New Admin — Meg Justus Legacy

Hi, I’m Judy Johnson, and Meg has asked me — due to her illness — to take over her blog pretty much from now on.  She is suffering from metastatic cancer and in hospice.  Meg wants to  “keep the books alive” as long as possible, and has willed the copyrights to me for this purpose.  She turned the website over to me as well, and the sales-outlets accounts.

Meg has written her obituary in advance and I will post it when the time comes.  She has asked not to be flooded with sympathetic comments, since she doesn’t have the energy to reply politely.  Meg wants all her friends and fans to know how much she appreciates you and not be offended or worry when she doesn’t reply.

a bit

The following is a bit I wrote back in 2011, when the Unearthly Northwest stories were just a gleam in my eye.  I always intended to develop this into another in the series, but it’s not going to happen now.

So I thought I’s post it, just for fun.  It’s about as horror-y as anything I’ve ever written, which is to say barely at all.  Enjoy or not as you see fit.

It’s called At Perigee.

I keep thinking about that dream I used to have where I was trying to escape from a big old wooden building with all sorts of passages and stairs and dead-ends while being chased by something so terrible I don’t even know what it is. By candlelight. So on top of everything else there’s the fire danger.

It’s all so dried out and weathered to a silvery gray and the floorboards creak and I’m so afraid I’m going to fall through one and get stuck and I don’t know what would be worse – burning to death from dropping the candle or being caught by whatever it is that’s so determined to catch me.

Oh, and it’s pitch black outside. No street lights, no glows from nearby windows, no other light source except the distant, unfeeling stars. My breath is catching in painful gasps, the sweat burns into my eyes, the hot wax is dripping onto my hand, my hair keeps waving closer to the flame as if it wants to catch fire, and I can’t find my bloody way out.

Endless corridors, more stairs, broken banisters, nails sticking up in odd places. I’m not dressed for this, either, in flimsy sandals and shorts and a tank top. If I wasn’t sweating from exertion, I’d be shivering from the cold. As it is, I’m swiping sweat with my free hand, making it slip when I try to use the half-broken banister to pull myself up. I round another corner and come up against a blank wall. Not another one. I can hear the – whatever it is, I don’t know if calling it a monster is literal or metaphorical – thumping after me, catching up to me, only one floor below now. I think. Not any further away, and surely not any closer. Please not any closer. A sliver of light glows feebly at the baseboard in front of me. I don’t have time to figure out secret doorways, but I’m desperate. I shove on it. I don’t have time to go back, either. The thumping is getting closer. I shove on it again, lower down. Gods, open. I shove at the bottom with my feet, earning a splinter in my toe and a broken strap on my sandal.

The thumping is, louder, closer, up to the stairs I just climbed, when, without my even pushing on it a fourth time, the wall swings wide, like a door. On – oh, gods, it’s – nothing. No floor, no balcony, just unsupported air.

Something like the wind, if the wind had hands, pushes me forward. I teeter on the sill, grabbing futilely at the door jamb, trying desperately not to fall into the abyss. The door – there was a door? – behind me bangs open, jarring the whole building. I lose my balance. I can’t hang on. The sandal with the broken strap falls off my foot. I teeter forward again. The air – pushes. I don’t dare look back. I don’t dare look down. I squeeze my eyes shut. I drop the burning candle. I lean forward. And I let go.

I don’t know what happens after that. I never got even that far in my dream. In my dream I’m still running, climbing stairs, reaching dead ends, never getting anywhere by the time I wake up.

Now it’s all a blur. I’m not sure the monster, literal or metaphorical, hasn’t killed me. I’m falling, sort of. It’s almost too soft to call a fall. Almost like the seesaw effect of a feather floating to the ground. The wind still has hands. Arms. It feels as if I’m being cradled by dozens of them as I float endlessly. I’m afraid of what they look like, what they want of me. But at least they don’t seem to want to kill me. They’re gentle, not grasping, not grabbing. Not painful at all, in fact. I wonder if it’s because they know I can’t see them. I squeeze my eyes shut even more tightly. I hear a soft whooshing sound as if the wind were trying to laugh at me. At least I know I haven’t been deafened. Surely I’ve fallen much farther than even all those staircases I climbed.

