A before-and-after moment at 4:15 a.m.

I’ve been reminded recently how life changes in a moment. One minute, life is one way. The next, it’s turned upside down.

We had such a moment at 4:15 this morning. This moment didn’t change my life so much as it changed someone else’s but it’s illustrative of my point.

We’re camping this week in my cousin-in-law’s yard. It’s idyllic. Nice level lot, protected from the wind, a well-manicured yard. The cousin-in-law offered to let me use her brand new washer and dryer and her husband shared the fresh produce from his garden–ah, the comforts of home one misses when one is living in an RV.

idyllic corn

The idyllic scene that greets me when I emerge from my camper in the mornings.

The cousin-in-law’s yard out is in the middle of a corn field. The front yard is a stretch of county road between Hither and Yon, but the other three sides are bordered by seven feet of corn. I swear, it grew a foot this week. The corn even muffles all sound except the birds and the bees. Literally, the chirping of the birds and the chittering of insects is the only thing you hear out here, punctuated occasionally by the engine noise of a car speeding by.

This story is about that placid corn and speeding cars.

At 4:15 a.m., my Beloved awakens me with an urgent question, “What was that?!”

“I didn’t hear anything,” I murmured.

He jumps out of bed, throwing on his clothes. I’m becoming more alert now.

“Honey, you’re dreaming,” I said. “You’re putting your underwear on backwards.”

“No, I heard a car go into the ditch,” he says. “I heard the tires squeal and a crash.”

“I left the flashlight where it belongs,” I said, rolling over.

I wasn’t interested in investigating a dream.

But a car did indeed go into the ditch and crash.

My Beloved called 911, and within minutes, 10 emergency vehicles were on the scene.

license plate

The “scene” was only 50 feet from my cousin-in-law’s house, between two light poles. Mr. E754145 left the pavement, entered the corn field and was launched airborne. This is where he went in, losing his license plate.

corn inside

And this is where he landed, roughly 30 feet further on.

crash scene

The bare patches in the foreground indicate where the car went off the road; the string of corn stalks trailing from the field to the road show where the car was towed out of the field.

I think Mr. E754145 is alive to tell the story. My Beloved heard him try the ignition as he was calling 911, so he was at least conscious after crash landing. He didn’t hit a pole. The corn softened his landing. But in any case, his car was intact and operational and so was he at 4:14 a.m. At 4:16, he had to be stretchered away, and the car was towed.

Before and after.

Life can change in a minute.


When it’s hot, think cool

Coping with summer’s heat requires air conditioning, swimming gear and the right attitude.

Statistically, we’re smack dab in the middle of the hottest two weeks of the year in Illinois, Iowa and the southern halves of Minnesota and Wisconsin, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Coming right up, July 15 through August 1 are the hottest two weeks for the northern halves of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

If one has a mindset that these days are Old Man Winter’s answer to our prayers in March that he get the heck out of town, then one can endure the dog days of summer better.

We asked for days like this. Days like this are a gift. Days like this will be go away eventually.

That’s the right attitude. It’s hot now. But it will be cold again.

With that in mind, I’m sharing an image taken a year ago in June when my Beloved and I visited Barcelona, Spain. Barcelona is the type of town that inspires night life, so one late evening we stopped by IceBarcelona (get it? Ice? Bar? Celona? I love wordplay like that) for a drink.

On the way in, there’s a terrace overlooking the Mediterranean Sea for an al fresco cocktail, the perfect respite from the 20-degree atmosphere inside the ice bar. Patrons can borrow natty parkas and gloves. Everything, including the bar and the furniture, are made of ice; drinks are served in glasses made of ice, of course. Elaborate, seasonally changing ice sculptures decorate the place.

Naturally, it’s called the coolest bar in Barcelona.

Here’s a shot of my Beloved and I on the ice couch in front of a sculpture of an Imperial Walker (it was a “Star Wars” theme when we were there). That’s an icy cold screwdriver in my hand.


Here’s to hot July days. Cheers!

Impressive natural and manmade wonders abound along Columbia River Gorge

There’s something I keep forgetting to tell you, my faithful readers.

Wait, let me think a minute.

Rodins The Thinker

The Maryhill Museum of Art, on the north bank of the Columbia River in Washington state, features an entire room of works by Auguste Rodin, including his “The Thinker.”

