How to Become a Grouper

I am not a fish. And by the size of one, I don’t think I’d want to be. However, this story begins because of a couple of fish that belong to me. They are not groupers. They are wind-catchers.

The story of my fish, Rhonda and Wanda, began long ago in Bodega Bay, California. George and I happened to be camping along the bay in a spot managed by a man with several fish, beautiful ones, that floated upon the whims of the winds in the harbor. Each was a colorful and sturdy fabric fish designed to be realistic in nature after their particular variety. They hung suspended from an almost invisible wire brace that allowed them to turn and twist in the wind. They were all about the same size and height once erected. The amazing thing about his school of fish was, like all schools of fish, that they followed the pattern of the wind together as real fish follow the turbulence of a tide or current. As one fish would turn so then would the others in perfect harmony, always facing their adversary not with challenge but with grace and stamina. Why am I spending so much time explaining in detail a school fish in a campground? There are several reasons, but for starters, the simple fascination that I developed for this group of fish from afar in the campground where we were situated had me mesmerized from the first time I had ever seen them. And wouldn’t you know it? As we drove into town to pick up groceries for dinner there was a shop that was selling these swimming aquarians in front. That was a definite reason to put on the brakes and take a look-see! Thank God George was good natured about my captivation with these wind acclimated characters because he ended up buying two of them for me (you can’t have a school of fish with just one fish, right?)! I’d say I was then happy as a clam but that would be corny and yet another story.

These fish do lend cadence to many adventures that have followed as we always fly our fin-feathered friends every time we go camping outside our fifth wheel. Our latest experience was in Jalama Beach, California, when Rhonda and Wanda unexpectedly brought a rapping at our door one evening. We opened our door and there stood a friendly couple who we later learned were Stephanie and Max. They wanted to know where they could catch their own wallowing wonders of the sea. I told them our story but ended somewhat quickly with the advice to go online and they would find them there. I loved that they found them as charismatic as I did years ago. We bid goodnight to them and had to chuckle at the thought of meeting strangers at our door because of our sweet fish.

The followingt day we took our dog Karma for an off-leash walk on the beach. There we met Erik and his partner Richard with cute little black and white-something-dogs in tow. We spoke with them about the king tide that was occurring and possibly preventing us from reaching the point, and if it didn’t, it might prevent us from returning for about three hours! We were expecting my friend Sharon to arrive for a few days in the late morning and we needed to get back to our camp.

The next day, Sharon needed to call her husband on a payphone in the beach park (no wifi/phone service in this remote park) just to let him know she had arrived safely. As soon as she connected with him, I walked away to give her privacy, but who should walk up and sit next to her? Erik! He was curious about how to use this odd contraption called a payphone. Unbeknownst to me, Erik and Sharon had a great discussion about all sorts of things!

Finally, Sharon and I took a walk on the beach with Karma and George. After, by the time we arrived at the top of the cliffs where we were camped (huffing and puffing) we ran into Erik. I started to introduce Sharon, but it was obvious they knew each other already. Enter Stephanie and Max on their way down to the sea. And then Richard caught up with us with the black and white somethings! The five of us started up a conversation that led to international mistrust of chocolate ingredients world-wide (we all agreed there’s paraffin in that stuff) because Max was English and knew a good chocolate when he ate one! From there we reminisced about our favorite childhood cookies and the Hydrox/Oreo discrimination dilemma until Stephanie ended it all with “Do you remember those funny looking snowball puffy-looking things? I used to eat both at once!”

Well. That did it. We each returned to our temporary residences to sniff out any kind of disgusting sugar-laden treat we could put our hands on.

The next day carried with it a beautiful afternoon “on the deck” of the cliffs outside our rig. Who should arrive but Stephanie with a Trader Joe’s chocolate bar for us to share, saying she and Max carry these particular bars on all their trips “for health issues” (72% cocoa). It wasn’t long before we had each divulged our personal histories and favorite authors, countries of origin and toys that cost us more than we needed to spend but we sure had fun with them!

Yet again, that evening Sharon suggested I relinquish one of two bags of God’s answer to all complaints, Ge-dunk, a concoction of popcorn, nuts and everything wonderful that she makes and shares with just about anybody she takes a liking to. Grudgingly, I acquiesced, knowing it alone would cement our friendship with Stephanie and Max forever. We went to Stephanie’s rig and knocked on their door this time. She handed the Ge-Dunk to her as I warned Stephanie of its ability to become addictive and possibly a reason she and Max might divorce if she didn’t share it accordingly.

Almost as predicted, Stephanie arrived at our door in the morn with a chocolate bar just for Sharon’s pleasure, thanking her for an addiction she couldn’t avoid and was stuck for life with. Again we were off and running with books we had read and wanted to share but couldn’t because that would spoil the reading of them. It turned out Stephanie and Max live in the next community to us and were very familiar with the town in which Sharon and I had grown up.

Did I mention there were several reasons I spoke of Wanda and Rhonda? There surely are, but the only thought left mentioning is that they bring to mind that there are schools of fish… and then there are schools of thought… which Stephanie, Max, Erik, Richard, George, Sharon and I definitely covered in three days of dogma (fishma?) with so much ado about … well, just about everything.

Return to Duty (with Kindness)

Diane Kopylow October, 2015

George and I love the ocean as much as we love the mountains, the desert, and the surrounding beaches marking our separation in existence. For this reason, we frequent all of those places as much as possible. Our favorite beach is one called Jalama, perhaps you have read about it before in several of my posts.

This particular trip to Jalama was unusual in that it wasn’t so much the kindness from others that impressed us. It actually was the kindness that George gave to another this time. I am learning kindness can be a very universal concept given the opportunity to rear its beautiful head.

