Muddying it Up in Big Bend National Park

I’ve been organizing some old photos from our 2011 trip to the National Parks in the Southwest.  One of the great surprises of this trip was Big Bend National Park.  It may be a one of the lessor-known parks, but we loved everything about it… the smells, the silence, the window views, the wide-open spaces, the hot springs, and of course, the one and only, Ranger Dan.

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But what we loved most?  Playing in the mud!!

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Our hike along the Santa Elena Canyon trail on the banks of the Rio Grande started off ordinary enough.  But then the magic happened.  The magic of what kids do when they have the freedom to just… be kids.  They discovered a particularly muddy bank next to the rock face and the antics began:  the chasing,  the swimming, the slipping, the climbing, the laughing, the playing.  Even my 13 year old daughter had a blast with her younger siblings.

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And when we climbed out of that particular section of the trail, into the wide-open mud-flats along the river, they were actually crawling their way across the bank on their hands and knees, playing mud monsters.   I thought at first the well-dressed Japanese tourists were shunning me and my parenting methods as they watched my children crawl their way back to the car caked in mud from head to toe, but soon enough one of them pulled out his video camera and started recording their hilarious progress.  We were all, adults and children, Japanese and American, sharing the laugh together.

I will never, ever, ever forget that day.  What is one of your favorite National Park moments?

~Cassie

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Our Backpacking Debut: Part 1

“You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”  ~A.A. Milne

Can we do it?

The question rolled through my head for months.  My family of five on a four day backpacking adventure in an unknown park, two thousand miles away, without experience, and without a guide was a somewhat overwhelming adventure to plan.

But my kids were undaunted.  As soon as I said “backpack” they were assured of their success before I even had the opportunity to convince them.  The challenge exhilarated them, and inspired visions of Alaska wilderness survivors naked and fishing in streams as they built brush fires by rubbing two sticks together.   Thank you reality TV.  However, the adults in the household were teetering on the far side of fear.  My husband had nightmares of kids falling down cliffs and I did the mom thing where every potential danger is magnified to a situation of certain doom.

I mean, we were planning to hike 45 miles!  Someone was bound to twist an ankle, strain a muscle, tear a ligament, or simply collapse under the weight in a fit of tears and irrevocable stubbornness.  Or what if one of them became dehydrated, or suffered heat exhaustion, or got sick from water contamination?  What if we had a bad reaction to the insect bites we were sure to get?  What if we ran out of food, or couldn’t find water when we needed it?  What if we were eaten by wolves in our sleep?  I mean, anything could happen.

And there’s no doubt about it, anything could happen.  But is that reason enough to not do it?  I guess we all need a challenge at some point.  I mean, we’re American, it’s practically part of our moral code.   Eventually, I stopped worrying, started planning, and set my wild fears aside.  We talked safety, we read, and we prepared for the trip of a lifetime.   For in the end, a complete four-day immersion into the incredibly wild and remote wilderness of Isle Royale National Park is worth every bit of effort, and bravery, it takes to get there.

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2014 – Isle Royale National Park, Greenstone Ridge Trail

Getting Prepared

One of the advantages of being disorganized is that one is always having surprising discoveries.”  ~A.A. Milne

Surprising discoveries are always nice, but not with your kids, in the middle of an unknown wilderness, with no cell service, two days hike from any help.  Be prepared for this trip.

Logistically, you have to think of this almost as planning for a trip within a trip.  Our entire 2014 road trip consisted of 33 days, 8 states, and seeing everything from parks to skyscrapers.   However, more people visit Yellowstone in a day then do Isle Royale all year, for good reason.  It is remote, difficult and expensive to get to, and fairly short on comfortable resources.  Do not expect ice cream shops and clean restrooms evenly distributed across the backcountry.  There are no motor powered vehicles allowed on the island, and in fact, if you can’t walk or paddle to it, you aren’t going to see much beyond the visitor centers.  Everything you need has to be carried in, and out.  However, there are other things infinitely more valuable to be found here:  untouched wilderness, astounding beauty, and solitude.

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2014 – Getting ready to cross Lake Superior!

Here are a 5 tips for getting prepared for Isle Royale:

1. Decide how long you will be on the island.  Spend some time studying trail maps and websites in order to determine which route you want hike and how long you think it will take.  Tally the number of miles you plan to hike each day and where you expect to camp each night.  I chose the Greenstone Ridge Trail, divided among four days.

