Sunday, December 24, 2017

Monday, December 18, 2017

Marching to the beat of a different drummer

Our annual return to work vacation has taken us to various workcamping jobs out west. This year we thought we would try something totally different. Something that would never be considered a true workcamping job.

This job took us to Cedar Hill, TX in early September for training, then on to Bethlehem, PA (via RV mecca Elkhart, IN) for the season, then down to Florida for one last event (again via Elkhart, IN), before returning to Cedar Hill, TX in early December. It was a three month tour that covered 4,600 miles, gave us the chance to visit friends and relatives in PA, and put us in Elkhart, IN two times for significant preventative maintenance and upgrades to our 5th wheel trailer. One of the additional benefits was that every mile we traveled was reimbursed and every hour spent driving was paid to us in an hourly wage. That alone more than paid for all of the fuel, wear and tear, and upgrades we did to our trailer.

Our seasonal vacation job this year was the management of official event merchandise stores at high school marching band contests. There was some attraction to working at high school marching band contests since Susan was allegedly a member of a "world renowned" high school marching band known as the Liberty High School Grenadiers.

This is a uniform, not a costume!

We worked six major high school marching competitions, sold over $330,000 of event merchandise (clothing, patches, pins, etc.) and managed 50 "helpers" over the course of the season. Our job was to handle the logistics, inventory, payroll, accounting, cash management, merchandising, and sales for each event. We had some events where we worked for 24 hours straight including drive time to and from events. It was a physical and mental endurance test. Much more than any agricultural harvest we've ever worked.

On the road with two vehicles and trailers. We towed like this from Cedar Hill, TX to Elkhart, IN to Bethlehem, PA, back to Elkhart, then to Orlando, FL, before finally returning back to Cedar Hill, TX.

Weekly inventory delivery day. It gave the neighbors something to peek out of their windows at and wonder about.

We had events at Metlife Stadium, Rutgers University, Towson State University, Allentown, PA, and Disney's Coronado Resort in Orlando. This band was in the small high school category, but they had some fun props.

You can't just park on the street in front of your mother-in-law's house for months on end, so we had to get creative with our boondocking options. The local Polish Catholic Church was kind enough to let us stay in their back parking lot for a month. We particularly enjoyed the home made pierogies from their annual fund raiser.

The kids we met at these competitions were all band nerds and proud of it. They were polite, well spoken and infectiously enthusiastic. We heard countless stories from the parents about bored, disinterested kids becoming focused and purposeful because of their band participation. There's no doubt that being a part of a large, tradition-filled group was making a difference in the lives of these kids. They were learning the values of working together for a greater goal. They were learning the value of being part of a shared narrative that is bigger than the sum of its parts. It was almost enough to make even the most cynical and skeptical curmudgeon think that maybe, just maybe, there might be a glimmer of hope for the future.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Total Eclipse!...All Alone At The End Of The World

The whole Great American Eclipse thing has been interesting. This was our first and most likely last chance at an easy look at a totality event. While everything we've read said there was going to be a frenzy with crowds flocking from all over the country to flood the totality zone, we were convinced we could find a spot in the middle of wild Idaho on public lands to enjoy the show in private.

We were also convinced that so many other fulltime RV friends we know would be trying to do the same. Much to our surprise, everyone we talked to said they were doing everything in their power to avoid the event, even though they were planning to be within a few hundred miles of the totality zone as a course of their regular travels.

One of our friends, a former NASA engineer no less, was shockingly uninterested in the "event". I Mean, how could someone from NASA be bored by all this? I can't blame them. I probably wouldn't be all jazzed up about a total eclipse either if I had access to files about extraterrestrials or other intriguing space oddities.

Our interest in the eclipse hardly counts as an obsession. We have spent zero dollars on specialized cameras and astronomical devices (other than $3.00 certified eclipse glasses). You won't see us on a charter flight through empty skies, on a cruise ship in the middle of the Pacific, or on an isolated island in the Moluccas going for totality.

But even for us, the fundamental inversion of day turned to night as the moon blocks out the sun has a primal mystique that is hard to match. We were in search of an all embracing visual and sensory experience...that's all.

