Small Town Living

I’ve lived in towns of various sizes all my life. (Although Denver is now considered a big city, back when I was growing up, it was proud of its “Cow Town” appellation.)

But my current place of residence is by far the smallest town I’ve lived in, and although I worried about insularity, the people have been nothing but welcoming. (I think one of the reasons for the welcoming attitude here is that not only are the people very nice — to me, at least — the town has been on a downhill slide for many years. New people are buying old houses and fixing them up, which helps maintain the small-town friendliness. There is no new development bringing hordes of non-rural folks to the area.)

And I fit in from the very first day.

I was attending an Art Guild meeting the other day, and when I asked a question about an upcoming event, one woman said, “It’s the same as last year.”

“I’ve only been here six months,” I responded. She seemed taken aback and said something to the effect that she hadn’t realized I hadn’t been here very long since I was so active in the group. Another woman laughed and said that she dragged me to a guild meeting after I’d been here just a couple of days.

My comment, “Didn’t you feel a change in the atmosphere about six months ago when I came here? Your lives will never be the same!”

Truthfully, it’s my life that will never be the same.

Ah, small town living!

In the upcoming election, two women are running for city council, and I know them both, which I find fascinating considering the short time I’ve been here. One of the women is the daughter of the woman I bought the house from. (The woman I bought the house from is the Art Guild president, but she’s not the one who dragged me to that first meeting.) The other candidate is someone I met at porcelain painting class, a class I took specifically to meet people of different ages.

Most of my experiences here in this small town have been good ones. The only iffy experiences are of the insect variety. Lots of big red ants, which leave me alone. Even more mosquitoes, which don’t.

And tarantula hawks.

The most ambivalent experience by far is the tarantula hawk. Despite its name, and despite its size (the size of a hummingbird), this creature is not a hawk but a wasp. A two-inch wasp? Yikes! Supposedly, its sting is horrendously painful, but for the most part, it ignores humans. Tarantulas are its favorite prey. (I figure since the tarantula hawks are here already, I should be seeing tarantulas around, but not yet, though people assure me once it cools down, I will see them.)

On the plus side, I have seen a few butterflies.

The next few days, I am going to be ridiculously busy. Baking cookies for an Art Guild event on Sunday. Taking a gourd painting class Sunday afternoon. Going on a road trip with friends on Monday to the nearest city”. Porcelain painting Monday evening. A meeting at the museum on Tuesday to figure out how to do a Murder at the Museum” evening. Mexican Train Dominoes on Tuesday afternoon. Exercise class Wednesday morning.

It still puzzles me at times that despite all my confusion since Jeff’s death about how to create a new life for myself, it happened, almost without my volition. It’s as if I was pulled out of one life in the desert and plopped into a different life on the prairie without even a hiccup of loneliness. It helps that my next-door neighbor and I became immediate friends. But what also helped was my willingness to go to events and invite myself to sit with total strangers. Oddly, none of those strangers became my friends. I don’t even remember who they are, but making the effort put me in a place to meet others, including the woman who talked me into going to the Art Guild meeting.

A lot can happen in six months.

A new town.

A new life.

And tarantula hawks!!

(Neither of the photos in this article are very good since both were taken with my phone when I was out walking. I couldn’t get close to the butterfly without spooking it. I couldn’t get close to the tarantula hawk without spooking me.)

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Memorial Trip

I recently returned from an adventure that can only be called a memorial trip. On my way to my brother’s memorial, I stopped in Nephi, Utah for the night. That truck stop has always seemed a place out of time to me because during a period of turmoil in our lives, Jeff and I spent a very relaxing and pleasant night there. And so it was again, though a bit sad since his presence was only in my memory.

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The next day I stopped at Bridal Veil Falls. I had to smile at the legend of the Indian Maiden who’d leapt to her death after the supposed demise of her lover, and how Mother Nature, to memorialize the depth of her love, created a bridal veil for her. Really? A bridal veil? For a Native American? Still, the falls were lovely.

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The main purpose of the trip was to attend the memorial for my brother and to thank the people who’d looked out for him. It wasn’t so much a service as a pot luck dinner for people who had known, cared about, and cared for my brother. I was a bit nervous about meeting those people because I was the one who’d dumped him on the streets for them to deal with, but they were all very nice. Understood my tears. Hugged me. Beneath their frustration with my brother and their inability at times to deal with his nastiness, I sensed true affection for him. They were  pleased to hear stories of his younger days from me and my siblings and to see photos of him when his future shown brightly, because all they knew of him was the end of his story. I doubt any of us will ever be able to make sense of his life, but then, we’re not really supposed to. It was his life, however tragic it might seem to us. To me.

