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The Great Porcupine Canoe Trip

4 Feb

By Carl Coon

It was mostly Bill who arranged the Great Porcupine Canoe Trip. The idea grew out of a game of one-up-man-ship between the Millers and the Coons. Careful readers of this account, if there be any, will recall a certain canoe trip on the Allagash River in Maine that the Millers and the Coons took in the summer of 1977. Each side wrongly assumed the other knew what it was doing but we survived. Bill retaliated with the canoe trip down the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson that we took in 1980. When Jane and I were elevated to our embassies in the subcontinent I one-upped Bill right back, with a trip through the Terai jungles on elephant back. That happened during our first Christmas season, and Bill took it as a major challenge. The Porcupine River trip in August of 1984 was his masterpiece, taking upwards of three years to prepare, and it ended the competition once and for all,  as it was clear we were never going to top it.

First, a word about the Millers. Jane had known Luree in Bombay back in the early ‘60’s, when Jane was assigned to our Bombay Consulate and Bill was too, as the press and information officer. The legendary Marilyn Silverstone was also there and the three women, Jane, Luree, and Marilyn formed an indissoluble bond, fastest of friends. Bill, as Luree’s spouse, was already attached to this triumvirate and I joined it when I married Jane.

The Alaska connection was mainly through Bill, born and raised in Fairbanks, but also through Luree’s uncle, who had been a legendary bush pilot in Alaska during the thirties. Also, Luree had spent a couple of years driving a truck around Alaska roads in the postwar period. Since marrying Bill, Luree had not only become a mother of three, but an accomplished writer, with several books to her credit. She frequently contributed travel articles to the Washington Post. She was one of the sharpest people I’ve known, as well as one of the most agreeable. They made a good couple; Bill was the more overtly adventurous, while Luree was more practical.

Valerie La Breche came along for the ride. She grew up with Luree in Seattle and had made a career out of travel, often hiring out as guide-counselor or such.

And then there was Bir, already well-known to readers of my essays and Autobiography. Cheerful, resourceful, Jane and I had reached the point we could hardly imagine undertaking a long camping trip without him. Plus, we were taking him home to Washington, DC anyway. His number had finally come up and my Embassy was able to give him a completely legal immigrant visa.

When we got to Anchorage Bir was there waiting for us, cheerful as ever and looking forward to a new adventure. It had occurred to us that he might have had a bit of trouble in Tokyo, given the fact the Japanese Red Army was shooting the place up at the time. No, he had sailed right through, big smile, no problem. He even had his kukri, the Nepali hillsman’s constant companion and the Gurkha soldier’s favorite weapon. What?? He says he never left the transit lounge but even so, you’d think somebody would have noticed before they let him bring his kukri on another flight. Anyway, we checked that up as one of the first serendipitous events of the trip. We were going to need a lot more good luck, as we shall see.

Bir and Jane and I flew from Anchorage to our rendezvous in Fairbanks where we joined the other three. Then we drove to our launching pad at Circle Hot Springs. That “pad”, the Circle Hot Springs Hotel, was one of the most unusual caravanserais I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen ‘em in more places than most. Bar straight out of Hollywood except that some of the patrons were for real; there was still some prospecting, and I actually saw one grizzled prospector come in and buy a round for everybody there, paid for with a little sack of newly scratched up gold.

Bedrooms furnished in plush velvet like a fancy bordello. And then a crazy swimming pool fed by hot springs so you could actually swim in it when the air temperature was twenty below (as we did on a later trip). Outside, behind the hotel, were acres of second-hand refrigerators and washing machines and similar junk waiting for buyers that I gather never appeared. The owner, a brother of Bill’s, was a bit of a nut about such equipment. I gather that Bill, the youngest of a family of nine(?) children, was considered one of the least eccentric, which explained quite a bit about the hotel, not to mention Bill himself.

Bill had arranged our flight to Old Crow with a couple of his old bush pilot friends. The first flight carried most of our gear. Then we all piled into a small seaplane with our two canoes strapped to the landing floats and, grossly overloaded, wobbled northeast and finally splashed down next to the beach beside Old Crow.

Jane describes a certain sinking feeling when our plane left us on the river bank with a small mountain of stuff including two kayaks yet to be assembled. I agree with Jane about the sinking feeling; I had one of my own, a sense of my god what have we gone and done? But there was no time for reflection, we had a lot to do and the day wasn’t getting any younger. Our first task was to assemble the two kayaks which had come knocked down in the first flight. Bill and Bir and I did that, with some difficulty, while Luree visited Old Crow to say hello to an Athabaskan Indian named Steven Frost, who had been a friend of her father’s. Then we packed our gear and boarded, two each in the canoes, and Bill and Luree had a kayak apiece.

