Category Archives: philosophy

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 45

Fullerton, California

Monday, July 30, 1973

HOME!!!”  Which is all that my diary says for that day.  And plenty.

Just out of curiosity, I put our itinerary into Google maps’ directions screen, and discovered that in 45 days, we went roughly 7600 miles, not counting side trips or out-and-backs.  That equals roughly 180 miles a day.  Which really doesn’t sound like much, until you think about it being the equivalent of 180 miles every single day for 45 days.

When I was forty years old, I made what I still refer to as my Long Trip (uppercase intentional).  I drove over 14,000 miles by myself in a little under three months.  I went from here near Seattle across the top of the U.S. to Vermont, down the east coast to Florida, then across the South and Southwest to California, where I rolled my car in the middle of the Mojave Desert.  I then managed to make my way to my sister’s home in the Bay Area and flew home from there.  A year ago I blogged that journey day by day.  Like our Alaska trip, this was another journey from which I still date events in my life.  It was one of the best things I ever did.  The really funny thing is, I drove an average of almost exactly 180 miles a day on that trip, too.  And I thought I was being leisurely about it.

I am hoping to make another Long Trip in a year or two, if I can afford the gas and figure out what to do with my two cats for the duration (for my last long trip, the pair I had at the time went to stay with a friend, but I don’t want to impose on her twice).  This time I want to drive across the middle of the U.S. and come back across Canada.  If I do, I hope to blog it in realtime, or as close as I can manage given where and when I can find wifi.

Anyway, for all of you who stuck with me through forty-five days of driving to Alaska and back, I hope you’ll stick around to see where I’m going in the future.

And I hope you will want to check out my novels:

Repeating History is the first of my Yellowstone stories, and is available from Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, and iTunes.  It is about a young man, Chuck McManis, who, by virtue of being in absolutely the wrong place at the wrong time, is flung back in time from 1959 to 1877 in Yellowstone National Park, straight into the middle of an Indian war — the flight of the Nez Perce to Canada, pursued by the U.S. Army — and into his own family’s past.

True Gold  is the second in this series, and picks the story up in the next generation.  It is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.  It is the story of Karin Myre, a Norwegian immigrant teenager living in Seattle, who decides to escape a future of too much drudgery and no choices by running off to the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897.  Stowing away on one of the many overcrowded ships bound north, she finds herself trapped in the cargo hold with a crowd of second thoughts.  But her rescue from the captain and a fate worse than death by a determined young prospector from Wyoming and his photographer partner is only the beginning of her search for a future of her own making.

The third novel, tentatively titled Finding Home, picks up the story of the widowed father Chuck left behind in Repeating History, his search for his lost son, and what that search reveals to him about his own murky past.  It will be available for purchase in the spring of 2013.

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 37

Haines, Alaska

Sunday, July 22, 1973

Our second day in Haines, we discovered what it’s like to explore roads that just peter out and end.

I’ve never lived on an island, or anywhere else that isn’t connected by road to the wider world.  When I went to Alaska in 1995, one of the things that really disconcerted me when I rented a car in Juneau (it was the only way at the time to get out to Mendenhall Glacier without hiking for miles since the bus didn’t go that far — I’m not sure why I didn’t just take a taxi because I know there are taxis in Juneau) was that all the roads out of town just ended.  All four of them.  Not at any sort of destination or anything.  The pavement would go for a few miles and peter out into gravel, which gradually changed over to dirt and then just stopped, out in the middle of nowhere.  It was extremely disconcerting.

I remember in Ketchikan, too, asking a lady in one of the shops along Creek Street how she liked living there.  Her response burned into my brain:  “Oh, it’s okay as long as you can get off the rock once in a while.”  It was right then that I realized I could never, ever live in a place I couldn’t just drive away from.  Ferries are all well and good, but they’re expensive and require reservations and run on their own schedule, not mine.  I need to know I can get away when and as often as I need to.

