Take Courage

Last week’s car show was too cool. I saw several cars for sale and tried to find six friends to buy in on a cooperative share.. As the person contributing the least amount, I volunteered to own the car exclusively on Tuesdays, but I had no takers.

What I really want is a car with a rumble seat. During the war years (No, no! Not the Viet Nam War!) my father was in the Army and my mother didn’t drive, so we relied on my Uncle Don (a movie-star-handsome, Navy sailor) to drive us, and I sat like royalty in the rumble seat. I was too young to know about and approximate the palm-toward-face Queen’s wave, but I was pleased as punch to ride in my imaginary chariot.

DSCN7053Most of the cars were too flashy – the equivalent of an older woman wearing Spanx and stilettos, but a couple of vehicles stood out – not so much for the cars themselves, but the staging. I loved the truck with the living, breathing, Betty Grable pin-up. I didn’t get her name, but sitting ramrod straight, she drew her shoulders back and arched her neck just right. Her smile could have melted any man over four years of age. She was wholesome, but… provocative in a 1950’s way. Every man’s dream.

One look and you knew that she was as good in the bedroom as well as the kitchen.

My favorite vehicles came with a history. I particularly liked Steve Bribach’s unrestored 1936 Chevy, owned by his grandfather, proprietor of Master Hand Garage in Boulder.

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Enough about cars.

IMG_0018 (1)My husband Mark rides the Triple Bypass this weekend (120 miles and three mountain passes to total a climb of 11,000 feet) and the weekend of the 21st, he returns to Copper Mountain for his 29th consecutive Courage Classic, a fund-raiser for Children’s Hospital Denver.

This is a blog, not a Tweet, so you may have read too fast to catch the words ‘fund-raiser.’ Typically, I never aske for money, but this money goes to Children’s Hospital, and it’s hard to say no to children who are in pain or at death’s door. To donate please use this link to Mark’s donation web page:

http://support.childrenscoloradofoundation.org/site/TR/CourageClassic/General?px=1051456&pg=personal&fr_id=1550.

Mark rides. I road-marshal. I keep my distance on most rides, but I am happy to volunteer on the Courage Classic. In addition to the riders who train and are fit, the Courage Classic attracts an assortment of casual (ride to the post office) riders whose lives have been touched by the hospital’s care of a child who is or was close to them.

Watching these Act-of-Love riders struggle and sweat grinding up the next hill at a snail’s pace is inspiring. And humbling. It is so easy to look at these relatives and neighbors (sometimes riding with a child who is currently undergoing treatment) and think “There but for the Grace of God, go I.”

Annually, Children’s Hospital holds a prom for 2017 07 childrens-hospital-promthe teens who are in treatment. For whatever reason… maybe because these teens have made it through the scraped knees of childhood, and they are now on the cusp of adulthood, I catch my breath. The photo below is courtesy of Children’s Hospital. The photo isn’t mine, but it speaks to me.

If your budget allows, please contribute to the cause.

 

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“Oh Say Can You See?”

The place was the Community United Methodist Church at the corner of Sixth and Rosita in Westcliffe. The occasion was their annual yard sale. The year was… a long time ago.

The lawn surrounding the modest, white church was packed with stuff. (One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.) Always in search of treasure myself, I was on the hunt. Not that I had a gun, but it is always a thrill to bag the biggest bang for my buck.

In search of a bargain, I looked through gently worn clothing, plants, plates, tools, and sporting goods. Amongst the books, I found a faded, American flag.

Opening the flag, I was shocked to see that it was a 48-star, casket flag. The name inked on the back was SCHMITZ.

I am most certainly not a flag waver, but I was touched. What family would discard a loved one’s casket flag to lie between used mattress pads, potted plants, worn-once waders, and a wonky garden gate?

And the veteran who died? Did he die in service to his country, by misadventure, or by natural causes? If he had died in service, would his family been more inclined to keep the flag?

DSCN2830No matter. I didn’t need to know. I took the flag home. I would hang it vertically between the pillars of our front porch.  On the back of the binding, I wrote a reminder: Hang so the blue is to the observer’s left.

For years it flew every Memorial Day and 4th of July. For me, flying the flag was less about flag-and-country and more about remembering the man (maybe it was a woman) who died.

I also felt some antipathy towards the family that had discarded the flag. To some degree, I was flying the flag in their face. With each breeze and swelling of the flag, the flag and I were saying, “Shame on you!”

