Category Archives: Travel

The other side of the world, part 3

 

More from Kruger National Park, South Africa

[Read Part 1 and Part 2 here.]

“Wouldn’t it be funny,” I mused to Eric as we went to bed on our first night at Lower Sabie rest camp, “to wake up to baboons on our porch in the morning?”

Morning came, and with it, a scurrying and thumping on our bungalow’s thatched roof. A family of baboons was making the rounds of camp, looking to thieve any food the humans hadn’t locked up. The little ones were fun to watch, kind of cute (if you can say that about a baboon) as they vaulted from roof to roof, but the mamas were don’t-mess-with-me large and decidedly unfriendly looking as they walked methodically from kitchen to kitchen. One could tell they followed this routine every morning. They successfully robbed our neighbors, who’d forgotten to secure their breakfast!

We met Jacqui and Kevin for breakfast in the main lodge, then we hit the road in search of more animals. Our plan was to cover the southeast corner of the park. We again crossed a bridge over the Sabie River.

Once again, we were fortunate to meet many animals close to the road. This is what I mean by “close to the road”:

A perfect profile.

Some animals, though, were already hiding from the midday heat. If we hadn’t looked closely, we’d have missed this lion, resting in the shade. The two hyenas were nearly invisible, even though we passed quite close to them.

We stopped to take a brief snack break at a another rest camp. This one featured glamping tents (the only kind of tent I would willingly inhabit anymore). Plus, it seemed to include a cute little antelope of unidentified species.

This tent came with a tiny something-bok.

I didn’t realize this mama elephant, who was determined to cross the road between Kevin and Jacqui’s car and ours, was hiding her baby behind her. Of course, we let her pass. When an elephant looks you in the eye, it tends to stop you in your tracks.

Waiting to cross the road with her baby hiding behind her (on the right). Who could resist that face?

That afternoon, we drove past the rock outcropping where we’d seen the lioness the day before. She was still there. Word passed from car to car that she’d taken down an impala earlier, but we didn’t see any evidence.

Hello again, your highness.

And later, there was this beast — a blue wildebeest. He looked so intimidating as he walked near my side of the car … something about those sharp horns.

Big blue looked a little crazy.

Suddenly — warthogs! They run amazingly fast, with their tails straight up in the air. Their manes look like dried grass.

A family of warthogs out for a stroll.

Because we’d decided to do a self-driving safari instead of going to one of the luxury safari lodges (where park rangers take you off-road in those big, open safari vehicles), Jacqui was concerned we wouldn’t see many animals and we’d be disappointed. As you can see, she needn’t have worried. But just in case, she’d signed us up for a couple of ranger-escorted drives. Our first was a three-hour sunset drive that evening.

As we cruised along, we saw many of the same animals that we’d been seeing during the day: elephants, zebra, giraffes. After sunset, our guide encouraged us to use the provided torches (spotlights) to look for eyeshine in the dark. Once the sun goes down it gets dark quickly.

Brief but beautiful sunset colors.

It wasn’t long before someone cried out, “Leopard!” I don’t know how they recognized the leopard in the pitch-black night, but sure enough, there she was, perched in a tree. She didn’t care for being in the spotlight, so she climbed down and lay beneath the tree, patiently waiting for the darned tourists to leave. I was unable to take an in-focus shot due to the darkness and the motion of a bus full of excited people, but Eric got some good shots.

Leopard in the spotlight.

We had been in the park for only two days and we’d already seen the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, Cape buffalo)! Kevin admitted that he’d been coming to the Kruger for 20 years before he saw a leopard. Maybe we were enjoying beginners’ luck? More likely, the dry, early spring was working in our favor. With most of the vegetation not yet leafed out and animals forced to come to the rivers or manmade watering holes, odds were better that we’d see more wildlife. Plus, Jacqui and Kevin were so familiar with the park. They were great guides.

Colors changed constantly. The bright green in the background is sugar cane fields, outside the park.

The next morning, we left Lower Sabie rest camp to travel further north. Our destination, Satara rest camp, was 140 kilometers (85 miles) away. The Kruger has tarred (paved) roads between its camps, with a speed limit of 50 kph (30 mph), so it would take almost three hours to make the journey, and that’s without stopping for food or animals.

To tie us over until our brunch stop, Jacqui offered us some muesli rusks, which are hardened biscuits somewhat akin to biscotti, meant to be dunked in coffee.  We were instantly hooked. Eric has since made them at home.

Mmm, rusks. Our new fave. [Pinterest]

Our first stop was Nkumbe viewsite, high on a rocky hill, which afforded an outstanding view of the immense plain below. This was one of few places we were able to get out of our cars to view wildlife at a safe distance.

Game trails lead to the water hole. Elephants have first dibs.

A handful of giraffes seek precious shade.

A few kilometers farther on, we stopped at Tshokwane picnic area for a braai breakfast. Kevin expertly fried eggs and diced tomatoes (a popular South African side dish, we discovered) in a shallow braai bowl, shaped like a wok. As we ate and the braai cooled, Cape glossy starlings perched on the edge of the bowl and picked at the hot leavings. We were entertained by vervet monkeys who scampered about the picnic area, boldly attempting to rob visitors of their food. Of course, baboons were getting into places they shouldn’t have.

Starlings gathering in the trees above our picnic table.

Nothing is safe from vervet monkeys.

Back on the road, we found more lions under a tree … females napping on one side, the male trying to stay awake on the other.

Five female lions napping in the shade …

While Big Daddy pretends to be awake.

I like this shot of three graduated sizes of elephants. Eric calls them “small, medium, and jumbo.” I noticed that most of the time, the available water was very muddy. But, when it’s the only water around, you drink.

Gathering at the watering hole.

I also like this picture of a giraffe near one of the many windmills, which pump water from cisterns into watering holes. This is a male giraffe — you can tell by the darker coloring.

Tall things.

We made it to Satara rest camp in plenty of time.  Our bungalow was just a few buildings down from Jacqui and Kevin’s, and we joined them for a tasty braai dinner.

Another sunset, another day complete.

DSCN9988

The end of another perfect day in the bush.

Next up: Part 4, where we say goodbye to the Kruger. Plus, lots of trees and birds!

Note: I’ve had some readers mention that they can’t enter comments on my site lately. Maybe it’s a WordPress glitch, but in an attempt to solve the problem, I’ve now eliminated the required name and email fields, so anyone should be able to comment … although I do appreciate knowing who you are!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

The other side of the world, part 2

Hanging with the animals in Kruger National Park — safari day 1

After staying the night at Pestana Lodge, just outside the Kruger, we entered the park the next morning at the Malelane Gate, across the Crocodile River. (Read Part 1 here.) Jacqui had made our overnight reservations for us because it was easier for her to communicate with the Kruger locally than it would have been for me on the other side of the world. We checked in and received our permit for our first two nights at Lower Sabie rest camp.

I gawked at this elephant skull while waiting in line to check in.

The Kruger is so big I can’t get the map in one photo! We stayed at Lower Sabie, Satara, and Skukuza rest camps.

The Kruger is a huge park — at 7523 square miles, it’s almost as big as Massachusetts. In our five days, we’d cover little more than the southern third. And of that, only a fraction of the available roads.

A dozen rest camps are scattered throughout the park, featuring bungalows, shops, restaurants, and gas stations. Each camp is fenced to prevent animals from intruding, and you’d better be inside the gates by closing time, or you’ll be fined.

The rules are strict, for obvious reasons: The animals are real, wild, often BIG, and not necessarily fond of humans. In fact, contact with humans is forbidden. You must stay in your car, be quiet, and give the animals the right of way. In other words, don’t be stupid.  The animals are said to be accustomed to cars, but not accustomed to seeing humans outside of their vehicles. Humans might piss them off.

Pay attention!

Jacqui had sent us a Kruger Park Map, which was full of information about the animals we hoped to see. We referred to it constantly as we traveled through the park.

These map books were available in all park shops. Ours proved an invaluable asset.

Okay, enough background — you want to see animals, right? So did we. It seemed we no sooner cleared the entry gate than we had to stop to allow a herd of elephants to cross the road directly in front of us!

