Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ode To Brother

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I have fallen in the eyes of my hero.

I have lost that special bond that only siblings have.

Oh how can I climb back upon my sisterly pedestal?

As old as I am and as old as you are, how could I have possibly forgotten YOUR birthday???

Hmmm, guess I’ll have to invest in the Post It Notes stock cuz I’ll be usin’ them a lot now. It’s so hard to get older, you know? I haz no excuses and not even a damn good reason. But, on the other hand, this event WILL bring you a renewed sense of how lofty a position BIG BROTHERS carry. It will now be upon your shoulders for YOU to NEVER forget. Hahahahaha!!!

All kidding aside, I DO want you to know how special you are to me and how much I really do cherish and hold dearly our relationship.

On another note, we took the kayaks out last week for the first time—as you said, you’ve had a lot of rain and we did, too. It was getting ridiculous; we had SNOW in the middle of May!

I am sending you some pictures of our day on Davis Lake.

The day was overcast but still quite warm and I told Kevin “Let’s just load up the boats and if we can’t get out on the water, well at least we tried”. Glad we did! That lake is 3 miles long and 3 miles wide and we probably paddled a total of 7 or more miles! We always are just ‘putzing’ when we start out, you know, enjoying the scenery right in front of us, enjoying the peace and quiet, living in all of the senses.

Standing on the opposite shore of our port of entry was a slim young man with long dark hair dressed in a grey Henley shirt and black pants, a black windbreaker tied around his waist. Alongside him was his black chow dog, pouncing into the grasses chasing who knows what. The young man had a handful of long, black feathers. He was raising them one at a time up into the air and then watching them fall gracefully to the ground. I didn’t speak to him, I didn’t interrupt his moment. What was he doing? I don’t know. What were his thoughts as we paddled by his space in time? I didn’t take a shot of this. Sometimes the memory makes it more ethereal.

The weather held for several more hours as Kevin and I investigated the shoreline; birds of all kinds and bugs and varmints. Some of the reeds had blossoms on their long, tall stalks. Sort of like orange blossoms.

We saw a point about three fourths of the way down towards the other end of the lake so we made that our point of reference. It turned out to be the only rock lined part of the shore, at least on that side. As we pulled up to rest, birds were flitting all about us. They were mostly blackbirds; redwing, yellow headed black birds (they sound like a penguin!) and something called a Western tanager. What a gorgeous little creature! Their red, orange, yellow and black plumage truly grabs your eye.

Kevin tried to snap a shot but they were so erratic he couldn’t. I put down my oars and simply floated quietly until the birds began to return to the rocks to get a drink of water. I had gotten my camera ready so all I had to do was point and shoot. I got them! Then they were gone.

Shortly after that we thought it best to return to the cars since the earlier mirror smooth appearance of the lake was quickly changing. The lakes tend to get a bit breezy in the early afternoons and with 3 miles to cross, I didn’t want to be stuck in the middle when the whitecaps began.

One tour book describes Davis Lake as “character building” if you are caught out there when the water is roiling. Let me tell you, it was character building just to paddle that far!

We made it and as we cruised up the opposite shoreline, we grabbed onto some tall reeds so we could take a rest without drifting away and losing ‘ground’. It seemed like it took forever to get across and our focus points kept changing. We finally made it up to the truck after our brief rest and with huge sighs of relief, we loaded up the kayaks to go find a place to park and have lunch. We brought hot chocolate (with marshmallows), hot dogs and buns and a little one burner camp stove. It was wonderful to enjoy that repast while we watched the whitecaps grow bigger out on the lake. “Wow…we made it just in time” we kept saying to each other. That hot dog tasted even better then…

That Alaska Trip...

When an old girlfriend called and said, “How would you like a round trip ticket to Alaska for $100.00 and you’d go with me?” I squealed, “Of course!!” without any forethought.

Then again, all the fore thought in the world couldn’t have predicted what would unfold as this adventure began to pan out….

And who knew that $100.00 would eventually grow into almost $1,200.00 as events occurred and the trip would involve NO old girlfriend, none of the activities we had planned and one old friend I was going to stay with who had to leave for Southern Cal the same time I would be up there.

"If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is..."

"Hindsight is 20/20"

And...are there anymore that I should be hit over the head with???

I am finally home, getting rested and starting to write about this 'adventure'. The first two sentences are the opening lines.