We were able to get a few miles down the river that same day, since it was still early August and the days were still very long. Setting up camp and preparing supper was a breeze with Bir along and the rest of us enjoyed our well-earned tot of scotch.

We had a couple of peaceful days on the river, and then entered a canyon where the bluffs rose directly from the shore, leaving a dearth of campsites. It was getting late so we picked the best spot we could find, a narrow strip of beach, and set up camp.

I woke up early the next morning, stuck my head out of the tent, and found myself eyeball to eyeball with a large and healthy looking caribou, horns and all, looking back at me with a curiosity very much like my own. I suppose if I had asked him what he was doing there he could have replied that this was his turf and what the hell was I doing on it? Anyway, after we had each recovered from our initial surprise he ambled toward the river and I looked around.


There were hundreds of the brutes, lined up nose to tail in a column stretching from the water’s edge up a very steep trail to a high ridge where the early light outlined them, still nose to tail, in a line that ran along the ridge for as far as the eye could see.

I grabbed my camera and took a few snaps as the herd continued its stately pace into and across the river. The current was strong enough so they landed on the opposite shore well downstream from where they had started, but then I noticed an exception, a caribou swimming the wrong way, toward me. It struggled ashore near me and I noticed it was dripping blood. I looked across the river and saw the cause, a very large brown bear that was climbing back on the bank from the river, having evidently failed in an attack on the caribou standing in front of me. The bear looked at me, stood up on his hind legs, and barked. It sounded like a cannon, a staccato explosion that echoed up and down the canyon. People started piling out of their tents and the party was on.

Earlier on, Bill had assured Jane that grizzlies couldn’t swim, but that didn’t cut much ice when we saw the grizzly run downstream several hundred yards, then plow across the river like a motorboat. Bir, ever practical, started to build up a roaring fire. The ladies hit on the idea that noise could scare the brute off, and started banging pots and pans. I ducked back in my tent and readied my shotgun, a round of bird-shot up front with a round of double aught buckshot backing it up. I reflected that maybe I should have brought my .30 caliber hunting rifle, but then, I didn’t want to hurt the beast unless I had to, and this way I might scare him off.

That’s what happened. When the grizzly reached our bank he charged straight for us, growling and cussing at us and carrying on like a whole tribe of banshees. I never have been able to decide whether he intended to slaughter us or was just trying to scare us off, but if the latter he succeeded admirably. He may not have made his own mind up either, but when he heard my bird-shot whistling over his head he made a command decision, pivoted like a pro football quarterback, and beat it back to his point of entry on our bank, hardly slowing down at all. Without pausing he swam back to the other bank, and then tore up to the point where he’d started, across from me. After a few more barks he ran straight up the cliff-side behind him and disappeared. A few minutes later a slightly smaller grizzly with two half-grown cubs appeared on the opposite bank where he had been, and watched us in a fairly unfriendly way while we broke camp and hit the water.

I found the whole episode deeply satisfying. For the first and probably the only time I had won a protracted argument against Luree and Jane, not to mention Valerie. The subject was guns. From the beginning of our planning, I was determined to bring one along and they were determined I should not. Who did they think I thought I was, a poster boy for the gun lobby? Guns were immoral, hunting was immoral, just having a lethal weapon sullied the whole idea of pristine wilderness we sought. I persisted, they insisted, we were still arguing when we got on the river, and I still had my trusty old twelve gauge pump-action shotgun, barrel off so it would fit in my bag.

None of us joined the gun lobby but we all agreed that it was a good thing I had that infernal device with me. Furthermore I have the only photograph I ever took that Marilyn has considered up to her standards. I took it of the other five watching that big grizzly bug off back across the river. Marilyn likes pictures that show real people undergoing real emotions and when I took that snap my fellow travelers qualified

Jane had another notion about bears that Bill had encouraged, namely that they didn’t like the smell of mothballs, so if you wanted to protect your tent or campsite against their depredations the thing to do was put a ring of the smelly little objects around the protected area. After several more days of camping on the river that idea was discarded along with the bears can’t swim idea. We got up one morning to find very fresh grizzly tracks around our tent, within the magic mothball circle.

That morning also marked Valerie’s conversion on the subject of my snoring. I now use a respirator but in those days I allegedly made quite a racket at times when sleeping soundly. Valerie had her own little tent and for the first few days parked it as far from the one Jane and I used as possible, given the confines of the site. The morning new grizzly tracks appeared around our tent, similar ones appeared around hers, and from then on we clustered our tents in a tighter configuration, noise be damned.

