A light breeze finally began to flit around the hot and dusty campsite, sprinkling the grit of a hot Arizona desert day around like fairy dust. We were settled in our now familiar canvas chairs, glass of wine in hand, about to watch the sunset with our new friends, the Amazon woman Jean and quiet little Lila. Just a few hundred feet behind us, seniors were gathering for a night of dancing and boozing at the local VFW hall. You could hear cars pulling into the parking lot, doors slamming, and calls from friend to friend as they arrived for the fun. I could see Jean was listening to them.
"Do you ever go over there?" I asked Jean.
"No. I tried a couple of times, but they didn't like it." she replied quietly.
"Because you're not a vet?" I asked. I knew that the VFW was for Veterans of Foreign Wars, but I also knew that this particular organization welcomed anyone through their doors.
Jean looked at me. Trying to decide whether she could trust me enough with the information she was about to share. I guess I passed. She sighed. "I AM a vet. Vietnam. That's not why they don't want me in there. It's because I'm different."
I didn't reply, so with eyes not meeting mine, she went on. "I'm a hermaphrodite. Do you know what that means?"
I nodded. "Yes". Now it made sense. This was one LARGE, muscular woman. Maybe I was naive that I didn't see it before, but now...before I could respond, she/he whipped the ever present bandana from her head. Imagine how surprised I was to see the male patterned baldness! Her head lifted and she looked into my eyes for what? Surprise? Disgust? Anger? Acceptance? Compassion?
"So what!" I said. "Your money should be as good as any one else's - *uck 'em if they can't take a joke".
Jean laughed out loud. "Ha! The joke is on me!"
The ice broken, we began one of the most heart wrenching conversations I've ever had on the road.
Jean told me she was born with both male and female genitalia, but that her parents decided she should be raised as a boy. Gene. She was told never to talk about it and to hide it from everyone. As she got older, she felt more female than male. She was very ashamed of her body. When as a young teen, her father found her kissing a boy he kicked her out of the house. She was now in her 50's and has never been back.
She lived on the streets for a while, turning tricks for money, but during the Vietnam war, they were so desperate for bodies that she found a doctor who helped her pass the physical and she became a soldier. Of course, eventually she was found out and since the army was not looking for that kind of publicity, they gave her a "conditional" discharge. Out of the service, not able to find work, she hooked up with a circus, where for many years he/she was disrobed in front of freak show customers on a twice daily basis - they laughed, they pointed, and they made fun of her - on cue. Finally, unable to take the shame and abuse any longer, she slit her wrists.
The VA hospital was able to save her life both literally and figuratively by getting her financial assistance, so she would not have to demean herself just to live. When she healed, she "rescued" Lila from the circus (I did not hear HER story) and they lived in this little piece of BLM land because they were not accepted in "normal" company still. But even that was not ideal. The paintball kids? They weren't just playing. They came around a few times a month to harass Jean and Lila by riding their dirt bikes around the camp and shooting at them with paint balls.
The sun was setting. Secret Garden started to play softly in the background. We relaxed into what had become our evening routine. Jean was now quieter than usual. Afraid, I think, that I would now rebuff her as my friend. Betray her as everyone but Lila had done. I reached out my hand and held hers. Held it until the sun set. In that moment, although we were nearly the same age, I was her lost mother and she my broken child.
The next day, our time there was ended. As we packed to move on, we saw Jean across the parking lot. Her big tattooed muscles rippling beneath a clean white tee-shirt, her flowing peasant skirt barely containing the huge strides she was taking toward us. She thrust a piece of paper at me.
"If you would like to write. This is our address." she said, afraid to look me in the eye.
"Jean," I replied. "I will write."
She lifted her kerchief-covered, balding head and smiled - a smile was more than a smile, it was relief and happiness and joy. Gene/Jean. Boy/Girl. Circus Freak/Tattooed Soldier. Broken Spirit/Kind and Gentle Friend. I will write.
One of the lessons of traveling is to be open to all people and all experiences. It would have been easy not to meet Jean and Lila. It would have been easy to refuse their invitation. It would have been easy to judge them. But it was much easier to befriend them, to learn from them, and to be reminded to live with compassion and gratitude. But for the sake of a genetic anomaly, go I.
"Don't walk your dogs that way!" someone yelled a warning from behind the trees. "Kids - with paintball guns!"