I have to open my eyes someday. I screw up my courage, but when I open them they might as well still be closed. Pitchy, pitchy black. No stars, no lights, not a single thing to orient me. I’m not even sure which way is down or if I’m floating instead of falling.

Except that right that moment, I land with a thump. I half expect it to be viscous, gooey, to suck me down, but I can’t see or feel the surface, not even when I drop to my knees and stretch my hands out. It’s as if the wind has solidified just enough to hold me, but not one bit more. I thought I’d been disoriented in that maze of a house, but it’s nothing compared to this.

I stand, or at least stretch out my body in a standing position. Just one sandal makes my stance awkward somehow. I kick it off. It disappears into the abyss. I can’t see it no matter how hard I peer for it. Just past where it should be – where it is, dammit, it can’t just disappear – I see a speck in the darkness. It flickers, but I can see it. I haven’t gone blind after all, either.

I step forward onto the air. I don’t see it as a leap of faith, more like a baby step of bewilderment. The light – beckons. I take another step. A second speck appears. Before I know it I am leaping. Not with faith. But definitely leaps. Towards the ever-receding light.

to the coast

I was sick Sunday and yesterday, alas, but on Saturday my friend Judy drove me to Westport, where we ate fish and chips and we went to the Maritime museum where I got to see their magnificent first order Fresnel lens before I went back to her van and took a nap, while she toured the rest of the museum (I’d been there several times before and I was pretty tired after the 2-hour drive), then went out to the promenade where I actually walked all the way to the first bench, which has a wonderful view of the ocean.

Then I slept most of the way back, but that’s okay.

Here’s the usual photographic proof!  I have a video I want to post as part of this as soon as I figure out how to crop video, too.

A first order (the largest size) Fresnel lens, which is the most beautiful utilitarian object in the world. I have video of it rotating, throwing off rainbows, that I will post as soon as I can.
A woolly bear caterpillar on the sidewalk.
This little dude was singing his heart out along the promenade.
A view from the boardwalk.
A view from the first bench on the promenade (coming from the Gray’s Harbor lighthouse end of the path).

And the next morning, Judy and I started the process that will end with her taking over the distribution of my books and the upkeep of my website when I’m gone.  So my legacy will live on without me.  This makes me so happy.

 

Paradise!

Yesterday, my quilting friend Kathy came over the mountains and took me to Paradise on Mt. Rainier.  We ate lunch (divine mac and cheese) at the National Park Inn at Longmire, then headed on up.  It was absolutely beautiful, and here is the proof:

My Mountain, aka Mt. Rainier.
Fall foliage on the alpine tundra at Paradise.
Another view of the Mountain, with more foliage.

A couple of plant close-ups.

Scarlet mountain ash berries.
The only wildflowers I saw — these are pearly everlastings, which is a more than appropriate name.

And some little critters.

A gray jay. Otherwise known as a camp robber :-).
M’sieur chipmunk.
Getting ready for winter with a big mouthful.

A view headed down the Mountain.

The brilliant autumn tapestry from the Paradise Valley Road.

And the absolutely lovely quilt I was given by my fellow members of the Washington State Internet Quilters (WASIQ).  Thank you so much to all of you!

A beautiful quilt.

It was a long but glorious day.  I darned near slept the clock around last night, I was so tired, but it was so, so, so worth it…

a flowery day

This morning my friend Delinda and I went to Tacoma, ran two errands, and then went to Point Defiance Park to see what I thought was going to be the last of the fall flowers.

Turns out that the dahlias were still in full bloom, and the roses were still going strong, too.  I managed to stroll and photograph for almost an hour, too!

These tightly petalled ball dahlias are my favorites.
This one reminds me of peppermint.
Positively shaggy!
This one almost glows in the dark.
My dad loved red dahlias (and lots of other red flowers).
My mother, OTOH, was fond of salmon-colored flowers.
This one was just cool.
A purple rose!
I’d never seen a rose quite like this one.
And this rose looks like it could glow in the dark, too!
One of many other things Point Defiance is famous for is its mini-arboretum.

All in all, so pretty!

