Holden Arboretum - wander with melissa

Two weeks in Cleveland

Holden Arboretum - wander with melissa

 

I’ve been in Cleveland for just over two weeks now.

And now I’ve stared at that sentence for about half an hour with no thought of a follow-up. I always imagined I would run into a time where something like post-vacation depression would set in, but thought I had enough of a plan to avoid it. I haven’t gotten a job yet, but most of the containers are planted, seeds are started for the garden, small projects on the house underway, and I’ve taken Lucy to a couple parks to explore. I didn’t really count on being so exhausted that I don’t want to do anything but sit around and read. I could easily have the entire interior of the house painted and a good start on remodeling our upstairs bathroom in the time I’ve lounged around but maybe next week… I haven’t even put all my clothes away yet.

seedlings - wander with melissa

 

I find that driving in traffic is still enough to make me tired. It’ll be a while before I’m completely used to so many lanes and so many cars. And so many losers hogging the fast lane. When I go to my parents’ house, I take all the small one- and two-lane roads instead of the highways; it adds an extra 40 minutes but the scenery is nicer and I’m not stressed out when I arrive.

In coping with post-Hawaii syndrome (which, when Googled, brings up a lot of info on rat lungworm disease), I bought a membership to Holden Arboretum and Lucy and I spent the morning there yesterday. Spring is just beginning to explode there so I will go back in two weeks to stroll through the Rhododendron and Azalea gardens when they are blooming. Our highlight was the baby geese – tiny, fluffy, fuzzy yellow balls with beaks swimming in between mom and dad in the ponds. Mama Goose did not love Lucy staring at her, even across the water. It’s hard to be a wildlife photographer while walking a hunting dog.

Baby geese - wander with melissa

 

The real reason I went to the arboretum was to visit Mark’s tree; a Quaking Aspen was planted 25 years ago in his memory, but when a new path was constructed around the lake his tree was in the way. It’s probably more trouble than it’s worth to transplant a common tree after 20 years, so his tree is young again and quite beautiful.

Mark Braun's tree - wander with melissa

 

For the most part, the weather has been rainy and cold in Cleveland. I asked my mother today when the rain usually stops and she told me this is the worst she’s seen in years. Figures. In the meantime, I’ve got two bird feeders strategically placed outside the windows of my office to keep me entertained; birds don’t mind cold rain as much as I do. I’m learning my bird names and will possibly join a bird-watching group if I can find one that is not entirely comprised of really old people. We have black-capped chickadees on the suet feeder (poor planning on my part, nobody wants suet when spring happens – I’m learning), while the seed feeder has attracted sparrows, robins, nuthatches and a cardinal. Peregrine falcons hunt the woods behind our house (and I have been throwing our food scraps a good distance away in hopes of attracting mice to attract more falcons), and I see the occasional woodpecker. Both black and brown squirrels have tried (and failed) to get the bird seed, and I see a random chipmunk. Deer are usually in the far woods, but my trail of yummy food leading to a salt lick has yet to entice them close to our house. A nuthatch family has moved into our birdhouse on the front lanai, and this afternoon a hummingbird buzzed my head – the first I’ve seen this year. I ran inside to stare through the window at the hummingbird feeder but she hasn’t found it yet.

Black capped chickadee - wander with melissa

 

This seems like a ton of bird activity, and I love watching it, but I can’t help thinking about how much I miss my fish. Some mornings I wake up and think I’m late to meet Mei at the pier for a swim before I realize where I am. I suppose in time I will adapt to land, like the earliest fishes with feet. I did apply for a job at the only scuba shop around yesterday – I plan on taking a dry-suit course before I stick even a single toe into the water here.

Perhaps the next time I post I will be meaningfully employed. Or perhaps the rain will stop and I’ll start building a tree house in the woods instead.

Say hello to the fishies for me.

M

 

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Lucy Easter - wander with melissa

A dead man’s toilet paper

I’m sure you’ve been hanging on to the edge of your seat, waiting to find out if I made it to Cleveland. So yes, here I am, safe and sound.

After two blizzards and getting stuck in both Minneapolis and Bloomington, Illinois, the weather was a perfect 50 degrees for the final drive to Cleveland. I can’t say I loved the route of the trip without my planned sightseeing, but there will be time to go back and see what I wanted to see. Especially since the job I was so psyched to come home to was given to someone else while I was sitting in the snow – I have some extra time now.

The final mileage was around 4,200 after wandering around trying to find a way around the storms. In that time, I was only in one near accident – a baby blue semi, which I passed with the pedal down since it was swerving crazily, ended up getting off at the same exit when I stopped for gas. I was sitting at a red light at the bottom of the exit ramp, looking around, and noticed it in my rear view mirror, barreling down the road behind me. A long, loud squeal of brakes from the out-of-control truck, which made Lucy try to dive to ground, alerted me to the idea that my tailgate (and grandmother’s end tables) might not survive the next few moments. I had a few empty feet before the car in front of me and quickly stabbed the gas pedal, the result being I had an inch in front and about an inch in back – no contact. It was a scary moment and the asshole truck driver calmly acknowledged the bird I flew from my window. If anyone deserved it, he did.

In 4,200 miles, that truck was the only instance I thought I might have an accident. A few crazy, fast drivers swerving through downtown traffic scared me, but I forced myself to remember that plenty of people are good drivers and as long as I pay attention I should be fine. What really pissed me off was the random cars and trucks that sat in the fast lane and wouldn’t budge for anyone. I can’t understand why the don’t get the rules; if you’re slow, get out of the way. Seems pretty simple.

Thanks to Apple maps, I was never lost. I have to take a moment to praise this glorious bit of tech – for me, it might be the greatest invention of all time. Pre-internet, I never went anywhere without several folding maps (that never ended up folded along the original creases) plus handwritten instructions on every turn I had to take to reach someone’s house. After that, I had a glove box full of of MapQuest printouts for every destination, with scribbles on each of them when I encountered a closed road or a friend told me a shortcut. With the advent of portable GPS, my family pitched in together to get me one since they were tired of me calling at all hours when I was lost; I loaded the city I was preparing to drive through on my computer from a disk, connected the GPS, and had decent directions if I regularly updated through my dial-up modem. Now, my phone can find me 20 different ways to get to the same place, and I found some beautiful spots to drive through that I would never have found otherwise. This might not seem like a big deal to some people, but I can look at a sunset and have no idea which way is north, so yeah, it’s huge to me.

