Sunday, October 20, 2013

Temporarily Out of Full Retirement

Late afternoon light on Sequim Bay beaches...
I used to joke with my other retired friends that if we ever needed - or wanted - a job, we could go and become greeters at the local Whereyoufindeverything Store... but that really is not something I enjoy, where writing and editing truly is.

Since May I have been caring, on a part-time basis, for an elderly lady who has become a dear friend. Cooking and keeping up with her household affairs was an enjoyable duty and starting a routine for the two of us to have tea at 4 p.m. was something we both came to enjoy. Sadly, several weeks ago her family decided to place her in an assisted living facility. Although I was paid to spend afternoons with her during a transitional time, it is clear that her level of awareness and ability to move around has been degrading daily.

Last cutting for the fall hay season is done.
The joy of conversation and laughter is disappearing as well. She sleeps a lot, is in a tremendous amount of pain from spinal stenosis and arthritis, and her motivation to get up dwindles like the afternoon sunshine in fall. She mused aloud recently, "I wonder when I will get out of this place." What could I say? At 92, with her ailments, she doesn't have the motivation or physical resources to do necessary therapies to maintain muscle tone and strength. The inevitable slide downward is hard to watch.

As we age, it becomes more and more important to stay active, and to drink water that is 'good,' not just  processed. One month of not doing certain physical exercises will have a negative effect. Strength training, walking, and eating fresh foods are essential. I tried to get Mrs. R to walk with me, but every step was painful. I encouraged her to do some weight lifting but she soon tired of the effort. I cooked fresh foods every day, but with less and less activity there was less and less appetite. Clearly everything NOT done was affecting everything else. And when I had to leave for several weeks to close out my affairs in Colombia, I was pretty certain no one else would push her to make some effort. When I returned, I could see that I had been right.
I'm not a mushroom specialist, but the shape of this one
was intriguing. The Elks Lodge had a show this weekend.

Someone piled up stones on Rialto
Beach, like the Tibetans prayer piles.
While this end-of-life process is sad, there is a certain hopefulness in my friend's eyes as she tells me she is looking forward to being reunited with her beloved husband.

And as her cognitive life wanes, she cares less and less about the world around her, resulting in a sort of peaceful place where napping means no pain and no concerns. She awoke from just such a nap the other day and said to me, "It gives me such pleasure to wake up and see you sitting there, being here for me." I am grateful I can do that much for her now.

But I recently learned of a part-time job on a newspaper, and like the aging dalmatian fire dog who is accustomed to jumping up at the ringing of the fire bell, I was drawn to apply.

My part-time job will still allow me to have some time with Mrs. R, but more importantly I will be continuing to keep my own mind active as well as affording time for the gym and weekend journeys. If I have a couple of decades ahead of me, I certainly want them to be healthy ones.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Seeing Red...

Afternoon sunshine intensifies the colors along West Sequim Bay Road.
and yellow, and orange and all the subtle colors in-between that remind us that the fall season is well started here in the Northwest. The air is definitely cooler and snow is accumulating on the very tops of the mountains of the Olympic Range. A few mornings ago I could see frost on the rooftops and grass.

It is more and more likely to be in the 40's until the sun has a chance to warm things up and another one of my favorite fruits is being harvested all around the state. Apples!!
This tree, in an orchard near my house, was grafted years
ago and now gives both red and yellow fruits.

I do not know what strain of apples these are, but they are
very dense, crisp and juicy, but not very sweet.
It's a great time to get out and walk in the parks, but sadly many of them are national parks and are closed to the public until the government is operational again.

There is no end to the excitement of living near the Olympics, the wilderness. Sequim is already known for the elk herds that cross Highway 101 near the John Wayne Marina, and I've had several encounters with deer and fawns in this area.

But when we went to the apple orchard near my home, I saw something in the grass that my former life as a Spudette (Idaho citizen) caused me to stop and take a photo.

And, once home, with access to the Internet, I asked the question (Not: does a bear do it in the woods?) but when a bear does it, what does "it" look like? I vaguely recalled the shape from my life in Idaho decades ago, but wasn't sure.

I think this is bear droppings.... or
should I say these ARE droppings?
I'm not sure, but if you are, let's
hear from the experts!

And here is the link for identifying bear poop, also known as "droppings" and sure enough, it looks like what they describe for brown and black bears.

UPDATE: This is indeed the sign of bear(s) and here is a link as to what the Washington State Department of Fish and Game advises people on bear behavior. I will be more careful on my walks, especially in the orchard knowing I am sharing it with a critter.

Some nights I can hear the coyotes howling in the distance, and on Monday nights we put out our trash cans for pickup, but I think now I will wait until Tuesday morning to set mine out so I don't have to deal with the anxiety of either finding it tipped over or hearing it getting knocked over during the night by something a lot larger than the neighbor's dog.