Oh, yes, this is it: Don’t miss seeing the Columbia River Gorge marking the border between Washington state and Oregon. While it may not be on list of the Seven Wonders of the World, it is worth a visit.

My Beloved and I traveled through the area in May, and we were awed with the natural beauty in many of the same ways other visitors have been. I remember descriptions of the place in Stephen E. Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage, the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and, more recently, in Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Columbia River 2

When we visited, we stayed in the wooded and shady KOA Kampground in Cascade Locks, Oregon, which gave us nearby access to the Bridge of the Gods. The river crossing gets its name from an American Indian legend describing the strange and fantastic geologic changes wrought by the Earth’s moving tectonic plates.

Bridge of the Gods

Bridge of the Gods

The manmade version of the Bridge of the Gods was built in 1920, one of only 17 Columbia River Crossings along almost 300 miles of river in Oregon. At this point, the Columbia is wider and more ominous than say, anywhere along the Mississippi north of the Twin Cities.

It’s also quite lovely and astounding, surrounded as it is by the Cascade Mountain Range. The roadways on the both the south and north sides hug the river for the most part making for spectacular views as one drives along.

Further west, the river passes through treeless plains. “The face of the Countrey on both Side of the river above and about the falls,” wrote Meriwether Lewis in his journal, “is Steep ruged and rockey open and contain but a Small preportion of herbage, no timber a fiew bushes excepted.” Different, but no less beautiful.

Here, we visited the aforementioned Maryhill Museum of Art, a formidable architectural structure originally built as a mansion by Samuel Hill on the Washington bluff at the eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge. Besides the impressive works of sculptor Auguste Rodin, I was fascinated by the gallery of international chess sets on display in the basement. Every piece was a tiny objet d’art created by artists from around the world.

Maryhill Museum of Art

You can see the Maryhill Museum of Art on the left, overlooking the river and, in the foreground, acres of grape vines.

While we were there, my Beloved spent one day fishing for salmon in the Columbia River, and he landed a whopper, on which we are still dining, thanks to the wonders of the modern freezer in our RV.

Add a visit to the Columbia River Gorge to your bucket list. You won’t be disappointed.

What happens when it rains in Portland

I once visited a successful scrapbook saleswoman in a suburb of Portland, Oregon, and now after spending more than a night there, I understand why she was successful.

It rains there nonstop. No wonder people want to be indoors doing something—anything—to distract themselves from the constant downpours.

It’s no surprise Portland and nearby Vancouver, Washington, have the highest rates of depression among the 150 largest cities in the country, according to WalletHub, an online clearinghouse for financial advice and quality-of-life studies. I’d be depressed, too, if the only time I saw the sun was between rain showers.

Portland’s rain is a tease like the instructions on a bottle of shampoo. After a particularly violent downpour, maybe one that includes hail big enough to hear pinging on your camper but not big enough to damage your pickup truck, for example, you’ll spy a bit of blue sky the size of the eye of a needle, and you’ll think maybe the water will part, and the Promised Land awaits. But no. The sky clouds up, and it rains. Again.

Hope, rinse, repeat.

It’s not that it isn’t lush there. It’s like a rain forest. If rain forests had pine trees and moss. Turns out, coniferous trees, ferns and moss are characteristic of temperate rain forests like the one Portland occupies.

Cheryl’s on 12th, a downtown breakfast joint, was a bright spot in an otherwise gray place when we visited there in May. I enjoyed the special of the day, Eggs Benedict piled high with real, fresh crab meat (because Portland, being a port city, has access to good seafood) alongside a piping hot coffee and, to ward off depression borne of another rainy day, a spicy Bloody Mary that was worth the extra buck for “spicy.” Another food highlight (because food is a great comforter when the weather is drippy) was Dar Essalam, a Moroccan place in nearby Wilsonville that served lamb and couscous like it was high art.

We also took in Portland Saturday Market, the largest continuously operated outdoor market in the United States. Some salesperson did a great job luring vendors out in a place where it surely must rain every other weekend. Under blocks of tents, we found all kinds of interesting and beautiful baubles, handmade by inventive and talented people who were drinking a lot of Starbucks and eating hot snacks prepared nearby, possibly because they were hungry but more likely just to keep their hands warm.