About halfway down to Fort Yukon there’s an abandoned settlement called New Ramparts and we stopped there for a rest day. For the first (and only) time during our whole journey down the river, we met other humans. A large canoe with a small outboard put-putted around a bend and in it was Luree’s friend Steven Frost, with son, wife, and a freshly killed caribou.

It was a family outing and a kind of celebration, with son having made his first kill. Frost and son beached and with all of us watching, butchered the caribou. They did a beautiful job, quick and clean, and presented us with a sizable chunk of steaming fresh liver. To round out the menu they also gave us some bannock bread, a relatively imperishable local version of the staff of life that is very hard.

Bir, whose teeth leave much to be desired, pulled out his little metal skillet and some wheat flour and made some chappatis. Frost was fascinated and so was I. Here were individuals from very different cultures and places exchanging technological information about how you can make grain edible, with each technique probably dating back to the Neolithic. This kind of exchange must have occurred many times in the remote past, as one of the main ways culture gets diffused and civilization advanced. Remarkable, to see it happening here, under our eyes. And they each thought it was pretty remarkable too. It was a case of mutual admiration, as this picture suggests.

One of the advantages of canoeing down a big river is that usually you don’t have to worry about getting lost.  Just go with the flow. Tributaries sneak up behind you, and half the time you don’t even know they are there. This was true for us about 90% of the way down to Fort Yukon, but as we got close to our destination the Porcupine morphed into something like a delta, with a host of branches peeling off from the main stream, some of them big enough to pass as the main stream itself. It’s not too difficult if you are sitting at a desk looking at a map, but if you are facing a bunch of islands all looking alike, sitting in the front of a canoe with your wife the ambassador in the back, yelling at you to say which way do I go, dammit, right or left, and the current is rapidly taking you past the point of no return, it can get hairy.

I was the designated navigator. I would cheerfully have turned the job over to Bill but he was solo in a kayak. And we were supposed to rendezvous with Mary and Barry Morris, local representatives of the Alaska Commercial Company (successor to the Hudson Bay Company) at a very specific time at a very specific point in this delta or archipelago of little inlets and islets that our mighty Porcupine had morphed into. One false turn and we would have been up a creek, literally, or, even worse, downstream from our target. But we hit it without a false turn, and at just about the agreed hour. I felt as lucky as if I had won a national lottery. Serendipity squared. Jane sent an ardent prayer of thanks to Lord Ganesh. Our new hosts were almost as surprised as we were, as they had fully expected a long and quite possibly fruitless wait. They fit us and our gear into a large pickup and drove us back to civilization, or at least to one of its more remote outposts.

Our new hosts at Alaska Commercial were congenial and took good care of us. They had the travel bug themselves and after we went home they took their jeep and drove it around much of the world. We rested up for a day or two and flew home. End of an era.

And what an era it was! For three years Jane and I had been caught up in a social whirl in two overpopulated countries, especially Bangladesh, one of the most overpopulated of all. We were suffering from a surfeit of people. And then, like hardy Swedes rolling in the snow after steaming themselves in a sauna, we went cold turkey into wilderness, seeing nobody at all except for the one day we met Stephen Frost. It was shock treatment and it worked. On the ride back from our rendezvous to ACC headquarters we rode like Okies in the back of a pickup truck. The rest of the way home we were ordinary tourists like everyone else. Sic transit gloria mundi.

But we did have our memories, and Luree had a hell of a good travel story to write-up, which she did, and the Washington Post published it, which was a help later on persuading skeptical friends that it all really happened.

********************************************

Carl Coon recently died at age 91. He was a retired United States Ambassador, a composer, an author and essayist. This is an account of one of his life adventures. Carl lived with his wife Jane in Rappahannock County, Virginia overlooking a bend in a river.

Bruce’s Notes: Carl Coon was a good friend and one of my Personal History clients. We worked together on his Autobiography. The first volume – People of Earth: The First Forty, was published in October. We hope to have the second volume ready to publish later this year.

Bruce Summers is Personal Historian and Life Story Coach for Summoose Tales, +1.703.503.8834, summersbw@gmail.com. Bruce is a former direactor of the Association of Personal Historians. He is a founding member of the Life Story Professionals of the Greater Washington Area.

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Digging into my Family Roots

21 Jan

A little over a year ago I was digging into my Family Roots, into my Dutch Heritage at the New York Public Library. 

There were several files there on the Van Zandt Family, and one particularly intriguing file on my 3rd Great Grandfather – Wynant Van Zandt III.  It said he founded a church in Little Neck, New York, (later renamed Douglaston, New York).

