Hibiscus Enchiladas- Two Ways

Hibiscus enchiladas are the bomb. Once you try these vegetarian delights, you will want to serve them to everyone! Who knew those lovely flowers could do so much?

This dish was begat by the gift of some dried hibiscus flowers. Other than tea, what does one do with these things? My savvy daughter sent me a link to loveandoliveoil.com where there are several recipes using hibiscus for more than just tea! I was inspired by the enchiladas recipe and have since added hibiscus enchiladas to my repertoire of favorites. And by “repertoire of favorites” I mean I no longer follow an exact recipe and these enchies become tailored to whatever my mood at the time desires. Sometimes I am “eating clean” and light and fresh fare that is colorful, uber-healthy, and gourmet. Would that I lived every day this way, filled with verve and vibrancy but the truth is that sometimes I have a bad day or rough week and I want comfort food. For me, comfort food is kind of heavy, it tends to be heavily sauced, have more than one kind of cheese in it, and it may tend toward mono-chromatic.

So here are two versions of the same Hibiscus Enchiladas, one for when you are on top of the world and the other for when the world has been riding your ass all week.

For both recipes you will need:

  • 6-8 corn tortillas
  • 1 Cup organic hibiscus flowers
  • 1 can chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
  • 15 oz can chopped tomatoes or 3 fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • Chopped onions and garlic, I do about ¾ cup of chopped onion and 3-4 cloves of garlic, then divide it between the sauce and the enchiladas
  • Julienned veggies of your choice to make about 1 to 1.5 cups(carrots, zucchini, potato, jicama, spinach, kale, swiss chard, yellow squash, and/or anything in the fridge that needs to be eaten). I tend to err on the side of too much veggie because the left overs can be saved for a quick addition to scrambled eggs or soup or as a sandwich filling so feel free to saute up extra to cook once-eat twice.
  • Cheese(s) of your choice (cotija, feta, cheddar, Monterey jack, cottage cheese are some suggestions)

*You may wish to add jalapenos into the veggie mix if you like a bit of heat.

Depending on the tortilla size and the amount of veggies you stuff into each, this makes about 6 healthy enchiladas which is 2 servings in my opinion but could serve 3 if you had lots of sides or were a light eater. If you are making the comfort enchilada version, it serves 4-6 people

Soak 1 cup dried hibiscus flowers in 2 cups hot water (as if making tea) for 30 minutes or longer. Drain and reserve the liquid for tea or for margaritas (see suggestion below for hibiscus cocktail recipes).

Thoroughly rinse the rehydrated flowers to remove any grit and set aside.

Meanwhile for the enchilada sauce (actually, start this first so it can develop the flavor), over medium heat saute onions and garlic and the chopped tomatoes, cut up 1 or 2 of the chipotle peppers and 2 -4 teaspoons of the adobo sauce and add to the mix with  1 tablespoon of chili powder (or not if you want a fresher, lighter flavor), some cumin, oregano, salt and pepper all to taste and cook about 15 minutes. Blend smooth in a blender. In a clean pot place some oil and heat, then add the sauce like you were going to saute it. Let cook about 15 minutes. It may seem like a hassle to re-cook the sauce but it really makes a difference in the flavor. Take it off the heat and keep it warm while preparing the remaining recipe.

To prepare the enchiladas:

For healthy enchiladas, saute onions until translucent. Next add garlic and stir around a moment until fragrant, then add the julienned veggies and hibiscus flowers and saute. Add 1 teaspoon cumin, ¾ teaspoon coriander, ½ teaspoon oregano, and salt/pepper to taste. I sometimes add some jalapeno slices to this mix as well. Saute until veggies are soft but still colorful and then keep warm until ready to make enchiladas

Place small amount of oil in skillet and heat corn tortillas on medium heat for 30 seconds to soften, placing on paper towel-lined plate. This heating also intensifies the flavor of the tortillas.

Assemble by placing a scant ¼ cup of the veggie mix onto a tortilla and roll up and place on serving plate. Top with enchilada sauce, avocado slices, sour cream or plain yogurt, and a sprinkle of the cheese of your choice.

Healthy Hibiscus Enchiladas with avocado and plain yogurt served with orange and candied jalapeno slices. Hibiscus margarita to round out the meal. Leave out the yogurt for a vegan version.

For comfort enchiladas, follow the vegetable saute and tortilla prep as for healthy enchiladas. Assemble in an oiled 8×10 (or so) baking dish that has a smear of enchilada sauce on the bottom of it by placing 2 tablespoons of veggie mix and 1 tablespoon of cheese (I like cottage cheese and Monterey jack mixed together). Roll up and place rolled-side down in baking dish, pour the enchilada sauce over and cover with cheese. Bake at 375F for 30 minutes or until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted. Remove from oven and let cool about 10 minutes before serving. You can use this time to mix up a cocktail with that hibiscus tea.

Hibiscus enchiladas comfort style. I was half-way through dinner when I realized I had forgotten to take a picture of the plated dinner. I really needed that “hug from the inside” this day!

For a yummy beverage, you can fix these cocktails or leave the alcohol out for a nice mocktail.

Hibiscus Margarita- place 1/3 cup of the reserved hibiscus tea into a glass, add 1T simple syrup, about ½ a lime of fresh juice, and a shot of tequila (gold or anejo is my preference). Adjust to taste, then add ice cubes. I like to float or place on rim some candied jalapenos. I tried adding one of the hibiscus flowers to the drink but it really just looked like a dead baby squid rather than a glorious flower.

Hibiscus and Huckleberry-Infused Vodka sparkler- pour about 1/2 cup of hibiscus tea into a glass, add 1-2 teaspoons of sugar and stir to dissolve, then add a shot of huckleberry-infused vodka, a few ice cubes, and fill glass with sparkling water. I love my SodaStream to have sparkling water whenever I want without creating more plastic bottles to deal with.

Wondering what to serve alongside the enchiladas? For the healthy enchilada sides, I’ve made salads. My favorite salad, of which there is no picture I am sad to say, had a base of romaine and tomato, then alternating slices of grapefruit and avocado and in the center were some cooked carrots with a raspberry-chipotle glaze. Dressing was grapefruit juice, olive oil and seasonings. To make the carrots, cook carrot coins in small amount of water until done. Add some real raspberry jam and some of the chipotle pepper in the pot and stir over heat until it reduces into a glaze. For the comfort enchilada sides I go simple and do a cucumber and tomato salad (and maybe a second cocktail). A little of Aura Cacia’s Chill Pill essential oil on the wrist also helps soothe the soul.

Give these a try and let me know what you think! Did you do the healthy version or the comfort version? If you buy the hibiscus flowers from the above Amazon link (or any other items that are linked in this or my other posts) it will not cost you anything extra and I will make a small commission that will let me make up other recipes to use up that bag of hibiscus! That is how the Amazon affiliate thingy works, I get a few cents for pointing you in their direction.

The Other Great Vegetarian Hunter

I am going to have to give the UPS man a Christmas present because I have ordered so much of the items needed to rehab Brighty via online shopping that he is at my  house at least every other day. And some of it has been rather heavy. Thank you, UPS! I do make every attempt to shop local, even asking if items can be special ordered which does take longer and costs more but I believe it is important to support local business. It’s just that many times the stores say they can’t get the particular item, and for the special needs of this rehab, RV stores with an online presence are the only option. So, thanks again to my friendly guy in the brown truck!

