Sunday, November 29, 2009

Can't Trees revised and revisited for English class.

I have, quite often lately, neglected blogging for my more strict-about-time Studies. So as proof that I have not been off gallivanting (a pass time I have been accused of indulging in) and as a celebration of my passing the course, I offer a sample of the writing that I have done for my English class.

The only real trail through our forest was made years ago by someone with a bush hog. It is a very crude trail that takes one to the heart of the forest and then dead ends atop a culvert over the largest creek in our forest, abandoning walkers exactly at the miniature clearing that is the home of the Can't Trees. It is a tiny place, just large enough for a ten year old to consider it a clearing. It begins on top of the culvert and land bridge over the creek, and slides down to the creek bank. It smells of rotting wood and leaves, moss, mud and water all woven with the very faint smell of wild animal. In summer, the trees meet overhead in a light filtering canopy that turns the clearing pale green. During the Winter, the trees become skeletons, draped with robes of half inch thick thorn vines that rip at clothes and skin in a vain attempt to dissuade the intruder.
I can remember the first time that I saw the Can't Trees, hidden by wild tree-bushes and blackberry thickets. I stood on top of the grassy culvert bridge and tried to see what my mother was pointing at. It was two trees, water oaks, growing side by side on the creek bank. Once upon a time they were straight, as trees ought to be. The collapse of the creek bank, who knows how long ago, ruined that for them. The trees grow almost horizontally over the creek for about three feet, then turn sharply and continue to grow upward, tall and skinny to the top of the forest roof. The third Can't Tree was added a few days later when I visited the place again. It is a pine, perfectly normal for the bottom two thirds and then bowed and twisted into a large and magnificent loop the loop.

My mother found the Can't Trees. She showed them to any of us who would make the trek down the creek to see. She dragged my dad down there. "If those trees can grow like that," she said, "there isn't anything you can't do." At the time, my dad was working all night, going to school during the day, and paying what attention he could to his six going on seven kids in his spare time. It was a hard time for all of us. The trees provided a bit of encouraging comedic relief. "Just think about the Can't Trees" became a common saying whenever anyone said they could not do something.
My dad and I made the clearing. For him, it was just a necessary step to taming the forest. For me, it was the creation of a special hideaway too far from the house to hear my name being called. It was the place I could go when I needed to pull myself together, or let myself fall apart. Whether I was happy or frightened or furious, the clearing, though it went through phases of growing over and dying back, was always the same. It was simply imperturbably calmed.
I could always find courage in the clearing. I was a dreadfully introverted child, and was always in need of courage. One year I was forced to enter a 4-H public speaking contest and wrote much of my speech sitting in the bend of one of the water oaks. I spent days pacing around the clearing at the base of the pine tree trying to memorize that speech. Before the contest, I went down for a last rehearsal. I was ready to vomit, but there stood the trees, as serene as ever. I came in second place in the contest. My faith in the clearing intensified tenfold.
It was not that I attributed magical or supernatural powers to the Can't Trees or the clearing. I always knew that I had the strength somewhere inside me. The wonder of the clearing was that it helped me find and bring out the courage that I could not find on my own.
I went down to the creek a few months ago, after more than a year of absence. The trail was so over grown that I had to give up my first attempt and return to the barn for a pair of loppers. Deer had crossed the trail in muddy places, leaving tracks that never appeared there when I haunted the place. A bushy tree blown over by some big storm or other lay like a final  wall across the clearing entrance. I cleared it away to enter, and found that my clearing was mine no longer.
One of the Water Oak Can't Trees is rotting. The section over the bend will break off sooner or later. The pine has sprawled out, and is growing into a new loop the loop. It is covered in passion flower vines. The blackberry bushes and the thorn vines are creeping back into and constricting the clearing. Once, I could cartwheel across my clearing. The surrounding trees and I have grown too much for that. I can only just stand without my hair tangling in a branch. The calmness that I associated with the clearing has passed away. It takes effort to recall it. The clearing is still a beautiful place, but it is not the place I knew before.
At first, I did not know whether to blame myself or the clearing. If I had continued my regular visits, would the clearing have retained its allure? I think not. I will always wonder at the trees, and they will continue to inspire me. The tranquility of the clearing is something that I hold dear. The clearing lost nothing. I lost my need for it. It served its purpose.
As children, persons attach special qualities to places and things. Maybe it is a book or a blanket or a special pillowcase, a quiet dreamy window seat or clearing in the forest. A child needs such anchors in a wild and tumultuous world. Such anchors require utter trust in an object or place though, and one ought to move on from that phase of life. A person cannot go through life holding onto a stuffed dog or hiding away in a tiny clearing in the forest. There comes a time when one must stop admiring, leave the clearing and strive to be as remarkable as a Can't Tree.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