Now I’m in Cleveland, and the metroparks are as beautiful as I remember. I had one day before my sister Mary and I had to move her from her rental house to the house we bought, so I haven’t done much exploring yet. We have a house on 3 acres, complete with a fenced-in yard for the dogs and a forest with deer and squirrels and turkeys. The house must have been built for short people; I can’t use the upstairs shower, and I’ve hit my head five times already on the ceiling fan in my bedroom. But the outside is wonderful, with deer-fenced gardens and lots of room to plant whatever I want.

our house - wander with melissa

 

Today I took some time to go to a garage sale; I saw pictures of garden tools online and couldn’t wait to get started (April showers bring May flowers, and it’s been pouring for a couple days so I’m just preparing). I found the house about 40 minutes away (thank you, Apple maps), and went right to the garage. I quickly loaded up half my truck bed with tools for $50 (ridiculously cheap for what I got), then headed into the house to poke around. I feel that Mary is more in charge of the indoor decoration, while I am in charge of outdoor, but it doesn’t hurt to look; I can text her pictures if I feel like I want something. None of the furniture interested me, but I walked into the kitchen and realized that EVERYTHING was for sale. I picked up an unopened carton of vegetable broth and saw the expiration date of 2007 – put it back. Since we had just moved, I grabbed one of the multiple 12-packs of toilet paper sitting out, bought it for a dollar and headed for the door. That was when I heard what the sale was for: a man had worked his entire life at the same blue-collar job, finally retiring and getting his pension – then poof – heart attack three weeks later. Dead.

Now I have a dead man’s toilet paper, and that’s the least of the problems I have with that scenario.

Before I wax poetic on death (which is really unlike me, but Mary opened a bottle of Proseco and that might be why I’m so full of feelings right now), I’ll finish the day. I took a wrong turn out of the sale (I didn’t have my maps up yet), and ended up in a very familiar-looking square; it was a place I knew from my childhood, but couldn’t quite place why. Upon turning the corner, I quickly parked – Dick’s Bakery! The place where my mother would take us after swim practice if we were good. I always got a chocolate chip cookie, and that didn’t change today. Well, except that I got a dozen. I have my own money now. And I had them for dinner. Adulting at its finest.

I went to my parents’ house to pick up boxes I had mailed from Kona, which filled the rest of my truck. It was nice to be reunited with my scuba gear, but the prospect of it sitting unused for months makes me sad. The water temperature in Lake Erie is 43 degrees today, up from 34 when I last checked, so maybe next month.

My father is doing well, more lively than I had imagined after starting chemo; we are arguing over a riding mower in his shed. He originally offered it to me for our immense lawn; since then, he has listed a dozen things seriously wrong with it (since it is as old as I am), and decided instead that I cannot have it and he will buy us a new riding mower from Home Depot as our housewarming gift. I sat on the old tractor today, noticed the cobbled-together battery cables he mentioned, the flat tires (original), the dull blades (original), the choke that doesn’t choke, the heavy crank to engage the mower, and thought, “I must have this.” I don’t even know how I’d get the old beast to my house, rent a trailer, perhaps, it’s too big for my truck bed. So I told my father I wanted it, and he said “let’s go to Home Depot and look at mowers; they’ll deliver.” No way. I want that beast. It is solid, as only machines built 30+ years ago are solid. It’s roughly twice the size as a comparable mower, and only has one single belt (original) that runs everything. I’m currently looking up names of mythological creatures to see what fits. (Just got an email from my father as I’m writing this: “Forgot to tell you, no brakes on the tractor.”) I’m going to evade the issue of a new mower until I show up with a trailer and haul the old thing away.

I cut with mowers when I was young, although I don’t remember this particular one. And I really don’t understand why my father has this monster since his house is on about a quarter acre. But along with the other garden tools and power tools he is giving me (also could say he is “unloading”), it seems to be a part of history, a bit of my childhood comes back with each – the grill they don’t use anymore, the shovels and rakes, the hoses and drills and screwdrivers. Just like driving through neighborhoods and feeling the nostalgia of my youth (even though after 30 years new buildings are everywhere), the tools in my parents’ basement bring back so many memories. I could recognize the smell of WD-40 anywhere. It’s strange to be here, without a doubt. Everywhere I drive used to be open fields and are now office parks and malls. I haven’t even ventured downtown yet. And, if you read the past blogs, my grandmother’s tables made it no problem. More crazy nostalgia.

grandma's tables - wander with melissa

 

All in all, though, this is a good new adventure. I’m going to build boxes in the forest to attract falcons and hang feeders for hummingbirds; not the dolphins and manta rays I used to photograph, but all wildlife is life, and all of it is beautiful and worthy of appreciation. Daffodils are blooming and the trees are beginning to leaf out. Lucy and I will explore the area’s parks, which are immense, and I hope to find hidden spots all around this city to hike and fall in love with the land. Lucy and her new best friend Coco are getting along tolerably well, as much as a 9-year-old dog and a crazy 2-year-old can coexist. Lucy lives for the moment when Coco hauls herself out of bed, thinking she has a whole day of playtime ahead. She’ll learn.

Lucy and Coco - wander with melissa

 

Those are the big updates for now, and I hope to share some of the beauty of Cleveland with you soon – did you know this is the 50th anniversary of the burning river? I have been assured that it is much cleaner now.

Aloha from Cleveland!

M

 

 

 

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Lucy in the snow - wander with melissa

Of duct tape and thunder snow

After a few great days at the start of my trip, Lucy and I have come to a snowy, skidding halt. Minnesota in a blizzard is the last place I would have imagined our travels would take us. How did we get here?

From Whitefish, Montana, Lucy and I headed to Great Falls to visit Kari, Keith and Kiara for Kari’s birthday. Along the way we picked up Colleen and Alakea at the airport as her birthday surprise. The next day, with the Horton/Kester clan plus Gaga, we travelled to Kathy’s parents’ house on Seeley Lake for the real party – a Polihale-style barbecue by the lake. It was cold but beautiful, and light snow held off until the next day. As a group we went to Kathy’s grandmother’s retirement home the next morning in Missoula for her 100th birthday party. It was also Kathy’s mother’s 75th birthday, which is why Kathy was visiting from New York. It was great to have so many of the girls back together again after a few years away from Kauai together.

