There is a slight chance Seattle may see some snowflakes for a white Christmas this year.
There is a slight chance Seattle may see some snowflakes for a white Christmas this year.
“To live till you die
is to live long enough.”
— Ursula Le Guin, Lao Tzu Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way
Returning to the Root
from — Ursula Le Guin, Lao Tzu Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way
Be completely empty.
Be perfectly serene.
The ten thousand things arise together;
in their arising is their return.
Now they flower,
returning to the root.
The return to the root
Peace: to accept what must be,
to know what endures.
In that knowledge is wisdom.
Without it, ruin, disorder.
To know what endures
is to be openhearted,
following the Tao,
the way that endures forever.
The body comes to its ending,
but there is nothing to fear.
So many variations of poinsettias!
The highlight of my trip to Australia was a seven-day hiking experience along the Great Ocean Trail in Great Otway National Park. This is a 104-kilometer (65-mile) trail from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles on the rugged Southern Ocean coast. I had arranged a self-guided hike through Walk 91 — they took care of all meals, lodging, and daily transport to and from the trailheads.
Originally I had intended a thru-hike over all 104 kilometers. But my hiking partner was dealing with a respiratory infection, so my experience ended up being more of a sampling of shorter hikes all along the trail. Walk 91 staff accommodated our changes to the initial itinerary so that we could be outdoors hiking for several hours every day, but not do the longer full-day walks. This ended up being just perfect for me. And I didn’t feel short-changed in experiencing the scenic wonders of this part of Australia.
If I were ever to return to the Great Ocean Road, I would allow an extra day or two in Apollo Bay. I saw from the bus windows that it would be possible to walk for miles and miles along the shores and beaches of this large bay. You could easily do this from your hotel.
The first day’s hike on the Walk 91 itinerary was a short 5-mile hike from Shelly Beach back to our hotel in Apollo Bay. The trail passed along sandy beaches, pastures and farmland, bluffs, a caravan park, suburbs, and the Great Ocean Road (highway).
While the Great Ocean Walk does follow the rugged coastline of the Southern Ocean, long stretches of the walk are too far inland to afford views of the water. We hiked through coastal forests of gum trees and eucalyptus, and along bluffs of coastal scrub bushes that were too high to see over. The occasional breaks in the foliage gave out on amazing ocean vistas. And all of the trail’s beach stretches were our favorite parts of the Great Ocean Walk. And where we took the most photographs!
We stopped for a scone with Devonshire cream at the cafe opposite the Cape Otway Lighthouse. You couldn’t beat the setting for this afternoon break.
I knew I was in Australia when I saw koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, and echidna in the wild — animals I had previously seen only in zoos or television documentaries.
These wildlife viewing opportunities came on a seven-day Great Ocean Walking tour that I had arranged through Walk 91. From Melbourne, we took a one-hour train ride to Geelong, and there we transferred to a bus for a 2-1/2 hour ride to Apollo Bay. Most of the bus ride followed the coast of the Southern Ocean — a very scenic and wild coast. For seven days, we hiked portions of the coast trail, the Great Ocean Walk, which is in the Great Otway National Park. And we stayed in several different accommodations along the way. Most of our Australian animal sightings were in the evenings or mornings by our accommodations.
We saw koalas in the trees near the Cape Otway Lighthouse area. Most often, the koalas were lethargic, sleeping or dozing on tree limbs. But in Bimbi Park, near our lodging, we saw a couple of more active koalas. We watched one climb down a tree, jump to another one, fall down, and then run to another tree, which it climbed to safety. So I got some good, up-close photos.
Koalas are marsupials, mammals that carry their developing young in pouches. Kangaroos and wallabies are also marsupials. We saw both. The wallabies looked like kangaroos to us, but they were darker and heftier.
The wallabies seemed curious, and stood and stared at us for a while. The kangaroos we saw, however, seemed much more wary. We saw them only from a distance as they grazed in a meadow at sunrise near the place we were staying. They took off as soon as they spotted us. I was surprised at how high they could jump!
Another of Australia’s unusual animals is the echidna. It is sometimes called a spiny anteater. It is just one of two egg-laying mammals (the other is the platypus). I saw one along the hiking trail between Station Beach and the Cape Otway Lighthouse.
On Saturday after I returned to the mainland from Mallard Island, I pointed my car south and drove 6 hours to the Minnesota farm where I grew up. My youngest and oldest brothers each own and live on half of the farm, and on Saturday my youngest brother was hosting a reunion for the extended family on my father’s side. The reunion was winding down by the time I finally arrived. I missed seeing my three surviving aunts and many cousins and their kids. Thankfully my siblings hung around to see me. Seven of the nine of us kids made it to the reunion. After all the cousins left, my siblings and some spouses talked around a fire pit as we roasted hot dogs.
My brother has made many changes and improvements since my Dad died. He replaced the old farmhouse, garage, and machine shed with new structures. Only the old red barn remains from my parents’ and grandparents’ time on the farm. My brother has worked hard to bring the farm into the modern age, and I love all the improvements. He keeps everything trim and neat and orderly. The land still holds the memories of our childhood there, and it still feels like I am returning home whenever I travel there.
Part of what is bringing the farm back to life are the animals. In the last decade of my father’s life, he no longer kept domesticated animals. Now my brother is raising hogs and a few beef cattle and lots of chickens. There are at least four or five barn cats and two dogs that have the run of the place.
I was able to spend just one night and morning with my brother and his family before continuing my drive. Here are two of my favorite pictures from this year’s trip to my childhood farm home: another lovely red sunrise . . .