Sunset was beginning sweep us into evening. George decided he would take our dog, Toby, for one last walk around the RV Park before total darkness would make it a more challenging event. I was getting ready to start dinner, sipping wine to the play of the waves. We were on the highest tier of the campground, so from our window I had a beautiful view of the water, beach and other campers lighting their campfires, preparing their dinners and enjoying each other.

Much later, George was gone for an unusual amount of time for a simple dog walk. I looked out our window to see if Toby had gotten involved playing with another dog on the beach. Nope! I looked far away at the campground store, thinking George may have stuck up yet another fishing conversation with its owner. Nope! My eyes trailed along the blacktopped roads leading to others’ campsites. No luck, at least the ones I could see. Often the big RV rigs have one if not several awnings unfurled which makes spying on our neighbors no longer an option.

Another hour passed. I am beginning to get seriously concerned. Just about the time I decided to go out and hunt them down, I saw George and Toby walking up the road to the top tier.

“You’re not going to believe what just happened, ” George began as he stepped into our rig.

Questioning, I responded, “You were gone for such a long time…”

He sat down and began:

“I was walking on the second tier and I noticed an older man lying lifeless beside his rig. Several older people had gathered around him but no one was doing anything to help. It appeared they all were waiting for someone else to step forward.

FYI: Insert. George is a retired firefighter.

“I walked over to the man . I knelt down and felt to see if I could feel a pulse or hear him breathing. I asked if any of them knew how to do CPR. They all just shook their heads. I told them I needed someone first of all to take care of my dog. Then I went to work on the gentleman. While I was administering CPR, I told one neighbor to go and inform the park rangers we had an emergency, probable heart attack, and to call for an ambulance immediately. More people were beginning to gather, concerned or worse, curious. A few minutes later, the ranger arrived and began to help me. He informed me a helicopter had been ordered, but for some reason it had gotten cancelled. The fire department from the closest town (twenty miles on a winding road) was on its way. Finally, they arrived and took him away (back on a winding road).”

“Was there a wife?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I was too busy to notice.”

You would have thought I would notice an emergency vehicle escort itself into the park with my slightly less than eagle eyes and harboring curiosity, but I did not. Perhaps it was meant to be that way. George was gone a long time… I may have panicked seeing that.

The next morning we checked with the ranger to hear if they had heard any news about the gentleman. They had not.

To this day, we often wonder if the old guy had made it, if his wife was left alone to try to take care of their rig. It was a lesson for us to ponder and probably every other retired couple at the park that evening.

I was proud of my husband that day, for stepping up, doing the responsible thing, taking charge.

We hope his kindness was the life-giving kind.

Touching the Hand of God

Jalama Beach, CA May 14, 1914

Funny the wonderful people you meet in the next site when you’re camping. Enter one Mr. and Mrs. Art Thompson of Encinitas, CA, and their kite, the Vesta-Lee. This is the story of no ordinary kite, nor is it that of her story.

George and I struck up a conversation with Art and Linda (as campers often do!) and asked how they happened to choose Jalama Beach as their destination. They looked at each other, took a deep breath, and slowly opened the back of their SUV. There lay what looked like the makings for a hand-made kite, replete with colorful tail and sturdy string. But in fact, it wasn’t just the makings. It was, in exacting detail, a perfectly made, authentic, hand-made kite in complete construction. We looked at the kite, and then back to them.

“What? How?… but most importantly, WHY?’

And here their story began: “My wife and I are plumbers in the area where we live. We’ve had a client for over thirty-five years named Vesta-Lee. When her husband died long ago, I became out of friendship her handyman, as she, being alone and elderly, occasionally needed upkeep about her home. Sadly, she began to develop alzheimer’s. Close to her passing, she happened to draw a picture of a kite on a paper napkin when I asked her what she loved to do when she was younger. ” Apparently, she loved to fly kites.

“Linda and I kept that drawing, hoping to build her one and have the opportunity to take her flying in a really good kite-flying area when it was completed.”

For those of you who have been to Jalama Beach, you are probably well aware of the ever-persistent winds that faithfully occur there solely, I am sure, for the wind-surfers’ delight. Art and Linda came to Lompoc (the closest town to Jalama Beach) to find the materials and remnants for her tail in a thrift store to build the now Vesta-Lee , dubbed so in her honor, AND then fly her at the seemingly world’s best windy spot! They used the local paper from Encinitas where she lived for the “fabric” in honor of her long-time residence.

“Unfortunately, we locked our keys in their car while we were in the thrift store. But you know what?” added Art, “When the thrift store owner heard why we were in his store, he locked up his store and took us all the way back to Jalama to get the other set of keys and bring us back to our car!”

This was no easy jaunt. From Lompoc to Jalama it’s about a twenty mile drive in and the same to return. The thrift store man must have become as enchanted with this story of Vesta-Lee as her survivors, Art and Linda! He must have wanted badly for them to complete their mission and not let the Vesta-Lee be deterred for any reason.

The pictures above are taken by yours truly. They show Art flying the Vesta-Lee on her maiden flight amongst the brave windsurfers at Jalama Beach in Memoriam to this special lady… created solely from her drawing. RIP dear Vesta-Lee; you have been remembered with honor, respect and a love uncommonly given by an uncommon group of people for an uncommon reason. With their help, perhaps their effort took you a little closer to the loving hand of God on your journey to the beyond.

Symbiotic Supplication

Not all adventures happen in 5th wheels.  Not all kindness comes from people. Some of it happens in other more curious ways and places.

