Bluebells on a Battlefield

While we are all holed up at home, spring is springing all over the place!  It’s been raining and gloomy here for most of the past couple of weeks, which has made the social distancing harder to handle – especially with two energetic kids in the house.  By Sunday we all had energy to burn, and even after last week’s crowded trails, we wanted to try hiking again.  I had some good intelligence that the famous Virginia bluebells were blooming, so we decided to check them out.

We normally hike the Bluebell Loop Trail at Bull Run Regional Park.  This year, with the pandemic raging, the park is open for “passive use” only – which means hiking YES, but parking NO.  The parking lots at Bull Run Regional Park were closed, and while parking outside park boundaries and hiking in to the Bluebell Loop Trail is perfectly fine, that would add 2.5 miles each way to our hike – just from the car to the trailhead and back.  Fine for adults-only parties, but when you have two little hikers, you have to maximize every step.  Bull Run Regional Park’s social media team was suggesting other options to folks who didn’t want to park more than two miles from the trailhead, so we decided to try one of the alternatives – Manassas National Battlefield Park.

Civil War buffs, this is the famous Bull Run battlefield.  Steve and I hiked the battlefield itself years ago – pre-small hikers – but had never been to this part of the park.  We made for the Stone Bridge parking area, lured by the promise of bluebells growing on the banks of the legendary Bull Run.

Crossed the bridge over Bull Run and saw…

That famous blue glory all over the forest floor!

We were a bit early – it’s always tough to time peak bloom for any flower show, especially when it’s not a flower that grows in the neighborhood (and can be monitored accordingly).  Local friends – if you want to hit the trail later this week or this coming weekend, I think you’ll be in for a good show.  As for us –

We had plenty of visual treats to enjoy!

The trail was a bit damp, but not too muddy.  Peanut made the best shoe choice, wearing her wellies.  Nugget decided on his Keen hiking boots, which worked well, but didn’t allow for puddle-stomping.

The wildflowers were growing all over the opposite bank of Bull Run, too.

We were careful to take precautions on the trail – we left as early as possible to avoid crowds (even so, there were definitely folks on the trail) and were cautious about touching anything.  We also leapt off the trail to give people distance, and most reciprocated by kindly and responsibly walking all the way on the other side of the wide trail, at least six feet away from us.  With the exception of two women who thoughtlessly breezed down the middle of the trail despite our attempting to give them plenty of space, everyone was responsible and considerate about personal distance.

I wait all year for this fabulous floral spectacle, and it definitely didn’t disappoint.  It was a lot of fun to check out a different spot – while I missed our usual stomp along the Bluebell Loop Trail, mixing it up is good, too.  And there’s a lot to explore out Manassas way – we really should make a point of getting here more often, and checking out some different scenery.

This weekly trail time is keeping my sanity intact – barely!  Missing our annual bluebell hike was unthinkable, so I’m glad we were able to take some precautions and make it happen.

What are your local spring spectacles?

Twelve Months of Trails: January 2020 – Wilson M. Powell Wildlife Sanctuary, Old Chatham, New York

There’s no better way to start off a new year than a first day hike – wouldn’t you agree?  By New Year’s Day, 2020, we were all a little holiday-ed out and ready for some fresh air and trail time.  In an effort to squeeze in as much upstate New York fun as we could, we were also planning to stop by my high school BFF’s house for a good long visit with her, so we targeted a trail near her home.  After kicking around a few options, we settled on the Wilson M. Powell Wildlife Sanctuary in Old Chatham.

Sharp-eyed readers may recognize pictures of the trail, because we’ve hiked it before – last Thanksgiving, specifically, with my parents.  We thought about checking out a new-to-us trail, but decided on the tried and true.

Pretty quick hike to the overlook, and a minimum of whining – I’ll take it.

This is a good way to start a new year – looking out over a beautiful vista, scheming up plans big and small for the next 365 days.  As I hiked along, I thought about what I want life to look like at this time in 2021.  I have a lot of dreams for this year.

We didn’t linger long at the overlook, because someone (cough cough NUGGET) didn’t want to hold hands with a parent up on the blustery cliff.  That’s a non-starter, so we turned around and headed back downhill (much to his chagrin).  But it was long enough to get in a good gulp of fresh January air and a dose of scenery.