Clearing out my brother’s stuff (my stuff actually, since he’d given me everything a few years ago) was another sort of memorial. One of the oddest and most enigmatic things I found was a collection of Tarot cards. Although we shared an interest in truth, whether the truth of history, of life, of mysticism, and had often talked for hours in our younger days about such matters, he had never once mentioned the tarot. Nor was the tarot a part of my life at all except for a one-card reading I’d done for myself a while back. And yet, there were all those decks of cards and stacks of books about the tarot. (When I got back, I laid out the decks and contemplated the meaning of the collection as if it were a tarot card reading, but I found no answers.)

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On the return trip, I stopped at a mountain park that had once been a place of refuge for me. I almost never saw anyone back when I used to visit the place; in fact, there hadn’t even been much of a parking lot then. But now, there is no peace. Two parking lots filled with cars, paths filled with loudly chatting folks and screaming kids. A far cry from what used to be my private place.

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Still, the clear air was scented with pine, and between the hordes was a lovely view or two.

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Next, I drove past the road to Lost Park, a place my brother often visited when he was a young and carefree spirit. My siblings and I had planned to take my brother’s ashes there, but the plan didn’t work out. And I’m just as glad. The park is at the end of a 20 miles long, rutted, dirt road. We would have had to leave the ashes somewhere along the road since my car would never have made the journey into the far hills, and that would not have been the same thing at all.

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I spent the night in a mountain town, and outside my motel window was . . .

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Snow!

That small patch was the only snow I saw the entire trip — the weather had been  warm and sunny with a stray sprinkle or two — and that patch was sort of a memorial in itself since I haven’t seen snow in quite a while.

I took a favorite low road through the mountains, eschewing the high passes, then drove through Utah. I stopped at a viewpoint called Black Dragon, though I could see no dragon. Just bright red hills shining in the noonday sun. Weirdly, when I looked at the photo I took, there was the dragon.

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It was a strange journey, with strange portents. For example, on the first day, somehow one of my shoelaces got tangled around the clutch pedal. (I still can’t figure that one out!) And the next day, my new starter stopped starting, but a mobile mechanic took care of that. Later, a pin fell out of the carburetor about a mile from a VW repair place, so it was easy enough to get the problem fixed.

I don’t know what to make of any of this memorial trip, but it certainly was an adventure.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

No Resfeber for the Weary

I must admit, I am completely bewildered by my backpacking trip, a bewilderment that began the night before I left. For one thing, I didn’t feel any resfeber. (Resfeber is a fabulous Swedish word meaning the mingled excitement and dread a traveler feels just before the journey begins.) I just felt . . . ho hum. As if it were the night before an ordinary day. At least it felt that way until I finished packing my backpack. When I added food and water for four days (there are many places on the Pacific Crest Trail a person can hike and not need to carry more than a liter of water because water sources are ubiquitous, but not around here), what had been a moderately light pack turned into a monstrous load. Water is heavy. Sixteen ounces of water weighs a pound. The proverbial eight glasses of water a day weighs four pounds. Four pounds times four days. Eek.

I sat on the bed to put the pack on because it was too heavy to sling onto my shoulders any other way, and walked around the room for a bit. I moved okay, and it didn’t seem that much heavier than my backpack practicing weight, though I’m sure it was about ten pounds more than I’d ever tried carrying. (Did I mention that water is heavy?)

I worried about the long, steep climb up the Acorn trail to the Pacific Crest Trail, but decided I’d take things as they came. If it took me all day to climb those three miles, well, then, it would take all day. It’s a good thing I didn’t spend much time worrying about that climb because I ended up experiencing some trail magic. The fellow who let me park in his driveway drove me to a different trail head right off the road, where two easy steps took me onto the trail.

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As I started walking, I could feel a big smile on my face. The day was lovely, the pack seemed doable, the trail (and a sense of freedom) stretched ahead of me.

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After a less than a mile, I paused to get a silk scarf from my belly pack to put around my ears to protect them from the wind. A young fellow stopped just in front of me to remove something from his pack, and we talked a bit. He was thru hiking the PCT, had spent the night in town to do some work on the computer, and was now hurrying to catch up to his hiking buddies.

