Friday, September 29, 2017

Powering down: home on the range is warm, toasty when lights go out

Snow covered apples are a pretty sight, amidst the season's first snow as the melt begins.


Spiced apples, homemade chili, cocoa and biscuits next up as dough rises.

WHEN THE power goes off in the northern Rockies, and winter is at hand, one needs to have a back-up.  What to do?  No lights, no heat, and the refrigerator is quickly losing its cold.
Not to worry.
Through the years, we've developed a game plan for staying safe, snug and satisfied when the power goes off.  Once it was out for nearly four days.  Other times, it's only a few hours.
From nearly a quarter-century of living part of the year in a beautiful but remote place, we know to keep candles at the ready, jugs of water under the sink, easy-to-prepare meals, sleeping bags nearby and buckets to fill from the artesian well, for flushing the toilet.
WE KEEP dry firewood in a  protected  rack, and we know exactly where the snow shovel is. We always have a cooler nearby, with travel ice packs frozen, to minimize opening the refrigerator and freezer.
Nick and Nora are safe under the writing table, happy to be well fed
and loved, and safe with their owners to wait out the storm in comfort.

BIRD LIFE out the window is extraordinary. I don waterproof boots to fill the feeders. We watch dozens of junkos, sparrows and chickadees feast.
A hike up Woodbine Falls, two days after
the storm, showed little trace of snow.

Our Yorkies, Nick and Nora,sport fetching new winter coats, and are snug under the table as I write, happy to be with us and content with their Greenie treats and full tummies.
I take a break from writing to play the piano, choosing a medley of country songs Keller requests  -- "Home on the Range," "Red River Valley," and "Don't Fence Me In."
WE KNOW that the power company will do its best to restore power, and that the snow plow will eventually arrive to clear the roads.  Besides the candles we keep near, we ready my brother Rick's beautiful porcelain kerosene lamps.
The futon from the log room makes a comfy bed next to the fire, and we close off all but the kitchen and living room to maximize heat from the stove.
We  have two glorious heat sources, apart from electrical heat which goes off with the lights.
A wood burning fireplace and stove in the parlor allows us to heat water for tea, coffee and cocoa, and to cook simple meals.  Our trusty cast-iron skillet and granddad's pancake griddle allow a quick egg dish and heat-up of food from the freezer or frig.
Two days after the storm that crippled the valley, things are mostly back to normal.
  The leaves are not yet turning color (heavy branches downed many power lines). Snow is visible in the mountains. 

A Beartooth Electric worker splices power lines above the berm at
High Chaparral after the snows came -- about 10 inches.
With leaves not yet fallen, wet snow broke many branches.
The day of the power outage, we dined on omelettes about 11 a.m., chili at 3:30 p.m., and dinner at 8:30 p.m., a delightful curry we collaborated on with chutney from our snow laden apple tree.
If the outage lasts several days, we also crank up the original 1881 fireplace in the log room and it throws plenty of heat throughout the entire house.
THE DOWN sleeping bags were laid out on the futon when the power was restored in less than a day this time. Darn.
Our time in paradise, sans power, was a reminder of how simple and glorious life can be. Let's do this again soon.

Cookie loves to play piano, particularly if the instrument is a baby grand.
Here she is at the Welk Resort in southern California. She's played since
she was three years old, and hopes to never stop sharing tunes.

NEXT UP:  Cookie's back at the piano.  A gig at the Petroleum Club in Billings, Montana, high atop the city's Double Tree Hotel and the 22nd story, reminds her of what she loves about music and playing requests of others. Join us for an homage to the wonder of sharing tunes with friends, as music becomes a conduit for connections, memory and friendship. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live, and catch us Fridays when we post for each weekend, a variety of pieces on travel, art, nature and whatever comes to mind.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Light house delights! Oregon coast offers eye-catching array of sentinels to the state's sea life

Oregon's lighthouses are a beloved part of coastal history, much visited and appreciated by locals and tourists alike.


The approach to Yaquina Head Lighthouse near Newport, offers a fine view
of the seacoast, where nesting seabirds may be observed. 

