I seem to be full of questions these days. My kids say it drives them crazy, but what about me? I’m the perplexed one, the one who doesn’t know what’s around the next corner and wakes up every morning wondering what new catastrophe or maybe even great pleasure is in store for our civilization…what war will be waged, who will be the next population group to face starvation, or who may face justice, finally, for perpetrating a heinous crime. Then there are those who keep chipping away, making things better, getting married, having babies, remaining optimistic about climate change solutions. Just look around. They may be your neighbors. I’m all for them. Get thee behind me, anguish, and go about making a difference, however small it might be. Just look at the amazing things Dr. Paul Farmer did in his short life, if you’re looking for hope. I read Tracey Kidder’s book, Mountains Beyond Mountains, about his work in Haiti twenty years ago and have been following him ever since. So, I guess I know in my heart What’s Next. Gratitude, compassion, acceptance, and, above all, participation. That’s a tall order for the best of us! It’ll sure keep us busy and it beats complaining.
Can you imagine coming home from peaceful, very warm and hospitable Palm Springs, after visiting your youngest son, Robert, and his lovely wife, Gwen, to wake up two days later to this? And just three weeks after you’d gone through the ritual of bringing in the New Year by burning your Christmas tree?
Click on the photos to enlarge.
Want to have coffee with me on my front porch?
How about a spin around town in my Jetta?
Anyone for a walk in the wood?
The view from my sun porch.
I spent a relaxed and WARM week in Palm Springs, writing, reading, and relaxing during the day and enjoying the hot tub and pool in the evening. It doesn’t get much better than that! Rob and Gwen are going strong with plans for expanding their business in golf range automation, using Rob’s targets, which he installs for night golf throughout the country. Learn more about them HERE. This adds a new, exciting dimension to the sport.
Sunday was a day of exploration in the mountains and a visit to the famous Integratron in Landers, CA. It has an interesting and somewhat controversial story behind it, but I can vouch for the efficacy of the hour-long meditation and Sound Bath that I experienced. Daughter Martha corroborated the restorative quality of sound and music in her work in somatics and how various tonalities can, indeed, affect your body in a healing way. I am grateful for the experience.
Next time, Joshua Tree and a return to the rotating aerial tramway.
Back on Whidbey, I’m taking my usual walk in the woods each day, but have been trying other trails as the weather permits. Here is a relatively new area for me, Deer Lagoon, not far from the beach on Double Bluff. I was there in January as the sun was just setting.
Many of you have had the privilege of seeing the extensive immersive Van Gogh exhibition that is being shown throughout the country. I had the privilege of experiencing it in the warehouse area of Seattle. It is an enormous, very imaginative display. You are not just viewing the paintings, but you are walking among large digital images, interspersed with stories of the artist’s life, accompanied by exceptional music. It cannot replace the intimacy of the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, Holland, which I visited shortly after it opened, where you get a close view of the original paintings, but you do get a feeling for the depth and breadth of his work and his troubled life, cut short so tragically.
Wonder of wonders. I am hoping to make a short trip to NYC to check on Broadway as well as relatives and Jersey friends, and enjoy the usual late March or early April snowstorm. But don’t hold your breath. Ask Covid. After that, Martha, her partner, Doug, and I plan to go to Portugal in late spring. Stay tuned and stay safe!
It’s always wonderful to be welcomed back to Washington by Mt. Rainier!
TO MASK OR NOT TO MASK….
HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW….
EASY COME, EASY GO….
Do you ever feel as if you’re not right here when you’re here…or maybe it’s because you’re actually not here, but there? Are you up one minute and before you know it, down the next? Do you ever think that you’d better change your vitamin supplements because they may be causing confusion within your body politic? Or stop drinking that cheap wine, because with global warming going all-out, a good vintage might calm the soul, or at least the nerves? And what are you saving your money for, anyway? Profound questions bombard us with every passing day, which helps us in our cultivation of the art of procrastination and ennui. One cannot survive without the other. Why bother?
What a summer! We went into it thinking that we’d licked Covid. We danced in the streets, went to restaurants, enjoyed plays at WICA (Whidbey Island Center for the Arts) and the Outcast Theater, shopped like the “good old days,” and went just about anywhere so long as we were vaccinated. Then, almost before we’d gotten used to our newfound freedom, the Lockdown Monster returned. Covid cases rose as tourists flooded onto Whidbey Island, the Delta Variant started rolling in at the same time, and we are now experiencing the “Return of the Mask” in spades. But we’re getting wiser. Many more people are seeing the results of anti-vaxxing propaganda and are realizing the need to be vaccinated. Yes, there is hope…tenuous, but on the horizon.
I might add that my friends in Asia, especially India and Nepal, are scratching their heads wondering what is wrong with “you Americans,” who have the vaccine and refuse to be vaccinated, while they would give anything to get it. Does make you wonder, doesn’t it?
If it weren’t for the few redemptive and optimistic segments at the end of the PBS News Hour, and my compulsive need to know what’s happening in the world, I might decide, as so many of my friends have, to eschew the news entirely. International as well as what’s happening right here in the USA. It’s anything but uplifting, and the extent of suffering worldwide is appalling. So, we buckle down, pick how and where we want to make a difference, and do the best we can. We don’t know whether praying for the well-being of all sentient beings is helping, but we do it, anyway, and we make sure not to neglect the needs in our own backyard. And we try to stay positive. Any suggestions?