These artisans had obviously been keeping themselves industriously occupied during rainy days.

Grand Tetons are mountain fresh

Have you ever purchased laundry detergent or air freshener that purports to smell “mountain fresh”?

Having grown up in a state where Inspiration Peak was a high point (1,750 feet above sea level, if you’re counting), I’m a sucker for that scent. Some ephemeral combination of pine, snow melt and wild flowers with a hint of loamy soil, “mountain fresh” is the definition of fresh in an exotic way to me.

When I get to smell mountain fresh in a real and natural way, I experience a little bit of paradise. That’s how most of Grand Tetons National Park smells.


My Beloved and I got to appreciate the park earlier this month in conjunction with a visited to Yellowstone National Park, which lies just north in the northwestern corner of Wyoming. I spied these wild flowers when I strayed from the walkway; the Grand Tetons peaks are in the background.

teton other side

Looking the opposite direction from the majestic mountains, this is the view at the top of Signal Mountain Summit Road in the park. Signal Mountain is 7,720 feet above sea level. As impressive the view, it’s more than 6,000 feet short of the highest point in the Grand Tetons.

Unlike the top of Grand Teton, this stop at the top of Signal Mountain is drivable. As lovely as it smells and as expansive as the view, it was the kind of mountaintop quiet where the only sound is the breeze and the flowers blooming in the sunshine.

12 days of buffalo

After spending 12 days in Yellowstone National Park earlier this month and reading what explorers, park superintendents and authors throughout history have had to say in roadside signs and interpretive exhibits, I’m fresh out of superlatives for the place.

If you’ve never visited Yellowstone, you simply must put it on your bucket list. There’s no place like it on earth.

So instead of trying to describe it or show it to you in pictures which simply cannot do justice to real life, I’ll tell you about our visit through a series of buffalo pictures. Though hunted to near extinction in the early 20th century, North America’s biggest mammal made a rebound and is literally everywhere in and around Yellowstone.

buffalo may 29

One: When we arrived in the late afternoon of Memorial Day at one of the KOA Kampgrounds west of West Yellowstone, Montana, we were greeted by this colorful statue, part of a public art installation by the Buffalo Roam Art Project.

The late Joe Halko, a Montana artist and sculptor, created the buffalo model from which a mold was developed and rendered copies in fiberglass by none other than Fiberstock Inc. of, wait for it, Buffalo, Minnesota (interesting trivia: I was born 50 years ago in Buffalo, Minnesota). Artists from four neighboring states painted 26 buffalo and 10 calves, and a dozen painted buffalo still exist in various locations around West Yellowstone.

This particular buffalo, painted by Jan Johansen, is titled “Now and Then” and features images of camping through history. “My buffalo celebrates America’s love of nature and the outdoors,” writes the aritst. “With the invention of the automobile, camping boomed. Nowhere was this more evident than in Yellowstone National Park.”

buffalo statue

Two: In order to get to Yellowstone National Park, we drove through West Yellowstone every morning, and this imposing life-size bronze statue by Mike Flanagan greeted us at the city entrance.


buffalo close

Three: More than once, we observed buffalo munching on grass just feet from the roadway. This majestic beast was eating breakfast in Hayden Valley, a fairly common sight if you’re driving around inside the park early in the morning or late in the day.

buffalo may 31

Four: One rainy day, we decided to skip the park and pay a visit to the Yellowstone Historic Center in West Yellowstone. It’s a nice little museum, if a little dingy, about Yellowstone’s history. Another painted buffalo from the Buffalo Roam Art Project stands outside the museum, and there’s a second one inside.

buffalo june 1

Five: Another drive through the park, another herd of buffalo (can you spy the calf? Most buffalo calves are born in April and May, and their reddish fur makes them stick out). In this shot, you can see the ground steaming—that’s not that buffalo’s breath. Of course, if you know anything about Yellowstone besides its large mammals, you know it is home to the largest concentration of thermal features on earth. The ground steams. The water steams. Geysers of steaming water shoot out of random holes. Steaming water pours over muddy steps of limestone. It’s a wild and beautiful place.

