Aboard the Aurora Explorer – Day Two

2017 08 19 nwtrip 024Is it really Thursday? And the date… what is the date? I look at the day’s route on the whiteboard – 3:15 depart; 07:00 Fanny Bay; 13:00 Frazer Bay; and 23:00 Pott’s Lagoon. I find the whiteboard, updated every morning, very helpful in terms of orienteering. Living a mostly retired life, it is not unusual for me to not know the date and to struggle recollecting the day.

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A month ago, I went to our local clinic for a basic mental acuity assessment. Was my memory, I wondered, worse than that of other people my age? A physician’s assistant would administer the test. Before leaving home, I checked the calendar to learn the date. I knew that I would be asked the day and date – better to bone up on the answer. Walking to the clinic, I repeated the date several times, as a mantra of sorts… just so I would remember.

Thanks to cramming for the test, I remembered the day and the date! I did well, and the P.A. assured me that I was not only average for my age, but I was above average! How I puffed up! And then… like a dog shaking itself free of bathwater, I shook myself back to reality. Let’s be honest: I practiced. Not only the day and the date, but reading an article on Alzheimer’s, I knew that I would be asked to spell a five-letter word backwards.

I think the sample word in the article was WORLD. I tried spelling ‘world’ backwards and found the task nearly impossible. I tried and then I tried again.  Once I was past the first two letters, I was lost. I visualized the word, but after saying the D and L, I struggled. What was the middle letter? Knowing that this question would give me trouble in the doctor’s office, I spent days thinking of five-letter words and attempting to spell them backwards. TRAIN… THINK… CLOUD…COACH. For weeks I focused on my task. Periodically, I returned to spelling WORLD.

Imagine my surprise when the P.A. asked me to spell a five-letter word backwards, and the word was WORLD! My weeks of practice came in handy. I spelled the word correctly… automatically without thought or recollection. The P.A. assessed that cognitively I was holding my own. Ha! Little did she know that I had cheated. My mind is not as nimble at my score suggests. That said, if I knew enough to practice and cheat, does that not indicate that I’m still reasonably competent?

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A embroidered sampler that I photographed in Billy’s Museum.

Choppy seas last night, and the cook said that the Aurora Borealis was playing in the sky. He needs to wake me next time. This morning I sit in the stern behind the wheelhouse. A stiff breeze is to my back, but I’m bundled up in a shirt, vest and fleece. The sun is on my face. The thrum of the ship’s engines soothes me – the sound of the boat’s wake is lighter and plays on top of the engine’s bass notes.

A day aboard the Aurora is quiet. I can do without the Internet and a phone, but I miss my morning coffee that typically, like bacon and eggs, goes with NPR’s “Morning Edition.”

Sometimes I wonder if unseen forces have put me aboard the Aurora as a form of De-tox. Despite the gorgeous scenery, the breeze wisping my hair, and the sun warming my face, I feel a bit institutionalized… against my wishes. Each day unwinds – punctuated only by breakfast, lunch and dinner – all three meals fabulous, but I wonder if the crew (I’ve begun to think of them as the hospital staff) is quietly sedating me. Part of the healing process I suppose.

The crew is weaning me from my unhealthy addiction to streaming news and tension inducing tweets. Will I make a full recovery?

Time will tell.

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Aboard the Aurora Explorer – Day One

I try to remember if smugness is one of the seven deadly sins. I know that pride is a sin, and smugness is born of pride, so I guess I’m failing. As sinners do. I’m not meeting a high moral standard, but any guilt that I might feel runs like water off a duck’s back.

Looking at a passing cruise ship, I can’t stem my satisfaction. As one of twelve passengers aboard the Aurora, a working ship that also accommodates paying guests, I feel privileged. With a 30 – 35% rate of return passengers, Marine Link Tours must be doing something right.

True, we don’t have a swimming pool or a spa. We don’t have a theater, and with only two dining tables, one table seating only four and the other seating eight, I can’t imagine where the captain would sit. It is just as well. I left my cocktail dress at home.

