Pacific Coast Ramblings and Heading Home

Today in Crested Butte – April 24

There’s snow on the peaks that circle this funky mountain town, a snowboarding and mountain biking mecca off the beaten path in the middle of Colorado.  Autumn and I have a two night layover here; one week to go till we are on home turf – woohoo!  It’s been a long while since the last blog post, with barely the time to settle into writing between visiting folks and outdoor adventures and a whole lot of driving.  So here’s a catch-up, a mix of travel stories, memories, and reflections:

Cruising Up The Pacific Coast – written 4/15

The last two weeks have been filled with renewing old friendships and personal explorations, both inside and out.  Right now I’m on the Oregon coast, staying two nights in a yurt at Beverly Beach State Park near the town of Newport.  Last night I walked the nearly empty shoreline of Beverly Beach, a wide, flat, long expanse of Pacific coastline: wind creating waves constantly crashing into each other as far out as you can see, a roiling boiling pot of surf shooting up sprays of white plumes under white clouds floating by in an expansive blue sky. I couldn’t help laughing everytime the sprays shot up,  like watching the wonder of whales spouting water from their blowholes.

Today, while looking for wi-fi service,  I stumbled on the Old Newport Harbor – filled with fisher-people unloading their boats, fish being skinned on the docks, seafood cafes, and barking harbor sea lions piling on top of each other while resting on platforms in the water.  The southern Oregon coast has turned out to be a goldmine of sights like these.

Prior to heading north to Oregon, I spent time exploring new places, visiting with cherished college buddies and seeing places where I used to roam.  Here’s a few of the highlights:

-Driving into Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in northern Cal. on this old dirt road that wove down through a thick magical grove of massive redwoods reaching up to the sky; 1-2,000 yr old legacies in time.

-Riding my bike on the bike paths and bike lanes of Santa Cruz county, a most progressive bicycling community that was pure heaven for this bike lover!

-Arriving at my Airbnb Santa Cruz stay and immediately joining Susan, my host, in a fun-loving challenging game of ping-pong in her backyard.

-Climbing Echo Mountain in the San Gabriel Mtns on the outskirts of LA with my college friend Gabriele and Bjorn, all of us hiking enthusiasts rising early on a Sunday morn to get out there and switchback our way to the views at the top.

I also had quite a few flashbacks to my days as a hitch-hiking twenty yr. old  as I traveled up the coast.  Here’s a sampling :

– While walking in Santa Cruz, I realized I was right where I used to hang out listening to jazz at the old Cooper House cafe.  One day long ago, after hitching to town barefoot from New Brighton Beach campground, an older dude  pulled up behind me on the street with his two-seater Harley-Davidson, an extra helmet on the back.  I was thinking that would make for a cool way to see the area, so I asked him if he’d take me for a ride – you can guess the answer.  We took off and made a loop around the beach and up into the hills filled with redwoods on about a 45 min. ride and yes, he brought me right back to the same spot, dropped me off with both of us grinning, and then he took off, just like that!

– While visiting with my college friend Helen, we walked down the beach near Santa Cruz and went up a set of stairs which took us to New Brighton Beach State Park.  We ended up right where I used to camp.  I had an instant flashback to the sweat lodges I took part in almost forty yrs ago when I camped there for three weeks.  I had stayed with a community of mavericks and misfits who temporarily lived there, folks who’d been burned by the system or love or who just didn’t fit in anywhere else (I fit right in).  I appreciated the denouncing of materialism, the music that was made, and especially our way of watching out for each other…and the sweat lodges.  It was an eye-opening time into other ways people lived.

– After driving across the Golden Gate Bridge heading north from San Francisco, I flashed back to a Grateful Dead Concert I had gone to with friends in San Fran.  I left my friends after the concert and took off through the sleeping streets of San Fran for Sausalito, on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, knocking on the door of my friends’ Bobby and Kristin’s apartment somewhere around 4 a.m.  And yes, they let me in.  Uhhhhh – I still can’t believe I did that!

Reminiscing has led me to compare my travels now with traveling then. I just can’t believe how much stuff I think I need!  Settling in at an Airbnb can take four trips to the car as I organize all my “necessities” – the bathroom bag, my stuffed to the brim clothes bag, numerous books I’m sure to use, the computer, my guitar, the food bag, my pillow, and oops, forgot my journal.  Quite different from the orange backpack I slapped on my back yrs ago – and still do, on occasion.  Believe me, there is plenty of room for clearing out the collection of stuff in my life.  Look out junk piles, here I come!

Reflecting on those hitch-hiking travels also led me to reconnect with that bold spirit living within, the one that believed with clear intuition in whatever I set out to do.  Not that I didn’t have my share of bloopers and scary situations back then.  Now, as life rolls on by, it’s easy to get caught up in being  super careful, cautious, and comfortable as a result of the falls I’ve taken in life and the ease I crave.  There’s certainly a place for that, but mostly you’ll find me dipping into large doses of new explorations for as long as I am able. 🙂

Flash Forward to Paonia, Colorado – April 23

Yesterday, after driving 1000 miles in two days, from Seattle to Green River, Utah, Autumn and I treated ourselves to our first hike – The Windows in Arches National Park. The whole area is filled with unique and odd shaped natural formations of red-rock desert sandstone.  Picture enormous outcroppings looking like giant elephant toes, large oval balancing rocks on top of thin pillars, and two 20-30 ft “windows” in the shape of eyes set in huge dusty dark red-brown rock masses; like windows to the soul, one eye opens to brilliant blue sky, the other looks inside to the endless sandstone. We were drawn by the mystery to stay as long as we could.

While in Seattle, I visited with Pat and Rich – catching up with my childhood buddy Pat from Edgerton St. was heart-warming indeed.  So was having dinner with Josh W. and breakfast with Jake M. in Portland, family friends from back east.  I am filled to the brim with the beauty of earth and sky, with heart-warming friendships rekindled and thought-provoking conversations with folks I’ve met.  Now I’m looking forward to being home on the land I love with my sweetheart, getting back to work, and seeing family and friends – soon!

Be well and happy spring to all – Donna

PS Photos may be coming, if the darn computer and I can coordinate on this!



