Hard to figure the intentions of that pretty blue song bird (maybe an Eastern Blue Jay- where is Tom Lally when you need him?). Maybe she thought we were predators? Or she saw a worm inside the cabin? Or she was just so filled with despair that the only thing she could do was repeatedly smash her beak at high speed into the oversized windows of our West Virginia cabin. And yes, I do think it was a she. Guys just aren’t that committed to anything.
We did what we could to save that beautiful but dumb bird. We tried lowering the drapes, affixing wet toilet paper on the window and stacking furniture up against the window. Still she persisted. If anything she grew more determined. At first she would fly away whenever someone stood by the window. An hour later she just perched on the deck staring that deadened gaze into our souls.
So I called the front desk. The fine folks at Pipestem Resorts are incredibly friendly. They also ask no questions. The other day I managed to procure from them two dollops of horseradish for our virtual Seder. Not one question. This time they listened to my concern without comment while transferring my calls to various departments within the resort. Eventually housekeeping said they would do what they could do. And then we left to begin our day, convinced there would be a dead bird on our deck when we returned.
Hours later we returned and there was no dead bird on our deck. We felt a weight lift from our shoulders. Then, like something from a horror movie, the bird returned to peck one more time at our window before flying away.
Update: Big thank you to Tom Lally who identified the bird as an Eastern Bluebird. He also thinks that he is attacking his own reflection in a bit of hormonal rage (knew it was a male).
Election-Day began sometime around 4 AM when Henna woke to get ready for her shift as an election judge. Together we walked the few blocks to the Edison Park Lutheran Church. It was an incredibly pretty morning. Pitch black with a bright moon and only a few cars on the street. I wanted to buy a paper at the local newsstand but there was no one tending the business. With no school that day I returned home and went to bed.
The real anxiety started when I woke up the second time that day. Henna by then had already been working for several hours. Corey and I decided to keep busy so we took a nice walk in the forest preserve, picked up a nice piece of salmon to cook later and repeatedly texted Henna. It was a slow and steady work day for her that did not end until eight that night. The things that Henna was worried about did not come to pass. She had to remind no one to wear a mask. One person came in wearing a MAGA shirt but then zipped up her jacket before entering the sacred voting area. A campaign worker bought everyone pizza.
For me the true panic hit me sometime after it became clear Trump would win Florida. The panic then continued right up to the point when Georgia turned blue. Sleep in between those times was hell. Each night I woke sometime around four and then checked my phone before returning to bed. That simple act of doing so, regardless of whatever news I discovered, caused me so much stress that it took at least half an hour before I was able to fall back to asleep. And then the alarm would wake me a little after six and I would immediately check my phone again.
At work I had created a fun election themed activity for my social skills groups. Moosely Moose vs. Silly Seal. Two stuffed animals with radically different visions for the future. After Tuesday I decided Moosely Moose was a bit of fascist. He also made unrealistic promises such as telling all the children that post-pandemic they would all get a chance to ride on his back. Silly Seal in contrast was all heart and wanted nothing more than to entertain everyone with tricks he learned in the circus. Some of the kids saw right through the Moose and picked Silly Seal as their leader. Others though went with the Moose. I made a mental note to keep my eye on them.
Most of work though was spent feeling guilty about the time wasted refreshing my phone. Immediately after work/school the three of us would spend endless hours watching television, the anchors repeating the same phrases over and over again. Spend too much time on anything and you begin to see the worn spots in the delivery. Chuck Todd’s magic Election Day Board began to look like just any other ordinary Smart Board. Still we watched, waiting for the next big thing to happen.
By Friday morning it felt good to be on Biden’s side. Georgia had turned blue. Arizona and Nevada were also in the right column. My dad texted me when Pennsylvania finally crossed over the line to sanity. My mom called me when the election was called. By Saturday night we had all finally exhaled.
Corey wants me to write a Part 3. I like to think that it would be unnecessary. I think (maybe hope) that our Democracy is strong enough to stand up to the lies and bullshit coming out of the soon to be former President. I have a little bit of faith that just enough Republican voters and politicians will stand up with the rest of the population to save our country from becoming a dictatorship. But….. I never thought Trump would get elected. I never thought he would serve all four year. I do not think he will remain president after January 20. We will see. Until then I would much rather talk travel than politics.