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I guess I’ll (dressed in the same clothing that I have worn the past four days) will just have to go up to the wheelhouse and have some one-on-one with the captain. He led us through the lifeboat drill, and I found him accessible and engaging. The water running between Vancouver Island and the mainland is cold. After talking about life preservers, the captain says that if we should find ourselves in the water, we should clasp our knees to our chest to preserve body heat. We passengers, all in our maturity, have a bit of a laugh. Our knees to our chest? In some cases, fat chance!

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The crew of six is open and friendly. If I have a question, I only need to ask. You might think of the Aurora as a UPS truck on water. We deliver goods: heavy machinery, drilling rigs, groceries, gasoline and must-have luxury items demanded by those who can afford to own their very own island. Given that the islands are not linked to land, the Aurora is it.

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Built in 1972, our 135-ft ship began its working life doing seismic surveys in the Northwest Territory. If you’ve seen photos of the WW II landing craft discharging soldiers on the beach at Normandy, you can visualize the Aurora with its landing ramp at the bow.  The ramp is up when we are under power but is lowered for deliveries. The design is perfect for off-loading goods at remote inlets and sites without docks. I write about delivering, but what comes in, must go out, so in addition to delivering, the Aurora takes things away. This morning we picked up giant crates of aluminum cans destined for recycling and porta-potties… on their way to be flushed clean.

We boarded just north of Campbell River, mid-way up the west coast of Vancouver Island. As we worked our way between Vancouver and Quadra Islands, we learned that years ago, Ripple Rock was particularly dangerous with peaks just nine feet below the water’s surface. The problem was solved in 1958 when the channel was cleared by the world’s largest non-nuclear explosion. Tidal wave warnings went out, but the wave never materialized despite an estimated 700,000 tons of rock and water reaching 1,000 feet in the air. The channel’s depth now measures a safe 47-feet below the surface and, thanks to the blast, allows cruise ships to travel up the Inland Waterway.

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Our ship travels north with stops dictated by deliveries. The irregular fiord-like coast is rugged with a narrow, rocky beach below cliffs. Above the beach, mountains loom – packed with trees, pockmarked with clear-cut scars and shrouded in clouds .Travel is in tune with the tides and the threat of riptides, whirlpools and rapids at low tide.

2017 08 16 nwtrip 068This afternoon I sat behind the wheelhouse – out of the wind and in the sun. The water in our wake glistens. Squinting, I see a thousand points of light. The wake itself is opalescent, mint green and foamy white. It looks like spearmint gum tastes. To either side of the wake, the black and navy-blue sea appears walk-on-water solid, as heavy and beautiful as watermarked satin. I should be looking up at the landscape, but I’m seduced by the sea and lulled by the hum of the ship’s engine.

I write from the womb.

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Some Like It Hot

I must say that the waterfront city of Victoria –  the capital of British Columbia – is the most beautiful harbor city I’ve ever seen. Overlooked by impressive stone parliament buildings, the harbor basin is chocked with float-planes, yachts, kayaks, and whale watching boats. The harbor is a water boulevard of action. Add to the unscripted action, a water taxi ballet choreographed to the music of Tchaikovsky, and you have a happening.  The water taxis are small and bring to mind amusement park bumper cars. Watching the “silly” little boats do their Blue Angels routine is a lighthearted moment after a day of museum going.

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2017 08 13 nwtrip 056The Royal BC Museum is a must-see. One exhibit explores what constitutes family and a second examines the impact of climate change on the environment, Both exhibits are well worth a visit. Prior to visiting the museum, I photographed a statue of Emily Carr, a noted artist, native-born in 1871. A faithful dog stands at her side and looks at her with adoring eyes. A monkey (dressed to impress in clothing) sits on her shoulder. Seeing the statue, I thought of how pets do indeed constitute family.

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Emily Carr, a ground-breaking artist, a woman before her time. “Autumn in France” 1911



And then visiting the exhibit on family, I saw the human/animal concept underscored. This was particularly true looking at the vast array of First Nations’ totems which represent the ancestors and the supernatural beings with which they interacted.

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Needless to say, families come and go: babies are born and the “Ancients” pass on.. A year ago, Mark and I bought cemetery plots out at Rosita – a grand site sheltered by pines and next to unoccupied plots owned by neighbors. (Joking that once we two couples are interred, we will meet them for Happy Hour.) Much to our surprise, our – I’ll call it ‘forward thinking’ – has been met with dismay. I think a lot of people conclude that we are depressed or if not depressed, that we are dark. Not so. We are just looking ahead. Not in fear or anticipation, but as the end-game of a life well-lived.