That stopped us dead in our tracks. The last thing we wanted to do on this late afternoon was get splattered with paint. We squinted into the dark underbrush, looking to find the face of our protector, so we could thank her properly. I saw her first.
She had been sitting - or squatting in the trees and as she rose, her faded blue bandana was the first item to appear above the brush. It was tied gypsy style, covering all of her hair, but a few whisps of gray along her neck.
My eyes widened at the sheer the size of the six foot two, broad shouldered woman emerging from the sticks, but I managed to mumble a quick thanks and we turned to walk back the way we came.
"I'm Jean, would you like a cup of tea?" she asked. "We're camped just behind these trees and we have tea and listen to the most beautiful music every night about this time. We'd love for you to join us." she asked, but quickly looked down, afraid of rejection, like a dog that has been repeatedly kicked. My heart ached.
I looked quickly at my husband and he smiled, always game for a new experience. So off we went without thought to our safety, through the trees to a little campsite by the canal. We met her partner, a shy young lady with flowered tattoos, who didn't speak through her pierced lips. We learned that this was not just a campsite, but their home. They had made the best of a "down on their luck" situation with a large tent, a pickup with canopy, camp table, chairs and a makeshift kitchen. It was liveable.
The kettle was already boiling on the propane camp stove and we were immediately made comfortable by this sweet and vulnerable pair. We arranged our chairs to face the setting sun and sipped our tea. It was the first time I had heard the music of Secret Garden and I was unprepared for the peacefulness I felt.
Over the next few days, we visited this pair. The younger girl was somewhat like a wild animal guarded and untrusting of our friendship, but Jean and I hit it off and as she got to know us, she let us in on her life story and it was amazing, shocking, horrifying and heartbreaking.
I'll tell you that story in tomorrows post.
There was a distinct possibility that murder was about to happen in Brookings, Oregon.
Within just thirty minutes of arrival at Harris Beach State Park to begin our whale watching adventure, my children had managed to wake the baby, break the strap on my best binoculars and drop a full cup of hot cocoa in my lap. Their incessant bickering had just about pushed me past my daily limit.
My eyelids lowered as I snaked my hand around into the back seat flailing about in search of the culprits, when one of them yelled. “There mommy look quick – I saw a whale!”
Lurching for my broken binoculars, I peered across the waves hoping to see the massive undulating bodies of the gigantic gray whale on it's annual migration south along the Oregon coast to it's winter home in the Baja lagoons of Mexico. Around 18,000 gray whales pass this area in 4 weeks, from mid-December to mid-January, with the best viewing between Christmas and New Year's. Every year since we had moved to the wild rivers coast, I had wanted to see the whale migration and every year, I had missed it. The first year it was a vacation to Hawaii (who would pass that up)? The second year I was heavily pregnant, but THIS year I was determined.
I had spent days preparing the children for what they were about to see. We talked about how the Gray whales have the longest known migration of any mammal, traveling 10,000-12,000 miles round trip every year between their winter calving areas in the warm waters of Mexico and their summer feeding grounds in the cold Arctic seas. Even though they are not the largest whale on earth (that distinction goes to the Blue whale which is the largest mammal ever found on earth - larger even than dinosaurs at up to 90 ft long and as much as 150 tons) - the gray whale is no midget. Weighing in at about 50 tons (that's as much as 10 elephants) and averaging 50 feet long, the Gray whale can live between 30 and 50 years.
We talked about the importance of them seeing the whales. That even though the whales are protected, they are still at risk due to offshore oil drilling, shipping congestion, climate change and poaching. I explained how the only enemies that a gray whale has are the Orca and the human and that we are by far the most dangerous. I tried to stress that if something was not done, the whales could very well be extinct in their lifetime. Of course, they are kids and I'm not sure they were listening. They never seem to listen.
But back to my child's cry of delight at seeing a whale...I think. I see – nothing. “Are you sure you saw a whale?” No one answered, of course. No one ever answers.
I put down the glasses and searched in the glove compartment for something to soak up the chocolate.
“There! Look!” my oldest cried. “To the left of the big buoy.”
Wiping the steamy window with my hand, I peered intently across the foaming waves. Nothing.
I hope he has seen a whale, but I doubted it. Even during the migration, they are difficult to distinguish from large rocks that are being covered and uncovered by the action of the waves.
“I want to see a whale, my 6 year old cried, why does Elias only get to see it? He's kicking my seat. Eliaaassssss!"