Seeley Lake Montana - wander with melissa

 

Minor note – if you’re in Montana, buy anything with Huckleberries except the Huckleberry coffee. That was a mistake.

All was looking good as we continued the party back in Great Falls, and I set my date for heading to South Dakota to visit the Badlands and Bear Country, the only things I had planned for this trip and was set on doing. Mt. Rushmore has been on my to-see list for so many years and I finally had the time to explore the area.

We sat down for a final evening and looked at the weather, and what should appear but a monster spring storm, completely unprecedented and unwelcome. It seemed to be centered on the exact area I was headed – South Dakota; 18″ of snow predicted for the next day, with gusting winds up to 60 mph. My backup plan was Colorado – 12″ predicted. South: snow. West: snow. East: snow. North: maybe an escape. I decided to make a run north and see if I could get back to the Badlands after a couple of days – I wasn’t prepared to see snow for at least another 8 months!

The roads out of Great Falls weren’t bad, snow wasn’t expected until the following day and the rain was only a heavy drizzle. It was still an intimidating drive, but the quality of the roads were impressive. One aspect of this country I have greatly missed while living in Hawaii is the amazing system of highways through the mainland. I stuck to smaller roads to go north but they were smooth and well kept, and I could find a nice road to take me to any small town I wanted to go. I’ve had similar thoughts ever since I picked up my truck in Seattle – our highway system could be one of the great wonders of the world, as long as you don’t look at the local, potholed lanes in cities. In 1956, Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act and that made possible the trucking industry, transporting goods across the nation, and allowing wanderers relative ease to find interesting places to visit. I have been stuck in a pretty negative place lately when I think of our country and the direction it’s heading, but looking upon an act of greatness (even if it’s from the past) has been a welcome change.

I set my sights on Sidney, Montana, and took a lonely route where I didn’t see another car for nearly half an hour at a time. Without phone reception this was a little scary but the roads were perfect and the rain had stopped. I hadn’t quite gotten used to passing cars yet, still a bit intimidating, but every once in a while a slow truck was in my way and I was trying to outrun the coming blizzard. It’s not easy seeing around some of the monster semis hauling giant pieces of farm equipment, and I finally worked up the courage on a fairly straight piece of road with only some minor hills. I hadn’t seen another car pass in the other direction for a while, so chances were good that nothing would come out of nowhere but I’m sure you can guess what happened: a car the exact beige color of the road appeared as I was halfway past the truck. Nothing to do but a pedal-to-the-metal, butt-clenching burst of speed (thank you, Nissan) and cut-in the moment I had clearance. I silently apologized to the passing motorists for scaring them, but it was probably more dramatic in my head than in real life. It’ll be a long time before I attempt to pass another truck.

Montana deer - wander with melissa

 

I picked the Holiday Inn in Sidney, Montana to stop for the night and plan my next route, which I do not recommend if you happen to find yourself there for a cattle auction; people pounding on doors after midnight (don’t tell my mom, but I finally had to open my door to tell the man outside to shut the hell up and go away), and someone else’s food left in my refrigerator. Gross. On the positive side, it rated ‘pretty good’ on the hound dog sniff test (see previous posts for Lucy’s potential job calling).

So Lucy and I are planning our route by means of Google maps, NOAA weather, and phone calls. Mark had previously sent me his address in Colorado but made sure to tell me that his area was expecting a foot of snow and I should stay away. I saw phrases like ‘snow bomb’ and ‘thunder snow’ in the forecasts everywhere around me. I researched a route up into Canada and down through Michigan, and tried to find a way south but the storm was too big. I finally called Colleen (whom I had picked up in Great Falls for the party) and we calculated that I could make it to her house in Minneapolis just as the blizzard was predicted to hit. The drive was 10 hours, I just had to wake up super early and move. Thanks, angry man pounding on doors – I didn’t need to sleep anyway.

Lucy and I managed to wake up at 5 a.m. and fly across North Dakota. I didn’t stop at any of the scenic overlooks (yes, ND has some beautiful spots) or ‘the world’s largest buffalo’, or take pictures of the clouds of birds flying in mesmerizing formations over the fields. It was a full-on sprint across the state while listening to tips on how to keep your herd safe in the unexpected spring storm. The winds began picking up and driving with both hands white-knuckling the steering wheel, especially while passing a semi coming from the opposite direction, became essential. With only a few feet between me and the giant trucks, every time one went by accompanied by a wind gust, it was like someone threw a flashbang at me. I reduced my fluid intake as a precaution, and I don’t understand how Lucy slept through those, scared as she is.

Trying to maximize my gas tank capacity and make fewer stops led me to a bit of difficulty somewhere between Bismarck and Fargo, literally in the middle of nowhere. I was forced to take side roads in search of a gas station and lost about half an hour, but found the most pleasant people I’ve met so far on this trip. Lucy always pokes her head up when we stop, and the man at the ag center came outside three times in the 30-degree cold and blowing wind to see if she was okay. He told me I could let her out to wander around off-leash if I wanted (which would have added another two hours to lost time by the time I collected her), or she could wander around inside his store for some exercise. We took a nice, if cold, walk instead.

I’ve often exaggerated how I’m freezing to death, like when I’m getting into the ocean in the morning or the evening, or waking up in 50 degree weather in Hawaii, or outside in the Pacific Northwest in the 40s. But for once, in North Dakota, it was real. I couldn’t find my socks in the truck and hadn’t thoroughly thought out my wardrobe choices; I was thankful that I found a winter coat on sale in Washington.