One of the first elephants we saw up close. She was huge. Photo taken through our windshield.

I had to ask Eric whether we also saw giraffes and zebras (in SA, that’s ZEB-ra, not ZEE-bra) nearby, or had my brain tricked me into thinking we saw them all at once? He assured me I remembered it correctly. Need less to say, we were awed and thrilled. Little did we know that we’d see so many elephants, giraffes, and zebras that we’d quit taking photos of them after a few days.

A South African giraffe, one of four giraffe species, and the only one that lives in the Kruger. This species has speckled lower legs; the others don’t.

Look a little closer and you can see the scars on this giraffe’s neck. Life in the bush is not easy. Thorn bushes are everywhere. Most of the animals we saw had scars, whether from thorns or fighting. The giraffes also had black bumps that looked like they could be ticks on their bellies and under their legs.

Giraffes are fairly social and often hang out in groups. They mate at any time of year, and the males are continually cruising for receptive females. Sometimes we saw small groups, but most often we saw pairs.

Her skin tells a painful story.

The zebras were so lovely and peaceful. This is a Burchell’s zebra, which has pale taupe shadow stripes between the black stripes on the rump.

Each zebra’s stripe pattern is unique.

What a sweet zebra family!

We drove on, following Kevin and Jacqui’s car. Occasionally, an arm would stick out of their window, pointing at something for our benefit. It took Eric and me a few days to learn where to look and what to look for to spot animals. We did get better at it. When we first entered the park, everything looked to be the same shades of yellow ochre or dull green. I loved the landscape.

That’s Jacqui and Kevin up ahead.

There’s an elephant retreating between the two trees in the middle of the photo.

Take this kudu, for instance: See how his spiral horns mimic the tree branches, and how the stripes on his sides blend into the grasses? Of course, he’s easy to spot when he’s nibbling on a tree right next to the road.

Those fabulous horns look like the tree branches.

The Kruger is home to several species of antelope in addition to the kudu. We saw:

Speaking of right next to the road … our eyes practically popped out of our heads when we came upon this rhino snoozing under a tree, just feet from our car! This beast was at least as big as the VW Beetle that I used to drive! Notice the horizontal scratches on his hide.

A napping rhino, seemingly unperturbed by our presence. We sure hoped so, anyway.

This elephant stared at us is if she were deciding whether to make a move. She didn’t seem upset, but I had the distinct feeling that we were in her space. She slowly flapped her ears in the heat … and we slowly rolled away. An unforgettable encounter.

Staring contest …. she won.

That afternoon, with the temperature over 100° F, we came across an enormous herd of Cape buffalo cooling off in the river. I mean, there were hundreds of them.

Just a few of the buffalo that were taking a water break.

They all  part their hair down the middle.

Just past the buffalo we noticed a traffic jam of cars. What could it be? We jockeyed for position and finally saw her — a beautiful lioness lying in the shade of a red rock outcropping. Simply awesome.

This lady was the highlight of our first day in the Kruger.

And that was just day one of our self-guided safari! Incredibly, in our first day in the park, we’d bagged four of the Big 5 (elephant, buffalo, rhino, lion, and leopard). We were over the moon!

We pulled into Lower Sabie rest camp and moved into our little thatched-roof bungalow. The accommodations were basic, but we had AC, comfy beds, and indoor plumbing, so we did fine. The kitchen facilities are outside on the porch to keep food smells (and roving critters) out of the rooms.

Our bungalow at Lower Sabie rest camp.

Our bungalow was at the edge of the camp, overlooking the Sabie River. As the sun went down, I noticed a couple of elephants playing in the water …

Taking a sunset dip.

Well, maybe they weren’t just “playing” …

This guy thinks he’s getting lucky.

But, she said “No.”  “Aw, c’mon!” he said, and kept advancing.

 

He had only one thing on his mind.

“No means NO, you jerk!” She turned tail and disappeared up the hill, leaving her date thrashing at tree branches in frustration.

Kevin and Jacqui had packed a car-load of food and libations for our safari trip. Kevin cooked a delicious braai supper (a braai is what we’d call a barbeque), and we fell into bed wondering what day two would bring.

NEXT: More from our safari!

Eric is writing his own reflections on our trip on his blog, PhotoGraphic Thoughts. Check it out for another perspective.

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

The other side of the world, part 1

How far can blogging take you? If you’re lucky, to the other side of the world, which is where it took Eric and me this October.

But first … where have I been?

In a word: Retired! Doing whatevertheheck I want! Apparently, that hasn’t included writing blog posts. I realize my last post was over a year ago. You know, it’s curious … several bloggers that I’ve followed for as long as I’ve been writing mine (2012) also evaporated into the blog ether. A few have resurfaced lately, which I’m delighted to see. I hope to remain one of them. Thank you for stopping by!

Now, back to my story. Several years ago I began following a fascinating blog, Africadayz, written by a woman named Jacqui in Johannesburg, South Africa. Jacqui’s a wonderful storyteller, and I found her insights on post-apartheid South African life to be fascinating. I also follow her blog, Home-in-the-Making, which chronicles her story of building a new home. I was sure Jacqui was someone I’d enjoy knowing. We began exchanging emails and became Facebook friends.

A few years ago, my friend, Cathy (Cathy’s Adventures)  was passing through Johannesburg, and I offered to link her up with Jacqui. I was so tickled to do this, but at the same time, I was envious … Cathy had met Jacqui, but would I ever get the chance? So, Cathy, Eric, and I began cooking up a plan to take a South African vacation. Unfortunately, late in the game, Cathy was unable to go, so Eric and I set out on our own.

I’d never traveled so far before: If you stick a pin through the Earth, the antipode of Seattle is somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean. The nearest large land mass is South Africa. And I’d never taken such a long vacation — over three weeks — impossible when I was working, and hard to justify because of our pets. Shout out to our dedicated and kind friends, Art and Maari, who cat-sat our colony!

The antipode of Seattle is in the Indian Ocean.

We splurged on business-class tickets because we just couldn’t conceive of sitting with our legs wrapped around our necks for 24 hours of flight time. Even though we had lie-flat pods, free booze, and gourmet meals, the other side of the world is a LONG ways away. We endured a nine-hour layover in Dubai, during which I discovered my iPad had gone missing, which spoiled any chance of relaxation. Plus, I ate something bad. So had a few other folks, which made the final leg of the journey to Johannesburg uncomfortable. TMI?

As we staggered out of customs and baggage claim at O R Tambo International in Joburg, there was Jacqui, just as promised, and our adventure began in earnest. Eric wrangled our rental car at the Hertz counter (not as smooth a transaction as we’re used to), and climbed into the right-hand driver’s seat of our Opel SUV. Jacqui bravely rode shotgun and navigated while Eric faced his first attempt at driving on the “wrong” side of the road. I sat in the back seat, trying not to flinch out loud. I’d “driven” the route a couple of times on Google Street View, so the whole trip to Jacqui’s house looked oddly familiar, as if I’d dreamed it. Freeways are pretty much the same everywhere … you see the backs of car dealerships, box stores, and housing developments, and all the traffic seems to going in your direction.

Other than driving on the left side of the road, the freeways looked pretty typical. [Photo: Google Maps]

Getting close to Jacqui’s house. Aren’t these trees great? It was spring and they hadn’t leafed out yet. [Photo: Google Maps]

Jacqui and Kevin were such gracious hosts. Eric and I will be forever grateful for their generosity and hospitality. We were given a lovely upstairs bedroom with a view of the park. It was obvious why they named their house “Treetops.”

Our peaceful park view.

We were happy to meet their spaniel, Daisy, and three Norwegian forest cats, Mischka, Monty, and Izzy. Pet availability is important when you’re far away from home. I’m sorry, Daisy, I didn’t get a pic of you!