It's surprising enough to find such evidence anywhere, but merely yards from my home is a little niggling reminder that since the wilderness isn't that far away, neither are the creatures that live in it.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad Trip

A view from the train platform of the charming little 1906
Lutheran church in Elbe. Come early, seating is limited.
The first weekend of October did not find me lazily snoozing under my down blanket. No, I was up bright and early with my lunch packed, my layers of clothing and my camera heaped on my arms, all ready to go on the Shipley Senior Center's trip to the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad in Elbe, Washington.

Our group started from the Center just before 8 a.m. because the sunlight, and thus the photo opportunities, fade significantly after mid-day at this time of year. The low-lying fog was burned off by the time we crossed Puget Sound and moved inland.

We had reservations on the 12:45 p.m. trip and we were required to be on the platform by 12:30. The trip from Sequim was estimated to take just under three hours.

Fortunately this trip was not dependent on the U.S. Government being operational, which it still is not at present.
The waitstaff in the restaurant were not happy to be sitting
around with nothing to do since the national park is not
open at present. Some of us decided to eat here to help out.

Although all the national parks are closed because employees have been furloughed by the government's closure, the scenic railroad is a private operation started in 1981 and is run largely by devoted volunteers with some equally committed paid staff.

Our drive took us past Mineral Lake, a milky-grey-green colored body of water. The color is caused by the waters coming down from the Mt. Rainier glacier with bits and pieces called "glacier flour"being moved downstream by the  rivers into the lake.

As we arrived, on the right side of the road are a number of brightly colored cars and a couple of cabooses, which are part of a motel offering sleeping accommodations. Other cars provide an innovative place for pizza as well as a more structured dining option.
I wonder if the sleeping accommodations are improved over
what the railroads might have offered in 1890?
On the left, the post office, a mini store, and the General Store, recreated from the old I.O.O.F. hall, offers fishing tackle, beverages and other essentials.

Just below you can click on the raw video of the train arriving in the station, complete with steam whistles and bells. (Perhaps that is where the expression "all the bells and whistles" came from"...)

Winding through evergreen and deciduous
woods, the train travels slowly past farms
and now-empty fields that once had homes
for the pioneer loggers.
The train leaves from a reconstructed train depot in Elbe, which welcomed the first train for the Tacoma & Eastern Railway in April of 1904.
Looking out from the back of the train.

This town was once a bustling and prosperous lumber center, but is now dependent more on tourism than logs with the 2010 Census showing only 10 households listed for a total of 29 people in the town.

The 40-minute ride to Mineral through the foothills of the majestic sleeping volcano of Mt. Rainier ends with an approximately 45-minute tour of antique logging locomotives in what will one day be a very extensive museum of early railroading.
Old equipment on a spur waiting for a benefactor to restore  it.
The locomotive must be turned around at each end of the line, so I asked if I could get up in the engine area for a photo of the boiler. I was invited up and given some wonderful history of steam engines and a chance to ride up there while they backed up to the cars.
Peeking into the inferno...

The fireman opened the door where, in older coal-fired
engines the stokers would have shoveled in coal.
Although the fall breezes outside were registering about 65 degrees in the sun, the engine area was more like a summer scorcher. I was shown how the water pressure is maintained with the crude oil being burned. Both the engineer and the fireman are volunteers and the engineer said he was inspired by his first trip to go to the University of Washington and get a degree in Forestry.

The engineer works for Weyerhauser for his regular job.
The fireman explained in simple terms how water and oil
are used to create the necessary steam to drive this engine.
There are open cars and cars with windows that open. Seating is not geared for comfort, and since I was hopping up and down to get photos, I don't think I spent much time in my seat. There is an old car with large doors which reminds me of the mail cars of yesteryear where riders can get popcorn, candy, drinks and souvenirs. And two rest rooms.

I imagine the staff would do all they could to make it possible for someone in a wheelchair to be included, but it would definitely be something to call ahead about. I found everyone to be most helpful, although there was a sort of casualness about the train's time schedule, after hearing we had to be on the platform on time.
Watering the train between runs took more time than usual, probably because the volunteers are only to willing to spend a few minutes talking about trains. But if you want to ride up with the engineer and fireman when they are backing up, all you have to do is ask.

During the spring and fall, I would recommend the late morning or early afternoon run because as we were heading back, the lowering sun and cooler breezes made for a cooler return trip. This is very important for children and elderly riders as the cars are not heated.
Mt. Rainier appears to have a fresh suit of snow and the Nesqually River
was running clear on this lovely bright fall day.

As the sun shone down on my face and I listened to the train's whistle as we approached the crossings, I was easily able to recall being about 4 years old, riding with Pat on the narrow gauge train we had in our back yard.
Me, on my first train ride - a long time ago. I think the
photo credit should go to my father,  but finding it for the
blog the credit goes to my younger brother.
The clackety-clack of the steel wheels on the rails beat a staccato melody of memories... riding the Cranberry Express in Carver, Massachusetts on our way to have a vacation on Cape Cod... taking the Long Island Express out to Orient to visit my uncle and aunt... catching the Amtrak from Jacksonville, FL, to visit a friend in Tampa... I still have one ride on my Bucket List: to go through the Canadian Rockies by rail.
Maybe I really am a Hobo at heart...