2. Purchase your ferry tickets as soon as you’ve decided the dates that  you will be travelling to and from the island, as space fills quickly.   Unfortunately, this will not be a cheap park to visit.   Round trip ferry tickets for the five of us cost $700.  Then, you will have to pay a per person, per day, park fee in cash to the captain when you board the ferry.   Our fees came to about $60.

3. Acquire your backpacking gear:  a backpack with water bladder (for each hiker), a backpacking stove and fuel (nobody is gong to carry that huge Coleman double burner across an island), and the water filter are the absolute necessities, each ringing in at about $100.   Also, if you haven’t purchased durable hiking boots yet, now is the time.  Taking care of your feet is the most important thing.

4. Decide everything else you are going to carry in your packs.  I used the Isle Royale backpacking list that is on their webpage, as it is concise and tailored to the conditions on this Island, but you can find packing lists anywhere.  Aside from food, sleeping bags, and proper clothing, these are the things I would definitely not leave without:

  • Bug Repellant – and maybe even a face net.  Be prepared to do battle with an army of insects.
  • A small first aid kit – We used a lot of Cortaid and Ibuprofen.
  • Sandals – being able to remove your boots and wear a pair of sandals around the campsite is your new definition of bliss.
  • Cook pot, cup, and spoon – for boiling water, eating, and hot drinks
  • A plastic bag – for your dirty clothes.  They stink.  A lot.

5. Finally, before you leave home, make sure that everything you need, you’ve acquired, that everything you’ve acquired actually fits in your packs, and that once the packs are filled, every hiker can lift and walk in their pack.  Cheryl Strayed taught us all that this is no joke.  If you wait until you are on the island to pack and lift your backpacks for the first time, you might just turn around and take the very next ferry back to the mainland.

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2014 – Andy’s head net kept the bugs off and made him really happy while hiking!

You will have to make a decision about a tent.  All the really helpful and lovely people at REI will rightfully suggest for you to purchase a backpacking tent because they are very lightweight and take up much less space in your pack.  However, we had already spent a small fortune on this hike and decided to use our perfectly good, extra-large, pop-up, six-person car camping tent instead of buying two new backpacking tents.  We split the poles, the rain cover, and the tent body among our five packs.  Yes, we sacrificed weight and bulk in favor of frugality.  This may be the cardinal sin of backpacking.

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Many of our camp neighbors were laughing at our “huge” tent! ~2014 Isle Royale N.P.

Plan your meals for each day to determine how much food to pack.  We ate our last handfuls of dried fruit at our very last rest on our very last day.  I would advise carrying a little extra.  Instant oatmeal packets were great for breakfast.  For dinner, we split three dehydrated meals between the five of us and found it to be plenty.  For lunch and snacks we carried granola bars, beef jerky, dried fruits, and trail mix.  Make sure to add some M&M’s into your trail mix!  It was very motivating to have that little bit of chocolate during an afternoon rest.  Finally, make sure to carry hot chocolate or tea packets.  Whether it’s the end of the day and the total and complete exhaustion has set in, or a cool morning where you’re trying to get your sore muscles moving, the hot drinks are incredibly warming and comforting.

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2014 – Packed and Loaded:  Four days of gear, food, and clothing for five people.

Should We Practice?

When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure than an Adventure is going to happen.” ~A.A. Milne

Uhhh.. Yes.

Physically getting ready for backpacking takes time, and nothing prepares your muscles and joints for carrying the extra weight through day after day of hiking, unless you do it.

I planned on getting our backpacks and gear by April, and then doing progressively longer hikes together on the weekends with the weighted packs.  Great plan.  Unfortunately, things don’t always go according to great plans.  Extenuating circumstances like travel ball schedules, homework, real work, summer camps, and every other thing that pops up when you have three kids got in the way.  I think we bought our last backpack and pair of boots two weeks before the trip.  In an act of final desperation, the weekend before we left I forced everyone to drop what they were doing so we could go for a hike and at least try everything on.  Predictably, it rained and we couldn’t find the trailhead.   Thank you procrastination gods for that one last lesson in planning ahead.  We were “suddenly” out of time.

Within a few days, the house-sitter arrived, the truck was packed, we drove for 48 hours into the Eastern horizon,  saw a Twins game in Minneapolis, fished in Voyageurs, canoed Boundary Waters, relaxed at the Grand Marais Fisherman’s Picnic, packed our gear, and then boarded the ferry.  We had arrived.

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2014 – Arriving at Windigo!  The before picture.  So very excited for the unknown!

I’ll be back soon with the story of our adventure!