When I left Portland, I had packed a few things into the bed of my truck that wouldn’t fit inside (since I had packed far too many sets of useless clothing – why did I think I needed 8 sundresses for this trip?). One large item I picked up from Clare was a set of my (deceased) grandmother’s dainty, light-weight end tables. I had wanted them when she died, and I never thought I’d be in Hawaii for so many years, so she kept them in storage for me. I nested them inside one another, wrapped them in bubble wrap and put them in a large plastic bag to keep them watertight, then taped the single package shut; tie-downs kept them in place. As the wind picked up I could see bits of the bubble wrap poking through as the gusts began to rip the bag open, already weakened by the severe cold. The packing tape froze and slowly stopped sticking. With holes in the bag, the tables caught the wind and forced the straps to loosen, and somewhere near the Minnesota border I began to worry that the whole mess would take flight, land on someone’s windshield, and cause a 20-car pileup. Again, my imagination amazes me, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it and pulled off right before downtown Fargo to assess the situation. My plan was to tighten the straps, add another, and buy some duct tape to close the holes in the bag; I would get new plastic bags when I got to Colleen’s house and redo the entire setup for the final stretch home. I found some duct tape and covered the holes while my truck gassed up, but it wasn’t sticking like I thought it should. Damn cold. I though duct tape fixed everything. I got back on the road, conscious of the time since Colleen had texted that it had started snowing in Minneapolis and I was still about three hours out. As I came off the entrance ramp into downtown Fargo traffic, the first piece of duct tape took flight in the wind, apparently unhappy with being asked to work in the extreme temperature. Two other long strips began to flap over my tailgate but were putting forth a better effort at sticking. I pulled into traffic and headed for the fast lane, trying to make up for lost time. Moments later I passed two state patrol trucks in the median, one of which pulled out right behind me, and don’t you know that’s when the second strip of tape let loose, caught the wind, and landed smack on the trooper’s windshield before sliding across and flopping to the ground. I prepared to get pulled over by sliding in front of a semi in the middle lane, but hopeful that there was too much traffic for him to stop me and give me a ticket for littering. The trooper came up next to me, flashed on his lights, and pulled over the car in front of me! I sincerely hope he was doing something bad that I didn’t notice and didn’t get my ticket. As the last length of duct tape gave up life about half a mile later, I noticed the Adopt-A-Highway sign of the Fargo Jaycees; I’m going to send them a donation when I get home for picking up my trash. I just wanted to get out of there.

Also while in Portland I noticed Lucy’s fear of walking under bridges; I thought it was the noise the cars make while driving on the steel grate material they use on some of them. Turns out she’s afraid of all bridges. Minnesota has a lot of overpasses, and since we had been in the truck for nine hours, Lucy was wide awake. With every approaching bridge, Lucy stared until we drove under, then made a mad dash to duck by trying to jump off the seat to the floor (which was full of random bits of travel stuff). Get back on the seat, stare at the bridge, jump to the floor. Over and over. It was funny until it started furiously blowing snow.

snowy Minnesota - wander with melissa

 

We had managed to beat the snow until about an hour outside Colleen’s house, but it came on like a true blizzard. Almost immediately I was on the phone with her trying to figure out where to go or what to do. If I could just make it a bit closer, she could grab a friend and pick us up but I was still too far away. I was considering stopping at a hotel, so close to my destination, because the wind was causing an almost total whiteout, even though the roads were still fairly clear. I thought driving through downtown Portland highways in the dark, in rain, during rush hour was the worst I could encounter on this trip, but a blizzard in Minneapolis during rush hour beat that hands down. I was shaking, since it’s been about 20 years since I’ve driven in snow, and Lucy diving under bridges wasn’t helping. As I was about to quit and pull off the highway I saw blinking orange lights ahead of me – a wide-load truck hauling a backhoe, going 55 mph as opposed to the 70+ of the veteran winter drivers around me. I snuggled in behind it and followed those flashing lights, sometimes the only thing I could see, for the remaining 29 miles of highway to Colleen and her family. After a few miles of slow, suburban driving (in 4×4 of course), I crawled down the final street to see Colleen and her children building a snowman and waving me down. After 11 hours of driving, little food or water, cramps from holding the steering wheel against the wind gusts, seeing them outside looking for me became my new definition of happiness.

ukulele - wander with melissa

 

After a beautiful snow day, watching TV with Alakea and Kala, listening to Haku play ukulele, and cocktails with Colleen (Huckleberry liqueur is a million times better than Huckleberry coffee), I’m preparing to leave tomorrow to make a dash south. It’s still snowing here but I have a job interview to get to (and I really really want the job), and the snow lets up about an hour away (although now I see a massive storm over Ohio). This has been a lovely break, especially since Lucy and Makoa have been playing so nicely, but it’s time to get to the end. South Dakota will have to wait for the next trip.

Aloha from freezing Minnesota,

M

 

 

Help support the journey – Buy a book!

Wandering – non-fiction travel/adventure/humor

Sylvie Writes a Romance – romantic comedy

Sylvie Falls in Love – romantic comedy part 2

Surfer, Sailor, Smuggler – adventure/ocean fiction based on true stories

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Lucy in Idaho - wander with melissa

Whitefish, I’m in love.

Today I find myself in Whitefish, Montana. I could live here.

I did some hiking and sightseeing in Coeur d’Alene (which I haven’t yet successfully spelled correctly without Googling), and it is a beautiful town. I was going to dedicate this post to CDA (easier to spell), but then I got to Whitefish and now think it’s a dump in comparison. Whitefish is easier to type, too.

Lucy and I drove around Lake CDA, which is quite a distance, and really is breathtaking. Long, long lake surrounded by evergreen forest and snowcapped mountains, with a windy road along one side. That about sums it up. I was looking for a picturesque spot for sunset photos and severely underestimated how long it would take to drive around so most of it was seen in partial darkness. We had our first wildlife scare on the way – deer running across the one-lane road. Fortunately, I was driving at annoying-tourist speed.

Lucy in Coeur d'Alene - wander with melissa

 

We packed up the next morning and drove the steep mountain roads into Montana, and I have to admit I was somewhat terrified at times. Signs posted every few miles told me to watch for ice, or that the bridges are icy, or the shady spots are icy, and since I haven’t driven in snow in years I immediately assumed the entire roadway was a giant sheet of ice. I spent hours barely going the speed limit, sometimes under and hoping my Hawaii license plates would allow people to forgive me, while imagining my truck sliding off the mountain, tumbling several times, and ending in a fiery crash at the bottom in a fluffy pile of snow. Realistically, though, it was only drizzling, most of the snow was melted and not a drop on the road, and I am accustomed to my imagination running off in random, horrible directions. The temperature was in the low-40s and I didn’t see any evidence of other people hurtling to their deaths. The scariest part was at one of the peaks before the curving 6% downgrade, raining and foggy with snow cover all around in the forest, and I was at least happy I couldn’t see enough through the fog to the bottom of the valley. Needless to say, we lived, although I really could have used those CBD gummies I bought in Portland – just for this occasion – which were buried somewhere in the back of my truck.