LIGHTHOUSES -- those sentinels on the shore, saviors to sailors and an appealing curiosity to tourists -- are beloved across the world and particularly on both U.S. coasts.
In the state of Oregon, lighthouses testify to a rugged life before modern technology.  They tell of strong families and courageous sailors, of risky journeys and fierce storms.
Nine classic structures -- from Tillamook in the north to Cape Blanco near Port Orford in the south -- take visitors back in time to learn what life was like for the keepers who lit the way and sailors who navigated the waters.
A young docent at Yaquina Bay Lighthouse dresses in
vintage garb to welcome visitors.  We enjoyed commentary 
and a tour of the keeper's office, then climbed with 
her to the top of the state's highest lighthouse.
MOST ARE OPEN to the public, offering a variety of ways to "get close-up."  Some have tours and visitors centers.  Others offer public rental space. Some are co-operatively managed by state, county, town and tribal agencies. Most are part of state or county Parks and Recreation Departments, which maintain them and the visitors centers.
Several contain original first-order Fresnel lenses. Others are known for their seabird nesting sites, wonderful nearby hiking and enchanting tide pools.
Each lighthouse has unique features. Heceta Head Lighthouse has admirably preserved its assistant lighthouse keeper's house, now a bed and breakfast, recently undergoing extensive restoration.
Tillamook Rock Lighthouse stands grandly on a basalt rock islet and was once used as a columbarium to store ashes of the deceased.
Cape Blanco is the oldest standing lighthouse on the Oregon Coast, commissioned nearly a century-and-one-half ago in 1870.  Its history includes faithful service during the colorful gold mining and lumber industry days. It did service for more than a century, when automated equipment was installed by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1980.
Friends of the Lighthouse at  Yaquina Head Lighthouse help maintain the 93-foot tower,
highest on the Oregon coast. The lighthouse is near Newport, 162 feet above sea level. 
BECAUSE OF THE various methods and agencies maintaining these intriguing monuments to past life -- including private ownership -- there is no uniform schedule or access.  For hours and tours, seek individual web or phone contact.
Indian tribes, for instance, own Cape Arago Lighthouse, near North Bend and Coos Bay. There's no public access but a beautiful nearby bay offers a fine view.  We enjoyed the unique fog horn there.
Fresnel lens is the star in the Yaquina Head Lighthouse. The lens has a unique design allowing a larger aperture and shorter focal length, projecting light over a greater distance. This friend to sailors and boatmen assured precious cargo made its destination.
The Fresnel lens (pronounced "Fre-nel," with a silent "s") has a prominent place in any lighthouse it serves.
Named after its French

 The Fresnel lens, left,
gives ships far better
 light for navigation.

At right, a typical 
lens used before Fresnel.
inventor, most of these lenses retired more than 20 years ago.  In Oregon and California, they remain an attraction because of the superb craftsmanship and ability to concentrate light into a powerful beam.
 "Far out," as we said in the 1960s and '70s.
Our guide gave detailed descriptions of the lens, along with lively lighthouse history as we examined tools, records and lighthouse lore. Life as a keeper was tough -- through all kinds of weather -- and included surprise visits at any time of day or night from the inspector. 
KEEP IN MIND that the lighthouses of Oregon also offer excellent wildlife viewing, situated as they are on rocky outposts. During fall, winter and spring, visitors flock to the lighthouses for prime whale watching, too.

A lineman from Beartooth Electric cuts tree limbs from his perch in a
"basket" attached to his power company truck, at High Chaparral Friday.
NEXT UP: Lights -- wait -- no lights -- but plenty of action and cameras this weekend as the lights and power went out in "Wild Kingdom," AKA High Chaparral in the northern Rockies. Linemen from the local Beartooth Electric Company cut downed tree branches, then restrung and spliced power lines felled by snow-soaked limbs. We were snug inside, cooking scrambled eggs on the wood stove. We'll tell you how we cope  with power outages as we play our version of  "O, Pioneers," the wonderful Willa Cather book in which she introduces the land as a character. Remember to explore, learn, live and catch us Fridays for each new weekend's post.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Tippet Rise: Majestic arts venue unfolds in the hills of Montana

An Alexander Calder sculpture welcomes concert goers to an unforgettable experience merging art, music and nature.
Tippet Rise, six years in the making,  is gaining international acclaim for its invention, talent and originality.


Each piece of sculpture at Tippet Rise contributes an evocative voice to the complex.
Here in the Olivier Barn, Stephen Talasnik's large wall sculpture gives a striking effect.
Talasnik, born in Philadelphia and New York based, is one of the world-class contributors.


WHEN PETER and Cathy Halstead began their search for  the perfect place to build their dream, they had one unifying goal.
The place must inspire, with landscape that would enhance both the music dear to musician Peter's heart, and the visual arts which have long inspired Cathy's painting.
  The property they ultimately settled on is a few miles above the tiny Montana town of Fishtail.  Still a working cattle ranch and once inspiration for well known Stillwater County painter Isabelle Johnson, the wide and sweeping landscape stirs the imagination and lifts the spirits.