Happy Planning!
~Cassie

 

Travel the US for $18 a Day

I would like to spend the next few posts focusing on the travel budget.  When we take off for thirty days at a time, we get a lot of questions about how it is affordable.   To be honest, the hardest part is simply carving out the time, which I talked about at length in Thirteen Summers.  Finding the money to take a trip like this is surprisingly achievable, and considering all the usual kids activities and family outings, we often travel for not much more than what our family would normally spend at home over the course of a month.   For today’s post, I want to outline the basic travel budget.

A budget can be the crux or the creator of freedom, entirely depending on attitude.  I tend to look at it from the latter perspective as I believe that the experience of travel is one of the most important things we can give our children.  It teaches them to take an interest beyond their own walls, to look at the world they live in from a new perspective, to gain a better appreciation for the country they live in,  to wander in the wild places,  and to feel the Earth in their soul.  However, there is also no enjoyment in a vacation if you are breaking the bank.  Among all the rising costs of living, rising taxes, and stagnant wages, a budget-friendly vacation is necessary for everyone.  Let’s look at two very different types of vacations.

If I were to take my family of five cross-country on a six night, seven day, what I would call hotel vacation, I would estimate the essential costs for this travel using the simple budget below.

The Hotel Budget…
 ACTIVITY      ESTIMATED PRICE    TOTAL COST
Airfare             $300/person                 $1,500
Car Rental      $30/day                         $210
Hotel               $120/night                     $720
Lunch              $10/each/day                $350
Dinner             $15/each/day                $525

Expected cost for 7 days of necessities is $3,305.
Average cost per day is $472.00.  Average cost per person per day is $94.00

Now let’s look at a basic budget I might create when preparing for one of our road trips.  I’ve replaced airfare with the cost of fuel and dining out with buying groceries.  Also, camping prices vary greatly depending on how many amenities you would like at your site.  A typical forest service or park service campground is only $5-$20 per night, but a KOA tent site can run you anywhere from $30 – $50 per night.  I tend not to use KOA’s often for this reason, but their pools, clean showers, and laundry facilities are enticing, and I will add a few of them into our trips in place of the more expensive hotel option.

The Camping budget…
ACTIVITY      ESTIMATED COST              TOTAL COST
Camping        25 nights (~$20 each)           $500.00
Hotels             3 nights (~$120 each)           $360.00
Groceries       $150/every 5 days                 $870.00
Fuel                ~4,000 mi/18 mpg/$4.00       $889.00

Expected cost for 29 days of necessities is $2,619
Average cost per day is $90. Average cost per person per day is $18.

Yes, you really can take the kids on a month long trip that costs LESS than a typical seven day vacation.   In fact, if we were to travel by air, stay in hotels, and dine out for our meals, it would cost my family five times as much as our camping trips. I look at it as we can spend five times as long travelling for the same price.  If you only have the time to take your family on a 7-Day trip, the camping budget will start you at $630 per week instead of $3,305 per week.  And if you have the time to take your family on a  fourteen day vacation, the camping plan gives you a starting budget of only $1,260, which is pretty reasonable for a family of five for two weeks!

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2012 Trip – Our trusty tent and minivan in the dusky shadow of Devils Tower National Monument, WY

Next, you will want to estimate the costs of your extra activities, or the things you actually want to do while you are travelling.  Hiking, playing at a beach, going to a ranger talk, fishing, playing games in the woods, or having a picnic in the park are all wonderful activities that don’t cost anything extra.  This is just one reason we do a LOT of hiking on our travels.

However, travelling is also about participating in the cultural activities of the area you are visiting.  You may want to eat some authentic traditional cuisine, or go to a famous theme park nearby, take lessons to learn a new skill, or see a museum that showcases an important piece of history.  I’m not saying don’t do these things just because they cost extra cash.  In fact, by saving money on our essential travelling expenses, we have more to spend on the special activities that make our trips unique and memorable!  In the table below I’ve compared average pricing (again for my family of 5) on some of the typical types of activities that we do on vacations.

ACTIVITY                     ESTIMATED COST         TOTAL COST
Kayak/Canoe Rental    $20/2 Hours                    $40
Gardens/Museums       $15/Person/day              $75
Motorboat Rental          $100/Day                       $100
White Water Rafting     $60/Person/Day             $300
Six Flags Entrance       $60/Person/day              $300
Disneyland Entrance    $100/Person/day            $500

I’ve provided a complete budget, including the extra activities, in the itineraries I publish.  Although our trips are focused on getting to the National Parks, I think its important to explore other cultural and recreational opportunities in the area.  When else would you have the time to see the infamous Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, raft the Rio Grande in New Mexico, walk the pathways of the Japanese Garden in Portland, take the kids to the top of the Space Needle in Seattle, eat TexMex in San Antonio, learn to windsurf in Corpus Christi, or ride the waves at Schlitterbahn?  As expected, these day trips do add a considerable expense to the total budget of your trip, but by saving money on travel and lodging we are able to fit them in.