Last Tuesday night I went to bed feeling the same way I did four years ago which was depressed, horrified, defeated and surprised. There was supposed to have been a mighty blue wave that would sweep away everything rotten about the last four years. Texas might turn blue. Smurfs red (not saying that would be a good thing, just saying I felt change coming). Instead I went to bed telling Corey and Henna that Biden might still win while knowing in my heart he would not. I went to bed afraid for my country.
Four years ago I voted. I wanted to do more this election so I purchased a lawn sign. Campaigns are as slick as auto traders and a twenty dollar sign ended up costing me about a hundred bucks (we can just send you the sign, but if you don’t pay for the shipping and a few other things your donation will be for nothing and Donald Trump will be reelected). The sign was great and will stay planted on my lawn until Trump leaves office or some punk kid steals it. But there is only so much a $100 and a lawn sign can do to sway an election. That is why I also decided to make some calls.
Although a bit terrifying at first, it was amazingly easy to make calls. You do so via an unholy combination between your own phone and a laptop. The laptop makes the calls and also tells you what to say via a flow chart. The only supervision/feedback offered from the Biden Campaign was via a Slack channel group which was the virtual place you sign in and out of. It seems, from that Slack channel, there were at any given time tens of thousands of people making phone calls on behalf of Joe Biden. I know that in one two hour period over a million phone calls were made.
Over a period of about two weeks I called Florida, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Nevada and Texas. Texas was by far the most exciting place to call. We called Texas the day after several polls showed that the state could go either way. The response from Texans was amazing. Over and over again people thanked me for calling. Most had already voted and were planning on voting the next day. Some asked me what they could do to help get Joe Biden elected. It was like an hour calling old friends. I think now that 1) we only called registered Democrats and 2) Texas Democrats are pretty much ignored by the outside world.
Calls to Minnesota and Pennsylvania sucked. We were told that it was a “deep list” of people we were calling (which translates to Republicans). I would ask them if I can count on their support for Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and all the other Democrats running for election. They would laugh. Not a mean spirited laugh but rather a genuine, happy kind of laugh. One person told me I was barking up the wrong tree. Most everyone though was polite and thanked me when I offered to remove them from the list. There was an elderly woman in Minnesota though who said she wished we would all drop dead. Another voter called me a Communist.
I also talked to a woman living on a reservation in Arizona who wanted to vote but was not sure she had an Election-Day ride. A similar problem was also voiced by an elderly woman in Florida. I helped them the best I could which honestly was not much. Another woman in Florida told me that she already voted for Joe, donates money each month to the Democrats and on her own called several dozen people asking them to do the same. What this woman wanted more than anything was to stop getting more calls to vote. Also had a five minute conversation with a recently naturalized Canadian physician living in Arizona. He left Alberta to make more money in the States and has a deep distrust of anything smacking of socialized medicine. He was planning on voting for Kanye. A gentleman in Florida helped me better pronounce the VP-elect’s first name (“think comma, like a punctuation mark). Most people I called though simply hung up before I could say more than a few words.
On the day before the election there were too many callers for me to get on the necessary website. I did make a few calls on Tuesday but the connection was spotty and the effort felt wasted. Although nervous, I also felt pretty optimistic about the election. Nate Silver pegged Joe as having an 89.5% chance of winning and honestly I felt that was kind of low. We had this thing.
Sunflowers make us happy. Sunflowers make everyone happy. And for just $20 you can head out to a small friendly farm just a little bit outside Milwaukee and spend as much time as you like wandering among the sunflowers before choosing a dozen to take home. The farm is mostly BYOS (bring your own scissors) but does have a few extra shears laying around. They also have a beautiful wild flower landscaped butterfly garden. Click here for more information and directions.
After spending a few weeks at home we found ourselves a bit anxious about the coming school year. And this was before hearing about the small meteor hurtling toward earth and due to arrive the day before the election. Don’t worry, it probably won’t hit us. But then again, who thought Donald Trump would ever be president?
