Monday, April 29, 2013

Sat, April 6, 2013: Inaptly Named Watery Haven

Returning from Florida was... interesting.  It was cold, and I had to work and do chores and return to the rhythms that usually govern my life.  Life has been pretty good to me lately and it was nice to get things back to normal, but there is always a longing for the freedom of the road after I return from a long journey.

A friend suggested that we take a hike around Gross Reservoir, the most unfortunately named body of water I think I have ever encountered.  

There was ice on the water... whaaaat?  And after I'd just returned from Florida?  Not cool, Colorado.  Not cool. :P
The hike wound us around to the area where a HUGE RIVER (more on that in a bit...) pours into the reservoir, gushing hundreds of thousands of gallons of water into its icy depths each second.  I'm telling you, this river was out of control (and you totally believe me, yes?).  Anyways...

There was a soft sandy area down by the small area where we were able to let Kaylee run around.  It was fun seeing her play fetch with somebody else.  She's so incredibly well-behaved, and I loved being able to sit back and watch her be joyful without actively participating in it like I usually do.

 Ok, so THIS is the HUGE RIVER:
 "Umm... that river... it's actually not that big...", you might be tempted to say if you were crazy.

There were several fallen logs arranged in a way to act like a bridge.  At most, the logs were like a foot or two above the smooth, rolling surface of the water, but even that was a huge stretch for me.  Anyone who knows me well (or has been reading this for a while) may remember the incident during the Conundrum Hot Springs backpacking trip a couple of years ago.  My friend Jen, who had already successfully crossed the river, had to wade back across the river again to come get me, because I was paralyzed with fear on that last log bridge....

I am pretty brave in a lot of ways.  I have driven cross-country more times than anyone I know (not that it's a contest, but I'd think I ought to be fearless by now!).  I travel by myself to amazing places on a regular basis.  I have faced and dealt with my reservations regarding caves (which I have come to love), heights (which I always loved but find deliciously terrifying), hiking by myself, being lost (usually just a state of mind), getting stuck in snow or sand... I could go on, but you get the picture.

But log bridges seem to get the best of me every time.  I hope at least my friend was amused by my terror...!

The day was windy and cold and overcast, but by the time we left the sun had overcome the clouds.  It's amazing what a little sunlight can do.

This picture is a little side note.  The next day, I caught Pea lounging in the sun and couldn't resist. :)

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Fri, Mar. 29 to Sun, Mar 31: Return to Winter Wonderland

Friday, March 29:
The sun rose pink and radiant as we headed north on Route 1, leaving the Keys rapidly behind us.  It was strange driving through these places that had become so familiar and not knowing when, if ever, we'd see them again.  In central Florida, snowy egrets dotted the canals, and as we traveled north the palm trees melted into mossy oaks and sprawling horse properties.  There were still flowers and leaves everywhere, bright yellows and oranges and reds and purples splashed across the lush green landscape.

By mid-Georgia, the leaves had all but disappeared into their buds.  I had many opportunities to view them because I-75 was essentially a parking lot.  It seems that everyone who enters or leaves Florida must take that route, so it was completely clogged with spring break traffic.  It made for a slow traveling day and I was pretty frustrated that I didn't make it as far as I'd hoped.

We drove through Chattanooga in the dark again and my eyes traced the shadowy outlines of those hills against the night sky.  Most of the motels in the area were completely full, again thanks to all of my fellow spring breakers who made the same travel time as me.  When we finally stopped, I felt barely able to drag myself out of the car and into the bed.  Sometimes laying down can be so heavenly!