Karin’s sewing machine

Tonight my friend Tina and I went to a program/exhibit at the Lacey library.  It was put on by the Pacific Northwest Vintage Sewing machine organization.  It was fascinating.  All kinds of antique and vintage sewing machines, as well as a program where several people spoke about them.  Some folks there own more than a hundred sewing machines!

There were also quilts up on the library’s walls from a couple of local guilds, which was nice.

And I got to try a sewing machine about the right age to have been Karin’s sewing machine from True Gold, which was truly cool.

Here are some of the photos I took.

One of the oddest sewing machines I’ve ever seen. 1930s vintage.
I’ve never seen a white Featherweight in person before.
This one’s about the same vintage (if not the same maker) as my old sewing machine.
Some of the quilts on display.
This one looks a lot like the one my mother had.
A 1914 Scottish Singer machine .
Not a very good photo, but this machine could be the one Karin carried over Chilkoot Pass and the Golden Staircase in True Gold.  It’s a vintage 1895-1905 Singer portable.
And the carrying case for Karin’s machine.

Oh, and by the way, this is a photo of the Golden Staircase up to the top of Chilkoot Pass that Karin carried her sewing machine over, and the conditions in which she would have done it.

Those mysterious Mima Mounds, with bonus wildflowers

The odd landscape of the Mima Mounds.

Mima mounds are one of those quasi-mysterious landforms that no one really has an explanation for. They occur in various places in North America and elsewhere, but the landform itself is named after the mounds on the Mima Prairie, which happens to be just down the road from where I live (I’m northeast of Olympia, Washington, and the mounds are about 10 miles south of Oly). This area is also one of the few examples of native prairie left in western Washington, as well as a prime example of the mounds.  It’s now preserved as a Natural Area Preserve by the state of Washington, and as a Natural National Landmark by the federal government.

Some of the theories of Mima mound formation, as posted on the visitor kiosk.

I’d been there once before not long after I moved to Washington, then I completely forgot about it. Which is really too bad, actually.

But the real draw for me, especially this time of year, is the flowers. Of course. I saw at least a dozen different kinds. Here are some of them.

Siberian miners lettuce. A ubiquitous woodland flower, found this time in the woods near the parking lot.
Desert parsley.
A serviceberry shrub. A similar species back east is known as shadblow.
Western serviceberry blossoms.
Salal. Another common woodland plant, related to both blueberries and rhododendrons. I found it at the edge of the prairie this time.
Camas plants are scattered like this all over the mounds.  The yellow blossoms are western buttercups.
A close up of a camas bloom stalk.
The violets grew in patches, not scattered all over like the camas.
Death camas, so-called because the bulb is poisonous. The bulb is almost indistinguishable from the regular blue camas, so the Indians used to dig these up and get rid of them when they were in bloom, which was the only time it was easy to tell them apart.

And two other non-flower photos.

Not a flower, but this unfurling fiddlehead was just cool.
It’s not often you find a sky as open as this in western Washington.

Oh, and by the way, it’s pronounced like lima bean, not like Lima, Peru.

A long-held wish comes true

I remember first hearing about this amazing Chinese archaeological find decades ago. It may even have been when it was first discovered, although I was a pretty self-absorbed teenager back in the 1970s. It seems like it was always a part of my imagination, an entire city built underground, filled with wonders, first and foremost of which was an entire population made of terracotta clay – like flowerpots. Mostly an army, but others as well, and animals, inhabiting a place where rivers ran with mercury, all built by an emperor who wanted to be immortal.

I have wanted to go see that terracotta city for what seems like forever, but a trip to China has never been in the cards.

Well, yesterday, China came to see me. Seattle’s Pacific Science Center is one of only two American stops (the other will be in Philadelphia) on a tour of a wonderful exhibit of the Terracotta Warriors, and yesterday my friend Loralee and I went to see it.

It was amazing. I really don’t have words. The story and history behind the terracotta army beggar belief, but to see the actual statues, and learn about how they were made, and why, and for whom…

Anyway, I may not have words, but I do have photos, and here are some of them. If you’re going to be anywhere near Seattle between now and September (and if you can still get a ticket – this exhibit has been wildly popular) or if you’re going to be in Philadelphia when it’s open there, all I can say is – GO. It’s an amazing and wonderful thing, and everyone who can should see it.