After surviving the first few miles of Montana, we turned up toward Whitefish on mostly one-lane roads; these were pretty clear and the driving was much less stressful. All in all, though, my journey thus far from Portland has had me poking Lucy to wake her up every few minutes to tell her how beautiful it is. Or that she’s missing a herd of cows.

I had randomly selected The Pine Lodge in Whitefish and made a reservation that morning (since it is now even colder and rainier and I will not be camping), and it was a good choice. This is a great place to stay, right along the Whitefish river but just outside town. Lucy sniffed the carpet, but only a fraction as long as in CDA, so it is definitely a clean place. I thought that might be a niche job for my dog – hotel cleanliness inspector. You would be rated according to how many seconds it takes Lucy to cover the room.

Lucy and I were both super stressed from the drive so the first thing we did was find a dog park for her to run. Whitefish seems to be a very dog-friendly town, as evidenced by the 200 dog grooming, boarding, and pet stores we passed. We found a 5-acre dog park, mostly mud at this time of year, and she ran her brains out with another dog she met. And since she was already long-overdue for a bath, we went to a do-it-yourself dog wash store (omg who knew these existed??) and now she smells like strawberries. She hated every moment of it, and I ended up spending 10 minutes wiping down the walls and floors of the room since she somehow sprayed water several feet into the pet food area.

Lucy Whitefish dogpark - wander with melissa

 

Many of the roads in Glacier National Park are still closed so Lucy and I found a trail to hike that didn’t require driving through the snow up to the mountains this morning. I do want to hike Glacier sometime, but I’ll have to plan that better. We went to Swift Creek trailhead (I had chosen a different one but somehow couldn’t find it). Grizzly bear season is starting and warning signs were posted everywhere. I’ve wanted to see a bear for as long as I can remember, so we started down the trail with high hopes.

I imagined that my first bear sighting would be something like the first time I went scuba diving to look for Laverne, the famous Kona tiger shark. Totally excited at first, ready to observe and photograph one of nature’s most fearsome creatures; but when I finally saw her I hid behind a lump of coral, hyperventilating and peeing my wetsuit. And forgot to take a picture. (For the record, I was much braver each successive time I saw her).

Lucy and I started down the trail, camera in hand (new, crappy camera – my good Nikon died in Portland and the camera shop couldn’t fix it. I had to mail it to Nikon and I’m hoping to catch up with it further into Montana. I had to buy the best Nikon that Best Buy had to offer, which after my D750 is almost archaic. Still, better than my iPhone). The forest was completely silent, and the smell was something I had completely forgotten – glorious wet evergreen forest smell. The trail was icy in places and the going was slow. Lucy learned that if she dug a little hole in the snow she could stick her nose in and smell wonderful decaying things. She also learned that she loves deer poop.

Whitefish forest - wander with melissa

 

And while I’m thinking of poop – the trail was wonderfully clean, in terms of trash, except for… yes, dog poop bags! Really. It’s nice that owners are conscientious enough to pick up after their pets, but you have to take the plastic bag with you and put it in the trash! Poop bags of all the colors of the rainbow were along the trail. Idiots.

It took some time to walk the Swift Creek loop due to the ice, and we stopped off at the Creek overlook hoping to see one of the bears hunting fish (although I have no idea if bears do that everywhere, or if the bears here are like Yogi and just look for unprotected picnic baskets). I wanted to go to the lake to look for bears but it was two more miles of icy trail along a steep ridge and I had no desire to slide off the edge, so Lucy and I started back. I was trying to imagine what it would be like to run into a bear; I had no bear spray, and my hunting knife was last used to cut lemons and was currently residing in a bag with my kitchen supplies (but really I’d get mauled before I got close enough to use my knife – it’s more a morale knife than a hunting knife). I wondered what Lucy would do. As a Plott hound, her breed was originally bred to hunt bear – but my dog, who is frightened of bridges and rustling plastic bags and the squeak that doors make – who knows. In my head she is ferociously protecting me, barking and driving the hungry bear away, but in reality I could see her trying to hide behind my legs, tangling me in her leash and causing me to fall on the ice, then we’d both get eaten. 

Swift creek - wander with melissa

 

Enjoying the quiet and the relaxing smells of forest as we neared the end of the trail, dreaming of what to have for lunch, we were completely startled by a massive, shaggy brown thing running across our trail. A grizzly bear! Oh My God A Grizzly Bear! 

Much like in the ocean, I hid behind the nearest tree and peeked out, but thankfully I did not pee myself (much more obvious on land). Lucy was absolutely silent, standing rigid, staring ahead. I didn’t know what to do. I looked around and saw I was near the entrance to the loop so going back wasn’t an option; in fact looking a bit closer I could see my truck in the parking lot. I wondered what they would say if I called 911 and told them a bear was in the forest. So we waited, all the while peering out from behind a tree. It was totally quiet. Not even a chirping bird. 

And then I looked down at my feet. I thought I was standing on a stick, but it was a severed deer leg. The hoof, plus about 10 inches of bone with some fur. Lucy didn’t even notice it, she was still in guard mode. Time to move.

I hadn’t seen the bear for a few minutes, so we left the trail and crept quietly to the far side of the parking lot and reached my truck. After my heart started beating again I was upset I didn’t have a picture, so I left my driver’s side door open and Lucy and I cautiously headed back toward where we saw the bear. If we only went a little way in we could run and jump into the truck if we had a little head start. Supposing, of course, I didn’t panic and slip on the ice and become this bear’s first spring meal.

Whitefish deer - wander with melissa

 

We stayed out another half hour but never saw her again. More deer, squirrels and birds, but nothing else. It was a great day. And like with Laverne, I will be a little braver next time I see a bear. But I probably won’t be any braver driving. Wish me clear roads and blue skies for my next big drive tomorrow.

Aloha from Montana!

M

 

 

 

Help support the journey – Buy a book!

