Thursday, April 30, 2009

In Praise of the Kindness of Strangers

There have been more instances than I’m comfortable speaking about when, save for the kindness of strangers, I would have been in deep trouble, of whatever nature it might have been. At times, I have been overwhelmed by how kind and helpful most people are.

Right now, I am benefiting from such acts of kindness. In Southern Alberta, most RV parks open around the third weekend of May only, as snow and cold can occur any month of the year. Besides, I know for a fact that most ranchers and farmers start very early in the year praying for moisture. The area is very dry with often no more than 22% humidity. So many ardent prayers do not go unanswered and April is sometimes the month with the most precipitation. Which brings me to my predicament. . .

For the past 8 to 10 days we have been experiencing night temperatures falling below freezing. I needed a shoreline electric connection since the batteries power diminishes in direct proportion to the lack of degrees at night. A friend graciously offered to have me stay by her sister and brother-in-law’s and connect to their house current. I gratefully accepted after I’d been refused by a campground that was to remain closed in response to my request for power that I would pay for, even with the gate wide open in the middle of a snow storm. It became an almost life-saving gesture as I suffered a serious attack of asthma triggered by the cold, which necessitated medical intervention.

So here’s to expressing my deeply felt gratitude to Goldina, Gerrylee, and Jason for their kindness. May they and their families be blessed in all ways.

Perhaps it is true that A Stranger is a Friend you haven’t met yet.

Donkey Doings in the Desert

We are warned by BLM against feeding wild animals in the desert, but there seemed to be nothing advising against bird feeders. So, I put a hummingbird feeder a distance away from my RV. My first choice had been next to a window to observe them more closely but it proved to be so attractive to dozens of hairy bees that I had to move it. I was far from expecting that donkeys would discover it until I noticed a pair slowly making their way towards my site.

One was a female (she might have been pregnant judging by her rounded belly) the other a male, perhaps her baby’s daddy? In two steps she was next to the hummingbird feeder that she started licking right away. It eventually ran dry but she was smart and not to be deterred. She finally figured out that by swinging the feeder from side to side, the sweet water would come out. She kept at it until it eventually attracted the male’s attention. He got closer to investigate but she was not about to give up the juice or the trick. Her posture changed, ears drawn backward, a fierceness in her countenance that left no doubt as to her intentions, “Butt out Bucko, this one is mine.” He got the message ok but, as any self-respecting male would do, he had to save face and began nibbling on the seeds left on the ground for birds.

Well, this is the story, these are the pictures taken on a hazy day.

Donkey -Feeder PICT0007 (2) PICT0008 (2)

I think there is no need for captions, body language is enough!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Learning the Hard Way

When I reached retirement age, I was suddenly faced with the loss of my house and a sizeable reduction of income. Fortunately, I had built enough equity to buy a used Winnebago Minnie Winnie that had been parked for two years. The dealer through whom I dealt assured me that all was working fine and since he knew the owner personally, I took his word for it.

After reading the service manual from cover to cover, I went ahead and filled one tank with water, the other with propane, and went shopping for doodads that I had been told were essential to the RV'ing lifestyle. When I stepped back into the RV, I found the floor thoroughly soaked. Some 30 gallons of water had seeped through the improperly winterized plumbing system. A wet vac took care of the immediate problem but in time, I had to replace the now warped rotten sub-floor and the carpet. Sadly, that proved to be only the beginning. . .

Next, the fridge failed to work properly. Three electronic boards were replaced for $$$ and still the fridge would not remain lit unless I'd jiggle the button repeatedly. A thorough investigation by a new "specialist" eventually revealed a ground screw that failed to connect thoroughly because of some coating that was removed by sandpaper, period. I learned later that the eyebrow board seldom has to be replaced. Now I have two.

To my great sorrow and shame, I admit to having a deplorable trait of character. I tend to trust people who come equipped with the proper title or accreditation and present with enough aplomb to make me feel either dumb, inadequate, or as a know-nothing-at-all female too advanced in years to be given so much information. Particularly with things RV or mechanical. But I'm learning. . .

Learning that full timing RV'ers have a wealth of information and experience. I don't have to make all the mistakes by myself. So now, I consult two or more full timers. If the information sounds contradictory, I check with others until I have a solid grasp of the solution to my problem. I got to know many in my travels but more so in the desert where many spend the winter, as do I. Sadly, the road to acquire experience was at first rocky. And costly. Now I know better.


This is all about my sweet giant of a dog, Queenie. She's an Old English Mastiff who served the first 4 to 5 years of her life as a breeding machine, producing 7 litters. She was spayed, passed on to a new family where she was welcome for less than a year, then on to another for a couple of months. I had seen her photo posted in Kijiji under "Pets to Give or Donate", but since I still had another two months to remain in a downtown apartment where no pets were allowed, I refrained from calling even though my heart was yearning to have her as my dog. Then, a week or so before I left to return living in my RV full time, I checked on Kijiji and there she was! I picked her up on April 23 of 2008, a week after her 6th birthday. We celebrated her first anniversary of companionship with a big meaty bone for her and a cool drink for me.