He apologized for speeding ahead, and then he sped ahead. Within a few seconds he had disappeared around a bend. Watching him practically run with his pack, I thought how nice it must be to be a young male, so strong and full of vigor and testosterone. And then I looked around and thought it wasn’t so bad being an old (well, older) woman, either.

I didn’t see another person on the trail, so I got my solo wilderness experience, except it didn’t feel any different from any other hike I took alone. Just a hike.

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But it wasn’t just another hike. I’d never before carried much more than a bottle of water, even on the long hikes I took a couple of years ago in the redwood forests and on the beaches in northern California.

At one point, I had to stop to retie my shoe laces to keep my feet from sliding forward on the downhill slopes. Since I couldn’t bend over, I perched on a low tree stump, tied the shoes, drank some water, and then tried to get up. Absolutely could not. I ended up having to take off the pack, stand up, drag the pack to a higher stump, heft it onto the hump, and reposition it on my back. Not elegant, but it worked.

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I hiked most of the day — one slow step after another, picking my way up (and down) a narrow, dusty, and sometimes gravelly trail. Then I hit a section of steep down slope, and after about a half mile, my legs stopped working. I simply could not take another step. Luckily, I’d arrived at about the only flat place I’d seen all day. I collapsed, rested, then hauled myself to my feet and set up camp. I went inside the tent and lay there. It was only about five o’clock, way too early to go to sleep, but I had no energy to do anything else. I just lay there listening to the wind howling through the trees above me. I was totally alone, the closest road a thousand feet beneath me, and it felt like . . . nothing out of the ordinary.

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The ordinariness, actually, was not bewildering. I’d experienced that sort of thing before, where I thought something would be life changing, but when it came time to do the thing, it turned out that the change had happened before the actual event. (Or maybe living in the moment makes every moment feel ordinary because it is the only moment that exists.)

What did bewilder me was that I didn’t feel any soreness after carrying the pack all that time. I just got exceedingly wobbly, then I hit a wall. What bewildered me even more is that the trail seemed to consist of steep ups and downs, but on an elevation map, it looked fairly straight. What bewildered me most of all is that it took me five hours to hike a mere four miles. Four miles??? That’s nothing. It’s what I normally walk, though admittedly, the desert paths I frequent are wide and packed solidly enough that even with a pack, I can stride along without having to carefully settle one foot before lifting the other. And I have never carried such a heavy pack. But still, five hours to walk four miles? Apparently, I am not as strong as I think I am.

The next day, I broke camp early and was back on the downward trail with steep switchbacks.

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By the time I got to the end of that section, I was almost done for. Couldn’t go up the next steep slope, couldn’t go back up the steep slope I’d just descended to return the way I had come. So I headed up the highway. After a couple of miles, a fellow stopped to offer me a ride. He moved his pack off the seat to make way for me. I tossed my pack in the back of the truck (well, pushed it up as far as I could and then tipped it over into the truck bed) and we took off. Turned out he’d been going in the opposite direction, on his way for a day of hiking when he saw me and took pity on me. (He said he turned around because he could tell I was at the end of my strength, but I think he was magicked into it.) He asked where I was going, and when I told him, he went silent as if he didn’t really want to drive that far, but the silence only lasted a second as he made the mental readjustment. It’s no wonder he didn’t want to drive me all the way back to my car. Not only would it give him a late start for his hike, but he’d end up where he started. Turned out my car was parked a block from his house.

Very nice fellow. He understood about the heavy pack. Apparently, he and the friends he goes on backpacking trips with are all about my age, and even though they are all lifelong hikers, they don’t do dry sections anymore because they can’t handle carrying all that water. (That made me feel not quite so weak and inept.)

Today, I am sore, but bewilderingly, I ache in places I’ve never even felt before. My knees didn’t hurt at all on the hike, but the muscles behind the knees are now sore. And my upper midriff is so stiff I had a hard time lifting myself out of a reclining position this morning.

So what does all this tell me? Not much. As I said, the whole experience bewildered me.

But it was an experience, which is what I wanted. And, although I wasn’t out there for as long as I’d planned, I did it! I spent a night on the Pacific Crest Trail.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

There’s a Trail Up in Them Thar Hills

Although I had planned the trip to Seattle with great detail (only to have that entire plan go out the window even before I set wheels on the road), I didn’t have any plans at all for the return trip except for one — I wanted to take a look at the Pacific Crest Trail where it crossed a highway in Washington. As it turned out, there wasn’t much to see but a vague path covered in snow.