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2011 Trip – Rafting the Rio Grande in New Mexico

No matter what your budget is, the most important thing to do is to plan it ahead of time, and then stick to it while you travel.  Fit in the extras  when they are possible, but remember that it costs us virtually nothing to explore by foot our countries greatest of treasures, our National Parks.

Happy Planning!
~ Cassie

5 More Reasons to Visit Olympic National Park

Are you planning for next summer yet?  Looking for a National Park that has it all?  Olympic has a little bit of everything and a whole lot of amazing.  Focusing a trip around this park will add interest for every single person in your family, and if I had to pick a Top Three favorite parks, without a doubt, this one would be on that list.  Here are my top five reasons why.

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1. Hurricane Ridge, O.N.P.  This is the view.  Don’t miss it.  Our first night inside the park we camped at Heart O’ the Hills.  It is a beautiful campground nestled among the dense Montane Forest, and immediate access to the adventurous Heart O’ the Forest Trail.  The next morning we awoke and drove up to one of the great Olympic Peaks at Hurricane Ridge.  Prepare to be amazed!  This view reminds us that there are places in America that can rival any scene over seas in beauty and grandeur.  The deer in velvet walking around us, the high alpine meadows full of blooming wildflowers, and the tree line framing the ocean of snow-capped peaks as far as you can see, made this one of the most beautiful days of our entire thirty day trip.

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2. Hoh Rainforest, O.N.P.  Yes, America has a rainforest.  Specifically a Northwest Temperate Rainforest, and it is soggy and green and lush and incredibly beautiful.  There are an infinite number of things to do here.

You can take a ranger walk to learn about this incredible forest ecosystem.
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You can climb on a colonnade of Sitka Spruce.  What is a colonnade?  Read about them here.
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You can read a book under the great green canopy that filters the afternoon sun.
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Or let the kids play in a shaded green meadow.
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You can engineer a rock canal in a glacier river.
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Or wade along the bank of it’s icy waters.
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You can take an early morning hike.
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Or find a hidden rock waterfall, and just see what happens while you are there.
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Just be there.  This incredible forest is full of the bountiful gifts of nature.

3. Rialto Beach/Mora, O.N.P.  The nourishing and dense coastal forest of the this park give way to the sprawling rocky beaches of the Olympic Penninsula.  These beach scenes are framed with the pounding surf, the rocky tidepools, the giant driftwood that washes ashore, and the distant, rocky sea stacks off the beach.  It is perfect place to romp and explore and just let the kids run free.  Bring a picnic and take the afternoon to enjoy the unique ecosystems along this coast.

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4. Forks, WA.  Do you have a tween in your household?  Although this obviously does not have universal appeal, sometimes the best motivation for getting your tweens and teens outside in the woods, is to take them somewhere they really want to see along the way.  For us it was Forks.  Oh yes, the year we came to the Olympic Peninsula, my eldest daughter was deep into Twilight obsession mode, and we did it all:  Port Angeles, Forks, and LaPush.   We saw Bella’s car, Bella’s home, Edward’s home, the hospital, the high school, and a few other settings sprinkled throughout the books.   I have to applaud the town of Forks.  Not only have they graciously embraced all the Cullen crazed visitors into their town, they have gone out of their way to re-create the magic of the book’s setting for Twilight fans around the country.

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5. Seattle, WA.  Part of planning a long summer vacation, is making sure that there is highlight for everyone in the family to enjoy, and seeing one of the country’s most unique cities might be more appealing to some than spending days sleeping on the ground and hiking in the woods.  Maybe.  Either way, Seattle is the gateway city to the Olympic Peninsula, and you should take advantage of your proximity to spend a couple days in the city.   Take a flight up to the top of the Iconic Space Needle and enjoy breathtaking views of the city and the Puget Sound.  Let the kids romp around the Seattle Center, splash in the fountain, and take a whirl on the carnival rides.  The Experience Music Project is a unique, world-renown museum that any music lover in your family will enjoy.  The Pacific Science Center, the Seattle Aquarium, and the Woodland Park Zoo are also fantastic outings for the whole family that offer enjoyable interactions with nature.  And what is a trip to Seattle without a stroll through Pikes Place market?  Pick up some meat on a stick and bury your nose in the beautiful flower bouquets.  Sports fans would love to catch a Mariners or Sounders game and the family history buff will enjoy the incredible Museum of Flight, our absolute favorite museum in Seattle.  There is something for everyone here.

