Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hawaiian monk seals on Maha'ulepu Beach

I may have left Hawaii physically, but part of my spirit remains there. On our last full day on Kauai, we visited the one last remaining undeveloped stretch of beach on the island, the beautiful Maha'ulepu Beach. Both our cars on the Mainland sport bumper stickers proclaiming "Malama Maha'ulepu", which means "Help (save) Maha'ulepu." All beaches in Hawaii are open for public use, but the land above the high tide line is mostly private. So far, the land adjoining this beautiful stretch of beach has not been developed, making it much more appealing to the public than beaches that lead up to plush hotels and private homes. The public can rest under trees and hike through the dunes and relax here.

We were lucky when we visited, as a mother endangered Hawaiian monk seal had hauled out of the sea on the beach, and a volunteer kept watch to make sure no one disturbed them. They spend most of their time sleeping, but now and then the pup gets hungry and waddles over to mom, nosing her and crying out until she rolls over to expose her teats for him to feed. We got to watch this process. At the time, the baby was only 2 weeks old but growing fast. What a treat, and a fine ending to our time on this beautiful island.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Farewell to Kauai

As the day of our departure from Kauai neared, I feared that I would feel very sad on our last day. We've had such a great time on all the islands and avoided brutal subzero temperatures at home in Montana. Kauai's weather stayed glorious for our entire stay, and we were able to get a tiny taste of a rare phenomenon--giant swells, formed by a huge storm far north in the Aleutian Islands, that turned into 25-foot plus waves as they struck the Hawaiian Islands. We drove to Hanalei again and watched as these monsters crashed onto the beach. A photo can't capture their size, but you can see from the thick sea mist that the sea is roiling. The beach there was closed, but on Oahu, the giant waves triggered the Eddie Aikau Invitational Tournament, a surfer's dream that only occurs when the waves turn huge.
Surfers from around the Pacific flew in to compete, and the roads to the North Shore became completely gridlocked as thousands of fans did their best to reach the beach.

Now I'm in Northern California, experiencing the wind and rain from the same weather system as it drenches the Pacific Coast. Our Hawaiian Idyll has ended, but because it was so satisfying, I did not feel sad when we left. We watched the sun set at Lawai Beach, then drove to the airport for a red-eye to the mainland. But before we left, we arranged a time share trade back to this place for next November, certainly part of the reason for my lack of sadness.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On Kauai, Visiting Hanalei

We've been so lucky with weather on this trip. Kauai, the Garden Isle, had a couple of weeks of heavy rainfall that led to flooding and disappointment for travelers, but that all ended before we got here. We've been having beautiful sunshine and bright green vistas, as in this photo of the taro fields of Hanalei, a quirky town on the north coast of the island. These fields, on a National Wildlife Refuge, are the major source of taro for making poi, a staple of the Hawaiian diet. They have been here for hundreds of years and are home to several endangered endemic (they live only in Hawaii) birds, like this Hawaiian nene, the native goose that is the state bird.

Hanalei is the site of a thriving farmer's market, where one can buy local produce of many kinds, including salad greens, papayas, pineapple, and local varieties of banana. My favorite is the apple banana, a small variety with a wonderful sweet-tart flavor. The market is a place to take part in local island life and see amusing sights, like this lei-wearing dog enthusiastically pawing and chewing a half coconut.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

At Our Kona Coast Condo

My husband Greg and I always look forward to spending time at our condo on the Big Island's Kona coast. It's rented out most of the time, but we can stay there whenever we want, and we usually choose November or December to relax there for a few weeks. This time, however, we've found ourselves catching up on work at our computers and arranging for upgrading of our home-away-from-home in order to change rental agents. People will be able to rent our two-bedroom oceanfront condo at any time starting in February, 2010 by contacting Home Away. Since we're right on the shore, we can sit on our lanai (balcony) and see the turtles in the tidepool below, watch the young people surf from the beach next door, and enjoy the beautiful tropical sunsets. It's an idyllic location!
Here are a few photos I've taken this time around from our lanai.

