Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cape Blanco

I'm fighting the blues. Stress, excessive busyness, poor health, and loneliness are all taking their toll. I don't mean to whine at y'all. Life is what it is, and, by God's grace, mine has more good than bad any day of the week, but I definitely need to focus on something other than "right now" right now. So, I decided to cheer myself up by photo-blogging a trip from this summer that was completely lovely and such a good memory that it can't help but make me feel better. Some memories are able to do that, you know? As an also-stressed friend put it, the pictures of these good and memorable times "can serve as proof that we have a life." Well, I could really use some proof that I have a life, so here goes. If you want to stroll through my cheerful memories with me, then stick around for a while.

In late July, Ked and I went camping at Cape Blanco State Park with some good friends, and discovered a whole new world of coastal beauty. Cape Blanco is near Port Orford, Oregon, and is home to a great old lighthouse, a secluded and lovely wooded campground, and wonderful, soft, winding trails, all nestled along a steep cliff, overhanging a gorgeous windswept beach. It was the perfect place to get away, and, in a fit of good timing, we hit the southern Oregon coast for a spate of amazingly and unusually good weather. It was a bit chilly, but completely clear when we arrived. We were later to learn that the wind is hardly ever as calm as it was during our stay, and the beautiful sunshine was a welcome friend as we explored the lighthouse and those marvelous trails. Some other time we'd like to go back to see the other face of Cape Blanco weather--we hear the storms are thrilling and powerful, and quite the ride when you are in a tent--but for this first visit we were glad to have summer as our companion.

Cape Blanco's lighthouse was built circa 1870, so it was fun to wander the grounds and climb to the top of the tower. (Most things in Oregon are not nearly that old, unless you are counting trees.) Our $2 tour was well worth the price of admission. We learned a lot about how lighthouses have been operated over the years, and heard some fascinating tales of family life and self-sufficiency at the remote Cape Blanco. One little tidbit of interest from the tour was particularly strange to my ears at first. Did you know that it was crucially important to keep everything immaculately clean in an oil-lamp burning lighthouse? Well, it was. That's not the odd part. Lighthouse lights do have to shine after all. That's rather the point. Most of the keeper's job was polishing and sparkling lenses and such, and the Light-House Service had exceedingly high standards, inspecting the building regularly for due diligence. What struck me funny was the degree to which they took this inspection. Cleanliness was so critically important that even the keeper's wife came in for her share of company high standards. When the inspectors came to make sure everything about the place was ship-shape, they also headed over to the family's personal quarters. If they found even one unwashed dish lying about the place the keeper got the boot, on the theory that if his wife didn't keep a clean kitchen, he probably didn't keep a clean lighthouse. Boy, that's quite an elevation in the definition of wifely duty, especially when wifely duties also include growing the family's food, taking care of the livestock and home-schooling the children!

Of course, the wife was doing all this during the day, while her husband's job involved toiling through the night, making sure the light burned brightly to warn ships off the rocky Oregon coast. More than one man was required for the job--there were two assistants if I remember correctly--and once or twice the job wasn't just left to the menfolk. Here's a bit more Cape Blanco lighthouse history:

This isolated lighthouse holds at least four Oregon records: it is the oldest continuously operating light, the most westerly, it has the highest focal plane above the sea, (256 feet), and Oregon’s first woman keeper, Mabel E. Bretherton signed on in March 1903.

As I said, the tour was worth the minor ducats the current keepers charge for a look around, and the history lesson was very educational, as well as an exercise in personal gratitude. I am ever so grateful to have a husband who works days. I'm grateful that I don't have to sheer sheep. I'm grateful that I can go to Winco to get groceries. I'm grateful I have a dishwasher, and I'm very grateful that my husband has never lost his job because my kitchen sink had a dirty coffee cup in it...

What follows are some of the sights we saw, and a few descriptions and stories. I hope you enjoy them. (Click to enlarge.)

The first day, when Ked and I were there alone, we tooled around on our bikes and enjoyed the fabulous blue-and-gold day. We rode to the lighthouse and had a look around, although we saved the tour for our friends' arrival.

Here's the view from a trail near the lighthouse grounds. Kind of makes up for the "keep every dish spotless" thing.

This view is to the back of the lighthouse grounds. There is coastline on three sides of the lighthouse, so the whole thing is pretty spectacular. Ignore that goofy girl in the foreground...

Here's the lighthouse. That blue sky is quite the anomaly, so the tour guide informed us. It's a shame, because it really does make a beautiful picture.

Here's another view. We were guessing that big rock is 10 or 15 stories high, to give you some perspective.

The trail from our campsite to the lighthouse followed a high cliff. Looking down at one point we saw this display of Bug Love. Somebody likes the Ducks. A lot.

