The Chipmunk Horrors of Honey Lane

If you are anything like me, you might be of the opinion that chipmunks are very cute. They are perfectly striped critters, with amusing antics. They’re small and darling enough to hold in your hand if you could. When gathering seeds, they can stuff their chunky little cheeks full with nearly their body weight right in their mouths. It’s also fun to watch them in early summer, quickly darting and zigzagging, chasing each other around in early summer.

(Plot twist: the cute transformed to horror.)

These cute little creatures just chased me out of my backyard, into our house.

I find it very unsettling when normally wild creatures, who really ought to be terrified of giant humans hundreds times their size, come within a few feet of said giant, weave around you faster than you can follow them, and even charge at you, running along the fence tops or pausing in the bushes next to you. You saw it go into and climb the bush, watched the branches move, and then freeze at eye-level, your eye-level.

There used to be squirrels in our backyard. We had lots. There were your typical Battle Creek black squirrels as well as the more common grays or browns. But since the 20 or so chipmunks have invaded this year, I’ve not seen a single squirrel here…nor a single strawberry from our ample-leafed patch.

Black squirrels used to be the most aggressive rodents in our backyard animal menagerie; well, and blue jays on the feathered front. That distinction has now been passed on to those cute little chipmunk horrors. At least the squirrels and birds scattered whenever I went outside.

My concerned husband went online to identify humane ways to rid one of chipmunks. Our jar of fox urine (fox = natural predator to rodents) arrived after a couple of days. I sprinkled the elixir around their most popular haunts, as well as near the entrance to their holes in the ground. This appeared to do the trick. For two days. Until it rained and washed away our magic potion. So I redid the ritual, naturally singing softly, “What does a Fox Say?” It wasn’t forecast to rain that night, but it did. Chipmunks! Again!

Further scientific observation made me realize I’d only spotted one or two of these furry little things in our front yard. The difference? Let’s just say that for the next week or two I hope our birdies are not offended, but smart enough to find food elsewhere. After all, it’s partly their fault. You see, our feathered friends like to share the wealth, or they are messy eaters, or perhaps picky eaters, dropping the seeds they do not like. Whatever the case, this scientist will not feed wildlife of any sort for a while. Now to think about how to protect my fruits and veggies growing back there when the little chimpies search for other food.

Wish me luck.

Summer Reflections — Cumberland Gap National Historic Park (Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia)

I started to post a new Summer Reflections when I discovered I hadn’t posted this last one from our July trip. So here, you go.

The last of our vacation stops was at Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, in parts of Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia. I’d heard of the Cumberland Gap my entire life. I knew stories of the first white people crossing it, and seeing the land of “Kentuckee,” Native for “Land of the Many Bison.” The awe and mystic of crossing through the mountains on the journey westward for trading (Natives) and settlements (White).

Heading to the park from the south, we passed under the mountain from Tennessee to the south and into Kentucky by riding through the 25E tunnel. Tunnel construction started in 1979 to alleviate traffic in the small towns on either side of the gap, and also prevent accidents along the treacherous road through the gap. The tunnel did run parallel to the gap. We could have halted in Middlesboro, KY, to hike to actual trail, which long ago was a bison path, then an Indian trail, then a path used by white folks’ wagons, horses and pedestrians. Later it turned into a  curvy and steep road, once nicknamed Massacre Road because of all the accidents. And after the tunnel, turned back into a trail.

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Just past the tunnel, we stopped at the National Park Visitor Center and were able to catch a mother-daughter folk dance team, which was lovely and fun. I bought a pioneer bonnet there which would match my 1860’s outfit I wear for school visits. On the label, it was marked for Gettysburg, PA, and stated it was made in China. So much for purchasing folksy hand-made Americana.

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One thing which surprised me was it seemed most attention in the park was focused on the period of the Civil War. Being border towns during the Civil War, they were both pro-Union, but the location changed hands several times during this period.

I, however, wanted to learn about the days of Indians, and of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett (the latter of whom was never even mentioned at the park, and after I’d been singing “King of the Wild Frontier” for most of my time around there.)

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Here are views from Pinnacle Overlook, above the saddle of Cumberland Gap. We stood there for a long time with four women from a sports team. They came from between the Smoky Mountains and Cumberland Gap, and were familiar with the area, and the briars and the poisonous snakes.