She is characterized more by what she isn't or doesn't do. She's not a barker except to express her indignation at coyotes. She's not a drooler, although many Mastiffs can be. She's protective, but not aggressive. She's super friendly and loves most people on a first meet. She stays near on a walk without a leash where she's allowed by law. She is definitely laid back. The only problematic behaviour is her lack of tolerance for any other dog. But I understant that having had to protect her puppies for years on end, that behaviour is hard-wired in her brain. She has a definite sense of humour and most people are immediately entertained by her grin and affectionate display.

Her full pedigreed name is Venus Queen of Blue Grass, but we did away with Venus and adopted her middle name as Queenie. This name suits her disposition perfectly. After all, she has documents attesting to her nobility. She occasionally usurps my chair, as befits one watching the created world with a regal countenance.

I consider myself lucky to have her with me.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Snowbirding Anyone?

It's hard to believe that it's been only 9 days since I left the Southwest where the temperatures were in the high 80's during the day followed by cool nights that made sleep so comfortable. Then the Utah elevations inevitably happened. Three snowfalls, one fully qualifying as a snowstorm, followed me almost halfway through the state. All on the same day. Montana was brrrr cold and the Monida Pass was icily white. Finally I got to Lethbridge, Alberta where the thermometer was a glorious 77 degrees (that would be 25 Celsius but I like 77 better). I was doubly relieved when a friend from Utah told me that I had escaped a serious snowfall of some 8 inches in Provo. Was I happy to be out of the white stuff.

Then last night, a torrential rain was followed by wind and, yes, you've guessed it, SNOW! By morning, icicles more than a foot long (it's even worse in metric...30 cm) were hanging in front of my windshield and my RV was covered with ice. In some places as thick as three inches, please don't ask me to go metric here! As I write this, I'm huddling in my RV with a measly 23 degrees temperature knocking at my door (that would be minus 5 degrees Celsius). I'm told that we're to lose some of those degrees. How can we lose degrees we don't even have? Another snowfall is predicted through the weekend. What now, am I a magnet for the white stuff?

Guess this adds a new meaning to the term snowbird! Perhaps it should read the other way around, bird followed by snow, no matter where the bird ends up.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Reflections on the Road from Salmon to Leadore, ID

On my previous trekking through the Northwest, I had been struck by a curious element and I recall it today as I am going through Idaho. Each place, regardless of its size or relative importance, has a unique claim to fame. I have never been too fond of history and, except for reading biographies of famous people in history, I hated to memorize so many dates, battles, feats of conquest or destruction. Yet, as I trudged along I was constantly assailed by signs recounting history in snippets, even along the most remote and difficult shortcut, namely the one that exacted two hubcaps as a right of passage. The signs informed me that I had been following the Lewis and Clark trail at times and that of Chief Joseph and his Nez Perces at others. In Tendoy, named after a famous Lemhi Chief, a sign sporting the name Fort Lemhi related how a group of Mormon pioneers settled there, painstakingly irrigating the area to plant gardens, building houses and eventually, an adobe fort, only to be chased away by some natives turned hostile. I learned about Sacajawea and her brother Chief Cameahwait and the Shoshone tribes of the area and how they had virtually saved Lewis and Clark's expedition (...and lives?) by lending them horses and advising them (Lewis and Clark, not the horses) about edible plants.

It is difficult to imagine the extent of the pioneers' courage and fortitude going through uncharted territories, facing untold climate hardships, having to survive picking either food or poison among unknown plants. I believe that we, the nomads of today's paved roads (well. . . some are), of rest areas with facilities, fast food joints, instant locomotion, and a warm bed wherever we stop, are seriously riding on our ancestors' shirttails, whether we realize it or not.

Monday, April 13, 2009

On the Road Again

Hmm. . . I did read a great many travel adventures, On the Road by Jack Kerouac, Travels with Charlie, by John Steinbeck, and many by Paul Theroux who is not only a seasoned traveler but a splendid writer, in my humble opinion. Lately Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert, which I read while living in a downtown apartment, rekindled my yearning for what I call the GO factor and sent me back to live in my rig year-round. A book that I hold dear to my heart was given to me by a fellow traveler years ago while I spent a winter on Padre Island in Texas. Its title is The Songlines, by Bruce Chatwin. I particularly cherish this last one because its author suggests that we truly experience our humanity as nomads. The Buddha, the prophet Mohammed, Jesus and his apostles, all were nomads, and these are only a few who left their mark on humankind. To quote an Indian proverb, Life is a bridge. Cross over it, but build no house on it.

But the very first book relating extraordinary adventures by a woman early in the last century was written (and lived) by Alexandra David-Néel, a French woman who traveled all the way to Llasa and throughout Tibet and eventually became a full-fledged lama. She recounts her travels in My Journey to Lhasa: The Classic Story of the Only Western Woman Who Succeeded in Entering the Forbidden City. Enthralled, I read it while in my teens. It initiated my thirst for travel and left me with a yearning that will die probably only when I do.