It will include lines like, "As I was walking down the concourse, the ticking began. And then the alarm went off!"

TSA had my backpack run through three times before they finally decided to tear the whole thing apart. The whole slow down was due to a 1950's alarm clock. They don't look like THAT anymore...

The trip suggestion began in February with a phone call from a long-time friend in Montana and it started with, “Hey, do you want to go to Alaska with me? I can get a round trip ticket for $100.00” and without thinking, I excitedly stated “YES!” Now, it’s been six years since I left Alaska and after having lived there for five years, I can say that it never left my heart. I have always had a soft spot for the cool, green summers and that crisp clean air. In the spring, you can smell the tree buds bursting open! So knowing that a normal one way ticket usually runs around $600.00, hearing that incredible sum yanked me out of normalcy.

The call came from one I had known since living in Montana and she had done something special for the family when my ten year old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. My Montana friend has a heart of gold and it’s as big as Texas, she has seen me through a few whitewater periods in my life.

During the time I was living up north, she visited me several times, we were always accompanied by a companion who simply had to dominate everything; time, conversation, etc.

When I moved ‘outside’ to Oregon, my Montana friend fulfilled one of her life’s dreams and moved to Anchor Point, Alaska, about 70 miles south of where I had lived. One of the reasons for this Girl Trip was to finally realize time together and sharing our love and fascination for all things Alaska! There would be a gold panning day in Girdwood, another friend of mine was going to take us out in his little fishing boat and I was going to salute the skies with other old friends by having a beach bonfire, complete with marshmallows and probably some hot chocolate. Walks on the Kenai and Homer beaches with a possible celebratory drink at the Salty Dawg Saloon in Homer. The Salty Dawg is a Homer landmark; it looks like a gray shingled lighthouse sort of sunken into the ground and the floor inside is coated in sawdust. It is always crowded and lots of sea stories float around the air in that place.

I guess the beginning of the end started with my ‘sister’ friend; we have shared some very deep conversations and shed some tears together; she and her husband gave me a home for three weeks when my life fell apart up there and I eventually moved here to Oregon.

We had been talking for weeks about seeing each other, how it had been a long long time since we’d been able to talk, “skin to skin”, as we call it. But a family emergency called her away during the same time I would be in her home area. This is just life and I explained to her that she should feel no guilt for not being able to be there when I was. It will happen in another time in our lives.

There was another phone call from my friend when she announced that the ticket price had gone up to $258.00 and did I still want to go through with the plan? I had to ponder this, you know what with the economy, gas prices and me being the main income provider in the family at the moment. Still, the price was too good to pass up and I told her that yes, I would consider the trip but if it went up again I would have to decline. The next price subject was getting a rental car. My friend had connections and could get a really great deal on one, almost half of what it usually costs; I agreed to split the $134.00 for the week cost with her. Another friend of mine who offered me her home also offered me the use of one of her vehicles to tool around town in. Friend #1 was going to head to Homer and share a few days with several of her old friends while I did the same, then we were going to get together for our reunion.

The closer that time came for our intended May 11, 2011 departure, our phone calls increased and so did my anxiety. The reason the tickets were so cheap was because we were going on “buddy passes”. Stand by. I have never flown stand by. Stand by means you wait until everyone is on the plane and they either call your name or it shows up on a list that you are numero uno or number 20. Now, my friend does it all the time and has always gotten through and she kept encouraging me to not worry. “Hey, so what if you miss one flight, there are more and the chances are pretty good. Sometimes I’ve even had several seats open next to me and I could stretch out and sleep!” I was still nervous about the whole thing anyway; this is entirely out of my box. I like order and things that run smoothly. I know life isn’t like that but that’s my quirk.

Days before May 11, the phone calls were flying and plans were solidified and excitement was peaking. Then it was the day of the flights. Mine would leave Redmond at 1:30 in the afternoon and I would arrive in Salt Lake City shortly, within 2 hours. Then the wait for 9:30 at night to Anchorage. I would get in around 1:30 and spend the night at friends; Joyce and Stephan. I took a cab and was knocking on their door at 12:30. Joyce and I greeted each other with quiet excitement since Stephan was still sleeping. She guided me downstairs to my room and we agreed to have coffee in the morning when she got up to get ready for work.