At the time my son was living in Ridgewood, Queens not too far as the crow flies from Little Neck, but a long way, over an hour, if you did not have a car. I as intrigued, but doubted that I would ever get over that way.  The only times I risked driving into Queens was to do a quick pick up to drive my son’s possessions to or from Ridgewood from our home in Virginia.

Roll forward  about eight months.

My wife and I were sitting in a bakery/cafe in Ridgewood, drinking coffee and eating lunch before heading out to visit my son in the hospital. There was a well loved (used copy) of Walking Queens, by Adrienne Onofri sitting on our table.  I thumbed through it and turned to the chapter – walking tours of Douglaston/Little Neck. In the first paragraph or two it talked about Zion Episcopal Church – founded by Wynant Van Zandt III (my third great grandfather).  I continued reading and learned that he had built a home in Little Neck, and then there was third mention.

Well, we had a car, I drove it up to Queens so we could visit my son in a hospital that was near Little Neck Parkway just a couple of miles from Douglaston. I checked the maps on my cell phone and ascertained, that yes, it was very close to the Zion Episcopal Church. We also knew there would be a gap of a few hours between visiting hours, and we like to walk and hike.  This seemed like an opportunity to explore family roots and also get some walking in.

We had a nice visit with our son, then my wife and I jumped onto the Little Neck Parkway following our Google maps instructions. As we drove down the hill into Douglaston, we saw a Van Zandt Street. I was intrigued, to say the least.

Digging into family roots

We went first to the Zion Episcopal Church, it was after hours so we thought it was closed. I took a chance, I call their phone number and the minister answered and told me she was just inside the door in the office, so she opened it and gave us a warm greeting since we were “Van Zandts”. She of course knew, everyone in the church knew, that Wynant Van Zandt III, my 3rd great grandfather, had donated the land and helped raise the money to build the church. He is the acknowledge founder of Zion.

Digging into family roots - Zion Episcopal Church

There was a plaque commemorating his founding the church in 1829, there is a Van Zandt Service Award given out annually, and Wynant Van Zandt III and 8 of his family members are buried in a crypt in the basement of the church.  There is a plaque commemorating Wynant and his family members.  The church had a fire a number of years ago. It was rebuilt and it is lovely. It is on a beautiful large piece of property right off one of the main streets of the town.

Digging into Family roots - Zion Episcopal Church, Little Neck/Douglaston, NY

Wynant III had been a successful merchant, and an Alderman for New York City. He lived in the area near Wall Street, and he had headed the building committee that built the current New York City Hall. Later in life, perhaps in his late 40’s, he retired to the country for his health.

Summoose Tales - Wynant Van Zandt III - my third great grandfather

He retired to Little Neck with view of a beautiful bay with wild geese and ducks. The bay was also famous for the “Little Neck clams” it produced.  In 1819 Wynant III bought a 100 acre farm and an 18th century Dutch farm house, the Cornelius Van Wyck House, was built in 1735.

Summoose Tales - Wynant Van Zandt III bought the Cornelius Van Wyck House in 1819

Wynant III and his family lived her for several years while he built a new home on his farm.

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Wynant III’s new home was started in 1819. It later was bought by the Douglas family and called the Douglas Manor. Little Neck was renamed Douglaston. The Manor later become the home of the Douglaston Yacht Club.

Summoose Tales - Wynant Van Zandt III built this home in 1819 in Little Neck, NY. It later become the Douglas Mansion and the Douglaston Yacht Club

I am proudly standing on the steps of the family house Wynant III built for his retiring years. I have vague memories of my mom talking about Douglaston. I asked my Dad, but he does not remember her ever talking about the town and they never visited there. I suspect my grandfather knew a lot about Douglaston and Little Neck since Wynant III would have been their great grandfather.

I went back to “Little Neck” a second time to walk around. The marshes around the town are beautiful.

When my son got out of the hospital, he and I also drove over to Little Neck for  a quick look around. We were very fortunate to find the new owner of the Cornelius Van Wyck House visiting and he was kind enough to spend about an hour with us, sharing stories about Little Neck, Douglaston, and allowed us to see the inside of the house that he was renovating.

It felt to me that the nearly 300 year old walls could talk. I sensed a family connection.

The house has a lovely view up and down the Little Neck Bay. 

It was a real treat to walk around the home and yard, to “dig” into and explore some of my family roots. For me it was a bit of family history coming alive. I hope you also have an opportunity to dig into your family roots.