Security-wise, everyday life in Johannesburg is different than what we’re accustomed to in the States. To be sure, many Americans live in gated communities, or we may have a fenced yard with an electronic gate. (In our case, our bungalow is in town, on a corner, and unprotected.) We Americans don’t usually live behind tall walls topped with electrified razor wire …  unless we’re celebrities or politicians. But this level of security is par for the course in South Africa, as in other countries where the difference between the “haves” and the “have nots” is great. It was not a surprise to me, as I’d read about it on Jacqui’s blog, as well as seen it in photos. However, seeing it in person, the necessity of protecting oneself and one’s property was a bit of a shock. The leafy suburb that we’d call home for two nights was light years away from the tin and paper shacks in the townships we passed on the highway, where the have-nots live.

This new-construction house is already surrounded by a tall wall topped with electrified wire. [Photo: Google Maps]

Our first day was spent recovering from jetlag, but on day 2 we drove into town to a place I’d noticed on Jacqui’s Facebook page. Victoria Yards is a century-old industrial complex of low brick buildings and metal-framed windows. It’s been reborn as an artists’ community, with galleries and studios for painters, glassblowers, sculptors, and potters, with edible gardens providing green space. I love adaptive reuse, and I LOVED Victoria Yards. What fun it would be to have a studio in such a place!

Next, Jacqui took us to one of her favorite shops, Art Africa, which sells African folk art. Such a feast for the eyes! I wanted to buy the whole store! We had to limit ourselves to a few easily packable goodies such a flat woven baskets and beaded necklaces. Beading is a popular craft in South Africa. We saw some gorgeous beaded items, and came home with several.

Jacqui makes a purchase at Art Africa.

That night, Jacqui and Kevin hosted a dinner party to introduce us to some of their close friends. We had so much fun talking to everyone. I wonder what they thought of us, with our slangy American speech? Did I take any photos? Nope. In fact, I failed to take photos of human beings this entire trip, unless they wound up in a photo by accident. Guess I had African flora, fauna, and scenery on my mind. I must make a better effort in the future!

The next morning we piled into our cars and hit the road to Kruger National Park, nearly  six hours away. Our destination was just outside the park, in a town called Malelane.  The trip itself was an education. Along the route, we passed enormous coal mines and coal-fired generating plants. Coal trucks dominated the highway. South Africa is both a major producer and consumer of coal. This was a difficult scene to witness.

Coal pollution was evident.

Yet, most of the trip was beautiful. We didn’t realize that Johannesburg is higher than Denver, at 5,750 ft. Nearing the Kruger, we dropped a down a very long hill into the Lowveld (veld is grassland or prairie), at 1153 ft.

Our stop for the night was Pestana Lodge, where we relaxed with drinks and a sunset dinner on their large deck overlooking the Crocodile River. What a view! We were so excited to see African animals right in front of us at the river! Water buck, hippos, impala, egrets, fish eagles, and more. “Welcome to Africa,” I thought. It was hard to believe we were really there.

From the deck we had a view of the bridge and the entry into Kruger National Park. Those little antelope are impala.

A hippo grazes at sunset.

Hippos are more often seen in the water. They make an awesome bellowing sound.

A troupe of vervet monkeys scampers by our bungalow.

Next up, Part 2 — Our five incredible days in Kruger National Park.

A week in the desert, part 3c: Tucson Botanical Garden … and more!

With our desert botanical appetite whetted, Eric and I raced to our next destination: Tucson Botanical Garden. (Actually, we spent a little time with the friends we came to visit first.) TBG isn’t as large as Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden, and far smaller than Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Tucson Botanical Garden began as Rutger and Bernice Porter’s family home (built in the 1920s) and their business, Desert Gardens Nursery. When Rutger Porter died in 1964, Bernice donated the property to the City of Tucson, but she continued to live in the house. Bernice passed away in 1983, and the city deeded the property to Tucson Botanical Garden.

Tucson Botanical Garden map.

Tucson Botanical Garden

This brilliantly back-lit cactus greeted us as we entered the garden. Pity that I didn’t record the name, but it reminded me of my mom’s old crown of thorns … on steroids. It’s not from around here … maybe Madagascar?

Bright green cactus in a pot at Tucson Botanical Gardens.

It’s glowing!

I noticed these women just leaving after a plein air painting session. Perhaps if I lived in Tucson, I’d join them.

Plein air painters leane Tucson Botanic Garden..

Plein air painters scatter.

I noticed large trees that I would not have expected in a desert garden. This was April, and they were just beginning to leaf out.

A large deciduous tree in Tucson Botanical Garden.

A large deciduous tree shades a patio near the Porter house.

A crape myrtle in Tucson Botanical Garden.

A crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia)? In Arizona? These trees have a tropical origin.

The Porters’ original house is now used as an admin and gallery space for the TBG. I circled the building, surprised at the undesert-like leafiness of the plantings.

Porter house at Tucson Botanical Garden.

A patio tucked into a corner.

Porter house at Tucson Botanical Garden.

The back door and sunny garden with roses.

Wall with colorful ceramic appliques at Tucson Botanical Gardens.

Colorful botanical appliques decorate a wall bordering the parking lot.

Shutters made of sticks on Porter house at Tucson Botanical Garden.

Look at these shutters made out of sticks!

Front door at Porter house, Tucson Botanical Garden.

The front door with its shady patio. Straw yellow stucco with sage green trim and surprisingly bright red downspouts.

The shocking periwinkle blue of the adjacent herb garden pergola was the perfect color to make the plants stand out. What a striking color scheme for the desert!

Blue herb garden pergola at Tucson Botanica Garden.

Even on a hot day, these blues look cool.

We walked on through a series of themed desert gardens. The day was hot, in the upper 90s, and shade was hard to come by.

Trail at Tucson Botanical Garden.

The trail winds through the cacti and succulent garden.

piaranthus geminatus Asclepiadaceae at Tucson Botanical Garden.

Funny little Piaranthus geminatus Asclepiadaceae from South Africa. Piaranthus produce beautiful, fleshy star-shaped flowers.

Pink-blooming cactus at Tucson Botanical Garden.

I don’t know what these are, but their little pink blooms are so cute.

Crassula at Tucson Botanical Garden.

A crassula lit by the sun.

Shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeana), at Tucson Botanical Garden

It’s a shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeana), of course.

Another small house … on the map it’s labeled Friends House. Something about this door and the rustic landscape drew me in. More red and green accenting on an adobe house. Colors that I wouldn’t otherwise put together seem to work here.

Friends House at Tucson Botanical Garden.

Friends House.

On the other side of Friends House, we found yet another structure … this one larger and definitely open. We ate a delicious and memorable lunch at Café Botanica. I highly recommend it for their fresh and local cuisine.

Botanica Cafe at Tucson Botanical Garden.

Looking into Café Botanica. We ate on the patio.

Botanica Cafe at Tucson Botanical Garden.

Market umbrellas usually mean food is near. I was famished.

Cacti in sun at Tucson Botanical Garden.

Outside the restaurant, these cacti glowed in the late afternoon sun.

After a late lunch, our tour was nearly over. We ended it in the Plants of the Tohono O’odom Native American garden.

A fence made from ocotillo branches at Tucson Botanical Garden.

A fence made from ocotillo branches! Handy stuff.

Yellow flowering shrub in Arizona.

Creosote bush (Larrea tridentata chaparralis), or greasewood, is common in the desert Southwest.

Metal sculpture gate at Tucson Botanical Garden.

This stunning gate marked the end of our tour.

I had an epiphany at Tucson Botanical Garden when I came upon a sign that read, in part: “Does this garden seem lush and cool? The Historical Gardens show a gardening style that was popular in Tucson from the 1880s through the 1940s. The landscape choices of those days aimed for a green retreat from the desert and helped keep homes cooler in the decades before air conditioning.”

Informational sign describing historical garden style at Tucson Botanical Garden.

Does this garden seem lush and cool?

Aha! Suddenly it all made sense—my natural attraction to old houses, coupled with my desire (if I lived in Tucson), to push the botanical boundaries by growing an oasis around my house. Something like this, maybe:

Landscaped yard in Phoenix, AZ

This is the kind of landscaping I’d try to achieve in Arizona. More modern, but lush. [photo: Moon Valley Nursery]

And of course, the house would have to be an oldie. Something that Georgia O’Keeffe might like.