The cliff was quite high in places. That driftwood below is looking awfully toothpick-like, but really it was your standard large log driftwood pile. It just took another mile or so of walking before the logs proved their girth up close.

We found the cliff had a few weak spots. This section of ground had shifted a bit, making us wonder if someday we'd come back and there would be a little less cliff hanging up there--and a little less beach to go with it.

You can see there are some substantial logs down at beach level, and some pretty hefty rocks, too. Ked couldn't resist playing he-man and tossing a few of them around. Boys like to throw things, don't they?

I found this rock awfully interesting. It looked like someone had been out playing Paint That Rock, but I suspect that nature had a hand in this, not Miller.

The sun was still shining late in the afternoon when the rest of the gang showed up, but by the next morning things were looking to change. See that bank of clouds in the distance? They were making their way to shore, and were flying low. By the end of the next day we found ourselves in a pretty thick fog, which made for fun times on the beach.

While we headed off to show our friends the lighthouse, the clouds moved ever closer. Makes a pretty cool effect, don't you think?

As we walked, we came upon a mama deer and her babies. It was so neat. Mama saw us on the trail, but as long as we stayed still she kept right on coming, leading the wee ones in tow. She easily got within 20 feet of us before the three-year-old in our midst got too excited to keep the squirms inside, and then Mom bolted into the thicket. Her little ones followed by another route, and we had some entertainment, watching as they went about the business of re-connecting. We felt sorry for them all, actually, because the bushes were very thick and they were bouncing about in them, trying to travel and stay hidden at the same time. They must have been poked something awful in the process.

Here are the twins. Cute little things. I'd never seen deer that young before out and about in the world. It was fun.

Mama kept her ears perked while she listened for her babes, and any sign of pursuit.

We managed to catch another glimpse of one of the fawns in the thicket. It's so cute. I just know it's sitting there thinking, "You can't see me, right?" Silly fawn doesn't know about telephoto lenses.

As the fog rolled in, those distant rocks looked more and more ghostly.

Is this a Hallmark card, or what? Brother and sister in perfect harmony--as long as this isn't a video blog!! (Really, though, the kids were great. There aren't many kids that would have been that much fun to hang with for three days, and I'm not just saying that because I want their parents to read this.)

Here are Dad and Mom--the kids' dad and mom, that is. I don't call them Dad and Mom. Except here, just now. (Come to think of it, I'm not that far from being old enough to be their mom--Dad and Mom's mom, that is, not the kids. Wait, did that come out right? Oh, never mind.)

The sunny day made it seem natural, somehow, to wear a flower in my hair. I like flowers, but posting the picture? That's for the guy reflected in the sunglasses who took it. He likes flowers, too.

Isn't this a pretty place? I want to get in a kayak and paddle out to those rocks, just to see what's out there. Maybe there's a cave, full of pirate treasure... Hmm, a cave full of pirate treasure off the coast of chilly Oregon in a place that regularly sees 70 mph winds? Doesn't seem likely, unless the pirates had consumed an altogether unimaginable quantity of rum. Might find a few sea lions, though.

Eventually we got to go inside the lighthouse. The climb up to the lantern room involves 63 stairs, and a ladder at the end. The kids were okay going up, but coming down proved a little more problematic. By some regulation or another, even the three-year-old had to climb down absolutely unaided, no being carried allowed. For a little while we thought we might have to move in and be the next keepers of the light, because that first step was a pretty hard sell.

Going up, though, was all fun and games.

Here's one part of the lens structure, a very complex and expensive set of glass pieces. The guide told us that some local boys had once broken in for fun and broken some of the pieces, causing (and I'm remembering loosely here) something in the tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage. (Ked says forty K.) He showed us one of the parts that had never been repaired. It still worked properly, so they didn't replace it, because of the expense. Despite the damage, the lens system was very impressive, and downright pretty, as well.

Being up in the tower was cool. You could see how the view could be nothing short of spectacular on the right day. The right day, however, would have been the day before, since by this time those clouds were making their way to shore in earnest, and we lost a good deal of the view in the process. It was still impressive, though, and the lens itself was worth the climb.

This is the thousand watt light bulb that signals ships to take care these days. It's not quite as romantic as a giant oil lantern, but a heck of a lot easier to keep clean. Now workers can give their full attention to making sure their coffee cups are in order.

Our friends had decided that the nice safe sand was the perfect place to teach their son to ride a bike, so we all rode down to the beach, and with the fog fully to shore, we peddled around near the waves. (Yes, we did thoroughly rinse the salt and sand off afterward.) Dad was ready and waiting for his son to get in the spirit of the occasion.