I had the whole day to myself while Joyce and Stephan were at work and I was awaiting my friends’ arrival that night on her first leg of the trip to Anchorage. That day was good as I rearranged my suitcase, got myself cleaned up and enjoyed the bright 65 degree sunshine out on the back deck, reading a good book, sipping tea and swaying on the porch swing. This is the life! “I can get used to this” I said to myself.

When Stephan and Joyce came home I was well rested, they were happy to have a visitor and Stephan broke open the barbecue for hamburgers! All I had to do now was wait for my friend to call since she was also invited to spend the night. Spending time with great friends and no motel costs.

The evening wore on and as my friends’ flight time approached, we were calling each other, keeping up with schedules, etc. My friends’ flight time passed…the phone rang…and she didn’t get on the plane. Okay, so there is the flight for the next day and she was prepared to spend the night at the airport in Salt Lake City. Next day comes and again my friend missed out on her stand by flight; she was in the loading tunnel when they turned her back. The phone call was heartbreaking. “I’m giving up, I’m going home, I can’t spend half my vacation in the airport.” We both were saddened at this news. I kept telling her that if she changed her mind, to call me, it didn’t matter what time it was, I so wanted this to come to fruition.

I spent my second night with my friends in Anchorage and the next morning Stephan took me to the airport to pick up the rental car. All went well with getting that cute little cobalt blue Toyota Yaris, brand new and bearing the temporary license in the back window. Yaris and I headed south for the Kenai Peninsula. And if it hadn’t been for the desire of a little espresso coffee, I would have gone the wrong way!

There are so many little things about Alaska that are embedded in my memory and my heart. The slate grey color of Turnagain Arms’ mud flats, the shimmery porcelain white of the surrounding mountains snow and ice, the smell of the birch, aspens and spruces that make up that forest aroma. It is too early for my favorite, though. Little shaggy white heads on 6 inch stalks that wave in the gentlest of breezes. They always made me think of Swedish children running in alpine meadows.

As I was driving, my phone rang, I pulled over to answer it and it was my Montana Friend. She told me to enjoy this trip for the both of us. I had just been thinking of her and as I spoke to her, I couldn’t keep back the tears and the sense of emptiness that she wasn’t here in that silly little blue toy with me, oohing and awing over all the scenery and gushing, “We made it together! We’re here! Woo hoo!!”

It took a little over three hours to get from Anchorage to Soldotna where I would stop in and see Laura, another old friend who said she would be happy to have me stay with her during my week’s stay in town. Laura was at work, I popped in to say I was finally there and off to her house I went so I could unload and relax until she came home.

Laura was a Godsend during this trip! Not only did I have a place to stay, but we had a chance to really get to know each other better. She has always had a gigantic and kind heart and we had such a wonderful opportunity to‘re-bond’. No kids, no husbands, just us. That was very special.

During this time I was able to spend a day beach combing in Kenai, collecting some great stones to bring home. Another day I was able to have lunch and coffee with Sis Friends’ husband at a place called Odie’s. They offered great soups and sandwiches but I found their coffee was the best! The days that Laura had to work I would wander around town, revisiting old haunts and sites then getting back home in time to fix a nice dinner for the both of us.

Laura had one day off, Tuesday, so we planned on driving down to Homer and doing some beachcombing there, then wandering the boardwalk shops. We found some great beach stones that we put in the bags she brought and in one of the shops I bought a book called “Beach Stones”; every little pebble I picked up was depicted and explained in that little book of stones.

Needless to say, if it hadn’t been for Laura (she was on my list of people to see!), this trip would have been a huge let down. None of the other people I had contacted so early on before coming were anywhere to be found. The boat persons’ phone was disconnected, I drove all over the Funny River Road hills hunting down the cabin of another acquaintance that was gone, although I did leave my business card in her door. I did find a woman friend in another little town but we almost didn’t get that connection either! When I first called her number, I got a disconnect message. The woman at the post office that I stopped in attempted a call and she got ringing but no voice message. The postal worker couldn’t tell me anything more and I could understand that. Dejected, I walked out of the post office, got in the car and thought, “Oh heck, I’ll try one more time”. Four times I called because I would get ringing but then it would hang up!! Finally, on the fourth call, I heard a live human voice! “Bette??? This is Jane!! I am sitting at the post office parking lot, where are you???” She gave me directions and after several drive-bys on the highway, I finally found the right turn off and managed to get to her house. Another bright spot in my trip! Bette was another one who was always so very kind and sweet to me, generous with her friendship. You see, I had written her a letter telling her I was coming and I never heard from her. When I saw her, she said she never received any mail from me.