After a scenic and leisurely nine hour drive south from Bonners Ferry, ID, we found a sweet spot on BLM land next to the Big Lost River, one of our favorite trout streams in Idaho. While there were hordes of campers about 25 miles from us in the Mackay, ID area, there was no one in sight at our little spot. As far as our civilian GPS could tell us, we were right on the centerline of the eclipse totality band. A nice place to witness the end of times.

Idaho's tallest peak, Mt. Borah in the background to the east.

Nothing but the gap through the Sawtooth Mountains going to Sun Valley to the west.

The Big Lost River. Idaho's best kept trout fishing secret. 

Fishing is fine, but a private dog swimming lagoon was big draw for some. 

The day of the eclipse dawned with a brilliantly blue, clear sky. We set up our chairs at 10 AM to watch through our protective glasses as the moon slowly crept across the sun.  

The first signs we saw started at 10:13 AM. All we really noticed was a gradual cooling off in the area. Without our solar glasses to see the moon slowly taking a chunk out of the sun, it just looked like a normal day. Even up until the eclipse was at about 99%, there was a big shadow being cast by our rig and the solar panels were still putting out juice.

Still very light out at 99% of totality.

At 11:30 AM the totality event started for us. It lasted two minutes and 15 seconds. All the hype was true. As the sky darkened, the temperature dropped another 10 degrees and everything seemed to get eerily silent. It was as if a giant switch was suddenly flipped, the sky went dark, some stars came out, and the sun's corona around the moon looked like a florescent high definition disk. Overcome with elation, we hooted, hollered and jumped for joy. I suppose if we were living five hundred hundred years ago or so, we would have been on our knees praying as fast as possible for redemption.

At total eclipse, rather than being completely dark,  it looked like we had a 360 degree sunrise with no more shadow being cast by the rig.

A very amateur shot of the sun's corona at totality

The "diamond" when totality ends and the moon starts uncovering the sun.

At totality, "sunrise" is in all directions around you.

A partial eclipse almost seems like a big yawn. A total eclipse, however, is worth every bit of effort to be part of. Although this will most likely be our first and last total eclipse, it's easy to see how the raw excitement combined with the adventure of a quest can easily get you hooked. We can't help but think about Antarctica in 2021, Indonesia in 2023, and Egypt in 2027 (with Luxor bang on the centerline). Each eclipse comes with its own sense of place and purpose. The reality is that some day we will be too old or too ill to even consider the list of upcoming total eclipses and the broad, hypnotic loops of astronomical time they represent. And yet, we know they'll continue without us, without all of us, long after we're gone. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Idiots In Charlottesville Don't Represent What Most Of Us Think Or Do…Do They?

The top story over the past few days is about the white nationalists and their brethren at odds with their over-zealous anti-fascist opposition in Virginia. They are so at odds that Virginia’s governor declared a state of emergency due to the violent clashes at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. The images coming from the scene are so provocative and full of savagery that they must mean the beginning of the end for our country.

Yet, what most Americans need to do right now isn’t to appeal to some sense of ‘national unity’ against hate or to “come together as one.” Fine sentiments—if you’re into that sort of thing, but excuse us for saying we don’t need this President, or any other talking head, to tell us and most of our fellow Americans that “this kind of violence” has no place in America (which makes us wonder, what other kinds of violence do have their place in the USA?)

Most Americans, most people, already know this sort of stupidity and violence on the march in Charlottesville is unacceptable and a waste of time. The people assembled in Virginia do not represent what most Americans think or wish to do with their precious little free time on a Saturday. The hysteria from the political media surrounding this event is at best overblown by good intentions and at worst being purposely stoked for website hits, TV ratings, fund raising, and political agendas.

Rather than heeding the hollow calls for peace and unity from “our dear” political leaders or the foolish pleas from left/right activists on the ground in Virginia, what most Americans need to do right now is keep right on doing what they’re already doing…enjoying what little freedom they still have in ways too numerous to list completely.

We spent the last few days at a series of local picnic/parties where we celebrated the lives of recently deceased elders, roasted whole pigs, listened to friends play “classic” rock, watched the next generations play in the swimming holes and with the dogs, and enjoyed the local food and drink you can only find in our little part of the world. It’s easy to wonder if this is the last of the good life before everything implodes. Or are we just living life the way most of the people in this country are still doing (and will continue to do).

Time for a pig roast!

Jake always makes new friends....

Keep in mind, while a few hundred deluded racists and hysterical “anti-fascists” clash in Virginia, thousands of Americans are attending baseball, football, rugby, and soccer games while millions watch from home.