Finally, the propane lines are in and I can start installing the insulation and paneling and then install the kitchen cabinets! Woohoo!

Well, the lower cabinets anyway. I still have some AC wiring to install and check so the permanent install of the upper cabinet will have to wait. But it is still progress. and the sink I ordered has arrived as has the water heater and the water pump. I did a test fit for the upper cabinets because I wanted them to be flush with the ceiling and I could find no definitive info on how to achieve this. Surprise of surprises, it worked the first time! I also realized that absolutely nothing on Brighty is square or straight. She has curves even in her straight lines, like how is that possible?


Test fit of upper cabinets with the lower cabinets removed so I could get in close. That is the water heater you see below. It also required some fancy cutting of the lower cabinet.
IKEA cabinets are installed!

We also received the new fridge (that was delivered by freight which I am sure the UPS guy was very appreciative). It can run on AC power or propane. We had a bit of discussion, the don and I, on what size to get. I won’t say who wanted what but one person wanted the largest fridge possible and the other thought maybe a smaller fridge and a cooler would be the way to go. It was agreed to get the largest possible and with assurances that it would definitely fit through the door. Crap, the fridge is just 3/4 of an inch too wide to fit through the door. Maybe removing the door frame will help. Whose idea was it to get such a big fridge anyway?

I took a long weekend off to go bow hunting with the don. This is a real departure for me because I do not hunt and do not eat critters. Not on purpose, that is. Anyone who has gone for a jog on warm summer morning along a lovely wooded trail a few times has probably had the experience of jogging up a hill and fallen into the open-mouthed breathing bug-swallowing morass of ickiness. If you can except the accidental bug, I fall into the category defined by a non-hunting friend who said, “I could have taken the shot but I realized I just was not hungry enough to where killing the bird would make a difference for me but it would certainly make a difference for the bird.” And he stopped hunting. I make my own choices about eating animals but if I ever got hungry enough, I would eat one. So far I just have not gotten that hungry. Lucky me! Plus, I have tried a bite of an animal if it was offered and novel and, to be honest, no critter has ever tasted all that good to me. If eating a critter, whether cow or elk or snail or frog or turkey or duck…, if it had the same explosion of joy on my tongue like an amazing guacamole or piece of chocolate or superb cup of coffee, well, maybe I would not be vegetarian but no bite has ever done that. So why bother killing it if it is not fabulous? Elmer Fudd is the only vegetarian hunter that I know and we all know of his lack of prowess with a gun. I personally would not hunt with a gun, it would feel too much like being an assassin, but seeing how much Monty likes the elk meat and how well his allergy-ridden body does on this type of protein, maybe I will take up bow hunting. To feed my family.

My first day as a bow hunter and I totally look the part

I am a tremendously curious soul and, while very opinionated, I tend to not judge that which I do not have any experience. I have known a few bow hunters. Stories of spending days following a particular animal and strategizing to get close enough to shoot, well, they sounded perhaps more sporting than the hanging out and assassinating that rifle shooting seems to be. Again, I fully recognize that I have zero experience and am in good company with having an opinion on that which I know jack shit. When the chance to go bow hunting came along, I decided to “give it a shot” and get a little experience.

Here I am, all camo-ed up. My first day as a bow-hunter and I totally look the part.

This kind of hunting requires a bit of hiking around and watching to see where the elk are moving about. This apparently changes from year to year and getting into a position where a shot can be made during the early morning or twilight-ish times the big guys get going takes some intel and planning. Have you ever heard an elk  They make a weird sound for such big animals, kind of like a squeak.

Elk on one of the many ridges around
I really enjoyed the hiking around looking to see where the elk were congregating.

So a few days is spent walking and observing quietly and making sure not to scare any of these critters. Funny enough, there were quiet a few elk on other hillsides. Here is a herd with a pretty big bull and his cows and even a baby elk. They do not look that far away but it would be a good full-day hike to get over there so moving camp would be required.

Pretty good sized herd on the next ridge

And these guys must have had some intel of their own because that hillside they would traverse for the next few days was not near any access trail to be able to get the mules near to a kill and pack it out. Being able to get the “harvested” animal out is an important part of hunting and having to backpack a several hundred pounds of raw meat sounds nigh on impossible. No wonder this bull was so big, he is pretty smart!

Learning how to spot elk
Oh, hey there are tons of elk across the river!
Trying to keep a low profile so the elk on the next ridge don’t spook
Almost two minutes of what it is like to bow hunt.
Quill has hunting experience and is very excited when she sees elk.
Monty and Finn haven’t any hunting experience and were getting bored and sleepy
Elk spotting

Hanging out waiting for an elk to cruise by was one of my favorite parts. the don would get his different elk call whistles out and see if there were any elk nearby. It was really cool when one would answer and a bit of call and response would go on. I found the waiting a great opportunity to meditate and to practice being in the present moment.

In place and checking the bow and draw and probably some other sport-specific terms that I don’t recall
Waiting for the elk to come by. I got in some really good meditation. the don prefers to read
Dude, don’t turn the page yet, I’m not finished reading
Still waiting for the elk
I can nap sitting up
Special hunting makeup for those days you just feel extra pretty

See, hunting is kinda fun!

Bow hunting requires getting very close to the animal. If we had been using a rifle, there were quite a few opportunities to kill but with the bow you have to be more patient and get in very close. This trip resulted in no kills so that worked out fine by me. All the fun, none of the blood and guts. the don was not concerned since he had plenty of meat left over from last years kill, so much so that he passed on a couple of shots because the bull was so big the don wanted him to go on and make more baby elk. I am thinking that could be a nice set of antlers to find next spring!

Monty was interested in a critter down the ridge a ways. the don thought it might be a bear

A storm began to roll in after lunch. The winds picked up like the tornado in The Wizard of Oz. Monty and I were hiking around just enjoying the scenery and not worrying about being stealthy when this line of clouds came in so we began to head back to camp.

A windy afternoon
Would you quit with the pictures of that storm and let’s get back to camp?!?!
Watching the lightening across the way
Storm clouds make for a pretty sunset
Stella enjoying the grass and view after her walkabout.

No photos of the food on this trip. It was good but not as amazing as other trips because the don felt that campfires were not conducive to keeping elk nearby so cooking was done backpacking style in a single pot on a stove. It was still nice to have the mules to carry all of the gear and if you got tired of walking Stella would carry you for a stretch. She is becoming one of my favorite mules of the seven due to her relatively calm disposition. We also share a distaste for the antics of the two rambunctious boy mules I call Thing 1 and Thing 2. One afternoon I came back to camp and saw only one mule instead of three. Expletive. Stella and Thing 2 pulled their pickets and took off. It was just me and Monty and the choices were clear:

  1. Leave and pretend I didn’t see anything. Come back well after dark and after the don would have returned to camp.
  2. Go find the don and interrupt his hunt so he can help track down his got-derned mules
  3. Find those fu*#ers myself.