Wandering – non-fiction travel/adventure/humor

Sylvie Writes a Romance – romantic comedy

Sylvie Falls in Love – romantic comedy part 2

Surfer, Sailor, Smuggler – adventure/ocean fiction based on true stories

Stock photos on Adobe Stock

Sign up for this blog on the homepage to get updates on the trip, and watch Hawaii Ocean Photography for extra photos!

Wander with Melissa - Melissa Burovac

Time to wander again…

Wander with Melissa - Melissa Burovac

It’s hard to write a retrospective while planning for the future. I thought I could easily sum up my years in Hawaii – nearly 15 of them – and move on, but started thinking 15 years?! Where did 15 years go? A full look back will have to wait until my mind is a bit calmer.

I recently made a tough decision to move back to the mainland – Cleveland, Ohio, to be more specific – in light of my father’s declining health. I moved out of my parents’ house during high school, went away to college, traveled, lived in several states, then moved to Kauai. I don’t think it’s possible to know your parents at a young age and after 30 years of almost total absence, I can’t say I know them at all. Better late than never, as they say.

The first leg of my journey begins on March 11 when Lucy and I fly to Portland, where we will putter around the city with family until my truck arrives in Seattle. A quick train ride to retrieve the truck, plus some visiting with friends in Seattle, begins the second leg when Lucy and I will drive cross-country and take in some sights I’ve missed throughout the years. I don’t think Lucy cares much about the Grand Canyon or Mt Rushmore, as long as they smell good, but perhaps we can find her a moose or a bear to bark at. I haven’t chosen my stops yet but I have three weeks in the northwest to plan the journey. My drive could be a few days or a month, depending on whether snow keeps flying; I’d like to cruise the mountains but after so many years in Hawaii I’m not sure I’m ready for high-altitude blizzard driving. Upon arrival in Cleveland, I’m going to get to work on finding things to do to make me forget that I swim in the ocean every day. And visit the parents.

I haven’t blogged much in the past few months and am hopeful this trip will get me started again. Keep an eye out for posts, and if I’m near your neighborhood let me know – friendly faces on the road are a welcome sight, and I’d love to stop in towns I’ve never had a reason to visit before.

Aloha.

 

Help support the journey – Buy a book!

Wandering – non-fiction travel/adventure/humor

Sylvie Writes a Romance – romantic comedy

Sylvie Falls in Love – romantic comedy part 2

Surfer, Sailor, Smuggler – adventure/ocean fiction based on true stories

 

Sign up for this blog on the homepage to get updates on the trip, and watch Hawaii Ocean Photography for extra photos!

Melissa Burovac

Words and Wine at Kona Stories book store – Tuesday July 3rd

Kona Stories

 

Tomorrow’s the big day! Join me, along with fellow author Eila Algood and artist Cheri Mandaquit for Words and Wine, a monthly gathering of readers and authors. Enjoy pupus and wine as we discuss our projects, and meet other book lovers.

 

I’ll be talking about the Sylvie’s Romance series, and how I found myself writing in a genre I never imagined I’d write in – romantic comedy.

 

We’ll have books and art for sale after the presentations. Stop by! It’ll be a fun evening. 6-8 pm at Kona Stories book store.

 

Sylvie's Romance - Melissa Burovac

 

 

About Melissa:
Melissa is a writer and photographer on the Big Island of Hawaii. An avid outdoorswoman, Burovac enjoys outrigger paddling—both one-man and six-man—SUP, running, surfing, sailing, and scuba diving, as well as yoga. She is always up for adventure and loves doing things that scare her a little.
Books:
Sylvie Writes a Romance – Book 1 of Sylvie’s Romance
Sylvie Falls in Love – Book 2 of Sylvie’s Romance
Wandering
Leave a review on Amazon and I’ll love you forever!
Recent articles:
From Travel to Romcon and Beyond
BookDaily.com
Travel Writing on JenniferSAlderson.com
Recent reviews:
Indie Reader Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance
Kirkus Indie Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance
Follow me on Facebook
Follow me on Twitter
For fine art photography prints from the islands, check out the Hawaii Ocean Photography  website and Like the Facebook page
Lifeguard Lucy

Where has the time gone?

Lifeguard Lucy

 

As I sat down to write today, I looked back through this blog and realized nearly 3 months have passed without any updates. Where has the time gone?

Quite a bit has happened since my last post. I finally shed my indecision and made a move to forward my photography career on the Big Island of Hawaii; I love Kauai, and still consider it home, but to up my underwater game I needed to live somewhere with more wildlife, better visibility, and more people to learn from.

In some ways, the transition has been heartbreaking. After building friendships for 12 years on Kauai and learning the island, I left it all to go somewhere I didn’t know anyone save a woman I haven’t seen since high school and a couple moving away soon, and being completely lost wherever I go (thank god for gps). I left without having a home or a job, just my puppy Lucy and what would fit in the back of my truck when it shipped across the ocean.

Lucy and I spent a couple homeless weeks in a hotel and a vacation rental, the first week with my sister Mary who was amazing at helping us get our feet and paws on the ground with much less stress than anticipated. During the second week I started a job on a boat as crew for manta ray night snorkel trips out of Keauhou Bay, and moved into a tiny house 1500 feet above Kona town. If I thought I was tired, stressed, and confused, poor Lucy had no idea what had happened to the happy life she led on Kauai. Her best-puppy-friends were nowhere to be found; between the hotel, vacation rental, and new house she didn’t recognize any of the smells; her daily beach walks and normal routines were gone. At 6 months old, she was scared and angry at these major changes to her life, and was quite upset with me. When my truck finally arrived and she could ride in her customary passenger seat she settled down a little, and when I unpacked a few boxes and found her stash of well-chewed dog toys she relaxed a bit more. In the two weeks since we moved into our house we’ve found a dog park and made new puppy friends, and a couple beaches where she can splash in the ocean again. Lucy can’t come to work with me anymore, but quickly got used to spending her evenings in her crate and patiently waiting for me to come home.

I’m not sure I’ve adapted quite as quickly as Lucy, though. After packing up my house and giving away or selling most of my possessions, travel, stress about finding a place to live and work (even if it’s a short-term job), finding my way around, unpacking boxes, financial worries, and having to work nights (and – gasp – having to be somewhere at a specific time!) after a couple years of keeping my own schedule, I had to spend all my free time sleeping off the stress. I’m not sure I’ve recovered even now, and am just over a nasty cold – inevitable after the major changes in my life, I guess. My body went into survival mode, and all unnecessary functions shut down. I finally found the energy to take my camera into the ocean a couple days ago to begin building my business on this island, and sat down to work on my next book. I was blessed with a friendly pod of dolphins on my first day back in the water, and managed to write a couple pages of the book before I had to take a nap.

