Ever take a ferry for fun?

When I lived in the desert in Washington state, we used to joke about the “rainy side” of the Cascade mountains, the strip where most of the people resided and worked.

When we visited that side, though, we often found ourselves driving the car onto a ferry and venturing onward. The state government manages an impressive fleet, some of them small and others, well, more substantial. It’s the largest ferry service in the country and fourth largest in the world. Its boats even show up in my novel Nearly Canaan.

Here are its nine routes plus one, all on Puget Sound but the last, which is a private operation.

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  1. Seattle-Bainbridge Island: 6,429,853 riders a year. Big-time commuter run from downtown. (That’s still only a fourth of the volume on the Staten Island ferry, and there’s no Statue of Liberty along the way. But the New York line has eight boats compared to this route’s two.)
  2. Edmonds-Kingston: 4,114,181. With a terminal just north of Seattle, this route offers a quick hop across Puget Sound. Obviously, popular with commuters.
  3. Mukilteo-Clinton on Whidbey Island: 4,073,761. It’s the first leg to Port Townsend from Seattle. Most of the riders are commuters who live on Whidbey Island.
  4. Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth: 3,059,587. Operates as a “triangular” route from West Seattle.
  5. Seattle-Bremerton: 2,739,926. Includes some hairpin turns getting into Bremmerton while passing a U.S. Navy shipyard.
  6. Anacortes-San Juan Islands: 2,009,438. The San Juans are four gemlike isles north of Seattle. Popular with sailboat owners.
  7. Port Townsend-Coupeville on Whidbey Island: 819,285. Port Townsend, at the “anvil” on the Olympic Peninsula, has become a trendy, artsy waterfront town.
  8. Point Defiance-Tahlequah: 812,786. Links Tacoma and Vashon Island.
  9. Anacortes-Sidney, British Columbia: 123,001. Also stops at Friday Harbor in the San Juans. Landing is a 30-minute drive from Victoria.
  10. Port Angeles-Victoria, British Columbia. Its 90-minute voyage across the Strait of Juan de Fuca links the Olympic Peninsula to downtown Victoria. The vessel carries up to 110 vehicles and a thousand passengers. The Black Ball Ferry is not a state-run route, but it is truly a “poor man’s cruise.” I remember eating well and being agog at our landing in the heart of the classy Canadian city. (A foot-passenger-only rival sails from downtown Seattle.)

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How about your experiences riding ferries?

The Washington state ferries have views of both the Olympics and Cascades mountains.

How could you not be impressed by Rainier?

I’ve never seen a photograph that captures the breathtaking majesty of Mount Rainier. Even from miles away, it can seem to hover over your head, perhaps even reaching on around for the back of your neck.

Like Joshua and Jaya in my novel Nearly Canaan, I lived in the desert to the east. That meant we usually frequented parts of the national park that the folks from nearby Seattle were least likely to visit.

It’s been 40 years since I was forced to move elsewhere. Here are ten things that still impress me.