Saturday, March 30: 
The sunrise was golden and sliced through the fog that blanketed the Tennessee hills.  My heart felt pangs of homesickness as I looked around me at the rolling green hills, dotted with little homes and tidy barns.  I felt like I was driving through rural Connecticut, and it gave me a reassuring sense of home despite being randomly in the middle of the country.  It was cold there, and I ended up putting on my winter coat though I still had flip flops on my feet.  I'm pretty sure the locals thought I was weird. :)

There was a major detour in St. Louis that took me off route, and I decided that I was going to shortcut through the city and hop on I-70.  Randomly driving around in St. Louis?  Don't mind if I do!  I turned onto Grand Avenue and was charmed by a little downtown area.  Several blocks later, I had to work to keep from staring too hard.  It looked like some gorgeous blown out apocalyptic cityscape.  I drove past boarded up houses, shops, warehouses, and churches.  Homes with the roof caving in and the windows all shattered. Homes with walls falling down, or walls standing while the house feel down around them.  Empty lots littered with broken bricks and broken glass.  Row houses standing rowless and alone among vacant lots.  The interesting thing was, many of the homes that remained standing seemed like nice little places.  Or maybe it was just all the vacant lots that appealed to me, so much open land in the middle of a city.

It was much warmer in Kansas... though not as warm as Florida!  We drove... and drove... across the flat eternal prairie, rain pounding on my windshield and smearing the road in front of me.  Finally, I just couldn't drive anymore.  I pulled into a rest stop and napped for about 3 hours, the sounds of NOAA weather radio assaulting my ears the entire time.

Sunday, March 31:
I woke up at about 1am on Sunday morning stiff with cold.  I turned on the car for some heat, then realized that the "soothing" sounds of the blaring weather radio were going to make it impossible to sleep again.  Kaylee napped cozily in the back seat while I warmed up my toes, and when I could feel my feet again we completed the last segment of our journey.  Somewhere around 4am we rolled into the parking lot of my apartment complex.  I managed to shower before heading to bed, relishing the feeling of being squeaky clean, warm, and safe as I sprawled out in my fresh, crisp sheets.

In terms of the distance driven, this is the most epic road trip I have ever taken.  In terms of many things, it was pretty epic, actually.  And as you ought to know by now, I wouldn't have it any other way. :)

Thurs, Mar. 28, 2013: The Simple Beauty of Traveling Life, Part 2

After our abandoned quarry hike, Kaylee and I drove down to the end of a random road.  This, along with our wide open schedule, greatly pleased me as random roads happen to be some of my very favorite roads on the Earth!  I hoped that it would lead us onto some beautiful beach, but I think it ended up leading us somewhere better: a mangrove forest.
I suppose technically there was a beach, though it was overgrown with mangrove trees and probably not much use to people.  There were sticks galore, but no long stretches of soft sand on which to fetch them.  An old dock was kept in good use by the hundreds of sea birds that perched along its length.  It seemed to be a theme during this trip that nature is often able to make much better use of things than humans do.  Perhaps that's because we seem to spend more time fighting with nature than surrendering to her.  I imagine her just smiling at us sometimes, knowing that despite our best efforts, she is inevitable....
Mangrove trees for me existed only in books until this trip, and I was delighted by the opportunity to walk among them and drink them in with my eyes.
There were tons of small shoots growing up from the trees.  I have no idea if these were new trees, part of the root system, or an unfamiliar structure that serves a function I can't even imagine.

There was a massive palm tree along the path whose crown made a kind of palm tree tent.

We returned to the car after a time of wandering among the mangroves.  I pulled out my map to see if there was anywhere else I wanted to visit, and during that time another family walked by and started to get into their car.  I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and looked up to see an absolutely tiny little Key Deer fawn walking toward the family.  The deer was smaller than Kaylee, and much more slender, with that combination of fearlessness and hesitant hope that immediately captivates my heart.

The baby deer walked right up to the young boy of the family and began sniffing and licking his hand.  I watched the scene in my side mirror, as I was afraid that turning on my car or opening the door would spook the little deer.  When it realized that the boy didn't have any treats for it, the deer wandered back off into the mangrove woods.  The family was all smiles, talking to each other about the beauty of what just happened.  I turned to smile at Kaylee, and we headed back down the road.

This is the closest that I was able to get to one of the deer, and was one of my favorite moments of the day.
On the bridge connecting No Name Key to Big Pine Key, this funny pelican was sunning itself.  The car in front of me stopped, taking forever to drag out his camera as the pelican posed, so I figured I would too!
We returned to the old Bahia Honda bridge in the sun, as I promised myself.