**************************************

Bruce Summers, Founder, Summoose Tales, Personal History Consultant and Life Story Coach, +1.703.503.8834, summersbw@gmail.com

See Also: Family History, My Stories, Personal Historian


Can we be kids again?

14 Jan


My son and I decided yes, we can be kids again.

Well, after we finished shoveling out the driveway and the walkways, and clearing the snow off the cars for the third time in two days.

This was the first snow of 2019. It started on Saturday and finished up sometime dot early on Monday morning.

I have to confess, I jump-started – can we be kids again by sneakily packing and then throwing the first snowball at my son Bryce before we were done clearing off the first car the first time. Then, the broom he was using, to clean snow off the roof, just happened to brush about a hood full of snow over my way.

So far we were just being a bit playful, while doing our work. Surreptitiously, I packed a small snowball and lightly lobbed it over towards Bryce’s general direction. Well the snow ball lightly grazed his head, but then left about a quarter of its mass lodged inside and outside of his glasses.

Oops, I instantly apologized. Bryce disappeared inside. I knew I was in trouble when he came back with his glasses off. I realized I had made a few tactically mistakes, since Bryce had been the baseball catcher, pitcher and outfielder, while I had been the left out. Also, at age 25, his arm was still in its prime, while mine was good for short distances at best.

Bryce smiled, picked up his broom again and started to work on clearing snow off the hood of the car. I turned around a few moments later and – whack. He hit me in the back, luckily, with a well formed snowball. Why did I ever teach him how to pack snowballs when he was young?

I realized, that my best course was not to retaliate, and thus only got hit by one or two more snow balls, until after we finished our snow clearing.

Bryce then asked me, “do you want to go for a walk?” Since time had passed, and I thought we had in place an unspoken truce, I said yes. Bryce had already brought out the bag with the Truro Trails, our local neighborhood newsletter. Ever since Bryce was a young teenager, I have been delivering, often with his help, batches of Truro Trail to four neighbors, who then each deliver copies to several neighbors. It was great having one of my “kids” again walking with me and chatting up our neighbors.

It was still snowing, most of the streets had not been plowed, many of the sidewalks had not been cleared, but we decided it was a beautiful day. So, we continued our walk through our Truro neighborhood.

As we approached the stream crossing, we decided to amble through our neighborhood park. The stream flowing through the snowy banks, though the snowy trees, and under the snow covered bridges was spectacular.

It was a great day for a walk, and we did have our hiking boots and warm clothes on. What can be better than a walk through a snow filled park and neighborhood.

At a certain point, the kid in me took over my brain, and I thought… we could pull on the branches and create snow showers. And so we did, the rules of engagement were – we both had to be under snow covered branches, and we would alternate who picked the spot and who got to shake the tree branch.

Well, this worked out surprisingly well, and, as the snow piled up on our hats and hoods and shoulders, we each smiled and laughed. Sometimes, it really felt like heavy shower as snow cascaded in large clumps from 5 to 20 feet up. Sometimes, more fell on Bryce. Sometimes, more fell on me.

However, about half way through our neighborhood, I realized that I had again, missed a key strategic point. Bryce had his sweatshirt hood up and over his head and neck. I on the other hand, had a knit cap on my head and my hood was down, This made it all to possible for snow to shower down my neck and sometimes, even down my back.

Yet we continued, like the kids we were again, to alternate pulling branches to snow shower each other at least a dozen times each as we completed our long loop through our neighborhood. It definitely was the most fun I had had for a long time.

Notice the snow-berg on Bryce’s right shoulder

We completed our walk, changed clothes, dried off, had a steaming bowl of chili for lunch, and thought about possibilities. Maybe tomorrow, we could go sledding…

Summoose Tales - Can we be kids again?
Postscript – yes we did get in a bit of sledding the next day, since we had learned the day before that we can be kids again:)


Bruce Summers is the Founder of Summoose Tales, a Personal History Consultancy

Contact Information: +1.703.503.8834, summersbw@gmail.com

Why are these rocks “Remarkable”?

24 Dec

June 21, 2018. Our guide said we were going to visit remarkable rocks…

This was part of the second day of a nature and hiking tour on Kangaroo Island, located off the South Coast of Australia a few hours bus and ferry ride from Adelaide in South Australia.

We had already seen my first wild kangaroos, my new favorite bird the Australian pelican, and walked around huge sea lions. I personally had some concerns when our path back off the beach to the steps was blocked by a large male sea lion. A mother and her cub were just a few steps to our right, and three other cubs were gamboling in the surf a few more steps to our left.  For some reason, I kept wondering why that other huge male sea lion we had passed earlier, was bleeding?