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  1. The park: Established March 2, 1899, Rainier is America’s fifth oldest national park. It covers 369 square miles, making it the 21st largest in the continental U.S. and the third largest in Washington state.
  2. The central mountain: Also known as Tahoma, Rainier rises to 14,411 feet above sea level, making it the second tallest peak in the continental U.S. Unlike its rivals, its base is only miles inland from sea level. Measured from base to summit, or by its topographic prominence, that’s 13,210 feet – more than K2 in the Himalayas. It’s the most heavily glaciated mountain in the continental U.S.
  3. It’s a stratovolcano: Rainier is an active volcano, with sulfur-fuming pits in the ice at its summit. Considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world, it leaves about 80,000 people and their homes at risk of an eruption.
  4. Distance from the summit to downtown Seattle: 59 miles, if you’re a crow.
  5. Diversity of ecosystems: About 58 percent of the park is forested, ranging from dense evergreen forest to open ponderosa. The tall Douglas firs and western red cedars are nearly as impressive as the sequoias further to the south. Another 23 percent of the park is subalpine, above the forests but having evergreens at distances. In season, this is wildflower heaven, with orange paintbrushes, lupines, and white-starred avalanche lilies in profusion. Above that, half of the remainder is alpine, having unique vegetation, while the other half is permanent snow and ice.
  6. Year-round ice and snow: Depending on your source, 26 or 27 major glaciers cling to the mountain. They release thunderous booms of breaking ice during the summer. Combined with permanent snow patches, they cover about 35 square miles.
  7. Ice caves: By late summer, the mouths of some of the glaciers melt away to form mystical blue caverns. They’re dangerous to enter but unforgettable if you’ve ever been in one.
  8. Reaching the summit: Climbers are required to register for permits before setting out. They must possess technical skills regarding ice axes, harnesses, and ropes and be in good physical condition. They face a 9,000-foot elevation gain over eight or more rugged miles. And then they repeat it in reverse. For most, it’s a two-day trek. About 10,000 people set out for the summit each year, with half of them succeeding. The mountain claims an average of two lives a year.
  9. Thermal hot springs: Furthest away from Seattle is the Ohanapecosh Hot Springs. Once a resort, it now features trails that are delightful to hike in winter.
  10. Two lodges: Situated at 5,100 feet elevation in the subalpine terrain, Paradise receives an average of 53 feet of snow a year. Sunrise, at 6,400 feet elevation, is the highest point the roads reach. The lodges are often snowed in till the Fourth of July.

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If you’ve ever been there, what would you add?

Mount Rainier from the air. Notice the clouds are below the summit. And much of the white covering is glaciers.

You don’t always have to eat those apples

In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya find themselves surrounded by orchards. They quickly appreciate apples as much more than an orb to eat daily.

Here are ten unexpected uses.

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  1. Headache relief. Cut a green apple open and start sniffing. It’s supposed to work faster than some pain pills.
  2. Christmas decorations. Slice an apple, then carve out the core. The rounds can be hung individually or as a garland on the tree or window. They’re fragrant, too, as they dry.
  3. Shrucken heads for Halloween. Bake them on low for three hours or so, then carve out a mouth and nose, maybe the eyes too. Add buttons or other small objects for the eyeballs. Quite spooky and yet funny.
  4. Kiddie craft stamper. Cut one open, then carve out a design for imprinting with ink on paper or fabric.
  5. Candleholder. Carve the core from an apple, then insert a votive or tea candle. It makes for a romantic glow.
  6. Hair rinse. Dilute cider in water, then rinse after shampoo and conditioner rounds. Removes excess oil.
  7. Salt reduction. Ever put too much salt in something you’re cooking? A few wedges of apple or potato added to the pot can turn the trick. Remove them after ten minutes. Don’t see this helping on the table, though. Any suggestions there?
  8. Green tomato ripener. Place an already ripe apple in a paper bag for a couple of days. We’ll have to remember this in the fall, when we harvest everything we can before the first big frost.
  9. Potpourri. Stud an apple with cloves stems and let it dry in a clothes drawer. I remember that from childhood.
  10. As a bow-and-arrow target. Especially if you’re William Tell.

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Gee, aren’t we feeling like Martha Do-it!

What else do you suggest?

There aren’t many big metro areas in the Pacific Northwest

Like Joshua and Jaya in my novel Nearly Canaan, I was surprised by the relative importance of smaller urban areas in the Pacific Northwest. Look how quickly the population figures drop.

Looking at the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, here are the ten largest cities by metropolitan area population. These figures have mushroomed since I lived in the region four decades ago and even desert communities have been deemed desirable destinations for retirees. As for geographic perspective, remember that the Seattle standard statistical metropolitan area includes the wilderness of Mount Rainier National Park. Anyplace else have an active volcano?