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Interactive museum exhibits always grab my attention. In the B.C Royal’s exhibit on family, viewers were asked to write down a kernel of wisdom that they would like to pass on to the next generation. “You are at a point in time. What lessons will be your lasting legacy? What words of wisdom would you like to tell future generations?” Given the prompt, viewers were encouraged to write their comments on a green paper “leaf,” and the museum staff would add their leaf to the “tree” arching overhead. Standing under the “tree,” I felt nurtured by collective wisdom overhead.

Which was good, because the global warming exhibit was bleak. For some minutes I stood in front of a computer that screened a time-lapsed spread of pine beetle over the past 50 years. Driving the Rockies and for Westcliffe folks just driving up the Hardscrabble, you can see that the Pine Beetle has devastated huge swaths of forest in Colorado, but watching the affected area spread, bigger over North America with each successive decade, was a sobering experience – especially since we won’t see temperatures cool or the beetles slowed any time soon.


Gone are the days.


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Trailing the Oregon Coast

For all my backroads readers, I must recommend driving Highway 20 west through the Cascades and then taking Highway 101 up the coast. In contrast to hwy 20 that has very few cars, hwy 101 has many, but you can find empty pockets, and the quality of the road is silken.

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9:30 a.m. and the fog along the coast has yet to clear.

Following the coast calls for serpentine roads, and the curves call out to motorcycle riders and sports car fans who test the limits of their vehicles and their driving skill . The coupled logging trucks are fearless. Meanwhile, as you drive west from central Oregon, deciduous trees join the firs. Below the trees a thick ground-cover brings poison ivy to mind, and mentally, I start to itch.

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If you are a coffee drinker, a coffee kiosk is only a couple of miles down the road. Oregon must have more coffee drinkers than any other state in the nation. As for decaf… don’t ask. Ask for decaf, and the locals abruptly say, “No!”  Their tone suggests that if you don’t want real lumberjack coffee, you should probably go home.

Seagulls complain ceaselessly, “Me, me, me!” The forest alternates between clear-cut and dense. Pine beetle devastation is evident as are many signs of forest fires.  From time to time the smell of smoke lies on top of  the briny smell of ocean and  fresh seafood on ice. Oregon has done a spectacular job in terms of pull-offs, scenic overlooks, historical markers, and forested paths leading down the cliffs to beach access.

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Love it!

As for roadside blooms, here on the Pacific coast, white Queen Anne’s Lace and Shasta Daisies hold court. Sweet Peas, Asters, rambling roses, and Fireweed attend the queens. Unable to identify great swaths of pinkish-purple blooms, I had to look up the name. As it turns out, the flower is aptly named ‘Fireweed,’ and it is the first flower to bloom after a fire. In London, following WW II, the same flower was called Bombweed.

I’m nor sure why seals are so appealing, but they do pull at your heartstrings. The way they use one another’s bodies as pillows is sweet. The way they cuddle one another is very pet-like. I want to take one home. We could snuggle on the couch. Seals also have a lot to say – most of it harsh. The seals in the photo below are hanging out on floating decks in Newport.

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Coming to Terms with Scale

If you had asked me five days ago, if I lived out in the country… back of beyond, I would have said yes. We who live in Westcliffe do, after all, live a good hour’s drive from Canon City, Salida, or Pueblo. But after driving only back roads in Nebraska, Idaho, and Oregon (no Interstate travel for us!), the scales have fallen from my eyes. How provincial I have been! How silly to think that I was living a remote lifestyle. Remote is not one hour from civilization. Remote is driving a hundred miles to reach a dying town smaller than Westcliffe.

Highway 2 in Nebraska and Highway 20 in Idaho and Oregon are wonderful, but the scale of the farms and the landscape (where every ranch is the size of or larger than Wolf Springs Ranch west of Highway 69 in Huerfano County) has put me in my place. And ‘my place’ is Front Range Colorado bordering on urban.