With the approach of this year’s Memorial Day, I took a good look at the flag. It was looking very sad – tissue paper thin – I could have read the paper through it. But I wasn’t willing to give up on the flag. So I gave the flag a gentle, cold water, hand wash hoping to brighten the faded stripes – the red (now pink) and the once white (now aged ivory).

Oh woe is me! Washing dissolved the years of dust – dust that had held the flag intact. What to do?

Given today’s political climate and our isolating island of arrogance , I am not feeling very patriotic. Blind support of flag waving makes my heart harden. And as I write this, I remember one of Gerald Scarfe’s political cartoons that I photographed in London last February.

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At best, I am ambivalent about the flag… And yet… I have this emotional attachment to the deceased who deserves to be honored.

DSCN6975I decided to try mending the flag. If I could save it, maybe it could fly one more year. I repaired the frayed edges and ironed sheerweight Pellon on the back of the stars that were worse for wear.

Not bad! From a distance, driving down Second Street, no one will see the repairs on the back. I’m hanging the flag today, and it will fly this year. Maybe next year.

At some point, I’ll pass the flag on to the American Legion or the VFW. They will put the flag to-rest, and knowing that I remembered the forgotten vet, I can rest easy also.

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As for militant flag waving, not to be confused with honoring the flag itself, I can’t look. As the Fourth of July parade approaches, I want to crawl in bed. I cannot bear to watch children marching (some march / others skip) down Main Street. My heart breaks.

It is hard to maintain any sense of innocence. If you are going to wave a flag, do me a favor: wear orange framed sunglasses, a Star War’s headband, and carry your Teddy bear.

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As the World Turns

 

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Jackson Alexander Jimenez –  born to Laura and Miguel, May 4, 2018

There’s nothing like the birth of a baby to take you back in time. A week ago I returned home from Denver where I witnessed our grandson’s transition from the cozy but cramped womb to the harsh environment of life on the outside.

Trying to approximate the closed, warm water womb, we substituted a flannel receiving blanket for a tortilla and bound Jackson in a burrito wrap.

DSCN6937 (1)Only Jackson’s face was visible. His dark, unfocused eyes oved left, right, and up to his hairline – so much so that his pupils disappeared and only the whites of his eyes were visible.

At feeding time, he opened his mouth… exactly like a baby bird’s. Had he let out a ‘cheep-cheep,’ I would not have been surprised.

Mouth open, he looked for nourishment. He wanted to nurse NOW! He worked one hand free of his wrap, and with fingers splayed he sought his mouth.

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First, his whole fist make its way to his open mouth. Then he found the knuckle of this thumb, then his index finger, then the knuckle of his middle finger, and finally, Yippee! Jackson had found his thumb!

His thumb was disappointing in that it had no milk, but I was filled with wonder watching him try this and then try that. To enter the world with so many survival skills!

With his thumb in his mouth, his right index finger in his right eye, and his middle finger in his left eye, I envisioned an octopus – sucking at Jackson’s face. If I had only had my camera within reach. As it was, I was trapped beneath his body.

Life is good. It can’t get any better.

I have to wonder why holding our newest baby seems so memorable. I have, after all, had some experience with my own three children and an additional two grandchildren. What is it about this baby that seems so precious and awe inspiring?

I think that time, Father Time (that hunched and bearded guy with the scythe) holds me close in his clammy hands. Too many of my friends have passed or are fading. I’m on my way out.

In 2002, when Laura was in her senior year at Gunnison University, she caught my mother sleeping  and took a photo of  Mom and the cat sleeping. I’ve always liked that picture, so when I was in Denver, I asked Laura to take a similar, family lineage photo with me with the baby. Those two family photos are below.

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Life is transitory. Life and good health are not eternal. We live and we die. A new birth takes the edge of death.

We have just lost our second clutch of baby Robins. Not exactly lost, but the fledglings have tumbled or have been kicked out of their nest in the rafters of the carport.

I saw them on the ground – tentatively trying their legs. They had yet to realize that those appendages at either side of their body were wings, and if they flapped them up and down, they could be airborne.

Watching the birds make their way to cover, I thought of Jackson’s hit and miss search for his thumb. Likewise with the baby birds: they will discover their wings, make use of them, and next year maybe one of them will make it back to nest and lay eggs in the shelter of our carport.

And the beat goes on.

 

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Crownhill Cemetery, Wheatridge C)

 

 

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The Only Constant Is Change

 

 

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Camden Town

 

Is it possible that my resistance to change signals my dotage and decline? Do I have a reason to be depressed? Are my Blues a passing phase, or am I going to pick up the pace and march forward in Time?