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All in all, I don’t think there could be a better focus for your first trip to the Pacific Northwest than Olympic National Park.  Remember, our entire northwest trip itinerary is posted here.

Happy Planning!
~Cassie

Advice from Nature

One of my favorite things to collect from the National Parks are the “Advice from Nature” poems.  We find ones that remind us of a place we explored or an animal we saw, and I find the simplicity of their advice refreshing.  My favorite:

Advice from a TREE

Stand tall and proud
Sink your roots into the Earth
Be content with your natural beauty
Go out on a limb
Drink plenty of water
Remember your roots
Enjoy the view!

~Ilan Shamir

Sometimes you can find the wall-poster size at the National Park Visitor Centers and gift shops, but I usually just pick out the large postcard size.

Cards

They are cheap and frame beautifully!  I frame them with a simple $10 clear frame and a piece of cardstock.

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They make great wall-hangings for bathrooms and other small places that don’t have the wall-space for a full picture or piece of art.  The kids have also picked out their favorites for their rooms.  Now we have collected enough poems that they are sprinkled all throughout the house, and they remind us of so many of the lessons that we have learned from nature.

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In the end, we are all probably inundated with more “friendly” advice than we care to hear in a lifetime, but I find the nature poems calming on those days when I can’t be out in the woods myself,  breathing deeply, and watching the wild things roam by.

This November has been an incredibly busy month for me, and I try to remind myself to just do one thing at a time, and if I can’t get to it, then I can’t.  I’ll leave you with the advice of a sea turtle, an eternally steady animal that reminds me to stay calm under pressure.

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What’s your favorite advice for the busy times in your life?  I’d love to hear your input!

Happy Trails.
~Cassie

Where are you Going Next Summer?

It’s a good day.  Seriously overwhelmed by the responses I’ve received to Thank You, Park Ranger this week.  I can’t express how incredible it feels to have a positive impact on the very people who have inspired so much good in my family over the last few years.  Thank you Thank you Thank you.

So here I am, feeling ever so slightly intimidated by my newfound respectable sized audience, and it’s time for another post.  Actually, I think it’s time to plan!

What???   I know, it seems early, but trust me it’s not.  It’s time.  The busiest National Parks can fill up campground reservations 4-5 months in advance of the popular summer months.  With the holidays at our doorstep, extra time for planning is already in short supply, and trust me, the planning takes time.  Early next year, you’ll want to be able to login to the park websites and reserve your campsites as you can expect an even larger crowd next season.

But, this is the fun part!  The dreaming part!  What have you always wanted to see?  What do you want to see next?  Historical battlegrounds in Virginia or the wildernesses of Yellowstone?  The Mammoth Cave in Kentucky or the Arches of Utah?  Do you want to hike the Dakota Badlands or windsurf the shores of Padre Island?  What about Mt. Rushmore?  The Grand Canyon?  The Grand Tetons?  The Redwoods?  The Olympics?

America is at your fingertips, and at this point in the game, anything is possible.

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2012 – Mt. Rushmore National Memorial

I tend to plan our long summer trips in two different stages.  The first stage is like writing a story’s discovery draft… you’re just dreaming up ideas and possibilities!  Have fun and get the whole family involved!  Your goal over the next two months is to decide on which parks (and other destinations) you want to visit and approximately how many days you want to be gone.  Save all that pesky reservation-making and logistical what-if’s for the much more labor intensive second stage.

Here are some tips and questions to help you start brainstorming:

Resources

  • The nps.gov web-pages are fabulous and so very user friendly.  Spend some extra time looking at the park map and all the headings under the “Plan Your Visit” section as they will give you ideas on things you may want to see and do.  This will help you decide how many days you want to be at each park.
  • The National Park Foundation page is also a great source of information and highlights each of the parks, monuments, memorials, battlefields, and other lands governed by the National Park Service.  I love their User’s Guide – a free download brochure of what not to miss in each region of the country.
  • My Countdown page is a complete list of the 59 National Parks sorted by state.
  • The Amazing Places book illustrates hundreds of wonderful places to take your kids no matter where you are in the country.  Get it.  Read it. Love it.
  • Check out my Itineraries page for trip ideas.  Our 2009 trip to the parks in California and our 2010 trip to the parks in the Northwest are both posted.  I hope to get the 2011 trip up soon.

