Our 2016 Blog
We’ve settled into a northwest life, less work, more play; less traffic, more fun drives; less Broadway/Princeton Theater/Lincoln Center, more Seattle Rep/Oregon Shakespeare Festival/Seattle Symphony; less Jersey Arts and Craft Fairs, more Island Arts and Crafts and Music Festivals – may be not so much change, just different and a bit more laid back, but we’re enjoying life here. Certainly the less snow and sub-zero temperatures and reduced heat and humidity. We never tire of the view from our deck of Dugualla Bay and Mount Baker towering over it, drives to see the tulip fields in the spring, snow geese spring and fall, photographing the hawks and eagles and other birds or watching “our” osprey pair on the navigation tower in the bay which raise two or three young every summer.
Kat and Bill gave us our first granddaughter, Lise, in 2015 and so this year we seemed to find excuses to go down to Seattle nearly every week. The Symphony and the Seattle Rep Theater was only the excuse. The real reason was to spend the afternoon with Lise (and say high to her mother and father).
Jan is keeping herself busy with reading, gardening, friends and inventing projects for me. I am still working about half-time, but with a five-second commute (down the stairs). I still fly back to my customer in Maryland for two or three days every couple of months, and Jan sometimes tags along and visits friends in NJ while I attend my meetings or give demos of my work in MD.
In my old life, my employer paid my way on business trips a couple of times a year and Jan sometimes came along on those too (when they went to interesting destinations, like Rome, Brussels or Paris). Now we have to pay the whole way so we haven’t done quite as much but this year we took trips to Savannah and Charleston and to Hawaii.
We’d never been to the real south (plantations and antebellum architecture) and I had never been to South Carolina (we’ve been trying to complete our list of visited states), so late last spring we took a long weekend, flew east, rented a mustang convertible and visited both Savannah and Charleston (good thing we went before this fall’s hurricanes hit them again). We had a hotel on River Street in Savannah, overlooking the river where we could watch the ships go by. We visited the famous squares, took a trolley past the typical mansions in the historic district (went into a few), ate southern food (but I still don’t like grits unless it has a lot of something in it), and took lots of pictures of hanging moss. And as a step toward non-polluting energy, I was fascinated by the peddle tours – 16 people (mostly young) peddling a trolley through the historic district while singing to keep themslves in synch while the leader pointed out the highlights.
Jan wanted to see the nearby Bonaventure Cemetery featured in the novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, so we drove out one morning. It has a wide variety of styles of grave stones and lots of hanging moss – would have been much spookier at night.
On the drive up to Charleston, we stopped at a plantation that is open to the public. I learned that most of them in this area were started for growing rice and only later shifted to cotton. Now most that are left grow fruits and vegetables, rotating crops and growing them under plastic with drip irrigation and so automated that they have few employees (and open to let the public pick their own).
In Charleston we had a hotel in the battery looking out where the two rivers meet and at Fort Sumter (I took the tour boat out but Jan avoided the rain). We walked through the historic district, past the Rainbow Row of multicolored old mansions overlooking the bay, took a horse-drawn cart ride and ate more great southern cuisine. Our hotel had a painted line about shoulder level on one of the walls in a breeze-way which puzzled us on first glance, until we read the sign – it was the level that the water reached during Hurricane Hugo (I wonder if the line from Hurricane Matthew this fall was nearly as high). Jan wanted to visit the Low Country. We didn’t have enough time (or a reservation) to visit Ossabaw Island to see the feral donkeys and hogs and the other wildlife now residing in the nature preserve that constitutes more of the island (visits are fairly restricted) but did do a quick drive through Sullivan’s Island (where 40% of the slaves brought to British North America passed though and a popular location for many novels).
In September we traveled to Iowa for Jan’s 50th Academy Reunion in Nevada Iowa. Nothing left of Oak Park Academy (buildings all torn down or sold, even the campus church has been sold and moved to a location further from campus – the academy merged with Sunnydale in Missouri many years ago). They hold reunions in the community auditorium on the high school campus. But Jan enjoyed it. They had a record turnout over 50% of the graduates back. Jan decided to go when she heard that some of her closes friends where going but even more turned out than she expected and she renewed some lapsed friendships. We flew into Omaha so that we could drive past her old farm near Exira on the way – not much left there either. The house is not lived in, many farm buildings removed, but the fields are still farmed and looked healthy.
Another first-visit-state for us was Hawaii. Our Whidbey friends, Oran and Bonnie McNeil, invited us to share a week in a time-share on the island of Hawaii (“the big island”) the first week of November. They go nearly every year, but we’d never been so accepted their offer. In fact the visit completed our list of all 50 states visited. We stayed on the west coast a little south of Kona, but rambled over most of the island. Hawaii is the most active volcanically and Kilauea was very active while we were there. We visited one afternoon seeing (from afar) where the lava is flowing down and into the sea, walked through an old lava tube (lava flows below the surface forming a tube which is sometimes later left hollow) and viewed the activity in the crater at the top. There is an observation platform on hill a few hundred feet higher and about ½ mile back of the rim. You could see two spots where it was throwing lava 30 or 40 feet up into the air. It was especially dramatic after dark.