My younger daughters and I recently spent some time in London, and I was shocked at how London’s skyline had changed in just the last few years. On one hand, the innovative design of the futuristic skyscrapers is exciting; on the other hand, I quite prefer a mix of old and new, soiled and  squeaky clean.

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The Tower of London: Fortress, Palace, and Prison

I am not alone is resisting change. I remember the brouhaha when the glassy, slumped sphere now known as City Hall, London was built in 2002. Built on the Southbank across the Thames River from The Tower of London (going back to 1066 and the Norman Invasion and William the Conqueror’s  need to build a fortification to impress/subdue the native population) and Tower Bridge (built in 1894) the project was widely debated by the futurists and the historical preservationists.

 

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Tower Bridge looking south

Walking across Tower Bridge with the Tower of London to your back, you move from the old to the new. It is quite exciting. Personally, I have always loved City Hall, London. I like the juxtaposition of the contemporary and the old.  When a neighborhood is uniformly historic or modern, you are lulled into complacency. It is only when the contrast between the old and the new slaps you up the side of the head that you really see  and appreciate what each offers.

I remember sitting is The Scoop, a performance space at the base of City Hall. It was twilight. Mark and I were attending a modern dress performance of Antigone. The Tower of London was softly lit; Tower Bridge was strung with lights; and there we were living in London and watching a play written in 441 B.C. The scene was magical.

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Not content to let City Hall stand alone as a breath of fresh air on the Southbank, London added The Shard in 2012. I took the photo below from Tower Bridge. Behind City Call, The Shard,  standing at 92 stories is the tallest building in Europe.

 

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Too busy to be a good photo, but it captures the density and the buzz.

No doubt about it, architecturally speaking, London is on the move with a boom of buildings that have been dismissively tagged by the general population as the Cheese Grater, the Wedge, the Gherkin, and the Walkie Talkie Tower.

 

Regardless of general-and-stock-market-anxiety as to whether England will have a hard or soft exit from the European Union, England (home to 250 international banks) is moving ahead as though it is still the financial capital of the world. Good for London!

That said, I have mixed emotions as to the redevelopment of Bayswater, recently characterized by Homes & Property as “Shabby Bayswater.” The neighborhood, just west of The City and east of Notting Hill and north of Kensington Palace  was said “about to clean up its act.”

Excuse me! I’m offended. I loved Bayswater just as it was. When my husband Mark partially retired and we returned to London only quarterly, we stayed in Bayswater, conveniently only two blocks from Hyde Park and two Tube stations serving the Central and Circle lines. The neighborhood was convenient and the ethnic mix was vibrant.

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How many places can you live where an Indian restaurant stands next to a Persian restaurant next to a Peruvian restaurant? How many places can you sit in the sun on a couch on a sidewalk and smoke a hookah packed with flavored Turkish tobacco?

How many places can you get a pedicure where toothless garra rufa fish nibble the dead skin off your scaly feet? How many places can you watch a freshly make churro scooped out of the hot oil and placed in a cup of intense chocolate – so thick that the churro stands straight up?

How many places can you have breakfast at the wall-to-wall photo tribute to the cafe’s former customer Princess Diana?

Well, that is all about to change. And to my mind, not to the better. Redevelopment has come to Bayswater, and Whiteley’s will anchor a pedestrianized Queensway. In 1845 William Whiteley left Leeds with ten pounds in his pocket and the dream of having a store in which you could buy anything. By 1890 he employed 6,000 staff growing and producing products specifically for his stores.

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In 1907, after William Whiteley’s death (another story), his sons built what is today, a Grade II listed store with the sweeping La Scala staircase, tiered Atrium, and marble floors. I love this building!

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On our most recent visit, many of the stores (think of the ground floor as what used to be a mall) were closed or were closing. Whiteley’s is about to be transformed. No longer will it be a public space with shopping and a cinema; rather, after a billion pound restoration, the building will house restaurants, designer shops, and pricey apartments.

The redevelopment will spill onto Queensway which will be closed to traffic and pedestrianized. The local color will be whitewashed. Just another up-grade that will suck the lifeblood out of what used to be a distinctive neighborhood.

 

 

 

 

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Rising Up Out of the Mental Muck

Snow capping the forested, dark green mountains veined with Aspen gold delights the eye, but the rain and wind on the Valley floor remind me that winter is coming, and I am not ready!

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The Sangre de Cristo Mountains got their first snow about a week ago, and the snowfall was a good month too early for me. The Valley floor is sodden and the wind brisk.