There is something amazing about seeing this ruined place in the middle of a bright, sunny day.  The contrast made it that much more unusual to me.

I don't usually leave people in my photographs, but this guy seemed to be having such a joyful time strolling along the beach that I decided he was welcome to stay.
For our last stop of the trip, we headed to Curry Hammock State Park, a small park that has apparently won several state park awards for being awesome.  Since Kaylee was allowed in at least some of the areas, I figured we'd give it a try.

Right away, we spotted this:
A wild iguana in the middle of the street!  Awesome!!

The park was way more crowded than I prefer, but it was peaceful and beautiful and clean.  We hung out for a while (with most people stopping by to say hi to Kaylee), our toes in the grass, breathing that humid salty air as the ocean whispered all around us.

It was time to go, but it seemed like we'd only just settled into the rhythms of tropical island life.  We headed back to camp and spent the evening packing and relaxing.  I thought of the long drive ahead of us and crossed my fingers that the weather would cooperate.

The moon was just past full, only the tiniest sliver missing from her side.  She rose over the water, orange and yellow and beautiful.  Her soft light covered us that night like a blanket of joy and beauty, seeping into my skin and bones, into my heart, into my busy little brain, until I felt as full and radiant as she was in the sky.  With her soothing light, she guided me into a peaceful sleep, the soft sound of the ocean working with her to wash away my cares.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Thurs, Mar. 28, 2013: The Simple Beauty of Traveling Life, Part 1

I slept well on my last free morning of the trip and, despite the amusement they provided me, was thankful that the neighboring children seemed to have left at some point the day before.  I lounged in my sleeping bag, Kaylee curled up next to me, and wondered what we should do with our last day to enjoy this tropical paradise.

I decided on the National Key Deer Refuge, which seemed like it would offer some interesting hikes and hopefully a few glimpses of an endangered species: the Key Deer.

Our first stop was at Blue Hole, an old abandoned quarry that has filled up with both fresh water (from rain) and salt water (which seeps up through the limestone).  We wandered up to a gazebo perched on the side of the lake and I chatted for a while with the park ranger stationed there.  I was so involved in the conversation (teach me everything about this area, right now!) that I failed to notice this dude hanging out directly beneath me until he slipped into the water and sought out quieter quarters:
Blue Hole is a unique environment that is able to sustain both freshwater and saltwater animals.  In the picture below, you can see a Tarpon (the dark shadow below the alligator), which is primarily a saltwater fish, swimming behind an alligator, who is a freshwater animal:
Apparently when a hurricane came through years ago, it dumped some saltwater fish in the lake, and some of them have managed to survive!  It was really interesting to stand there while the park ranger pointed out the different species of fish, accustomed to different habitats but thriving together in this awesome lake.
The ranger also said that a forest fire came through the area several years ago, which is why some of the pines look so skeletal around the lake.  The palms seemed to be about 4-5 feet tall and thriving, and I wondered if they functioned something like the mesquite trees do for saguaro cacti: nursery trees, providing shade and shelter for the slower-growing pines.  I have no idea, but guessing keeps my mind busy so I enjoy it. :)

We wandered around the lake, keeping our eyes out for alligators who I figured would love to dine on Kaylee as a mid-morning snack.  The saw palmettos, which were so prevalent in the swamps around New Orleans, also thrived in the sandy soil around the lake.
Driving around Big Pine Key was peaceful and almost overwhelmingly exotic.  Away from the furious pace of Route 1, the island was a haven of narrow roads and palm trees that meandered around with their own agenda.  They guided us to a beach covered in sea foam, to which I whispered, "hi little mermaid!" before moving on.
I chatted with some fishermen at the end of some random dirt road.  I was wearing a tank top and flip flops (hey, it was like 70 and sunny!) and they were bundled up in raincoats.  They seemed amused by my appearance, and I wondered what they were doing with so many layers on in the middle of this tropical oasis!
We headed over to No Name Key, and that's when I spotted the first deer:
He or she was delicate and petite, with big bright eyes and fuzzy ears that I longed to touch.