After we left the garden, we drove downtown on Broadway. Suddenly we were passing a treasure trove of Tucson’s vintage homes—the kind that get my DIY juices flowing. My head was on a swivel! Granted, at this time of our lives, the last thing Eric and I need is another century-old fixer-upper, but I still enjoy imagining what I’d do with these oft-forgotten little gems.

In the Rincon Heights neighborhood just south of the University of Arizona, we found plenty of these charming southwest bungalows. It’s a very modest neighborhood, and I don’t know how safe it is, but if people restore these homes, the neighborhood will improve. I saw some evidence that this is happening.

Here’s a slide show of a baker’s dozen houses that I love, captured from Google Maps. (Sometimes I don’t feel comfortable pointing a camera at people’s homes.) Notice the interesting ziggurat shapes of their buttress walls, and the repetition of arches. Many have beautiful (and apparently original) red tile roofs and metal-framed windows.

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Whew … these houses need us. But so does our own house here in the Northwest.

I’ll leave you with a sampling of photos from the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. Then, we’ll head back to the Northwest. See you next time, Arizona!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

A week in the desert, part 3b: Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Happy autumn, everyone! What a summer we’ve had. A couple of hurricanes tried to drown Hawaii (I sheepishly admit, when I first heard about Hurricane Lane, I thought they were talking about something akin to Tornado Alley). The west coast burned while Wisconsin flooded. Florida’s waters turned toxic. Hurricane Florence slammed the Carolinas. Whew. Let’s rewind, shall we, to a gentler season—last April, when Eric and I spent a week in Arizona. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve had such an abrupt switch of seasons that I’m glad to think about sun again.

After a few days in Phoenix, Eric and I set off for our ultimate destination of Tucson. Still excited about what we’d just seen at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, we couldn’t resist a quick stop at Bryce Thompson Arboretum State Park, near Superior, AZ (“the largest and oldest botanical garden in Arizona”). Quick only because we’d arrived an hour before closing time, and we didn’t have time to explore the entire trail system, which is extensive.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum trail map

Boyce Thompson Arboretum trail map. We hiked from the parking lot to the lake and back, along the purple trail.

You might be thinking, “You’ve already seen every single plant the desert has to offer. Why go to yet another botanical garden?” True, each garden features many of the same plants, but each garden is different in scope, design, terrain, and just the feel of the place. Boyce Thompson was a very different experience than the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden. For one thing, we were nearly the only people there so late in the afternoon, which was wonderful.

Got your sunscreen on? Walk this way …

At 323 acres, Boyce Thompson Arboretum was large enough to make me feel like we were actually setting out into the open desert. While these plant vignettes were certainly deliberately planted, they looked so natural, it was easy to think they just “happened” that way.

Agaves and golden barrel cactus at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Agaves and golden barrel cactus.

Cactus in Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Unsure what these are; possibly a thicket of young senita (Pachycereus schottii).

We passed the Smith Building (1925), constructed of native rhyolite, mined just across the highway. Originally the visitors center, it’s now the interpretive center. Attached greenhouses hold collections of succulents from around the world. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open late in the day.

Smith Building, 1925. The original visitors center at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Smith Building, 1925. The original visitors center.

Occasional ramadas such as this one provide shade for hikers.

Rustic ramada at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Ramada on a hill. Yucca rostrata on the left, agaves and barrel cactus in foreground.

View of cliff at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Saguaro cacti frame a classic view of the West.

View of cliffs at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Pipelines deliver water from Queen Creek and a cistern high above.

We walked the trail to Ayer Lake, which stores water from Queen Creek.

Ayers Lake at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Ayer Lake.

Cute little lizards ran all over. This one looks like an Elegant Earless Lizard.

Brown lizard in Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Cute little guy (or gal?).

Loved this sign for “Boojum Cove.” And sure enough, boojum trees appeared!

Rusty metal sign, "Boojum Cove," Boyce Thompson Arboreum.

Welcome to Boojum Cove!

Boojum tress in Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

You can’t beat a boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris) for weirdness.

Beautiful blue agaves … probably a variant of A. americana.

Barren tree trunk and striped agaves in Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Horizontally striped Agave americana.

Tree cholla cactus in Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

The prominent tubercles tell me this is a tree cholla (Cylindropuntia imbricata).

Cactus in Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Wouldn’t want to meet this guy in a dark alley.

A little bunny let us get right up next to her to take photos.

Rabbit in Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Little cutie!

We came upon a grove (not sure that cacti come in groves, but …) of golden barrel cactus. I would have loved to grab one of those pups to take home, but TSA would not appreciate finding it in my suitcase. Golden barrels are endangered in the wild, but later I found one of my very own at Lowe’s (go figure).

Golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) in Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii), also known as Mother-in-law’s cushion. That’s so mean!

Agave pelona in Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Isn’t this Agave pelona a beauty?

 

Dead saguaro trunk in Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Nothing lives forever, including this saguaro. It’s a beautiful piece of sculpture, though.

We returned to the parking lot where they were having a plant sale. Why, oh why didn’t I buy some of these Astrophytum myriostigma? Only $5.00!

Astrophylum succulent for sale at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Astrophylum succulent.

Look how cool they are!

Collection of astrophytum succulents.

Assorted astrophytum. [Photo: Shutterstock.]

Guess what–I’m still not done with the Arizona desert! I have one more post in this series, in which I come to a realization about desert gardening and residential design. I hope you don’t have to wait for it as long as you did for this one. The days are getting cooler and shorter, so I’m spending more time indoors … which may help my blog production. And of course, I have more stories about our recent house projects, so stick around!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

A week in the desert, part 3a: Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix

We visited three botanical gardens in Arizona … too much for one post, so I’ll break it up into quicker reads. Grab a cuppa joe and settle in … because this will be a spiny post, heavy on prickly photos and short on words. Lots of eye candy for fans of desert flora!

Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix

One of our must-see destinations was the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, a 140-acre site with five distinctive loop trails. We had time for only three, which means we must return. (We’d return, regardless.) I’ll name the plants that I know, but I don’t know them all. Here we go!

I fell in love with this place even before we got to the admissions booth. On the way in:

Chihuly sculptures at Desert Botanical Garden.

Yucca rostrata, nature and Chihuly’s versions.

 

Hedgehog cactus with pink blooms and Agave paryii

Hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus) with pink blooms, and Agave parryi

 

Blooming Cercidium floridum (blue palo verde), the Arizona state tree

Blooming blue palo verde (Parkinsonia florida), the Arizona state tree. I like how the colors are echoed in the potted agaves.

As we walked inside, we were surprised by this enormous lavender head, the first of several large, colorful ceramic sculptures by Jun Kaneko that were displayed throughout the garden. Featured art installations change several times a year.

Large ceramic lavender head by Jun Kaneko.

Untitled head by Jun Kaneko.

 Santa Rita prickly pear (Opuntia santa rita)

Probably my favorite desert plant, Santa Rita prickly pear (Opuntia santa rita), because — purple and green!

Squirrel among opuntia rufida

See the squirrel among the blind prickly pear (Opuntia rufida)? There are many varieties of opuntia.

Wildflowers at Desert Botanical Garden.

We walked the Wildflower Loop first. More Jun Kaneko heads in the background. They made great landmarks.

Butterfly on a yellow blanket flower.

The butterfly pavilion was a special treat. Photographing flitting butterflies is difficult!

Yellow fruit of the fishhook barrel cactus

Fruit of the fishhook barrel cactus (Ferocactus wislizeni) look like little pineapples.

Brilliant orange claret cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) blooms.

Brilliant orange claret cup cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) blooms. I don’t know what the yellow flower is.

 Santa rita prickly pear with pink bloom.

Another Santa Rita prickly pear. I love cactus flowers.

We continued on the Desert Discovery Loop. We were reminded that all cactus are succulents (they store water in their leaves), but not all succulents are cactus! Only cactus have spines that grow from areoles, whereas succulents may have spines, but they do not grow from areoles. Got that? Take a look at some of these examples.

There are many varieties of agave, which are succulents with spines, but no areoles.

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A young cardon (Pachcereus pringlei).

This young cardon (Pachcereus pringlei) is a cactus, with spines and buds growing from areoles.

boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris)

A boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris) — yes, they DO exist! It’s not a cactus.