Marco Polo "Mark" di Suvero's looming piece is one of the stunning
abstract expressionist sculptures gracing Tippet Rise.
NOW WITH millions of dollars worth of sculpture -- and a concert hall whose impeccable acoustics delight the world's top musicians -- Tippet Rise indeed inspires.
The project pays fitting tribute to the working ranch's late resident rancher and painter, Isabelle Johnson.  Some believe her ghost is riding high, waving her paint brush, smiling down on the Halsteads' unique endeavor.
A world traveler, ahead of her time, Johnson studied in Europe, merging cutting edge technique with her own energy, curiosity and undeniable talent. So, too, do the Halsteads.
Peter Halstead's own poetry entertains at Tippet Rise,
where pre-concert talks and readings prepare viewers
for an evening of enticing delights.
Married for decades and friends since their teen-age years, the couple shared dreams and goals as their relationship and artistic tastes matured. They traveled the world, and studied at both Columbia University and New York University.
Peter is an accomplished pianist and well published poet, with a wry wit and broad tastes.  He also possesses
Pianist Anne Marie McDermott, interviewed by Peter Halstead,
shares spirited anecdotes before her weekend concerts of Haydn
and Mozart recently.  Halstead also writes erudite program notes.
an enviable collection of Steinways which he plays, stores and shares at the art center.
Cathy is a respected visual artist, who has shown in top galleries. Tippet Rise pays homage to both of their lifelong passions.
'MAJESTIC' describes their collaboration -- grand artwork and enchanting concerts on 11,500 acres where cattle roam and sheep graze. As season two of the venture caps, one listens to Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn -- along with new-age percussion works -- performed on perfectly tuned instruments by artists who play the world's great concert halls.
The concert goer ponders beauty on several levels -- both man made and wondrously spawned by nature.  Outside, seemingly at peace with the practiced sounds from within, deer graze beneath the cottonwoods, framed by the Olivier Barn's showcase windows.
TOURS TO the sculptures are available, and a delightful restaurant serves healthy western fare created by Nick and Wendy Goldman of Wildflower Kitchen and Catering.

Peter  Halstead shares his grand pianos, including
Vladimir Horowitz's personal piano, which
Eugene Istomin also played.  It resides at
Tippet Rise, and is kept tuned for visiting artists.
Beyond the summer concerts, specialty films, plays and operas are shared via cinema. Area university ensembles and community arts groups are invited to perform. Neighbors are invited to barbecue.
Workshops are held throughout the season and an outreach director insures the community participates in and is kept abreast of the center's endeavors and global reach.
Tippet Rise, named after Cathy's mother, merges landscape with the couple's lifelong commitment to the arts.
The Halsteads' unique merger would surely please their ancestors -- philanthropists with a love of nature.

Sweeping vistas draw the viewer in -- rolling hills, clouds 
straight out of a fairy tale, and sculptures,
each in its own space, not visible from the other.

AS HEIRS to the Grey Goose vodka fortune and other successful investments,  the Halsteads hired the world's best talent to shape their vision. We are the beneficiaries of their largesse.  The Halsteads' belief -- that art enriches the human experience, and that nature inspires both artists and aficionados -- will outlive us all. Meanwhile, we anxiously await season three.

NEXT UP: Oregon's lighthouses have long inspired, with their remarkable 
architecture and time honored history of helping sailors, commerce
and tourism.  We take you on a tour of some of the finest. 
Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays
when we post for each weekend a novel spin on the arts,
nature and whatever else catches our eye!

Friday, September 8, 2017

Home on the range: deer, antelope, birds, beautiful light and that sky

Big Sky Country on the Stillwater River -- looking from our friends' home, John and Laurie Beers, toward High Chaparral. 


A prairie grouse poses out our front door, enjoying the late summer sun.