We also had become accomplished koala spotters, we stood about fifteen feet away from a mob of kangaroos, and about 20 feet away from a clutch of gray seals.

We had seen so many, many, remarkable sites, and flora and fauna so what would make rocks remarkable?

From a distance, they looked interesting, perhaps they were glacier rocks, rounded in an interesting way?

We parked among large shrubs and could not really see anything. We walked along the board walk, winding  our way towards “Remarkable Rocks”, but honestly, we were more interested in spotting unusual birds with our nature guide.

But then, we could see the rocks in the distance, and that was all we could look at.

As we walked closer, one of the rocks looked a bit like a huge animal, almost like an extinct form of an elephant.

In this photo wife is taking her first pictures of forms that were…

Fascinating…

Unique…

Beautiful…

Colorful…

Massive…

Magnificently carved…

And etched…

Colored…

Artfully…

Arranged…

Sculpted…

Draped…

Shaped…

“Remarkable!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

And if that was not remarkable enough, this one looked like a giant petrified egg shell from some 500 million year old creature who must have been a “Remarkable” artist.

In the distance we saw more remarkable rocks, but that will be a different trip.

        

We took one last photo, then start back to our van for our next stop on a “Remarkable” tour of Kangaroo Island.

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Bruce Summers, is a Professional Personal Historian and Life Story Writer for Summoose Tales, Summersbw@gmail.com.  He is a former global board member of the Association of Personal Historian and served as director, regions and chapters.  He is a founding member of the Life Story Professionals of the Greater Washington Area.

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Counting more blessings and saying Thank You.

30 Nov

Let’s go hiking for a week in February… My wife, as usual, had a great idea. Normally we would try a couple of day hikes in February, on the weekends, and if the weather was mild.

Blessing #1: We would be hiking in Southern Arizona, I had never been there, and it is quite a bit farther south than Northern Virginia.

Blessing #2: This was our first hiking Trip hosted by REI, so we would be hiking with a group, with trained guides.

Blessing #3: They would help us with transport of our luggage and would provide lodging and food… on the trail or otherwise.

Blessing #4: Another couple, two of our good friends, would also be taking the same hike with us:)

Blessing #5: One of my wife’s cousins lived just north of Phoenix and we could stay overnight with them on two separate nights; first between adventures, and then just before we flew home.

Blessing #6: We were going to be able to get in a couple of days of bonus hiking in Sedona, AZ.  We had driven there once, the landscape is spectacular, and we were looking forward to exploring the region around Sedona for a few days.

Mixed Blessing #1: we had to get up really, really early for our flight to Phoenix. But, we had gotten up early before, and it meant we would have more time to visit the old town in Scottsdale, AZ. We were overnighting there and meeting up with our REI Group the next day.

 

 

Mixed Blessing #2: Though the weather was temperate, we noticed large gobs of people all heading to some type of stadium. We asked a stranger on the street, where’s everyone going? It’s Opening Day of Spring Training for the Cactus League he said. We took a quick walk around Old Town to spot a potential restaurant for dinner, but then we were each bitten, or at least I was bitten, by the spontaneous bug. We saw a man standing along the street trying to sell a pair of “great” tickets to the Opening Day game. “It’s sold out,” he said, he may have mentioned that his wife was ill also.  It may have been a story, but we felt we could afford a pair of tickets and decided to head to the Park to watch a bit of Professional Baseball Spring Training.

Blessing #7: Even though it was not sold out, the crowd was large, for that size stadium, and in a great mood. We sat, down the first base line, a bit into right field. We had a great view.

Blessing #8: Yes they did have hot dogs, no it wasn’t Southwestern food, but it went down easy with a bit of mustard and sauerkraut along with a nice cold bottle of water.

Blessing #9: We saw a couple of home runs, some decent pitching, some decent hitting and fielding, and a few errors of course. It was a hoot.

Blessing #10: We had a yummy Southwestern dinner with our friends. We live in the same area, but we had not seen each other very recently to catch up on the news. It was a great shared evening.

 

Blessing #11: We hit the lottery with our tour guides.  One was rated the #1 or 2 guide in the whole system. The other would have been a #1 guide on any other trip.

Blessing #12: It had rained recently in Southern AZ and the Saguaro Cactus were magnificently tall, plump, and everywhere.

 

Blessing #13: You never know how a week-long hike in higher altitude, in a desert, and during winter will go. Will we be fit enough, we wondered.  How will we shake down with the rest of group. Despite a small miss-adventure crossing the 3rd of 12 streams; we both did great with the hiking as did our friends.  About half of our group stayed back at the 2/3rds point of the hike and then the rest of us, “the rabbits”, I reflected charged off at an enhanced pace to reach the destination waterfall.