Here we go, 2020 hiking!

AURORA @ ARTECHOUSE

My good friend (and former work wife) Samantha has been hounding me to check out ARTECHOUSE, an interactive art/tech gallery in DC – there are also locations in New York and Miami – for years now.  Several springs ago, ARTECHOUSE had a cherry blossom art experience, and Sam attended and has not stopped raving about it since.  She promised me that it was the kind of place that the kids would be into, and I promised her I’d look into it.  It took me awhile, but the stars finally aligned and I bought the whole family tickets to the #AURORAinDC experience that was running through the weekend after New Years.

We entered the gallery with a group of other people who had tickets for the same time slot, and everyone immediately spread out to different corners of the room.  It took us a little while to figure out how it all worked, but a helpful gallery employee explained how to “grow” the trees and create the snowflakes, and we all ran around like kids, exploring every nook and cranny of the gallery and creating our own enchanted forest.

I’ll just leave the pictures here for you.

(The kids invented a game called “summon the white stag” that involved placing their hands on the wall and chanting “White Stag.  White Stag.  White Stag.” over and over until a white stag – part of a light show cycle – appeared.  It was cute but also hella creepy.)

It was such a cool experience – I’m so glad we made it to ARTECHOUSE, finally, and now I’m keeping an eye on the website, ready to snatch up tickets again the next time there is an exhibit/experience that looks like something we would all enjoy.  Maybe Sam will join us as tour guide/babysitter.

Have you ever been to an interactive art experience?

A Black Friday Hike in the Albany Pine Bush

After a long car ride on Wednesday and an indoor, food-filled day on Thanksgiving, several of us were craving outdoor time and fresh air.  I’d been hoping to make a hike happen and was secretly cherishing an ambition to hike Mount Jo, Heart Lake or Indian Head in the Adirondacks, but the long drive up to the mountains wasn’t especially enticing – something closer to my parents’ house sounded much better, and after some discussion we settled on the Pine Bush.

The Pine Bush is a unique ecosystem – one of the few remaining inland pine barrens, with lupine and scrub oak also growing in the sandy soil.  (It’s also the home of the endangered Karner blue butterfly, but I figured I’d be safe from flapping wings in November – and I was.)  We parked near the Discovery Center, spent a bit of time exploring the indoor exhibits, then set off for a quick meander around one of the well-marked trails.

It was just Steve, me, and the little dude this time.  Peanut is the latest victim of the disgusting chest cold that Nugget brought home from school and has been passing around the family, so she stayed home with Nana to rest and recover.  Also – lest you think that all of our family hikes are perfect – you should know that Nugget screamed to be picked up the entire time.  We’ve gotten out of the habit of hiking, thanks to a busy summer and fall, and both kids have started complaining vociferously on the few hikes we have been able to fit in recently.  We ignored him and he finally stopped complaining and just hiked sullenly along with about five minutes left of trail.

The scenery was a good distraction from the caterwauling.  Can you believe this park and preserve is just a stone’s throw away from the largest shopping mall in Albany?  I know.

I was happy to be here, and not there, on Black Friday.  Trails suit me much better than a crowded mall.

Pine Bush, you’re beautiful!  I’ll definitely be back.  Just maybe not in butterfly season.

Did you hike over Thanksgiving weekend?

PNW Adventure 2019: Icons of Seattle

And now we come to the end.  It happens with every vacation, tragically, and it happened to Steve’s and my great adventure in the Pacific Northwest – time to come home and start thinking about the school year, the holidays, and – eventually – where to go next.  But not just yet.  We had two days in Seattle, and we were determined to fill every moment and to take in as many of the highlights as we could.  Get ready for a monster recap post.

Alaskan Way and the Seattle Aquarium

Starting with – the aquarium!  After a morning navigating the jam-packed Chihuly Garden and Glasshouse and the rest of Seattle Center, Steve suggested we check out the aquarium.  It felt a little weird to visit an aquarium without the kiddos in tow, but I think we were both missing the intertidal zone.  So we headed over to the aquarium, had some delicious veggie chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, and checked out the sea life.