Way back in July I took off for my first trip to the East Coast in two years. Now what would possess me to do that? You guessed it…a wedding. My grandson, Adam Bixler, and his fiancé, Allie Francis, were getting married after having postponed the nuptials for a year. That’s a century when you’re young. Although they live in a lovely, recently purchased, home in Boonton, NJ, they decided to celebrate in the woods of Pennsylvania, and housed the family by a peaceful lake in two exquisite homes belonging to friends.
What a glorious setting! It was worth the trip, ‘though I wasn’t so sure as we were winding around country roads in Pennsylvania at 1:30 AM. (Hey, anything counts as an adventure these days!) But once we recovered from the trip, it was heartwarming to see the entire family gathered for a splendid celebration! And guess what? After more than a year I got to go swimming in a lake. What a treat!
We had two big dinners, one before and the other after the wedding. That’s when we cut loose and danced like crazy. But some of us had to retire to the outdoor balcony to avoid losing our hearing. The higher the decibels the better the dancing…they say. Even the great grandkids joined in.
Just before the celebration began, the guests of honor and close family walked into the main hall two-by-two, and after being announced, did a short dance they had contrived together as a greeting. I found this fun and quite charming. I was also glad I didn’t fall over while attempting to project my idea of a pirouette.
The day after the wedding we had a relaxing family dinner.
The happy couple
Martha and Doug – another happy couple!
Then on Monday, we traveled to Allie and Adam’s house and hung out around the pool, and walked around the leafy NJ suburb. What fun!
The Peterson family hanging out after a swim in the pool.
In September, Adam and Allie went to Greece on their honeymoon and what a beautiful trip it was!
After the wedding, I spent two days in Maplewood, NJ, visiting my forever friend, Cheryl Galante, and her husband, Steve Gorelick (see their wedding in New Orleans HERE). She has a glorious garden. Here I am taking advantage of the peace and quiet. The next day my friend, James Wilson, with whom I’ve traveled in Asia, came in from New York City, as did Barry Hamilton, a friend since his high school days in Summit, who now runs a children’s theater in NYC. How great was that? Shame on me for getting no pictures. We were too busy talking and testing out some very good Maplewood restaurants.
Next came my first train ride in a century, or so it seemed, as I headed for New Haven on Amtrak, to spend a week with Judy Wyman Kelly, another forever friend dating back to her climbing days in the White Mountains as one if my honorary children. She drove me, first, to my sister, Anne Magill, in Peterborough, N.H., and her daughter, Margaret Magill.
In early evening we headed for the Berkshires to visit Carol Goodman, an old friend from Morristown, NJ, who is a well-known writer under the name of J. Carol Goodman and a painter par excellence specializing in oils and pastels. She now lives in Williamstown, MA. a place that brings back happy memories of childhood visits with my father, to see his alma mater, Williams College.
Carol with daughter Beth
We decided to find a place to stay between our two stops, and what an adventure that was! Luckily, we stumbled upon West Marlboro, MA, the site of classical music’s most coveted retreat, and stayed at an authentic old-time inn at the edge of the festival. It has been years since I delighted in the steep stairs, communal breakfasts, and old-fashioned allure of one of these unique establishments.
After breakfast we wandered a bit to look at the adjacent lake and experience the hospitality of the New England woods. Unlike many summers I’ve spent in this area, the weather was delightfully sunny and cool.
We relaxed in West Hartford with the Wyman-Kelly family on Monday and drove to Joan McDonald’s home in Southbury, CT, the next day. Joan, my niece, and one of my sister, Cary’s, four daughters, took me to Valhalla, NY, for a visit with Cary. It was wonderful all around. I got to see my sister and her husband, Don, and catch up with Joanie as well.
On the wall of her home was a copy of the August 10, 1940, cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Cary had been the model for Douglass Crockwell, one of the famous artists who was known for his covers. It looked. Just like her!
I enjoyed relaxing in Joanie’s lovely garden before dinner. Like all gardens, it is a work in progress.
Close-up Queen Anne’s Lace
I also thoroughly enjoyed talking with Joanie’s partner, Roy, who drove me back to Hartford that evening. Again, I was remiss in not taking photos of my hosts.
Two days after our return to Whidbey Island, we hosted Scott Bennett, my Godson, and his lovely daughter, Sarah, for several days of exploring Seattle and Whidbey Island. It was the perfect ending of their western trip up the coast of Oregon and Washington. They loved the gorgeous vistas of the Cascade and Olympic mountains and, of course, grooved on Ebey’s Landing, our go-to hike for all first-time visitors to the island.
We’ve come full circle and have already lived through glorious spring blooming with more of Tom’s spectacular succulents, orchids, and unusual plants and shrubs. I’ve stopped trying to remember what they are. I just enjoy them. So will you!
Tom and I also managed some interesting walks through the Whidbey woods and the cemetery across the road, and enjoyed the changing colors and trails covered with pine needles. You know I can’t resist a few forest shots in every blog!
The nearest we get to Fall colors in the Northwest
I was amazed at the number of white pine trees we encountered. These are not native to the Northwest and have been dropping their needles in large quantities during this dry spell. When I approached my first pine, unexpectedly, I experienced the same feeling that I had in Marlboro, MA…a kind of peaceful, cozy intimacy, so different from the sturdy firs and cedars I’ve become so used to in recent years.
As I finish writing this, we have just experienced the first onslaught of rain and cold weather that marks the beginning of fall in the Northwest. We had a blissful September, but our thoughts were also with those hit by disastrous storms and fires, much of it due to unsettling climate change.