 

Blessing #14: The hiking was a bit more challenging, but the view of the waterfall and the catchment pools, and the ducks swimming in the lower pool was magnificent.

Blessing #15: We stayed overnight in a downtown Tucson Hotel. We had a superb southwestern dinner, slept well, geared up, and had breakfast in an old western bar. We then headed out for another great day of hiking, then lunch and visited a great park filled with southwestern Flora Fauna.

 

Blessing #16: We learned a lot about Saguaro and other Cacti during the trip, we saw animals, scat, climbed mountain ridges, and saw spectacular views across wide vistas.

 

Blessing #17: We had another restful night. Then an early morning departure, a tour of a large, now defunct pit mine, a talk with a local Native American Guide, a nice long hike, and then lunch in the park at picnic tables.

  

Mixed Blessing #3: A highlight was our visit to the border fence between Arizona and Mexico. We were surprised to learn that the high fence disappears after going east for a mile or so.  The conditions are arid and dry, not forgiving. Twice during the next day and a half I spotted black painted jugs. These are usually filled with water for the hundreds of people who  attempt to cross this desert border each year.

 

Blessing # 18 and 19: We drove up a high ridge to take in an amazing view of setting sun looking across multiple mountain ridges and ranges. Then we ate a scrumptious picnic supper outside. A special opportunity was an open discussion with a Border Patrol Agent who answered our questions and discussed the challenges, for Border Patrol Agents, to both help people survive who crossed the border to escape bad conditions and sometime threats to their lives, while at the same time trying to discover, and thwart, bad actors who tried to smuggle drugs and even children to become slaves or worse across the border.  I had the pleasure of riding down the high ridge with him back to our lodging for the night. It was a blessing to talk with him and to learn more about the nuances of protecting our border that are experienced by individual agents.

 

Blessing #20: After one more great hike, and a picnic in the rough, we head back to Phoenix. We rented a car, fought through an hour of congested traffic, and then arrived at my cousin-in-law’s home. We had not met her husband. He was a gem. Even better, he was a rock hound, and around his home he had grapefruit and other citrus trees and…

Interim count: Needless to say we got to 20 Blessings and 3 Mixed Blessings and we had not even started our excursion to Sedona yet. We highly recommend a week of walking in the Winter and we are very thankful for our health and opportunities to walk, hike and explore.  We hope everyone has a great Holiday Season and that you take a few moments to count your blessings.

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Bruce Summers is a Personal Historian at Summoose Tales, summersbw@gmail.com

He served as a global board member and director, regions and chapters for the Association of Personal Historians Bruce is a founding member of the Life Story Professionals of Greater Washington Area

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Counting blessings and saying Thank you.

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Uluru Adventure

10 Aug

Our hiking tour drove right past Uluru. We knew this was the plan, but still…

Uluru is a fantastic geological gem. I had seen many pictures from Uluru as it is now known. For many years it went by its Anglicized name Ayers Rock.

I thought we would climb Uluru.  I have read and ghost-written accounts of travelers climbing this Monolith.

The climb was on my bucket list for our Australian Adventure.  However, starting with our first day in Australia, we started hearing stories about not being able to climb Uluru, that this is the last year to climb, and that the mountain is sacred to local Aboriginal Peoples and they would prefer if no one climbed.

They are very sad whenever someone gets injured or dies climbing Uluru. The local Aboriginals co-own and manage the Uluru-Kata Tujuta National Park along with the Australian government.

Our hiking tour guide similarly told us why climbing Uluru is discouraged. Currently, less than 20% of visitors climbed the mountain.

We were planning on doing a base walk at Sunrise the next morning about 3/4th of the way around Uluru. I was really looking forward to this hike and being up close to this famous UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As planned we were going to tent camp nearby overnight our first night.

Before that though we had a hike planned for Kata Tujuta. (But that’s a different story).

This to be followed by watching the sunset on Uluru while we had some hors d’oeuvres and champagne at an overlook. The colors of Uluru are fantastic at Sunset with many different subtle shifts from orange, to rose, to red, and to purple.

Sunset at Uluru was spectacular.

We slept well, ate an early breakfast, and then headed out the next morning to start our base walk” of Uluru before sunrise.

It was still dark when we arrived at our starting location.

Uluru already had a dull reddish hue

As we started our walk the sky start to lighten

I shivered a bit as I walked. But I quickly forgot the chill as I stared up at the huge rock faces. Up close they were very pock-marked on the eastern side. They displayed huge interesting depressions and holes carved out by wind, water and extremes of hot and cold temperatures.