These colors!

Of course, I had to snap a picture of the octopus to send to my sister-in-law Danielle, who loves cephalopods as much as I love cetaceans.  I think she may have been the kraken in a past life.

The highlight of the Seattle Aquarium had to be the sea otters.  They were loafing around, playing, acting generally adorable, and I could have watched them all day.

Outside of the aquarium, Alaskan Way was a sight to see.

We watched people loading onto this gigantic cruise ship for awhile, prompting a spirited debate about whether we would ever go on an Alaskan cruise.  I said, emphatically, YES (although I have reservations about cruises in general, an Alaskan cruise is one of the few I’d make an exception for) and Steve said he didn’t see the point of spending five days at sea looking at nothing when you could fly.  (I have since discovered that Disney Cruise Lines have an Alaskan cruise option that does not include multiple days at sea – it leaves from Vancouver and sails up the coast, so there is always scenery – and while I’m not a Disney fan, the kids are, and one of my sorority sisters just did the Disney Cruise to Alaska with her kids and gave it a rave review, so – stay tuned.  I will continue to press this issue.)

BRING US ALL YOUR MARINE LIFE STREET ART.

ALL YOUR ORCA MURALS.

Pike Place Market

Of course, no visit to Seattle is complete without a stop by the iconic Pike Place Market, right?

Steve and I were kind of still in our “civilization immersion therapy” mode and the crowds were pretty overwhelming.  Steve also was feeling a little iffy, and all the competing aromas of the market were a bit much for him.  But we gamely trotted through the market, snapping pictures.

I wanted to eat all of these berries.

The flower stalls were my favorite.  Look at all these gorgeous peonies!

And everlasting statice, which is one of my favorites.  It’s the kind of flower that Anne Shirley would find friendly – don’t you think?

Naturally, we picked up a few bags of Chukar Cherries to take home with us.  These are long gone – I want more.

And stopped by the gum wall on the way out.  This was kind of gross, but in a really impressive way?  I was impressed by people’s commitment to add their chewed up gum to the wall, even if I couldn’t really breathe near it.

Much more appetizing: we ended Saturday at this romantic table, overlooking Puget Sound, at Place Pigalle.  Fish were flying on the other side of the wall, as we sipped cocktails and wine and ate delicious bouillabaisse and cheese.

Ballard Locks and the Farmers’ Market

On Sunday, we were looking for a good walkable spot to explore, and the internet suggested the Ballard Locks, so we headed over to check them out.

Saw several very impressive yachts cruising through the locks, but far more interesting were the fish ladders.  Go, little fishies, go!

After the locks, we wanted to keep walking, and it was farmers’ market day.  I am always into checking out the farmers’ markets when I travel, and Steve was up for it, so we walked over.  I missed my BFF, Rebecca, who is an avid farmers’ market tourist.

I would have liked to take ALL of these cherries with me.

Steve was still feeling a bit off, so we grabbed some kombucha to settle his stomach (and because I am always up for kombucha), walked around a bit more and then looked for someplace quieter.

Lake Union and the Center for Wooden Boats

Having not had enough boats all week (who am I kidding, I never have enough boats) I suggested that we explore the shoreline of Lake Union for a little while and check out the Center for Wooden Boats.

This motorboat is the dream, right?  Can’t you just see yourself packing a vintage picnic basket full of wine, apples, bread and cheese and gingersnaps, and cruising the lake on a sunny summer’s day?

Indoors, we watched boats being expertly restored and checked out nautical art, like a series of stunning photographs of wooden boats in action, and:

This incredible handmade wooden paddleboard with an orca totem detail and a great backstory.

Gardens and Art

Apparently the weekend was a theme: hitting all of our favorite things, Seattle-style.  Aquarium?  Check.  French food?  Check.  Farmers’ market?  Check.  Industrial architecture?  Check.  Boats?  Check.  Botanic gardens?

Check.

We spent a peaceful hour wandering between the rows at the Volunteer Park Conservatory, then headed back to Puget Sound (yes, if you’re wondering, we did zigzag all over Seattle in our Uber) to check out a sculpture garden.