In conclusion, it’s hard to believe that I could forget my birthday…whether consciously or unconsciously. I’m beginning to believe some of my friends who swear that Covid causes memory loss, whether you get sick or not. But I remembered just in the nick of time! Here are a few pictures of the celebration.
I’m looking forward to a post-COVID large gathering for my 95th birthday! Save the date — June 3, 2023!
Lest my children start receiving condolence calls and cards from friends who have assumed that such a gap in my blog must surely mean that I have given up the ghost, I hereby announce that as soon as I can muster something more interesting for you to read about than my daily walks in the woods, and the usual philosophical yearnings for a better time, and hope for relief from the inertia that plagues so many of us who miss our buddies and our hugs, I will be back in earnest.
I may slip in a few photos of flowering bushes and plants, assuring you that spring is well on its way despite the cold weather of the past two weeks, logs covered with bright green moss, impish mushrooms on a bed of grass that refuse to believe anyone would step on them, or the blessed sun coming through the cedar trees outside my kitchen window.
Remember, this is not Denver, Palm Springs, or Phoenix. For many months our sun is not an everyday thing and, thus, incredibly precious. You may also notice that we talk about it a lot. And because of our latitude and Daylight Savings Time, it comes early and stays late…when it comes. With all the chaos and suffering going on in the world today, Whidbey Island is where you want to be as spring and summer approach. And since I wrote those last few lines, it is upon us in all its glory!
I decided to start with a few photos from early January, including my Christmas tree in full regalia and our one snowstorm, and bring you up to date with the burgeoning spring foliage. Just imagine gorgeous magnolia and dogwood with a variety of rhododendron in fast pursuit. Who ever said there wasn’t light at the end of the tunnel?
Remember my surprise Christmas tree? Well, it finally got fully trimmed! And stayed with us until its ceremonial burning in January.
There were even bunnies in town for Christmas!
Walks in the woods…from this (snow)
. …to this. I’ve been doing more exploring and finding more places to walk on the island.
I go mad for mushrooms! They’re everywhere and usually adorned with moss.
On Whidbey Island there are bunnies galore and they’ll eat right out of your hand, especially if you have a bunch of carrot greens. But they’re beginning to think they own the place as you can see by a few of my friends.
Cary found these bunnies at the Fairground, just waiting for a handout. Too bad we had nothing. I took this one for my two great grandsons.
I’ve often mentioned the cedar trees here in the Northwest, for they have become my favorites…so complicated in their branch formation and so expressive as they wave their feathery plumes in the air. I could watch them for hours. Here is the tree outside the kitchen window…
And here are others next to my upstairs porch. They’ve become part of my family.
I promised you pictures of Tom’s flowers last year, but they didn’t seem appropriate for December. Now I offer you a few samples, all of which survived the winter. Well, why wouldn’t they? He took them inside every night to warm up! Now they stay outside 24/7, a sure sign of spring!
Click on photo to see slideshow.
A variety of succulents
Fuschia just starting up
Orchids are rarin’ to go!
Gratitude and compassion are also big in our present environment. All you have to do is watch the PBS News Hour to see people hungry and desperate, without homes or jobs. And think about the thousands who have lost loved ones in the past year. My youngest son, Robert, had a close brush with death a month ago when a car careened into him on a California highway at 4 AM, going over 100 mph and being chased by the police. Those close calls make you count your blessings a hundedfold. And in those moments of intense gratitude, most of the old complaints fall away.
In the midst of all our troubles, however, there’s one thing that we can’t let get away from us…our sense of humor. It’s right up there with love and compassion. Supposedly we have all this time to analyze ourselves and examine our faults and make changes, but I have found it heartening to know that some of the faults pinned onto old age, like crabbiness and puttering and forgetfulness, really have nothing to do with that. It’s all because of the pandemic. Isn’t that wonderful? Now let’s see if they go away soon. As you can see, delusion also goes well with humor.
I had all kinds of New Year’s resolutions last December, you may remember, one of which was my attempt to overcome vanity by letting my hair go white. But I was concerned about the chemicals inherent in dye and asked my hairdresser, Anthony, whether he thought it might cause brain damage. “It’s too late for you, Meg,” he answered. If I weren’t a fervent believer in honesty, that would have been the end of him!
Well, my good intentions lasted about three months until a friend asked me what was wrong with vanity. I was mulling that one over, when I tried on the white wig I told you I was buying, as a test run.
Test run white wig!
And here’s one of me with the frowsy look.
Which one do you like better? Please don’t inundate me with negative comments, for although the wig didn’t turn out to be Dolly Partonesque, as I had expected, it sure made a lot of people laugh. And, as you can imagine, it gave me the necessary cold feet to reverse my resolution…at least for the moment. I may reconsider when December rolls around.
A lie, or shall I say a popular bromide that is being spread throughout our land by computer geniuses, who want to salve their consciences about the story they are feeding all of us, and is causing dire consequences in the older population, is that learning each new iteration of technology is good for the aging brain and will keep us alert, on our toes, happy, and satisfied. A feeling of great accomplishment will fill our hearts as we master each minute change in Windows or WordPress, and, unscrambling dropped messages and solving the disappearance of treasured manuscripts and photos will challenge us as never before. It’s either that or ending up in a mental institution spending our days pressing keys and shouting, “Now what did I do? All I did was press ‘open recent’ and the screen went dark!”
