ALASKA CRUISE – September 7 – 14, 2012

Reluctantly, I accompanied my friend Tamara on this cruise ship tour of the Alaskan coast from Seattle to Skagway.  I declined her invitation several times, because I live year-round in a vacation paradise with spectacular mountain scenery.  After touring the Great Lakes on a  33-foot sail boat, a cruise ship held no attractions for me. I prefer to spend all my time seeing historical and cultural sites on land instead of enjoying the food, activities and entertainment aboard a floating hotel–at least that was my image of a cruise ship. I now understand why someone would choose this type of vacation.  It packs a lot into seven days and still affords a relaxing get-away. I recommend if for honeymooners and those with a high-pressure job. On the ship the guest can choose to do nothing and just be pampered. I also recommend the Celebrity Infinity cruise line.  We talked to guests who had taken many other cruises and they all agreed the Celebrity ship was the best.

My stereotypical vision of the cruise ship was a non-stop feeding frenzy of buffet tables heaped with exotic dishes to please every palate. Not so. Our dinners were served in the European style with modest portions unlike the typical American restaurant that fills a plate from rim to rim.  I suppose one could go to the buffet-style cafe and return for second and third helpings, but the focus of the cruise was not on food.

Potlatch Village

We took advantage of the luxurious thassalotherapy pool in the solarium mid-ship almost every day.  We had no idea what the thassalo- was all about, but we thoroughly enjoyed swimming in the delightfully sensuous warm waters. As soon as I arrived home I looked up the term and learned that thassala is the Greek word for sea; thus thassalotherapy uses seawater for its beneficial effects on the body. Apropos–our captain is Greek; most of the crew are Greek and the ship is registered in Malta.

Carved images on the totems tell family stories

The West Side Strings, a trio from the Ukraine, topped our hit parade of entertainment. The cellist and two violinists played a variety of music, bringing us back to hear them perform five times. The Broadway tunes review in the Celebrity theatre and the aerialistpair were also noteworthy.  We enjoyed lectures the naturalist presented on whales, eagles, and glaciers. His wife, dressed in period costume of the gold-rush days, gave outstanding talks on the history of our ports of call: Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Victoria, British Columbia.

Mendenhall Glacier north of Juneau

Temptation was too great and I have to confess we visited the Fortunes Casino more than once. I tried to pull Tamara away from the slot machine when she had won $114 on the penny machine to no avail. She wanted to win more. Luckily, she recuperated her money. That did not satisfy her lust for lucre. She insisted on returning the next night.  We considered her net gain of $50 and my net gain of $60 worth the hours of fun we had in the casino.

View of Juneau harbor from tram

Watercolor classes were another of our favorite activities.  Tamara had done watercolor painting before. Although years ago I had taken an oil painting class,  the closest I had come to watercoloring was the tin box of water colors I used as a child. Six tubes of paper, three brushes, palette and paper were furnished. Tamara helped herself to a second free watercolor kit for her granddaughter.

Two old girls at dinner

After Ketchikan, the ship entered the Tracy Arms Fjord. I stood at the prow admiring the hauntingly beautiful fjord as the ship negotiated the narrow channel, passing the floes broken off from the glacier as the blocks of ice drifted toward the sea.

Tracy Arms Fjord

The next stop was Juneau, a rather small town for a capital city, where we took the tram ride to the top of Mt. Robinson overlooking the harbor. The only disconcerting aspect of our cruise was being “tendered” to shore in the life boats (capacity about 120), because there was no place to dock with three other cruise ships already in the harbor.  There is talk of moving the capital to Anchorage.  Access to Juneau is by plane or boat.  In Juneau we took a six-mile bus ride to the Mendenhall Glacier.  The glacier was up close and personal, the blue crevasses and caves in the ice mass distinctly visible.  There is a nice 45-minute walk to a waterfall. We stood on a promontory  that was part of the glacier that has since receded like all the glaciers. At the turn of the century the glacier was much closer to Juneau.

Tendering to shore from ship at Juneau

Skagway was our last port of call in Alaska. A rollicking mining town in 1898, it is the terminus of a narrow-gauge railroad to Fraser, British Columbia. We took the train up the mountain and the bus back to Skagway, our driver providing an informative and entertaining narrative of local lore along the way.  The railroad line may be reopened for transport of mineral deposits due to the discovery of more mineral resources in the Yukon.