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  1. Seattle, 3.9 million. Ranked 20th in the U.S. Feels more like Boston, Chicago, or Atlanta in its impact.
  2. Portland, 2.4 million. Ranked 30th in the U.S.
  3. Boise, Idaho, 730,426
  4. Spokane, Washington, 559,891
  5. Salem, Oregon, 432,102
  6. Eugene-Springfield, Oregon, 379,611
  7. Olympia, Washington, 286,419
  8. Tri-Cities, Washington, 296,224
  9. Bremerton, Washington, 269,805
  10. Yakima, Washington, 251,446. The major metropolis for the middle third of a large state.

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Note that six of the ten are west of the Cascade range. None are in the eastern half of Oregon.

Just to the north, Vancouver, British Columbia, has 2.4 million population, making it Canada’s third largest metropolis.

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What would your community match on the list?

No, gardening is NOT ‘relaxing’

You’ve no doubt heard cliché quips about the stress-relieving blessings of having your own garden. I want to know, compared to what? A day at the beach or in the mountains? Kicking back with a brew on a deck overlooking the river? Listening to music or dancing? Sunbathing on your own deck? Reading a book?

Maybe you’re one of the newbies who decided the year of Covid, with its upsets to the food chain, would be a good time to lay in your first home produce. Welcome, and good luck. Now, for the learning curve.

Veteran gardeners to some degree enjoy what they do, the way any obsessive does, and the activity does provide a common topic for conversation with an in-crowd, or one that’s “in” at the moment. Otherwise, it’s usually old folks looking for some diversion.

Either way, don’t consider relaxation to be among the benefits.

Here are ten reasons gardening is going to raise your blood pressure instead.

  1. Weeds. You can never stay ahead of them, especially if you’re growing organically, which is your ethical alternative. I could do a long list of these nasty invaders alone. Weeding usually comes down to triage, depending on your available time and anger.
  2. Weather. It’s either too cold or too hot, too wet or too dry, and not just for the plants. For you, too, when you’re out there. And watering, in our city, costs a fortune.
  3. Woodchucks. They can mow down your beds overnight. Squirrels, as a subcategory, can also take quite a toll. Even our beloved birds can wipe out most of our berries.
  4. Garden slugs. We have clay soil, and the slimy (expletives) proliferate, taking bites out of everything in their path. You should see what they do to strawberries, for starters, as well as the tomatoes.
  5. Heartbreak. Something you’re really anticipating instead croaks prematurely. There’s always at least one sacrificially crop each year. Sometimes it’s a perennial that died off over the winter. Sometimes, something entirely new.
  6. Heavy harvests. Crops that survive usually roll in like a flood. How much zucchini can you eat at once? Do you really have time to home can or freeze the rest? How much can you actually give away? You bring it inside and watch it start rotting on a kitchen counter, which points back to Heartbreak.
  7. Skeeters, sunburn, and bleeding scratches. Remember, those raspberry and currant bushes have stickers, as do the roses … especially the wild roses that pop up as stubborn weeds. They’re not alone, either.
  8. Your knees and back. You’re not doing sets of hatha yoga asanas while you’re out there, often in cramped spaces where you’re trying hard not to crush the plants around you. Plus, you’re getting older. Let’s not overlook all those muscles you didn’t know you have, or the ones you wish you still did.
  9. Long lines and crowds at the nursery. Even if you order your seeds from your favorite catalogs at the beginning of January, something’s going to be out of stock. Besides, you’ll need something, maybe six-packs of a plant that died under your grow lamps or a bag of vermiculite, which means heading to the greenhouse same time everyone else is. Circling around the parking lot just trying to find a spot is a huge aggravation.
  10. Expenses. Even without factoring in the cost of your own time (I argue it’s not free), you’ll find that your produce and flowers can be pretty costly. Yeah, you’re already paying property tax, but don’t overlook that when you’re being realistic … that’s part of the reason you bought or rent a place with some ground, right? Good tools aren’t cheap, either (now where did you last see that trowel you need now or the nozzle to the hose?), and cheap tools break pretty fast. Cheap? Neither are those bags of everything from potting soil and starter mix to fertilizer and peat moss. Oh, yes, you may need to replace that hose and, while you’re at it, pick up another soaker hose to try to save on that water bill. And you’ll want rolls of plastic or bales of mulch hay or bags of bark to keep those weeds down, and skeeter spray and band-aids and more gasoline for the weed-whacker and …