In the first view, there is the small town of Cumberland Gap, TN, with 25E starting into the mountain. The middle picture shows the saddle of the Gap. The third photo shows the town of Middlesboro, KY, and 25E continuing to wind its way west and north.

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I would have liked to have spent more time exploring and thinking about Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, but on the day we visited, it was very hot, very mosquito-y, and it was the last sight on a week-long adventure before bee-lining it home to Michigan.

Summer Reflections — TVA, Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Pigeon Forge — Whew!

Day Four of our vacation was packed with science (U.S. Space and Rocket Center), heavy traffic (Chattanooga) and incredible natural beauty.

Day Five was a taste of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

1) I was not expecting such a gorgeous drive! Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina are spectacular. We even stopped serendipitously at the site of the 1996 Olympic kayaking river as well as several TVA spots;

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2) The traffic in Chattanooga was 6 lanes of bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go on the Interstate. It took us a long time to get through. I didn’t know if this heavy traffic was normal or not. I still don’t know. From Chattanooga to our hotel in North Carolina, we went from six lanes of traffic to four, to two, to a shared one lane for about a mile along a river which had claimed half the road earlier in the season. That evening, at our hotel in NC, we learned of the horrid killings at the Chattanooga military recruitment centers, just 3 hours before we passed through. Perhaps there was that unusual reason for crowded roads that afternoon.

 The Blue Ridge Parkway!

I rode on a stretch of this highway once before when our family drove back from Florida. What I remember of it as a seven-year-old was my father cursing the entire time that there were so many curves and hills that he couldn’t go faster than 45 mph. He got off it at the first possible opportunity. Me? It is one of the most beautiful roads I’ve ever been on.  Besides the spectacular mountain views, there were tunnels and a mile-high marker through the Indian reservation and history! We stopped at several of the overlooks where we both clicked away madly on our iPhones. At one stop, Jeff finally commented, “Oh, look. More shots of hazy mountains and lots of trees.” Yeah, but gorgeous hazy mountains and lots of trees!

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 The Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

There is only one paved road through Smoky Mountains National Park. If you come at it from the west in Tennessee, like we were, then when you land at the eastern entrance (North Carolina), you must either do a U-turn or go around the outside of the park by secondary roads to head back north. However, with our southern side trip from Nashville to Huntsville (U.S. Space and Rocket Center), there are roads you can wiggle along to get to the eastern entrance. Gorgeous roads.

We spent the night in Sylva, NC, surrounded by hazy blue-green mountains. I had planned for one day to see the Smoky Mountains. I know. Right? Impossible. But knowing how long to drive down there from our home, and how many other things we wanted to see during this trip as well, one day was all I could reasonable schedule for a taste of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We were at the park at the height of tourist season. Hiking on one of the Quiet Walkways was not in the least quiet. Even though the trail moved perpendicular to the road, ho-boy: the traffic noise! It was also hot and humid, and loaded with mosquitoes. Only one day in mid- July was a good enough taste for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I’ll return someday where there are less people and less mosquitoes…oh, and less heat.

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Pigeon Forge, TN

To end our day, we drove through the western entrance and through the town of Pigeon Forge. Now, if you knew anything about this place, you’d know to either avoid it or stay for a few days. We knew nothing. It took us longer to get through that town than it did Chattanooga. There must be 10,000 dinner theatres along that strip. And to think (oh, horror), I almost got us a hotel in that town. So if you’re looking for a place with cars for kids to drive, water parks, or 10,000 different themed dinner parks to choose from, Pigeon Forge is your destination spot. If you just want to get through the town — find a way around it!

Summer Reflections — Huntsville, Alabama (U.S. Space and Rocket Center)

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I sent this first picture of Jeff to our family while we visited Alabama and texted the line, “Guess where we are?” One of our sons replied, “USA?”

It was Jeff’s idea to swing by the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, since it was so near the northern border where we’d be. He’d heard of the place his whole life, and was always interested in going. I’d only heard of the Space Camp from thirty years ago when one of our elder son’s playmates was heart-set on going there.