buffalo june 2

Six: Painters and bronze sculptors aren’t the only artists who’ve drawn inspiration from the bison. A skilled wood carver exhibits works at Send It Home yarn & quilt shop, 30 Madison Ave., West Yellowstone. You can also find all kinds of Western-themed and Montana-inspired quilt fabric and craft projects to take home and remind you of all things Yellowstone.


buffalo june 4

Seven: One day, we drove from West Yellowstone through Yellowstone park to Grand Teton National Park. If you have the time, I highly recommend this diversion. We headed back northish when we reached Jackson, Wyoming and chose to take the Teton Pass back through Idaho and Montana. The Teton mountain range is impressive, even from the back side in cities like Driggs, Idaho, where we saw this buffalo guarding main street.

buffalo june 5

Eight: We woke up at 4:30 a.m. one day in order to drive the suggested route for Wildlife Day in the Yellowstone Association’s Yellowstone In A Day book. That route took us through the “Serengeti of North America” in Yellowstone’s northern range from Mammoth Hot Springs nearly to Cooke City, Montana. The book recommended leaving from Mammoth by dawn, but the early alarm was worth it. This was our view while we enjoyed yogurt and granola in the cab of the truck. We saw nearly 1,000 head of buffalo before 9 a.m. (I’m not exaggerating), and almost none on the way home. We also saw a number of elk, mule deer and pronghorn. We hoped to see an elusive bear or wolf, but no. On other days, we spied moose, a coyote and eagles. We avoided a lot of traffic by getting into the park so early and did so another day, too.

buffalo taco salad

Nine: Didn’t expect this shot, did you? We enjoyed bison tacos, mine in the form of a taco salad on one evening. Bison meat is readily available in the small supermarkets in West Yellowstone and elsewhere. Try it! You’ll like it!


buffalo june 7

Ten: One of the perks of joining Yellowstone Forever is a tchotchke in the form of a hat or a “plush toy” (I called it a “stuffed buffalo,” and I was quickly corrected—see Image 12 for that).

Yellowstone Forever is the club for supporters committed to visitor education and park preservation. For a $35 charitable contribution, I got a 15 percent discount on two books I found at one of the park stores, both of which I highly recommend: Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foodlhardiness in the First National Park by Lee H. Whittlesey and Yellowstone in a Day, the field guide for tourists on a tight schedule I mentioned in Image 8).

My miniature schnauzer enjoyed playing with her miniature buffalo. The dog won.

buffalo june 8

Eleven: The buffalo has a high profile advertisers have seized upon. More than one motel and restaurant in West Yellowstone have buffalo or an allusion to buffalo in their names. After a day of observing wild life and taking in the thermal features in Yellowstone park, we enjoyed spicy bloody Marys and juicy burgers at the Buffalo Bar in West Yellowstone (which is also a casino and sells Ross Taylor Original items). Ross Taylor makes things like golf putters and canes from buffalo pizzles—not sure that that is? Look it up). My Beloved invested in one of Ross Taylor’s unique shoe horns.

buffalo june 9

Twelve: This stuffed buffalo is on display at the Buffalo Bar, and it’s probably the safest way to see one up close. Live bison are wild animals and can be dangerous, if you don’t know. Three people have been killed in Yellowstone when they got too close to angry and/or unpredictable bulls.

buffalo in front of hotel

A Baker’s Dozen: Why stop at 12 when I have 13 memorable buffalo images of our trip? I almost missed this lonesome figure when we were driving by the Lake Yellowstone Hotel. He was wallowing in a dust bowl one morning, so perfectly still and centered between the hotel and the lake when we drove by that he could have been a statue. Truly a majestic sight.

Tomorrow: Top 5 tips for seeing Yellowstone National Park

Meditation for sojourners


“Remember, we are all travelers. From birth till death we travel between the eternities. As you make the journey we hope that the days ahead will be pleasant for you, profitable for society, a help for those less fortunate than you, and a source of joy and comfort to those who know and love you best.”

~ Bonnie Yeo

I found these wise words from Bonnie Yeo in her book Montana Meanderings: A Collection of Recipes, Old Time Remedies and Montana Cartoons. The softcover was left in a Montana cafe for impatient diners to chew on while they waited for lunch to be served.

Turns out, her thoughts stuck with me longer than my meal.