So we headed a little bit west and a whole lot north in order to circle Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I can tell you that they sure do have a lot of trees up there. Waterfalls too which might explain why we needed to book our campsites a couple weeks in advance. Even with doing so we only managed to snag one night at Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park. The two hotels we stayed at in Michigan were also overpriced and terrible in their own unique ways. Funniest was the lodge in Ironwood where our room had a sticky stain that covered about a third of the carpet. We suspected a possible recent homicide. I brought this concern to the clerk who amazingly knew the history of the stain, detailed how they plan to eventually remove said stain and deducted twenty dollars from my stay. Not much more to say about that.
Based on the Trump to Biden sign ratio (about 20:1) I would say the local politics are mostly to the right of Wyoming with the more affluent college bubbles (like Marquette) trending more so to the left. Again though this is just based on lawn signs although one overheard, never ending and quite loud conversation (across the road from our tent but still we could hear every word spoken) was clearly mined from the lethal combination of Fox News talking points and conspiracy websites. On and on the old men practically shouted their convictions while we pretended not to listen. Meanwhile the sun set over the Tahquamenon River. It was beautiful; a soft riot of colors blending into the tannin water while the sky darkened around our campfire. Curiously there were few birds present and the wide river moved like a whisper to Lake Superior. It was just the men speaking and the lovely visuals of a closing day; a contrast in experiences and a fitting end to this summer.
After four thousand miles, twenty-eight days and five states we are finally home. There have been many larger trips but this one was by far the most anxious undertaken. It began with the simple thought that while it would be horrible to get sick on the road, it was actually much more Covid-safe out there than it was here. Here was over seven thousand people who never recovered from Covid (with more than half that number coming from our county). There were places with less than a thousand total cases and maybe a handful of deaths. They could maybe afford a bit of Covid carelessness.
This bison appears blissfully unaware of Covid. Or is he? So far this summer there have been at least two bison to human “incidents.” Neither incident went well for the human.
Turns out that pretty much everywhere we visited is now Covid worse. One example is Uinitah County in Utah where we spent two pleasant days in Vernal. They now have twice as many Covid cases as they did before our visit (62 versus 31). While there we noted that all the big chains required employees to wear masks but not their customers. Some sort of traveling circus had also reportedly just left town and the 4th of July parade was going on as planned. Fortunately, no one in that county has yet to pass away from Covid but then death is a lagging indicator; we will not know the true Covid toil there for some time. It will also be another week or so before we know for sure whether or not we contracted Covid in Vernal or any of the other places we carefully visited.
Near the summit of Bear Tooth Highway
One-month later Chicago feels different. In my quiet northwest bubble, I see lots of children riding bikes together. They hang out together like kids everywhere have always done and it feels reassuring and terrifying at the same time. Stores are reopened but with size limits fully enforced. Just like before our trip, nobody within these places are mask less. Midweek the stores are more crowded than they were before our trip but still feel eerily empty.
On the Perimeter Trail in Ouray, CO
Someday there will be a vaccine. Or someday the virus will sufficiently burn its way through the population making subsequent flare ups less deadly. Either way there is a lot of living to be had until then and we all need to strike a balance between reckless carelessness and paralyzing fear. For us this means wearing masks inside, visiting friends and family outdoors and avoiding crowds as much as possible. This simple way of life, rooted in the present and hopefully soon to be a relic, is just another of many lagging indicators.
Orchids found along a trail in Chautauqua Park (Boulder, CO)
After Red Lodge we spent some time touring colleges in Ft. Collins and Boulder. It was a downright spooky thing to do as both campuses had this post-apocalyptic vibe going on. Things were especially desolate within the main college square areas, you know, that tree lined area most colleges have which is featured in every university mailer. There the message boards were completely bare. These areas also featured lonely bike racks and even lonelier groundkeepers who somehow looked downright sinister while pruning back bushes. And there was absolutely no there to give tours or answer questions. The only other family we spied wandering these wastelands looked just as confused and lost as we were. Maybe it was my imagination, but they also appeared a bit frightened by us, as if we ourselves were some sort of ghostly appearance.
Henna, Robert Frost, and Noel at University of Colorado. The great poet was actually had little to say to us.
We like Boulder. We like Ft. Collins better. Seems like this is pretty much everyone’s opinion. From the shop owner in Ft. Collins (who grew up in Boulder), “There is just something too Boulder about Boulder.” The hotel clerk here in Boulder (who grew up in Colorado Springs) said something similar which begs the questions, what exactly does “being too Boulder” mean?