George and I love to sail.  We are fortunate enough to have the equipment for it. Introducing: The Silhouette. She is a 38 foot Catalina sloop, old, circa 1981, but still afloat with finesse.  With tanbark (reddish) sails.  And they really do look red in the sunset.

We try often to sail the 26 miles across the sea from where we keep the Silhouette in Alamitos Bay in Long Beach, CA.  Sailing can at times present new and unpredictable outcomes.  In fact, most of the time you might add that sailing is predictably unpredictable more than not.  Perhaps that’s why so many people enjoy sailing.  This is the story of one such occurrence.  Like most, it has happened only once on our sea journeys, and it was about fifteen years ago.

We left port about ten AM with our Australian shepherd, Oscar, for Catalina Island off California’s shore. We had made this crossing many times, and we knew it would take us five hours to arrive at Avalon, the main town on this small island.  We had learned enough about sailing  to know our ship reasonably well, and no matter how you trimmed your sails, no matter what the weather promised to be, it would take us FIVE HOURS to get to Avalon for one reason or another.  As it turned out, we arrived on time (5 hours later), were able to procure a “can” (a small floating buoy attached to the bay floor for securing a boat to), and enjoy four days of island time in peace and color.

So here’s the thing about sailing: there are surprises. Sure enough, on day five we were awoken as we slept down below by our own bodies bouncing off each other because of the unusual pitching of the hull. We looked at each other questioningly…

“What the heck is going on? Have we broken loose for some reason?”

I ventured up to the steps leading out to the cockpit.  Peeking out, I was immediately introduced to a very strong wind against my face as I looked eastward toward the mainland. My hair was swept backward as if I was flying.  And then I knew.  The beautiful wind that had brought us so gracefully to the protection of Avalon four days previously had now turned into what we in Orange County call the Santa Ana Winds… a seasonal wind that can either be hot or cold that blows into the area through the canyon from the East, usually in full force. I turned my head to look westward at the seawall that protects Avalon from conditions like this and to my chagrin, a surfer rode his board across our port (left) side on a wave that had no intention of being defied. I watched as the surfer peeled out before the wave hit the wall and ricocheted upward, making a ten foot spray across the town plaza in the process.  Normally, surfers stick to the coasts to surf. This was a vey well protected bay… but now with surf!

” Umm, George? I think we’re looking at a Santa Ana.”

We listened to the weather report on the radio and the winds were predicted to continue at least until the following day if not longer.  Hmmm. What to do? We decided to take our dinghy to the dock and seek advice from the Harbor Master. This entailed getting both of us and Oscar off a pitching boat into a pitching dinghy. Luckily for us, he was always a very brave dog and whither we would go, so would he.

Once in the dinghy,  I encouraged Oscar to lie down and I laid down over him, keeping him secure. We headed for the dock only to discover the people in charge of strong winds (?) had removed them!  We then tried another dock farther away.  It, too, was gone!  Finally, we headed for the most protected dock in the bay, the fuel dock, and thankfully it was still in use. But, there was very little space for us to tie up because of the fact that other boaters had abandoned their ships as well and come ashore. We tied up to someone else’s dinghy and climbed over five others to reach the dock. Oscar was way ahead of us and forged the way.

We walked over to the Harbor Masters’ Office on the pier. George spoke with him and he told George that if we wanted to get out of the harbor (a now very dangerous place for a boat) and get out to sea (the safer place in a Santa Ana Wind condition) there was supposed to be a lessening option about noon for an hour or so.  It was ten o’clock at this time.  We sat down on a bench beside the bay and watched as the Silhouette tossed  bow to stern over and over as the windswept waves continued to charge.  Thankfully, Avalon has a unique system for securing your boat once you arrive: It is tied up not by one can on the bow but another to the stern. I now understood why it was so. It kept our boat from swaying sideways in addition to the bow to stern movement. As it was, I observed that I could see the entire deck from bow to stern in one fell swoop of an oncoming wave as she rolled over the waves. We were glad we had the ability to come ashore with Oscar. We were not sure what kind of challenges we would face once we got out to open sea and headed back to Alamitos Bay, but we didn’t want a constipated pup to be an additional dilemma.

We returned cautiously to the Silhouette, timing our approach as best we could.  I got aboard first to help with getting Oscar on board. It proved to be a difficult task as the ship was still pitching, the dinghy was unwieldy because of the sea, and George had to lift a seventy- pound dog up and over a four foot rise. We had no swim step to simply walk onto.  As I said, she’s a sailboat.  Dog of all dogs, Oscar, understood our endeavors, and complied the best way he could. Mission accomplished.

We quickly started “the iron sail” (motor) and prepared to release our boat from its trappings, only to be stymied by yet another challenge.  In my rush, I had released the bow line off the starboard side rather than the usual port (left)side, which meant we were facing a possible entanglement with the propeller if the line didn’t sink quickly. We had to wait before putting the boat in gear until we saw we were clear. While all this was happening, we were floating closer and closer to a speed boat on our port side.  George decided to put it in gear and take a chance when he could wait no longer. God must have been tired of watching us and he let us go.

Outside the harbor, the wind persevered, but was manageable. After all, (once again!) we were a sailboat.  With our compass set at a 0 degree heading, we were on our way to Long Beach.

About mid-channel, I was at the helm. The  wind had abated, but still had a strong hand in things. George was below when I looked out across the horizon and noticed it looked a little fuzzy.  I was thinking my eyes must be dry from the wind.  I blinked a couple of times, but the horizon still was not clear.

George came back to the cockpit and I said to him, “Look over there, George. Does the horizon look clear to you?” He followed my pointing finger.

“No. It doesn’t… I wonder what that is?”