Los Angeles and Beyond

Departing from LA

After a ten day visit with Katie, now living and going to school in the LA area (more on that in a bit), I got up this morning at 5:20 am to make it to the 405 – the San Diego Freeway – before the worst of the heavy rush hour traffic of LA hit, which I was told by my Airbnb host would be between 7-10.  I had a two and a half hour drive to San Diego ahead, to see my friend Rosalie (of Naples).  My plan was to drive early to get out of LA, then take a break at a cafe to write and wait till after 10 am to drive on so I could miss the traffic congestion at the other end of my drive. Now I am a mega-planner, out there on the extremes of dreams and schemes for living.  The best part of my plans are feeling like I know what I’m doing.  Well, I got onto the 405 early this morning and instantly drove into 5 lanes of packed traffic going 70 mph. I jockeyed for position with two hands gripping the wheel, eyes now open very wide and my breath caught in my throat.  The words of my wise and practical daughter Katie of LA ran through my very tired brain – “take your time, relax, accept what it is – you’ll get there.”  Meanwhile, the natural country woman in me was in shock (again – this was my fourth packed freeway drive.  The environmentalist in my bones was questionning why I wasn’t on a train, like David, who is currently riding the Amtrak rails back home.  Nothing like the LA freeways to wake me up to being one of the gazzilion polluters driving solo like most of the other gazillion cars on this freeway, going where I believe I need to go because I can, American that I am.  When I started writing this I realized it’s April Fools Day.  I give.  Reality check.

Adversity Strikes

I’m going to back up to our day of arrival in LA.  David and I were on our way to our final destination – our visit with Katie, now 26 and in a masters program for acupuncture and Chinese Medicine.  We had been driving through southwest Arizona on Rte 10 – wide open spaces, lots of desert, almost empty expressway much of the time.  We were happily satiated after two and a half months of adventures crossing the country, our hearts drifting in the white puffy clouds that dotted the big blue skies above.  Our last exploration the day before had been a fascinating day in Pipe Organ Cactus National Monument in the Sonora Desert of southern Arizona, where we hiked among the abundant giant saguaro (the tallest ones rising twenty to thirty feet into the air), pipe organ cacti (they look like a family of mulitple cacti growing in bunches up about 15 ft), and ocotillo plants with bright orange/red flowers (long, thin, thorny arms of branches reaching out from a central root flowers on their tips) in the desert of Arch Canyon.

After a short hike in Joshua Tree National Park, with the atlas in my lap and our trusty Siri-in-my-iphone guiding us, we set out to drive into the outskirts of LA to get to our Airbnb for the night.  Oh, and we figured there was a mountain range too, though it wasn’t clear on the map. Our first surprise along Route 10 were the hundreds and hundreds (thousands?) of windmills cranking away along the sides of the road as we entered the hills outside of LA.  Now that was quite the sight – white towers of power, rows and rows and rows of them.  A delight to see, and not in a place where they disturb any communities.  Next, we starting twisting and turning up and around through the mountain pass we had wondered about, with the multi-lane traffic now thickening, at the very same time that we drove under a rather large and almost black cloud, and then – WHOOSH!  Thundering raindrops were hitting our windshield, suddenly unleashed from above, sounding like hail more than rain. David struggled to maintain driving as the traffic wound and slowed slightly, still moving along like a winding snake moving rather quickly to get out of the storm. We breathed big sighs of relief after the mountain pass, when the storm let up and we drove on dry roads again and made our way through the mega-lane traffic to our place of rest for the night, arriving to a very kind and friendly host greeting us on the front lawn.  The next morning, after waiting for rush hour to pass, we made our way to finally see our special Katie Joy in her home in the Mar Vista neighborhood of LA.  After an afternoon of healing acupuncture for us three at Katie’s school clinic, David and I went to settle into our Airbnb in Mar Vista.  I had been given directions on what to do on arrival, as the host had been called out of town for work and her brother, who was helping us, was working late.  No problem – until we opened the front door and were greeted by a very upset chihuahua, yipping and growling and running back and forth, warning us that if we stepped onto his turf we’d be in serious trouble.  Uhhhh – I had been told about the rabbits in the backyard, but somebody forgot to tell us about the dog?  When I called the brother, he apologized, saying he was sure he had put the dog in the back room, but we could just bend down and talk to the dog with a firm voice and he would probably listen and back off.  Right.  Uhhhhh – I’ve been bit by a dog before – not fun.  No thanks.  We drove back to Katie’s, deciding to wait for the brother to get out of work.  Our first glitch in the Airbnb world, not bad after making it cross-country.

California Adventures

It was a delight to share in Katie’s current life – to see the house she’s sharing with three others in a beautiful quiet neighborhood and the backyard she hangs out in, to join her at an Emporer College of Chinese Medicine’s event, meet some of her roomates and join in the fun with friends at a Thai restaurant, to watch her soccer game and follow her around as we rode bikes through the area.  Soulfood for parents.

The three of us then took off for a week of travel.  One of my wise friends wrote in an email, “Now that’s a very brave thing to do – there aren’t many parents that travel with their adult children like that.”  Ah yes, the rigors of sharing time and space in close quarters with three willful (that’s a nice word, isn’t it?) family members.  Well, we made it through and out the other side with smiles on our faces and shared memories of gorgeous California sights:  The   magnificent cliffs of Highway 1 on the coast;  Santa Cruz beaches, sea lions, and the beautiful UCSC campus in the redwoods (my alma mater); Yosemite Valley’s mind-blowing El Capitan, Half Dome, and the streaming, seemingly floating-through-air waters of Yosemite Falls; and the jaw-dropping sights of the Giant Sequoias, some of them 2,000 years old – see, we are just babies on this planet, us humans.  And one other treasure – Sylvia and Frank, the most friendly and generous Airbnb hosts we’ve had, who provided a wonderful homemade Mexican dinner and breakfast for the three of us as we laughed and shared stories from our lives in their kitchen, while outside the forty acres of their plum and peach tree orchard surrounded us.  Back in Mar Vista, the time for David’s departure arrived – he was ready as could be to be in his own bed once again.  After helping him settle into his two and a half day train journey home, I had fun making muffins with Katie and catching the friendly spirit of her soccer buddies in the final soccer game of their season.

There.  I’ve rambled away my morning freeway jitters, and it’s time to get back on the road, grateful to have this opportunity to explore on my own, visit friends, revisit places that  transformed my life, and to write.  Thanks for sharing in the adventure.  Hope your springtime is soon full of blossoms – Donna

PS Katie beat me to the picture posts!

PPS A few days later now after a delightful overnight with Rosie in Ocean Beach, I’m visiting with my friends Gabriele and Bjorn (I went to college with Gabriele) in Altadena, on the outskirsts of LA.  On Tuesday, I’ll start the drive up the coast of California to Big Sur, which was my first stop almost 40 yrs ago when I hitchhiked up Highway 1.

The Road To Big Bend – posting March 18

We left Austin early on a Sunday morning, the long drive into the unknown desert territory of southwest Texas ahead.  Big Bend National Park, our destination, had been a focal point of our cross-country trip plans from the start, both of us having heard of the uniqueness of the park for years.  We hoped to camp there for four nights, though the reservation sites were already full for the week of our planned arrival in March.  What was available, I was told months ahead, were “walk-up” sites, a set number in each of the three campgrounds.  The deal is to arrive before the noon checkout time to catch a newly open site.  No problem.