We have survived the trip home, and the first couple of days back.
The drive was uneventful enough. We drove until 3:30 AM on Saturday, then navigated some very very tiny roads to the park where we planned to spend the night. At $5.00 a night, the park was a bargain. It also closed at 11:00, so I don't know anything else about it.  We re-navigated the very very tiny streets and slept in the Wal-Mart parking lot.
Sunday we visited with our former pastor, who left us (his parish) for the Benedictines. We also had a tour of the church there, and heard Brother Joseph's tales of the the less somber side of a monk's life. We drove until a little past one in the morning.
The Admiral's phone unexpectedly went off at five.
We reached home Tuesday at 1:00 AM. Because the idea of spending what was left of the night unpacking and sleeping in a house that had been empty for three months was not very appealing, we ended up camping in our own yard.

Once we got home, of course, we had to go to town. Although we had just survived for almost three months without an errand vehicle, we needed the Y.S. immediately.
The Y.S. was not happy that we had left her, however, and threw a temper tantrum. She was trembling with rage as we left the yard. snorting and sputtering we drove on down the road. We had finished at one grocery store and were on our way to the post office, were almost there, when the Y.S. bailed completely. She died in the middle of the road. The Admiral wrangled her into the post office parking lot, where  he gave her a once over while the Commodore and I went in. We returned to a very aggravated Admiral. The engine wasn't getting any gas, and he couldn't figure out why. Perhaps the fuel pump had gone out. It had been sitting for three months after all.
The Commodore made a suggestion.
The Admiral made a phone call.
A friend made the drive over with a gas can.
Turns out the problem has a lot to do with the gas gauge.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Going Home

I've seen a frozen river and fallen into a snowdrift. I've climbed a mountain (a small one) and wrestled with a frozen stiff RV electrical cord. I've seen a sheepdog trial where I learned that there is nothing unusual about my dog at all. I've seen so many antelope that they don't even seem strange anymore. I've also eaten antelope. We've come more than 5542 miles through 12 states.
And now the westerlies have come roaring in to blow us back to Alabama.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Superiority of Southern Buffets Or Why Alabama is the 3rd least healthy State.

Over the weekend, we lost the 2nd Mate to the shore. She flew back to Alabama after the death of a most beloved friend of ours.
We are currently becalmed in Gillette, WY, waiting for the Westerlies that will blow us back east.
Today, after several days of being trapped in a rather dreary campground, we were driven to town by a lack of provisions and severe cases of cabin fever. We decided that after the four mile walk to town, we would reward ourselves with a pizza buffet. We miscalculated our departure time, though, and were forced to reconsider our destination in order to assure ourselves adequate time to enjoy our meal. We chose the Golden Corral, otherwise known as the Golden Pig's trough. Inside, we found a measly three food bars (that count includes the dessert bar and the salad bar) and received puny glasses (a mere 16 oz!) and a single smallish basket of rolls.
However, there was a dish of "Southern Style Cabbage." I do not eat boiled cabbage, but I had to look. What was in that pan was most definitely NOT Southern Style cabbage. The first clue was that it was still recognizable as cabbage. That cabbage would have crunched. And there was absolutely no sign of any pork whatsoever.