This 2200 year old fellow was at the entrance to the exhibit. The coloring is way off because something got messed up on my camera. The rest of the photos are much more accurate color-wise. But this one is rather dramatic…
Some of the many other than sculpture artifacts displayed in the exhibit.
An infantryman.
And a close-up of his face. There were ten of the actual human statues in the exhibit, and each one had different features and a different facial expression. The explanatory text said that this was true of all of the over 8000 sculptures they’ve found so far.
A pair of archers, standing and kneeling. Their wooden bows have long since rotted away, of course.
The face of a cavalryman, who looks rather condescending, as is appropriate for a member of a more elite corps.
The back of our cavalryman, and his horse.
Some of the stone armor.
And what it would have looked like assembled.
This man is a court official, and definitely not a soldier.
One of the last parts of the exhibit was a room full of what the soldiers looked like when they were first found. Sorry about the photo quality — the curators used light or the lack of it to make it seem more realistic.
In that room was one of the soldiers, and a light — show isn’t the right word — but projected onto him was what happened when the figures were first exposed to light. Starting out brightly painted, within 15 minutes of exposure to air, the paint peeled and flaked, leaving the sculptures covered in bits of, well, gunk. I think that was the most astonishing part of the whole exhibit.
One of the funny things about how many exhibits I’ve seen in this space over the last 20 or so years is that sometimes I see a mental overlay of other things I’ve seen here as I’m walking through. This was taken from the ramp that leads up and out of the exhibit to the exit. I remember seeing similar views from here at the Titanic exhibit and the one about Lucy the hominid, among others.

They haven’t opened the emperor’s actual tomb, both because they’re afraid they’ll destroy it unintentionally, and because the levels of mercury in the soil above the tomb are so toxic that it’s completely unsafe for anyone to do so.  Maybe someday they will open it, if they can ever figure out how to solve those two problems first.  But in the meantime, all we can do is wonder.  And wow, do I wonder.

Wow, it’s so lovely and warm

I always wake up at the crack of dawn when I’m camping. Especially this time of year when it gets light before six in the morning. But that’s okay.

I’m not sure why (am I ever sure why?) I decided to drive up to Lake Chelan this morning, but I never really have before. I stopped in the touristy town of Chelan, at the foot of the lake, to buy batteries for my camera and to stick my head in a quilt shop on the main drag. Whoever their fabric buyer is, her taste does not agree with mine. I’m not a big fan of what I think of as sixties neon, and that was about all that little shop held.

There is no road clear around Lake Chelan. It’s a landlocked fjord, and the upper end of the lake reaches deep into the North Cascades. There are two roads on either side. The one on the north shore of the lake is only about twenty miles long. The one on the south side is about twice that length, so that’s the one I took.

Lake Chelan is the third deepest lake in North America at over 1500 feet deep (the bottom is lower than sea level), according to a sign I read at the ferry landing. It’s roughly 55 miles long, and varies from one to two miles wide. It’s also pretty darned gorgeous. I stopped at the Fields Point Landing, a few miles up the lake, to poke around the visitor center and ask about the ferry that runs daily to Stehekin, the tiny settlement at the head of the lake. One of these days I want to take that trip, but the boat had left an hour or so earlier. Next time.

But I saw beautiful views, anyway, and more flowers.

The view across Lake Chelan from Field’s Landing. I don’t know if that’s a permanent snowcap or if it’s just because it’s only May.
A view of the ferry landing and down the lake.
Along the path looking northward along the lake. The yellow flowers are more balsamroot.
Prairie Star Flower. I saw these for the first time down in Oregon on my Long Trip last summer. This was the only shot I got of them this trip where the blossoms weren’t blurred by the breeze.

I’d thought about camping at 25 Mile Creek State Park at the end of the road that night, but it wasn’t even noon yet, and I decided I wanted to actually go on up to the Okanogan. So, stopping along the way to make a picnic lunch, I headed up to the town of Omak, where one of my favorite quilt shops (Needlyn Time) is. And, yes, this time I bought fabric, which I needed like a hole in the head, but tough.

After that, I headed up to Conconully, the little town that inspired the ghost town of the same name in my Unearthly Northwest books.