The Center isn’t just about rocket ships and space craft. It’s also full of inventions and mechanical devises and the lives which led up to the remarkable feat of putting ships in space. Being a kid myself, I liked the Robot Zoo exhibit, but there were kids playing on each one of the huge mechanical toys. I felt a little silly saying, “Hey, I was here, first. Let me move the grasshopper’s mouth.”

Of course, most of the “exhibits” (i.e., actual space crafts which went beyond our atmosphere and returned) were outside, as they were quite large, including Saturn I and Saturn V. (Impressive even to someone tagging along with her husband was like a kid in a candy shop.) There were the tiny Gemini capsules, examples of freeze-dried space food, the contamination trailer used on the first flights, and so, so much more. I honestly do recommend visiting it. It’s a wonderful part of American history.

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For most of the time, I was only somewhat interested in everything around me, enjoying my husband having a wonderful time…and then I came across a moon plaque on the floor and froze, trying not to let my tears flow.

Jeff said, “I remember exactly where I was on that date in 1969.”

I could hardly get out of my mouth: “Me, too.”

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Summer Reflections — Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

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My husband and I visited Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky last week. He had never been there before, but was always curious about it. I visited as a seven-year old with my family, and mostly remember my dad poking me in my back to move on or get in front.

Although it was hot and humid in Kentucky this July, the cave maintains a temperature of 57° and is not damp. Once I started descending through the woods to the historic entrance, I dreaded going back up to the surface.

We walked a mile in from the cave entrance, but didn’t see drip flow, although there is plenty in the more than 400 miles of explored cave. The number of miles changes every year as people spelunk and discover more connecting parts. There are also many other caves in the area, and I mean the LARGE area of hundreds of miles square on the surface. They only consider a cave part of the Mammoth system if you could physically get into it. If you could just reach out and hold hands with another spelunkers, but there was no other opening, they are not considered part of the same cave system.

The cave is dimly lit with orange lighting. We had some children on our tour group. One particular two-year-old screamed most of the time because she hated the We walked a mile in from the cave entrance, but didn’t see drip flow, although there is plenty in the more than 400 miles of explored cave. The number of miles changes every year as people spelunk and discover more connecting parts. There are also many other caves in the area, and I mean the LARGE area of hundreds of miles square on the surface. They only consider a cave part of the Mammoth system if you could physically get into it. If you could just reach out and hold hands with another spelunkers, but there was no other opening, they are not considered part of the same cave system.dark.

We took a short tour because we had other places to be that day and wanted a feel for the cave. The history of it was fascinating — the Indian cane-torches, the salt peter mined for gun powder during the War of 1812, the tourist attraction. One of the rangers I met topside (I wish I remembered his name) was a black-skinned man who is 5th-generation tour guide at Mammoth Cave. His first ancestor to be a tour guide was an ex-slave. Very interesting history.

The total darkness bit the ranger did (which is supposed to last a couple of minutes) lasted about fifteen seconds, with a very screaming kid the whole time. However, I did notice that the ranger’s watch glowed in the dark, and I couldn’t help it, my eyes followed his wrist during those 15 seconds. It wasn’t like I was scared of the dark, or screaming toddlers. It was the only light around. I tried looking away, but kept coming back to his watch. You’d think that those fifteen seconds lasted longer by this description, wouldn’t you? Needless to say, it was black-black-black (except for a wrist watch).

Leaving the cave, we tourists needed to walk through a sudsy rugged area to cleanse our shoes just in case we were visiting another cave. Mammoth bats have white nose syndrome, which is easily transported to other bats in other caves via tourists. Hence, the shoe washing.

Shopping in the bookstore afterwards, I bought a book (naturally) to discover one of the co-authors is a ranger at Mammoth, Charles Hanion. I waited about five minutes for him to return from his rounds and then had him sign the copy for me. Authors. You know. 🙂

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Before leaving the park, we went to the Mammoth Cave Post Office to mail some postcards and get them stamped there — we hadn’t done that old school personal stamp touch in years. The post mistress was chatty. Without any encouragement, she told us of one tourist who was surprised to hear that the cave tours were underground, and another person came to the post office wanting directions to the portal. Apparently, according to some nerd grapevine, there is a portal to an alien world someplace in Mammoth Cave. Well, when I heard that bit of information, this nerd wanted to take other tours. Why? So I could find the portal, too, of course. I MAY have found it (see pix above), but as I said, we had other places to be that day, so portal seeking would have to wait for another time. But if you go to Mammoth Cave National Park, and have time to explore more than I and happen to verify said portal, please send me a message about its location. I thank you.

