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!