Shortly thereafter, we began to see an occasional Monarch butterfly cross our sails.

“Huh. The Monarchs are migrating this time of year. They’re being blown off course by the Santa Ana’s, ” George observed.

“So many so, they’re blurring the horizon!” I added.

Before we knew it, we had hundreds of butterflies flying in the billow of our main sail and jib, being protected from the strong winds of the Santa Ana’s, but keeping up with the speed of our boat. They escorted us all the way into Alamitos Bay, slowing leaving us one by one as our speed decreased with the lessening breeze in the harbor.

We often reminisce about this once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was a beautiful sight to behold, their brilliant colors against our red sails, their unwilling reluctance to condescend to nature’s forces, finding safety in humanity’s ulterior purposes. Yet, we also often ponder:  Who was helping who out there in the crossing?  Was it us who abetted their life’s purpose, or was it they who stayed with us and escorted us safely back to our port with the expression of silent tenacity?

Kinetic kindness, thy name this time is Symbiotic Supplication.  We thank you for that.


A Diamond Amongst Gems

Convict Lake, CA    October 24, 2009

We love Convict Lake in the Fall.  If you’re one who loves the green of Spring, then get yourself to Convict Lake for the fire of Autumn colors.  Your love affair may just be enhanced multifold.

It was in the Fall that George and I made our annual trek to the lake.  We were meeting our good friends Ralph and Susan there for an enjoyable short week before they had to head back home in Orange County. Susan had their campsite bedecked with pumpkins and Halloween hocus-pocus just for the fun of it. I knew all this because we had the campsite right next door and up of them. Being situated just a little bit higher, I could look out my window and see the finery below. They had a new puppy in tow, an Aussie, a true bundle of energetic love aptly behaving to his breed. We had our Aussie in tow as well. He, however, had come of age and was pretty much settled in to just pure love as family dogs seem to do.

After the week together came to a close, we said our goodbyes to our friends and wished them a safe journey home. Being October at Convict, it was not long before Ralph and Susan’s site quickly appeared to be taken in by another group of people. George and I decided at that time to head for the creek that flowed from the lake to give our dog Toby  some free run and water play time before the campgrounds became repopulated once again.

On the return to our site, we noticed a group of four men had set up their rig below us where Ralph and Susan had been.  As we were passing by, one of the men literally ran out from a group of trees.

“What a beautiful dog! ” he yelled excitedly.  Our Toby, being affectionate by nature, responded accordingly and begged to meet this man.  It was love at first sight to the two of them, he, explaining he was a Veterinarian from Costa Mesa, and Toby, responding with wiggles and licks. Apparently, he and his buddies came up every October to fish and have man-time together. They, too, knew the secret of color at Convict Lake.

We discovered this man’s name was Joel, and we thanked him for his kindness to Toby. It was obviously just as much his pleasure.

Darkness came way too soon that evening for us. Because we could see our neighbor’s activity from above, it was kind of fun to get an inside view of what real men do when they are away from their wives. They began in much the way George and I did: Red wine at sunset, dinner preparations soon following.  Joel was cooking that night; a wonderful aroma of spaghetti sauce was on the Coleman stove on their table. The others were enjoying conversation amongst each other, no woman there to tell them to add more salt or any such thing. I heard them laugh occasionally, intuiting to me that they honored their long friendship over the years.  After dinner, Joel became the entertainment, bringing out a guitar and singing softly within the psithurism of pine and aspen trees.  This man thing, this being with long time friends, appeared not to be an over-rated thing; Rather, it was one of those highly valued things that only happens when true friends meet not only to fish, but because they insist that it happens.  Joel appeared to be a diamond amongst these gems.

Morning broke with a promise of yet another beautiful day in Paradise at Convict Lake. George had gotten up early and taken Toby for a walk. On his way George stopped at a restroom close to our rig.  He met one of Joel’s friends outside of the restroom.  He seemed a bit in shock.

“The Coroner will be arriving by our campsite shortly…” he began. “Joel died last night after we all turned in.” Of course, George was speechless, and so was I after he returned to our rig.

The morning was filled with silent scuffling and murmurs. Indeed, the Coroner did arrive in due time along with other officials and finally take Joel away.  His wife was coming to Bishop, the closest town, to take care of business. It was such an odd feeling to know what had happened in this place I had come to love and the living movie I had watched the night before about four men and a friendship. When one is surrounded by beauty, one doesn’t expect sad things to happen.

George and I spent two more days quietly at Convict… but so did Joel’s two friends!  They went about their business as if he was still there with them; they fished, they laughed, they cooked.  They toasted Joel.

When George and I got home, we looked through the local paper for any word of Joel’s passing.  Sure enough, there it was: An obituary one full column long, top to bottom. This man was not just a veterinarian; he was an amazing human being.  It told us Joel had been a veterinarian for 30 years. He had begun several Societies and Animal Care-taking causes including The Avian and Exotic Bird Society, The Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center and The All Creatures Care Cottage in Costa Mesa.  He was a Bonsai Tree practitioner and wildlife rehabilitator who once rescued a pelican from an oil spill and kept it in his bath tub until he was well enough to be released and THEN took it out on his surfboard several times to ease it back into its environment. All this on top of his leadership in several other animal related groups.

Joel was only sixty-two when he passed. He had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer and thought he had beaten it. When it returned, he believed the best victory would be living each day to its fullest and with gratefulness. It was no wonder we had the honor of meeting such a man. He was ready to learn about and love every being he met.

For us, he gave us a heartfelt compliment, that of loving Toby.

In the end, Joel gave to our world His Best. Whatever could be kinder?