When I called the Park Manager from Austin with last minute questions, she informed me that the week we chose is one of the busiest weeks of the year – school vacation and peak season.  She said there’s a one night only temporary camping area to wait for a site, but not to count on it.  That’s where the internet comes in handy.  I researched other possible camping near the park – an RV (and tent) resort park with 14 sites left to the west – “better reserve now,” I was told; and the Stillwell Ranch Store and RV Park to the NE – “Don’t worry, we have miles of ranch you can camp on.”  Hmmm, wasn’t this the desert we were talking about?  Hot days, chilly nights, drought conditions, and oh yeah, a few venemous snakes living on that ranch too?  We decided to wait and give the park a shot first, knowing we had back-up plans – sort of.  And there were small towns within an hour or so, even if it was school break week – right?

I also found an intriguing BnB to stay in the night we arrived in the area, making it easy to head to Big Bend in the morning early.  Eve’s Garden Organic BnB was located in Marathon, Texas, a teeny dot on the map an hour north of the park.  This town with a population of less than 500 had an organic BnB?  The owner told me on the phone about remodeljng the place with “papercrete,” a new type of environmentally friendly building material.  I knew David would love seeing the place.  Me too. She said there was one room left, which I booked after talking her into skipping the two night minimum.  Bingo.

Our drive west and south from Austin took us out into nowheresville, through miles and miles of flat arid land, complete with odd-shaped cacti and scrub bushes dotting the landscape. Arriving in Marathon late in the afternoon, it looked completely small and still.  And we thought Prattsburgh was small!  With quiet wide streets, there was a collection of old buildings and small homes, some fairly run down; not much in the way of cars or people but a whole lot of wide open space around the town.  My presumption was that it was a dying town.  A few turns on some pretty bleak looking side streets and then there it was – this rather outrageously colorful set of buildings looking like sculptured adobe, painted with brilliant blues, salmon pink, daffodil yellow, bright red and sunset orange – Eve’s Garden BnB.  I thought, who are these people that created this masterpiece in the middle of nowhere?

Kate, who we later learned is a self-determined artist, visionary, AND friendly woman about David’s age greeted us and gave us the initial tour.  Her son Noble and his partner Alaine, the other two folks who also built and help run the place with Kate, were relaxing on the patio in the humongous greenhouse set between the buildings with other guests.  We took in the mystery of the curved doorways, rounded walls and the bottoms of various glass bottles placed in the ceilings to add sunlight.  Our rather romantic room of rich blue color  felt like a cozy cave, with its curving entryway, dark maroon floor painted bathtub style up on the walls, and small wooden tables with old lamps next to the bed.  Our stay there turned into yet another highlight of our travels, complete with lessons on the making of lightweight papercrete bricks, future building plans, and interesting conversations with guests and owners alike. The next morning, between the forecasted thunderstorms and our fascination with the place, we practically begged Kate to let us stay another night.  Not possible.  We did learn, however, that there’s a network of artists in Marathon and the nearby towns of Alpine and Marfa, with more possible places to stay if needed. We drove away around noon, satiated after a fine loooong breakfast of organic food for the stomach and inspiration for the soul.  With creative thoughts abounding and a touch of sadness over our short stay, we talked of our dreams and schemes of someday returning.  So much for getting to the park early!

The long ribbon of two lane highway stretched straight like an arrow out into the desert, with craggy solo mountains and distant ridges beginning to rise out of nowhere.  Occasional odd-shaped rock pillars dotted the landscape as well, looking like someone had cast out huge boulders from the sky together with clay to hold them into random shapes now petrified, protruding upwards.  We were pretty much the only car on the road.  There was this sense of reverence between us in the car as we slowed down and drove in silence, speaking only to point out the odd and fascinating sights around us.  Eventually ahead of us there stood this very prominent domaine of mountainous rocky protrusions from the flat desert floor.  Then came the sign for the remote turn to the Stillwell Ranch and Store six miles to the east – hard to believe, in this raw, rough landscape empty of humanity.  We were just short of arriving at the national park, and the skies were starting to clear.  We decided to head east and check out the ranch.  Wow, talk about nowheresville!  There was in fact a run-down store, bathroom, showers and a small museum telling the story of the woman who had held her ground running this ranch years ago. The helpful young man behind the counter told us to just drive through the pillars across the road to find the tent-sites (for $7/night), which we did – well, we drove anyways – not much in the way of campsites – more like cleared desert space off rutted paths with a lot of cactus to keep you company. But it was a place to camp near the park, and seeing as it would soon be mid-afternoon, I said to David,  “Maybe we should take it, because who knows what else we can find at this time of day.”  He quickly brought me back to my senses.

We drove into the park, using David’s senior park pass for the first time (thanks to Uncle Lynn!), gaping at what we now realized were the Chisos Mountains, the only complete range of mtns inside a national park in the US.  We figured we’d at least get acquainted with the park, and maybe get in a hike before heading out the west side to check out the RV park before dark.  The road to the Chisos Basin Campground (at about 5,000 ft.) rose up and then broke through canyon-like walls, climbing in elevation before descending with numerous ten mph U-shaped switchbacks that led to the Visitors’ Center, lodge, store and camping area.  We stopped at the busy Visitors’ Center, joining the multitude of cars, families, hikers, campers and tourists that seemed to converge here out of thin air.  Clouds were also moving in.  We learned from the ranger that there was still the possibility of finding a campsite in the morning, and if we wanted we could go right now and talk to the campground host, who could check her printout to tell us what, if anything, would be available.  We found the host in no time and voila, there was one empty campsite for one night right there and then due to a cancellation – we could check it out and, if we wanted it, go register for it – quickly – because it wouldn’t be just us looking this afternoon.  We took a look and decided to take it, figuring we’d then scout around for possibilities for the next couple of nights the way she had directed us to.  It was like the mountains were pulling us into their hold – all concerns over rain disappeared as we kept staring at these behemoths surrounding us.  Absolutely mezmerizing.

Our time at Big Bend was full of the kind of wonder and awe that stimulates lots of curiosity, along with gratitude just for being alive and able to take in the beauty and power of the earth.  We hiked on a trail through the Chisos Mtn Basin floor to “The Window” (thanks Terry M!), our jaws dropping further and further as we walked through the narrowing canyon of towering straight rock walls that shot up around us.  The Window at the end turned out to be a narrow break in the rock walls, an opening about ten feet wide with odd shaped boulders at the bottom to carefully step out on.  The view was like looking out an airplane window at the severe and scary drop off and the telescoped view of the desert off in the distance.  Fascinating.