Do not forget, while the despairing political boobs clash in Charlottesville, millions of Americans are attending concerts, cheerleading competitions, marching band practice, neighborhood BBQ’s, jazz and blues festivals, movie showings, yoga classes, college classes, dog-training seminars, baby-showers, weddings, funerals, and pool parties.
Just remember, while political incompetence reveals its ugly face in one tiny place on the map, millions of Americans are relaxing at home, reading books, drinking fine wines and fresh, cold beer, sharing high school memories with old friends, smoking whatever they got, texting the sexy boy or girl they met last night, or emailing a lost love they haven’t seen in 20 years.

Americans are shopping. Americans are putting on fundraisers in fun ways. Americans are eating junk food and health food, homemade brownies and patty pan squash. Americans are lying in the white sands of the beaches along the Gulf of Mexico and the Michigan UP, and kayaking along little rivers and lakes across this rich and plentiful land. Americans are driving their sports cars, riding their bikes, and hiking through the diverse forests from sea to shining sea.

The point is that hopefully most Americans don’t give a damn about what’s happening in Charlottesville, VA, and they especially aren’t stupid enough to participate in such a festival of idiocy and blood.

We’re happy if they don’t give a damn, and can only wonder why people with political motives want everyone to pay attention to these petty losers in Virginia. Maybe most Americans already realize enjoying their freedom doesn’t require being a sheep ready to follow the latest, edgy shepherd who says there is something terribly wrong with us and the world.   
Call it apathy if you like, but if more Americans acted like most Americans who simply enjoy their free time and hard-earned money, politics would seem very stupid and small indeed... an utter waste of time and energy on something already very stupid and small as it stands.

But just in case times are changing for the worse, it's time for us to go out now and enjoy our liberty while we still have it.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Visiting Season Is Here

We spend the first few months back in Idaho taking care of the forest, orchard and garden. After months of planting, weed control, brush clearing, tree thinning, road work, and playing in the dirt, it was nice to take a break and show our first visitors of the year around the area.

One of the things we like best about our big view is the ability to see big weather patterns move through. Being in the rain shadow of the tallest peak in Selkirks generally keeps us fairly dry while the rest of the Valley is getting wet. We had a really rare sunset/lightning storm/rain/rainbow event the day before our friends arrived where we were surrounded by four different types of weather and views.

In the West, the sun was setting through a rain storm

In the South, it was trying it's best to clear up.

In the East the storm was still working and we caught a little lightning in the colored reflection of the sunset.

 In the North it was just pretty.

It was 10 days of fine dining (mostly prepared by the four of us since you can't beat the local meats/fish and our garden), rare wines, visits with neighbors, hikes to remote areas, playing in and on the water, international travel to Canada, ferry rides and hot springs, lounging in hammocks, dog antics, and general all around good fun.

A hike to Hidden Lake. A jewel of the Selkirks.

One of the oldest cedar groves in the country is deep in a remote spot in the Selkirks. Only a few locals know about it.

Near the cedars are six old Western White Pines, the Idaho state tree. They're only a few hundred years old, but are extremely rare. Almost all the white pine died in the early 1900's after the introduction of European blister rust in the U.S. (an accident of international trade). There are a lot of young blister rust resistant white pine in Idaho, but no legacy trees the size of the six in this grove.

A roughed grouse with her chicks. They're cute, but as dumb as the rock the little one is standing by.

Thanks to a wet Winter/Fall, Smith Creek Falls was pumping like few have ever seen it in the past. The spawning red Kokanee will fill it in the Fall.

There's always a lot of bear grass in this part of Idaho. It's certainly not rare, but this year's bloom is unusually prolific. It's literally everywhere within the elevation band. The scent of this many blossoms is incredible.

Looking South down the Kootenay Valley over our family forest homestead.

 Another day, another hike. This time looking North through the Kootenay Valley into British Columbia.

Lake Pend Oreille and Lady Liberty on July 4th weekend.

An old fashioned pot luck lunch on July 4th at our volunteer fire department.

At four months old, Wesson was ready to learn how to swim. She may figure it out yet.

Enjoying one of the local lakes on a kayak built for two.

Wesson seems as if she likes being on top of the water better than being in it.