Creek Street, Ketchikan

From Skagway we turned south on our return voyage to Seattle, spending the next day at sea.  Victoria was the last stop on the cruise. We arrived late in the afternoon and took a two-hour bus tour of Victoria, the provincial capital of British Columbia.  We marveled at the profusion of flowers in September.  The Empress Hotel and the legislature building dominate the view of the harbor. The bus driver delighted in showing us the affluent neighborhoods and citing the price tags of the residences. Tamara and I began to wonder if there was a lower-class neighborhood.  The Canadians appeared prosperous.  Victoria has a small Chinatown too, for the Chinese played a vital role in mining and railroad-building throughout the West.

At midnight we cast off for Seattle and arrived 7:00 in the morning.  Disembarkation went smoothly.  It amazed me that despite the gigantic size of this ship, I still felt the roll of the sea in bed at night–a very soft, comforting sensation for me. We experienced unusually rough seas the day we sailed from Skagway to Victoria. Fortunately, we are not affected by motion sickness. Unfortunately, many of our fellow travelers were, and attendants were ready with convenient pouches and the housekeeping staff was busy that day.

Would I take a cruise again? Probably not. It is not my preferred method of seeing the world. If I did, however, I would use Celebrity.

STAGE COACH EAST – WHITEFISH, MT TO ASHEVILLE, NC, September 28 – October 5, 2011

We enjoyed clear blue skies and warm weather for the eight-day trip across country.  My sister Marianne and I planned to take a leisurely drive, stopping to sight-see where we felt like it, as I drove her home to Madison,WI.

Olivia & Marianne Starting Off

Our first stop was the Little Bighorn Battlefield in southeastern Montana. We left Interstate 15 and took Highway 212 to the site of Custer’s last stand on June 26, 1876. On the heights of the battlefield, the majesty of the prairie can be felt.  From the monument on the ridge where Custer fell with 41 of his remaining soldiers, the visitor center can be seen and the trees lining the river where the Indian encampment were peacefully going about their daily tasks when the cavalry approached. Approximately 7000 Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors caused Major Marcus Reno to retreat and over the course of two days annihilated more than 260 soldiers, General Armstrong Custer and every member of his immediate command.

Markers have been placed on the ridge where it is known soldiers or warriors fell. From the crest of the hill visitors can appreciate how the Indians surrounded Custer descending from a ridge behind the hill and ascending in front from the Indian encampment below. In addition to the monument commemorating the fallen soldiers, an Indian Memorial in a stone circle has been erected to honor the Indian tribes who fought to defend their way of life. The iron sculpture in silhouette that blends into the backdrop of the wide rolling hills is particularly striking, evoking the lost way of life in a ghost-like outline. The park ranger’s 20-minute talk on the visitor center terrace at the beginning of the tour and the video show at the end of the tour increased our understanding.  One of those ironies of history is found in the fact that many of the soldiers were immigrants fromIreland and Germany, who fresh off the boat in New York enlisted in the US. Army for employment, knowing nothing about the terrain or the rigors they would confront on the plains.

View of Indian Encampment from Ridge where Custer Fell

Marker of Fallen Warrior, Little Bighorn Battlefield

Indian Memorial, Little Bighorn Battlefield

Our next stop on our road trip was Devil’s Tower in the northeastern corner of Wyoming.  Coming upon this geological formation, seemingly erupting alone, shaped almost perfectly into a tower, from the north on Highway 24, I instantly felt I was having a sacred experience.  The only way to approach this holy mount is with reverence and thankfulness.  The Indians, however, lost another battle here; for the powers that be have refused to restore its rightful name of Bear Lodge. Furthermore, the park service continues to permit mountain climbers to scale its sides. When I voiced my objections to a visitor center attendant, he lamely said a plan was reached to ecologically safeguard the tower.  This is inane. There are challenging mountains to climb all over the American continent.