For those of you who would like to know more about Joel, Google “Joel Pasco, Oct. 28, 2009, The Orange County Register.


Plan B

Starting out, the  plan was to head for Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada. Neither George nor I had ever had a chance to see this calendar-worthy place, and I had always had visions of where and how I would photograph it.  This particular trip began in the summer of 2010.  I am adding that little bit of information because it is an essential, albeit poignant, part of this account.

Leaving Orange County in California, we headed north through Los Angeles. About the time we hit the populous San Fernando Valley, a startling thought suddenly occurred to me.

“George. I didn’t bring my passport.”

” I didn’t either.”

Silence prevailed for an uncertain moment as we both sifted through our brains for some kind of option at about the same rate.  Personally, I was thinking initially at warp-speed A) Egad. We’ll have to go back, quickly followed by B) Egad. We’ll have to go back AND fight the LA traffic all over again but with more traffic and heat as the day wears on, and finally in reality speed C) We just CAN’T go back.

George must have been going through the same processes as he spoke up about the exact time I had reached C. “Well… we can’t go back, but we can change our destination. We’ll just have to go to plan B.”

Hmmm. Another moment of silence.

“How about the Olympic Peninsula?” he added. “You know, the Pacific Coast Range and all that? We’ve never explored that area…”

Within a window of about 5 minutes, our entire agenda had changed to “Plan B”. Although I had been excited to see Lake Louise, this Plan B actually started generating new ideas in my head as to what we could see and the routes we could take. Having slowed down to 55 MPH during this Interstate Intermezzo, we now happily returned to 65 MPH pulling once again our home-away-from-home behind us. We had a destination to reach.

We had many adventures throughout Northern California, Oregon and Washington State along the way, following, for the most part, US Hwy. 101 through the beautiful peninsula with lakes and rivers.  But it was about Port Angeles along the Strait of San Juan de Fuca in Washington that we began to tire of being on the road every day and began to long for a respite somewhere for more time than just one night.

It was about that same time that an interesting handmade sign beside the road caught George’s eye:

“Homemade Elk Jerky. One mile ahead”.

Oh yum. My favorite, I was wise enough to say only to myself. But sure enough, there it was, one mile down the road as promised. A man and his motorhome and his elk jerky beside the road. It was a beautiful thing for any self-respecting jerky lover. George, of course, stopped in anticipation of smoke-enhanced elk deliciously cooked for hours with tender loving care. Need I mention I stayed in the truck with our dog Toby (well, in all honesty, I’m sure Toby was on George’s side with this one)?

George came back a happy man. He had bought a good supply of elk jerky which he immediately started in on.  For the record, I did try it; It was OK.  The best event, (in my opinion) however, was not the jerky but the information George received from the Purveyor of Fine Meats and I know not what else.  George had had the good sense to ask the man if there were any campgrounds within the area (he must have been a local, right? I mean, he had a motorhome and all…).

The man looked at George and our rig AND our CA license plate and  responded, “Sure! There just happens to be one down the road a ways. Just continue on down 101 and you will see a sign that says “Forks”. Look then for another sign that says “La Push”. Turn right and drive down the road fourteen miles and you’ll see the campground.”

Really, George?  FOURTEEN MILES off the main road? Again, I had the wisdom to remain silent. As we approached Forks about 25 miles away, I began to see cute little shops with Twilight novel-themed paraphernalia. Some people were even dressed as the characters in the series of children’s books.

I said, “Hey, look, George! This whole town seems dedicated to the Twilight series! … WAIT a minute! Wasn’t Forks the town in the series?”

He agreed it was. We stopped by the visitor’s center and learned that Stephanie Meyer, the author, had chosen Forks as the location of the novel because she wanted it to take place in the rainiest, gloomiest place in the United States. That would be the Hoh Rainforest in Washington State right next door to Forks! The ranger even gave us a map of the town so we could take a self-guided tour of the houses mentioned in the series. Who knew?!

We managed to make our way back to the 101 and find the turn-off for La Push.  About seven miles down a one lane road and weed country I finally began to have my doubts.

This time I threw my wisdom out the window and asked tentatively, “Umm, I don’t know, George. Did that guy appear to like having Californians in his state? Was he friendly?  Do you think he might possibly have been pulling a joke on us?”

George, forever trusting, just responded, “Let’s just wait and see.”

Mile fourteen was approaching and we had one last turn in the road to master. So far, no sign for a campground, no evidence of other human activity, not even the inevitable human trail of trash.

And…  there it was.

Before us lay an Eden not unlike perhaps that OTHER one. Imagine: A driftwood-covered beach and cove with a river emptying into it. A giant rock covered with its own forest. A fishing village and store. An inn and … A CAMPGROUND!

We quickly got a site and began to celebrate our good luck. We learned that La Push was an ancient Indian village, still occupied with a tribe. The words “La Push ” actually came from the French words “La Bouche”, meaning “The mouth” because of the river. When the native people heard the french words and weren’t familiar with the french language, they thought they were hearing the words “La Push,” and it stuck. The giant rock was a burial site for the Indians’ relatives. Traditionally, they would place their loved ones’ remains in canoes and hang them from the trees on the rock.

Oddly, this euphoric place is usually covered in a gray fog like the Pacific Range is known for, but to our great fortune, they were having a heat wave and the temperatures reached into the 90’s with clear blue skies and incredible orange sunsets ceremoniously displayed behind the giant rock. Toby loved the beach and since our stay here, Sunset Magazine has discovered it, too… twice! We stayed at La Push two more nights exploring the Hoh Rainforest with NO THOUGHT of rain. Seeing the wettest rainforest bright green in sunlight was another experience visitors seldom happen upon.