Cold weather plus bad news is just too much. Which bad news? The mass shooting in Las Vegas or… there is a lot to choose from… the list is too long. And yet, I am so far removed from the reality of the news. Shopping in the local grocery the other day, I found myself complaining about the shorter days and the longer nights. And as my whine wound down, I felt the heat of embarrassment.

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How dare I complain about the weather when the world-at-large is such a mess!! Why am I/why are we so removed? Unless we are personally suffering from a natural or unnatural disaster… we (buffered by our computers and handheld devices) sit all comfy on our couches some distance from the pain. And the pain that we experience sitting on the couch is easily fixed by just adding a cushion or two.

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We live cocooned lives swathed in eiderdown with a hot cup of tea or coffee at-hand. At most we sigh. Or rant. Or block out disturbing news by binging on three or four episodes of a favorite TV series. A ‘restorative’ glass of wine helps dull the pain. Chocolate does also. I’m also into ‘food porn.’ My favorite site is https://www.nytimes.com/newsletters/cooking. Sam Sifton, the NYTimes food editor, writes a chatty introduction and follows up with recipes. Reading the recipes is almost as satisfying as eating the food he writes about. Almost.

 

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The only constant is change.

 

Sam (I know him pretty well at this point so I feel I can refer to him by his first name) sends out a newsletter two or three times a week, and his commentary never fails to lift my spirits. Quoting the first paragraph of today’s newsletter, Sam writes:

 

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Good morning. Go look at the birds today, if you can. They might be over by the highway, getting into formation for the long run to warmer air. They might be out on the harbor, picking off the surface as bass and bluefish crash beneath them, fueling up for their own migration south. The geese are beginning to move on the ponds, as are the ducks, the mute swans with their grunts and hisses. For all the terrible news this morning, for all the heartbreak and terror this is still, as Robert McClosky put it, a time of wonder, a time of change. The temperature may be summery where you hang your hat, but the birds know the score.

 

 

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I’m feeling better. Maybe I’m not as depressed as I first thought.  I go to Roget’s Thesaurus… a forty-year-old, well-thumbed, paperback. I haven’t written in weeks. Why is that? Maybe ‘depressed’ isn’t the best word choice. I look up ‘sad.’ A dozen synonyms are at-hand: sorrowful, downcast, dejected, unhappy, woeful, woebegone, depressed, disconsolate, melancholy, gloomy, cheerless, somber, dismal, heavy-hearted, and blue.

DSCN6087The choices run the gamut from dark to lighter. I’m not unhappy or heavy-hearted; I guess I’m melancholy or blue. Have you noticed that naming your condition, putting it under a microscope, looking at the issue in depth makes everything better? I’m feeling better already.

This month’s assignment from the Salida based Shavano Poets is to write a poem that riffs off a compound word. I’m quite excited: the word ‘downcast’ may be a possibility… or what about ‘woebegone’? I like woebegone a lot. After not writing for over a month, I just may run with woebegone and see where it takes me.

Immersion in the written word is my medicine. Reading (I’m re-reading E.M. Forster’s WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD) or Sam Sifton’s introduction, or… putting words to paper myself is the wind beneath my wings.

I don’t want to live in a bubble, but I need to step out of the muck and rise above it if I am going to be productive and pro-active.

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Island Artists – Real and Wanna-Be

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Art. You can find it everywhere, but nowhere more than on Vancouver Island. Nature makes its own art. You can find it in the rhythm of the incoming surf, the petal patterns of vegetation or in a slice of tree trunk.

2017 08 kilroy was hereIn addition to the art found in Nature, artists make their mark on walls as murals and graffiti – popularized in WW II by soldiers who left their calling cards to indicate that they were there… Over There.

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Walking the beach. I see the works of man. Here, a feather stuck in a stone approximates a pen and inkwell.

Over there, pebbles, sticks and shells have been arranged in a pleasing pattern. In the sand, two names connected by an arrow and a heart. And on a path, someone (apparently an Australian tourist) has drawn an aboriginal figure. And on that pole, not a carved First Nations totem which is a traditional work of art, but hundreds of locks – again left by tourists who left their calling cards.

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Sculptured pieces, totem carvings and handmade native canoes are to be found across the island. In addition, art can be found in museums and private collections. When Mark and I first moved full-time to London, I was surprised going into a bookstore. Scanning the bestselling books on display, I was taken back: I didn’t recognize any of the authors! I guess I had assumed that because we North Americans and the Brits spoke , the same language, we would be reading the same books. Foolish, I know, but…  I knew the classics, of course, , but my total ignorance of popular British writers had me shame-faced.

Murals abound on the island, but for a small town, Chemainus takes the cake. The artists’ styles vary, but the quality is always high.