Octopus cactus (Stenocereus alamocensis)

Octopus cactus (Stenocereus alamocensis)

Black spined prickly pear (Opuntia macrocentra)

Black spined prickly pear (Opuntia macrocentra), definitely a cactus! Ouch!

Saguaro metal sculpturemade of wrenches.

A saguaro, but not a cactus–because it’s a sculpture made out of wrenches. Unfortunately, I didn’t record the artist’s name.

We detoured into the shorter Center for Desert Living Loop to visit the herb garden. There, I found the beautiful Archer House, built in 1952 and named for Lou Ella Archer, a founding member. I cupped my hands around my face and peered into the windows, trying to look past my reflection. I was shocked to find a face peering back at me–a man working at his desk!

Archer House at Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix

Archer House, 1952. Love the color — maybe because it’s the same color as our house!

Pergola detail of Archer House, Phoenix

Interesting octopus hanging planters.

Woman at Archer House, Phoenix, AZ

A tourist studies the Archer House.

 

Agave potatorum and rosemary

This might be Agave potatorum, contrasting beautifully with rosemary.

We came upon a grove of giant cardón (Pachycereus pringlei), the largest columnar cactus in the Sonoran Desert—far larger than saguaro. Some of these rose over 60 feet in the air. We could tell they were very old.

Cardon cactus.

Magnificent cardons grow up to 60 feet.

Man and woman peek from behind a colorful Jun Kaneko sculpture.

Past the cardons was another Jun Kaneko sculpture.

Just ahead was another adobe-style building—Webster Auditorium, originally built in 1939 as the garden’s administration building, and named for founder Gertrude Divine Webster.

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Our time was running out, so we completed the Desert Discovery Loop and returned to the Admissions and gift shop courtyard … but not before passing a few more beautiful specimens.

Yucca rostrata

Yucca rostrata … looks very Dale Chihuly.

Ceramic head by Jun Kaneko surrounded by golden barrel cactus.

I like how this head’s colors complement the landscape, and the stripes echo the ribs of the golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii).

silver torches (Cleistocactus strausii) with red blooms

Look at these silver torches (Cleistocactus strausii) with their topknots and red schnozzes! Such personality!

Blooming claret cups (Echinocereus triglochidiatus)

A gorgeous group of blooming claret cups (Echinocereus triglochidiatus).

Old man of the Andes (Oreocereus celsianus)

Old man of the Andes (Oreocereus celsianus)

Desert rose (Adenium).

I want a desert rose (Adenium).

I’ll leave you with this one, who took out all his false teeth for this photo. I’m unsure what species it is, but it’s Something cristata, or crested. I didn’t know at the time what a comparative rarity this condition is. It’s caused by a cellular mutation, usually due to injury or disease, that makes the cells multiply in a linear fashion. I’m going to look for cristata succulents in nurseries now. I gotta have one!

A columnar crested cactus.

An unidentified columnar crested cactus.

In part 3b, we’ll head east a few miles to tour the Boyce Thompson Arboretum before we finally get to Tucson. Stay cool!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

 

A week in the desert, part 2: Cosanti

More from our April trip to Arizona …

After our visit to Taliesin West, Eric and I headed to the Paradise Valley area of Scottsdale. I was excited to show Eric a place that had enchanted me years earlier. Cosanti, an Arizona Historic Site, is the home and studio of architect Paolo Soleri (1919 – 2013), who was once a student at Taliesin West. Soleri is best known for his experimental urban laboratory, Arcosanti, 60 miles north of Phoenix.

Cosanti logo inlaid in sidewalk.

The Cosanti logo inlaid in the sidewalk. Can you make it out? [photo: esotericsurvey.com]

Soleri coined the name Cosanti from two Italian words: cosa and anti, meaning “before things” or “against things,” depending on which source you consult.

Soleri and his wife, Colly, bought five acres in Paradise Valley in in the 1950s, long before suburbia hemmed them in. The property is now surround by fashionable homes. In 1970, Soleri began building Arcosanti as a prototype self-sustaining city with a densely settled, small footprint. Artisans at both Cosanti and Arcosanti produce and sell bronze and ceramic wind bells of Soleri’s design to fund their existence.

Stepping out of the car in an unassuming gravel parking lot, we walked under lacy olive trees to the entrance of the Cosanti compound. Suddenly, it’s as if we were on another planet or on a sci-fi stage set. The setting is a feast for the eyes, and a lot to take in.

Entry to gallery at Cosanti.

You’ve never seen anyplace like this! [photo: TripAdvisor]

As at Taliesin West, concrete is the construction material of choice (cheap!), but the effect is entirely different. Soleri experimented with using concrete to construct apses—quarter spheres—most decorated with strange and fanciful designs. The apses are positioned to take advantage of sun in the cooler winters, and shade in the blazing summers. Some of the structures are partly underground for additional insulation. These shelters are made by heaping up a big mound of earth, then pouring concrete into frames laid on top. When the concrete cures, dig out the earth, and you have an apse.

Admission is free, but we chose to pay for a guided tour that had just started.

Just ahead, down an allee overhung with olive trees and sculptures, was an apse filled with our tour group and bronze wind bells. I wished for a breeze, but the hot air was still. I wished I could have all the bells.

Concrete apse at Cosanti

Entrance to a strange land.

We entered the apse. I didn’t know where to look: up at the decorated ceiling or at the forest of wind bells that surrounded us. It felt like a small cathedral … a little weird, a little awe-inspiring, and entirely engrossing.

A bronze wind bell sculpture hangs from a ceiling at Cosanti.

A large bronze pendant dominates the ceiling.

Bronze wind bells at Cosanti.

Wind bells hang from the ceiling like flowering vines.

Bronze wind bells at Cosanti.

A door to more.

White and tabby cat at Cosanti.

The only cat I saw on our entire trip.

Tour guide under apse at Cosanti.

Our tour guide explains it all.

Larry, our tour guide, had worked at Cosanti for 20 years, so he had worked with Soleri directly. He explained Cosanti’s history and architecture, and Soleri’s vision for the wind bells.  Larry referred to himself as an artisan: a person who creates art using someone else’s design.

We moved to the next apse, this one full of ceramic wind bells. And a gorgeous red roof. This was the bell assembly area.

A red stained glass roof and pink bougainvillea under an apse at Cosanti

Red roof and pink bougainvillea.

Red stained glass roof in an apse at Cosanti.

Roof detail.

A chain of wind catchers hangs from the ceiling.

A chain of wind catchers.

Larry led us on to another large apse—the bronze foundry, which would have been off-limits to us had we not been on the tour. The apse looks like it’s made from wood because wood was used to create the form for the concrete. Just as at Taliesin West, white canvas panels provide protection from the sun and a pleasant, even light.

Bronze artisans set up for a pour at Cosanti.

Artisans set up sand bell molds for a pour.

Molds are made from a special sand that can withstand high temperatures without melting. The sand is surrounded by a thick metal jacket for stabilization. There’s a funnel-shaped hole at the top of each mold into which the bronze is poured.

The day was sweltering hot, but the men who poured the molten bronze had to wear heavy buckskin coats, chaps, gauntlet gloves, and face shields for safety. They deftly moved the crucible of 2200°F, glowing yellow bronze from mold to mold, pouring smoothly. I could tell they’d done this many times.

Two men dressed in protective leather pour molten bronze into molds.

Moving the crucible of molten bronze from mold to mold. Sand molds without metal jackets are on the right.

Watching the men pour the silky looking liquid bronze was fascinating in a scary sort of way.

Molten bronze pours from a crucible.

HOT!!

Within minutes, the new bells’ temperature had fallen to a mere 1000°F, and they could be removed from the molds without damage. Wearing heavy gloves, Larry whacked the sand from the casting, revealing a luminous golden bell. When the sand fell from the middle of the bell, it rang in a clear tone. (The sand is swept up and reused.)

The bells are beautiful when they emerge from the mold, but they darken to a gray color as they age. Soleri preferred to use an acid bath to add a verdigris color. Because the color varies, no two bells are the same.

A newly cast bronze wind bell looks gold.

Newly cast wind bell.