Monday, November 16, 2009

On Hawaii's Big Island

We arrived on the Big Island of Hawaii on a beautiful clear day. As we flew in, I caught this scene of the island's two most famous volcanos, Mauna Kea in the foreground, and Mauna Loa in the background. 'Mauna' means mountain; 'kea' means white, as Mauna Kea's 13,796 foot peak is often cloaked in snow; 'Loa' means long; Mauna Loa stretches way out to the right (west) beyond the photo.
We stayed at the Hilo macademia nut farm of our friends, Evonne Bjornen and Paul Tallett, at first. A few years ago, we wrote and article for Relish Magazine about the farm, and Greg included a delicious recipe for macademia nut bars. Then we spent one night in the upcountry town of Waimea, also called Kamuela, as almost every Hawaiian island has a town called Waimea. 'Waimea' means 'reddish water;' the volcanic soil has a red color in many places, and when it rains heavily, the water of rivers and streams can turn red. We took the long way to our condo in Kailua-Kona, driving to the northernmost point of the island, where dense rainforests cover the steep walls of Pololu Canyon. We had thought about taking the trail to the beach, but after reading the signs, we decided it was too hot to make the trek. A major earthquake three years ago struck deep under the sea near here, making the ground potentially unstable; hence the warnings. Instead, we continued our drive along the west coast of the island, past the big resorts, through the town of Kailua Kona, arriving at our home-away-from-home with plenty of time to settle in.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

On Oahu's Windward Coast

After a few days in Marin County with family, we flew to Oahu to vist our friend David and Jessica and their two children. Five air hours brings about a total change in climate and landscape. Most people who visit Oahu stay in Honolulu and limit their touring to that city and perhaps the Polynesian Cultural Center up the coast. On return visits to the state, people tend to opt for one of the other islands, not realizing how beautiful Oahu is and how much it has to offer visitors.
We were lucky enough to stay with friends so got a nice taste of local life.
On Halloween, we drove to an early potluck dinner, after which all the children of the guests went trick-or-treating with a few of the adults. My husband Greg and I got to sit on the lawn and hand out candy to the goblins and all who stopped by. I know many people have given up this old American tradition, which makes me sad, as it can be so much fun for all concerned, so it was nice to be a part of it once again.
We spent Sunday on beautiful Kailua Beach, a popular place for locals to relax, swim a bit, sail board, or sail surf. The children made drip sand castles, an art I hadn't seen before, while we hung out with a family friend who brought her two children. Old fashioned relaxed fun.

Our hostess, Jessica Wooley, is a freshman in Hawaii's state legislature. She showed us around the capitol building and into the legislative chambers, where we had our picture taken by her desk. "The politician always stands in the middle," she told us.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Arcata Marsh

Our next stop on our long odyssey was Eureka, CA, where I participated in the Author Festival, a biannual gathering of children's authors to visit area schools and sell books to the public. I have attended for many years and always enjoy the experience, which also includes a chance to spend time with our longtime friends, Bob and Frances. We joined them for a stroll in the Arcata Marsh & Wildlife Refuge, where wastewater from the town is treated by circulation through the natural system of the marsh, creating a home and migratory resting place for more than 200 bird species, as well as other animals and many kinds of plants. The more than 5 miles of trails provide a great opportunity to see birds, such as these green-winged teal and American widgeons. Efforts like this show that people can find creative ways to solve problems like waste management that benefit not only people but the natural world.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

On the Oregon Coast

Our friends Dave and Diane are botanists who live in Bandon, OR, and are experts in life along the shore, both large and small. We went on a sunset walk on the beach, marked by impressive giant rocks that help turn the place into a photographer's heaven. After admiring the sunset we examined the sea life on this giant rock, revealed at low tide. An amazing variety of life is here, if you look closely. The large seastars and sea anemones are obvious, but mixed in with them are small barnacles and limpets as well as amazing worms, called nemerteans, which you can't see in this photo. I learned about these creatures many years ago in marine biology class. They drape their threadlike bodies over the rock face as they poke around for prey, which they capture using a unique proboscis that they evert from inside their bodies. The more we looked, the more creatures we found, including chitons and sea slugs, all just clinging to the rock, waiting for the tide to come back in.

An Oregon Diversity of Apples, Grapes, Pears, and More

On the way to Bandon, OR, to visit friends, we stopped at the orchard of 82-year-old Nick Botner and his wife, Clara, where more than 4,000 apple tree varieties share the land with hundreds of kinds of pears, grapes, plums, and exotic fruits such as these pawpaws. Nick is a firm believer in the importance of saving rare and unusual fruit varieties and grows many that have yet to acquire names beyond their numbered titles given to them by the various state agricultural programs that developed them.
My father grew up on an apple ranch in Idaho, and my husband Greg and I wrote a cookbook called "A Is for Apple" years ago, which encouraged cooks to try different apple varieties in their cooking and had writeups of the histories of about a dozen different varieties. We're both fans of preserving genetic diversity in both food plants and animals; there could be genes in these less familiar organisms that could be disease resistant, could impart long-term storage capabilities, or could possess other trits we don't know would become useful in the future. Besides, variety is interesting and fun for its own sake!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Portland's Chinese Garden