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2017 08 Emily CarrStaying at James Bay Inn in Victoria, I saw numerous paintings by Emily Carr. Wonderful paintings! But who the heck was Emily Carr? Again, I was caught in a cultural wasteland. When I asked the hotel staff, they were shocked. Emily Carr? Another ignorant American! She doesn’t know Emily Carr!!

Back in Victoria (thankfully back to Internet connectivity) I did a bit of research. Silly me. Emily Carr (1871-1945) is a “Canadian icon” who dragged reluctant natives kicking and screaming into the world of Modernist and Post-Impressionist art. Her work was not well received.

Born in Victoria, Carr began her art studies at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1890. She went on to join an artist colony in St. Ives, Cornwall, England in 1905, and between 1910 and 1912 she studied in Paris before returning to Vancouver Island where her shocking color palette was initially dismissed.

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I love her work. Carr wrote: “I glory in our wonderful west and I hope to leave behind me some of the relics of its first primitive greatness.” Carr does that so well.

2017 08 em carr kinderartCarr’s use of greens perfectly captures rainforest grandeur and forest density. Scrolling through the Internet in search of Emily Carr, I came across a site called kinderart, and yes, you too can paint trees in Emily’s style! Take a look at https://kinderart.com/art-lessons/painting/emily-carrs-trees/

If you shut your eyes to clear-cut logging in the forest primeval and focus on the vast  remains, you can still feel the primitive.

Visit soon before the trees, through climate change or logging, are a thing of the past.

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Tofino, British Columbia

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Having left the east coast of Vancouver Island we wandered our way west to Tofino and the Pacific Rim Temperate Rain Forest… probably not a good choice if you are claustrophobic. Trees crowd in oppressively. You are very small, and national park signs warn of predatory wildlife to include black bears, cougars, and wolves. Signs encourage us to be Bear Aware.

 

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Tofino was our destination, and we were delighted with our huts directly on the beach. The tide comes in… the tide goes out. When the tide goes out, those on the beach pilgrimage out on a sand bar to the rocks beyond. The water is seriously cold – so cold that it becomes difficult to walk on the blocks of ice that were once your feet. The sand is fine – so fine that it feels a bit like talcum powder.

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2017 08 24 tofino 010One of the highlights of Tofino was discovering the work of Roy Henry Vickers. His gallery on Main Street welcomes you with not only his artwork but also, for each work of art,  his reflections on the source of his inspiration, enhance the viewer’s enjoyment. I was particularly taken with his picture of a pregnant sea lion, but reading his commentary about the birth of his art and the creative process really appealed to me because as a writer, I find that sometimes the writing is almost instantaneous and other times a seed germinates over years. My creative friends might also enjoy his comments on “Sealion Mother.”

 

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Working our way south from Tofino we stop again and again to check out the trails wending through the forest to the dramatic coastline where sandy beaches give way to volcanic rock and surf. It seems like every other car has a surfboard on its luggage rack, and the owner of every surfboard has not been brought low by thoughts of career advancement or mortgage payments. After years of living in a town that is mostly retirees, I find it refreshing to see the young and restless in the pursuit of one big wave.

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Driftwood lies jumbled on the beach, and man-made, driftwood structures line the shore and serve as windbreaks. The structure pictured above is particularly interesting: most people limit themselves to a tepee sort of structure, but in this case, the builder built several rooms with care. Apparently all the logs on-offer take grown men and women back to their Lincoln Log days. On the beach, far from pending deadlines and ticking time-clocks, they recall/relive more innocent days when their only task was leave home and follow mothers’ admonition to “return in time for dinner.”

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British Columbia has done a great job at protecting the forest floor. Steps, absolutely beautiful steps, take tourists from the parking lots through the forest and down to the coast. We cross ravines and creeks and sometimes, actually walking in the tree canopy, we cannot see the forest floor. Trees in the Old Growth forest are truly impressive. Some are over 1,000 years old, and the Ancient Forest Alliance and the BC Big Tree Registry, keeps score. The Tolkien Giant, for example, is the 9th widest red cedar in B.C., and is 47 feet in circumference and 138-feet tall.

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Given that the average 87-inches of rain a year, the forest floor is fragile. There is no telling what you will step on. I love the following photo that I took of a pile of Leopard slugs. Mark’s comment was, “It’s a slug fest!”

I’ve been really impressed with British Columbia’s acknowledgement of their First Nations people. Native arts and crafts are widely celebrated and their mythologies are prominently displayed.

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That’s it for today. I can’t begin to fit it all in.

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