Alas, the old Elk Jerky Purveyor turned out not to be a jerk and an extremely kind person.  My wisdom thrown out the window was replaced with new learning about a very spiritual place.  My doubts have learned to become patient.  In the year 2009 Canada and the USA changed their policies regarding passport necessity because of growing security concerns for both countries. It was our good fortune that we had forgotten about that.  And, as for being passport-less in Canada?  That sounds like a movie waiting to be filmed… in Lake Louise.  Wink ! Wink!






Going to a foreign country always seems to be a challenge in some way, whether it is a new language, new cuisine, new geography, or even new driving rules! However, all seems forgiven once you meet up with a true native who cares about people in general. Please allow me to share…

My husband and I were joined by two good friends on a trip to Iceland before it became the happening place it is today. We had many challenges to overcome because of the fact we went in the dead of winter, which meant research of their weather and the ensuing  appropriate clothing, which, in turn, led to extra baggage and weight, which, again, led to renting a large enough car to hold us all AND our luggage! After two car rentals we finally were able to head out to our hotel in downtown Reykjavik IF we girls held our luggage on our laps in the back seat.

We were pleased with our hotel and spent the first two days walking the city (it is a walking city) discovering both historic museums and wax museums to city water towers used also as a Convention Center to modern Music Centers. As serendipitous as travel may often be, we even happened to be there on “Woman’s Day” when ALL women are honored. My female fellow traveler and I happened to be in a flower shop when a man breezed through and gave each woman he saw a long-stemmed tulip. He cared nothing for the fact we were strangers to his land.  Needless to say, both she and I coveted our tulips the rest of our days there in Reykjavik, having put them in an empty plastic bottles on our window sills.

However, we encountered our first challenge the moment we arrived: There is very little parking in the city of Reykjavik. Had we missed the fine print somewhere? Hmmm. What to do with a rental car? Get up early and move it quite often! We needed that car to get out of town and see the many sights we’d read about in our research, but now we knew why the rental cars were mostly of the small variety.

It was on our third day we attempted to venture out of the city.  Believe it or not, accomplishing this became a major challenge. Unbeknownst to us at the time, the reason for this became two-fold: The main city streets and the major highway roads were often labeled with the same numbers, something I can’t understand to this day. After literally driving past the same boat marinas, water towers, restaurants, houses, etc. for an hour in what seemed like circles, the guys finally gave up and went into a gas station to (yes) ask for directions. AGAIN, serendipity befriended us, as there were two Icelanders in the station talking with the owner. Our men waited for a break in the conversation and then asked the owner how the heck one gets out of Reykjavik.  He showed them on the map and also explained the duplicate numbers the best way he could.  The two men listening looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders, adding, “Hey. We’re going that way. Just follow us!”.  We then also figured out why they were selling T-shirts in the local tourist shops with “Lost in Iceland” printed on them.

An hour and a half later, over the mountains and past the sea, the Icelanders we were following finally turned on their left turn indicator.  They turned and pulled off to the side of the road.  We followed as we wanted to thank them greatly! They came over to our car and told us to continue on up the road for about a half hour and we would see signs in English for the geyser we were interested in experiencing.  In thanking them, I noticed my friend studying their faces. She finally added, “You look like a Viking!” To which one of our guides replied proudly in a very loud voice, “I AM a Viking!”!  (Apparently, she was a Viking, too, in some past life).

So. Without the help of these two kind men, we would probably to this day still be circling Reykjavik, be it spring, summer, fall, or another winter. Their helpfulness was so greatly appreciated. After that day, we had no trouble figuring out the layout of Reykjavik and its outskirts.  I personally was hoping for a Man’s Day in Reykjavik after this. My friend and I would have had the perfect gift to give them, fresh from the window sills in our rooms, beloved as they were.


Anyone, who is anyone, knows Jalama Beach on the California coast is a wind surfer’s dream, but anyone, who is anyone, also knows there is a reason why:  It’s WINDY. Well, ninety percent of the time, I’d say. Anyone, who is anyone, would agree with me I’d also say. HOWEVER, here’s the rub: Not everyone even knows where and what Jalama (pronounced ha-lama) Beach is. I mean, yeah, it’s a beach; but it’s not your ordinary run-of-the-mill California beach. It’s more like an adjective rather than a noun: It’s… well… Etherial.

It is precisely because of that description rather than definition that I long to be there as many days of the year as I can, which, because we travel a lot to other wonderful places on Earth, isn’t very often. But that’s another story.

My husband was a firefighter. That meant he worked every other day for a while and then had a week off. It happened to be one of those weeks off that we decided to spend at Jalama Beach. We enjoyed a wonderful time there, and when it became time for us to address returning  home, I began to get a bit… pouty.  He was supposed to work a three-day schedule upon returning and I, in my ever-sideways-thinking-abilities, projected that I stay at Jalama and he could return and join me for the weekend.  This was not an easy task for him, let me assure you. We lived and worked in Orange County in southern California.  Jalama Beach borders northern California, basically 2 1/2 hours away IF you don’t encounter a snag or two going through Los Angeles (yeah, right).  I mean, what could go wrong?  We were “camping” in a trailer which was in good working order. We had a very attentive and protective dog (Oscar).  It was only three days that he would be gone.  The most amazing part of this whole plan was that he agreed.