Two bronze bells at Cosanti

A newly cast bell (left) and a finished one after an acid bath.

It was beastly hot in the foundry apse, as you can imagine. I backed out under the olive trees, hoping for a breath of air. Behind us hung a large bronze sculpture belonging to the Goldwater family, returned for restoration. You can see its natural gray color … and an iconic Cosanti window behind it.

People stand in the shade of the foundry apse at Cosanti.

Our tour group bakes in the foundry apse.

A large bell assemblage awaits restoration at Cosanti.

A large bell assemblage awaits restoration.

I was a little relieved when we left the superheated foundry apse and ventured further into the compound. We walked through a tunnel whose small entrance and large exit whooshed the cooling air through … a Wright trick. Ahh …

Concrete structures at Cosanti.

A dinosaur’s ribcage? Soleri’s office is behind the portholes at right.

On the other side of the tunnel was an apse where ceramic bells are fired. Behind that was a curious half-underground building that served as living quarters for the apprentices onsite. See those steps that go down into the pit? They’re simply timbers that stick out of the wall. I took a break sitting on the hefty timber railing of the bridge.

Dormitory building with sunken center space at Cosanti.

Dormitory with a rustic Asian vibe. [photo: Tomiaki Tomura]

We exited the earth house through the door at the top of those timber stairs. In front of us loomed the enormous concrete roof over the swimming pool. This mammoth slab is supported on 12 utility poles. Like everything else at Cosanti, it’s been there since the late 1960s. This stuff holds up.

Thick concrete slab forms the roof over the swimming pool at Cosanti.

Wonder how much it weighs.

The wall of a small apse near the pool featured this poem.

A poem is inscribed on the apse wall at Cosanti.

A poem on the apse wall.

We had reached the end of the developed property, and the tour was over. Thanks, Larry! We returned to the gallery, where we’d started.

Siadewalk between concrete structures at Cosanti.

The sidewalk near the foundry apse.

Gallery and gift shop at Cosanti.

“Exit through the gift shop,” we always joke.

Inside the gallery and gift shop at Cosanti.

Inside the gallery and gift shop. [photo: TripAdvisor]

Bronze bell assemly at Cosanti.

A display at the gallery.

We knew we wouldn’t escape without choosing something special to bring home. Because I had been to Cosanti and Arcosanti before, I already had some goodies, so I wanted Eric to pick this one. He chose one of Cosanti’s Cause Bells, which donates part of its cost to a cause of our choosing (ours benefitted the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden). This bell has a varicolored polished finish, a little different than the acid-washed bells. It’ll look good in the modern house we’ll have some day.

A polished bronxe Cause Bell from Cosanti.

A polished bronze Cause Bell.

I’ve had my two Soleri bells, both from Arcosanti, for years. They’ve accumulated more patina as they’ve aged. These bells are LOUD. I used to have them hanging on the front porch until a summer storm blew through. The next morning there was a note from the city police that they caused a disturbance, and I had to take them down. They’ve been in a box for years, but I’m going to put them back up in my backyard garden … without the wind-catchers.

These ceramic tiles are from my first visit to Cosanti.

Blue and green coaster-sized ceramic tiles from Cosanti.

Coaster-sized tiles.

Something about this desert place, with its mysterious symbology and dusty, sunbaked concrete structures from the 60s speaks to the hippie artist in me, and it feels like home. (I was never a true hippie, and can’t really call myself an artist, but I hope to become one when I grow up.) I hope you enjoyed the tour and get to explore Cosanti (and Arcosanti) for yourself someday!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

 

 

Floating on Portage Bay

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that Eric and I enjoy home design tours. We’ve done bungalow tours, modern home tours, and two years ago, a floating homes tour. Ever since then, I’ve eagerly looked forward to the next time we could come aboard Seattle’s iconic floating homes. I thought that because I’d already blogged about this tour, I’d skip writing about it this time … but it was such a lovely day and such an eclectic collection of homes, I can’t help myself.

The tour was sponsored by the Seattle Floating Homes Association. This year, we were asked not to take photos inside any of the homes, which I can understand. Still, I managed to sneak a couple, and I’ve borrowed a few from The Seattle Times. This post will be more of a look at the floating home community and lifestyle rather than interiors.

A row of floating homes on Seattle's Portage Bay

Seattle’s floating homes [photo: Eric Shellgren]

The neighborhood

While 2014’s tour featured homes on Lake Union, this year’s tour focused on the Portage Bay community. Portage Bay is a small, partially manmade lake between large Lake Washington to the east and Lake Union to the west. It’s part of a water passage from fresh water Lake Washington, through the Montlake Cut, Portage Bay, Lake Union, the ship canal, and the Hiram S. Chittenden Locks to salt water Puget Sound. With all the boat traffic, the view is never boring. The University of Washington and the Seattle Yacht Club are just across the bay.

Map of Seattle showing Portage Bay

This is the view from many of the homes: the UW on the left, the Seattle Yacht Club on the right, with the Montlake Cut and bridge in the middle. Not bad.

Montlake Cut seen from Portage Bay, Seattle

The Montlake Cut and bridge

You can rent these little battery-powered boats from The Electric Boat Company in Lake Union. They were all over the place! Why have we never done this?

Blue electric boat among lilypads

A fun way to see the sights

The floating homes

The homes are incredibly eclectic. Anything goes as far as architecture. Apparently there are few covenants here limiting the imaginations of homeowners and designers. No boring rows of cookie-cutter, neutral-hued houses. That’s one reason floating home communities appeal to me. Everyone is free to express their own sense of style. (Although I did hear from a volunteer that her dock voted to outlaw vinyl siding.)

Each dock, which serves several homes, may operate as a co-op, or like a condo. For instance, homeowners might own the mud beneath their homes (but not the water, of course), while a homeowners association owns and maintains the dock and common areas.

Three floating homes on Portage Bay, Seattle

Every home has its own character.

Floating homes of many shapes and colors in Portage Bay, Seattle

Architectural diversity

Most homes come with boat moorage. What fun it would be to have a classic runabout like this tied up right outside your door!

Runabout boat with mahogony decking

Nice car!

Each home is numbered as a member of Seattle’s floating home community. This little red bungalow was full of Scandinavian art and décor.

Red floating home with white trim

Little red bungalow [Joshua Lewis, The Seattle Times]

Red siding and white window trim, with two small metal numbered tags

Floating home No. 447

side deck on red and white floating home

Side yard

Nearby was a small, new A-frame cabin. This house was nicely designed, but absolutely everything in it was gray or white, even the artwork. It felt cold inside. Oh, for some color!

Small, gray A-frame cabin floating home

We’re all taking pics of each other

A-frame floating home interior

The only color is outside [Joshua Lewis, The Seattle Times]

A-frame floating home interior

But it would be nice to sleep under glass [Joshua Lewis, The Seattle Times]

On the other hand, we toured a modern box that screamed with color—so much that I wouldn’t be able to stay inside for very long. I didn’t feel relaxed with the hard edges and all the color bombarding me … and I like color.

Modern floating home with galvanized metal siding and bright trim

An interesting multimedia exterior [Joshua Lewis, The Seattle Times]

Bright colored modern kitchen in floating home

Zowie! Who needs coffee! [Joshua Lewis, The Seattle Times]

Colorful modern living room with huge windows in floating home

That view [Joshua Lewis, The Seattle Times]

I do love modern homes, but for the floating variety, I’m always drawn to the oldies.

I can see us living in this white bungalow with the red roof … and the matching white boat with red Bimini that the owner is inching into his slip.

White bungalow floating home with red roof and picket fence

You can have a white picket fence without a yard

I liked the casement windows in the house with the red umbrella. Many homeowners left their doors and windows open that day so that we looky-loos could peep into houses that weren’t on the tour.

View of neighboring floating homes from a roof top deck

Checking out the neighbors from a rooftop deck

Look at the interesting curve of this home’s ridgeline.

Red barn-like floating home with curved ridgeline

A complex curve

An impressive collection of Southwest and Native American art and artifacts crowded this Bohemian home. Wouldn’t you like to grab a book and a cup of tea and sink into that chair on a rainy day?