We're on a long trip right now and stopped in the Portland area to see our friends Roland and Marie. I'd heard about the beautiful Chinese garden in the city, so Marie, Greg, and I visited it on Sunday. It's inspired by the gardens in Suzhou, a city in China famous for its gardens, and built by Chinese artists and artisans.
Being in the garden is like visiting old China, when wealthy and prominant families had beautiful gardens integrated into their homes. Each area of the garden has its own beautifully designed pavement, inlaid with pebbles and tiles. Each has its own theme--the scents of flowers, for example. There's a beautiful pond in the center, with goldfish and lily pads and clumps of reeds along the edges. Walls separating the different areas have artfully place decorated openings that show the neighboring area, giving a sense of space. Even though the garden occupies just a block right in the downtown, it feels like its own peaceful world of beauty, meant for relaxation and meditation.
The leaves of a ginko tree, one of the oldest species of tree on Earth, contrast with the glass-walled modern building just outside the garden. But even though the building is there, the feeling of the garden is stronger, and the building seems more like an optical illusion than something real.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Global Warming or Climate Change?

It's October 9, and I took this photo in the afternoon from my doorstep in Montana. Overnight lows for the next 2 or 3 nights are projected as in the single digits. Brrrrr!!!! Now Montana is in the north, but we "normally" don't get snow until Halloween, and the record lows for this time of year hover around 20 degrees. So, records are getting shattered all over the place around here these days.

This is the kind of event naysayers grasp upon so they can say, "See? How can you say we're having global warming? We're having record cold!"  Such folks have a basic misunderstanding about terminology. The moniker "Global Warming" is indeed meant to apply globally--the average temperatures on the planet are gradually creeping up.  This doesn't mean that the temperature on any given day in any particular place will be higher than it was in the past, far from it.

"Far from it" is a reason for using the term "Climate Change" rather than "global warming."  Our climates are changing, and part of that change is differences in how weather systems perform.  For example, as things warm up in general, not only are warm storms like hurricanes likely to become stronger, cold storms like blizzards are also likely to intensify.  As has happened this week, arctic systems may extend further south than in the past, resulting in brief record low temperatures.  The climate is becoming destabilized in ways that will continue to surprise us as the 21st century progresses.

I have lived here for 36 years, and during that time, what's "normal" has changed significantly.  The first bad year for forest fires I experienced was in 1988, then not again until 2000.  Since then, all but 2 or 3 years have experienced multiple forest fires in our area, including one that forced us to evacuate our home, pictured here as it hurried towards us.  Spring comes earlier now,  followed by a warmer, drier, longer summer, all of which increases the chance for fires to take hold and rage.  Now, the authorities tell is, we must expect our summer skies to turn gray from fire and our air to smell of smoke.  You can be sure of it, the climate is changing.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Back to the Prairie

I returned to the American Prairie Foundation Preserve recently and got to see much more of the landscape. It's quite amazing, from prairie dog towns to a cliff the Indians once used to drive buffalo to their death so they could harvest meat as well as bones and horn and internal organs to make tooks. Little was wasted.
The short grass prairie may be dry, but it's full of life--not just prairie dogs but burrowing owls, elk, lots of pronghorn (antelope), snakes, wildflowers, sagebrush, many kinds of grasses, and more, more, more.
For me, a favorite thing to see, actually just off the actual Reserve lands, is a large polished boulder covered with petroglyphs. Most look like stylized buffalo hooves, and there's a mysterious arrow pointing towards the Missouri River--to what? A river crossing? A favorite buffalo grazing area? Or.....? All a mystery. The Indians leave offerings on the rock such as quarters, bracelets, and a jawbone from a small animal of some kind. Another mystery. This land is full of mystery....