I was concerned the mules could get tangled in their pickets and get hurt. This explains why I, a person with no mule experience and who is rightfully afraid of these powerful and sometimes unpredictable creatures, chose number 3. A smarter person would have been more concerned that she would get hurt trying to deal with two runaway mules but my heart bleeds for all creatures, great and small. A bit of panic started to rise in my gut as I looked up and down three possible trails and searched the hillside for signs of mule tracks. I could see no obvious path they took.  With the last bit of sensibility in my head I asked Monty to find the mules. Monty is the best dog in the world because even though those mules are not friendly to him no matter how much he tries to be nice, he nosed around and then took off down one of the trails. I don’t even know how Monty knew what I was asking but he led me straight to those recalcitrant critters. Now I had to lead them back all by myself. Thing 2 is not usually very cooperative with me but he may have sensed that I meant it when I told him one misstep on his part and I’d tie him to the nearest tree for wolf food. We all got back to camp without further incident. Shortly after our return little Finn, the puppy, came running up. Her new trail name might be Ranger because she goes off on her own so much. About 45 minutes later the don showed up. Other than me drinking hard liquor at 4:00 in the afternoon, nothing seemed amiss.

Enjoying a well-deserved nap
and a beverage
Moonrise on the walk back to camp
The dogs lead the way on the narrow trail as we hike out

It’s good to have a sure-footed friend on these knife edges

The day came for us to head out of the wilderness. No elk were harmed on this hunting trip and the sun played peekaboo as we walked out. the don and I took turns riding Stella although he would lead her when I rode since I’m not skilled in mule management. I can ride horses but these mules aren’t trained like a horse. No bridle, no formal riding training, and they question authority with every step. Wrangling one of these guys on a steep hillside is not on my bucket list. I am learning to be around them but I’m still pretty scared of them in unfamiliar situations so the don led while I rode. On the really sharp drop-offs though, no one rode. The mules are very sure-footed and do well picking the way along the trail but I wouldn’t be on top of one!

And so ends the saga of the other great vegetarian hunter. I am happy to shoot elk with a camera and to walk around the lovely hills. If only tacos grew wild I would surely take up hunting with a habanero-tipped arrow.

Brighty Part 2 of ???

Brighty’s rehab continues… after a brief interruption called work (and a prayer that my cellular internet access doesn’t drop me this time)

With Brighty’s demo mostly completed and a relatively time-sensitive bit of work to complete out in Forks where Brighty’s new home will be, I had to put on hold any more rehab work. I made the most of the trek to the Olympic Peninsula by stopping at stores in the Seattle area that are not available in my current location. One of these stores was IKEA. After having done some research into RV cabinets it appeared my options were IKEA or DIY. Not feeling too up on my carpentry skills, I opted for Ikea (okay, I’m tired of hitting the caps button) since they promise my dream room for cheap (well, about $700).

IKEA-so many options

After availing myself of the online planner and a less-than-inspiring call to customer service, I took myself to the physical store and met a young lady whose creative thinking and extraordinary patience and product knowledge almost reduced me to tears of gratitude. Planning a kitchen that has curves and wheel-wells was stretching my skill set but Savannah saved the day. May blessings be heaped upon her! When we realized that I was outside the delivery zone and the cost of freighting the cabinets to me was utterly exorbitant, Savannah even figured out how to adjust so that every necessary thing would fit in my vehicle. Did I mention what a God-send she was?

I like the gray cabinets but what flooring should I choose? What says “I love pale colors but live with dogs”

I also made stops to look at flooring and fabric.

Hmmm, I love the embroidered fabric. I wonder if it is too late to train Monty not to get on furniture?

The design scheme is coming together with a base of gray and off-white and accents that can change with mood and season (read purple). There were lots of choices but I am still looking for that balance in fabric options that says both “day at the spa” and “day at doggy daycare” and doesn’t involve covering the couch with towels.

Alas, the foundational work must be completed before the fun designing can commence. And so we find the author precariously perched on 12 foot boards spanning the top of the camper scraping off old caulk to prepare the roof for a desperately needed waterproofing. There are no pictures of this in part because taking a selfie while balancing on a rocking trailer seemed somewhat difficult and in part because I didn’t want any evidence of my foolishness were I to get hurt. I’m pretty sure my insurance policy has a clause about jumping out of airplanes and tightrope walking on decrepit trailers. But I did take some video of the “BEFORE” roof while installing the fans that replaced the old vents.

Since Brighty has seen some rough days, it will take a few liberal coats of special elastomeric paint, butyl tape, and caulk to help weatherproof her roof. Fortunately, a timely rainstorm showed me the places that needed extra attention and so it goes.

the don had experience installing the faux wood flooring so he devoted some time to that. I did a little bit, just enough to learn how to do it but in such a small area it really was not a two person job. Plus, you can only have one boss on any project and, well, he is the don and I have never been employee material.

More foundational work to be done before the “fun” decorating was the running of new electric lines. Luckily I found the electronic schematic for the trailer so all the dangling wires should make sense.

This should make things easier!

I have a passing understanding of house electricity but have never done anything with DC nor have I done anything with connecting the AC and DC so that either or both lines can be run depending on what power is available. In her previous life Brighty was either DC or AC with no connection between the two but, as mentioned above, I am going to wire her differently. My time at the Flying S Farm, while disappointing in the lack of education provided and the quality of work that existed (pretty sure the place would have burned down from the frequent electrical shorts were it not for the 300+ inches of rain each year), did excite in me a quest to know how DC power to an AC house (as with solar energy) could and should be done. In Houston the solar energy collected by those few who brave the cost is wired directly into the existing grid. I knew of no one who was actually off-grid there. I had a lot of studying to do and am so grateful to live in the time of the internet. I learned much about size of wire for particular applications, how much loss of power is acceptable for certain types of “circuits” (only 3% for critical like the propane and CO detector, up to 9% for non-critical like the fridge or water heater), pure sine and modified sine wave inverters (the thingy that switches DC power to AC- you have a tiny one on the cord for your laptop), convertors, battery chargers, generators, and on and on. Suffice to say things got real mathy real fast.

First things first- put in some new fans to help rid the stinky “funk” in Brighty

Okay, time to get back to work. I’m going to be better about updating the blog on Brighty’s makeover. I am joining a local writer’s club to make sure I am not getting caught up in the doing and forgetting to write and record everything!

Wish you were here!

Pondering Pines

A brief interruption in the rehab of Brighty occurred in early August. I am quite behind in my posting, I know. I will get better about that, promise. I was lucky enough to get a gig helping the don with some pine cone picking. Unlike the other pines worked on in the spring, these pines have no special genetic traits offering resistance to anything. They were just selected for their looks and value as lumber specimens. The person who had done the selecting would frequently point to a tree and say to me, “See that tree? Would you want a forest full of those?” I realized he wanted a forest of trees that all looked the same, very straight and tall and just a few limbs whereas I think I prefer a forest of trees like in the Dr. Seuss books with bends and forks in the trunk and limbs sticking out all which-a-way.

Would you want a forest of these trees? the don in this pine- see his blue hat?

Also, in case you are wondering, pine cone is one of those words that can be written as two words or as one, called an open or closed compound word. Probably it is best to pick your favorite and stick to that style throughout your writing. I do not promise to do that because I prefer to live the “and” life rather than the “either-or” life. If it is okay to use pine cone AND pinecone then I will probably do that. 🙂

Ponderosa pines are probably my favorite tree because of the smell of the bark. It is either vanilla or butterscotch, depending on the tree, and it is heavenly to smell as you climb. The cones are quite large, about the size of an avocado and about as heavy as a large grapefruit. Now, these cones are just ripening and are still full of moisture making them MUCH heavier than their dried and opened counterparts on the ground and in many fall centerpiece arrangements. I learned this from experience and, as I tend to do, I gained that experience the hard way.