Summer Reflections — Western Wildfires

Wildfires are unpredictable and dangerous. I feel for all the people who have endured wildfires both this summer and previously. They are worrisome.

On our honeymoon, we decided to backpack in the High Uinta Mountains of Utah over the crowded 4th of July. When we came back down to what was an overflow campground three days earlier, there was only one RV way down near the van…and our lone car sitting where the youth CCC was who were supposed to be watching it. The RV folk said the Park Rangers chased everyone out. “Why?” we asked. The man merely pointed to across the dam. About a mile away was billowing white smoke. A forest fire. We dashed to our car, tossed in our backpacks, and raced down the mountain. We weren’t the only ones racing. Deer with saucer sized eyes ran side-by-side with us until our road turned towards the fire. We had no choice. We saw the flames. Luckily the road turned again and we were able to flee the flames.

We lived in the Black Hills of Western South Dakota for about ten years. Every single summer there were fires and fire threats. Some fires could be started from an arson or someone carelessly tossing a cigarette from the highway onto dried prairie grass. Once when we were there, hundreds of acres were burned from a spark from a bulldozer hitting a rock. There were signs at this one bit of acreage for sale NOT to drive in the fields for a hot muffler could cause a fire.

On one wilderness hike in “The Hills,” we noticed on an opposite hill what looked like several large targets: A large brown circle with a darker red-brown circle within it, with a black bull’s-eye in the center. It didn’t take us long to figure out those were lightning strikes. Trouble was, it was raining; we wore our rain coats; the low sky was dark and thick with clouds. We decided to hike back out. Lightning obviously doesn’t strike twice on the same Black Hill, but it strikes pretty close!

When it was hot (in the 80’s) and cinder smoke-filled the town from a nearby burning fire, we had to keep the house windows closed. It took us eight summers of going through steaming-hot summer-house time before we purchased one window air conditioner. Even so, during fires, the house smelled of constant smoke.

During a wildfire, the white ash littered the sky, but when it landed on your clothes or sidewalk, it turned black. We put special mats at our house entrances where we’d wipe the black ash off our shoes before stepping onto the beige living room carpet.

When I tried to describe the smell of burning pine, a friend wrote how she loved the smell of campfires. Agreed; when they are confined to a fire pit, but not when they’ve burned acres of land and threaten your house and all your possessions. When the fires came within ten miles of our house, there were always the thoughts of: “Which of our material possessions are so precious that we can toss them into to the van in a moment’s notice and flee?” Of course, our very lives is the utmost importance in any disaster. If there’s time, IDs and cash came next. Anything else was just material possessions. We could even live without the IDs and cash.

Here in soggy ole lower peninsula Michigan, there are not many wildfires. Tornadoes, yes. Flooding, yes. But not so much fires. But I haven’t forgotten. Whenever I hear of wildfires, my hearts go out to the people and animals it nears.

In fact, to get a personal grasp on both wildfires in western South Dakota and the Lakota culture, I wrote a fiction book about it: WILDFIRE by Sandy Carlson, available in both Kindle and paper (http://www.amazon.com/dp/1491236272).

Stay safe and be wise if you ever encounter a wildfire

Summer Reflections — Snakes

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A couple weeks ago I went to check on my seedlings along the fence and to remove the netting I’d put over them to protect from hungry little birds. I couldn’t tell how the seedlings were doing just then, as there was a huge snake lying under the netting. I mean, a 3.5 foot, 3 inch belly snake! I high-stepped back into my house, glancing around to make sure it wasn’t following.

Now snakes and me have this history. When I was a kid, I found them – lots of them – and shivered each time. I didn’t go looking for the creatures. I have accidentally (naturally) stepped on one barefoot, which proceeded to twist around my leg. I was the first to spot a water moccasin in our grandparents’ pond where we were swimming. At camp, I liked to lead the way on hikes, and inevitably, startled all the sun-bathing snakes off the path for the ignorant campers following.