Our visit was wonderful, we had tea and talk, the dogs were excited to have some new scents in the house and then the visit was over all too soon. But I was thankful to have reconnected with Bette.

Not much else occurred during this visit, the real excitement began when it was time to go home!

I can’t remember why I called Kevin but we were discussing my return when he says to me, “It’s not tomorrow, Honey, it’s TONIGHT”. “It is? No it isn’t, look…oh…IT IS TONIGHT!” Laura and I were going to head out to the beach one more time but that was cut short. I began to check and re-pack my bags. I was ready to head out the door but couldn’t find the car keys. I checked my purse and all my pockets and then proceeded to unpack the huge luggage bag; no keys. I dumped out all the contents of the carry-on back pack and there they were! Now to repack all that stuff again. Okay, everything is check now so out the door I go.

I decided I would leave around 7:30 p.m. so I’d have plenty of time to make my 1:30 a.m. flight out. Laura thought I was leaving a bit early but hey, it’s construction time in Alaska now and I did run into that shortly after Girdwood. Not a long delay but enough to have backed up my reason. On the bright side, I spotted a ewe goat standing on the edge of the cliff overlooking the highway and I remember she had the most quizzical look on her face. Her head was slightly skewed, looking at the whizzing cars below. A little further down the road I spotted a moose on the edge munching away on grass. I hoped it wouldn’t lose its footing and come crashing down on me. They do that there, you know.

About three miles before the airport I start looking for gas stations so I can fill up the Little Blue Toy before turning it in. I keep thinking there has to be one pretty soon.

All the way into the parking garage I’m thinking this. I pull up into the delivery lane,

a young man comes out of his little closet office and I asked, “So what kind of trouble am I in if I have a half a tank? I didn’t see any gas stations for the last three miles!” He bends over and looks at the gas gauge and says, “Wow, you only used 7/10ths of a tank so it looks like we give YOU a refund!” I didn’t tell him that I had already put $60.00 worth of gas in. Twice. At $4.47 a gallon.

So it is now about 10:30 p.m. and I’ll have time to find the gate I am supposed to be at.

All is good so far. After going through TSA-I’m getting pretty good at this now; take off shoes, take off jacket and place all that plus my purse, camera, pillow, clear plastic bags and backpack in the gray bins to be x-rayed. Everything goes through fine except for the pink backpack. “We need your bag again, ma’am, something in there we can’t identify”. I didn’t say anything and just figured it was the funny-shaped 1950’s alarm clock.

They asked me if I wanted them to repack the bag and I declined, this way I would know where I put MY things, the easy-to-get-to things. Only…I noticed that when they did unpack the bag, I had mistakenly replaced my emergency clean clothes with…DIRTY CLOTHES! Now if I had to stay in the airport for more than 24 hours I had no clean clothes to change into. Yes I was upset but hey, nothing I can do now since my big bag was being sent onward to home base.

The gate area for ***** to Salt Lake City is deserted except for two other women sitting on a bench, chatting away. I asked if they’d mind if I sat with them and they happily accepted. We were all headed out on the 1:30 a.m. flight to SLC and all three of us were stand by. Yep, stand by. That is why this trip was so cheap. The hours went by as the three of us visited and talked about our lives. As 1:00 a.m. approached and the waiting area began to fill with people, lots of people, we were amazed at how many were showing up at that time.

When all passengers had boarded and the only ones left were those of us on the stand by list, there were three seats left and ten people. There is an order to this, a priority list, as it were. Current employees, retired employees and Sky Miles people all have their place. My little group of three was at the bottom and so we did not get on that flight. We re-booked for a flight out to Minneapolis-to Salt Lake City leaving at 8:30 a.m. I said my goodbyes to the other girls and walked off to find the new gate area so I could await the next attempt. Somewhere around 6:00 a.m. the attendants at the new gate area announced that the flight to Minneapolis would arrive there but we would all be staying there until the weather improved. I did not want to fly to Minneapolis to be stuck there for who-knows-how-long to try and get another flight to SLC and THEN to Redmond (home). This could go on for two more days and all of a sudden I was done. I was tired,