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Creative Urge

Three years ago, I traveled to Jackson, Wyoming, with a friend to attend a Chinese painting workshop given by artist Lian Zhen. I loved it so much that I decided to bring Lian to Missoula, Montana, where I live, this fall. After our local paper, The Missoulian printed an article about the event, my phone rang and rang, and my email got inquiries from artists of all levels from professionals, dabbling amateurs like me, and complete beginners. My 'waiting list' has become an email list for local information and events related to Chinese painting.
So many individuals said that when they saw his paintings they knew they had to learn from him. People who had never lifted a brush wanted to spend a week of their lives in his workshop. This outpouring amazed me and inspired me. I believe that art exists to bring beauty into the world, that the work of an artist can help people relate to the world around them, especially the natural world that Lian so beautifully expresses in his paintings of animals, flowers, and the natural world around us. The overwhelming response to this opportunity for access to tools and techniques that can help in the creative process demonstrates the truth that the creative urge is a fundamental part of being human.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Being by the Creek

Today I decided I had to get away from my computer. The trouble with being a writer is that your work is never done. There's always more to do - update your website, write a blog (which this entry in my journal is becoming!), write articles for Suite101, contact editors, work on a manuscript - It took a low pressure gray day yesterday, which put me in a low mood and low energy, to remember that I am my own boss, after all, and even bosses need breaks!
So I make a sack lunch and headed for a Missoula gem, the Rattlesnake Recreation Area, just 10 minutes from downtown, where you can feel totally alone with nature after walking only 5 minutes.
I found a spot to sit on an exposed tree root in the shade, right by the creek, to eat my lunch. As my eyes wandered over the scene, I noticed this spot is all about texture - the smooth but tough leafy texture of the native dogwood, the rough mulitcolored texture of the twisted roots' bark, the delicate softness of narrow petals of a wildflower, the rich cushiony complexity of the dark-to-pale green wet moss on the stream rocks. Then the textures of the water itself as it flowed and rolled and foamed around the rocks, streaked with indigo depths and green tree reflexions. Despite the forty or so cars in the lot, I heard no one except one quick yell from a young child, it was just me, the creek, and the plants. How many people are lucky enough to live in a place with such natural escapes only minutes away? As always, I felt blessed to live here.
Then, refreshed from my break, I headed home to update my website and write this blog entry. My mother used to say jokingly, "No rest for the wicked," but maybe there's a little rest for the writer!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Wild Fruit, Tame Fruit

Summer is a time of such lushness and beauty and fresh flavor and abundance! While I love the promise of Spring, I revel in the harvests of summer, and this summer here in Montana has been yielding especially abundant harvests. First of all is the wild harvest, with our native chokecherries weighing down the branches of these tall bushes along the rivers and roadways. Chokecherry syrup is a favorite treat for me, and I've been picking the cherries and making the syrup, experimenting with methods. I've found that the best way to get the unique flavor from the cherries is to cover them with either water or fruit juice and boil, energetically mashing them with a potato masher to release the flesh from the pits. The mashing also gently releases some flavor from the pits, which I think gives the syrup its special wild quality. Then I strain the pulp, mashing more to release juice and flavor. I put the residue back into the pan, cover again with water, and repeat the boiling, mashing, and straining. I measure the juice, add an equal amount of sugar, and boil until the liquid becomes syrupy. If you used water instead of fruit juice, you might need to add some pectin to thicken the syrup to the right consistency. I pour the syrup into clean jars and refrigerate them. You could process the jars into a canner so they will seal and can be stored in the pantry if desired. We tried the syrup out on out of town visitors and had to give them a jar of it to keep up the friendship!
Later this week we visited Forbidden Fruit Orchard in Paradise, MT, a perfectly named enterprise--the peaches are so luscious it almost seems a sin to enjoy something so much. Look closely at the photo, and you'll see a hidden surprise among the leaves.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Doggy Reunion

I've given up trying to catch up on my year and am plunging right into the here and now with this post.
I experienced a delightful evening this week at the "Golden Birthday" party for Brea. Brea is a dog, not a person, and a party like this is unusual indeed, a reunion for people and canines who had been associated with a service dog program in Montana. Brea turned 12 on August 12, hence the concept of her golden birthday, not to mention that she and most of the dozen or so dogs who attended are Golden Retrievers.
I became a part of this group while working on one of my most fun and rewarding projects, my book The Right Dog for the Job with photographer Bill Muñoz, about Irah, a Golden Retriever puppy who began his life as a candidate for a service dog but ended up being instead the beloved and wonderful guide dog for blind piano tuner Don Simmonson. Bill and I spent many happy hours observing and working with the dogs and people in the program and made many new friends, both canine and human, in the process.
As with any service dog program, many of the animals ended up as family pets instead of working dogs--idiosyncrasies that don't matter or that even make a pet even more beloved can easily deep six a serious career. But the stories that came out during the evening showed how wonderful and varied the bonds can be between humans and dogs and made me realize that the dogs who didn't make it had become just as important in the lives of their families as any working dog.
As I have no dog of my own now, one of the best parts of the evening was the constant circling of the dogs around the humans, snuggling their muzzles under our hands and deftly tossing upward so the hand ended up on top of a soft, furry head. Knowing this would happen in a room full of what some people call "velcro dogs," I had been smart enough to wear khaki colored pants with a slick finish, so I escaped relatively unfurred, but very content.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Saving the Prairie