It’s now been five days since Big Bend.  I’m writing at night in a little cabin we are staying in, after spending the day getting an eyeful of plants and critters we’ve never set eyes on before while hiking at Pipe Organ Cactus National Monument on the Arizona border with Mexico. Before that, we spent a weekend in Silver City, NM, another fun story I’ll have to tell later on.  I’m determined to wrap this up before we drive excitedly into California tomorrow, and arrive on March 20th at our cross-country destination – a much awaited visit with our daughter Katie who is studying Chinese Medicine (Acupuncture and Chinese herbs) in Santa Monica.  We will be traveling with her for a week in Californina, taking in Santa Cruz on the coast, Yosemite, and Sequoia Nat’l Parks.  After that, David gets on the train to return home, arriving in Rochester on April 2nd, and I continue on.

Our journey together has been incredibly satisfying.  We hoped our tradition of having a great time together while traveling would hold up on this, our longest adventure yet – but of course, you never know.  I have to say, it’s been far better than that.  We both are entranced by the spirit of adventure and discovery we have been priveleged to experience.  I am smiling down to my toes with the realization that my partner David, who is very attached to his home and was a family man from age 20 on, (never having explored as a young man like I did), is a true adventurer – loving new sights and experiences, learning about natural wonders and the multitude of ways people live.  We have passed through our inevitable struggles by taking time for ourselves and communicating our needs.  I will be forever grateful to feel the richness of this love with David, my partner of thirty years plus.

Thanks for listening and sharing this part of our journey – Donna

PS.  Yes, we did spend a week in Austin after New Orleans.IMG_0918 IMG_1046 IMG_1054 IMG_0973 IMG_1022 IMG_1025  We barely scratched the surface there, as we took some much needed time out from being on the road.  And the bike paths (and music) were great!

Talkin’ ‘Bout New Orleans – March 7th

“We celebrate everything all the time.”                                                                                                                                                         A statement from Andrew’s guidebook, our Airbnb host in New Orleans

It took us awhile to get the hang of New Orleans (NO).  Our first Airbnb – a small but do-able studio space of our own squished into the back quarter of a little house in the Bywater neighborhood, a safe neighborhood just over a mile from the French Quarter.  Earl, the elderlly gent missing some front teeth who showed us around was super kind and thoughtful, making sure we knew how to operate everything.  And he showed us the freebies – a big loaf of white bread, a big bowl of fritos and candy bars, a dozen supermarket eggs, and about 20 bottles of water in the fridge.  We thanked  him kindly, knowing all but the water would stay put with us organic health nuts (well, most of the time).  Then Earl warned us about the recent muggings in the French Quarter (only between 1-3 a.m.), and the rough neighborhood just north of us.  “If you’re smart, you’ll be okay.”  Don’t you just love those words?  We appreciated the heads up, and were a bit unnerved – in a good way, thanks to Earl.

Our plan had been to park the car and leave it, using our bikes and feet to get around.  I had read that NO is very bicycle friendly.  What we discovered was that although there are bike lanes on many main streets, the back streets in our area were full of deep potholes, and the sidewalks had broken concrete surfaces – bulging slabs big enough to cause a wreck on your bike if you weren’t paying attention.  But backstreets are better than busy mainstreets, and we got the hang of it soon enough.

Our first night we found ourselves at the 8 o’clock show at Snug Harbor on Frenchmen Street, THE street the locals tell you to go to for all kinds of live music and dancing.  We caught Jason Marsalis on the vibes with his top notch band, quite the treat.  After, we rode our bikes home very carefully with our wool hats and gloves on and bike lights flashing, sweetly satisfied.  Our second day was forecast to be very cold and wet.  We donned our raincoats and walked around between raindrops.  At the restaurant we ducked into to escape the downpour, David asked the waiter where he’d go to catch some blues you could dance to.  “Right here, next door, at Blue Nile.  But it won’t be traditional blues.  Here in N’Orleans we put our own spin on everything.  Everybody cuts it their own way.  You’ll see.  And you might see a brass band on the street there (pointing to the intersection outside). They show up almost every day.  It’s free.”  Sure enough, when we rode our bikes back later for the blues band, there was a crowd gathered in the intersection – some of them dancing, all of them watching the rather boisterous, jazzy brass band of about ten young men on the street corner.  Way cool.  That was our introduction to the fine music on the streets of NO.

As the days went by, we discovered the many different neighborhoods of the city, each with their own feel, varied as can be.  We explored the French Quarter on bike and foot numerous times, enjoying the unique architecture, like the second story porches they call “galleries” (picture small open patios with designs in the wrought iron railings which have black steel posts  underneath them right by the curb; verses the “balconies,”, which do not have posts); closed off streets, and a plethora of restaurants, pubs, music in the street, and wandering folk.  Bourbon street we did not enjoy, due to the excessive focus on drinking and strip clubs.  In NO, you can leave the pubs with your drinks in hand, and people sure do.

Our third night we went to Rock ‘n Bowl, a well-known music venue and bowling alley in one.  We caught Reuben Moreno and the Zydeco Revolution playing on a huge stage to quite the collection of zydeco loving dancers on a huge dance floor.  All you Grassroots Festival fans, it felt just like being in the dance tent on Saturday night with Keith Frank.  They were hot!  And a fun-loving bunch of folks it was – my favorites were the two older sisters dancing together; Catherine, a very bouncy young woman having a blast the whole time (yes, she and I certainly did dance together); and the handful of very huge men dressed in style with thier belts and cowboy hats, making the rounds with the zydeco dancing women.

Our fourth night we took a much needed break and rested up for the grand finale on the fifth night which was to start at 10:30 – pushing it for us babies.  The show at the Maple Leaf Bar had been recommended to us by our friends, Sue and Jim, who have this friend Jack who is an avid funk music and NO fan.  THANK YOU AGAIN, all three of you, for the tip!  Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen was the best funk/jazz/blues show we’ve seen in a LONG time!  Jon is a real smooth singer and improv piano master who is as much one with his instrument as we’ve ever seen – those fingers glided over the piano keys like water flowing down a multi-layered waterfall.  Needless to say, we made our way to the front of the full house crowd and stood right in front of Jon, rockin’ and boppin’ to the beat.  Check him out on YouTube if you’re taste is similar, and if you ever get a chance to see him, DON’T pass it up!