 

Hawaii dolphin pod

 

I’ve been on the Big Island for a month now, and see plenty of hard work ahead. I have a list of goals to achieve, and am finally ready to begin. All-in-all, though, I’m quite proud of myself for the progress I’ve made in such a short time. As each day passes I have a little more energy to put into things that aren’t merely surviving or making sure Lucy is cared for. It’s time for writing and photography, and having some fun. It’s time to explore this giant island and learn new things. It’s time to really begin to live here , and I’m excited about a whole new life with all the undreamed-of possibilities waiting just outside my door.

But first, maybe a quick nap…

 

 

About Melissa:
Books:
Sylvie Writes a Romance – Book 1 of Sylvie’s Romance
Sylvie Falls in Love – Book 2 of Sylvie’s Romance
Wandering
Leave a review on Amazon and I’ll love you forever!
Sylvie Writes a Romance on Smashwords – for Nook, Kobo, etc
Sylvie Falls in Love on Smashwords
Recent articles:
From Travel to Romcon and Beyond
BookDaily.com
Travel Writing on JenniferSAlderson.com
Recent reviews:
Indie Reader Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance
Kirkus Indie Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance
Follow me on Facebook
Follow me on Twitter
For fine art photography prints from the islands, check out the Hawaii Ocean Photography  website and Like the Facebook page
Valentines scuba

Kona pt 3 – more snot and some whales

I woke up bright and early and ready for my four-dive day.  At Jack’s Diving Locker, they label the all-day people as ‘Dive Animal.’  I like that.  I walked to the shop early to scope out their GoPro gear and bought a new underwater housing; my camera started behaving mostly normal again (Why do you put rice with your wet electronics?  To attract an asian person to come fix it.  Is it a racist joke if you’re calling them smart? Probably.  Sorry, I giggled.  But I think I heard it from my Japanese boss).

Anyway, the new housing didn’t fit with my new red filter, so that will be someone’s gift.

Jack’s is a clean, professional dive shop with all the newest gear and gadgets for sale, and I waited there for about an hour before they even considered getting us to the boat; not super efficient.  The boat was nice, though, and I loved the crew.  We went all the way down to Kealakekua Bay at the Capt Cook monument, which took nearly an hour.  We had to go that far to find a place out of the continuing north swell, although the wind was still kicking pretty hard.  The first dive was good, and super cold again, and if you assumed that I had snot in my mask all day you would be correct.  Immersion in cold water for extended periods does not make a runny nose stop.

The fish and reef were about the same as 2 Step, without the cool ray and turtle.  The best part was getting in close to the rocks and watching the waves crash from about 20 feet below.  I had no trouble keeping off the reef, and the fish were happily swaying with the current.  The weirdest part was watching the only couple from the boat, they held hands for the entire dive.  Almost an hour.  And then they held hands during the surface interval.  And again throughout the second dive.  At times I would just stop and watch them instead of the fish, they were fascinating – two skinny, regular-looking white people, maybe in their late 20s.  Glued together, no matter if they had to turn around, or were stuck on the reef, or one was having equipment trouble.  Never let go.  I almost want to say it was romantic and Valentinesy but no, it just seemed pretty inconvenient for the most part.  And a bit ridiculous.

I had left my filter connected to my camera since I tethered it before I realized it would’ t fit the new housing; I had decided to give it to Shanti for helping me arrange my trip.  And I left it somewhere on the sea floor.

We found out between dives that the afternoon and night Manta Ray dives were cancelled due to the weather.  No more ‘Dive Animal.’  The second dive was much like the first, cool, but with lessening visibility and getting rougher.  By the time we were done I couldn’t feel a couple of my fingers.  I never thought diving in Hawaii could be so cold, even with Bill’s extra wetsuit on top of Pablo’s.

On the way home we saw dolphins chasing the boat, and whales breaching here and there.  We stopped a couple times to watch, and most people had never seen a whale up close before.  This was also about the time that we found out that all communications on the island were down.  We didn’t know at the time, but a construction worker grading some land hit a pole which knocked out all phone, internet and cell communication (except TMobile.  Crappiest island service provider was the only one working).  Seems like an important pole like that should be a little more protected.  Besides the couple and me, all the other divers were married guys whose wives were shopping.  Each of them was supposed to call for a ride when they got out of the water.  Each of them was staring at their phones, scratching their heads, wondering what their wives were gonna do when they didn’t call.  And we were almost three hours late because we dove so far away and kept stopping for whales.

When we got back I was able to reschedule my night dives for the next day, even though I was planning on driving north to see some friends.  But I had exactly 18 hours between the end of the night dive and my flight home, and like one diver told me, “If you’re going to give yourself an embolism, the manta dive is the only one worth it.”

And off I went to Humpy’s for a couple post-dive drinks.

Kona

Kona pt 2 – Snot diving

My first dives on the big island were completely unlike what I expected.  Since a northwest swell had started to come in, and all the dive companies I called were sold out, I could only find a company to take me on a shore dive.  Bill, at the Hawaiian Dive Shack, didn’t want to fill up a boat and cancel so he was turning away business.  But he was willing to jump in my car and take me somewhere.  To me, this meant picking him up at his shop, driving to the nearest pier, and swimming out; therefore, I didn’t bring much beyond my dive gear.  To Bill, a decent shore dive was an hour away, which I didn’t realize until 20 minutes into the drive when I finally asked him where we were going.  We drove to Honaunau Bay, or 2 Step, by the Place of Refuge.  The bay is called 2 Step because of the two rock steps to get into the water.  From a short distance I could see the Place of Refuge; if a criminal or defeated warrior in the old times could reach Pu’uhonua before being caught, he was given protection until no one was looking for him anymore.