Ponderosa Pine in early morning light

Tip: if you find yourself in a situation where someone 30 feet above you wants to toss a cone down for you to slice open and check for ripeness, let the cone hit the dirt and then go pick it up. Do NOT reach out your hand and catch the falling cone like some baseball outfielder in a World Series game. I have NO IDEA what I was thinking and, really, I’m not a sporty-gal who played softball or anything. I mean, I can barely catch a cold much less anything thrown in my general direction. And yet when the don hollered, “Hey, Susan, can you check this cone,” and lobbed the pine grenade towards the ground, I was walking to the truck and just reached my left hand out and caught the thing. IN MY BARE HAND. To be honest, I was quite shocked that I had so nonchalantly caught it while I was sauntering to the truck, I didn’t even really try to catch it. Probably because, as mentioned, I’m not good at catching things. And even when I do catch something it usually bounces out of my hand and I go running pell-mell after it like a dog with a Kong toy. However, if the caught object has spines like a puffer fish that will stick into your palm and fingers it is much less likely to bounce out.

Spines on this prickly booger make it pretty easy to catch, if one were so inclined

It can also cause a little nerve damage. Even 6 weeks later the tip of my middle finger has that weird tingling numbness to it. I do not mind too much because it still works well enough when that finger needs to point out some minor infraction or irritation that crosses my path.

Ouch. Lots of little stab holes in my hand. On the plus side, I could hardly feel them due to the temporary nerve damage from catching the cone. 

Aren’t these pinecones beautiful? Naturally the purple is my favorite.

Green, brown, and purple cones all from Ponderosa.

I mostly worked on the ground the first two days but then we got to an area where the trees to climb were close enough together that I could climb one and have the don within shouting distance in case anything went wrong. I wasn’t worried about falling out of a tree but there are other things that can go wrong and, even if I am late telling you the story, I always want to get back in one piece and tell it. I am kind of cautious that way. So finally the day comes that I get to climb a tree by myself! I get my gear together, check the ropes and knots, get the little “Bo-Peep” tool the don created to pull the branches in. See, the cones are on the outer branches and I am attached to the trunk so this tool lets me grab the outer branch and bend it toward me to pick the cones. It is actually quite peaceful up there. Very few bugs, lots of birds and the views are amazing! It took me probably three times as long to get the same quantity of cones but that is okay, I was having a pretty good time even if I was slow.

Getting started as the sun just starts coming over the hill
All the gear to climb fits into these two bags
Ropes, clips, and powder
Powdering the ropes keeps them from getting sticky with tree pitch
Me in a not-too-tall tree

Unfortunately the tree climbing was slowed down for me due to getting “glutened.” I have to eat gluten-free or else I get very sick. I had been living in a house with bread and trying to be careful but some crumb of bread must have gotten into my breakfast one morning because on the way to the climbing site I became very ill. I tried climbing a tree but keeping my nausea at bay took most of my attention and I wasn’t able to pick very well. I ended up on the ground for a number of days which is the best place to be if you are vomiting and having diarrhea. When I get glutened I tend to run a fever for a few days, too, and that makes tree climbing not such a good idea, either. At least getting out into the forest was keeping my mind off of how yucky I felt, even if I was on the ground the entire time. I did get to see some pretty sights.

Bee my friend
What do you think the caption for this should be?

I will say it was hard work but it was also really fun work. Watching the sun rise as I headed to the forest site, then going to swim in the river after working, heading home to appreciate a soft bed and shower. It really simplified life to the sweet things. I don’t think I could do it every day for a year but for a couple of weeks it was really good. It is also really nice to have a job that you can bring your dog along with you.

Oh, and one thing, wear gloves when you work with pine cones. Trust me on this.

Identity Crisis

“Leaves of three, let them be”

For many of us, this is pretty much the total of our woodsman training in avoiding poison ivy. However, if you have an outdoorsy nature and have traveled to other wooded areas then you know that poison ivy can look very different from one place to another. If you have read my earlier post then you also know that plant can take several morphological aspects in the same geographical locale. If you don’t have experience in that location then you are back to your own little ditty to hopefully protect you from itchy skin and oozing blisters.

It’s quite mind-boggling to try and figure out who is who in the plant world on the hill above me. I have been promised that there is no poison ivy anywhere on this hill. Oh yeah? Well, what about this?

Oh, wild strawberry? Really? Not poisonous then? Oh, okay. (Does it really make strawberries?)

Lalala… whoa, what’s that? Three leaves climbing up a stick- kinda like that one down by the Snake River in Hell’s Canyon. Surely that is some version of poison ivy? Nope, just a plant, and don’t call me Shirley.

Monty and I decide to meander down a creek. We love these fresh walks in the woods. The crisp air, the sunlight streaming through the trees and making little patches of light in the green shadows. And here is more three-leafed wonder

Three leaves, viney… watch out!!! Oh wait, thorns? Blackberry?

Sheesh, I’m beginning to question the validity of that saying now because everywhere I look there are three-leafed plants and some even have the mitten-leaf appearance of the poison ivy I am familiar with.

Oh lordy, look at all that, the mushroom is probably poisonous, too. I used to feel so safe in the woods. I guess those were “my” woods, with animal sounds and plants and topography that I have known for many years. There is PLENTY of poison ivy in Texas, believe you me, but after so many years of exploring I just instinctively knew where it was and how to avoid it and if it did get me a little, well, it was only a little. Maybe a couple days of itchy and a wee bit of blistering. Not a full-body event that is utter misery like I had a couple of months ago. Swear to God I’d rather birth a child than go through that again.

Oh, here is a three-leafer but I do know this one. It’s trillium and is quite lovely.

And look at all the other kinds of three-leaf around it. It begins to get overwhelming, just trying to figure out what is what in a new place.

Pretty lighting but who are you?

Pretty sure this is okay

Monty doesn’t concern himself in the least with plant identification. He does worry about staying close to me and will check on me frequently if I am loitering or moving to slowly. He is so funny that way! I do like hiking with him because he does always check and if he hears me exclaim over something he comes running to make sure I am okay and give me a bop with his nose.

Ummmm, I’m not seeing this in the plant identification booklet

I keep trying to figure out who is who in this three-leafed plant world. My guidebook is not really all that helpful at times. I think it assumes I already kinda know what I’m doing here. I’m beginning to realize I do not know jack. It’s rather humbling because I used to know A LOT and feel totally at home in the woods. Here I don’t know anything. It is both interesting and uncomfortable at the same time. The discomfort makes me think more about what is what. No comfy ruts for me. Every step is examined. Sometimes I can only hang on to the few truths I know still exist, but what are those again? Oh bother, here we go getting existential again…

There are so many encouragers saying, speak your truth. Walk your path and find what serves you. Follow your bliss…

Well, what if you don’t know what your truth is or where your path is or goes? What if you spent your whole life doing what you were supposed to do, what others wanted you to do, what you thought would be “the right thing” to live happily ever after and you played nice in order to make things better for everyone? (but were you included in the everyone count because how did suppressing your own outrageous being make things better?)