Bear Lodge – according to Native American myth, grooves in sides left by bear claws

I encountered the same lame concessions to Native American spirituality at Mount Rushmore.  I asked who this Rushmore man was. I was told he was an attorney fromNew York who settled in that area of South Dakota. Apparently, the Indian name of Paha Sapa was not considered for the national monument, because Rushmore had generously contributed to the building fund.

Faces of Washington, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Lincoln carved on side of Paha Sapa

All the photos of Mount Rushmore that I have seen in books did not prepare me for the wonder of being at this national memorial. From every angle, the stone faces carved on the face, enthrall with Gutzon Borglum’s interpretation of the presidents. The park service exhibits, audio tour and video show superbly tell the story of the sculptor’s fourteen-year dedication to the project from 1927 to his death in 1941. The question of how he transferred his studio models to the scale on the faces on the mountainside is answered. A boardwalk trail around the base of the mountain was well worth the time and effort. We spent the entire morning there.

I came away from Mount Rushmore with a different response. Although Native Americans did object to the carving of the mountain side, I do not feel that it was defaced in the production of these inspiring sculptures. The mountain retains the sacred quality of the rock and the figures seem to emerge from the rock as spirits.  Borglum was an artistic giant.

N0 trip across South Dakota would be complete without a stop for refreshments at Wall Drugs at the edge of the Bad Lands. The business that opened in 1931 is quite a success story.  It attracted customers with road side signs advertising free ice water and five-cent coffee. Its growth paralleled the work on the Mount Rushmore sculptures. As the national monument drew more and more tourists, Wall Drugs benefited from the spurt in traffic. It now offers a large display of western art and historic photographs along with a restaurant and gift shop.  In the bustling restaurant we ordered the buffalo burger in deference to the animal’s significant role on the Great Plains.

The National Pipestone Monument in southwestern Minnesota, although not as heavily visited as the other sites, is well worth the visit. It is thirty miles north of the Interstate. Indian tribes from near and far came to Pipestone to quarry the red rock used to shape the bowls for their pipes and member of twenty-two tribes still come.  Native American craftsmen at the visitor’s center demonstrated the art of making the pipes. A nature trail wended its way among the rock ridges. On exposed ledges, visitors can feel the smoothness of the red veins of rock. Oracle Rock bears a striking resemblance to a warrior. Again the sacredness of the place penetrated our senses. We were glad that we stopped at Pipestone to learn more about Native-American spirituality.

Oracle Rock, Pipestone, Minnesota

I left my sister in Madison and continued alone on my journey east. My final destination was the Southeastern Harp Festival inAsheville, NC, held annually. It draws a host of harp makers and renowned harpers to lead the workshops.  After the congestion east of the Mississippi, I turned the Subaru coach west and headed home without stopping at tourist attractions, happy to enjoy the scenery at a leisurely pace.  The weather held warm and the fall colors were deepening on the landscape.  On my road trip I had reconnected with friends and relatives across the country; now I looked forward to returning to Montaña de Sueños and resuming work on my new novel.

So Many Beautiful Harps – Not Enough Money to Buy Them All, Southeastern Harp Weekend, Asheville, NC


From August 14 to 19th, I attended the International Harp School at Island Mountain Arts, Wells, BC. The drive to Wells offers spectacular vistas of the Canadian Rockies. Crossing the border at Roosville on Highway 93, I drove north through Radium Hot Springs. Mountain goats can be frequently seen along the side of the road in this area.  I followed the Icefields Parkway to Jasper where I spent the night.  Motels in Jasper practice price gouging. Next time I would plan my trip to avoid spending the night in Jasper.  Because there are no other towns for hundreds of miles around, rates run $140 or higher for accommodations I would not expect to pay more than $60 a night for in the United States.  At the height of the tourist season, at five o’clock in the afternoon I and other travelers were scrambling at the Visitors’ Center to find a room. My minimalist room with no TV or phone in the room, no wi-fi, no continental breakfast, no swimming pool, no restaurant, no exercise room or other extras cost $140. The motel keeper informed me it was the lowest-priced in town.  It did not rise even to the quality of  a Super 8 room.