Other NO highlights:                                                                                                                                                                    David’s first alligator sausage, which he said was deeeelicious!                                                                                               Pelican 212, a family band with twin (boys) ten yr old trumpet players, their eleven yr old sister on trombone, their twelve yr old sister on percussion and singing, and their 31 yr old sister on guitar – add in their “brother from another mother” older dude on the drums – this family had a powerful fun sound that drew crowds whenever they played on the street;                                                       Doreen and her band, a soulful singer and fabulous clarinet player who made that thing sing and wail and tell her tales.  I stood mesmerized and watched her for hours, literally;                                                                                                                         Four hip-hop dudes who were clearly accomplished gymnasts who rolled out this black and white checkerboard mat on the pavement and then danced a wild performance, complete with head spins and one guy who ran from 20 ft away and then dove into a headstand and slid ten feet across the mat balanced on his head!  And numerous other crazy moves;                                                                                         Brunch with Heather at the Ruby Slipper, a dynamite breakfast spot we waited our turn for, as we enjoyed visiting with my friend Pat Marcus-Berley’s daughter who’s been living in NO for seven yrs now.  A delighful new connection!                                                                                                             And finally, eating beignettes at the Cafe Du Monde, the 24 hr. classic cafe across from Jackson Square I had read about and just had to try.  We went, thinking there would be a menu board and we’d choose the expresso/chai/whatever of our desire and pick out wondrous pastries, but no, that’s not how it works.  You sit down at the little table when you can find an open one amidst the inside or outside crowded rooms; then the server arrives and takes your order for either hot chocolate or cafe au lait, and however many orders of beignettes (French pastries coated with powdered sugar on a plate of powdered sugar) you want.  That’s it.  So we ordered our drinks and one order of beignettes (three pastries to an order) to share, going with it but a bit disappointed there wasn’t more to choose from.  But we just didn’t know the deal yet.  The deal is that these pastries are to die for – melt in your mouth, however they do it, and they’ve been doing it for over 25 years, 24/7, minus Christmas day and one week after Hurricane Katrina –  literally.  Later in the week we were on a tour and walked by the back side of this place and our  tour guide pointed out the dudes you could see through the window who cut the dough on a counter and then toss them behind their backs into the frying bin, often without looking.  Cut, toss, cut toss, cut toss – you get the picture.  Anyways, we settled into our newfound treat (cafe au lait was the perfect match, of course), feeling glutenous, when this party of four women, young and old, arrived at the table next to us, speaking French and happily visiting, including some giggles.  They ordered, and soon the plates of pastries arrived – to share, I figured, as I watched the server put down the plates.  To my surprise – you guessed it – each one of them got a plate of her own, and I thought, hmph, I want to do that!!  Except that my stomach would be quite pissed at me the next day….so I just watched in envy.

So how would I describe the feel of New Orleans?  Rich (I don’t mean $). Jumpin’. Soulful. Friendly. Proud. Crazy. Diverse. Go-for-it mentality. Proud.  Hoppin’. Non-stop. Welcoming. Outrageous. And did I say Proud?  Colleen, our walking tour guide, put it this way.  “When you see music on the street, don’t be surprised if you see us break out dancin’ – that’s what we do!” The theme is great music – anywhere, anytime.  We fit right in.  And we will be back!

Camping Days – February 19th

IMG_0627 IMG_0654 IMG_0696 IMG_0697 IMG_0705 IMG_0708 IMG_0716A few signs of “off the clock” living:         …when David calls a friend back home and leaves a message that starts, “Hey, it’s David, I think it’s Tuesday” (when he says, “Hey, it’s Tuesday, I think it’s David” we’ll know we’re in trouble!).  …when after a long game of scrabble by lantern light while totally bundled up in our tent on a chilly night, we take a late night ride in the VW Jetta just to feel the warmth of the heated seats.       …when the waitress at the breakfast cafe on the island tells the table next to us that it’s a perfect day (total rain) to go over the bridge and see the “Oyster Estuarian” and after breakfast that’s exactly what we do (which turned out to be the Appalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, a great find find for learning about the area, the wildlife, and oyster fishing).

Our past two weeks have been spent camping mostly.  At Cayo Costa State Park, there are no cars or electricity, and the number of cabins and campsites are very limited.  I felt myself slowly and sweetly surrendering to the slower pace, the freedom from too many choices, and distractions from the natural beauty around us.  Cayo Costa highlights:                                         — the friendly volunteer who dropped us and our gear off at our cabin, at which time we asked if by any chance the campstore sold fuel for a backpacking stove (which we hadn’t been able to find).  She replied, “No, I don’t think so.  You don’t have any fuel??!!”  We assured her we had plenty of food to eat and we’d be just fine (there was a firepit, afterall); then an hour later she shows up with an Optimus fuel can and says, “this was left by campers – you can have it.”  Worked great. 🙂                                                                                                                                –the starry night when we ate salted peanuts by the fire and sang our hearts out to my guitar.                                                      –the long beach walk to nowhere with no other humans around and the amazing sunset graced by the sanderlings on the beach.                                                                                                                                                                                                 –our talks with the volunteers about how to sign up for next year; especially Maureen, the 74 yr old ruddy fireball from Maine who’s been volunteering there with her husband Earl every winter for nearly 20 years.  She’s hiked all over the world, and we learned that at 72 she took off and  hiked the Appalachian Trail.  Maureen was leaving in a few weeks by herself to travel to Peru to hike in the second deepest cavern in the world.  A woman after me own heart.

After Cayo Costa, we spent a few wonderful nights with our friend Dee on Anna Maria Island, visiting and also spending time with her daughter Amanda’s fun-loving family as well – mini-golf, homemade donuts, and pool time made for a great day together.  Then it was onward to St. George’s Island, where we have been camping for four nights in our brand new tent in mighty cold temperatures. Lessons learned from camping:                                                                                                                                                          – when people say “it’s smart to try out your new tent and camping gear BEFORE your trip,” believe them.  (see camping mattress story)                                                                                                                                                                                     – packing a wool hat, wool gloves and long johns when you head to Florida in winter may seem totally ridiculous, but in these climate changing times, it’s a really smart move (as I write this with my long johns on at 5 pm).                                                                                                               – scrabble and crosswords is a great way to occupy your mind and keep your teeth from chattering on frigid nights, along with winter clothing and a draped sleeping bag over legs and under feet.