Anyway, except for the Haines Highway that we’d come in on, all the roads in Haines did that, too.  Just petered out.  Ended at nowhere.  All the roads in all of the panhandle of Southeast Alaska still do that, except for the White Pass Highway out of Skagway and the Haines Highway.

In the morning of this day we drove on the Lutak Road out past the ferry terminal where the pavement ended, and on to Chilkoot Lake.

Chilkoot Lake

My diary says it was very pretty, and this picture bears that out.

On our way back from the lake, we stopped at a place where the road fords the river, and my father rinsed the car off.  I suspect it needed it pretty badly by that point.

We also stopped at the ferry terminal and made walk-on reservations to go to Skagway for the day the next day.

In the afternoon, we drove out the Mud Bay Road, which my diary says wasn’t so great, but not why.  But possibly because it started to rain yet again.  We went back to the trailer after that and played more cards.

Oh, and this day was my mother’s birthday.  My diary says that we would celebrate it after we got home.

True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 26

Russian River Campground, east of Soldotna, Alaska

Wednesday, July 11, 1973

We left Homer on this day.  Time to go since we’d caught our salmon, I guess.  We didn’t go far after dumping and refilling our water and sewage tanks, just to a campground a few miles east of Soldotna, which is about 75 miles back towards Anchorage from Homer.

The campground was on the banks of the Russian River.  I imagine that name is a holdover from early in the 19th century when the Russians actually owned Alaska.  There’s another Russian River in California, too, which supposedly marks how far the Russians got in their explorations of North America’s Pacific coast back in the day.

We did some more fishing, but as I wrote in my diary, we “discovered that you had to fish with flies,” apparently a state park regulation, so the only thing caught was a minnow, by my father.  “It was cute.”  I think that was the last of the fishing on this trip, if I remember correctly.

That evening after supper, my father took a piece of leftover bread roll and tied it to the end of his fishing line, then set the roll on the picnic table.  Soon a ground squirrel came to investigate, and Daddy teased him by repeatedly tugging it away from him with the fishing line.  “At first I thought it was funny, afterward I didn’t like it.”  Honestly, I remember it not even being funny to begin with.

It was, to use my personal metaphor, like filling someone’s car with popcorn, being deliberately mean to get a laugh at someone else’s expense.  My three sisters all got married the year I turned twelve.  You know how people tie old shoes onto the back of the car when a couple gets married?  Well, at the first wedding reception, my new brother-in-law’s friends decided to do something different, so they filled the honeymoon getaway car with popped popcorn.  All the way to the roof.  Everybody else thought it was funny.  All I can remember is the mess it made and how it took forever to get the car cleaned out enough to drive it.  My sister said that they were still finding popcorn kernels in that car a month later.

There are some things that other people find hilarious that I find just mean-spirited and nasty.  And teasing some poor hungry ground squirrel is like filling someone’s car with popcorn.

True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 15

 Mt. McKinley (now Denali) National Park, Alaska

Friday, June 29, 1973

 We left Fairbanks later than usual because of one last car issue, but were on our way by 9 am, and arrived at Mt. McKinley National Park (as it was called then) around three in the afternoon.

 After we set up camp at Riley Creek Campground, where the price of a site was $2.00 a night (as opposed to $22 nowadays), we went on a ranger-guided nature walk on the Morino Trail, which is near the entrance to the park.  Even back then, you were not allowed to drive on the only road into the heart of the park unless you had a reservation at one of the campgrounds along it, and then you could only go that far.  Otherwise you had to take the park service run bus (more about that tomorrow)  Since Riley Creek Campground was near the entrance, that was as far as we could go that day. 

 One of the things that’s really obvious to me in rereading my diary is that I had not realized how much I internalized my parents’ prejudices when I was young.  I am not going to repeat what I wrote about the ranger, except that he was not your standard-brand park ranger as we knew them back then, and we were all rather entertained by this.  Not that I had a clue what the things my parents found so amusing meant at the time.  Now they’re painfully obvious.  Oh, well.  At least I grew out of that particular brand of bigotry, which is more than I can say about my parents.