Questions to ask Yourself

  • Do you want to travel across the United States or stay close to home?  Or maybe find somewhere in between?
  • Do you want to see something you’ve never seen before or show the kids a favorite place from your childhood memories?
  • What are your kids studying in American history or science this year?
  • What activities/events are already on your summer calendar?
  • How much vacation time could you and/or your spouse have by next summer?
  • Start thinking about ALL your options for carving out time for your summer vacation.  My previous post, Thirteen Summers, discusses this topic in depth.
  • How much money can you put away per month for the next 8 months for travel?  Give yourself a monthly goal and start saving today.  Seriously, transfer $10 into your family savings account right now.  Check out this website and the (plethora of others out there) that give ideas on how to shave a few dollars out of your expenses each month.  Stay tuned… new posts on budgeting for an extended trip are coming up soon.

That’s it for today! Happy Planning!
~Cassie

Paradise

Aloha!

We returned from our 5th Annual Summer Road Trip Vacation last week and now that I’ve had a few days to get the lawn under control and shuffle through a heaping pile of mail and email, I just wanted to write a quick bit about the land of Hawaii before it’s lost to me in a sea of memories tethered only by the photographs.  Yes, our National Park project finally brought us to nani Hawai’i – a combination of our family summer vacation and our 15th Wedding Anniversary celebration.  It was a special one this year, and it took us a long time to get here, but I think that’s ok.  Great even.  Sometimes it takes a long time to know that nothing that comes at us in the future could be harder than our past, and that we really are in it together, forever.

Andy, I’m so glad it was you.

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Anniversary in Hawaii, 2013.

I don’t think anything in my future could ever match the… spectrum of the last fifteen years, and I found those contrasts paralleled in Hawaii.  Please forgive the repetition for those well-versed Hawaiian travelers, but this was my first time to the islands and it obviously made an impact.  Though we only checked off four more National Parks on our countdown this summer (two in Hawaii and our last two in California), they were big ones, and worth every penny and every effort of getting there.

Hawaii is a land of contrasts:  her newest and blackest shores are birthed in the East each day from Pele’s fiery belly, while her oldest, reddest, westernmost soils rust away under the constant barrage of wind and rain and sun.  In between, she takes the shape of sharp pumice stone and delicate orchid petals, of craggy, soaring peaks and submerged coral reefs, of lush rainforests in the North and arid deserts in the South.  Her colors range from the darkest of grays to the brightest imaginable spectrum of the rainbow.  Her highest summits break even through the clouds and stand sentinel over the ocean waves crashing the beach below.  A sun-kissed man with a flowered shirt and deep creases about his eyes weaves baskets from palm leaves and speaks of ancient legends to the throng of tourists sporting Nikon cameras and Patagonia garb.  Her deceptively small islands of Paradise above the surface hide her source of great power beneath the sea, power that can not only withstand the immeasurable weight of the whole Pacific Ocean bearing down on her, but grow beneath it and produce the great web of life.

Hawaii is a land of rhythms:  an accelerated cycle of birth and death as her isles stretch desperately above the sea for nothing more than a moment before steadily sinking back beneath the waves from which they were born.  The steady beat of gourd drums echo your footsteps among her isles, usher in the sunrise and mark its set with a few moments of nothing but sound and light, between which their sound reverberates in the steady and ceaseless pounding of waves and the rhythmic stories of the hula dancers.  The wind stirs the lanai every evening.  The rain feeds the land every morning.  The tide goes out, the tide goes in, the moon chases the sun over the open sky every day, and the drums beat out the balanced dance of dark and light.  Her song becomes a part of your own rhythm, unnoticed until you cross the ocean and realize you left the rhythm of the rain and the light and the waves and the tide and the drums and the dancing women behind you, because they stay in Paradise.

Still, maybe Paradise isn’t entirely bordered by water.  Coming home to the mountains and pine trees, to our lovely parks and charming downtown, to the comforting smells of an approaching Autumn, and children anxious to go back to school was another sort of Paradise to me.  Especially with the candle burning on my desk from which I can breathe in the scent of the Hawaiian Breeze these last few days of summer.

Aloha and Mahalo.
~Cassie

sUNSET
Sunset in my Paradise – Bend, OR, August 24, 2013.