How then can you speak your truth and walk your path to the glory of God or whatever if you don’t even know what your own voice sounds like?

A story of a little girl I know has cracked the door open for me. I spent many years playing a role to make life better for everyone else. Like many women, I focused on taking care of others and, in the process, hid who I am and what I want. Maybe it was easier to keep the spotlight off of me rather than risk everyone finding out I am so small and imperfect. Whatever the cause doesn’t matter anymore, it is done. Now I am trying to figure out who I am without the layer of b.s. I caked on to play a role that was not really me.

“I am done obeying for today.”

Rip off the costume you thought you wanted to wear but that does not fit quite right, grab the ice cream cone that you desire and give not a care how it will affect your appetite for dinner. Get in touch with who YOU are, the base instincts and desires, the stories you tell yourself about life, about today. Begin to feel what is real in you. If you are feeling grumpy and bitchy open up and accept the grumpiness, accept the bitchiness fully. You may find that when you open up, and make a place for this so-called ugliness that it no longer needs to grump and harrumph and take up so much of your precious time on this earth.

And this acceptance of the wholeness of who you are just might be the way to start hearing the sound of your voice and recognizing it as you.

My goodness, if you are still reading then you are probably related to me. Thank you, Mom!

So all this came about as I was partaking in an activity that I adore and the circumstance were less than adorable. I had been feeling a bit untethered for a few days and decided to head out for a few days of solo backpacking. Would the place of respite that I had always enjoyed continue to bring solace when things get difficult for me? Who am I now anyway without the jobs, the friends, the home that defined me for so long? That was a question to which the answer still eludes me. I was hiking along a trail and was getting so aggravated, I will blame it on the incessant biting bugs that were thicker than a wool blanket so that I could not stop to take in the views . Even taking a photo was a challenge for in the half second it took to get my camera  from my pocket, 3 to 5 mosquitoes would land on my hand, swarming my face so that I had to hold my breath and keep my ears covered and eyes squinted to take a photo. All the tricks I knew of going to a ridgetop for wind, staying away from water, even bug repellent did not deter this irritation. And I was getting grumpier by the step, being driven on by these bugs. Finally I let myself just be grumpy. “Fine, here is some direct attention, bitch all you want about anything, not just the bugs, anything whether it seems to have merit or relevance or not.”

Shockingly, once I had permission to be fussy, there was not really anything to be fussy about. Yes, the bugs were still bad, no miracle came and erased them for me, but my horrid mood was diminished and my emotional load was certainly lightened. I wish I could say this lasted forever, or even the rest of the day but alas, I am not that enlightened. It did last a few moments though, enough to give me a break and some space to see how I was letting circumstance outside determine what was going on inside.

And so I asked, why am I here?

Not the philosophical question but for real. Why, if this is sucky, am I still here? Go somewhere else. And I had no good answer except “well, this is what I planned on doing.”

Well, if you aren’t having fun then go do something else. What would you like to do instead?

…(crickets chirping)….

Searching…

Well,… I don’t know. This is what i have always done for fun, to get centered, to get my head together, to find peace and respite and answers to questions. It is who I am. What would I do, who would I be without it?

Who would I be?

Monty doesn’t worry on such matters. He is a good teacher that way. Just chill out and be here now.

OMG, girl. Quit thinking so much and just enjoy the ride!

Okay, okay. I know Monty is right. All this wondering is not much different from worrying. “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.” Corrie Ten Boom

I probably ought to go get on my yoga mat but first, Monty says to take a nap. And Monty knows best.

Me and my boy chillaxin


Hello, Brighty!

Homeless no more! Well, I guess technically if the whole world is your home, then you can never be homeless. But philosophical musings aside, I bought this vintage trailer and am jumping on the vintage trailer rehab bandwagon. Unlike some trailers I have admired online, this one needs some major rehab due to water damage and, also unlike those parked “glamping” trailers, it must be actually roadworthy. Some of those photos on Pinterest with the regular fridge, barstools, granite counters, and other apartment furniture just do not make sense if the trailer is actually moving. I learned that a trailer moving down the road is equivalent to a house withstanding a 3.4 Richter scale earthquake. That is a lot of wiggling!

Her name is Brightwater Dive, a play on the name of the private road on which she will be parked this winter. She was born in 1971 and is a Kit Companion model RV trailer. I call her Brighty and am excited to share the journey of her remodel with you. If you have any suggestions, please do let me know! I tend toward a romantic sense of style and am stretching those boundaries for this project with at least a passing nod toward crisp spa-like minimalism and dirty-dog-proof sleekness. We will see how it goes…

Can you believe all this for only $600.00?

So here she is just 10 minutes after I bought her. My vehicle can pull her with no problem. Towing weight is certainly a factor, which is why there will not be granite counters or tile floors, but as long as I make good choices on materials, Brighty will stay well under the recommended weight for towing that my vehicle can safely manage. I have never trailered anything but it doesn’t seem that hard. I mean, I have pulled little kids in wagon a lot and how different could this be

Famous last words… I am pretty sure I heard the demi-god of RV trailers say, “Hold my beer.”

So about 30 minutes into owning Brighty I discovered at least one big difference between kid wagons and RV trailers. No photos of the next part because it was a little traumatic for me. While driving along the 2-lane highway in the middle of Nowhere Eastern Washington there was a terrible explosion and the right tire literally exploded. It must have been something to see because the people in the vehicle behind us stopped to offer help. The tire blast bent a part of the trailer frame next to the wheel and blew off/up the fender cover. I cannot imagine the force it takes to bend this metal. I looked for the fender cover and it could not be seen anywhere along the road, nor was there any appreciable pieces of tire. Then getting the lug nuts off to change the tire was a chore. the don brilliantly came up with the idea to use the hydraulic jack he brought to apply steady pressure to loosen the damn things. He put on the spare (thank God there was a spare!) and then he checked the tire pressure; sheez they were terribly over inflated! No wonder it blew up. The previous owner had let us use his air compressor and tire pressure gauge to inflate the tires and the measuring device must have been horribly off. An interesting side note, out of all the people who passed us on that Washington highway where Brighty sat keeling over due to the embankment (there was no hazard lane), the only two people who stopped to either render aid or see if they could help in any other way both looked, how to say…, a bit rough around the edges. All those people in nice cars and apparent access to dental care just stared as they zoomed by, not even bothering to scoot over in the lane to give Brighty some space. One chick, absorbed in her phone, had less than 6 inches between her car and Brighty as she hurtled by.  A pox and infestation of fruit flies on the lot of them! “Well Toto, I guess we are  not in Texas anymore” In Texas a woman standing on the edge of a highway with an apparent vehicle issue would have several people stopping to render aid and probably, once the flat was changed, enjoy a beer and discuss bar-b-que recipes too. Oh well, that is that.

As soon as Brighty got to the RV makeover spa, aka the back yard, her tires were removed and I bought new ones. When I took the old tires to the local tire store, the young fella working there exclaimed with delight when he saw the rims. Apparently these are not the original rims but are off of a vintage Camaro so Brighty will have a bit of sporty to her! Hmmmm, maybe I need to look into more chrome-plated accessories. I know they say beauty is only skin deep but Brighty’s gonna need a bit more than a cute personality. Here she looks pretty much worth the $600.00 I paid for her.