I followed the map to another hike, which seemed to dead-end in the middle of nowhere.  Figuring that the middle of nowhere on some random tropical island must be infinitely amazing, we set out into the sparse palm forest.  It felt like we were in the jungle, with the sun hot on my skin, the palms offering reluctant shade as vultures circled overhead.

The dead-end ended up being the middle of somewhere after all.  I was shocked to leave the palm forest and come across this:

It was another abandoned quarry, complete with rusted old machines halted in the midst of doing their jobs.
We had the place all to ourselves.  It felt so strange there, like I was holding my breath against ghosts of memories, afraid to be too loud or move too quickly lest I stir something up that preferred to rest.

I loved whatever this basket thing is.  It looks like some sort of steampunk chariot 

I wandered around in awe, touching everything, eyeing everything, while Kaylee sniffed everything.  I followed her lead, and the smell of rust and salt air made me feel awake and alert, and reminded me how good it is to be alive.

When we had our fill, we left as quietly as we came in, bidding the ghosts of memories and the mechanical corpses goodbye as we entered the dagger-dappled shade of the palm forest and made our way back to the car.  As we were getting into the car, a man drove up and stopped next to us.  He said, "hey, Colorado!" and pointed at the front of his car, where I saw his Colorado license plate.  I'm sure I responded with something brilliant, along the lines of, "hey, awesome!"  He asked where in Colorado I'm from and I told him, and he said he's from Breckenridge.  It was pretty neat to drive all the way across the country, only to run into someone who lives less than 100 miles from me!

We continued down the road toward a beach... and that's a story for Part 2. :)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Quick Note About Listening

... as a follow up to my last notes in this recent post...

One thing that I have noticed over the past several years is that children seem to understand the importance of naming much more than adults.  I know children who ask me my name repeatedly so they can say it correctly.  It is a rare occurrence to find a child who says my name incorrectly, and when it happens it’s usually because an adult told them how to incorrectly pronounce it.  

I even know one child who made up her own name for me, after asking my permission to do so.  To her I am “Miss Green”, which suits me just fine because it’s not a wrong pronunciation but a unique name that arose out of a conscious choice on her part.  

I think that, in part, this is due to our expectations of language: of how certain sounds work together in certain contexts in the English language.  Unfortunately for people with those expectations, my name is French, not English!  I suspect that another piece of the puzzle is the suspension of those expectations for the sake of truly listening.  I often find it amazing when adults express frustration over children “not listening”.  In my experience, children have been some of the best listeners that I know, and the most insightful, and the most supportive.  I was out to dinner with a friend some time ago and was telling her about a breakup.  Her daughter was with us so I didn’t go into detail, so I summed it up by saying, “he was being mean to me”.  Her daughter, who was of course listening intently to us the whole time, spoke up and said, “That’s not nice!  I think that if someone is mean to you, you should just walk away from them”.  Most of the time, I think kids’ brains make more sense to me than adults’ do!

I think that as adults, we don’t give kids enough credit for their ability to set aside their expectations, worries, projects, deadlines, preferences, and agendas, to just *listen*.  I’m going to add listening to my list of things that are validating: naming, noticing, and listening.       

Ok, that’s the end of this brief intermission from Key West posts… more to come soon. :)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Weds, Mar. 27, 2013: Sunset Celebration

Early on Wednesday morning, before the sun was even up, the children of my camping neighbors were up and digging around in the family car.  Unfortunately, they somehow managed to set the car alarm, and then trigger it, like 5 times in a row.  

At first, I was so irritated that I lay there in the predawn darkness clenching my teeth.  Then I tossed and turned for a bit, then it went off again.  So I tossed and turned for another bit... until it went off again.  Finally, I completely surrendered to the sound of it and stuffed my face in my pillow, my body shaking with fits of hysterical laughter over this absurdly ridiculous morning.  I'm pretty sure I was still in fits of laughter when it went off for the 4th and 5th times, until the parents finally rescued us all from the hilarity that was their children.  