 The walk was pleasant and informative, however, and so was the talk at the campfire circle that night about Dall sheep, the Alaskan variety of bighorn sheep, one of many animal species native to Mt. McKinley.

 Some of my favorite childhood memories are of going to campfire circles at national parks.  We went to them every chance we got, and since almost every camping trip we took when I was a kid included at least one national park, we went to a great many of them. When I was really little, I got to be one of the kids who were called down to the front of the campground amphitheater to watch while the ranger lit the fire.  I remember one campfire talk at Mesa Verde (I think I was five or six) when we watched Indians dance.  I learned enough silly songs to perform an entire concert of them (not that you’d want me to — I can’t carry a tune in a bucket).  And I learned a great deal about the places we visited because of them.  I have only been to a few campfire programs since I’ve been an adult.  Mostly that’s because I don’t camp in national parks much anymore.  I generally stay in lodging instead, because I mostly travel alone or with friends who aren’t campers.  I don’t know if the park service still does campfire programs, but I hope they do, and that more generations of little kids are coming along who enjoyed them as much as I did.

 True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Visiting a volcano

 I firmly believe that if at all possible, everyone should have a chance to explore his or her surroundings.  And I tend to use the word “surroundings” loosely, generally meaning within a day trip, or, for some exceptional destinations, perhaps an overnight or a weekend. 

 I think this was brought home to me most profoundly by a woman I used to work with when I lived in a small, rather remote (when asked where it’s located, I usually say “thirty miles east of Idaho, eighty miles south of Canada”) town in Montana about twenty years ago.  She was in her forties and had never been more than thirty miles from home.  Given that the nearest city of any size was ninety miles away, and the only other town within that thirty mile limit was about a quarter the size of the one she lived in, that meant her boundaries were circumscribed in a way that I could never imagine.

 I was born in New Orleans.  I grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Denver, and San Francisco.  My parents always made a big deal of exploring and getting to know the area around us every time we moved.  Since then I have lived in Oregon, another part of Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, Montana, and Washington state, and I have kept up the tradition of exploration.  Any circumscription of my boundaries is pretty well stretched to the point where it won’t snap back.

 Anyway.  A few years ago I discovered that my best local friend, whose father and husband were both military and so is even more well-moved than I am, had never really had a chance to explore once she moved here.  Kids and a full-time job just didn’t let her.  So I started a campaign to take her someplace she’s never visited before at least once a year.

 This year’s jaunt was to Mt. St. Helens.

 It was a beautiful, almost too warm day.  Classic Pacific Northwest August sunshine.  It also happened to be the first time I left the kittens to their own devices for the entire day; as it turned out, they managed just fine and didn’t even destroy the house. 

 But I digress.  We packed a picnic and drove the two and a half hours down I-5 and east along the Toutle River, first to Coldwater Lake, where there’s a trail/boardwalk along the lakeshore with signs telling about how the lake was formed by the 1980 eruption, and a picnic area, and a restroom that looks like a bunker for surviving nuclear war.  Now that I think about it, maybe it’s designed to help anyone stranded there survive another eruption.

 After lunch, we drove up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, where we listened to a ranger talk about the eruption and went through the exhibits, where, among other things I jumped up and down on a platform to create my own tick on a seismograph.  My inner ten-year-old liked that a great deal. 

 There’s a pleasant trail leading up the hillside above the observatory, where plenty of wildflowers were in bloom.  It leads past a viewpoint, and a memorial listing all of the names of the 57 people who died in the eruption.  The views from the top are quite spectacular, but there aren’t many views in the monument that aren’t.

All in all, it was an extremely satisfactory “taking L somewhere she’s never been” day.  I hope she enjoyed it as much as I did.

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Every cat is different

Ivan in back, and Teddy in front. They are growing like little weeds.


 So.  Call me mistress of the obvious, but I honestly did not realize how much difference there would be between a bottle-raised kitten and one who had a mother.  And I did not realize how much difference there would be between a single kitten and a pair. 