All that said, before adding guilt or shame to our list, let’s return to the amazing taste of asparagus or strawberries or real tomatoes sped straight from the garden to the plate. There’s no other way to get this. We’ve really earned it.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy apples?

In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya find themselves surrounded by orchards. They quickly appreciate apples as much more than an orb to eat alone daily.

Here are ten popular uses.

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  1. Pies or turnovers.
  2. Sauce.
  3. Butter.
  4. Stuffing.
  5. Fritters.
  6. Waldorf salad.
  7. Candied or caramel.
  8. Juice, cider, or cider vinnegar. Let’s not overlook hard cider, either.
  9. Dried.
  10. Baked.

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That’s all pretty basic, before we get to create ways to use ’em with other ingredients.

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How do you like to enjoy apples?

Ten crops of the Yakima Valley 

In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya settle into a place unlike anything they would have imagined. It’s desert, for one thing, where nearly everything has to be irrigated, for another. Quite simply, it’s a lot like Yakima, in the middle of Washington state and an agricultural mecca.

Besides the well-known crops of apples, hops, and grapes, let’s consider:

  1. Barley
  2. Peaches
  3. Nectarines
  4. Pears
  5. Apricots
  6. Cherries
  7. Mint
  8. Asparagus
  9. Eggplant
  10. Hay

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Not necessarily in that order.

Ten more ways ‘Canaan’ is new and improved

My newest book, Nearly Canaan, is a thorough reworking of three earlier novels that now flow together as one.

Here are ten reasons the new version is new and improved.

  1. The book now focuses on the question of what impact one person can make for lasting good in our world, especially in and through our closest relationships.
  2. Jaya’s professional identity in her pioneering approach to nonprofits administration is quickly and more clearly established. Her career and its demands become a source of major conflict in the course of the story.
  3. Her character now grows out of her role in Yoga Bootcamp, which provides further understanding of her motivations and inner direction.
  4. The actions now show that the best intentions may have unanticipated negative consequences.
  5. Jaya’s desire to find an appropriate way of personally expressing her spiritual experiences finally creates a unique artform.
  6. Events are no longer left hanging at the end of what was the first novel. Life moves on in the aftermath of disaster.
  7. The overall work is now structured within three large, overarching sections, each presented by a different teller. The first one, focusing on Jaya, is comprised of three telescoping parts that propel the action to the distinctive landscape where the second and third sections also take place. The second section is told by one of Jaya’s yoga students while the third is told by a young wife who’s been a close neighbor. Each of them reveals details unknown to most of the other characters in their social circle.
  8. The story now has a short fourth section as a coda. I’m especially fond of it.
  9. Once again, changing some of the names of characters makes a huge difference, especially when that leads to fond nicknames. Just see what happens to Jaya’s beau, especially.
  10. I have far more sympathy for Jaya’s husband’s situation, even if it’s what he pressed so hard to find himself in.

Be among the first to read the story!

Nearly Canaan

Ten reasons I enjoy living in Dover

I’ve lived here for 20 years now, and worshiped here for another dozen.

Dover is the seventh oldest permanent settlement in the U.S. – and the oldest in New Hampshire. We’re preparing for its 400th anniversary in 2023. Did I mention I love history? We’re surrounded by it.

We’re also close to the ocean in one direction and mountains in the other.

Here are ten more things I appreciate.