Oh, Seattle.

We finished Sunday evening at Café Flora, eating a fabulous vegetarian dinner.  Steve had the Italian burger with a side salad, and I had the mushroom wellington – yum.

Whenever I travel to a different city, I wonder what it would be like to live there.  Don’t get me wrong – I love living in Washington, D.C., and I never want to move, not really.  But it was hard not to picture myself wandering all the verdant gardens, hiking the lakeshores, and spotting dorsals in Puget Sound – not to mention nipping up to the San Juans for a weekend getaway.

Thank you for a beautiful trip, PNW.  You’re truly a wonderland and I can see why people love you.  And now – back to reality, on the blog as in life.  And back to planning and scheming the next adventure.  As I hinted, something is already in the works for next summer, but it’s not a done deal yet.  It’s my parents’ 45th wedding anniversary, and they want a family trip.  My mom has floated a destination idea and I was very much on board with it, but others need to sign on.  So – stay tuned.  In the meantime, there will be weekend trips, and maybe some longer getaways sprinkled in.

That concludes the PNW adventure recaps!  I already want to go back.  Right now.

 

PNW Adventure 2019: Seattle Center Saturday

When Steve and I arrived back in Seattle for the final leg of our trip after a week in the Islands, we were exhausted and pretty grimy.  After checking into our hotel and taking the longest showers ever, we felt like new people, and a night in a cushy hotel bed felt almost too luxurious.  (I didn’t actually sleep very well!  I guess it doesn’t take long to get used to a sleeping bag on the ground, and then a floofy {<–technical term} bed is almost too much.)  Anyway!  We woke up on Saturday morning relatively fresh and ready to reintegrate ourselves into society after a week of remote island camping.

And what’s better for re-integration into civilization than a crowded city attraction?  I wasn’t really in the mood for museums, but I had it in my head to visit the Chihuly Garden and Glasshouse, so that’s what we did.  Turned out, it was located at Seattle Center – home to the famous Space Needle and so many other Seattle attractions – so we headed down there for what we jokingly called our “civilization immersion therapy.”

I was vaguely aware of Dale Chihuly, and he’s such an iconic artist in the PNW, that taking in his work over the course of a morning seemed like just the thing to do.  But I didn’t know what to expect at all – I really wasn’t familiar with his art, although I had the idea I might have seen some of it in Boston once? – and I was blown away by the fanciful glass creations and stunning large-scale installations.

Like the Venetian ceiling – I mean, WOW.  Just… WOW.

I don’t know how much of this splendor really registered with Steve – he is colorblind.  But he was a good sport and let me take all the time I wanted, and I know he appreciated the artistry of the shapes and the fine detail work, even if he couldn’t take in all of the spectacular color.

This wooden canoe, heaped with blown glass balls of all sizes and colors, was my favorite piece in the museum.

A close second was the glasshouse, with its stunning orange and yellow flower installation and views of the Space Needle.

We took our time wandering amid a crowd of what felt like forty million people and gazed in total awe at all of Chihuly’s incredible creations.

I couldn’t stop snapping pictures.  I couldn’t help myself!

After we’d seen everything there was to see inside the art museum and glasshouse, we ventured outside into the gardens.  I remarked to Steve that my mom’s best friend, Denise, would love this place – she has a great love for modern art and has an incredible eye for shape and color.  I was sending her pictures in real time as I clicked and snapped my way through the museum and garden.

Modern art isn’t my thing, at least not quite as much, but one contemporary trend I love is the juxtaposition between bright colors and natural elements.  The Chihuly Garden had that in spades.

After we’d gotten our fill of modern art, we wandered out into the rest of the Seattle Center.  Obviously, we spent plenty of time goggling at the Space Needle.

As we approached International Fountain, grunge music was blasting from an industrial-sized speaker somewhere on the square.  As Steve remarked, it was the most Seattle thing ever.

So were the street murals.  An orca and a cup of coffee.  Y’all, it literally does not get more Seattle than that.  Especially if you are taking it all in to the sounds of Nirvana.

Seattle, I am sort of in love.

Next week: one final vacation recap, in which I attempt to cram all the iconic sights of Seattle into one monster post.