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Later, I checked out the trail in Oregon where the melting snows left behind a bit of a marsh. And mosquitoes. That was the only place on the whole trip where I was bitten. Badly. And it wasn’t even mosquito season! Other people who think of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail might fear bears or cougars, but it’s the swarms of Oregon mosquitoes that terrify me. I don’t know if there is enough mosquito repellent in the whole world to entice me to do the Oregon part of the trail, and yet, Oregon is so beautiful that it would be a shame not to experience more than the few steps I took on the Oregon PCT when I was there.

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But I’m getting ahead of myself. I am still a long way from even thinking of walking the trail. Whatever strength I’d developed before catching a cold and then going on my trip is long gone, so I will have to start over, and considering the coming heat, I’m not sure how much backpacking practice I will be able to do this summer. Still, this impossible dream of mine remains, and I can feel the trail waiting for me, hiding somewhere up in these mountains. Eeek.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

What a Wonderful World

Two years ago, my youngest sister got a couple of rescue kittens. She claims they walked around the house saying, “Wow, wow, wow,” because they couldn’t believe they were living in such a wonderful place.

(Below is a gratuitous Pat and Cat photo. It really has nothing to do with this post, but I never before got to post a picture of a cat. Besides, it’s interesting to see myself as others see me — I had no idea my sister was taking this photo. I was laughing because she said Isabella liked me — that if a cat turned her back on you, that meant the cat trusted you, and I said the cat was only warming her behind on the heat emanating from the computer.)

Driving back from my visit to Seattle, I often thought of those cats because I kept hearing myself say, “Wow. Wow. Wow.” Everything I saw seemed astonishingly beautiful. Often there was no place to stop and take a photo, so I had to memorize the scenes, such Mount Shasta appearing out of the clouds for one glorious and shining moment, the abundant wildflower bloom and vibrant greenery along the side of the road, the piney mountains sweeping down to grassy meadows and the meadows sweeping down into the desert. I have no idea why the world seemed so spectacular that day. Maybe I was still giddy after the successful visit with my sisters. Maybe it was the perfect weather or the perfect time of year. Maybe, after being forged in the cold fires of grief, I had come to a place of new clarity.

The reason doesn’t really matter. It’s only important that I could feel the wonder of that day, enjoy the world spread out before my eyes, and surrender to the surprises. At one point, I drove around a curve and had to brake suddenly because I was so astonished by what I was seeing.

Luckily, there was a place to pull off and get out of the car before I caused an accident. The lake far below in the shadow of the mountains was the loveliest shade of green I had ever seen. Is Mono Lake always that color? I don’t know. But I was blessed to have seen those waters with my own eyes. Later, when road construction forced me to halt by the lake itself,

I realized that everything I was seeing had never been seen before by anyone and could never be seen again. We all have a different point of view tempered by our experiences, the angle from which we see a scene, the way the light hits at the very moment we look at something, so the world I saw that day was seen only by me.

Wow. Wow. Wow. I couldn’t believe I got to live, if only for a day, in such a wonderful place.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Feasting My Eyes and My Soul

I’d never had any particular interest in seeing Crater Lake, probably because the photos of the lake are so ubiquitous, but everyone I talked to about my return trip recommended that I go. So I did. And wow. Photos simply do not do the place justice, not even my photos. The park is astonishingly beautiful, from Annie’s Spring on the way to the crater,

to the sculpted cliffs,

to the mountains in the distance,

to the lake itself.

If anything, the day was too perfect, at least too perfect for a photograph. While my eyes could distinguish the edge of the lake where the cliffs were mirrored in the water, the camera could not, so the photos came out looking weird with those upside down cliffs.

And yet, totally awesome. I’d planned to stop by, take a photo, and wander around for a few minutes to stretch my legs, but I ended staying most of the day. I simply could not stop feasting my eyes and my soul.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Memorializing Memorial Day

I don’t often gear my posts toward national holidays and such, but this year I did a special post for Mother’s Day, and now I am doing one for Memorial Day weekend mostly through serendipity because this particular stop, as well as the rest of my return journey, was unplanned.

After I left Seattle and before I crossed the Columbia River into Oregon,

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I encountered a wonderfully bizarre (and touching) World War I memorial — a full size rendering of Stonehenge as it might have looked if it were made of reinforced concrete.

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In fact, Sam Hill, the founder, enlisted the aid of a whole slew of authorities on archaeology, astronomy, and engineering to make the monument as accurate as possible. It took more than ten years to build. On Memorial Day in 1929, it was dedicated to the servicemen of Klickitat County, Washington who died in the service of this country during World War I.