Bill and I suited up and made our way to the steps for our first dive.  The swell was starting to come in so there weren’t many people in the water; instead, most snorkelers were standing around the steps wondering how they were going to get in, the water was surging and crashing on the rocks with each set wave.  We sat on the steps, put on fins, waited for a big wave, and let it suck us off the rocks.  After a short swim out, the visibility was good and plenty of fish were happily swimming along.  The highlight of our first dive was a spotted eagle ray cruising by, he let us swim with him until we were pretty far out and decided to turn around.  Half-way through this dive I noticed that my GoPro had condensation inside the housing, it was a panic moment.  But nothing to be done about it, it was either ruined or not at that point, so might as well finish the dive.  We saw a couple turtles, stayed out until I thought I was going to freeze to death, and my Dayquil wore off.  I had borrowed Pablo’s wetsuit, and it wasn’t nearly thick enough to keep me warm; I was mostly thinking of the $9 per dive over four days that I would save by not renting a suit, and not that I’m always cold.  I’d say ‘lesson learned,’ but I knew better already.  I did warm up a little trying to get out of the water through the waves, it’s easier to get sucked off a rock going in than to ride a wave in and not bash my head getting out.  Especially in front of a crowd, wondering how it would turn out.

I dried off my GoPro, Bill changed our tanks, we ate granola bars, and got ready to go back out.  I had taken four Dayquils before I left to make sure that my nose would stop running and my ears would clear, but since I hadn’t expected such a long drive I hadn’t brought any more and my cold came back.  Not enough to stop me from diving, though.  We made our daring entry through the waves, again, to the amazement of all the people standing around with fins in hand, and swam to the other side of the bay.  I didn’t risk bringing my camera again and just enjoyed the scenery.  My mask was brand new, and even though I used plenty of defog, I had to continually let in water, swish it around, and blow it out to get a clear view.  When my cold medicine wore off for good, about 10 minutes into the second dive, every time I cleared my mask I blew snot into it, which left slimy slug trails across my vision.  Awesome.

By the end of the second dive, getting out of the water was way more challenging.  There were no longer any other people swimming, they were all standing by the steps.  Bill and I floated for a couple minutes watching the set waves, which were pounding the rocks, forcing the people to run back and forth, tripping over each other to get out of the way.  In the end, it was either ‘just do it,’ or swim all the way around to the shallows by the Place of Refuge.  We just did it, and no one was hurt, just a banged tank; it was kinda fun, really.  As I sat back on the rocks taking off my fins, a man walked up and said ‘good thing he was with you.’

The ride home was a guided tour of the side of the island.  Bill was great, and wanted me to stop anytime I saw something interesting.  I also learned about his entire life.  He opened his dive shop when he moved to Kona, and has since been buying the stock from every shop that goes out of business.  His place is packed with gear.  He knows all the prices of every item of every competitor, and at the end of our trip, he gave me a regulator and a shorty wetsuit to put on top of Pablo’s so I wouldn’t be cold, even though the rest of my dives were with a different company.  All for free.  Super nice guy.

The rest of my day was fairly uneventful – a nap, a trip to the hotel gym after I finally saw a full-length mirror for the first time in months, and horrible pad thai.  Good times.

Kona

Kona 2015

written at humpy’s alehouse, kona 2-11-15

I really didn’t want to go to the big island by myself.  I had a week off work, little money, and no desire to spend more time alone.  Shanti talked me into going, and after all, what was I going to do at home all week?  The same things I do every day, including complaining about my upstairs neighbor, and being alone anyway.  There was a big northwest swell coming in and my favorite camping spot would be too junky to swim, and way too big to surf.

I spent an evening trying to find flights, hotels, dives, cars, all the necessary vacation things, and failed.  I’m just not a good planner.  Every time I found a piece of the puzzle, I stressed that the other pieces would sell out before I could book them; for some reason, Valentine’s Week is extremely popular in Hawaii.  Another depressing thought about being alone for vacation.

But Shanti persevered and booked my entire trip, except for the dives.  I had called in advance and made those reservations; there’s no reason to go anywhere if I can’t get in the water.  Dive shops have a much friendlier cancellation policy than airlines.

There are always little surprises when you let someone else book trips for you; I hadn’t realized that my flight from Kahului to Kona was on a puddle-jumper plane.  Normally I don’t mind them, but to get an idea of the conditions, a school in Kona cancelled because the wind gusts ripped off the roof that day.  And there were lots of kids who had no idea of what ‘indoor voice’ means.  Its pretty intense on a small plane, and I forgot my headphones.

We landed successfully and I retrieved my rental car.  I had a choice of a blue, four-door Hyundai or something that resembled a Smart Car.  I still envisioned that Andy might join me and I wasn’t sure either of us could fit in the tiny car, even separately, so I picked the Hyundai.  I made it to Island Naturals to buy food, and ultimately to the Holiday Inn Express.  Shanti had printed me maps for everywhere I needed to go.  She’s so awesome.  I sometimes wonder how I got through life before her.

By the time I got to my room at the Holiday Inn it was dark.  I had three bags: one of camera gear, one of Pablo’s borrowed scuba gear, and a tiny sack with some clothes.  My room had two beds and I immediately decided that one was for sleeping, the other for snacking and napping.  The building next door contained a pizza place called Longboards, specializing in taro crust, and I ordered a medium to go, for my snack bed.  After an hour walk to reacquaint myself with Kona, I had been there for a couple days with Shanti, Pablo and Jason a few years ago, I came back to the largest pizza I’d ever seen.  And it was a medium.  I started to argue that they made the wrong size for me when I saw the large walk past, for a group of about 20.  My pizza could have stuffed eight people easily, and it took up almost half of my snack bed.  I ate about four people’s worth, thought I might never walk again, and threw the rest in the hallway so I wouldn’t be tempted to start eating again in ten minutes.  I didn’t even want it for breakfast, I never wanted to see that pizza again.

One of the reasons I finally relented and went on a trip instead of saving money was that my upstairs neighbor had a house guest for the week.  I love my neighbor, but my house just wasn’t meant to have a downstairs apartment; every movement she makes is amplified and echoed, and I haven’t had a full nights sleep in months.  Two people above me meant that I wouldn’t sleep all week.  And wow was I surprised, sitting on my snack bed with my ridiculous-sized pizza, when all I could hear over the TV was the people above me pounding across my ceiling.  Fuuuuuuuucccckk.

At least I still had some Nyquil left from my cold.

But I’m on vacation, and the diving starts tomorrow.  All up from here.