“Because Elias is looking through his binoculars instead of taking away the baby's toys. Elias, stop kicking the seat. Do ..YOU.. HEAR... ME????”
"OK, (I try another tactic) C'mon, let's all get out of the car and maybe we can see better."
So, there we were. Our shivering little family. Huddled together for warmth on a bench at Harris Beach park, binoculars glued to our faces, Elias, Zak, the baby and me in my cocoa covered wet pants. Looking for the whales that weren't really there.
And then it happened...
Not 300 yards offshore, a massive black and gray mottled head breached the water and seemed to pause in mid air before gravity took hold and he pounded back into the cold surf. Majestic. Awesome. Breathtaking.
In that moment the air was warm, the rain stopped, my pants were dry and my children were quiet. In that moment as in all moments where you stand witness to something more powerful than words....time slowed just a little.
"Mom! Mom! Did you SEE that?"
I didn't answer.
Ed Note: If you would like to learn more about Gray Whales and Whale Watching on the Oregon Coast visit THE WHALE WATCHING CENTER by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department
Well, as you all can see, I have updated the look of the website. I wanted to make it cleaner, easier to navigate and easy to read. Hope you all like the new look.
In keeping with the new look - I have decided to get a new look myself. I am, for the first time in many years, about to see what color my hair really is. In an effort to turn back the hands of time, I have been keeping my hair in the brownish/blonde range for a number of years - but no more! I am going "au naturale". (We'll see how long I can stand it before I reach for the bottle - dye bottle, not gin bottle....although that could also work.)
Since a new year is approaching, we've been giving a lot of thought about what we want to accomplish in the next year - and in fact - the next 5 years. Now this is a long way ahead for us grasshoppers to think, so our little brains have been churning away at full speed and now we have a tentative plan that includes some work, three major trips involving family, paying off some bills and the purchase of a different vehicle. Our plan allows us to do anything we want to do, but not everything we want to do on a budget of about $18000 per year.
So to keep us honest, we will post a monthly expense report beginning in February, to see how close we come
to our actual plan. Hopefully tips that we find to cut the costs will also help you all with the financial end of your travel plans.
So enjoy the look of the new site and we'll keep you posted...hahahahah!
You would hardly believe that this is the Miami Airport. As bright and exciting as Miami itself, light, color and sound combine to create an incredible multi-sensory experience for everyone who walks through. The installation features a stunning array of shades with speakers playing the sounds synonymous with Florida, like those of tropical birds and thunderstorms. The most interesting part of Harmonic Convergence may be that the sounds change according to the density of people in the walkway, creating an intuitive relationship within the environment.
This is just one of the many interesting ways that businesses are providing art experiences for their customers. Another amazing example of this is St Jude'
As I was admiring this photo of the dirt road between Morondava and Belon’i Tsiribihina in the Menabe region of western Madagascar, I began to think about all the roads I've traveled, both literally and figuratively. I've driven down the iconic Route 66 through the US and sang Jimmy Buffet songs all along A1a in Florida. The treacherous Highway 1 down the California coast nearly took my life as it caved away in front of my car in the middle of the night. I've foolishly driven a road through window high flood waters and over a burning road during a forest fire. Still the road lures me, entices me, says "C'mon follow me just a little farther..." and like a child taking candy from a stranger....I go.
The road of life expects us to make decisions. College or Trade School. Marriage or Single. Children or Family. Save or Spend. Each fork in the road defines us as we maneuver around or run into the rocks and potholes placed in front of us. Sometimes we get stuck in the mud, other times we have smooth sailing. Often we take a breather in a rest area, but we eventually come to our final destination. My only advice is to take as many roads as possible and enjoy the ride, it may be our only real trip.
CHECK OUT PRICES ON YOUR CRUISE >>>NOW
- Royal Caribbean prices have held or gone up very slightly (around $10 per person) since last week.
- Celebrity had a couple of sharp price drops! Their Eclipse 13-night voyage from Southampton is down to $2,549 for a suite--a $700 per guest drop from last week. The Equinox also dropped their 14 night from Rome to $989 for an inside, and $1049 oceanview.
- Princess prices have dropped--pretty sharply on a couple of their longer itineraries. The 32 night from Rome is now down from $2,318 to only $1,998 per guest in an interior.
- Norwegian Epic also came down to $649 (interior--was $699) and $1,199 for a Suite--down from $1,449.
Grutas de Cacahuamilpa Caverns, which are one of the largest cave systems in the world