I continued to hike on, pausing often to take more pictures of the now rising sun and of the ever-changing rock faces.

 

   

Seemingly every minute they displayed a different color and nuanced shadows.

Finally as the sun rose over the eastern horizon it lit up the monolith..

Uluru glowed and I smiled. I suspected it would be an interesting morning as I continued my walk just feet away from one of the world’s most fascinating geological features.

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Bruce Summers, summersbw@gmail.com, is professional personal historian and life story writer. He also enjoys hiking, travel and photography (and the occasional fascinating geological wonder). I hope you enjoy this and other Summoose Tales. 

Cactus League – then Cactus Hiking

5 Mar

   

We were just looking for a place to eat… we kept seeing all these people with “Giants” and “SF” hats?

We flew into Phoenix, took a taxi to overnight in Scottsdale, AZ, stowed our luggage for our 4 PM check-into our hotel, and then got directions to Historic Scottsdale, “it’s just half a mile by foot.” We listened intently, received a map with some marked in suggestions of possible places to eat lunch and dinner, and then we were on our way to starting our Arizona hiking adventure.

We would meet up with friends for dinner, so we needed to do some scouting of interesting places to eat. Scottsdale is known for its historic, western feel,  and its old town. On our way to historic Scottsdale, we noticed a baseball stadium. There were police, traffic control, and significant streams of people laser-focused on going/getting to the stadium, this at noon on a sunny Friday afternoon.

Then we started to notice that everyone was wearing Giants and SF hats and jerseys.  They seemed to be in a festive happy mood. So we asked a couple. “It’s the first game of Spring Training, (professional baseball), it’s the San Francisco Giants versus the Milwaukee Brewers (two teams in the Spring Training Cactus league).”

We walked a bit further and saw lots and lots of more fans streaming towards the stadium.  We asked another couple, what time is the game? “1 PM they shared, each with a huge grin.” So, this planted the seed; should we check out Spring Training? When else will we ever get the chance to see a Spring Training game?  We like baseball, but we are not likely to schedule a vacation around attending Spring Training, but why not take advantage of this opportunity. “And we can get a hot dog… for lunch and watch the game…”

Next, a man on the street had two good tickets he was offering to sell, “My wife could not go, it’s sold out, these are good seats.” He explained that the Giants always do Spring Training in Scottsdale, so they are the local (favorite) team. Others later shared, that they buy season tickets for the local minor league team, mostly so they can get tickets to watch the Giants during Spring Training. We thought about it, and we bought two tickets for the game.

We completed about a mile survey of Historic Scottsdale, took photos of the historic artifacts, of the gardens and sculptures, and of a few restaurants and their menus.  It looked like a nice place to explore.  We picked out two or three good options for dinner with our friends and then joined the throngs headed to the stadium.

Inside we got our hot dogs, mine was a tasty bratwurst with mustard and sauerkraut, and a bottle of water. We found our seats, lower level, just a bit past first base on the right field side.  There were perhaps 30 Giants fans to each Brewers fan and there was a buzz in the air… Spring Training… first game.

“Our” Giants took an  early 3-0 lead, the Brewers closed it up, so by the 7th inning it was 5-3 with “Our” Giants still in the lead. We had seen two home runs, some decent baseball, some good, and some bad pitching, fun, but we were ready to go check into our rooms.

We had a nice Mexican dinner with our friends in Old Town.

We got a good night sleep a healthy breakfast, and then met up with our REI Hiking group and two guides.

We packed up our hiking gear and suitcases and headed south towards Tucson and our first of four days of hiking in Southern Arizona.

We arrived at the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, checked our gear, filled up our water bottles, and saw a mountain lion head with pelt attached. “Yes there are mountain lions and bobcats in this hills, shared a docent.” Good to know I thought.

We had already seen many miles of Saguaro Cactus, hills, mountains, desert on our drive down. This should be interesting we thought. We would ride a tram 2 miles to the trail head then start our hike up to Seven Falls. We passed endless hills of Saguaro and other Cacti. In less than 24 hours we had visited a western old town, attended the opening day of Spring Training, eaten a great Mexican meal, packed up and prepared to hike up our first desert Canyon. What a great first day:)

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Bruce Summers is a Personal Historian, a  former Board Member of the Association of Personal Associations and Director for Regions and Chapters.  He is a member of the Life Story Professionals of the Greater Washington, DC Area and an avid hiker and photographer. Summersbw@gmail.com 

 

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