MUCH HAS been written about Montana's sky and mountains.
Although the state Highway Department used the phrase "Big Sky Country" in a 1960s promotion, the moniker traces back to writer A.B. Guthrie's 1947 novel.
"The Big Sky" is considered by the late writer and critic Wallace Stegner "the best" of Guthrie's six novels dealing with the Oregon Trail and the development of Montana from 1830 to the 1880s.
The Fishtail Store is an institution.
The sweeping saga spans the time of the Mountain Men to the cattle empire of the 1880s to the time of the book's writing, post World War II.
Up the draw toward the artesian
well, High Chap colors are turning.
MY NATIVE state offers a bounty of beautiful sights:  the aspen trees are just beginning to turn.
Wild fires surrounding us give an even
more golden glow to the sunsets.
Birds are loading up on berries.  The sunsets are a glorious blend of crimson, orange, pale blue and golden hues, accentuated by smoke from 19 wild fires surrounding us.
Tourists and natives alike also love Montana's mountains.  Writer John Steinbeck said they were the kind of mountains he'd make if mountains were ever put on his agenda.
RETURNING to the mountains this year has special meaning for us. When we left nearly 13 months ago, for our winter base in San Diego, we were climbing slowly up the list for Keller's liver transplantation.  We did not know if we would be back this year, so even the sometimes smoky view at the Beartooths is a blessing.
High Chap's mountain at the "top of the prop" provides a
setting for an annual picnic and saxophone serenade.
We're reveling in reunions with our dear friends here -- some locals and others summer people such as are we.
We crossed paths by only days with the "Georgia contingent," a group of Atlanta based sojourners and like-minded friends, who closed up their places just after we all met by the river for a "no labor Labor Day party."
Gooseberries, chokecherries and
elderberries are favorites with deer.
OUR FRIENDS are an eclectic group -- well traveled, well educated, avid readers, activists,  thinkers, global in their politics.  It took us a while to find them.  The party hosts, for instance, recently built on the Stillwater and sold their home in St. Croix. Others are from Pennsylvania, Washington state, California and many other parts of the world. We met a couple recently who live in Spain and visit Montana a couple times a year.

Sandhill cranes greeted us on our drive up the valley to home.
Wild roses are still blooming, albeit
only a few.  They are glorious.

WE'RE thankful to celebrate our return with these friends who have had their own losses, illness and accidents during our absence and challenges with the transplant. We're planning an encore climb up the hill behind our home, to the "top of the prop" as we call it, for me to offer a picnic serenade with my saxophone.
And while little things are frustrating -- a few trees lost to winter -- we feel the same love we always feel when we land in Montana with its beauty and staunch pals. There's no place like it. As Steinbeck put it, "For other states, I have admiration, respect, recognition, even affection. But with Montana it is love. And it's difficult to analyze love."

The Ariel String Quartet thrills a sell-out crowd at an earlier Tippet Rise event.
NEXT UP:  Tippet Rise, that magical art and concert venue near Fishtail, Montana, is in its second fantastic season. On tap this weekend are world renowned pianist Anne-Marie McDermott and the St. Lawrence String Quartet.  Each weekend, world class musicians thrill crowds in a unique setting, always a sold-out venue, with tickets kept cheap to encourage a wide audience range. Join us at Tippet Rise, remembering to explore, learn and live. We post our novel look at nature, the arts, health and travel each Friday, for the weekend.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Living with a new liver yields surprises, challenges, delights;

Bruce Keller, known by family and friends, by his surname, and Christene "Cookie" Meyers, reveling in
smooth sailing after two years of dealing with hepatitis C, the cure with Harvoni and the decision to transplant. 

 TRIUMPHANT TRANSPLANT: 'Patient Patient' is poster boy for miracle of science, reclaimed health

Bruce Keller, aka "Patient Patient,'  
left Scripps Green Hospital after 
only three days, a record for a
transplant at the renowned hospital.
Editor's Note: In May, we offered a three-part series on Bruce Keller's liver transplant in San Diego. Several thousand readers followed our story and have asked how we are doing now, three-plus months after the surgery. Thumbs up all around, and here's how:


Keller's recovery was so swift -- knock wood -- that Cookie and Keller
have the green light to return to southern Spain for their annual fall trip. 
Here, their traditional tapas spread, on their Maloaga trip November of 2016.
A YEAR AGO, we were climbing up the transplant list at Scripps Green Hospital in San Diego, wondering how long our lives would hover in this state of waiting, wondering and anxiety.
Would we have to wait years?  How would Keller be feeling during the wait?  Could we travel?
Keller and Cookie on Friday date night
at La Jolla Shores, on the beach.
How far from home? How long to recovery? What after-effects might he feel? When could he return safely to work? How would Cookie cope with care-giving for an extended period?
One by one, these questions have been answered, and we're thrilled to share the good news that after 15 weeks, all systems are go.
We'll not rehash the "before" tale.  The back-story is in the three pieces, whose links we include in this story.  At your request, we'll focus on life after the transplantation.
WE'VE HAD moments of joy and a few moments of terror. Confused by mixed messages from the pharmacy, we put aside one of the primary anti-rejection drugs and did not take it for 11 days.  'Nurse Cookie" also reduced the dosage of another of the meds for a few days, attempting to adjust the tremor that Keller developed. Bad idea for a patient (or his well meaning partner) to take such matters into one's own hands. 
Our fabulous physician, Dr. Catherine Frenette, cautioned there would be bumps in the road. 
Keller on his bike, heading into the stretch toward four months post transplant.
Ours were minor, compared to other patients, some of whom spend weeks, even months, hospitalized post transplant. Cookie admits she erred in playing doctor -- and was relieved she did not lose her metaphoric nurse's cap, getting off with only a well deserved scolding.
DESPITE DAUNTING numbers of pills those first few weeks, the number of meds is decreasing.  We realize we will have to take a couple critical anti-rejection drugs for the rest of Keller's life.  This is a small price to pay for the magnificent gift of a new liver and a new lease on life.
Nick and Nora are welcome at the Omni Hotel Los Angeles.
We were able to drive  to Los Angeles, to see plays and concerts at the Ahmanson Theatre and Disney Concert Hall. We stay at our favorite downtown hotel, the Omni, which is "Yorkie friendly" and a splendid, all-service venue, walking distance to the theaters.
Caregiving is exhausting.  Here Cookie follows orders:
take time to relax and replenish yourself.
Keller helps new nephew-in-law, Mike Hill, at his wedding to our niece Kira.
We've had fun weekend get-aways at friends' homes celebrating Cookie's month-long birthday celebration which begins August 1 and -- by tradition -- ends on Labor Day.
DAILY BIKE rides and a return to Keller's construction foreman jobs have helped us return to normalcy. And Cookie's beloved Jazzercise has helped her maintain most of her composure -- with occasional lapses, she says.
She loves our sailing trips from San Diego.   
Green light for cruising:  we have
the okay from "Dr. F" for a return to
southern Europe a couple weeks shy
of the six-months originally suggested
for a return to international travel.
Travel is once again a constant in the lives of travel writers
and photographers Bruce Keller and Christene Meyers,
here at Lake Tahoe with their Yorkies Nick and Nora.

WE WERE  thrilled when the doctors approved a trip in late July to our niece's wedding on the Oregon coast.  "Dr. F," as we affectionately refer to her, had estimated a three-month minimum three months before domestic travel and six before we could safely venture across the pond.
During my long wait outside the ICU, the night of the surgery, I did the math, wondering if we would be able to make our annual autumn trip to southern Spain.  It is a ten-year tradition.
Playing piano, lecturing
and part-time teaching are
again part of Cookie's life.
"We'll see," said Dr. F.  "Be patient." We were.
We are delighted to be able to make our Montana pilgrimage which this year involves a return to our mountain home and a few weeks of repair to the damage done by a bear who broke into the place as we were leaving late last summer.

Dr. Jonathan Fisher was chief surgeon -- one of three who assisted on Keller's
liver transplant May 13 at Scripps Green Hospital in San Diego.  Clowning
behind him is Joe Murillo, one of several delightful  physician's assistants.  

WE'VE SEGUED from Scripps' brilliant, highly ranked "liver team" back to our regular physician, "Dr. F."  
Back in Big Sky Country, Cookie and Keller are enjoying time to rest.
We'll feature a photo montage and some insights about this lovely
part of the Northern Rockies in a Montana girl's  
Our visits to Scripps have decreased from two and three times a week to once a week, to twice monthly, and during our Montana stay, to monthly, keeping in touch with Dr. Frenette as needed, checking in with the helpful transplant team if we have concerns. (It is available 24-7.)
We will have blood labs taken during our Big Sky visit, which is possible with a form that is simply handed to the participating clinics, 

with the myriad results emailed back to Scripps.  If  adjustments are needed, they'll be made, thanks to the magic of the Internet.
WE ARE GRATEFUL, but not foolish or deluded. We know problems can arise quickly; conditions change, thus the need for vigilance and monitoring.  We take an informed approach to our situation. We love Scripps -- ten minutes from our house.
We've written a detailed letter of thanks to the donor family -- using the hospital as a screening conduit. They approved of and forwarded our letter and we're hoping to hear back.
(Cookie is convinced that Keller received Don Rickles' liver, because his level of sarcastic humor has increased.  Keller was hoping for the liver of a jazz pianist, so he could play duets with Cookie.)
Cookie and Keller a couple weeks
ago on the Oregon coast.
Some donor families relish communicating with the recipient.  Others find it too painful to respond to a note of appreciation.  We'll see. Meanwhile, Keller says he feels better than he has in years, which makes Nurse Cookie very, very happy.
Stay tuned; we'll keep you in the "liver loop."

Summer at our Montana hideaway with a corner of the Big Sky, top right..

NEXT UP: Big Sky Country is gorgeous in late summer -- even with the wild fires.  The days are dry and sunny, the evenings are cool and breezy.  High in the mountains, the stars are brilliant. And the bird life is abundant.  We saw a mountain lion today. Come with us, remembering to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a novel look at the arts, travel, nature and the lives of two people who live life by the "carpe diem" creed.