The Camping Mattress Story:                                                                                                                                                          We weren’t able to set up our tent with the new camping mattress inside as planned before we left due to the fact that the 10 X 13 ft tent would be too close to the woodstove in our living room.  Oh well.  We were finally able to set up the tent in the yard at one of our Airbnb spots – and what a beauty it is!  the Coleman Copper Canyon – “cabin style” (straight walls), 7 ft high in the center, and plenty of room for out new 19 inch queen size camping mattress bought to sooth our backs and please our hunger for genuine sleep while camping.  Of course we didn’t need to set that up with the tent at the Airbnb spot, seeing as I had read a gazillion reviews on the thing and gleened all the tips possible for dealing with anything that could go wrong.                                                              So after our long drive to St. George’s Island State Park, arriving just before the rain, we quickly set up our tent and hooked up the mattress for pumping electrically. We watched as it magically filled to full size waaaaay up from the ground, a scrumptious sight as we heard the rain coming down and thanked our lucky stars for our good fortune and settled into our campchairs inside the tent – only to watch the mattress start sinking in size.  No problem, I knew, because you have to top off the mattress an hour later the first few nights due to stretching.  We topped it off and sat back down to enjoy the munchies and protection from the rain and lo and behold the mattress started sinking again.  David was sure we had a problem.  I was sure we did not.  the reviews had told me so on the website – just be patient.  David was anxiously ready to check for holes.  I insisted we were fine.  You get the picture.                                                                                                                                                            Pumped that thing up again.  Sank again.  It was getting pretty late.  Out came the two Big Agnes backpacking mats for the floor and all was rearranged begrudgingly.  We mumbled something about calling the mattress company tomorrow before attempting sleep.                                                                                                                                                                              We woke up to two small puddles, chilling temps, and more rain.  Who the hell needs this?     We piled everything on that pain-in-the-ass mattress and took off for Appalachicola, the town two bridges away.  Spent the day there, happy to be dry and warm as we watched the rain.                                                                                                                                                 Back at the campsite in the dark, wet evening soon-to-be the freezing cold night, David wanted to find the hole and patch it with the patch provided in the box.  I was thinking, “Really?  How are we ever going to find a tiny hole in this big thing, if there is one?”  Not even five minutes later, after pumping the mattress once again, we had the mattress up on it’s side end and were running our hands over it slowly, a fruitless endeavor I was sure.  Until I felt the rush of air pouring out the top side.  A hole was right there in our brand new $100 plus deluxe mattress, right on one of the folds.  Hoo-boy.  David had the mattress deflated and patched in minutes, then stood on it for ten minutes, and then a game of scrabble ensued to pass the four hours we needed to wait before pumping it up again.  Quite a good game besides (I won with two 7 letter words played), then our late night get-warm car ride and we were ready to do the mattress thing again.  Ta-da!  A queen size 19 inch mattress is indeed a beautiful thing when it holds air.  Bliss in a Copper Canyon Tent.  🙂

Moving On – February 9th

We’re off to Cayo Costa State Park for the week, located on the north half of an island in the Gulf of Mexico, not far from the well known Sannibel Island and Ft. Myers, Fl.  It’s the perfect opposite of Key West – no cars, 12 cabins (we’re in #2) and a tent camping area, and miles of beach along the gulf with a handful of people around in a day.  Shore birds and shells and sunsets.  Amen.

We’ve spent the last two nights at an Airbnb spot nearby with Rita, a very welcoming artist who has surrounded herself with creativity and plants that supply beauty and food in and around her relatively new home.

Creativity and self-expression are definitely a theme on this trip.  During our last week in Key West, besides the abundance of music we soaked up, we caught an ImprovBoston comedy event.  For those who don’t know, comedy improvisation is an art form that encourages free flow imagination, silliness, and teamwork purely for the sake of light-hearted fun.  There had been a 3 day workshop in town that we missed, and the participants joined in the show.  Loads of laughs and the four folks from Boston were a hoot – not only did they spontaneously provide us with plenty of laughs, they sang many of their improvised skits as well.  The next morning I got on my computer and found quite a few comedy improv sights for Austin, Texas, where we’ll be in early March, and lo and behold there was a free check-it-out class to sign up for which I knew was for me.  David took about ten minutes to decide.  We’re in – woohoo!  For my friends from The Center For Youth Services days, this all brought me right back to the creative energy we shared there.  I was 23 at the time, and I’m looking to bring some of that 23 yr old self back to where I have ready access.  Joan Didion, in her essay “On Keeping A Notebook,” woke me up to the idea of staying friends with all the parts of who we’ve been in our lives for the sake of knowing deeply who we are.

I spoke with one of the participants a few days later, and asked how it was for him to be on stage.  He said something like, “They didn’t focus on performing in the training at all.  What we learned was to stay in the moment, let go of any thoughts that get in the way, and say “yes!” to the rest.  Words of wisdom, eh?

Moving on – Donna

Not Your Usual

We went to Harpoon Harry’s this morning, the closest thing to a diner here in Old Town Key West –   sitting at a booth with oldies playing, a counter across from us where the solo regulars sit, and photos on the back wall of the previous owners on their bikes next to the place in about two feet of water after Hurricane Wilma many moons ago. Most of the wait staff are 50 and up.  My favorite is Gary, the guy who waited on us last time – friendly laid back style, gray hair and well seasoned wrinkles.  Not your usual server of breakfast platters!  Bob G, your new vocation?

George just walked up and meowed for a pet.  We are back at our favorite place for another week, and George is there in the morning outside our door, helping to ease the missing-my-cats moments.

Speaking of “not your usuals,” at the Susan Werner folk concert last week (she’s an AMAZING songwriter and musician), I was talking with Don, one of the guys hosting the event.  Very friendly sort.  Turns out he and his wife Nancy teach yoga on the beach at the state park here seven days a week, seven and a half months out of the year.  The other four months (there’s two weeks of travel in there), they do the same thing in Cape Cod. How’s that for work?!  They’re no spring chickens, either.  Sixty, at least.  We’re going to go check it out later this week.  Also at that concert, the person doing the sound was a dark haired shorter woman dressed with casual style who moved with grace and was in the same older age bracket; you could see her bald spot when she bent over to check the instrument cord connections.  Not your usual sound person, eh?

And then there’s the men friends around here.  Walking down the street in twos, threes, or fours, laughing or talking or exploring together; couples holding hands, or friends hanging out.  Made me very aware of how I don’t see that back home.  One of my favorite parts of traveling is getting away from what I’m familiar with.  It’s refreshing to me to be reminded of how there are so many different ways people live.

Which reminds me of Autumn.  We happily just skyped with our daughter this morning who is in Indonesia for two months.  She is well, very hot (where she is is on the equator), and helping the teachers at a preschool.  She took two days to recover from her half-way around the world travels, with a true travel fiasco to start.  If you’ve ever experienced feeling sorry for yourself because of being stuck with flight cancellations and haven’t read her last blog post, check it out on her facebook page – you’ll feel better.

My biggest problems these days?  Zilch.  I’m laughing as I write this, remembering the craziness of starting a full-time graduate program last summer at 59 while carrying on my part-time massage practice and part-time garden and volunteering at Groveland Prison while loving and dealing with two zealous shepherd husky dogs, Brady and Mandy, who were constantly reaking havoc in our lives killing critters and digging out of their pen and running and being missing for too long, as we desparately tried to find them new homes.  Which we eventually did, thank goodness.  I still miss them.