I highly recommend driving Highways 2 and 20. For the most part, you are driving 75/80 MPH and yours is the only car within sight. We saw cars through a rain spattered windshield in the Tetons, but other than that… well, there was Arco, Idaho.

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On our approach to Arco, we had seen hundreds of cars and buses taking employees? home? from work? (and where the heck was work?), but until we saw the sign in Arco, we didn’t put two and two together. Ah…  the nuclear research site 18-miles southeast of Arco was still up and running.

President Kennedy closed the nuclear powered aircraft project in March of 1961 writing, “15 years and about 1 billion have been devoted to the attempted development of a nuclear powered aircraft, but the possibility of achieving a militarily useful aircraft in the foreseeable future is very remote.” Despite a number of setbacks, Atoms for Peace is apparently alive and well. Talking to locals, the word was that the facility is working on nuclear medicine; however, an Internet search did not mention current projects.

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If you are interested in reading more about the facility, you can read a U.S Atomic Energy Press Release, dated August 11, 1955. See: https://todayinsci.com/Events/NuclearPowerArco1955-PressRelease.htm.

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Robert Limbert

One of our stops today was at Craters of the Moon. The lava stretches for miles, and undeterred, tourists in tents and RVs nestle in amongst the boulders and lava flows. Robert Limbert explored and promoted the Great Rift in 1920 and was instrumental in bringing the site to the attention of President Coolidge who proclaimed Craters of the Moon a National Monument in 1924 saying the site was “a weird and scenic landscape, peculiar to itself.”


Of particular interest to me were the journal entries made by those trudging west on the Goodale Cutoff north of the main Oregon Trail. In the mid-1800s, many of the migrants – hoping to avoid conflicts with the Shoshone along the main route – skirted the northern edge of the lava lands. Their journal entries are telling.

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Looking at the brutal lava fields, I tried to imagine the emigrants who dying of thirst, walked on blistered feet under a scorching sun. I can only think “They don’t make them like that any more.” It was Tim Goodale who led the world’s largest wagon train along the northern edge of the lava field. The train numbered 1,095 people, 338 wagons, and 2,900 head of stock.

It was a large scale operation.

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Road Trip

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As crazy as it sounds, we circled through Nebraska prior to heading to the Pacific Northwest. Ever since my husband Mark read that Cherry County, Nebraska was the least densely populated county in the contiguous United States, he has been hot to see it for himself. To understand his motivation, a little background for those who are unfamiliar with our hometown of Westcliffe, Colorado a town of 600 which is an hour’s drive from any town approximating a shopping mecca.

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When I took this photo, I immediately thought of the famous  painting. I couldn’t remember the title, so I looked it up. The title is “Christina’s World,” and I learned that Christina was Wyeth’s Maine neighbor who was afflicted with polio. This background information will forever ruin the painting for me. I always imagined that the able-bodied subject was brought low by the unforgiving landscape.


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Andrew Wyeth 1948 Christina’s World”

Come summer, when the number of tourists and second-home, flatland homeowners swell Westcliffe’s population, the full-timers start to moan about the traffic and the congestion. Fast lane, city folk  are pretty tense, and they bring that tension with them. The other day, standing in line at the grocery… standing three customers in front of a tourist with a single bag of chips, I turned to see her gritting her teeth. (Westcliffe has neither have a five-items-or-less lane nor a self-checkout, and I thought that she was going to have a melt-down.) Turning my attention to the gal manning the cash register, I saw her wink. Smiling she said, “I can feel the vibration from here.”

Yes, you can feel the vibration. City slickers bring their intensity with them, and so I quite understood Mark’s need to chill-out by driving through the least densely populated county prior to going on vacation. And I must say that Cherry County, Nebraska is wonderful. The sign reading “70 miles to the next gas station” said it all. The fields were Garden of Eden lush with agriculture. Corn, of course. Planted so closely together that if you wanted to walk between the rows, you would need a machete to make your way.

Looking both north and south from highway 2, you can only see a golf course perfect landscape – endless thousand-acre ‘fields’ patchworked in shades of green, tan, and burnished gold.