And so, today I'm on the road again.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Migrating Birds Rest Area

I have always been fascinated by all kinds of animals from the time I was a little girl. For me the need to have one or more animal companions is almost visceral it is so overwhelming (and by the way, I know that I'm not the only one feeling this way...) that I have too many fingers to account for the number of years that I was without one. One day my last husband remarked how I was totally enthralled at the sight of birds, a reaction of which I had been unaware till then. How hard it is to truly know oneself. . . Eventually I grew to realize how I envied them the ability to travel over land and sea, to escape gravity for just a while and soar high up, to just GO. And yes, I was totally enchanted by Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Come to think of it, this would explain why I opted to live in a house on wheels, my rather lacking in the wings department. For the GO factor. And why I am so enamored of the Desert Southwest and its deep canyons, washes, and countless mesas, its wide horizons and clear skies. And its wild life, permanent or passing by. The area where I stay in the winter months is a rest area for migrating birds. I started feeding them and their numbers grew so much it led me to suspect that there must a gossip line where to find the good grub.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Smokey Cubs - Leadore, Idaho

Later that day, the sky suddenly filled with dark clouds, presaging a storm, perhaps. They quickly disappeared but not before the sun had slipped below the cloudy mass, igniting the hills a bright coral with the sky slowly turning to a deep magenta. The colours were beyond description, the photos failing do justice to the overwhelming beauty surrounding me.

Montana to Idaho

While I was in Hamilton, I asked Len, who had driven a semi for years, how I could manage the steep descents without constantly applying the brakes. He suggested I go downhill in second gear. I had done just that in the VW Westphalia I'd had before but was afraid of popping something or overheating. Guess I was intimidated by the size of the motor-home, a far cry from a VW van. But I followed his advice and managed serious downhill grades like a pro. Thanks Len.

Made it almost to Leadore, Idaho. A scant few yards before I reached the place though, my rig stopped and would go no further. Had to get a new fuel pump. The work was impeccable and way less expensive than in the city. The people were so friendly that I decided to stay and settle down at the Smokey Cubs camp for a while before heading south. The official population posted on a sign read 90; but on another one a mile away from "town center" the number 90 had been crossed out and now boasted 663! A recent search on Google gave it as 50. So who knows? Smokey Cubs turned out to be another delightful surprise. Aside from meeting most of the human population, the only obvious life forms I encountered were herds of antelopes darting up and down the hills and a young bull who paid us a visit.

There was a cool creek gurgling gently below the trees, Canyon Creek. My dogs, Teddie and Keesha, played and splashed with abandon once they had noticed how shallow the creek was. Eventually Keesha noticed tiny fish, a glimmer in her eyes leaving no doubt as to her intentions. In her valiant attempts to gobble up the slippery prey, she ended up swallowing a few quarts of water while Teddie viewed all the excitement with an air of lordly superiority. Never a dull moment with those two. . .

Monday, April 6, 2009

Wisdom in a Poem that I Took to Heart

A great many years ago, after several traumatic losses (I do not want to get into this, it's not the point), I came across a poem that managed to bring a new awareness to my mind. I began the process of realizing to what extent the obstacle to happiness was self-made. Reading it with this new awareness put a soothing balm on my raw pain. I made a point of keeping it. I have often re-read it, as the need arose.

After seven decades, I think that I achieved a calmness about the fact that all that lives is subject to change and eventually to loss or death. And that includes me. All fear and sadness about this inevitability are gone. This yellow flower is considered a weed but in the prime of its life, with its head turned towards the sun, I thought it was truly beautiful. Its life in full glory was short, however. Now in the final stages, head to the sun, it's still beautiful, don't you think?

Here is the poem

After a while you learn
The subtle difference between holding a hand and chaining a soul
And you learn that love doesn't mean leaning
And company doesn't always mean security.

And you begin to learn
That kisses aren't contracts, and presents aren't promises
And you begin to accept your defeats with your head up and your eyes ahead
With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child.

And you learnto build all your roads on today
Because tomorrow's ground is too uncertain for plans
and futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.

After a while you learn
That even sunshine burns if you get too much
So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn
That you really can endure; that you are really strong
And you really do have worth;
And you learn and you learn; with every goodbye you learn.

I wish I knew its author to thank her for her words

Barretts Park - South of Dillon, MT

This little park was totally unexpected. I needed water and was told by Doug that it was available at a truck stop/convenience store combo. As I was exiting this short road, I noticed the park right across and decided on the spur of the moment to check it out. It was truly delightful and I stayed a couple of days. I'm so happy that I took some pictures. I would hesitate to call it a destination for an extended stay, although the limit is 14 days. But it did turn out to be a pleasant surprise. The park is next to the Beaverhead River. Actually, lots of people dive right from this red bridge. Oh... and it's free.

Overlooking the river is a beautiful rock formation. I was a tad lazy and never looked for its name. It might be the Beaverhead? When I visit next, I'll make a point to find out what it's called.

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