In my two decades growing up and going to school in Minnesota, I rarely travelled in the northern part of the state. On this trip, I crossed the border into Minnesota at Fargo and then continued north to Bemidji, where I spent a few days relaxing with my sister and her husband at their cabin on Big Turtle Lake. It was a lovely interlude between my road trip from Seattle and the start of my art residency on Mallard Island. We took a long bike ride one day along the Paul Bunyan Trail.
When you are in northern Minnesota you can see why the state’s slogan is “Land of Ten Thousand Lakes.” The land is mixed woods and marshes and farmland, and lakes and ponds dot the landscape in between.
I left Bemidji early on Sunday morning to head even farther north to International Falls, where I would meet the nine other artists at Bald Rock dock for the start of our week on Mallard Island on Rainy Lake. Three times I saw deer alongside the road. There was little traffic.
I had time to visit the Rainy Lake Visitor Center in Voyageurs National Park before our meet up time. I walked the Oberholtzer Trail there.
It was still too early in the season for Minnesota’s spectacular displays of colored fall foliage. But driving along Hwy 53 south to my family farm, I saw little pockets of color. A teasing taste of the flaming landscape to come.
It was still green farther south. As I drove the final few miles to my brother’s farm, I enjoyed the Midwest sky full of high, white clouds. (We rarely see skies like this in Seattle.)
Last week I spent 6 days as one of ten artists in residence on Mallard Island in northern Minnesota. I applied for and was awarded this residency by the Ernest Oberholtzer Foundation, whose mission is to maintain the legacy of Ernest Oberholtzer — wilderness preservationist, explorer, book collector, and one of the founders of the Wilderness Society — and his North Woods home on Mallard Island as a “source of inspiration, renewal and connection to Indigenous Peoples, kindred spirits, and the natural world.”
I was the only painter among this year’s group of artists; others included writers, photographers, a sculptor, musicians, a composer, and researchers. The week-long residency offered us time to work on our own individual projects in a supportive and convivial environment. Mallard Island is a tiny island on Rainy Lake, which borders Canada and northern Minnesota. It was remote — I was without internet access or cell phone — and rustic — no hot water nor flush toilets.
I first heard about Mallard Island years ago when I read Louise Erdrich’s Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country. This was also my introduction to Ernest Oberholtzer, who was instrumental in saving the Quetico-Superior Wilderness from a lumber baron’s plans to dam and alter the Rainy Lake watershed. Here is Erdrich’s brief synopsis of Oberholtzer’s life: “He was born in 1884, grew up in an upper middle-class home in Davenport, Iowa, suffered a bout of rheumatic fever that weakened his heart. He went to Harvard, where he made friends with bookish people like Conrad Aiken and Samuel Eliot Morison. His heart kept bothering him. Told by a doctor he had just one year to live, he decided to spend it in a canoe. He traveled three thousand miles in a summer. Paddling a canoe around Rainy Lake watershed and through the Quetico-Superior wilderness was just the thing for his heart, so he kept on paddling. He lived to be ninety-three years old.”
Oberholtzer established his home on Mallard Island — accessible by boat in summer and across frozen ice in winter. Writer Bill Holm, who was also one of Mallard’s artists years ago, described Mallard as one of three “skinny sardines of rock and scrub timber” (Eccentric Islands). Holm continues, “Mallard is only twelve hundred feet from stem to stern, in places as narrow as fifty feet from port to starboard. A leisurely stroll of five minutes will get you from one end to the other. It was not a vast kingdom physically, so Ober set about making it large in other ways.”
Mallard has nine eclectic buildings, three compost toilets, an outdoor sun shower, two pianos, numerous canoes, a wind-up gramophone, and over 11,000 books. It was this personal collection of books in its unique wilderness setting which attracted me to the idea of Mallard Island and led me to investigate the Oberholtzer Foundation’s programs.
I will write in more detail about my week on Mallard Island in some blog posts to follow. For today, I will showcase the watercolor journal pages I completed during my stay, as well as a few other small paintings. Enjoy!
“The land was treeless and seventeen different shades of tan. It slowly grew more rugged, but the badlands still came up unexpectedly: a crenellation along the horizon that opened up on both sides of the highway into phantasmagorical landscape. It wasn’t so much the buttes rising above the earth, but more as if the skin of the earth had been ripped away, revealing the ragged, broken flesh beneath. You stared down into the badlands, and the maze of twisted gorges, trapped meadows, wind-eaten towers and bluffs were a geological underworld, as unearthly as beautiful.”
— Reed Karaim, The Winter in Anna
This was my first visit to the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota. I think few tourists venture here. It is 90 miles north of the more easily accessible South Unit, which lies off I-94. I was entering North Dakota from the north, on Highway 2, so I spent a late afternoon and evening here exploring a new landscape.
First I claimed a camping spot at the Juniper Campground — very uncrowded, and I got a site close to the camp hosts. I loved the setting of this campground on the edge of a huge grove of towering cottonwood trees. Lovely.
Then I drove the 14-mile scenic drive to Oxbow Overlook. There were plenty of viewpoints along the way, some overlooking the Missouri River below. I enjoyed stopping at the viewpoints in this national park because the landscape was so different, varied, and unexpected. I didn’t hike here, but I enjoyed photographing at the stops.
I especially loved the vast grasslands: “The grassland stretches out in the sunlight like a sea, every wind bending the blades into a ripple, and flecking the prairie with shifting patches of a different green from that around, exactly as the touch of a light squall or wind-gust will fleck the smooth surface of the ocean.”
— Theodore Roosevelt, Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail
It was wonderful to see wildlife along the road. I saw mule deer and rabbits. I saw some bison in the distance, and then as I was leaving early the next morning, there were some bison in the road! The North Unit is a rewarding destination, and one that I’d recommend to anyone traveling in the Midwest.