It wasn’t until my kids were in high school and I did research for a book at Reptile Gardens in Rapid City, that I quite suddenly overcame my fear. They aren’t at all slimy. They are quite smooth and relaxing. As long as you know the differences between those which could harm you and those which don’t.

The thing about finding snakes in the wild (or in your backyard) is that you always come upon them unexpectedly. It’s not like suddenly noticing a dog, or even a bear. Snakes startle. It takes a moment for your brain to translate what your eyesight discovered, and by that time you are slowly trying to change your mid-step action into the opposite direction.

After the time that I grew to like snakes (when I wasn’t startled by them), I was hiking alone in the Black Hills, going down a ravine, when my hiking stick went into some brush and I heard a rattle.

The three things they tell you to do when coming upon a rattle snake is to: 1) stop; 2) identify exactly where the sound comes from, or if you see it, know the location; and 3) slowly step away. Of course, I’ve seen a high school boy run three feet up in the air getting away from a rattler. So much for rules when you’re terrified!

Back to my rattle snake in the Black Hills ravine story.

When I heard the rattle, I froze. Yea me, for following directions. But then, I looked around and couldn’t see anything. So I stuck my stick back into the bush to make sure it was still at that location. Rattle. I pulled out my stick. No view of snake. I put my stick back in. Rattle. This was fun. Until I remembered that rattlers are family animals, and maybe it was a young-un with its mama or big sis coming to his little rattle rescue. So I slowly backed away without further incident.

Which brings us back to my poor backyard snake. I was pretty sure it was a harmless garter snake, but most garter snakes I’ve seen have only been a foot long, not more than three times that size. I mowed half of my backyard because I wanted short grass to see that snake approaching, even though I was sure it would stay to the fern-y and bushy areas near our house. The critter was still there after the mow. When my husnband came home for lunch, I showed him the snake. His comments: “That is big. Maybe it’s pregnant.” I filled a trash can of pulled plants from around the path to the water hose, checking every few minutes to see if mama snake was still there, imagining sharing the backyard this summer with a hundred baby snakes. Then our young neighbors came outside, so I showed them our snake, still lying there. It was then that I noticed the flies, which made me realize it was dead. Pretty sure, anyway. And then I felt awful.

I’d been scared of a harmless garter snake.

  1. I was scared all day long of a dead garter snake. (That’s fairly harmless animal.)
  2. I was the one who had accidently killed it when it got twisted in my bird netting. (Bad me.)
  3. To have gotten that big, it must have kept many creatures from our yard.
  4. Now what will this summer be like without our backyard garter snake guardian?

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Poor great-grandpa garter snake. You will be missed.

Summer Reflections — The World’s Best Industrial Waste Smell!

Before I reflect on The World’s Best Industrial Waste Smell, I feel the need to swing the pendulum for a moment with the worst smells I’ve smelled: #5) meat-packing plant; #4) chicken farm; #3) car fumes; #2) busted rotten egg; and #1) a decomposing animal.

Smells are supposed to be our most vivid memory. I remember the exact places of each of the above, the when and where and with whom. #5) riding my bike alone on the outskirts of town (IA); #4) holding my breath at the top of one hill, speeding down past the chicken farm in the car and up over the next hill before sucking in another breath (IA); #3) stuck in a big city parking garage for an hour after an event, feeling faint even with breathing through my wool coat sleeve (I thought I was going to die!) (NY); #2) my brother (need I say more? okay, I will) took a hammer and smashed an egg he found, not in the hen-house, on our grandparents farm (OH); and #1) canoeing a very-very narrow creek off of the Erie Canal, through farmland, noticing a smell moments before our bow nearly smacked into the rotting hog half-into the creek, and backpaddling very-very quickly (NY).

On to the good smells, or particularly The World’s Best Industrial Waste Smell…

Fact: We bought our present house because of the industrial waste smell here.

Hint: We live in Battle Creek, Michigan (Home of Tony the Tiger and so many other cereal mascots).