We all have friends and acquaintances who extol their virtue by pointing out that they do not have cell phones, emails, or Facebook (I’m with them there), and certainly would not waste their life on the internet. They prefer to be in the 20th century, they say. It was plenty good enough for them, thank you. I listen and, at times, sympathize with their misguided naivete as they strive to keep life simple, but also wonder if they’d feel the same way should they need a heart transplant. Nevertheless, on the other hand, there has to be balance. As the vernacular goes, a computer can be a time suck, but it sure is great if you want to look up a word, google an obscure fact, download the thesaurus, find out who is married to a particular celebrity at the moment, bask in the largesse of YouTube, or just find the latest news. In fact, it can get you to your bank account in a jiffy if you remember your password and know how to x out all the ads and miscellaneous information. And that comes with time. And isn’t patience a virtue? You see, we’ve come full circle.
But moving right along. The discussion among a percentage of Americans as to whether they will take one of the vaccines available to fight Covid-19 has no credibility with me. Just a I supported the vaccines that rid us of such killers as smallpox, polio, and tuberculosis, I feel that we owe it to ourselves and our community to participate in eradicating this scourge. Let me tell you, I was mighty glad to get mine, FINALLY! And getting the vaccine in the initial wave was difficult and time-consuming. It felt, at times, like Black Friday at Best Buy. Pharmacies sent frantic emails instructing you to get your appointment NOW and by the time you jumped through all the technological hoops, there were no appointments left. At the same time, you were calling other sources and sitting on “hold,” listening to someone’s idea of music, repetitive ads, or the news you had already read in the morning. After bonding with your phone for longer than you care to remember, you hopped into the car, attempting to persuade the pharmacy of choice to find a slot for you. It was dog-eat-dog. Friends became competitors, especially if you happened to see one of them in line. How could they get an appointment and not think of you? They could have signed you up at the same time. Well, you say to yourself, inwardly, in a rare moment of sanity, just think of all the intrigue, the anticipation, the excitement you would have missed. Yeah, turmoil is just what you need to help you forget the weather and keep from being lonely. As if you could really be lonely with YouTube, TV, Zoom, and your cell phone to take up hours while you sit waiting for a representative of an understaffed company, whether your cell carrier or your doctor’s office, to answer. And there are numerous shows, plays, operas, lectures, and dance programs offered online at minimum prices. And many of them are superb. But the big difference is that you see them alone. There is nobody next to you to confer with, laugh or cry with. No personal touch, no real communication.
Small things in the past become big deals now….
It’s hard to put our finger on why it’s so difficult to get on an even keel and regain the balance in our life. And haven’t we all been considering traveling again? There’s that postponed wedding to attend, the invitation to spend a week at a summer cottage on the lake with friends, or a long-overdue visit to a sibling or an ailing relative. Traveling is something I’ve done with ease my whole life. I had a routine, and I had several credit cards that racked up frequent flyer miles. I knew what I needed to take, and off I went. Now I don’t even remember where I stashed my suitcase or my essential toiletry bag. It all looks like so much work, and just think of wearing a mask for six hours at a stretch on a plane full of masked bandits. Am I up for that? These are not considerations I would ever have entertained in the past. So along with the change I’ve been yearning for comes an underlying fear of what? You tell me.
And then there’s this unease about the radical adjustment in how we will dress, for most of us have worn the same “outfit” every day for months, at least in the cold Northwest—long underwear, long pants, and a plain sweater under a fleece jacket. Add your layers of rain gear or a down jacket on to that. No makeup (remember, those masks can get mightily smudged) and nothing fancy. Earrings are used once in a while to be sure the holes in your ears don’t grow back together. And, on the plus side, you’ve had a chance to wear out the clothes and shoes you have because who wants to go to a store all masked up and try anything on? Not I. Ah, life has been so simple. Now, all of a sudden, you’re going to be in society, again. You won’t be on Zoom. You’ll be in a room with people. Think of it!
All those activities that you took for granted, including browsing through a shopping mall, doctor’s visits that have been postponed, and dinner parties, are starting up again. Exciting? Yes. Formidable? They can be. Daunting? Only time will tell. Good luck!
For those of you who are into gardening or those who are starting out and finding it incredibly satisfying and important in our world today, I recommend my daughter, Cary’s, videos. Here is her YouTube channel. She runs the garden program for the South Whidbey school district, and this past year has been a most unusual challenge for her. Children are now coming back to school, but when school was closed, families received “starts” of numerous vegetables like lettuce, kale, tomatoes and many more to grow in their home gardens, so the students could continue their education about the earth and its miraculous ways.
An outdoor classroom was built by volunteers so classes can happen safely in rain or shine. Check it out. Remember, however, that growing plants in the Northwest is not the same as on the East Coast. Each area has its special parameters. But you’ll find that out soon enough! Another one of those fun challenges in life.
My final message to you is a poem written by Rumi at the end of his life, which I quoted at every slide show or presentation I made about travel and living life off the beaten track. The poet, Judith Adams, reminded me of it at one of her Friday afternoon poetry discussions. And it is especially applicable to the unsettling time we’ve been going through. I hope it brings a smile to your face and a recognition of what is really important in the crazy, unpredictable, fearful time in which we live…and points out the perks that come with a long life.
Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious. I have tried prudent planning long enough. From now on I’ll be mad.
…in the midst of my extensive report from Nepal and South Korea, so I can share with you my recent trip to New York City and New Jersey. For those of you who may think there is no connection, or that trekking in the Himalayas cannot be compared to life in midtown Manhattan, you have obviously never been to Times Square at rush hour!