Ah, the cycles of time.  We’re about to head out for a kayak sunset tour with a guide who’ll fill us in on sea life and the birds we see until darkness sets in and we kayak with headlamps until the full moon rises – wooohooo!  Hope you are well, sending hugs and love, Donna

PS I’m including a poem I wrote here as prose (blogpost style), for those who enjoy such things…

We’re awake early, before sunrise.  Quietly gathering ourselves together for a walk. Eager. A different start to the day.

We’re off, morning air calmer, warmer.  Streets empty, except for a few like us.  Roosters announcing the day.

To the pier.  Higgs Beach, the big vans parked already; men in morning conversations out front in their chairs.  We stroll on by.

Out onto the pier, where we land on the steel deck attached to an old wooden frame that marks the years, where we hault before seagulls along each side, one foot apart, morning sunrise blessing their silence.  They sit like sentinels, gray and white and black uniforms, planted rows in the garden, happily soaking up the morning sun, eighty some gracing our eyes – white polkadots on black tails.

Quite a few out of line here, scattered between the rows, the sign of those who know no conforming.  And in their midst, two stand out – big tufts of black fluff on the back of their white heads, bright orange beaks with a lot to say.  They appear to carry Groucho Marx’s name.  Royal Terns.  Mavericks.  Unlike the rest, whose colors are the same.

We watch, reverent of another world.  We whisper, remaining before them, do-not-disturbing them, until….

Two humans on the move march on thru (as I often do), their morning walk uninterrupted, human goals carefully sculpted, larger than life they keep going, stay on track – ever knowing, bust on through the shrine we created in our minds, as seagulls fly.

We watch, then walk on to a different view – of ocean and sky, the quiet in the vacant sand,  human life back on land, the cars beginning to drive;  the places we’ll arrive later today, away from this silent sunrise.

Mornings and More in Key West – January 27th

Roosters.  They’re everywhere, and their morning crows announce the new day here.  I’m the early riser, happy to have time alone to walk or drink tea and do my usual yoga routine.  The resulting energy charge has to be held in check when David finally gets up, groping for the coffee maker. The “Gimme Coffee” business in Ithaca was named after him.  Ah, to have time to go slow.  No rushing off in the car. After breakfast, it’s time to ride.  Bikes, that is.  They are our #1 form of entertainment and exercise, music and dancing being a close second.  Picture two ten year olds cruising around on their bikes in senior-looking bodies, and you’ve got it.  That’s us.

Last night we decided to check out this old plantation style place engulfed in tropical foliage that has a sign out front saying, “Jazz – Sundays from 5-7.”  We walked up the path around back to a full crowd of older folks (meaning our age) sitting at outdoor tables on a large patio.  We were surprised to find our favorite Key West jazz duo Deborah and Patrick about to play.  They are quite the pair – Debra has the flair of a warm-hearted, savvy performer with a wide-ranging sensual voice a la Etta James, who makes EVERYONE feel like they are her personal guest at the show; Patrick looks like one of the Blues Brothers – tall, totally on top of his game, dressed in black with shades, playing whatever needs playing on guitar or piano.  They don’t just make music, they make a great time happen. That was our third night of music in a row.

So yes, we’re having a grand ol’ time here.  Our first week was filled with things like sitting on our little front porch doing crosswords while petting our friend George, a sleek gray cat who likes our porch too; having some new friends over for dinner on the patio out back; and watching the sailboat races off the coast.  Oh, and I creamed David in a game of scrabble – that’s one each, so far.  The challenge is on.

Just so you don’t get the idea that Key West is all paradise (the local police cars do say “Protecting and Serving Paradise”), there’s another side to this place – the island gets inundated with 2-5,000 tourists coming off their cruise ship docked in the harbor on certain days, turning Duval St in Old Town Key West into New York City in an instant, with sidewalks packed thickly with a variety of languages and bars overflowing.  The load of trash this 2X4 mile island generates is scary to think of, and the smells of garbage appears in certain areas at unexpected intervals.  And on weekend nights especially, if you’re near the north end of Duval and the Sunset Pier, you’re likely to catch wind of way too much alcohol flowing.

But of course, there’s more to Key West than Duval St. –  the warmth, the arts, the laid back atmoshpere, the ocean, the smiles and friendly attitudes, and that juicy creative energy that seeps into your bones so easily here. Last week we visited the Wildlife Sanctuary Pond.  Standing quietly, we watched a great blue heron sleep while standing on the side of the pond, then be startled by a cat in the distance, the heron’s long strong neck shooting straight up like an ostrich as it looked around for the culprit of its disturbance; the brightly colored orange adult iguanas were hanging out in the upper branches of the trees with their tails draping down. But most amazing of all was the anhinga, a large black bird with white striped wings also known as the “snake bird” for it’s long thin neck and the way it slinks into the water and disappears.

Here’s to precious moments, and many of them – hugs and love, Donna

“Blessed be the life that is guided by love.” (sign in our place)

check out the turtle at the great blue heron's foot!
check out the turtle at the great blue heron’s foot!
the anhinga
the anhinga
out cruising around...
out cruising around…
sailors coming in
sailors coming in