Backstory: After accepting a job, we had about 48 hours to find housing before leaving the state. It rained nearly the entire time. We saw a dizzy-hard-to-keep-track-of eighteen homes. In fact, when we returned to sign the papers and get the house keys, I turned to my husband and said, “Let’s see what we bought.” The second time our realtor pulled us into this driveway, it not only stopped raining, but the sun popped out. She said, “It’s a sign!” My husband and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes. We don’t believe in signs like that. But then there wafted over us a distinct smell: chocolate chip cookies! It is part of the delicious industrial waste smells in Battle Creek. My husband and I glanced at each other and said at the same time, “It’s a sign!”

With Kelloggs (also Keebler), Post, Ralston-Purina baking up things, some days you can almost eat a meal by taking in deep breaths. I suppose if I lived above a bakery, that may come into the competition for best smells. What is your BEST industrial waste smell?

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(This time my Summer Reflections post concerned smells. To bring it back to a writing challenge for you: Pick a distinct smell, good or yucky. Describe it.)

Summer Reflections — One Year Ago at this Time — England Trip

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One year ago at this time, my husband and I took a ten-day trip to England. We spent each night in London, but took several tours around southern England. It was my first trip abroad (not counting Canada or Mexico). Looking over my post trip posts from last summer, I didn’t include many things (how could I include it all?), nor did I show many photographs. I suppose it was still so fresh. So this post is a look back post, including some of the many photos from twelve months ago.

Overall, it was a grand experience. I was surprised that we had so much energy, ate so little, and did so much.  For food, we had one egg, a piece of toast and tea for breakfast; for lunch we split one regular-sized sandwich, grapes, and water; each evening meal (usually eaten after 7 p.m.) was a different cultural experience.

Our hotel only had 16 guest rooms and no lift (elevator). However, it was handily located just half a block from a tube station and a couple blocks from a church we wanted to attend. We climbed the 80+ steps each evening to our non-airconditioned room. Each night we sweat through our pillows and bedding, and several mornings (about 3 a.m.) I stood in my nightgown in the open doorway trying to catch some sort of breeze circulating through our room. We spent all ten nights in London at the same hotel. It was an interesting experience, above a restaurant and pub, and I’m glad for it, but next time we’ll choose a chain hotel…with a lift, if it’s more than three stories high. The sun came into our window at 4:44 each morning, and it only became dusk around 9:30 p.m.. This photo is taken with my back to the reception desk on the first floor landing (second floor in American-speak). The stairway became narrower and the walls whiter as we climbed. Also, the banister disappeared.

0113 Brompton a  Staircase in Hotel Bromton, London

We saw lots of historic places (e.g., castles, cathedrals, celtic grounds, oldest Bible, and the Magna Charta),  and saw first-hand dozens of places we’d seen on “Mystery” and “Masterpiece Theatre” over the years.

One thing which surprised me most about England (perhaps only London?) were the crowds. There were dozens of children tour groups over to the island for the day, and a variety of languages heard every day. Americans were easy to spot – all they had to do was open their mouths. (We American’s are embarrassingly loud.)

Museums in England are free. (Wow and hurrah!) We went to several. They are also packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people. London is not for the claustrophobic. People sat everywhere in the parks, on the ground, mostly. There were only a few benches. Dogs ran loose in Hyde Park, but they were well-mannered and their owners followed, wearing the dog leashes around their necks. Restaurants had tables close enough that you could easily rub elbows with the stranger next to you, unless you were seated at the same table, which meant you were even closer.

London is not for the claustrophobic.

When I commented to a tour guide how surprised I was to see the crowds, “not at all like they show on the BBC,” he informed me that they shoot all their city shots at 5 a.m. With the sun rising earlier than that in the mid-summer, it was easy to believe. We recently revisited a “Poirot” episode where he met someone in the National Museum in the Pantheon Room. Although I had to wait a long time to get this photo sans people, the BBC shot spanned the entire room with only one other person in the background. While we were there, about two hundred people were in the same space as the BBC scene. I felt like my beloved BBC had lied to me all these decades. Yes, yes, I know it’s historic fiction, and it’s a show, not reality. But why didn’t anyone say: CROWDED!

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I loved sitting on the steps of St. Peters and feeding the birds (Mary Poppins) or hanging out around the statue (and, man, are there a lot of statues in London) of Peter Pan. Pushing my cart at Platform 9 3/4 or time traveling (in the only blue police telephone box in the city) were definitely traveling highlights in London.