I was hungry for REAL food and I was just DONE. So the next thought that occurred to me was to simply go to an Alaskan Airlines ticket counter and BUY a ticket home. A guaranteed ticket home. The woman at the ticket counter says, “Well, I can get you a ticket but you’ll get a 20% discount if you go and use the phone and make a ‘reservation’”. One more hurdle. Over to the phones I go. At least on those airport phones they have a list of airlines posted you can call to make a reservation. I dialed the Alaska Airlines number and quickly made my next guaranteed flight reservation for around noon to Salt Lake City and on to Redmond. “That will be $620.00 ma’am”. I didn’t even flinch; I just wanted to go home.

Now the next item of business was to make sure my luggage would get to Redmond, Oregon, now that I wasn’t going to be a ***** passenger of any kind. I hauled myself, my 5 pound purse, my pillow and my 15 pound carry-on pink back pack down the escalator to the ***** baggage counter to make enquiry. The counter is closed but the sign says it’s closed from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and I am standing in front of it at 6:45 a.m. And it’s closed. Nobody there, the little enclosed rooms behind the counter all locked up and dark. Back upstairs I go to try and find someone who can help me. I stop two security officers and ask them if they can tell me where to go. (: No help there, passing by another airline counter, I ask the woman if she can help and she tells me I need to go downstairs to the ***** counter. You know, the one that’s closed. Meanwhile, I have to go back through TSA. Let’s just say that I eventually went through TSA a total of five times trying to speak to someone who could help me out with the baggage issue.

I called my Montana Girlfriend and she said she would make some calls, and then I called my husband. Between the two of them, I ended up with the airport manager personally walking me back to those locked and darkened rooms so he could let me in to see if my luggage was in there anywhere. Nope. Nada. Nothing. And wouldn’t you know, this is the time when the alarm clock decides to go off! So by this time, that means it’s on the plane to Salt Lake City. Which according to “them” it isn’t supposed to go anywhere unless that STANDBY passenger WAS ON THAT PLANE. To make a long story short, my bag made its way safe and sound all the way to Redmond, Oregon, while I continued my piecemeal trip.

When the hour came to board that Alaskan Airlines plane at noon, I was completely relieved. From Alaska to SLC it takes about 3 and a half hours, the long stretch of the flight, and the one where I had to go to the bathroom after the first hour. I had the window seat and my seat mates were sleeping. Believe me, there is no room to climb past anymore, everyone has to get up and get out of their seats. (On an incoming flight I discovered that when I let a woman ‘climb’ over me; if I had been a man, boobies in the face would have been the best part of the trip!) I figured if I ordered a sandwich from their in-flight menu, it would soak up some liquid and it did help.

The plane is finally landing on the tarmac at SLC, I’m ALMOST HOME and 15 minutes until I get to a bathroom. As we taxi towards the loading gate, the pilot says to us, “Ladies and gentleman, there will be a slight delay on the tarmac as we have two planes ahead of us, I do not know how long we will be here but if there is anything we can do to help you, please let us know”. Oh. My. Gosh. I’m thinking hours of time sitting on that tarmac. In the sun. And I have to go. But…God was lookin’ out for me because it was a very short wait.

The lay-over between that flight and the next was one hour. I had one hour to get off that plane at SLC and find the next AA connection to Redmond. All goes well as the plane de-boards and I am running to the next gate. It is now 15 minutes until the next plane boards. All I can say is, I made it into a bathroom and back out in time to board that next plane. Now this is very strange because we were boarding that plane to Redmond as it was de-boarding the last passengers! Yes, we loaders were weaving through the

unloaders. I thought that was so very odd but hey, at least I was gettin’ on that plane! I was ecstatic!! Woo hoo, about 2 more hours and I was gonna be home.

That flight was quite nice; the attendants offered a variety of beverages including wine! I was happy just to have something to drink and not have to worry about where to unload that!

I enjoyed the sunshine through my window seat, watching the snow covered mountains of home appear—“Oh, there’s Mt. Bachelor, and the Sisters!” Yay, I made it!!

The plane landed on time and everyone exited in a timely manner. When I got through the gate area and saw Kevin standing there with my bag, tears welled up and I was so very happy to be…home.