Due to circumstances beyond my control, and, really, anyone’s control, the two kittens I picked out from a local fosterer had to come home one at a time.  Oh, I suppose I could have waited until both were ready to leave the fosterer, but I’d been waiting for three weeks already (they were only four weeks old when I first met them, and still drinking kitty formula from a bottle).  So I brought Theodore, aka Teddy, home first, while Ivan, who had a slight skin infection, needed the health all-clear before he could be sprung a week and a half later.

Both the boys were bottle fed.  They and their two siblings arrived at Charlotte’s as the result of a phone call from a man who said he had orphan kittens in his barn, that the mother had disappeared and not come back.  He thought they were six weeks old.  They turned out to be less than half that age.  So Charlotte bottle-fed them and did all the other things one does to help kittens of that age survive and thrive.

The only reason I met them at such an early age was because she couldn’t leave them home alone all day during her usual adoption day at PetSmart. 

So.  The difference between a single kitten and a pair is obvious.  Until Ivan came home Teddy got lonely really easily, and followed me around like a puppy.   I hadn’t spent that much time giving an animal attention in a very long time (note, this is decidedly not a complaint — he and his brother are both amazingly easy to spoil).  It wasn’t so much a surprise but just that I’d forgotten what it was like.  But he was so much happier when Ivan came home.  He went from sitting on me every single chance he got to, “Oh, hi, Mom, gotta go play now!” in the span of about fifteen minutes.  Ivan, of course, has been that way from the moment he stepped out of the carrier.

And the difference between bottle fed and mama fed is that they’ve both bonded to me faster than Super to Glue.  I’ve always thought of cats as being sort of aloof.  I’m not sure Teddy and Ivan could spell aloof with a feline dictionary. 

I still think it was a good idea to bring Teddy home first, but I have to admit this was an entirely different experience than I was expecting.  In the best possible way.

This wasn’t what I expected to get from this book.

The book in question is called Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain.  It was recommended by author Lois McMaster Bujold, on her blog a few weeks ago. 

Disclaimer the first:  I am an introvert.  I am, so far as I can tell, about as introverted as it is possible to be, which I first was able to give a name to in high school almost forty years ago when I tested off the introvert end of the bell curve as part of some forever nameless (because I don’t think they ever told me — I’m pretty sure these were pre-Myers/Briggs days) psychological testing process.

Not that I didn’t know I was before that, I just didn’t know what to call it.

 Disclaimer the second:  I have a tendency to get a bit hostile when I read books on introversion, because most of them tend to be written by faux introverts rather than the real thing, and because they generally make assertions, such as the concept that an introvert can enjoy public speaking, that I disagree violently with.  It is my beyond firm belief that if you enjoy public speaking (as opposed to being able to do it if you absolutely positively have to), then, no, you’re not an introvert, pretty much by definition (no, I’m not going to argue that here — if you disagree with this incontrovertible fact (as opposed to opinion), please post about that on your own blog, thank you). 

And now I’m done with the disclaimers, which probably give you a pretty good idea of what I expected from this book, which is what I’ve mostly gotten from other books on the subject.  Which may make you wonder why I read them, but it’s kind of like watching America’s Got Talent.  Some people have talent.  Some — don’t.  Books on introversion have some concepts right on the money, and some clear out in left field.  But I did expect those concepts to be about introversion. 

The book was about introversion, don’t get me wrong, but the new and useful concept I acquired from this book is about something called social cues, and the spectrum of ability to read those cues humanity has. 

I suspect the fact that I really had no clue what the term social cues meant until the author explained it is what gave me the first inkling that perhaps I’m about as far on the “social cues? huh?” end of the bell curve as I am on the introvert end.  I cannot begin to count the number of times I have realized from days to sometimes years later, that someone was trying to ask or tell me something and I simply didn’t get it because they weren’t direct enough for me to catch on.

Like the time just after my second divorce when my mother attempted to find out if the reason both my marriages had gone south was because I was gay.  I’m not, which is neither here nor there, but it did not dawn on me that my dear elderly Southern Lady mother’s hints on the subject were her way of trying to find out if I was, until, oh, about six years after the little talk in question, when something reminded me of the conversation and the other shoe dropped, along with my jaw.