Beauty is skin deep, they say. Here Brighty waits for new tires.
I think a bit of scrubbing will get these rims to shine. Also showing is the sole remaining fender cover- like how am I going to get a match to this?

So here is her interior. Classic 1971 color scheme, just missing the shag carpet.

Classic 1970s Harvest Gold. Yeah, that’s gonna change.

We knew there was some water-caused damage as the floor was soft in one spot. Anyone care to hazard a guess as to the next thing coming?

When some of the siding was removed, the water damage became obviously rather extensive. The final decision was to rip out the whole kitchen and bathroom as those two walls were completely rotted. How Brighty made it down the road without collapsing on herself is beyond me! I learned a lot from the demolition about how these RV trailers are built. Just leave everything you know about building construction at the door; all you need is a mondo staple-gun and an inside-out attitude. These guys are built by putting furniture and then walls together to form what I would think of as supporting walls, the so-called framing and skin come last. Hunh.

Here she is demo complete, with some repaired flooring and walls.

All the while, I’m envisioning how I want Brighty to look. I decided it would need to happen in stages; it could be totally overwhelming to go from party dump to chandeliers in one step. And she needs to be livable by October. Sadly, the closest big hardware/homeware store is an hour drive away and is not a very good representation of Home Depot. I have to go to the west coast anyway so am going to go by the Ikea in Seattle. Wish me luck!

“OMG, what have I gotten myself into?”

Independence Day

Independence Day

Happy July 4th!

In America we celebrate this day as a reminder of our birth as a new self-governing country. It is classically celebrated with time spent outdoors, picnics, family and friends gathering, and, my favorite, firework shows. The history behind it all is not something I will discuss except to add this is not a unique situation in human experience, some group gets together to manage the society and then a smaller group splits off because they want to do thing differently or are being mistreated by the bigger group. I appreciate that my grandmother made the arduous journey to America, that she was welcomed into this amazing country even though she did not speak English or have any job skills. She got work as a housekeeper and taught herself English, then she built a life for herself and paved the way for her progeny.

One of the things i like to think about while making Oma’s perfect potato salad is independence of thought. I believe my greatest contribution to society has been raising three people to be independent thinkers. I tried hard, failed occasionally, to see the strengths and weaknesses in each of these magnificent beings blessed to my care and stewardship for a brief time. Like any parent, I wanted to instill my values in them. However, the double-edged sword of holding in highest esteem the ability to suss out what is right for you regardless of what anyone else thinks, whether that anyone is the kids at school or your own mom, means that I got to be both pleased and worried when they would do things in a way different from how I wanted them to do it.

Critical thinkers, awareness of personal strengths and marching to your own drum, seeing clearly and acceptance of the weaknesses which lets you also strengthen your march, willingness to try something new and to listen and pay attention to those who went on before you, allowing yourself to fail and then get up, reevaluate, and get going again without fear of failure dogging your every step, all of this is what I think about on Independence Day. I believe that to be truly independent you must be willing to listen to the truth that whispers in your heart and soul. We need to recognize when fear is driving our steps and be courageous enough to turn and face it openly or else we are not truly independent. Could there be anything sadder or Machiavellian than to be enslaved while pretending we are free?

My children are each unique in the paths they each have chosen and the way in which they choose to walk it. That I was entrusted with this little part of God wrapped in flesh boggles the mind, yet I was. And without a doubt they are each so very much greater than the sum of their parts.

Here is to Independence Day and independent thinkers! Thank you God, amen, please pass the potato salad.

Oh, and the secret to the potato salad is to boil the potatoes, slice them and lay them in a dish while still very warm and then sprinkle a mixture of vinegar, olive brine, and water over the potatoes and let them sit until cool. And don’t you DARE use anything but real mayonnaise; the use of so-called “salad dressing” may cause my poor grandmother to roll in her grave or even come to your house and haunt your kitchen.

Prepping Oma’s perfect potato salad

I had the weirdest dream last night. In it I was pregnant and in labor and all these people kept coming up and interrupting me and the calm and peaceful labor I had planned. It was very frustrating to keep fighting with them all. Then I was at the doctor at some kind of in-labor check-up and he told me I had cancer and only 10 months to live. So here I was about to give birth and prepare to die at the same time.  And I got to where I could find acceptance with the duality and had to begin to accept how others were going to handle it all. Isn’t that weird? Lot’s there to analyze, for sure.

I went for a mule ride on this Fourth of July weekend in the hills just above the house I am staying. The good news is that Monty has gotten more accepting of me being on top of a mule, he no longer panics at not being able to touch me with his nose to make sure I am okay and that he is okay. The bad news is he is way too lackadaisical around these powerful animals who only just tolerate him. He gets too close to their feet, doesn’t take it seriously when they charge at him to run him off. Fortunately these are nice mules who don’t really mean to hurt him, they are just giving him a hard time but if a mule or Monty accidentally stepped the wrong way, well… it would be a very sad situation.

Here Monty is too damn close to the mule. Thank God Ginger is so calm!

So unfortunately some electronic collar training is going to be necessary. You might recall that is what I had to do to get Monty to leave the elk alone. I send many prayers of thanks and gratitude to the God that cares about little white city dogs and protects him.

the don with Stella and Henry. Henry’s wearing a pack saddle to which large boxes of stuff can be strapped.

Enjoying the view!

My number one fella keeping some distance from Ginger

Mule ears. Notice Ginger’s summer hair cut. No, I did not do it. I kind of prefer a longer main for her to toss around but apparently mules wear a version of a crew cut.

And, for your listening pleasure. hooves on a wooden bridge spanning a lovely mountain creek. No coconut shells were harmed in the making of this sound video. Isn’t it adorable how her ears flip around?

Training Day 2 (and then some)

Training Day 2 (and then some)

All a girl really needs…

A brief rundown of the situation so far: in 2017 (and honestly, way before that) I was ready for something different and a chain of life-changing events had conspired to let me, if I was willing to risk it all, have a whole new life experience. I quit my work and tearfully and fearfully left my family and friends to take a job that was interesting to me in a location that I have long loved. The job was great but the hours long, no days off, and the owner of the place is a bit whacky. After a few months I finally took my earned time off and traveled to other parts of the beautiful northwest U.S.  Upon my return I found the owner had emptied the bank account and had not paid me as contractually agreed to. After some discussion, I took a hiatus from the work while awaiting payment and chose to follow my heart even further afield. The cool thing about no longer having anything is that there is nothing to lose and no excuses to not try something new. Since I have already left everything I loved, I am sure as hell not going to settle for a situation that is undesirable. My motto: If it isn’t fabulous why bother?

I did get to meet some really cool people in the tiny town of Forks, Washington. While the town has a population that is smaller than the high school my kid went to, it only takes one person to make a good life even more bright and interesting and it is there that I met the don.

the don has led a pretty exciting-sounding life so far and enjoys the outdoors as much as I. However, it was his cooking that got my attention and, I suppose, broke the ice. He told me of his multi-week-long packing trips to go bow hunting in the fall and to collect antlers in the spring, of his winter months in the Olympics Steelhead fishing, time spent surfing on the lower Pacific coast and his recent retirement from regular work as a smokejumper. I was intrigued by the idea of hiking with mules and having a giant tent that is heated and especially having really good food; that is so very different from my experience as a backpacker. I love backpacking. I love getting away from civilization and walking the contours of the land and feeling the wildlife all around me. The thing about backpacking that is kind of hard is carrying all your own stuff and especially carrying food. For one or two days it isn’t that big of a deal but for a couple of weeks it can be very, very heavy. Having a dog along means carrying dog food, too. I was intrigued by the idea of seeing the wild landscape of Hell’s Canyon and having a mule carry all my stuff including some real creature comforts. When the don invited me to join one of his trips I jumped at the chance to enjoy some needed time away from working and that first experience in Hell’s Canyon has already been shared.