Negotiating the ticketing process from Christopher Street in the Village (my subway stop) through the noisy labyrinth of the underground that belches forth its over-abundance of humanity into the many-faceted subterranean canyon with its myriad stairs leading to Midtown, is every bit as strenuous as negotiating a rocky terrain at 12,000 ft. Trust me! The noise is at peak decibel, the possible pathways to subways are legion, every musical instrument known to mankind is playing, alone or in ensemble, and bodies are propelling themselves at record speeds, defying normal gravity. I pasted myself against a wall to watch the scene unfold. Could I have forgotten such insanity? Are there more people or am I just getting old (heaven forbid!). Dare I try for a video or will my arm be swept off? Lest you think I am exaggerating, try it, yourself. There ain’t nothing like it on the face of the earth…not even in India. There are places I’ve been where more people fill the streets, or crazies wander haphazardly looking for shelter, or there is more variety in architecture, or more color, or a gorgeous view. But in this one microcosm, you have it all at the same time. There is an excess of everything. I love it…the intensity and the energy…and I can find it terrifying.
But I digress. My two weeks in New York and New Jersey were full of joyous moments with old friends, a perusal of inimitable restaurants (yes, affordable), and an update on some of the gems that Broadway has to offer. This is no surprise to anyone who has followed my theater addiction over the years. There were times (when I lived in NJ) that I was able to taste dozens of shows a year, whether opera, symphony, musical theater, or plays, and all for reasonable prices (I belonged to a lot of cheap ticket venues, so $3.50 was a standard cost for shows in preview). Ah, but those days are gone forever! Today, even TDF barely dips below $32 for Off Broadway productions. That said, I leapt right in with a performance of a new play, Gary, the sequel to Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, starring Nathan Lane. This was in celebration of my friend, James Wilson’s, birthday. Here he is in front of his colorful Village apartment on 10th Street, where he generously invited me to stay for a week.
James’s apartment was not far from the historic Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, site of the 1969 riots that launched the gay rights movement.
During the week, when not at the theater, I roamed the streets of the Village, eating at various restaurants and meeting a plethora of people from all corners of the world. I returned to a favorite noodle restaurant several times and became acquainted with a charming Hungarian waiter, a Mexican busboy, and an Indian bartender, all recent immigrants. Hey, who needs to travel abroad when they have New York City?
The noodle shop is located near the clock tower and library, a rather peaceful area of small shops and eateries.
Here are several views of the neighborhood, including my favorite Deli.
Click on photos to see slideshow.
My subway stop!
On Sunday afternoon, my old friend, Barry Hamilton, the General Manager of the New York City Children’s Theater, treated me to their new production, This is Sadie. I’ve never seen more energetic dancing! It was a charming show. I wish I had had such theater available at my fingertips when my children were growing up.
Gotta get into the act!
I think the most outstanding play of the year for me was The Ferryman, Jez Butterworth’s intricate drama of a family in Ireland during the IRA conflict. Brian D’Arcy James led an amazing cast of twenty-two superb actors, keeping me on tenterhooks for three fast-paced hours.
After a visit with my younger sister, Cary, in Harrison, NY, I began a week of intense theater of all kinds starting with the insightful one-woman show by Heidi Schreck, What the Constitution Means to Me, then adding two musicals, Merrily We Roll Along, vintage Sondheim, which I enjoyed with Paul Sharar, my long-time theater buddy, and The Prom, an hilarous new musical shared with Barry Hamilton, and Cheryl Galante, whose house I will enjoy for the next week when in Maplewood.
Cheryl, Barry, MP
Looking down at the city before the show
A visit would not be complete without a rendezvous with Phyllis Bitow and Terri Pedone for dinner and a show at the Irish Repertory Theater. This year it was Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock. At this point my understanding of Irish dialect is nearing perfection! Our usual pick is the Metropolitan Opera, but no tickets were available at the last minute.
Together with Terri and Phyllis
In between shows I was able to renew ties with old friends Gary Shippy, Grace Polk, Luba Schnable & Skip Ungar, and Madison Scott, whom I had met last summer when she was acting in the Whidbey Island Shakespeare Festival. What fun to meet at a coffee shop in the Village.
The night before I left to visit my grandson, Adam Bixler, and his girlfriend, Allie Francis, in North Bergen, NJ, a close friend of James’s, Jim Guedry, treated me to a farewell party at his inviting home on Charles Street in the area of the Village known for its picturesque brownstone buildings. It was like walking into an art museum, only with more mirrors and better food! ’Twas a lovely evening of good conversation and fellowship with a stimulating group of friends.
I spent the weekend with Adam and Allie in their new apartment across the river from NYC.
Lounging with Louie and Winston, two English bulldogs
It was an exhausting day for us all
The climax came on Sunday evening when we went to the ever-popular musical, Jersey Boys, in Manhattan. Ben Vitello, another close friend, shared the evening with us and returned me to Maplewood, where I stayed until take-off on Wednesday morning.
Ben, Allie & Adam after the show
Spring was just getting started in the old home town. The magnolias were magnificent at Martha’s former homestead but the buds were just peeking through the branches at Cheryl and Steve’s house.
Cheryl’s home was, as always, warm and inviting. And, despite all the companies and projects she manages, she always takes time to serve me a splendid breakfast!
You may remember that for the last two years my sojourn “back home” was met with a violent snowstorm. So this year I pushed the trip back a week and missed the white stuff, but managed to hit rain and fierce winds in Manhattan…enough to turn two strong umbrellas inside out while walking in Midtown. Them’s fierce winds, my friend. Make no mistake about it. Maybe next year I’ll go in May. But with climate change you never know.