Southern Style indeed!

In Alabama, buffets are an art. I have never seen an Alabama Golden Corral with fewer than two food bars not counting the dessert and salad bars. There are no blue plates, and they are not less than eight inch circles. The glasses are generally at least 22oz. The glass size is to benefit waiters and waitresses who lose a dollar off their tip every time the sweet tea runs out. And on the dessert bar, one can be sure that the cheesecake will not be inedible.
    Also, the cabbage will not appear appear to be cabbage at all, but mushy green stuff with ham or bacon in   it. It will not crunch.
Perhaps this clears up the reason that Alabama is 48th on the Most Healthy State list, followed only by Oklahoma and Mississippi.

I offer to the Golden Corral of Gillette, WY (whose cooks are clearly worried about destroying the vitamins in the Cabbage) the words of Mark Lowry "Take a pill and cook the vegetables!"

I bet the buffets in Mississippi are really great.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Marias Pass Revisited.

What goes in must come out again. On our way out of Columbia Falls, MT, we had to go back through the Marias pass, this time during the daytime.Of course, we did have the advantage of having been over this road before, but it looks a little different when you can see what is or isn't on the other side of the guardrail.
Here's an idea of what it looked like from the passenger seat.

We begin with a little bit of a curve.

Then we go for a little slope.

A little more curve.

Back the other way.

Shall we add some fog?

Sure. Let's add some fog.
The Commodore can handle it.

Then came the dark.

Aww, we drove this in the dark already, remember?

The sky looks cool reflected in the road.

Sometimes, you just have to look at the scenery.

The effect is kind of like stepping into one of Bob Ross's paintings.

One last little slope...

A little bit of traffic...

And civilization finally appears.

And then, just when we thought we were safe!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Finally, a challenge!

Yesterday we traveled along the Lewis and Clark trail, through the Marias Pass, and through Glacier National Park. We don't really know what any of it looked like though, because we drove through there at night.
We've seen plenty of RVers come into a park after dark, with icicles hanging off of them and snow piled on their roofs. We've pitied them, wished them well, and wondered whether their resting campsite was really their destination or were they just too tired to go on. Thankfully, we did not have it quite as bad as that, but our experience did teach us how easy it is to miscalculate the time that a journey will take and come to that very situation.

Our trip began in Glasgow, MT and ended in Columbia Falls, MT. Between these two city lie some 403 miles and approximately 18 other towns. The road was good and we had daylight, until we reached Cutbank, MT. Shortly after we passed  through that town, we spotted a truly chilling sight: a frozen pond. After we passed through Browning, things got a little scary. Browning is 84 miles from Columbia Falls. Once begun, the 84 miles must be traversed in their entirety. There really is nowhere to turn around, particularly if it is after nightfall, icy, and you are in a bus. It is kind of like watching a really good scary movie. No matter how much you want to get out of it, you know that you will not be able to rest until you've seen it through to a good solid ending.
In East Glacier Park, 71 miles to go, the road got icy. The signs got scary too. Fortunately, we had no idea, and still have no idea what the scenery looked like, so we were not unnerved by the sheer cliff sides that we were driving along. The several inches of snow up the sides of the mountain appeared to us as sand dunes on the beach road from Gulf Shores to Pensacola. And no, we were not at all cold, because it is not cold in south Alabama right now. The sand that seemed to fill the trees must have been blown there by the tropical storm that just hit. No big deal. Right. One hour down, 40 miles to go.
OK, so, what's that rumbling sound? Avalanche? Crumbling Bridge? Is the rock that the signs have been warning us about finally falling? Oh wait, we're just crossing a bridge over the train tracks and there's a train underneath. Laugh it off. Until the next happy little signs appear.
Ice On Road
Fallen Rock
Watch For Ice On Bridge
Falling Rock
Steep Grades
Sharp Turns
Deer X-ing
Sharp Turns and Steep Grades
Watch For Wildlife On Road
Icy Spots Next 27 Miles

We finally reached West Glacier,at about 7:35 and we finally had enough phone service to call the Admiral, who, had gone on ahead  He assured us that the road got better and the snow went away. It did, after a while and we were all so ecstatic that we had to sing our own version of Jim Croce's Speedball Tucker.  We left Browning at 31 degrees at 5:30 and arrived in Columbia Falls at 41 degrees at 8:15.Speedball alright!