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  1. Right size. With 30,000 population, it has a small-town feel. We can stroll to a viable downtown from our house, have a drink or dinner if we wish, or just up the block to the bank or around the corner to the drugstore. That sort of thing. Even walk to Meeting on Sunday.
  2. Speaking of walking. The Community Trail, tucked in behind backyards and sometimes along the river, is a gem.
  3. Quaker Meeting. We’re the fifth oldest church in the state, and the first that wasn’t part of the government-backed Congregational denomination. First Parish, meanwhile, was the first congregation in the entire colony. It has an incredible organ.
  4. Greek-Orthodox. Its members have been an important part of the community for more than a century now, as I’ve been learning. The annual festival every Labor Day weekend is a blast.
  5. Ecumenical engagement. The twice-a-week soup kitchen the local churches provide is only part of the action. Immigrant sanctuary movement support has been extraordinary.
  6. The indoor swimming pool. For a senior like me, it’s a bargain. The locker room is tucked in under the children’s museum, which Dover lured away from Portsmouth, itself a reason to be proud to live in town. Oh, yes, let’s include the 50-meter outdoor pool at this point.
  7. Our hospital. It’s now a subsidiary of esteemed Mass. General, rather than being taken over by a for-profit corporation. Again, as a senior, top-flight medical access is a prime consideration. It’s within walking distance, too.
  8. The waterfall in the heart of downtown. It’s a pleasure to watch, along with the tide level below. There was nothing like this in the part of Ohio where I grew up.
  9. Proximity to the state university. Many of its students rent apartments here, and the school runs a regular public bus service through the region. Concerts, lectures, sports events, and the library are a plus. You should know hockey is hot here.
  10. Access to Boston. A comfy bus service to Logan airport and South Station runs hourly, and Amtrak’s Downeaster links to North Station with five trains each way daily. Apart from a small spur to the shipyard through Portsmouth, all of the railroad traffic to and from Maine passes within a block of our house. You can take the Downeaster in the other direction to Old Orchard Beach or Portland or even Freeport, home of L.L. Bean, if you wish. Riding the train’s fun.

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What do you treasure about the place where you live?

 

Ten ways faith communities are being hit hard

The Covid-19 shutdowns are reminding many of us how much of religious practice involves community interaction.

Yes, personal practice is also essential – we could easily build a list of ten examples – but it blossoms and bears fruit in our interactions.

Here are ten ways those are being impacted by coronavirus.

  1. Communal worship. It’s a coming together in celebrating and compassion. For now, we’re coping with a substitute, one without the touches of shaking hands, hugging, or kissing. We’re not even in the same room.
  2. Streaming our services. Across congregations, we’re finding this to be a mixed bag. It’s definitely not the same as being together in person, but members who live at a distance or recovering from illness or suffering chronic debilitating conditions are welcoming the opportunity to be better connected again. Attendance for morning vespers or the like is also up.
  3. Pastoral visits. Hospitals, especially. Pastors, priests, ministers, rabbis, and other leaders deeply miss being able to comfort those in pain or be with those who are dying, especially.
  4. Funerals and memorial services. On hold, when family and friends could feel the support the most.
  5. Weddings. Baptisms, too?
  6. Choirs. It’s more than just making harmony together, though you do come to feel a special kinship with your fellow singers.
  7. Committees. OK, we are continuing via Zoom, maybe more than ever. But it’s more awkward, and I miss sharing the snacks.
  8. Study groups. This can be done online, but it’s less personally revealing and interactive.
  9. Church suppers and soup kitchens. There’s a reason that Jesus and the disciples are always eating in the New Testament. As one rabbi I know explains, it’s because they were Jewish. Let’s honor our connections through food, when we can.
  10. Festivals and other fundraisers. These require advance planning and working together. Again, food’s often involved and sometimes ethnic identities, too. My favorite ones feature dancing, and that leads to joining hands.

I do want to mention a renewed appreciation for the medieval tradition of anchorites, women who lived in isolation in the church tower itself and prayed unceasingly for the members’ well-being. These days, their writings seem especially meaningful.

OK, there’s no bingo on my list. What else am I missing?