After the trip and returning to the undesirable BnB situation, there was suddenly an opening in my work schedule. the don offered me a position in his company doing some contract work this summer, work that even a beginner like me can do. And so now you are up to date on how it is that I find myself literally fit to be tied and learning the ropes.

Fit to be tied

So many pretty colors!

This project has to do with collecting pollen from specific trees that have been identified as able to fight off a disease called blister rust.

Blister Rust Resistant White Pine

This pollen is collected and used to propagate new trees with this desirable quality. the don has been climbing trees and rock faces for decades so he can shimmy up as fast as a lemur. I am a bit more… sloth-like. I haven’t quite gotten to the stage where I stop clutching but I am practicing every day so that I can get up and down a tree and not have my hands cramp into a claw-like thing. Plus, it is probably better not to leave dents in the tree from that death-grip I have been using.

Learning the ropes
Practice makes perfect and one cannot settle for anything less than perfect when 90 feet up a tree.

Here I am, all roped and tied up, practicing and testing my knots before heading out to do a real climb. While I did get almost as high up as the don, I did not do any collection because I wasn’t quite ready to relinquish the aforementioned squeeze and three-points-of-contact attitude.

 

 

 

 

 

Up!

 And here I am up in the tree with a view down at the ropes and the ground. I am only about 10 feet or so up here. I neglected to take a camera with a wrist strap and so this photo is taken with my phone. I wanted to take some photos when I was about 60 feet up but there was no way I was going to risk pulling my phone out when that high up. If I dropped the phone, even if it survived the fall, I’d never find it in the thick forest and there is no cell service available to try and locate the phone by calling it. I only take certain kinds of risks and that isn’t one of them.

Waiting for the tree climbers to return to the ground

So we will have to make do with photos of the don in the tree. This is one of my favorites.

the don

Okay. That is enough chatting for now. I need to get strapped up and get my practice climbing.

Big hug to you and please do tell me what risk you are going to take this week to brighten your life?

Oh, and here are some other photos from the past week and the White Pine Pollen collecting job.

Sadly, this tree was burned in a fire so it won’t be contributing its genes to the pool

Checking pollen ripeness

We missed you!

Orange diamond is along forest road and marks the location of the desired tree in “chains” and cardinal degrees. If you look right of the tree marker at about 1:30 you can see the don in that White Pine.

Getting ready to do my work of cleaning and processing the pollen that was collected. This rock was the perfect desk for my office in the woods.

Pollen processing

My number one fella

Burned out cedar. This giant cedar is over 5 feet in diameter. It was one of the many acres of trees lost in the great 1910 fire that devastated this part of Idaho. It was so large that the U.S. Army was called in to help, including the Buffalo Soldiers.

the orange marker is a newer type of marker, the silver tag is very old and is starting to be engulfed by the tree

The hooligans, mine, the don’s, and a friend’s puppy. A few days before this shot I taught the griffons how to pose for a photo like Monty does- they hit the mark every time now!

Still snow on the ground! After the tree climb I scooped some snow into my cup and poured a syrup of lemonade and rum. Best snow-cone ever!

Nez Perce trail- some pretty sad history here for the Nimi’ipuu

X marks the spot. Think there is any buried treasure here?

White Bark Pine pollen has a raspberry color when ripe whereas the White Pine pollen is yellow.

Two *chains* away is the tree. How archaic to measure in chains?
oh, it’s 66 feet if you were wondering.

Some trees need fire to reproduce. It kind of allows a nice view of the distance, too

Some of these trees have been in the program a long time!

Training Day 1

Training Day 1


While I am on hiatus from the BnB consulting job awaiting payment for services rendered, I have taken a temporary position located in the northern Rockies. I had some preliminary training on the basics of my new job requirements last week and today was to be the first real training day. Some of the new skills I must master involve knots with different rope sizes, harnesses, and very important is tree identification.

The project involves finding very specific trees using GPS and previous identification of these same trees and then climbing them (not a skill I have mastered but am learning) to harvest pollen right as it is ripe but before it has had a chance to be contaminated by the pollen from nearby trees. After the collection will come the cleaning and proper storage of the pollen using (relatively) clean methods to avoid cross-contamination by other trees or other pollen collected and then appropriate storage of the pollen until it can be turned in for use. I would like to think my many years of experience in the chemistry of haircolor as well as my time in university research labs will aid in the cleaning and packaging of the collected pollen since none of that aids me in climbing these 100 foot trees. I did once climb an 80 foot pole at Philmont using spikes and a rope and was tied in for protection using the classic belaying method of trusting your partner to hold the rope if you fell. That time i did not fall but it was slow going and i developed an appreciation for the trapezius muscle that had heretofor been absent in my experience. This time would be a little different, however. There would be no partner to belay me and catch me if I goof up and I will not be wearing spikes BUT I will have two ropes and only one will be moving at any given moment, with the other being my own personal belay. the don has done this type of work before and assures me that it is worthwhile having me as a part of the team. I am hopeful he is right and that it is not just that he wants me around because his dog has taken a shine to me.

here the don is about 95 feet up in the white pine. soon I will be doing this!

Obvious as it may be since you are reading this, I did not fall to my death from a tree on this first jaunt. Sadly, the intel received from the contracting body (which I will not name) was incomplete. While the contract has specific about what measures are to be taken to reach a designated tree, these parameters were not considered when the don was tasked with accessing this tree that was to be my first foray in the training of my new job. While I am quite disappointed in not getting to learn more about this new job and whether I will get any monetary compensation for my time spent sitting in a truck wrangling dogs and snacking for SIX hours, I have to say the perks are not bad. See my current “office” view along the North Fork of the Clearwater River and, bless his heart, the don already bought salsa and chips and beer as well as dinner and breakfast items since we are having to camp near the trees location. So while I may or may not come out ahead monetarily, I am certainly not out where food comes in. If you know me, you know just how much salsa I can eat so the don might want to be careful how he bids these trees when I am along.


This post will be brief as I am heading out again in an hour to find and, hopefully, climb more trees. I did want to show you the place I am currently staying in Idaho. If you are my friend on Facebook or follow me on Instagram you will have already seen some of these photos. I have to admit I had no idea Idaho could be this lovely. I am quite taken by the cool spring and mesmerized by all the flowers. I love having a forest for a backyard and a creek running beside the house. I cannot tell you how it feels to have wild turkeys calling you to wake up, the sun is rising, and how it feels to slowly watch the sky turn from black to morning light through the window above the bed that does not have or need curtains. I cannot tell you how this feels because there are not words that can express what it feels like when your soul, after a long and arduous journey, comes home. Even when it is a home you never stepped foot in before, your soul just knows when it is home.
Big kiss to you all and may your soul be at home today.