Hawaii’s (the island) weather and climate are dramatically different on the east and west sides due to the wind and rain shadow of Mauna Kea (nearly 14,000 feet high). So the east is wet and tropical and the west is a dry lava desert getting only a few inches of rain a year. The north shore out of the Mauna Kea shadow is very rugged, eroded lava canyons, but with enough rain to form soil and be covered with dense vegetation. We took a helicopter tour that flew along the north coast and back into the inaccessible canyons (one over 2600 feet deep) filled with dramatic waterfalls.
We also took a submarine tour in the Kailua Bay near Kona that went down 60-70 feet just over the reef where there were many interesting fish, but they were hard to identify. Light at that depth is filtered to only blue, so everything is monochromatic (shades of black and blue) while the charts they gave us had the fish in their true colors, so nothing we saw looked anything like the pictures – shape and fins was all we could use to identify them. Then we went off the edge of the reef, down to 105 feet to view an old wreck and saw a large shark cruising around it.
We also walked through a large tropical garden on the east side. Overall, the island was much more interesting and varied than I had expected (we’re not the lay-on-the-beach-and-watch-the-waves sort of folks).
It was a great ending to a year that started mixed: good and bad. In November 2015 I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I’d had an enlarged prostate for years but suddenly my PSA increased abruptly. It was still not too high, but during an exam a lump on the side was detected and a subsequent biopsy was positive. I elected to have surgery in January which went very well. It was robotic surgery (there was still a surgeon controlling the robot, but it gives him a 6x view and finer scalpel control – and only a five 1” long incisions). They let me see the machine after they wheeled me in before knocking me out. They removed the prostate and believe there was no spreading. I recovered faster than they predicted and have a PSA of ZERO.
And now for something completely different…
Terry has pretty much covered the main events of our year, but I’ll just add a few of my observations:
Our trip to Savanah reminded me yet again that so many American cities can do much to improve urban and suburban planning. The British General who was commissioned by King George to plan Savanah did what every city should do. He laid out the city in a grid with individual lots of identical size. An open square, often with a fountain in the center, was situated in every neighborhood surrounded by houses so that no one had to walk more than 2 blocks for access. The now towering Live Oak trees hung with moss provide a quiet, cool, sanctuary for residents to enjoy (which also served as a gathering spot in case of fire or for the militia in case of attack – Terry). (Really, the temperature drops several degrees in the shade of those wonderful trees.) Thoughtful planning all those years ago is still reaping an increased investment today! Every home surrounding those squares sells for over a million dollars. It was such a treat to walk through those wonderful neighborhoods. Imagine what it would be to live in them!!
And, like Terry mentioned, anyone who has read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil knows a trip to the Bonaventure cemetery is a must. It didn’t disappoint. Superstitious myth is alive and well in corners of the South, and much of it can be found in the lore of this cemetery. Once again, the atmosphere is created by Live Oaks just dripping with moss. The cemetery has over 100 acres of Victorian sculptured grave monuments. They provide a map and a list of famous gravesites for the inquisitive to use as a guide. Otherwise it would be very easy to get lost and wander around for days. It’s also a great place for birdwatching. The deep quiet falls over one like a thick blanket.
Charleston, while doing a wonderful job of preserving the domestic architecture…the city will repossess any historical home if the owner fails in upkeep…seems to be thriving fully in the present with a lively evening scene bursting with great restaurants. Speaking of food…we came away fully convinced that southern cooks will deep-fat fry anything. Even pickles. We took a pass on that one.
Another highlight for me was the trip back to Iowa for my 50th class reunion. After trying hard to make up my mind to go, I’m so glad I did. It was a real treat to reconnect with friends made when we were young (and sometimes foolish). Although, to be honest, it was that foolishness that made life so fun way back then! A trip past the farm where I grew up gave me comfort in the fact that the land never changes. Buildings don’t last, but the land remains.
When we were in Hawaii I became aware of how small the island seemed in comparison to the vast ocean that surrounded it, and just how far away we were from the US mainland. For me it was the ultimate get-a-way. But, I think if I stayed there more than a week to two, I would get a huge case of cabin fever. However, our trip literally gave us once-in-a-lifetime experiences every day we were there. It was made very special by being with our friends Oran and Bonnie who knew the island inside and out and were the perfect hosts for us first-timers.
I’m doing much more gardening here on Whidbey than I did when living in NJ because the summer weather is so mild. I couldn’t bear working outside in the heat and humidity we suffered back East. My plan is to have an abundance of blossoms outside and enough left over for cut flowers inside. I have a long way to go before that becomes a reality.
And, I still have my love of reading to keep me company day in and day out. I do miss my book club back in NJ where I was a member for almost 30 years. Finding a replacement here on Whidbey should be my New Years Resolution.