So does my realization this afternoon after another incident that only happened yesterday (not with my mother, and not one I can comfortably speak of here) mean that I’m getting better at recognizing when people want me to know something but they’re too uncomfortable/disdainful/bad at recognizing the clueless to tell me straight out?  (or, I suppose, they could think they’re actually being direct, but that’s a scary thought)

Somehow I doubt it. 

But at least I have a name for it now.

So where are you on the introvert/extrovert scale?  And, just as importantly, on the social cues bell curve?

Oh, and does anyone have any suggestions for teaching myself how to catch in real time at least some of the conversational dust motes that I’m missing?

Three weeks ago, Day 14

First real geysers of the trip

It was chilly but the clouds were not at all ominous when I left West Yellowstone this morning.  I stopped at one of the picnic areas along the Madison River to write, then stopped again at Madison Junction, to find the ranger station/bookstore that I hadn’t visited before.  It has a nice view down the Madison River valley, and some really nice fabric blocks printed with vintage postcard images and such.  If they hadn’t been so expensive, I’d have bought them in spite of the fact that I’d already overrun my fabric budget for the trip.  Well, there’s always next time.  Or the website.

My next destination was the Firehole Lake Drive.  I wanted to see if there was a prediction posted for Great Fountain Geyser.  Great Fountain is the only geyser with regular predictions outside of the Upper Geyser Basin, and it’s well worth the effort it takes to see it (you have to understand, I have a thing about, a fascination with, a passion for geysers, so I may be a bit biased here, but going to Yellowstone without spending time waiting for geysers to erupt is like going to New York City for the first time and not visiting the Statue of Liberty — as one of my favorite fictional characters often says in other contexts, that’s just wrong). 

Anyway.  Great Fountain did indeed have a prediction written on the plastic sign at the entrance to its boardwalk.  It was for later that afternoon.  So I got back in my car and decided to drive down to West Thumb, saving the rest of the geyser basins for Sunday and Monday.  Except that Cliff Geyser was going off as I drove by, and how was I supposed to keep going without stopping at least for a while to watch one of my two favorite small geysers? (the other is Sawmill, in the Upper Geyser Basin)

As I drove over the Continental Divide on my way to West Thumb, one of the most scenic spots in the park in my humble opinion, I noticed that there was still snow along the road at the highest elevations.  I wondered if the lake would still be frozen.  I have seen it frozen before, except for the spots where there are hot springs on the floor of the lake which keep those parts open all winter, even in below 0F temperatures.

As it turned out, the lake was thawed.  As it also turned out, the weather was beginning to turn, spitting cold rain and wind.  I searched under my car seat and lo and behold, discovered that the canvas sack I keep my knit cap and mittens in was still there!  There are some advantages to being too lazy to completely clear out the car before heading out on a long trip.  Between that and the coat I had had the sense to bring with me, I was just fine.  I spent the better part of several hours wandering happily along the boardwalks admiring the beautiful hot springs, the spectacular lake, and the gorgeous Absaroka Mountains on the other side of the lake, until it dawned on me that if I wanted to attempt to catch Great Fountain, I had better hit the road.

The drive back to Great Fountain was uneventful, except for the ice pellet shower I ducked through over the Continental Divide.  The pellets themselves were tiny, about the size of the head of a quilting pin, but plentiful enough that I had to use the windshield wipers.  By the time I got back to Great Fountain, they’d stopped, though.  Good timing.

Even better was Great Fountain’s.  The pool was already beginning to overflow, and I only had to wait about half an hour, watching the center begin to bubble and boil, until all of a sudden there it went!  It was a good, one-burst eruption.  I’m not into the scientific part of the whole geyser thing, all the if it does that now when it’s already doing this it’ll go off in the next event cycle (a process Grand Geyser watchers in particular elevate to a fine art); for me it’s more just a very strong aesthetic appreciation.  But oh, I do aesthetically appreciate a good geyser eruption.  It’s one of my favorite things on the planet.