The view from the highway going up to Conconully from Omak. Please excuse the bug blurs — I had to take this through the windshield because there really wasn’t a good place where I could get out of the van.
This is what I meant by more balsamroot than I’ve ever seen on one trip before. Whole *hillsides* of the stuff.

Conconully is one of the few towns I know of with a state park right at the edge of town. But it’s a nice state park, and the campsite I wound up at was right on the lake and pretty secluded. I spent what was left of the afternoon just enjoying the day and reading, and listening to the red-winged blackbirds sawing their courtship cries. Oh, and watching the geese and ducks use the lake as a landing and launch pad. And the deer eating the campground’s mowed grass.

One of the red-winged blackbirds who sawed his mating call all afternoon at Lake Conconully.
One of the deer who wandered through the campground in the afternoon.
The view from my campsite at Conconully State Park.
My campsite at Conconully State Park.
Sunset from my campsite.

All in all, I drove a bit more than I had intended, but it was well worth it.

Over the mountains to sunshine

It’s no secret that this has been the wettest winter on record in western Washington (almost 45 inches of rain between October 1st and April 30th – our average, for well over a hundred years of record-keeping, is closer to 35 inches for the entire year), and one of the coldest. There’s no argument that it’s been incredibly depressing as well (and personal reasons have made it even more so for me).

So, when the weather forecasters for this past week noted (with great cheer) that it was supposed to get to and over 70dF on the west side of the mountains for the first time this year on Wednesday and Thursday, and even warmer, with lots of sunshine, on the east side, I thought, you know what? Screw it, I’m going camping.

Of course, when I thought about the east side of the mountains, my first idea was to go back to the Okanogan, which almost feels like home after the time I spent there researching my first two Tales of the Unearthly Northwest. I was also hoping it would nudge me back into writing the third Tale, which has sat there a few chapters in whining at me for longer than I want to think about it, due to those personal reasons I mentioned above. That didn’t really happen, but at least I got to spend some time in the sun, in nature, and to see lots of spring wildflowers.

The first place I went for flowers wasn’t on the way to the Okanogan, not in the region proper. At some point in the past I had picked up a flyer titled Wildflower Areas in the Columbia Basin, and one of them was about ten miles southeast of Wenatchee.

That turned out to be something of an adventure, as the photo of the Rock Island Grade Road will show. At my first sight of it, I thought, oh my gosh, I hope that little dirt road climbing up the side of a canyon isn’t the one they’re talking about, but yes, it was.

The Rock Island Grade “Road”, looking back towards the Columbia River from where I saw so many wildflowers.

It wasn’t the steepest, narrowest road I’ve ever driven, but I think it’s the steepest, narrowest dirt road I’ve ever driven. The recommended place to stop was about two and a half miles up, and the flyer hinted that there was a parking area. Ha. And what it turned out to be was a place for locals to go up and shoot cans, with all of the attendant garbage. That said, it was also literally carpeted with wildflowers. I managed to park Merlin as close to the edge of the road (not, at that point, hanging over the cliff) as I could, in case someone else came by (no one did, thank goodness), got out, and this is what I saw.

Spreading phlox spreading everywhere along the Rock Island Grade Road.
A phlox close-up.
And another. One of the things that makes phlox one of my favorite wildflowers (and garden flowers) is the infinite variation of a simple five-petaled flower in such a limited color palette.
The yellow flowers are wild radish. The purple ones are blue mustard. Both are tiny, but were profuse.
Yakima milkvetch, which was a new one to me.
And the first of more balsamroot I’ve ever seen in one trip before, which is saying a fair amount.

After I made my way cautiously back down to the highway, I headed back to Wenatchee, then north along Hwy. 97, which borders the Columbia River. It was getting fairly late in the afternoon by then, so I stopped at Lincoln Rock State Park, the first of three parks with campgrounds north of Wenatchee. I’d never camped there before. All of the sites are within sight of the river, and it was a peaceful, warm evening. I sat out in my lawn chair and just absorbed it all. Unfortunately, the batteries in my camera chose just then to give up the ghost, and apparently I’d forgotten to bring the spares, so I have no photos of that.

And that was my first day east of the mountains this year.  More tomorrow.