The boy was a tad reluctant to embrace the plan. After the first abortive attempt at riding a bike with no training wheels, he found a sudden fascination for walking in circles.

A father-son chat introduced the child to a new way of looking at things. Way to communicate, guys!!

Soon, our boy was happily peddling away, with a big grin and a good attitude. Once he found out that falling didn't hurt, he went for it with gusto. That kid really did learn to ride his bike that day, in about 15 minutes time, once he got over being afraid. It was fun to see the transformation. The beach turned out to be a very good place for this particular lesson.

So, that's that. I could have shown you lots more, but I figured 30 pictures would be enough to satisfy the curiosity of anyone who was actually interested, and enough to try the patience of anyone who wasn't. Then again, anyone who wasn't would have bailed long ago, so how about another 30?!!
Just kidding. Even I'm not that interested, but I am more cheerful now than when I started, and since that was the point from my end, I consider this outing a success. Thanks for coming with.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


I'm supposed to be at a conference today, but I'm still sick. (Getting better, just not up to a whole day's effort in the world.) Ked did go, though, so since I'm home alone on a Saturday, I decided that this would be a good time to post some pictures from our very recent weekend excursion to the charming little "Bavarian" community of Leavenworth, Washington. We and our friend Su had been wanting to get away for quite a while, and decided to make the most of it, driving five hours from Portland to experience this place that we had heard from others was worth the long trip (and splurging on a very elegant Bed and Breakfast to enhance our stay once we got there). We were not disappointed. Plenty of good conversation on the drive made the journey pass quickly enough, and the beauty of the town, the B&B and the surrounding hills made us very glad to be there once we arrived.

The reason that I put "Bavarian" in quotation marks is that this distinctively European-style town, nestled among towering hills in Chelan County, didn't begin its life as a quaint German village. It was originally a railroad construction camp, living, and almost dying, with the coming and going of the Great Northern Railway Company. Its tracks and lumberyard gave it an initial reason for being in the 1890s, but when the GNRC pulled out in the 1920s, the town struggled to survive, and eventually had to reinvent itself to ensure its own future. Tourism seemed the answer, and so in the 1960s the community gave itself a makeover, transforming what was once a lumber town into an alpine village smack in the middle of Washington State. The townspeople set out to make something old--or at least Old World--by doing something new with their little bit of real estate. They had good raw materials; the countryside is beautiful and offers hiking and skiing aplenty, and the town planners did a good job of turning their vision into reality. Their plan to save their home worked brilliantly (at least judging by the bustle we encountered on our little getaway).

We chose a good time of year to visit, late enough to feel the nip of winter, but early enough that fall colors still clung to the trees. Actually, I doubt there's a bad time of year to see the place. It's just so darned picturesque. However, now that we've seen it in autumn, I'd like to come some other season, and with more than a day to spend, so that we could dive into the local outdoor sports. I would love to experience some of the local skiing and hiking, but coming Friday night, and leaving Sunday afternoon didn't leave us any time to do much more than explore the town itself.

It's kind of like a grown-up Disneyland. Trust me, if Walt had created a Bavarian section next to the French Quarter in D-Land, this would be it. The atmosphere just drips with gingerbread and polka music. The gazillion shops and restaurants all boast the same consistent theme, some more elegantly expressed than others. Most of it was appealing and well-done. Some of it was a little over-the-top. It was fun to wander and browse for a day, although neither Ked nor I have much patience for shopping. We did find some nice galleries, and were happy to note (and enjoy) some of the many wine tasting opportunities to be found along the main avenue. We also discovered (as you will see in the photos to come) a novelty shop or two in which to play. Oh, and there was chocolate. Wonderful dark chocolate. That in itself made the journey complete. All in all it was a lovely stay.

On to some pictures. As usual, click to enlarge...

Here was our home for the weekend: Abendblume Pension. Abendblume means "evening flower" and it was a fitting name for the place. We were all surprised by the profusion of blooms still thriving in the window boxes, considering the chill in the air and the snow on the hills. The beauty of Abendblume wasn't just in the flora, though. This B&B is extremely lovely. Its decor and setting are pretty much perfect, and all done with such attention to comfort that I'm afraid it's spoiled me for more mundane accommodations. Of course, the price tag suited the surroundings, so if that's to become my standard, I'm afraid we're not going to be leaving home very often.

We arrived in the early evening, just as darkness descended, and, although dinner came first, we eventually settled in for a cozy evening in this extremely elegant and comfortable lounge. We sang songs round the piano and oozed into the plush chairs to drink herbal tea, eat apple crisp and think deep thoughts in front of the fire. (More tea and apple crisp than deep thoughts, I'm afraid.)