Old floating home with Southwest art collection

A cozy cottage

Our favorite home this tour was a cabin that looked small on the outside but lived big on the inside. I was impressed with the spacious kitchen and quirky details like vintage industrial sliding doors (the bedroom door’s glass window said “Employment Bureau”). And of course, the original pine beams.

20160911_140847

Prime end-of-dock location

Cabin living room and kitchen

From the deck, looking toward kitchen

Cabin living room with pine beams and red couch

Original pine beams define the living room [Joshua Lewis, The Seattle Times]

I looked up some floating real estate and was dismayed that the cheapest I could find for sale was over $500,000 (two years ago it was $399,000) … not our price point as we approach retirement. All the homes aren’t tour-worthy. We saw several that are begging for some TLC.  With Seattle home prices soaring, it’s likely that even these fixers are out-of-range. Besides, I doubt any dock would allow as many pets as we have.

Floating home with tarp on roof

Can you hear this house crying out for us to renovate it?

A run-down flotaing home at the end of the dock

Location, location, location (and a blue tarp)

Some people have walk-in closets bigger than this barge, but a little imagination could make it into a cute getaway.

Small yellow barge home under University Bridge, Seattle

Think of the bridge noise as surf.

The bridges

At the north end of Portage Bay, two bridges dominate the landscape: The massive Interstate 5 freeway, known as the Ship Canal Bridge, and the smaller, green University Bridge. As you approach the bridges, the volume ramps up considerably. Yet, this traffic noise doesn’t deter people from living near them. It’s just part of living at the lake.

Floating home and sailboat near two large bridges

A man waters his garden near the bridges

Small blue bungalow with red roof next to University Bridge

You could almost leap from the bridge onto the roof

The University Bridge performed for us several times. A long and short toot from a sailboat signals the bridge to open. The bridge operator toots back, the vehicle barriers come down, and the bridge gapes open to allow the sailboat to pass … many times per day. As part of the Floating Homes Tour, we even had the opportunity to visit the bridge tower.

Seattle's University Bridge goes up

Tooooot-toot

University Bridge open for a sailboat

A sailboat passes through

Ivar’s Salmon House, the restaurant with the red umbrellas (just right of center) is where Eric took me for my birthday earlier this summer. Our table overlooked the ship canal—my favorite Seattle view.

West view toward Lake Union for University Bridge

Looking west toward the Ship Canal Bridge and Lake Union

University Bridge green-painted iron detail

University Bridge detail

The gardens

Container gardening is the only way to go when you’re in a floating home. This resident has a magnificent bonsai garden.

Bonsai garden on floating home deck

A miniature forest surrounds this home

Bonsai cedar trees

A tiny, magical cedar grove

Container plants on a floating home deck

Bonsai with a view

Sedums growing in large clam shell

That was a big clam

Speaking of containers, this cheery purple house is surrounded by them.

Purple floating home with colorful planters on the deck

Not afraid of color [photo: Joshua Lewis, The Seattle Times]

Larger homes have larger garden space. The first home we visited featured built-in planters and mature ornamental trees at its spacious end-of-dock location. Two impressive new homes shared this dock, with ample room between them—a different feeling than the crowded docks up the road … and a different price tag.

Woman walks down a dock next to floating home

Pretending I live there

This lucky little guy does live there.

Turtle sunning himself on a log with lilypads

Another sunny Sunday on Portage Bay

Common areas on shore are often made into community gardens. Here, a weeping willow and a hydrangea shelter a garden bench.

A bench sits beneath a weeping willow tree in a community garden

A private shore garden

Or, maybe just an endless staircase. Imagine hauling your belongings in and out here. At least gravity would be in your favor coming home from the grocery store.

A long staircase climbs an ivy-covered hill

Exercise

Thanks to the Seattle Floating Home Association homeowners for inviting us aboard, and for fueling my floating home fantasies for another two years. We’ll be back again in 2018!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

 

 

 

 

Take an art break

Ever since I mentioned Andrew Wyeth’s painting, Christina’s World, in my last post, our 2007 visit to the Olson House has been banging around in my head. Much has been written about Andrew Wyeth and his relationship with the Olsons and their Maine farmhouse; this is my impression of our visit.

Olson House, Cushing, Maine

Olson House

Andrew Wyeth (1917 – 2009) is renown for his watercolor and egg tempera paintings of rural American life. He met siblings Christina and Alvaro Olson, neighbors of his young wife-to-be, Betsy, in 1939. Wyeth became fascinated with their spare lives and the austere environment of their Cushing, Maine, saltwater farm. He took up a kind of summer residence there for many years, painting prolifically in an attic bedroom studio. The house became a National Historic Landmark in 2011. Now, the property is part of the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine, and is open to the public.

Gable on weathered house, missing window trim

Gable

To the casual observer, Christina’s World (1948) is a painting of a thin young woman in a pink dress, sitting in a tawny pasture, turned (rather awkwardly) to look up the hill to her house. Christina was 55 when Wyeth painted her, using a composite of Christina herself and his wife as models. She had lost the use of her legs to an undiagnosed neuro-muscular disease, and didn’t use a wheelchair. Instead, she propelled herself across the floor or ground by using her arms. In this painting, she is returning to the house from visiting her parents’ graves in the family cemetery, some distance down the hill toward the bay.

Christina's World - Andrew Wyeth [Wikipedia]

Christina’s World – Andrew Wyeth, 1948

Wyeth created many other paintings and hundreds of sketches around the farm, some of which we recaptured, deliberately or often serendipitously, in photos during our visit.

When we arrived at the Olson House, a yellow school bus was parked in the back. We wandered about the grounds and waited for the noisy kids’ tour to leave before we entered. We hoped to be alone in this place, which felt almost holy. And we were alone, except for a docent or two. How often do you get to be alone when you explore a historic site? Better yet, we had free rein to crawl all over the entire house—all three stories—and the attached barn. No part of  the house was cordoned off.

There is nothing I relish more than poking around an old house. The older and more decrepit, the better. The smells and the textures and the worn colors, and the sense that the lives of past residents have somehow seeped into the walls make the house a living thing.

Click on the images to enlarge.

The front hall floor is painted and stenciled with leaves. I don’t know how old this charming feature is, but it reminds me of the leaves our pets track into the kitchen in the fall. I even have a chair like this one at home.

Stenciled leaves on the hall floor, Olson House

Leaves on the floor

Beyond the stairs is a large, light-filled parlor. The cracks in the plaster feel familiar.

The kitchen, with its monstrous cast iron stove, still holds a few pieces of furniture. The rest of the house is all but empty. Wyeth painted Christina sitting at her kitchen table in “Woodstove.”

Geraniums still grow in the kitchen window.

Beyond the kitchen is a two-room pantry, which houses the sink (a metal-lined wood box) and water pump and a mechanical roller for wringing out the wash. The remarkable turquoise door has been immortalized in “Christina and Alvaro.”

Through the turquoise door is the dim and shadowy barn, which is roped off, probably because it’s in unsafe condition. We stepped only a few feet inside. I struggled with the light setting on my camera, so I asked Eric to photograph this scene and its beautiful light (which he no doubt would have, anyway). It’s one of my favorites. I didn’t know until I researched this post that Wyeth had painted it, too.

Back in the house, up the stairs are Christina and Alvaro’s childhood bedrooms. The tattered wallpaper in Christina’s room has been left to deteriorate, its delicate, faded patterns mingling like a collage. Our visit was several years before we tackled our kitchen remodel. Little did I know that I’d be seeing a similar effect on my own walls in a few years.

In the attic, Eric captured this scene of the room in which Wyeth did much of his painting. It was from this window that Wyeth first noticed Christina crawling through the field back to the house.

On the other side of the attic is another bedroom in which Wyeth created his last painting of the Olson House after Christina and Alvaro’s deaths.

We walked down the hill and into the grassy field. A hay wagon sits approximately where Christina was depicted, although the view of the house has been obscured by trees in the intervening decades. (More likely, Wyeth simply eliminated all trees from the pared-down painted scene. He also stretched the perspective of Christina’s World to enhance the feeling of distance. As I walked further down the hill, the house disappeared over the horizon.) The Olson House website now warns that this area is private property and not to trespass, but the docents encouraged us to go. I wonder if it’s still possible to walk there. It felt like an important part of the experience.