We settled down into the Mountainview RV park, happily oblivious of exactly what we had come through. Then, we woke up this morning, and looked over and shoulders.

Danger? We laugh at Danger!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Corned Beef Chicken, Only at Albertsons!

The Commodore and the Admiral recently returned from a provisioning venture with the following story.

Upon checking out of the marketplace, the Commodore realized that she had been charged rather more than she expected. Upon examining her receipt, she noticed a charge for corned beef. We do not usually eat corned beef, and the Commodore was completely lost for the appearance of this item on her receipt. Interrogation proved that the Admiral was not to blame. Intense investigation revealed the problem. A package of chicken had been marked "Corned Beef."Although the Admiral and the Commodore half expected this problem to result in a bit of consternation, the actual result of the persons in the store was to laugh, knock off the extra charges, and say,
"Corned Beef Chicken, only at Albertsons!"

Monday, November 2, 2009

Room at this Inn

I was talking to the Harbor Master last night and mentioned that the Commodore went down to see her aunt in Minneapolis. Her reply to that was "Mom went DOWN to Minneapolis!??"
That was when it hit me. The Commodore and the Admiral had to go SOUTH to get to Minneapolis.
That should have occurred to me earlier. Perhaps when we arrived and found that nearly all of the campgrounds had been closed for the season. After leaving a park with no water, sewer or bathroom, we landed in a town that appeared to have absolutely no lodging for RVers. Further inspection uncovered a nearby town, Randall, Minnesota where we found the Innsbrook Motel and RV park. Fortunately for us, the closing of the Innsbrook has been delayed by other travelers.
The Innsbrook in the summer is said to be a bustling place, full of RVs and with a common fire every night. It is cold and wet now, so there are not many people here. In fact we are the only people here. The owners have been no less accommodating for that, though. We have not a single complaint to make about this delightful little place. We must offer our profound thanks to these folks. They kept the RV hookups open for us (they are closing  What kind of an adventure doesn't have the characters saved from the cold and the rain and snow by kindly natives in the midst of an endless wilderness.

Tomorrow we leave for North Dakota. I have always wanted to see North Dakota, but now that the moment is upon us, I am a bit apprehensive.
When the owner of the Innsbrook asked where we were going next, I told him, and he replied "Oh, it's cold there."
The info page of a campground website has only the following poem. (after clicking the link, you still have to click on the info button in the side bar of the page that comes up.)

When it's springtime in North Dakota
And the gentle breezes blow,
About seventy miles an hour
And it's fifty-two below.
You can tell you're in North Dakota
'Cause the snow's up to your butt,
And you take a breath of springtime air
And your nose holes both freeze shut.
The weather here is wonderful
So I guess I'll hang around,
I could never leave North Dakota,
My feet are frozen to the ground!

Yes, I am beginning to be rather concerned about this leg of the journey. I guess that's what makes it an adventure.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


I love Canada Geese. I very much prefer them over swans. In my perfectly honest opinion, I think that swans look like dinosaurs. Their necks are too long. Canada Geese are so much more practical looking.
And they are smart. Every day, we see scores of these beautiful birds overhead flying south for the winter. Some of them will go as far as Alabama. They will then realize just how nice year round warm weather is. They will crash the Montgomery zoo and stay forever. I've seen it happen.
So if a goose with a brain that is smaller than a bean knows to go south in the winter, can someone please tell me why we are currently north of Minneapolis and heading for North Dakota?

Not that I'm complaining or anything.