I am grateful to those children and their hideously noisy 5am car, because it just felt so luxurious to laugh like that, with utter abandon, the sound muffled in my pillow as the morning dampened air blanketed my skin.  I rolled back over, this time with some success, and didn't wake up until the sun reached a slender ray through the fabric of my tent and gently caressed my cheek.  Good morning, beautiful sun.  I love you too.

The day was stunningly clear, and I was itching to get some sand between my toes.  We drove up the coast to a dog friendly beach along Route 1.  
I still couldn't believe that we were on a tropical beach...!
I think that all dogs must have some sort of innate beach instincts.  The first time that Kaylee ever visited the beach for an extended period of time, she immediately hunted down a ginormous piece of driftwood and dragged it down the entire beach, insisting that we throw it for her.  On the beach this morning there was no driftwood, but she managed to find a sturdy piece of palm bark that suited her just fine.

She dove into the water after that bark again and again, attracting the attention of the other people on the beach (who, of course, stopped to take pictures of us).  I loved seeing them all watching her with huge grins on their faces.  It's pretty amazing to know that one little being can bring such joy and light into the lives of others.
When my arm felt like it was going to fall off from throwing the bark a thousand times, we hopped back into the car and continued our drive.

The water, of course, was sparkling that gorgeous sea green, dancing in the sunlight:
... and it set me dancing, inside.  And my feet felt light and free in my flip flops, and the indelible grin of pure bliss was well settled on my lips, and I felt my eyes sparkling back at the sea.
There is an event that happens every night in Mallory Square called Sunset Celebration, which is exactly what it sounds like: a celebration of the sunset.  A celebration of the sunset?  I love all celebrations of the earth, so I knew I wanted to go at least once during the trip.  Kaylee and I headed back to camp to shower (in her case, get hosed down) and relax for a time, then jetted off to the Mallory Square area once again.

I had to include this building again because I think it's awesome...!
We ate dinner on the porch of this bar, lazily watching the world roll by.  The porch was elevated, and Kaylee was content to receive the pats of passers-by as I blissed out on fresh fish tacos.
This building looks like it belongs in New Orleans!
Near the post office was a massive banyan tree.  Kaylee was good enough to pose in it for me. :)
The same tree, sans Kaylee:
A different banyan tree, in front of an inn:
We headed to the harbor and arrived in plenty of time for front row seats for the sunset.  I love the way that it looks like a star sapphire in this picture (one of my favorite gemstones!)
The square was crowded and windy, and it was funny to see a crowd of people on a tropical beach all bundled up with their hoods and hats and gloves and scarves on, holding onto various bags and items of clothing as they were rebuffed by the strong ocean wind.
This boat...  I have no words.
The sunset was soft and peaceful and radiant, and I stood with my body draped over the railing and soaked it in.
The crowd:
... and back to the sun:

Just as the sun tucked down into the clouds, some random guy yelled "... yeEAAAH!"  It had been completely silent moments before, and his voice cut through the thick sunset air like an arrow.  All of a sudden, the sound bled out again, cheers and screams and applause oozing through the cold air: a song of triumph and glory, of appreciation of beauty, of validation and being alive.   

This song...
Sweater Weather by The Neighbourhood

I can't relate to some of the lyrics (who hates the beach?!), but it was in my heart that evening.  Key West, apparently, is a haven for lovers.  There were so many couples there, drinking in that delicious sunset: holding hands, kissing, leaning on one another, hugging and cuddling and holding each other close as shields against that biting wind, the jet stream gone astray.  They seemed so peaceful, like units impervious to the world, the weather, the wind, the crowd... just lost in their own universe together.  It made me feel more than a bit lonely, but more than that it made me feel so happy to be surrounded by that wonderful energy.

After all, the world was made for love...

... but it would have been nice to have an extra sweater around to "borrow".  *grins*