semi-circle that holds the globe, and allows both the inner spirals and the exterior globe to swirl and spin with the breeze in an ever-changing dance.

So, enjoy the sculpture.  And a few more photos of La Conner, the butterflies, and just the general scenery of northwest Washington state.