It was a bright and sunny day that my husband drove off into the sunset leaving Oscar and myself to enjoy each other’s company. As he was driving away I decided to open one of our folding chairs to place on the sturdy wooden table and enjoy the color. Wouldn’t you know it! My fingers got jammed and stuck between the rods! In pain, I couldn’t even wave good-bye or even yell at him to quickly return… he had, by this time, gone beyond the cliff that overlooked the campground. Deciding I was not going to be rescued, I struggled with the dang chair until I was finally able to wrench my fingers free. Alas, as wonderful as my dog was, he was unable to assist me and could only lie there and watch me in my obvious dilemma. I remember thinking, “Egad. Is this a harbinger of things to come?”

As the sun set Oscar and I had dinner inside the trailer as the eternal wind began to get a little stronger. By the time I turned in it had grown into a filibustering tyrant. It occurred to me that the awning attached to our trailer  was beginning to behave more like a sail than a shade. I considered bringing it in, but unfortunately it was a two man effort as opposed a woman/dog proposition. By two o’clock in the morning I realized I was going to have to try my best to bring it in alone. In the dark. In the howling wind. In my nightie. Without my underwear (no time).

Out into the unknown I went, struggling at first to keep my dignity in place but then charging the awning full force, running from strut to strut to release locks and pulling the center cord like a window shade to get the thing in motion. It was not agreeable to my efforts.

Did I mention there happened to be other campers in this campground? Until this time, I was remiss in seeing them (watching me) from the moment my husband left until the moment one of them approached me at this ungodly hour and he simply asked, “Do you need help?”

“Ummm… Yes,” (she said understatedly).

Together we tried to roll it back in, but it was to no avail. It was somehow jammed after the wind had had its way with it (and probably me). At that point my rescuer disappeared into the night. I went back into my trailer to sit and ponder life. The next thing I knew was a knock on my door. I was shocked to see a Ranger in full uniform.

“Excuse me, ma’am. Your neighbor here came to get me to help him get your awning rolled back in place. I think I can help you.”

I sat down again. This life thing was getting even more worth a ponder.

Both men worked against adversity but they were able to get the job done. I, of course, thanked both of them over and over for different reasons. It was now 2:30 A.M. for Pete’s sake! Yes, things happen FAST on cold and windy nights.

The following day, those wonderful neighbors who I had met in the dark of the night had to pack up and go home themselves. I was sorry to see them leave as they had given me a sense of security and a new friendship. They, on the other hand, cleaned out their refrigerator of everything and insisted I take it all. They must have been a little worried I would end up isolated on this wind-forsaken beach and would never be seen again.

To the contrary, my husband cheerfully returned in two days asking what was new.

Thinking back, the pictures in my mind were baffling: Wind. Nightie. Fingers. Wind. Neighbors. Ranger. Wind. Underwear. Wind.  2 A.M.  Neighbors. Ranger. NO underwear.  Wind. A full refrigerator. Overwhelming thankfulness. Oscar.




Inside a Small Box of Chocolates

Farran Village, County Cork, Ireland-

In September of 2006, George and I decided to experience the Land of the Irish on our own without the aid of a touring company. We did this because we had a full two weeks to explore a place we had never been, and hey, it appeared on the map to be simply a small island. We would be free to roam with plenty of time to see everything by accommodating ourselves without the baggage (sorry, can’t help myself) another couple might bring along. We have learned in our travels that with each addition of another couple, the time spent on waiting and decision making seems to advance at a logarithmic rate with each new couple.  To our dismay, we were only able to see HALF of this incredible history-laden island (Ahem; take note, fellow travelers).

Ireland seems to pride itself on it’s ability to be hospitable in that almost every other house has a B & B sign out in front of it. We did not know this prior to going to Ireland.  We had paid a rather-ish small fee here in America to assure that we would have a place to rest our souls each evening just in case we’d find ourselves lost in the Land of the Plenty-of-Celts. This seemed to work out fine for us most of the time, but we spent way too much time looking for our reservations that could have been spent in a local pub listening to that cheerful Irish music and making International friendships. In addition, I’d like to say there was a vast array of styles of living in these pre-arranged accommodations. But, like they say, it’s like a box of chocolates. Had we just walked up to a home of our choice, we probably would have been more comfortable some of the nights.

In our adventures throughout the southern part of the country we saw several billboards advertising a Ballyseede Castle in County Kerry, an authentic and refurbished one, open to the public for the staying and what they thought might be rich Americans. We had arranged to stay one night in a castle when we were planning our trip; We were hoping this was the one. When we arrived, we were welcomed with a short tour and were told our room was not yet ready.  We opted to have a drink in the library. The bar library: dark, enchanting, friendly.  This castle was elegantly appointed with satin and brocades, replete with knight’s armor, dining hall, side-room bar library, moat, resident ghost (Hannah) and two live Irish Wolfhounds at the entrance (very asleep, apparently not bothered in the least by apparitions). All this on acres of green… just green… front and back, forests to follow in the distance.  We were prepared to sell our dated car back home if need be to be able to spend just one night in this wondrous abode. As it was, that was not necessary.

After a night in amazing luxury, the next day we seemed to have gone from riches to rags in our accommodations for the evening. However, we were later to discover that our host , Oliver O’Callaghan, was a treasure trove of local history, and was more than willing to join us while we partook in Irish oatmeal in the morning.  He was quite outspoken, making sure we were aware that the world-famous Blarney Castle (think Blarney Stone) was historically “full of crap and the English.” Hmmm. Well, after all, we WERE in Ireland and if you’ve ever read any books about Irish/English history, you’d understand. At that, he recounted a story about a different castle, one somewhat close in proximity to the very B & B we were breakfasting in.  He went on to describe how we should check it out on our way to Kinsale that day if we wanted to see a REAL castle, giving us directions AND a book of B & B’s in that area and others.