This alcove off the main living room was especially pretty, and made me wish we had more time to give to every little inviting nook we found.

The hosts at Abendblume pay great attention to detail. I really liked these candlesticks--even though the candles themselves were rather too scented.

After we had dinner, we meandered about town a bit, and found ourselves exploring a very nicely done Christmas shop. Now, generally, I don't see much use in stores that are exclusively dedicated to the year-round commercialization of Christmas. After all, who shops for tree ornaments in April--especially ones that cost $10-$60 apiece? Who really needs a six-foot-tall statue of Saint Nicholas? Does the world really require another recording of Jingle Bell Rock, even if it is a tastefully done jazz recording? I can't fathom that it does. However, it seems that these mercantile extravaganzas must exist for some mysterious cosmic reason, and since we were in Leavenworth to do things which we normally would not, in we went. It wasn't terrible. As far as Christmas stores go, at least this one was quite beautiful, with unique displays and quality merchandise. These giant ornaments, which Su insisted needed a human in the photo (me) to give them scope, might be a tad big for the average evergreen, but they didn't seem so out of place dangling above the main floor of the shop, and they'd be just perfect for giving that holiday touch to a bustling mall. Huh. Come to think of it, that's another place I usually avoid. I'm sensing a pattern here...

Morning dawned to give us our first glimpse of the hills around Abendblume. Shrouded in mist though they were, they were still quite impressive, and rose abruptly to dominate the landscape around our inn--rather like the Gorge back home, but with green fields and goat sheds instead of the swollen Columbia set to the foreground.

Ked started the day with a little reading. Northanger Abbey was his volume of choice. Looks just right to me. Can you think of a more appropriate location for reading Jane Austen?

After a while, I wandered upstairs to call Su down to breakfast. This winding staircase is one more element of charm to add to the total package that is Abendblume.

At the top of the stairs sits another resting nook that's calling out, "Come, take your ease with me. Bring a book and stay a while." I needed about three days to enjoy them all. Alas, we only had one.

Here's Su's room, named Schneewittchen, also known as Snow White. It was just about as cozy as a room gets, with a jetted tub, fireplace and balcony overlooking the hills. That plush feather bed adds to the coze.

When I got up to her room, I saw why she had not come down for breakfast on her own. Su was so inspired by her beautiful surroundings (and our trip to the Christmas store) that she had gone into creative mode and was happily designing stained glass ornaments to make when we got home. (She sells them, by the way. Here's the link.)

Before we left for our day in Bavaria, creative mode struck again, and Su was compelled to explore the artistic possibilities of my camera and that winding staircase.

We timed our exit nicely, as this flock of geese put on a sky-show just as we headed outdoors.

Remember that goat-shed? Well, here are its goats. They were very eager to make friends.

They were happy to make my acquaintance too, especially once I started feeding them apples.

Here's Leavenworth. Was I right about the Disney thing, or what? Just replace those cars with a couple of horse-drawn carriages (which were indeed there, I might add) and you've got yourself a prime Disney locale. All it needs is some singers wandering the streets in dirndls and lederhosen...

I begged Ked to try on this goofy hat. It made me think of Jayne from Firefly. As you can see, he was thrilled with the prospect. Allow me to translate: "The things I do for you, Woman." (Actually, the look on his face is because he was practicing his Russian accent. For some reason, a Russian accent requires a near constant sneer. Maybe it's a cultural thing.) Lest you think I'm being unfair in posting this picture, I make it up to him later on...

We didn't have to beg Su to put on the goofy glasses. She was happy to oblige. We found this fun shop with all sorts of novelty glasses and hats and had a ball being silly. This is where the "making it up to Ked" part comes in. Scroll down to see what I mean...

If this doesn't do it, nothing will.

Just to be on the safe side, though. Here's a little overkill for you. Have I debased myself sufficiently to get myself off the hook, do you think?

Back outside (with Ked back in a hat that he's comfortable wearing), you might start to feel that you're really in some alpine village, what with those mountain looming in the background. They just need a little more snow to do the trick. We talked to friends after we got back who said they went to Leavenworth when there were multiple feet of snow on the ground and it was wonderful. That's a good reason to see this place in winter, although Ked might need to swap back to that Jayne-style, Russian, camo-fur hat if we do.

Well, that's it. I hope you enjoyed our tour of Leavenworth, such as it was. I've had fun whiling away my lonesome afternoon by wandering down (short-term) memory lane. Let me know if you're headed to Leavenworth in winter. We do want to see the place in snow and ski a bit, so time it right and we just might join you! I highly recommend Abendblume, too, if you're up for the splurge. Great breakfast, really nice people and wonderful feather beds. Of course what really might call me back is the chocolate...