I spent my last afternoon enjoying a festive reunion with two of my symphony buddies, Mike Schneider, his wife, Tami, and Andy Nagy. For years Mike, Andy, and I held up the second violin section of the Plainfield Symphony. Hah hah. Now they are on their own! We met at an Israeli pizzeria, Pita on Essex, in Millburn. Go figure…But it was terrific!
I was overjoyed when another friend, Jackie Herships, whom I met when she was running the organization, Professionals in Media, offered to take me to the airport. She, like Cheryl, go above and beyond the call of duty!
Returning to Whidbey Island was like entering Nepal in November, although spring was still ahead of the East Coast. It’s all that rain we entertain every winter. The forsythia had come and gone, but flowering trees, rhododendron, and daffodils abounded. Thank heaven for the return of the sun! But isn’t it about time to move above 60?
I took long walks by the Sound and meandered on the beach at low tide. It was heavenly….
For a week, daughter, Cary, has entertained a cycling friend of hers from Holland, Ian Borwell, whom she met in 1982 through their common interest in the WindCheetah, a human-powered vehicle made in Norwich, England. Cary was living in Holland at the time. This resulted in her buying a WindCheetah and traversing the United States for 10,000 miles in 1985. Another bicycling friend and artist, Stephen McMillan, joined them before returning home to Bellingham.
But the highlight of my return was a sunset dinner at Maxwelton Beach with my friends Don and Anne Zontine, Jerene, and Zangmo, welcoming me back. Naturally, we came equipped with down jackets and heavy blankets!
Jon Pollack, my dearest friend and hiking partner, died on January 13, 2018, leaving a huge void in my life that can never be filled. You may remember that I’ve written extensively in this blog of our adventures over the past nineteen years, and know that he was instrumental in introducing me to the beauty of both the Olympic and the Cascade mountains.
Jon at Cedar Creek, Olympic National Park, 1992
2011 Together at the Lewis River
Jon was a truly versatile human being. His musical talent ranged from early dancing and singing in musical comedy to longtime participation in the Seattle Men’s Chorus. After graduating from Columbia College in NYC, while at the same time devouring every play, opera, or art show that graced the city, he returned to the Northwest and spent every fall and summer backpacking. How he loved the forests of the great Northwest!
Jon at Shi-Shi with the Yellow Line Club 1995
Over the years he hiked every trail in the Olympics and tackled the Cascades, summiting some of the highest peaks in both ranges. In the nineties he and his friends, Dennis Larsen and Pat Ziobron, teamed up to form the yellow line club, adding another friend, Kathy Kelleher, halfway into the game. They used the map handed out to tourists, and every time they finished a trail segment it was marked by a yellow highlighter, thus the name. Yes, they did all 628 plus miles over five years of weekends and vacations, rain or shine.
Summitting Mt. St. Helens 1991
1991 Jon on summit of Glacier Peak, 10,500 ft
In the late ‘90’s Jon started leading difficult backpacking trips in the Cascades and Canada with a close group of friends. He was a strong leader and, especially in my case, an accepting friend. There were several times when he dealt patiently with my fear of exposure on some of the cliff-side trails, especially when we would get lost and have to scramble up a scree-laden incline. I remember his shouting, “Stand up, Meg, for God’s sake stand up!” as he reached for my hand, finally accepting the fact that I was going to crawl up the side of a steep incline because I was too afraid to stand and risk falling backwards.
Jon and I met in 1999 while trekking on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. From the time he helped me remember the final lyrics to De Lovely, I knew we were kindred spirits. We spent the rest of the trail annoying our fellow climbers with show tunes!
Like me, Jon was a theater, opera, and New Yorker addict. We went to the Seattle opera, together, often with two close friends, Christy Korrow and Barry North. We discussed theater for hours and Jon’s knowledge was encyclopedic. Yes, our interests dovetailed. We were in synch.
At the Seattle Opera 2016
In the summer we hiked from the Olympics to Vancouver Island, and from Assiniboine to Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies. I’ve written many blog posts of our glorious sojourns into the wilderness, whether backpacking or just hiking from our campsite. You can read about some of them HERE,HERE, HERE and HERE. Jon is mentioned in so many places on my blog: you can find them HERE.
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With Mt. St. Helens in the distance
We took a helicopter to Assiniboine!
Sometimes Jon stayed at home with his cat Tommy
Baker Lake camp
Mt. Baker wilderness
Silver Fir campground
Jon was a rare man. He faced his imminent death like my son, Christopher. He saw what was coming, he fought it, but in the end he accepted it with grace and gratitude for the varied and rich life he had experienced. At 61 he still had a lot of exploring and living to do. But a virulent cancer consumed him and within eight months he was gone.
It was Jon’s inclusive spirit, his joie de vivre, his hilarious sense of humor, his optimism, and his ability to help all those who were fortunate enough to cross his path that drew us to him and will live on within us.
Some years ago I introduced Jon to the beauty of New England—Maine, Vermont, and the vagaries of hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. On our first climb up the Randolph side of Mt. Washington to Crag Camp, he got his first taste of the rough and boulder-strewn trails in the Whites. They weren’t the predictable switchbacks of the Olympics. In frustration he turned back to me and yelled, “Meg, where the hell is the bloody trail?”
“You’re on the trail, Jon. You’re on the bloody trail….”
And from now on you will be with me on every step of any future trail I tackle in your beloved Northwest. I could never find my way without you.