After all of our travels, we unexpectedly found the best place in the country for us four years ago. But we haven't given up the hope that there may always be an even better place out there somewhere. Everyone who visits here has standing orders to go out, find someplace better, and let us know. So far, no one has found anything that checks off all the boxes like Far North Idaho. Neither have we.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

First Grizzly of the Season

We like to put out a small food block, a salt lick, and a water trough for the deer and elk to enjoy. In the mornings and evenings we enjoy watching them browsing through.

This evening we were taking the dogs out for a quick bathroom break, and saw this little guy down by the deer station demolishing the food block.

This is about 150 feet from our RV. The flags are marking the site of a future pond.

We got him to interrupt his meal and look at us by shouting "Hey Bear!" a few times.

A healthy belch and it's time to be on my way.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Tail from the Back Seat: Days of Walks and Greenies

The days of walks and Greenies
Smile and run away like a child at play
Through a meadow land toward a closing door
A door marked 'Nevermore' that wasn't there before

The lonely night discloses
Just a passing breeze filled with memories

Of the golden smile that introduced me to 

The days of walks and Greenies...and you
                           (Adapted from "Days of Wine and Roses" by Johnny Mercer)

Let me start by stating the obvious--in case you didn't notice--there is only one tail from the backseat...for now.
Karly--beautiful, bold, brave (and yes, sometimes bitchy)--my best buddy, backseat and otherwise, has died.

One day we were walking together...
The next day she was hobbling around, dragging her back foot...
The next day she "stayed home" all day relaxing in the warm sunshine...
And then there were no more days with Karly...
Now it's Just Jake.

    She died peacefully and on her terms.                                During her final days she ate only Greenies and barely drank water...her terms, of course.

Karly had a fun-filled glorious life of  nearly 13 years, quite a lifespan for a gal of her breed, size, and temperament--a bit "always on edge" compared to me.

Instagram's "thedogist" summarized us the best:


                                                                                         She was smart and sassy and enjoyed a bi-coastal life--from sea to shining sea--and for all of my 10 years I joined her on this adventure....

...and what a trip it was!

Fittingly (for a dog), Karly's life ended in the Chihuahuan Desert.
It makes me smile to think of her everlasting spirit--holding court over and chasing those little mutts around in Chihuahuan Desert Heaven--and those who knew and loved her best, know exactly what I mean!

P.S.  The backseat is just not the same anymore....

But don't worry, I'm just keeping a spot warm....

....for Wesson
(Born March 6, become part of the Vowell family on May 1, 2017)

EPILOGUE (by Susan)
One of my favorite authors is Edward Abbey. Traveling as much as we do in the Southwest, I feel as if I am "living" Abbey's writings.  My most favorite book is Desert Solitaire, given to me by a very dear friend/fellow traveler  who introduced me to Abbey's work and which I incorporated into the last "Tails from the Backseat" post, which ironically was the last to include Karly.  I foolishly loaned out my copy a couple years ago and it was never returned. I've been searching for a replacement, preferably a used paperback copy reminiscent of my friend's, but Abbey's books are rarely found for sale, they are keepers for personal libraries.

Karly died on our way to Big Bend National Park, in the heart of the Chihuahuan Desert of Texas. We had several towels, sheets, and blankets from her final days of basking in the sunshine that were ready to be washed, as much for an emotional cleanse as a laundering requirement.  There was a small "laundromat" (one washer, two dryers) at Big Bend National Park--surprising since visitor services at the Park were very limited--and since it was also one of two places to get internet access, we decided to take a break from hiking and do our laundry.

As I was transferring laundry from the washer to the dryer, a tour bus pulled up to the adjacent snack bar/gift shop, and the "Roads Scholars", an educational tour group, disembarked for a restroom and snack break...they also enjoyed petting Jake...and Jake enjoyed being petted!!  Upon their departure, I went to gather my dried laundry and noticed a pile of paperback books and magazines on the folding table that were not there before.  I assume they had been left behind by the tour group since I have discovered  that laundromats have an admirable policy of "leave a book, take a book".  

But "what to my wondering eyes did appear" dizzying disbelief??  
A pristine, paperback copy of Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire!!!
With all the giddiness of winning the Publisher's Clearinghouse Jackpot Sweepstakes, I grabbed the book and ran out to show John.
The universe works in mysterious ways, especially if you are open to it... Karly, I know this one's on you!!!