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I was leery of the long flights over water. I was leery of public transportation. Both flights were noisy, and each had crying babies for six hours near us, but we actually didn’t mind; adrenaline, I guess. England tube system is amazing, and their trains, too! I never wanted to drive a car again.

We had one flex day. We were going to see the Tower of London at the tail end of one day, but decided to save it for “flex day.” I’m so glad we did. We spent the day there, and didn’t see everything there was to see. It also got way-way-way crowded!

Of all the places we had time to visit in our ten days, our favorite spot was Oxford. We went there for an hour as part of a tour of several places, and later took the train up for the day. Oxford was also crowded on the main streets, but one could escape the rushing students and tourists by wandering the very uneven cobblestone sidestreets to find certain historic locations, or walking Addison Walk on Magdalene College, or paying to visit one of the lesser known colleges. Yes, we went to Christ King College, where the dining room is for Hogwart’s school. Our minds and eyes and hearts were filled with many literary figures and authors. We walked the meadow where Louis Carroll saw his colleague’s daughter Alice play. We played Pooh Stick on a bridge over the Isis River (only called such through the town of Oxford); and I’m sure I saw Ratty and Toad slip into a hole in the bank. Dorothy L. Sayers, Lord Peter Whimsey, Inspector Moorse, Lewis, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien…I know I’m missing lots. But these all have influenced my life. Oxford was like a first oogle-eyed trip to Disneyland for the literary conscience.

We lifted a pint of bitter in a toast to Jack and Warren Lewis and Tolkien and the rest of the Inklings who met inside the Eagle and the Child Pub. Cheers!

0318 Oxford 2 -- outside the Inklings' meeting spot   0319 Oxford Inklings (2)

See you again sometime, sweet England.

Summer Reflections — An Early Summer Woodland-Bog Hike

Waterloo June W06     Waterloo June W04

My husband and I normally don’t hike in the summer. Too many bugs and too many people (who can bug us). But it had been a long time since we were woodlanders, so I packed us a lunch and we headed off ninety minutes from our home to Waterloo-Pickering State Park west of Ann Arbor, MI.

 

We stopped at the bird sanctuary, but didn’t see any birds. We passed the small cemetery, which we’ve explored before, with some gravestones in a wooded ravine away from the others on the hill. We ate lunch at Portage Lake, for the first time we didn’t freezing our tails off there. We drove the pleasant, winding, dirt backroads to the Gerald E Eddy Discovery Center, passing various trailheads we’d hiked before. We decided to take the short Bog Trail.

 Waterloo June W02    Waterloo June W03

The last time we were on the Bog Trail, there was a group of young boy scouts with a den mother. They were all in shorts and short-sleeves. The mom nearly begged us if we had any mosquito repellant. Amusing, considering the Boy Scout motto to be prepared. The pack used up our supply, but we’d already put some on ourselves before starting out.

 

Several observances on the trail this time. It was lovely green from all the rain we’d had. Yes, there were mosquitoes and gnats, but there was also a breeze now and again. And I keep my handkerchief in continuous motion around my shoulders, head and neck in bug country to discourage any landing parties.

 

They had put up new boardwalks for half of the walks. You could see the cross boards of the old one below, covered with moss.

 

The end of the trail was a boardwalk into the bog. It had been a couple or more years since we were last there. I shouldn’t have been surprised to see that the bog had grown up. Before we used to be able to look across it to the wooded hill beyond. Today, you have to know there’s a wooded hill way back over there and search for it between the tamrack trees and other bush growing seven foot tall around the walk.

 Waterloo June W07  Waterloo June W08

I also discovered a new flower. Over the years, we’ve hiked hundreds of miles, and I’ve never seen this particular flower before, with a two foot stem and brilliant upsidedown maroon bloom. At first I thought it was a pitcher plant flower, but DH pointed out that it wasn’t consistently coming from the plants. I decided to name it after us like all new scientific discoveries – a sanjef bogster. Back at the Discovery Center, we discovered it is indeed a pitcher plant flower. Surprisingly, although not quite since we don’t do many summer hikes, we’d never seen one of these before. But it will still be known to us forever as a sanjef bogster.