No matter how many times I return to this majestic peak, I find subtle nuances I had overlooked before. Walking around our campsites, deep in the woods, I found hidden trails, shady alcoves blanketed in pine needles, varied ground cover, and ferns—some delicate, some enormous, each with its individual, intricate pattern. At night I would sit on the outskirts and watch the waning sun cast its brilliance through the branches, covering everything in a mystical glow. No photo can possibly substitute for nature’s real colors, but I tried.
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The North Cascades are a wilderness defined by giant fir trees and native woody cousins whose lateral branches slope downwards, pulled by masses of bright green moss. Sometimes the burden is round, sometimes tubular, but always magical to me as I wander through the untouched forest. To be sure, some of the larger blow-downs are sliced in half by volunteer repair groups to let the hikers by, but most of the woods are left in a natural state.
My camp partner as usual was Jon Pollack, whom I met trekking on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal in 1999. Our usual campsite in the Cascades over the years has been Silver Fir, which we visited in 2015 and 2013, but this year we chose one about 30 minutes off the beaten track deep in the wilderness, not far from Cascade Pass—Mineral Creek Campground—recommended by Steve Austin, the most charming, helpful camp host we’ve encountered. The fact that I offered my kingdom for a campsite might have helped. He was curious as to what my kingdom might comprise!
Near the campsite was a roaring river, one of several we would encounter over the next ten days.
And hovering above us was the ever-present Mt. Shuksun. Here it is as seen from the south side.
Bears are a big topic in the Cascades. Here I am conversing with one at the North Cascades Visitors Center on our way to Washington Pass.
And, of course, we were surrounded by views on every side. Too bad I don’t know how to upload the video I took of the entire panorama. Still cameras just can’t do the job, although I tried!
The next ten days were filled with hikes, swimming in Baker Lake, and relaxing at our new campsite, Panorama Point. We were incredibly lucky to find the last unreserved site and, we think, the largest and the most beautiful. From now on we’re going to reserve a long way ahead of time! Fishing was a big sport at the lake, but it did nothing to disturb the peaceful area surrounding our favorite swimming hole.
Here are a few slide shows of our hikes. Pictures tell the story far better than my attempts to describe the Northwest wilderness—from old growth to temperate rain forest—mountain ridges too numerous to name, and the ever-present mountain streams and waterfalls, forded by bridges of varying quality.
Through Washington Pass to Diablo Lake trailhead, down to Ross Dam and Ross Lake.
Our campsite was on the unpaved road not far from Cascade Pass, which we had climbed a few years ago. This time we only went to the pass after getting a late start. It wasn’t difficult for me to forego going up and over Sahale Arm.
Our most strenuous hike was to Park Butte, reached by driving nine miles over an unpaved road. The trail was varied—winding switchbacks with lumber-reinforced banks (a bit too much exposure for me), trenches of white rocks that looked like abandoned river beds, steep rocky sections reminiscent of the White Mountains, and stretches of scree, making downhills slippery and challenging. And who could forget the variety of rustic bridges along the way? We reached a fire tower with panoramic views, but getting there really freaked me out, since we had to scale sheer rock to reach the steps. I think I’ve had it with fire towers!
To all my blog subscribers, let me correct an unfortunate oversight. Those of you who have received my blog by email subscription since last May have not gotten any of my slideshows. This is because emails cannot take this much information. We are working to correct this so that you can click through to the blog post and enjoy the slideshows.
Here are my linked blog posts from October going back to May where you can see the slideshows! I’m so sorry for this inconvenience, but glad it was discovered!
I’m an expert crasher. I try to average at least one major dive a year. Seems pretty frivolous to mention after all of the important news from Nepal. But this is not like an earthquake. It’s preventable. Just ask my children, who feel that if I’m trying to kill myself, this is an unceremonious way to die and needs serious addressing. So I hasten to remind them that I have never, repeat never, fallen on a trek or a mountain (except once on the top of Mt. Washington, where I understandably tripped over my new, unfamiliar hiking poles) or even on the sidewalks of Asian countries like Myanmar, where one misstep can land you in an open sewer with a broken leg. I specialize in monasteries, trains of questionable quality, and city streets where the pavement is supposed to be smooth. And where you don’t expect potholes or crooked pavement. If only my recent mishap had occurred in New York City I could have sued for a million dollars and been on easy street. But, alas, I had to pick Tacoma, Washington, unfamiliar territory for my Guardian Angel, who was probably snoozing, anyway, while my own thoughts were on the hike I was about to take with my buddy, Jon Pollack, of Annapurna fame. And therein lies the rub.
I’m always amazed at how few Good Samaritans there are at such times. There I was, having smacked my head on the pavement and scraped myself to a fare-thee-well from top to bottom, and in the process of wiping the blood from my clothes, when a man walked by, cigarette dangling from his mouth. “Are you OK?” he asked, desultorily.
“Oh, sure,” I replied. “I sit on the ground every Friday and bleed. It’s a religious ritual.”
“Hrrumpff,” and off he went leaving me to pick myself up and move my car to the garage where Jon and I continued packing. Forty Band Aids later we took off, and in seven hours were in beautiful Columbia River territory setting up camp for a three day hike in the woods.
Three weeks later, the hiking having been superb and my purple shiner almost gone, I started to have numbness in my left hand. When it moved to the face and my speech started slurring I got scared. Thus began a series of tests…CAT scan, MRI, and MRA. It was an education for me, and not one I care to repeat. Seems I sustained a small subdural hematoma which was attempting to re-absorb into my head, while poking into my right brain and causing me to babble. That’s all you need to know, except that all is well and I promise never to fall, again. It just ain’t worth it!