Landed in Key West

Sitting on the porch of Cafe Moka at the south end of Duval-a quieter spot in Old Town Key West – here’s what I continue to love about this place, on our 5th year back – I just hopped on my bike on this mild afternoon of sun and clouds, a delicious soft breeze blowing, cruising around to check on what’s happening here in the next three weeks of our stay – at the Natural Foods Store, I learned there’s a poetry reading coming up in the backyard of Blue Heaven, a delightful restaurant that’s more outdoors than in… at the magnificent St. Patrick’s Church, I stopped and listened by the open doors and sure enough, an amazing pianist was playing music the likes of David Lanz or George Benson, freestyle, so I went inside and sat down in a pew (one of the few people present), carried off instantly on soaring wings while listening…I spoke with Jeff, the pianist, on his break – we talked of music happennings, including the Susan Werner and Patty Larkin folk concerts coming up I just bought tickets for this a.m…..I stopped at Tropic Cinema, our favorite movie theatre with small rooms where you can bring in your wine/beer/dinner, and for our personal pleasure, there’s a most creative buffet of toppings for your popcorn :), which we will thoroughly enjoy at the documentary on Ernest Hemingway (who lived in Key West) playing tomorrow eve….and then there’s the abundant pink, purple, orange and yellow flowering bushes and the tropical plants so refreshing this time of year.
I decided to make this a “Donna Day” (thank you Deb C for that expression), after spending seven days being mighty close with my sweetie on our drive down, and as usual, David was very ready to do the same.  I have to say, we did amazingly well all in all on our almost 2000 mile trek south, and in honor of those who may benefit, here’s my short list of lessons learned from our first week on the road:
DO bring a crossword puzzle book – a great way to start the day, deal with a traffic jam, or a freaking loooong day on the road.
DON’T attempt to coach your navigating lover on how to use the mapquest on your I-phone while driving through busy traffic, as his blood pressure rises.
DO bring mutually agreed on books on CD, like Breakfast With Buddha which provides both belly laughs AND food for thought – sure makes the hours roll on by.
DON’T buy a big bag of cheddar cheese popcorn AND a bag of Snyder’s honey mustard and onion pretzel pieces afer 7:30 pm and mindlessly finish off both, unless you intend to stay up half the night because your stomach feels like lead.
DO plan three nights – not two – when stopping for a layover spot to explore, so there’s more than just one day to follow through with all the cool possibilities you’ve discovered.
DON”T postpone going to the bathroom just before getting on the two lane Seven Mile Bridge across the Florida Keys on a Saturday afternoon heading to Key West, ending up in a one hour traffic jam due to a local event on one of the islands.
DO remember to start the day with spoken appreciation for each other, and your travels. 🙂
Our last stop for fun on the way down was Cedar Key Fla, an out-of-the-way island on the northern gulf side which we visited last year.  We stayed in a spotless, simple, cozy blue and white decorated one room cottage at “Pirate’s Cove,” literally – the weather was cold and crisp when we arrived at night after an almost 500 mile day, which turned into a very cold and rainy morning.  So after a short shivery walk to breakfast in the a.m. we canceled all thoughts of exploring and instead bought 150 count bag of baby clams and brussel sprouts and thoroughly enjoyed a day off from the road, a long game of scrabble and a feast of clams cooked in Dr. Frank’s Reisling that I’d brought (best ever), and yes, on a break from my usual abstention, we polished off the bottle too.
Oh, and one last tidbit – one of my inquiries on this trip is the question, “How does one break out of feeling restricted by being “a responsible adult” and in the “mother mode” and return to the ability to be a free spirit at whim, to sharing oneself openly by choice, to shedding some of the burdensome walls of protection built up over the years of living?”  I’m realizing that rather than thinking out an answer, I’ve already delighted in skipping down the street, busting out on my bike  with a burst of speed while riding standing up for blocks on end, seeking conversations with new  friends-to-be, and finding imaginings coming to mind that have nothing to do with practical reality….. Amen.

First Stop – Asheville In The Mountains

It’s Tuesday night, and we just had a fine day, with a mix of a long relaxing morning and an afternoon/eve of getting out and about downtown Asheville.  The AirBnB we’re staying in is sweet and in a perfect location; it’s an old house in an old-tree-filled quiet neighborhood that’s a short walk to downtown.  Surprise, surprise, Asheville has a bit of San Francisco flavor with it’s rolling hill streets throughout.  We had fun walking around downtown checking out many, many blocks of cafes, theatres, galleries, music spots, pubs, and another surprise – old stately buildings, many of them brick, which felt to me like an anchor for all this new age transformation that’s taking place here:  organic and local (lots of storefronts have a sign that says “Love Asheville (with a heart) – Put your money where your heart is – Buy Local”), progressive bookstores abound, yoga within easy reach in every neighborhood, and there’s something like 43 local breweries that have popped up here.  The music scene is quite eclectic, and there’s something happening every night of the week somewhere.  Fun to see
“Donna The Buffalo” on the marquis of one of the dance venues; I saw Keb Mo and Bela Fleck are coming up soon, also.

So our quiet morning included hot drinks and fresh muffins from a bakery here at our place, time with yoga and stretching and catching up with friends and the world out there on-line.  Then we hit the streets, with the first intent being finding the theatre where “Wild” was playing, a priority for me to see before losing the chance to see it on the big screen.  On the way we found a unique coffee hangout in a two-decker red bus which had been transformed into a cafe hot spot downtown.  It seemed very right to see Wild here, seeing as we drove past many memories from the Appalachian Trail on our way here yesterday – like The Great Smokey Mountains – which were appropriately fog-filled – beautiful country with bald mountains and incredible views, where they used to have chain-link fences across the front of the leentos to keep the black bears out; and Elk Park Tennessee, where I spent an overnight off the trail listening to a young lad play amazing bagpipe music.  Not to mention the challenge of the trail so well portrayed in the movie, albeit briefly.

After the movie, we explored possible music venues and restaurants for tonight, on our way to meeting Katie’s old roommate from Santa Monica, Mel.

We met her at the Dobra Tea House, a fascinating chance to learn more about the world of teas – or rather, the teas that the rest of the world reveres. We sat on cushions on the floor and rang a little bell when ready to order from our little bible book of teas from around the world.  The Dobra concept, complete with relaxation and rejuvenation, originated in Prague many moons ago, with the first such place opening in the USA in Burlington Vt in maybe 2003.  Thoughts of tea-loving friends/fam ran through my head – Lisa, Carol, Katie and Autumn, Martha, Michelle W, and more, who would just love the experience!

Next stop was Wicked Weed – okay, yes it is about indulging, but not in what you think!  It seems that King Henry VIII once said something like “Hops are the most wicked weed – we must ban it.”  Hence, the Wicked Week Brewery was born with it’s “rebel integrity,” which made for a delightful place for David and Mel to try their experimental concoctions, and for us to indulge in another amazingly tasty dinner – they’ve got it down, with beer, food, AND quick, friendly service.  But I have to admit, their brussel sprouts appetizer, cooked to a crisp in cider vinegar with sugar and salt, tasty as it was, could NOT top Captain David Weinberg’s brussel sprouts, no way!  Must be that bourbon you use, David….we enjoyed chatting with Mel about her new life and acupuncture program here in Asheville.

The best we could do after that was walk back to our place on this chilly eve, to help us digest the overload in our bellies, content to forego the music and hit the hay on the early side before our loooong day of driving to Cedar Key, Fla tomorrow.  Oh, almost forgot – last night we explored downtown when we got here, walking many blocks just for fun before we found a super dinner spot at  Laughing Seeds, a vegetarian restaurant where it seemed every song playing was one of our favorites, our waitress had brilliant orange/red hair and just as brilliant sparkling eyes and smiles, and I had the best arugula beet salad I’ve ever had, and believe me I’ve had my share.  And for dessert, a hot toddy made of warmed soy cream and Bailey’s (Autumn, it’s to die for!) and an Indian spiced rice pudding.

Truly, it felt like we just had a teeny taste of all Asheville has to offer, with our 40 hour stay.  Final vote on Asheville?  I’d give it a 9 rating for first impressions on living here, and a 10 for visiting – the mountain hiking nearby, the music scene, arts, and international eats, the varied neighborhoods with their own personal flair – ie West Asheville, which appears to be very bicycle oriented, and although it’s very “white” (some of us long for diversity), there’s the benefit of a certain kind of creative energy abounding here that you can almost touch.  (VERY reminiscent of Burlington Vt).  Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Kyler and Laura!  hugs all around….