A little street art in Ft. Collins, CO.
Maybe we misheard the intent and “being Boulder” is actually a good thing. That would make sense as the surrounding mountains here are absolutely beautiful. People here are pretty cool too; relaxed, friendly and willing to engage strangers in all types of conversations. But we think being Boulder refers to something else entirely, something not quite so positive. Boulder is very crowded and also very expensive to live in (but then so are many other beautiful places like Telluride and Jackson Hole). Does being Boulder maybe refer to its very progressive politics? Maybe, but I am not sure that Ft. Collins is that much more conservative than Boulder. Honestly, we have no idea what being “too Boulder” means but there is a fundamental difference between the less crowded, slightly less costly Ft. Collins and it’s uber-rich cousin Boulder.
View of one of the five “Flat Irons” found along a hiking trail in Chautauqua Park (Boulder, CO).
I know one thing; Boulder is by far the most Covid-cautious place we have been all summer. Twice we have had our temperature checked before entering a business (a book store and brew pub). Masks are worn inside but also outside and even sometimes when walking alone on an empty sidewalk. In store maximum crowd sizes are also strictly enforced. But life still manages to go on with people able to shop, eat outside and hike to their hearts content just so long as they follow all rules (we continued to hike mostly mask-less but covered our mouths whenever moving close to someone). It really is a glimpse of how people today can safely balance being social while also being safe. Beer will always find a way.
Hiking along the Taggart-Bradley Lake Trail in GTNP
The Milky Way stretched out like a rainbow across the cloudless night. Laying on our backs on the Signal Mountain boat dock we saw so many stars that the constellations became meaningless. The stars also reflected back up from the water like yellow pin pricks. This was my favorite moment from the eight nights we spent camping in Grand Teton National Park.
Sunset over Jackson Lake taken from our tent (site 71)
That and other moments made up for a bit of car drama. The worst of it was when we realized the back hatch was not locking. Corey ended up walking behind the car while I inched our way back to the campsite (a very long quarter mile).
Boat across Jenny Lake. Every other row in boat was empty which created longer lines than usual. All employees and most hikers wore masks when on boat.
Our favorite pizzeria located at Leeks Marina was closed for the season. So too where many indoor lodging options. All campgrounds at GTNP were open and filled at earlier than usual times while we were there.
Hanging at the rocky beach just below our campsite. We especially enjoyed our new inflatable paddleboard (Thanks Mom and Dad!)
Henna a few moments before jumping into Bradley Lake. So cold!
Henna in Cascade Canyon
After eight nights camping, we find ourselves at a boutique hotel in Red Lodge Montana. The Pollard Hotel (built in 1893 and originally named something else) is a fine hotel. We also saw more wildlife (a wolf, bear, elk and hundreds, maybe thousands of bison) on the drive through Yellowstone than we have seen all trip. We also survived and even enjoyed the Bear Tooth Highway. Have more stories to share, but a hot shower and a comfy bed are calling. Hope you enjoy all the pictures.
The steep trail that leads directly from our campsite to the Marina
Woke up two nights ago to a flashlight shining bright into my tent. It was deep night, probably around 4 AM. First I was scared. But then, as I gradually woke up, I became mad. Figured a neighbor was accidentally pointing a light into my tent. So I Got myself out of the tent in order to check things out. And there it was, the moon, almost full and just banking over the trees. It was so bright it hurt my eyes to look at it.
Our campsite at the Signal Mountain Campground
I’m very use to not getting a good night sleep. Happens all the time but is more likely when camping. There is just so much more to wake me up when sleeping outside. Last night it was an angry owl. At least I assume it was angry. Also kind of assumed it was angry at me as it just kept getting louder and louder. Like it had something to say to me. Corey kind of remembers the hooing but it never truly woke her. Henna had no idea. And really that is how it always goes as I’m the only one ever disturbed by crazy roosters (everywhere in Maui) or a bunch of teenagers putting up a tent at 6 AM (three nights ago; loudest damn thing I ever heard and not one stir by the ladies). A few years ago I left my tent in the middle of the night and spied a huge bear pacing back and forth about 100 yards from the tent. There were lots of other campers around and we were never really in any danger. But it still took me an hour or more to fall back to sleep while all the time Corey and Henna slept on.