Leaving Jasper in the morning, I spotted another early riser, an elk,  a short distance down the road from the motel, as I headed west to Prince George. The area between Jasper and Prince George gives new meaning to “sparsely populated.” (And I thought Montana was sparsely populated.) Central British Columbia is populated, but with moose, caribou, elk and bear–plenty signs warning of moose crossings. I turned south towards Quesnel just before Prince George and entered a more populated agricultural and ranching valley. In Quesnel I picked up another harper from the States, Patty Lemer, who had traveled from Vancouver on a bus. Outside of Quesnel we went to a music festival at Ten Lakes Park, a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the British Columbia park service. A First Nation dancer was giving dancing lessons and a group of six fiddlers entertained.  A berry picker gladly gave us samples from her bucket. Patty and I traveled together the last leg of our journey, an hour’s drive to the mining town of Wells transformed to a thriving artist community.

We were instantly delighted with the colorfully painted wooden houses. The Amazing Space Gallery is a restored church filled with the innovative art work of Claire Kujundzic and Bill Horne who refurbished the church into a gallery, workshop and living quarters. If you go to Wells, it is a must-see.  The Sunset Theatre presents a wide variety of plays throughout the summer. Island Mountain Arts occupies a remodeled storefront with a gallery down the street from the Wells Hotel, charmingly decorated, where many of the harp students stayed. I stayed at the Hubs Motel and highly recommend this moderately priced accommodation. The Cornish Mountain & Meadow Trails are an easy walking distance from either place.

Amazing Space Gallery

Colorful Houses in Wells

Patty Lemer in front of General Store

Sunset Theater in Wells

Art from Twigs in front of the Hubs Motel

Outside the Frog on a Log Gift Shop

Only a few miles up the mountain from Wells is Barkerville, the recreated gold rush mining town established in 1862. Docents portraying characters of the town and dressed in period costumes enact little cameo stories of the boom days. The Royal Theatre performs daily a musical revue and a play about the gold rush. I have visited many recreated historic villages, but this one struck me as the most comprehensive and entertaining. At the upper end of Barkerville is Chinatown marked by evergreen arch and sign in Chinese characters. The Chinatown shops carried a plethora of beautiful Chinese arts and crafts at reasonable prices.  The Lung Duck Tong Restaurant is the place to eat in Barkerville.  A variety of Chinese dishes are served family style starting with spring rolls and shrimp dumplings. The service is excellent. I particularly enjoy the explanation of the geological formation of gold deposits and the process of gold mining that the two characters, selling stock in a mining company, explained in their dramatization at the Cornish Water Wheel and Flume.

Chinese School, Barkerville

Church, Barkerville

Theatre Royal, Barkerville

Reenacting Barkerville History in Period Costume

Selling Mining Company Stock at the Cornish Water Wheel and Flume

Back Street of Barkerville

Kim Robertson, harp instructor

This was the 25th year of the International Harp School. Before I attended, I had wondered how the school could draw students from all over the world, considering that Wells is far from any population center. But it does! Everything combines in Wells for an artistic experience like no other. You do have to see it to believe it. The classes are divided into beginner, intermediate, and advanced. The instructors are well-known, accomplished in the harp world. The week concluded with a ceilidh and potluck party at which anyone can perform, sing, dance or play any instrument.  Each level gave a group performance of some of the pieces worked on class. The ceilidh began and ended with bagpiper marching in and piping. Kim Robertson, an American, was my instructor. I already had one of her CDs, and listening to her music influenced my decision to attend.

The five-day school exceeded my expectations in every regard. I met wonderful harpers from around Canada (Patty and I were the only non-Canadian students this year); I made new friends and enjoyed the great food, people, and art of a unique place off the grid for the usual globetrotter.

Sherry Nott of Medicine Hat, Canada

Jennifer Fenn

Men Play the Harp Too (Ron Jacobson)

Stephanie Hildebrandt of Winnipeg and Mari Ellen of Qualicum Beach, B.C.

Advanced Harpers – Karen, Lee Elliott

While in British Columbia Patty Lemer of Pittsburgh not only learned to play harp but she also learned that “moose ears” are called antlers. Olivia met more friendly frogs on logs. Patty and Olivia became friends forever. Having known each other before in another lifetime, they reconnected in Wells, British Columbia. Here they are signing off in their favorite animal impersonations:

Moose Patty Lemer of Pittsburgh

Frog Olivia Diamond of Whitefish, MT


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