Farther down the hill is the small family cemetery, with a view of Maple Juice Cove between the trees. Christina and Alvaro’s shared headstone is prominent. They died within a month of each other in the winter of 1967 – 1968. In 2009, Andrew Wyeth himself was buried there with them. The three of them seem to look up toward the house.

While researching this post, I learned that the Olson House has recently reopened after being closed for a year for exterior renovation and installation of a fire repression system. While I’m glad the house is being preserved and protected, I’m also very glad that we had the opportunity to enjoy it in its original, weathered state. This photo of the new pine exterior just doesn’t have the same atmospheric appeal.

Olson House with new pine siding

Restoration [northernnewengland.aaa.com]

 Thanks for indulging me in a little art history nostalgia. I hope you enjoyed the tour.

Old woman with dark hair cuddling black kitten on her chest

Miss Olson [A. Wyeth, 1962]

Andrew Wyeth and Alvaro Olson with wagon in front of Olson house

Andrew Wyeth and Alvaro Olson [Kosti Ruohomaa]

Alvaro, Christina, and Andrew

Alvaro, Christina, and Andrew [Richard Meryman]

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

 

Tropical escape, part 4

This is my fourth and final post about our Florida vacation. (If you missed them, read part 1, part 2, and part 3.)

Lighthouses

As we made our way south, then north, and then south again along Florida’s Atlantic coast, we stopped at several lighthouses, which are some of Eric’s favorite subjects. We make a point of “bagging” lighthouses everywhere we go. We never know what we’ll see as we’re pursuing our quarry.

Our first up-close encounter was Cape Florida Light on Key Biscayne, just south of Miami. Our first glimpse of this 95-foot tall, bright-white lighthouse was from the beach side—oops, no access from there. We approached down an alley of palms and sea grape trees. Unfortunately the lighthouse was closed, so we just ambled around the grounds and visited with a friendly lizard at the old caretaker’s cottage. Eric snapped this painterly selfie in one of the lighthouse’s windows. It’s one of my favorite photos from this trip. What strikes me as unusual about this light is that the taper of the tower changes slightly above the last window. (Click to enlarge.)

A couple of days later we found ourselves at the foot of Key West Light, just across the street from the Hemingway Home. It’s much shorter, just 65 feet, and although it stands in the middle of town at only 15 feet above sea level, the island’s so flat that its height was adequate for years. I have only one crummy photo. WHY didn’t we climb this light? I thought it was because it was temporarily closed, but Eric claims it was because I was tired, hot, and, um … grumpy, and I didn’t feel like it. I wish he’d quit making this stuff up!

Key West Light through the trees

Key West Light through the trees

We made a quick stop to find little Key Largo Light, hidden away on someone’s private property on a canal. The chase is part of the fun–you never know where you might go. This modest lighthouse, once (and perhaps still) a private wedding venue, looks as if it’s searching for a preservation society.

Key Largo Light peeks above the palms

Key Largo Light peeks above the palms

From the Keys, we drove wa-a-ay up the east Florida coast to Jacksonville to visit my step-son Andy and his fiancée Kelly before the wedding. On the way north we found Hillsboro Inlet Light, locked safely behind the gates of a country club. We stopped at a park across the water to get these shots of the 135-ft iron tower. Yes, you can climb it, but the tight spiral stairs inside the central cylinder might be too claustrophobic for me.

Further up the coast, we thought we’d drop in on our friends Tiger, Greg, and Gary on Jupiter Island, but they weren’t home. The local lighthouse society wanted $10 for a guided tour. We passed and took photos from a respectable distance.

Tall red lighthouse seen from across the inlet

Jupiter Inlet Light just a par 5 away

Family was gathering in Jacksonville, and we all headed to St. Augustine for the day. Eric and I took the opportunity to climb the magnificent St. Augustine Light. This one’s much taller—165 feet, with 219 lacy wrought-iron steps to the top. I’m not good with heights, so upon stepping out onto the lantern deck, I flattened myself to the wall and inched my way around. Once I’d made the 180-degree tour and convinced myself the thing wasn’t going to fall over, I made it to the rail with relative confidence. I’d always wanted to visit a spiral-striped lighthouse!

The next day we drove to Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, just south of Daytona Beach. At 175 feet, it’s the tallest lighthouse in Florida (and second tallest in the US, behind Cape Hatteras Light). But it has only 203 steps–a noticeably steeper climb than St. Augustine Light. I love taking shots of the stairs, up and down, in towers of any kind. And really, when I got to the top, the views were worth the vertigo. An outbuilding displayed a glittering collection of lenses, including the 1860 first order Fresnel lens from the old Cape Canaveral Light. If I had a lighthouse to climb every day, I’d be in much better shape … but if I had to haul a bucket of kerosene to the top, like lighthouse keepers of old, I’d be dead.

McKee Botanical Garden

Whenever I think of Florida now, I picture the lush tropical vegetation that flourished everywhere we looked. What fun to create one’s very own jungle garden! Once we arrived in Vero Beach for the wedding, we made time to explore McKee Botanical Garden—18 acres of trails, streams, lagoons, and groves. (I grew up running around my grandparents’ greenhouses and florist shop as a child … I felt like that long-ago eight-year-old, let loose in paradise.) The garden featured a special dinosaur exhibit incorporated into the forest. We snuck up on several of them, as you’ll see. Or did they sneak up on us?

Lagoons full of multicolor water lilies are McKee’s signature. I’d never seen so many different colored water lilies … so beautiful!

It wasn’t until we were home that I had a chance to look up what some of the other flowers were. I discovered ginger blossoms come in all sorts of shapes … like these beauties.

The jungle plantings grew so thickly that we could have gotten lost without a map.

We came upon three hive-like structures made of willow branches. Environmental artist Patrick Dougherty and a team of volunteers constructed them in January, and named them “The Royals” after the Royal Palm grove they grace. The Royals will remain in the garden until weather and time cause them to break down.

I loved this African sausage tree. In April, the sausages looked more like giant cucumbers, but they’ll turn brown and then burst open with dark red flowers.

Eric got pretty close to this rat snake before he decided maybe the snake was getting peeved.

Rat snake head

I’m watching you. [eashellgren.com]

If we watched the ground for a few seconds, it came alive with cute brown Carolina anole lizards.

brown Carolina anole lizard on a plant identification marker

A Carolina anole who likes Washington State

The Wedding

The culmination of our trip was Andy and Kelly’s wedding in Vero Beach. We stayed put in one hotel for three consecutive nights—that never happens! Our room looked out at the ocean. Eric rose before dawn each day to take sunrise photos. Just spectacular.

The wedding was spectacular, too, despite punishing heat and humidity. Andy and Kelly are a beautiful couple. I didn’t take many photos because—you guessed it—I was so miserably hot that I couldn’t focus past the sweat trickling down my back. Andy’s mom handed me a tissue in case I cried. I used it to mop my brow.

See you later, alligator

The biggest impression I took away from Florida was COLOR. As our plane circled Seattle to land, I was shocked at how dark my beloved Pacific Northwest looked, even though it was a sunny day. My eyes had become accustomed to Florida’s bright green foliage, turquoise sea, and golden sunrises. In contrast, our water is dark gray-green (and 53ºF!), the forested hills are dark Douglas fir blue-green, and the houses are typically earthy colors of tan and gray. Not that it isn’t beautiful here—the mountains and the sea are stunning. It’s just not tropical. Florida, though, is bursting with color, but it’s color that’s sat out in the sun for a few years, consumed too many margaritas, and faded to a mellow, laid-back patina. The dominant color for houses and small commercial buildings is sunshine yellow, trimmed with sky blue or sea turquoise. So light and fresh. You needn’t hesitate to paint your house pink in southern Florida. It’ll fit right in. These colors look so right in the tropics, but they would never work in the Pacific Northwest.

We talk often of retuning to the southern Florida coast. I wonder … how long will we wait?

Sailboat at sunset, Key West, FL

Sailing into the sunset.

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it