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Despite the beauty of industrial-scale farming, I found myself thinking about the amount of water and fertilizer necessary to make this picture-perfect, bread-basket world. The water comes from the Ogallala Aquifer, and the water is sprayed on the crops by hump-backed, irrigating machines that look like walking sticks on wheels. But the water is a finite resource. Just what, I wondered, is the status of the aquifer?

It is not good. But rather than write about it now, I refer you to an Scientific American article, “The Ogallala Aquifer: Saving a Vital United States Water Source” by Jane Braxton Little and published March 1, 2009.   https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-ogallala-aquifer.

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Cherry County is definitely worth a trip. But time was passing. As we turned west heading towards our ultimate destination of British Columbia, we stopped in Alliance Nebraska to see Carhenge built by Jim Reinders, who fell for Stonehenge when working in England as a petroleum engineer. His installation is fun – quirky.

Enough! Enough fun.  West to the Tetons where rain and mist heightened the atmospheric experience.

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The Cottage Look

Preparing to leave home for a month has me in a tizzy. What if my husband and I die driving to British Columbia? What if we wash overboard as we cruise north on the Inside Passage? What if… The possibilities are endless. All you have to do is buy trip insurance and possible disasters (each with a price tag) suggest themselves. Choose your bad news and then pay for it: trip cancellation, delays, hurricanes, civil disorder, and accidental death to name a few.


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See Marine Link Tours for further information


Once we are on Vancouver Island, we’ll drive to Campbell River and join ten other passengers aboard the Aurora. We know that we’ll be heading north, but our stops will depend on the ship’s deliveries along the way. It’s a mystery. What fun!

I can’t imagine civil disorder on Vancouver Island, so we skipped on paying for that option. But the insurance folks are missing out. They could really rake in the money if they would add travel insurance options to include the stress of planning the trip and packing for every eventuality. Mornings on the barge and later on the ocean’s edge in Tofino will be cold. I should take long underwear. One more thing to squeeze in my pack. I am frazzled. No doubt about it.


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I’ve packed the long underwear – Tofino here I come!


Looking at my to-do list, my blood thickens and slows to a crawl. My heartbeat picks up the pace, but my blood is so thick! It is like pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with cement. What if my heart stops completely? if my heart stops before I leave home, my travel insurance will not pay.

Meanwhile, there is the house. If we should die, I don’t want the neighbors coming in tut-tutting over my inattention to domestic duties. I need to clean out the refrigerator, and I should dust the piano: dust really shows up on a glossy surface at eye level. And vacuum. And wash the floors. I’ll never get to the baseboards.

If you think I’m obsessive, you don’t know my history. Years ago, my mother-in-law remarked, “Thank God, you’re a good cook; you’re not much of a housekeeper.” I was pleased that she recognized my strength. As for my weakness, obsessive housekeeping is for women who have no other interests in life. I have many interests. Her remark did not offend me; I found it humorous. That said… if Wanda is looking down from the Great Beyond, I would like to think that she thinks none the worse of me.

Leaving the garden for a month is distressing. Today I emptied the hummingbird feeders and put them away until our return. Taking lunch on the patio, we watched the hummingbirds perch on the shepherds’ crooks that formerly held the feeders. The birds frowned. They were not amused. I felt as though I had slapped them up the side of the head. Poor things! They will have to depend on Nature’s bounty. I’m out of the pictutre.



For the most part, the grass is knee-high. I think of the length in terms of ‘habitat.’


My garden is a problem. Design-wise, I’ve gone for what I’m calling “The Cottage Look.” Growing up in Horseheads New York, just south of the Finger Lakes, I am well acquainted with cottages. Many people have them. Maybe they spend a week or two at the cottage, but for the most part, the cottage is occupied infrequently – a weekend here and there. As for the grass and garden, benign neglect rules. After all, what’s the point of having a cottage if you spend your cottage-time mowing the grass and clipping the hedges?



A stroll in my garden is a walk on the wild side. Which is intentional and fine by us, but what about community standards? We do, after all, live just two blocks from Main Street. What will the neighbors say? Will our house depress our neighbors’ property values?

I should write to the travel insurance people. To their list of options, they should add ‘lawsuits resulting from dereliction of gardening duty.”








Using a red pencil, I cross off the tasks accomplished. It’s slow going. And I’m tired. I distract myself by writing a blog.

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