PNW Adventure 2019: The Biggs Say Goodbye (or, Day 5 in the Kayaks)

I woke up on Friday morning, the fifth day of our paddling adventure, with mixed feelings.  On the one hand, I felt decidedly grimy – ready for a hot shower, clean laundry, and lunches that consisted of something more exciting than a powerbar.  But on the other hand – man.  Over four days of paddling through all weather, currents, waves, I had fallen in love with the Salish Sea.  I wasn’t ready to leave these waters.

I think everyone felt that way.  We shoved off from Jones Island and everybody seemed to be in quiet, reflective moods.  We hung together closely as a group, although several boats paired off.  Steve and I had become especially close to B and M, the two English guys in our group, and we mostly paddled alongside them.

We pulled over on a rocky beach for an early lunch break, and Ben turned on the whale watch radio and got the news that the Southern Resident Killer Whales – J, K and L pods – had been spotted on the west side of San Juan Island.  Unfortunately, we were… on the east side of San Juan Island.  There was some talk of sprinting the approximately two miles it would take to cross overland to the west, but instead we scurried back to the boats in hopes of seeing J pod from the water (ultimate dream).

It wasn’t to be.  We all kind of knew it – they were heading north, all the way on the other side of the island; it looked like this was just a short visit.  Not surprised, but maybe the tiniest bit sad, we continued our paddle past a big seal haulout, headed for our final destination – the beach, and then the Sea Quest van.

We landed the kayaks a little after noon and pulled together one final time to get everything unloaded and cleaned out.  The boats, we left on the beach for the next group, who were meeting up and taking them right back on the water.  I tried not to be jealous, and to focus instead on the good part of the paddling being over: being reunited with my Birkenstocks.  After a week in Keen sandals that never quite dried out, I almost cried with joy when I slipped my Birks back on.  (They’re the Mayari vegan, if you’re interested, and I basically live in them.)  After the van dropped us in town, we all went our separate ways – a few people to the ferry, a few people to bum around town until the Clipper left, and Ben to the two-person tent he lives in while not guiding.  Steve and I lugged our heavy backpacks, full of waterlogged clothes, around Friday Harbor until we found a restaurant that would seat us.

Afternoon, and the Clipper, came too soon.  B and M had tickets too, so we made plans to meet up and share a table.

They claim to have fought off several people while saving our seats.  I believe them.  We settled in together and began discussing who would get first shower when we got back to our hotel rooms.  I asked our friends who smelled worse – me, or Steve – and they promptly answered, in unison, “Him.”

Eventually B, M and I headed to the upper deck to watch the Clipper steam out of the harbor.  Steve stayed below to guard our table and – this is important – the beers.

Chugging out of Friday Harbor.  I’m not ready, please don’t make me leave!

As we steamed out of the harbor, we watched a seaplane land.  I tried not to be jealous of the pilot, just arriving on San Juan Island instead of leaving.

We were determined to soak up all of the scenery on the way back to Seattle.  No matter how cold and windy it got.  We’d all been living rough for five days.  We were committed.

As the Clipper steamed through Boundary Pass, I spotted a coffee cup rolling around on deck.  I’d never have forgiven myself if it blew overboard, so I snatched it up and rushed down the stairs to throw it away.  Stopping by our table to check on Steve, I spotted out the window –

ORCAS!  I flew over the table, slammed myself against the window, shouted “ORCASORCASORCAS!” and the boat listed to starboard as everyone on the upper level rushed to look out the window.  The Clipper’s on-board naturalist came on the radio and announced that the T065 family was swimming off the stern of the boat.

I ran up the stairs, shouting to B and M, “Orcas, guys DID YOU SEE THEM DID YOU SEE THE ORCAS!”  They laughed, said they had seen the orcas, and were very relieved that I had seen them too.  They didn’t know what they were going to say to me if I’d missed them.  I was surprised M hadn’t flung himself overboard; his dream is to swim with them.

Still sad, still leaving a piece of my heart in the islands – but it felt right to have been seen off by the Biggs.  They’re incredible, majestic, beautiful creatures and it was my great privilege to see them twice on this trip.

Next week: hello, civilization – Seattle!