How many people over 65 (and that includes me) are roaming around the halls of mental asylums, clicking on every doorknob and cutting and pasting their inmates as they search for old photographs and lost documents, repeating, hysterically, pdf. mpf, hypertext,.doc.? I have come up with a solution: a new organization,Technology Anonymous forTechnotards (TAT). It may not sound politically correct, but it will save your sanity. Who would like to join me? It meets every Wednesday at 6 PM at the Langley Marina on Puget Sound. Come dressed in your diving gear. It will be a long, dark night, but it sure beats Bedlam.
All of which is to announce that at long last I have had my website upgraded with new photos, incredible insights (just ask my children if you don’t believe it), and a clickable map of my travels that exhausts even me. It will be launched by the middle of May (cross your fingers), so watch for it! If my erstwhile webmaster, Matt McDowell (www.screenthumb.com), survives the ordeal, he has very kindly agreed to be the premier advisor to TAT. That’s the first split infinitive I’ve used in years, but Matt deserves it!
As a heralding of spring I want to share this beautiful African lily, the rare yellow clivia, which my son, Tom, brought me a few weeks ago when he moved to Langley. And there is another orange one just getting ready to bloom. Doesn’t it make you want to dance? On the first day of March, Jon Pollack and I celebrated the beginning of the hiking season with a day trip to Park Forest near Eatonville. We were accompanied by old friends, the prolific historical writer, Dennis Larsen, and his wife, Pat Ziobron. Mt. Rainier was overpowering, with views all along the trail. I was unable to get a photo on the winding road back, but I did catch some beautiful shots at the marina in Tacoma near where Jon lives.
The closer you get the more beautiful it is!
Life continues in Langley, with enthusiastic Art Walks, excellent theater–a superb production of Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz–and an original musical, Pasture-ized, by Whidbey’s own Ken Merrell and Eileen Soskin, which could well start, immediately, Off-Broadway. And, of course, volunteering in the garden is in full sway as the fresh produce has returned in abundance, thanks to the tireless work of the garden experts and their apprentices. I haven’t forgotten about Yolmo/Helambu. Just had a little detour, but it’s on its way….
Did you ever feel splintered? Fragmented? With a little “How did this ever happen to a nice girl/boy like me?” thrown in? And I mean this turmoil occurs while you’re completely sober and mentally as clear-headed as if you were, once again, that beautiful 35-year-old, who managed a large house, five children and a heavy travel/teaching/writing schedule…to say nothing of all the cooking and cleaning and yard work that provided the down side to an otherwise very exciting life? (You may have guessed that 35 is the age at which I choose to float through eternity).
The fact that I have left you, my friends, dangling, picture-wise, about my trip to Bhutan last November-December, and my subsequent adventures in Nepal and India, can only attest to the confusing and rapid sequence of events that followed my decision to sell my house in Maplewood, NJ, divest myself of most worldly goods (except those love letters…give me a break…and curly-edged photographs that go in the stand- alone albums), drive my ailing Toyota cross country with son, Tom, who is still recovering, and plunk myself in the first apartment I’ve occupied in 62 years. Thank God for that view of Mt. Baker and Puget Sound! And the reasonable rent.
Yes, it so happened, I did find that there was life after Broadway and the Plainfield Symphony, and more nice people on Whidbey Island than even on the #1 train to Lincoln Center, but I was still a fish out of water. Then, as if to compound my ruminations/ wheel-spinning, about what I should or even want do next, I found myself facing up to where I am right now: the grateful recipient of a new hip, brought on by whatever happens when you beat your body up and down the mountains for 80 years. I dived into this experience with gusto, clearing the decks of all previous summer plans, and finding an adorable doctor at Swedish Hospital in Seattle, who, in 45 minutes, sawed off my leg, drilled a hole in my pelvis and hammered and screwed in a miraculous device which leaves me half-bionic, and sent me home the next day with no precautions (he knew it wouldn’t do any good, anyway). This is high-tech carpentry if I ever saw it, with a medical degree thrown in. And for those who may have hip or joint pain, it’s called a minimally-invasive anterior hip replacement. You can find a dandy video of the operation on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jb2nq_jRwI Just don’t view it before dinner.
This all occurred less than three weeks ago and I am now walking around (carefully!), unaided, and looking forward to a return to the Himalayas in November. When I asked Dr. Pritchett if I could go, he answered, “Why not?”
So why am I disjointed (not meant as a pun)? I have children who have helped every step of the way, especially Cary, my eldest, who has been juggling six projects as she hovered over me like Nurse Nightingale, figuring pain dosages and exercises, and sleeping in my flat to make sure I didn’t wander onto the balcony and howl at the moon at midnight. And almost too many friends, who have brought food and overwhelmed me with kindness to the point where I was screaming for solitude. You know the feeling. And now I’m alone with my thoughts. God help me! No more pain medicine, not much pain, and all the time in the world to agonize.
Partial reason for this blood-letting: A new awakening. I have never felt so vulnerable. So at the mercy of “the kindness of others…not strangers.” Well, here’s a reliable fact of life for you, Meg. Things go wrong. But you’ve been pretty lucky in the past. You think you’re the only one who will live forever? Really? Good luck!
You’ll be glad to know that I’m now working on acceptance…an old Buddhist teaching, easier said than done. My, we do fight reality, don’t we?
I just read a book given to me by a friend in Seattle, Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette. It brought a smile to my face and lifted my spirits to know that I can find simpatico crazies here in the Northwest if I just put the pieces of the puzzle back together and open up a new space, free of the past and eager for the possibilities of the future.