Hell’s Canyon

 

Monty gazing out over the mountains of Hell’s Canyon

“The grandeur and originality of the views presented on every side beggar both the pencil and the pen. Nothing we had ever gazed upon in any other region could for a moment compare in wild majesty and impressive sternness with the series of scenes which here at every turn astonished our senses and filled us with awe and delight.” Benjamin L. E. Bonneville, an early explorer of Hell’s Canyon, wrote about the place I was getting ready to spend two weeks camping and hiking.

Sunset from the Cougar Basin campsite with a view into Oregon.

The area has seen much since white men entered its waters, from its early days of exploitation for copper and gold ore to inciting national division in the 1950s and again in the 1970s on damming the river to present-time recreational pursuits. For many years Hell’s Canyon was hailed as the deepest canyon but that is now contested. Regardless of the numbers, I was about to walk into a place of no outside contact. Not that this is a new experience as I have been solo hiking sections of the Continental Divide Trail for a number of years, but this time was different. I was heading into the area with three mules, three dogs, my friend I call the don and his brother. Would Hell’s Canyon live up to its name and reputation? What hellish fate might await, i wondered?

Could it be anymore perfect for a Texas girl than to have PURPLE bluebonnets?
Okay, technically a cousin to bluebonnets but that can be overlooked.

Obviously I have lived to tell the tale. And share some photos…

the don and his mules

Monty had never been around mules so it was with some slight trepidation that he was introduced to them. He did live through the two weeks but only through the grace of God who looks out for little white dogs.He was disbelieving these creatures were not just big dogs thus he continued to try and befriend them by getting too close to their feet. He would also try to insert himself in the mule train between two mules if I was riding a mule so I ended up in the saddle about 100 yards and then walking the remaining 18 miles into camp the first day. Monty did finally learn, mostly anyway, not to get underneath the mules and would walk very close to the back of the last mule. Thankfully the mules were very patient with this city boy who was just learning the ropes when it came to mule packing. Monty and I had that in common on this trip. One mule was particularly patient with me as I learned to halter and saddle and lead the mules and even let me braid his tail.

Monty learned to stay out of the mule train and trailed along behind. Can you see his tiny white body there?

Otis sporting a fancy tail-do. Definitely a sassy ass!

Hells Canyon will extract its pound of flesh, no doubt ’bout that. Just so you know, there are TWO different manifestations of poison ivy in these parts. There is the normal, vine-trailing-on-the-ground type found in moist areas like near creeks and under trees. Then there is another type that does not resemble a vine or a bush. This nasty and tricksy mo-fo is a stick about three feet tall with lovely white to cream dried-looking berries on it. At least that is how it looks in early spring, maybe in June it gets leaves or hairyness or something but in April it is just a lovely berry-topped stick with delicate red undertones hanging out with all the other grasses that looks like it is begging to be in a floral arrangement.

DO NOT BE FOOLED BY IT

A tricksy mo-fo , this poison ivy, growing along the trail and hillsides in very dry areas and with no leaves.

Another tip, if you are traveling with animals or some companion that goes tromping pell-mell through the grasses, DO NOT LET THAT BEING INTO YOUR SLEEPING BAG, even if it is a skinny puppy shivering in the cold night. That shivering puppy will run through the tricksy poison ivy sticks ALL DAY LONG and then, in the wee hours of the darkness, will bring all that urushiol into your bag and onto your skin. Just imagine what the results of hours and hours of laying in the poison oil will do to your skin as she cuddles up so sweetly to you. All the weight you have lost from so much lovely exercise will not be evident due to the horrible sores and swelling from the blisters and your new trail name will be Scritchers.

 

Only 6 months old, Finn already loved to run the hills all day and snuggle all night.

Three dog night. I finally learned to keep the dogs out of my sleeping bag yet they still loved to snuggle up to me. Here you can see Q, Finn, and Monty’s yellow coat.

Poison ivy legs. The rash was everywhere on my body except my upper back due to a snuggling puppy in my sleeping bag. So much for wearing skirts anytime soon.

This concludes my public service announcement.

Now for the good part, and if you heed my advice above, you can skip the icky and go straight to the good part. People tried to settle the canyon years ago and planted gardens. Most of the people and settlements did not last but some of their food-stuff is still there. If you go in early spring (as for this area, not the early spring of Houston) you will be fed well from the coffers of the canyon. the don knew of several spots where yummies were growing and shared them with me. Sadly I did not get photos of the morel mushrooms the don gathered and then cooked in butter on the wood stove (yes, for real. this is my life now) but i promise they were exquisite. The same day as the mushroom gathering, he showed me where asparagus would grow. Only a few stalks were showing then but when I went back a week later, JACKPOT!

Asparagus growing in the wilds of Hell’s Canyon. Can you believe the luck!?!

I gathered a quart ziplock bag and nibbled on quite a few stalks as I gathered and only took about 20% of what was showing. There is also an area where watercress grows and we enjoyed fresh greens pretty much every day of the trip.

Watercress growing along a creek just waiting to be made into a delicious salad.

Can you imagine a two-week camping trip with fresh asparagus and watercress and mushrooms? and all cooked over campfire or woodstove. Hard to believe yet I offer photographic proof.

Watercress salad with beets, coconut, and mango. The latter two were rehydrated since I have yet to find a mango tree in Hell’s Canyon.

Cooking asparagus over a campfire. Also on the menu this evening was polenta with tomato sauce which you can see in the background.

Monty was his usual majestic self and struck a pose on every rock formation he saw. Truly, I do not pose him and rarely do I even try to arrange a photo. Mostly he gets his vogue on and waits until I finally realize I should take a picture. He even photo bombs and, as usual, his version is much more interesting than my own. Do you think Ansel Adams might come back as a photogenic master in a dog body?

Monty photobombing as I try to shoot landscapes. As usual his version is way more interesting than my boring ol’ flower picture.

I’ll put more photos at the end of this post. At the time every single view was breathtaking and so I have tons of pictures of Monty posing with some dramatic view.

As you may know, I am a former city girl who has decided to try a completely different lifestyle. I am learning so much every day! For example, do you know where the antlers for those awesome chandeliers in hunting-themed lodges come from? Out here it is a hobby to collect the ginormous antlers that are shed naturally every spring by the elk. the don and his brother engage in antler hunting and I began a little hunting myself.  I was better at finding asparagus.

“Glassing” the hillside looking for antlers.

I spy an antler!

Here is one of the smaller antlers. Some were almost as big as me!

Fresh mint- perfect for adding to salads and also to a bit of rum

Waiting for snow to melt and getting a suntan at the same time

Still waiting

Dinnertime in Hell’s Canyon

A fresh and cold spring at just the right height for bottle filling. Hell’s Canyon will extract its pound of flesh but will also provide

Another awesome view of Sheep Creek

Spider on flower. I was so intrigued by this little guy hanging out in the flowering bushes just waiting for bugs

I forgot my hat one day and ended up making one from my bandana and some of the branches from the bush behind me. The branches were to make the brim and I have to say this worked out very well for the entire day!

Rose hips. Reminded me of chinese lanterns

Pictographs!

Curious Otis

the don and mules near suicide point. Can you see them on the trail?

My boy

A view into Oregon

Bear claw marks on pine. I promise, Mom, I never saw any bears this trip!

Brain freeze

Monty near Old Timer

Monty on the mountain

I don’t need inspirational quotes
I need coffee