Standing up and clearing the dishes, he returned from the kitchen and added, “I’m going that way.  I’ll take you there!”

We packed up our bags and did indeed follow Oliver down several country roads we would never have found on our own. Soon we arrived at Kilcrea Franciscan Friary (est. 1465 A.D.), sitting quietly by itself in a bit of historical ruination. Oliver got out of his car, and to our amazement, walked up to the locked iron gate, took out a key and opened it! He then began to share stories about the place as he invited us to climb the tower (which we did… scary, considering the on-going natural destruction of the place). Apparently this was the place the local people would hide in from the Vikings when they were in town centuries ago. He continued to give us a personalized tour and discourse of the abbey as we walked the grounds.  When we came to the main part of the church (now roofless), he went on to explain that when the English (there they are again) took over Ireland, they did not let the Irish Catholics bury their dead on “English” land.  So, the Irish would bury their dead INSIDE the Friary because it “belonged to God.”  He also related a story about a young Irish Roman Catholic, a Captain in the Hungarian Hussars Regiment of Austria (1746-1773) by the name of Art O’Leary.  He was hot-tempered and became involved in a feud with a Protestant land owner and magistrate, Abraham Morris, when he returned home from Austria. Morris was also Sheriff of County Cork at the time and  laid charges against Art following Art’s alleged attack on himself and the wounding his servant.  The feud continued. Morris demanded that Art sell him the fine steed that O’Leary had brought back from Austria for 5 Pounds. The law of that age was that no Catholic could own a horse worth more than 5 Pounds and could be forced to sell a more valuable one on demand of any Protestant. Art refused and challenged Morris to a duel, which Morris declined.  Morris then proclaimed Art could be shot on sight because he was now considered  an outlaw. Morris led a contingent of soldiers that tracked Art and was killed with the first shot. Later, Morris was killed by Art’s brother while Morris was in a window of a place he was staying in Cork. To this day O’Leary’s tomb rests in the Kilcrea Friary with his epitaph which we saw and photographed. On our way out of the abbey, Oliver walked to his car, opened the trunk, and showed us a beautiful picture book he had written and published about the history of the Friary.  It was his only copy and he had no more. We were not surprised when we saw it; After all, we were now rich with personal information about the area and its people given to us by our Oliver. However we WERE indeed impressed with his study and knowledge.  Above all, we were grateful for his gift of sharing his time and this place of history with us.  If there really is any truth in the Box of Chocolates theory, we found a sweet Irish Creme in this one man.  Thank you, Oliver O’Callahaghan.




Amazing Grace

Crescent City, CA   June, 2010

Travel weary from pulling our 26 foot trailer from Orange County, my husband George and I decided to give in and try and find a place to stay overnight in what seemed like a simple community along the coast, nothing special, but easy to drive into. We didn’t want to unhook if we could find a place that allowed us to stay intact. We also didn’t want to pay an arm and leg in a city of this appearance; that is to say few bright lights and glaring  traffic. It was late for travelers to hunt for a spot unreserved.  However, we did see one that immediately that caught our eye next to the bay and somewhat uncrowded. We pulled in with fingers crossed and were greeted by a man looking about 60, an apparent hippie keepsake, who was friendly and more than willing to take our money. He gave us a spot close to the check-in area, exactly as we had asked for with pull through abilities. As we were setting up, I asked him if there was a store near-by we could walk to as we were short on supplies and needed to buy something easy for dinner. He pointed to a store about a block away.  I sighed a relieved breath to him and thanked him.

George and I continued to set up our rig and were almost finished when we heard a knock on our door.  There was our manager, hands full and aroma beckoning with fresh fried fish, cole slaw, fresh bread, and two slices of apple pie, all on good china (!) standing before us.

“My wife made this for you,” he started.  “She knew you didn’t have dinner things.”

We were stunned.  The delicious smell alone kept us drooling to the point of speechlessness. Finally, we managed to utter our grateful thank you’s as he passed the dishes into our rig.

I had to ask.  “Why did she do this?!  This is just so wonderful!”

He simply said:  “It’s what she does.” And then he left.

Needless to say, we gobbled up every bite as fast as we could.  By then it was after dark and too late to return the cleaned china to their rig.

In the morning, I waited until I noticed stirring about their spot and then ventured over to their site, dishes in hand.  Another woman (a friend?) was standing in their doorway as I approached.  The wife was outside, cleaning things up.  The woman in the doorway saw me coming.  She had a knowing smile on her face, but said nothing as I approached.

I walked up to the wife, dishes in hand, and said, “Oh my gosh.  That was so kind of you to send us dinner last night!  It was really a blessing as we were so tired from traveling. Thank you so much!”

There was no response from the lady.  She simply took the dishes without even so much as a smile.  No eye contact was made.  I looked at her friend in the doorway with a questioning look, but she, too, was silent except she had a friendly look on her face. I reiterated my appreciation, somewhat abashed this time, and  quickly went back to my own domain. I shared my experience with my husband and we both just sat and tried to figure it out. Was she deaf? Was her friend deaf?  Did she not have the ability to speak? Was she anti-social? Was she an abused woman?  Was she extremely shy?  Had she had trauma that left her speechless? Did she just not like me? Had her husband made her make dinner for us? Many of those questions I could not fathom being true after the care she had put in to making our dinner for us.

As it was, we ended up staying two more nights in this place along the bay, thanks to our manager/owner’s knowledge of the other people in the park (but that’s another story). I never saw the woman again out and about. To this day I still wonder about her.  Yet, this I do know: Whatever her dilemma was, it made no difference.  Her and her husband’s kindness spoke soundly of their character, be it silent or deafening.