I am honored to be on the National Council of the American Prairie Foundation (APF), which is dedicated to preserving the American prairie in central Montana, between the town of Malta in the north and the Missouri River to the south. Its goal is creation of a prairie-based wildlife preserve that will benefit not only wildlife but also local economies and will enable visitors to experience the wild prairie in all its beauty and diversity. In early October, people associated with the Foundation were able to visit the latest property added to the protected prairie, the first piece of APF land that fronts on the Missouri River.
We traveled there by jet boat, as that's the easiest way to get there, as this area is sparsely settled, with narrow, rutted dirt roads. As I stepped ashore onto this old homestead, with its deteriorating buildings and empty corrals, I felt a wonderful sense of possibility for the future of this place. Volunteers would clean it up, wildlife would wander down to the water to drink, people would come to enjoy the riverfront.
The native shortgrass prairie is an impressive and actually quite varied landscape with hills, creeks, prairie dog towns, and miles and miles of wildflower-strewn grassland. Abundant wildlife such as pronghorn, elk, and coyotes live there, and APF has acquired a herd of pure American bison, with no cattle genes mixed in, as there are in many bison herds.
After visiting the new property, we enjoyed a picnic in the nearby Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, where impressive bull elk were courting the elk cows as they grazed among old cottonwood trees along the river. We are hopeful that all these lands--the wildlife refuges, parks, ranches with conservation easements, and other protected properties will become linked together to create an "American Serengeti," a wildlife preserve that protects not only the wildlife but also honors the human history of the area with restored buildings such as a one-room schoolhouse, a homestead cabin, and ranch buildings.

Friday, July 3, 2009

September at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center and Yellowstone

I spent two weeks in September, 2008, at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming, mostly doing library research for my book on Indians and horses. The McCracken Library there has a treasure trove of memoirs, photos, and books old and new about the west, including many resources for my book. I rented a little house and spent most of my time pouring over books and photos in the library.
Cody is close to Yellowstone National Park, one of my favorite places, and I managed spend my weekends there. Usually, I focus on the Lamar Valley, where I'm most likely to see wolves, but this time I also hiked in the southeastern area of the park, where I was lucky enough to encounter these curious pikas along the trail.
The area around Cody is also great for hiking and biking, as the town has many nearby trails and is surrounded by mountains. I developed a fondness for the town's many waterfront trails, where I found these lovely fall wildflowers blooming. As you can see, Cody is quite a dry, desertlike place.
The Wild Bill Historical Center surprised me--I had imagined it as a fluffy touristy sort of place, but I was wrong. The Center has wonderful museums full of interesting information and artifacts, from the largest collection of firearms in the United States to a beautiful Plains Indian Museum and another museum filled with the art of important western painters, as well as one celebrating the life of Buffalo Bill Cody, an important figure in the history of the "Wild West," perhaps the most influential of all in forming the American vision of life in the Old West.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Catching up and Crow Fair

I let time get away from me and neglected my blog, but after a very busy year, I'm back to it again. I will spend the next days getting caught up on what I've been doing, as I think much is of interest to others.
This summer, I'm finishing the manuscript for a book about Indians and horses, and my research for that book has taken me to special places in Montana, in books, and in my mind and spirit. For thousands of years, Plains Indians had no horses. When the Spanish came in the late 1500s, they brought horses with them, and by about 1750, all the Plains Indians had them, revolutionizing their cultures.
My first journey for this book was to Crow Agency, in southeastern Montana, for the annual August Crow Fair, nicknamed "The Teepee Capital of the World" because of the more than 1,000 teepees pitched there for the celebration. Indians from all over the U.S. and Canada come to participate in the rodeo and races and to socialize, and Crow families gather to catch up with their loved ones. Every morning the Crow people parade proudly through the camp, dressed in their finest outfits, riding their beautiful horses. It's a delightful occasion, and an opportunity to experience how this tribe has maintained its close relationship to horses despite all the horrors its people suffered as European Americans took over the prairies. My favorite part of the experience was watching the young people riding through camp bareback and hanging out on their horses around the rodeo grounds.