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Why Stonehenge as a war memorial? When Hill first saw the real thing, he was told that the place had been used for human sacrifice, and he said, “After all our civilization, the flower of humanity is still being sacrificed to the god of war on fields of battle.” Even though Stonehenge is now considered to be a device used by stone age astronomers, the memorial on the Columbia River remains a powerful and intriguing statement about war.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Islands, Adventures, and Other Perfections

I feel kind of silly that after all my talk of finally going on a solo backpacking trip, I never even went camping. Partly, it was too cold and damp for my desert-acclimated bones, but mostly, the whole time I was on my trip, I was fighting chest congestion, and I didn’t want to take a chance on getting pneumonia. It worked out well, though, because I was able to spend that extra time with my middle sister in Port Townsend, visiting her favorite spots. When I returned to Seattle, my brother-in-law took me and my little sister (yep, the “little” sister who towers over me)

to dinner at a fabulous salmon-themed restaurant

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where we had Copper River salmon, truly the most luscious salmon in the world. (And the most expensive!) On Sunday, our last day together, the three of us sisters explored Whidbey Island, a delightful gem of a place in the Puget Sound. (And another ferry ride!) There was much to see, including a lighthouse,

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black-tailed deer,

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small boats

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and big ones (unfortunately, I didn’t actually sail — I just toured the boat),

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sculptures,

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trees (and me!),

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water (of course),

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flowers everywhere,

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and something we called a cheese puff bush, (because if you don’t know the name of this horticultural, what else would you call it?).

Normally I don’t post so many photos, especially not photos that include me, but be grateful I chose only the best. It was one of those perfect days where everything, including the photos, turned out to be absolutely . . . well, absolutely perfect.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Unfinished, Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Ferry Magic

I used to think that if one took a cruise, one could stand at the prow and feel the water a few feet below and the wind in your face, and I was so disappointed to discover that is not the truth of it. I have, however, found the desired sensation standing at the end of a pier or on the deck of a ferry.

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The first time I was on a ferry — the Outer Banks of North Carolina — Pamlico Sound was so big, I felt as if I were in the ocean, traveling to some exotic place. Which I was, of course, because anywhere you have never been has an exoticness all its own. Still, although the ferry trip was much shorter, I still had the feel of a fabled ocean voyage because of the nearness of the water and the wind in my face. The reality, of course, is that the ferry itself is a cross between a floating garage

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and an airport waiting room, but fun all the same.

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The Olympic mountains in the distance welcomed me to Kingsport and expressed sadness that I had to cancel my camping trip to the national park.

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My middle sister and I spent a lovely couple of days wandering around Port Townsend, visiting the little libraries,

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and picnicking on the port.  Looking back, on the ride home, I could see the boat’s wake. Looking forward, I could see Seattle (barely visible in the center of this photo.

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The next day, we three sisters got together for lunch in Edmonds.

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We strolled through downtown admiring the gorgeous blooms

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and stopping to smell the roses.

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At the end of the day, I waved to middle sister on the ferry.

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Ah. Ferry magic.

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***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Unfinished, Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

 

 

Forged in Fire

I do so love sampling new things, whether places, food, puzzles, people’s lives or . . . blacksmithing. Yep. You read that right! As fully equipped as you think your workshop is,

my brother-in-law has done you one better. His includes a forge, a leg vise and an anvil.

I spent a totally awesome day yesterday wearing a blacksmith apron and pounding hot metal!

Mostly I tried to make a couple of matching leaf shapes for a pair of earrings, which wasn’t very dramatic,

so to show the full effect of blacksmithing red hot metal, he let me pound on a bigger piece of iron.

Way cool! Well, cool in the sense of awesome. Not cool in the sense of the absence of heat. Working with forges, fire, heated metal, and heavy hammers is hot work.

People often have bucket lists, but how could I ever have such a list? The most wonderful things I have ever done, such as learning to dance or learning to blacksmith, would not have made it onto the list because I could never have imagined such treats.

The best part of the experience, of course, was the experience, but at the end of the day, I had a pair of earrings to show for it. Or rather, my sister has the earrings — I gave them to her for a hostess gift. The background leaf is the iron I pounded out and shaped. The dome top and the pepper dangle (added for color and because they are “red hot” chili peppers) are purchased beads.

Ah, sweet life. I can’t imagine anything better than getting to try new things.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Unfinished, Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)