After Great Fountain did its thing, I drove on around the Firehole Lake Drive.  I had stopped to walk another boardwalk when the ice pellets struck again.  When an ice pellet hits you in the face, I am here to tell you it can sting.  So that was the end of that.  By the time I got back to West, the sun was out.  But it had been a long day, so I found some supper and holed up at the hostel for the night. 

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If you like my travel writing, you might enjoy my fiction set in Yellowstone:

Repeating History, “A GRAND yarn you can’t put down.” Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures

Three weeks ago, Day 9

 Theodore Roosevelt National Park — the north unit

I believe I even had oil workers for neighbors in the campground last night.  At least they had camping gear.  One of them even had a trailer.  They were as nice and polite as could be, though, and since we all cleared out at about the same time the next morning, they didn’t even wake me up trying to get to work on time.

 Fort Buford and its campground were about an hour north of the north unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, just west of the town of Watford City, where I had tried to get a motel when I was going through my bout of reservation-making a couple of days before.  When I actually drove through it, I was glad I hadn’t been able to.

Do you ever create mental pictures so strong of places that you haven’t been to that when you actually arrive you think you can’t actually be in that place, it has to be wrong?  I did that with Watford City.  Maybe because it’s a town on the edge of a national park, and in my experience towns on the edges of national parks are a bit more attractive than, say, a construction site.  Watford City was one big noisy dusty construction site.  I suppose it was understandable enough given the circumstances, but still. 

But then I drove a few more miles south and the whole world changed.  The edge of the land dropped off from undulating prairie to the bluffs and buttes of the North Dakota badlands, and when I turned off from the highway onto the main (and only) road into the park, I got that lovely feeling I always get in national parks, of being in a place where nature matters.

I stopped at the visitor center, where mine was the only non-NPS vehicle in the parking lot.  TRNP’s north unit is one of the least-visited units of the national park system, and I can testify that it was pretty darned empty the day I was there — I think I saw two other cars the entire time I was in the park.  I looked at their exhibits, then I headed further into the park on a leisurely tour. 

I like badlands.  I like the texture of them and the shape of them.  I like the exposed layers and the unexpected look of the formations.  There’s just something about them that jump-starts the imagination.  Rocks shaped like cannonballs, ledges so flat and chiseled you could balance an egg on them, pyramidal rocks with more layers than an ice cream cake.  Just wonderful stuff.  The weather was nice, too, if a bit warm.  The only disappointment was that the road was only open about halfway into the park.  Apparently the land had slumped under the road, taking the pavement with it, and they hadn’t repaired it yet.  Since slumping is a major method nature uses to create badlands, I couldn’t complain, and I didn’t.  I got out and walked a small piece past the barricade, then decided that it was just a bit too lonely to walk far.  What if I had a close encounter with a bison?  They do live in the park, along with wild longhorn cattle and feral horses.  As it turned out, though, the only critters I saw in the north unit that day were birds. 

I walked a nature trail at the campground, down to the Little Missouri River, and I ate my lunch in the picnic area, well-shaded by more enormous cottonwoods.  Wrote a while.  Then I headed on south to I-94.

I have this book, called the Quilter’s Travel Companion, that lives in my car all year.  It’s basically a national phone book for quilt shops in the U.S. (and Canada, too, come to think of it).  Anyway, it had a listing for a quilt shop in the city of Dickinson, located on I-94 a few miles east of where I met up with it.  It was still the middle of the afternoon, so I decided to go see if I could find some good North Dakota-themed fabric as a souvenir (fabric is a very useful souvenir, especially after it makes its way into a quilt where it reminds the quilter of the good time she had acquiring it).  The shop was adorable.  And I found some wonderful fabric, of course. 

Then I headed back west, Dickinson having been the easternmost point on the entire trip, and found the motel room I had managed to snag in the small town of Belfield, which is apparently just out of commuting distance for the oil workers, and on my way to the south unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  But that was for the next day.

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Repeating History, “A GRAND yarn you can’t put down.” Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures