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Saturday, December 29, 2012

An old map and dinner for birds and friends

In my last blog Jaq and I were gathering wood in the cutting by Newbold tunnel and this got me thinking of the straightening of the Oxford canal back in the late 1830`s. The original canal twisted and turned across the countryside following the contours of the land. This cut down on locks, tunneling, aquaducts etc that are found in a more direct routed canal.
I found some time back in Rugby library a map entitled `Intended improvements along part of the line of the existing Oxford canal` dated 1828. The photocopy I made is not good enough to reproduce on the blog so I have made up my own from modern mapping.
As well as the present route, i have marked in black the suggested second straightening. It goes from about halfway along the Newbold cutting, very close to my last wood site, to bridge 42 (actually slightly left of my marking). My Yellow marking shows the original line although there was more. Opposite Lime farm and Brinklow marina`s the original line went out into the fields turning back along the contours.
Not sure why the second route was not used, perhaps the land owners would not sell to the canal company.
Hope everyone is enjoying the Christmas break. Jaq and I spent a few days at Barby or to be exact Onley prison moorings. Sounds a bit ominous to those without the benefit of a watery basement but i can assure you the prison lies a decent distance back from the canal with plenty of woodland between the two. For three days we had it all to ourselves, the mooring that is. I guess the prison was pretty crowded. Several boats came by including two hire boats from the Ashby canal company. I managed to have a short chat with one crew and like us and many other boaters they had eaten Christmas lunch on board.
Talking of lunch while at Onley we provided regular meals for the local bird life. The bird table was installed by I think Bert on Nb Twinkle so all it needed was food. Jaq made up a tasty meal consisting of fat and rind from Gammon steaks, toasted seedy bread and raisins all mixed with chunky peanut butter. Every batch went in no time. Talking of bird food have you noticed the lack of Hawthorn berries this year. There seems to be Rosehips but a very  distinct absence of the small Hawthorn berries the birds feed on through winter.
Every mooring eventually gives us itchy feet and the urge to move increases. The rain stopped and the Sun appeared tempted us to cruise into Braunston. We soon came across friends and fellow bloggers Jacquie and Stein on Nb Like Ducks 2 Water. They accepted a dinner invitation offered when we last met them on the Macclesfield canal back in the summer and a lovely evening was spent with two real nice genuine people.   

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Stoke Golding: Birthplace of the Tudor Dynasty

“I would rather be first in a small village in Gaul than second in command in Rome” ~ Julius Caesar

I love the village of Stoke Golding. It has fine memories for me of our first months together as husband and wife aboard NB Valerie. We also spent a week recently at Ashby Canal Centre in Stoke Golding, blacking our boat which gave me plenty of time for a look around. 

Single lane bridge to Stoke Golding
   As the weeks led into the festive winter holiday season bringing shorter days and longer nights, I made a Saturday foray into the village. Cars honked a warning to those out of site on the other side as they made for the single lane canal bridge in and out of Stoke Golding.
The village Post Office at the start of Church Walk.
   Mothers pushing babies in prams and fathers holding tightly to the hands of small children shared the village sidewalks with folks of all ages stopping by the Post Office to mail holiday cards and packages.
   A late afternoon sun shown through pudding clouds as neighbors tarried to chat with one another. Slowly folks began to gather along the path leading to the church of Saint Margaret of Antioch, dating back to the 13th century. An afternoon service at St. Margaret's Church included the singing of Christmas carols. I arrived just in time to slip inside and take a seat in one of the ancient wooden pews with latching doors. How many villagers had warmed these seats in the last seven centuries as they listened to the Christian gospel?
Moving along past the post office, general store and hair dressers...

...towards the entrance to the church of Saint Margaret of Antioch, 13th century.
   It was a good thing a carol sheet was supplied because lo and behold traditional Christmas carols in England may share the same title as those in the USA but there are some interesting differences as I found out! Several carols seemed to use the same music repeatedly and still others had lyrics of which I have not heard. Who knew??!!
   While not a Christian in my personal beliefs, I sat and listened to the brief service which did indeed remind me of the Catholic mass of my youth minus a bit of high ritual.
   As I looked around the ancient church my eye caught the well worn slate headstones of the long dead which were buried under the floor many hundreds of years ago. I sat wondering if the long dead souls took any comfort in the continuity of worship spanning over seven hundred years.
   Amongst the arched stonework and old roof timbers the carved ancient faces of the Green Man looked back at me, articulating the mixture of Pagan and Christian which is the real underpinning of the season. As we filed out chocolates were offered in a festive spirit at the door.

   Outside in the gathering dusk I walked quietly in thought, watching old fashioned street lights blink on like magic to shine across darkened walkways. 
   Squirrels ran along old stone walls, hurrying home to add foundling nuts to a growing larder; wrens sat in the bare branches of hedgerows cocking their heads from side to side, tails seeming to dip up and down as if to ask, "Where are all the berries?" 
   A long, wet summer with too much rain and too little sun left thousands of miles of hawthorn trees bereft of winter bird food. Only the different species of roses hanging amidst the decaying blackberry shrubs and naked Hawthorn branches offer any nourishment. Plump, leathery scarlet rose hips glow in the dim afternoon.
   As I walked back along the road in the early evening dark, Les came up from the boatyard, LED torch in hand, to look for me. Such loving thoughtfulness touches me as we turn and walk arm in arm back to the boat.
Ancient graves by the side of the church

St. Margaret's lit from within as dusk descends
Typical of all small medieval villages, the church spire is the highest thing to be seen throughout Stoke Golding.
   Across the canal I could see the lit spire of St. Margaret's atop Crown Hill and I was reminded of the Battle of Bosworth where Richard III lost his kingdom and his life on August 22nd, 1485, to The Earl of Richmond--who was crowned on said hill in this very village as Henry VII where the Tudor dynasty was born.
   Over the week we blacked our boat I thought often of the gathering masses of soldiers on both sides who fought in what was the final decisive battle of the thirty year long War of the Roses: the White Rose of the House of York supporting the Plantagenet regime, and the Red Rose of the House of Lancaster which supported the Welsh born Henry's bid for the throne as the battle drew nigh.
   Locals from the village climbed the parapets of the church tower that fateful morning to view the clash of the two armies two miles hence on the fields of Redemore as it was then known, which lay to the north of Stoke Golding and the nearby village of Dadlington. "King Richard had 10-15,000 troops at his disposal--more than twice the number available to Henry." (The Battlefields Trust; UK Battlefields Resource Center. 2001-2012. Accessed online on 12/24/2012 at
    Henry, who had been exiled in France, returned with 2000 French mercenaries. Marching from Pembrokshire in Wales, the army followed the old Roman Road known as Watling Street. Richard and his army traveled from Leicester along the old Roman Fenn Lane. Both armies decamped the night before the battle on the plains around Ambion Hill. 
    In the pre-dawn hush the morning we were due to leave the marina and go back into the Ashby Canal, the spire of St. Margaret's again caught my eye. As first light broke I sat staring out the window at the pointed tower thinking of twenty thousand troops preparing for battle the morning of August 22nd, 1485.
   The very same spire was the main sight on the horizon for all those men as they heaved to, gearing up for war. On the early morning breeze I listened with my eyes closed. I could hear men shouting, chain mail and weapons clanking and horses snorting and neighing as knights mounted, shields in place. Soldiers buckled their helms and tried their longbows. Infantrymen fell in as their footsteps tolled the march to battle.
St. Margaret's spire in the pre-dawn hours...
As dawn assembles so too do the sounds of an ancient battle...
How many of those men looked in the first rays of an August morning, to the spire of St. Margaret for reassurance?
   "The watchers on the tower saw the armies closing and about ten o'clock heard the shouts of command faintly in the distance.  The gap  between the two armies began to close. Then at 250 yards they saw the first black flights of arrows, like flocks  of birds rising and falling.  They could see  men on both sides fall, their screams of agony carrying on the morning air.
The archers could use their longbows to good effect at 250 yards. As they closed  they proved themselves deadly,  firing 15 arrows a minute, the hardened heads of the shafts penetrating the leather tunics of the soldiers and, at closer range the armour of the knights.
The watchers with the sharpest eyes could see the various sections of the armies as they closed or fell back. One shouted he could see the King on his white courser. He even claimed to see the sun sparkle on his golden crown." (Courtesy of the Trust of Thomas Barton, accessed online, 12/24/2012 at
   After ninety minutes of combat it appeared the King had routed Henry's soldiers; suddenly the tide of conflict turned and Richard was overwhelmed. He went down and never rose again. Thirty years of conflict died on the fields of Redemoor with Richard Plantagenet and a new royal dynasty was born.
    Henry and his men moved up into a Stoke Golding farmyard to rest while the dying were dispatched with a dagger under chain mail and the dead were carried off the field to be buried in mass graves in Stoke Golding and Dadlington. Henry's troops sustained a loss of approximately 100; Richard's army lost over 1000 men. 
The canal is just below and past the hedge about 2000 yards. Crown Hill Farm.
Blue plaques throughout the village commemorate sites of historical importance thanks to the Charity of Thomas Barton.
    The king's golden circlet was found amongst some Hawthorn bushes and brought to the farm yard where Henry was crowned with it by his Uncle, Lord Stanley, whose son was held hostage by Richard to ensure Stanley would commit his considerable troops to the royal will. Instead Lord Stanley and his troops held their own ground and watched at a distance until it was clear Richard was losing the fight at which point they entered the fray and mopped up the field, scouring the area for weapons, and valuables. Henry's men made themselves comfortable in the chapel of St. Margaret, sharpening their swords on the stone cills under the windows.
    For me history is still alive in the village of Stoke Golding, where one Thomas Barton, local man, established a trust July 10th, 1400 by deedpoll to make funds available to repair the local roadways in benefit of commerce. The trust, ruled by seven trustees, owned considerable acreage and a few homes in and around the area from which it received revenues. Poor management almost saw Barton's Trust bankrupted in the 1600's.  In 1929 the oversight of this trust was ceded to the Stoke Golding Parish Council which has sold some properties in the charity's portfolio to provide investment funds. "With roads and pavement repairs being the responsibility of local and county councils, it was decided by the Trustees to ask the Charity Commissioners for a new order to be made to allow the Trustees to spend interest from their investments for the general benefit of all the people of Stoke Golding. This Order was granted on 17 July 1992 and thus, the generous endowment by Thomas Barton in 1400 celebrates its 600th anniversary on 10 July 2000 by still providing benefits for the village community." (Narrative by Denis Cash; The Charity of Thomas Barton, copyright reserved, 1999.)
   A once king, a future king, and a common man. So much history has marched on the roads Master Barton funded for repair and upkeep. I too, have trod their way and while I am nobody important, a bit of me mingles ever after in Stoke Golding with the breath of kings and commoners who oversaw a slice of this country's history. 
Dawn on The Ashby Canal at Stoke Golding; St. Margaret's spire on Crown Hill.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas to the world

Jaq and I would like to wish all our family, friends and blog readers in the UK, USA, Canada, Alaska, Tasmania, Germany, and around the world a very happy Christmas.

We will be spending Christmas on the boat somewhere out of the way as long as it stays mild. Not sure as to when we will post again but the journey goes on so keep checking in or catch up when your celebrations end.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

North Oxford through Brinklow and Newbold

Not sure exactly what`s happening next to bridge 26 on the N. Oxford. To the right a large area has been cleared of trees and bushes. just wondering if it has anything to do with Les Wilson boats on the other side of the bridge.

This is Brinklow, a very popular summertime mooring. Just around the bend is Easenhall bridge 34 or as Canal and River Trust call it on the moorings list, All Oaks Wood. Now in the picture is NB Valerie and I can assure you we have not taken a winter mooring.

This site is, according to the CaRT list (use the drop down box at bottom of page) £6.86 per metre. Now two things get my goat: why is it metres? We have kept away from the euro currency so why not keep our good old British feet and inches. Second: how do they end up with the odd 86p?. Other listings have odd pence figures, for example 38,74,91.

NB Valerie is 58 feet or in foreign terms 17.67 meters. So a winter mooring here would be £6.86 x 17.67 = £121.21($181) per month. Those who do not know this location might be asking "what do you get?" You get what you see in my picture. The nearest services are 1.5 miles. Three miles round trip walk if you get frozen in for a while and need water/diesel/elsan.
Braunston has all the services  in close proximity but the price would be £189.77($284).

We prefer to keep cruising and keep a close watch on the weather. If the canal ices over, we would cruise to the closest  services in case the ice thickens.
Staying in one place for months at a time would drive me crazy but of course each to their own.

Here we are back at the Newbold Tunnel site and even though a lot has been taken in the last 12 days i still found plenty to cut. Now to find a quiet spot with as little mud as possible so I can split and get under cover all that has been gathered lately.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Merry Solstice 2012!

"Light is returning, even though this is the darkest hour, No one can hold back the dawn.." ~Charlie Murphy

 Merry Solstice to you all as we turn the wheel of the year! In Ma Nature's infinite wisdom--even though winter has just now officially begun--the days will grow longer. Now is the time to celebrate the return of the Sun! May solstice bells ring in our hearts throughout this coming year, reminding us of what has passed and what is yet to come.  Blessed Be!
The Water Road at dawn...
where two pheasants rise from a mist wreathed bridge...
and the Sun rises on Winter Solstice!

Jethro Tull--Ring out Solstice Bells, 1976

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Hawkesbury Junction

This is Hawkesbury Junction where the Oxford and Coventry canals join. Under the bridge is the Coventry canal but the access to it has not always been here.

 The original junction was to have been nearer to Coventry then changed to Bedworth then after  much argument between the two canal companies the join of the canals was at Longford. This was about a mile from Hawkesbury towards Coventry and meant the two canals ran alongside each other with a half circle bend where they joined.

This all happened in 1777 and it was not until many years later that Hawkesbury  was made the junction of the two canals.
The cause of all the problems was the charging of tolls by each company as boats moved from one canal to the other. There had been plans for the Oxford to start at Bedworth so that coal from collieries there would not have to pay tolls to the Coventry canal.

At this time and for many years the Coventry company only dug their canal as far as Atherstone and canal companies other than the Oxford wanted the Coventry extended to join their routes from the midlands. By 1790 the problems were solved and the link with the midlands complete.
The oxford had completed their rather long twisting route to Oxford and onto the River Thames to London.

Now up until this time another route to London did exist by way of Stourport, River Severn, the Thames and Severn canal and the R. Thames to London. This was a very long route with problems on the upper Thames so the Oxford canal was now to benefit from a shorter less problematic route to London.
 Now the collieries of Warwickshire, the Potteries, Birmingham and Manchester to name a few were linked via the Oxford to London but for how long? remember this is pre Grand Junction or G. Union as we now know it. Eleven good financial years before the Oxford came up against strong powerful people with a wish to cut the journey to London even shorter.

I just love reading the history of my home and as I wasn`t around 200+ years ago my information is gleaned from the effort of others in their research of the canal history.
Two books i have are;
Canals of the East Midlands..........Charles Hadfield  ISBN 071534871x
The Grand Junction Canal.............Alan H Faulkner   ISBN 0715357506
Both obtainable at Abe books, use links above.
Perhaps if you were to choose one then I recommend the former as it includes a section on the Grand Junction and London canals.
Both are very good and Jaq has in fact read the Grand Junction book cover to cover.

More wood at site number two. The third site had already been cleared by other boaters so we have just a re-visit to the Newbold site left on this section.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Floating, 1st stop wood gathering

8.30 am and we are back in the water and boy does it feel good to be free once again. The marina we
have just left is just under the bridge and these boats are the Ashby Boat Co. hire fleet laid up for the winter although we did see one go off on Saturday.
The horses seem to know I am heading somewhere with something in mind

and how right they were. This is some of the harvest from the first of three sites we will be stopping at as we head away from the Ashby canal. This time of year there is no such thing as too much wood and over the next few days it will all be split and covered on the roof.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Waiting to re-float

The gas locker at the bow has since loading Jaq`s worldly goods tended to flood. This happens with a full freshwater tank because of it`s forward location.
Having the boat out gave me the chance to pressure wash the locker and the minor rust treated with `exit rust` followed by two coats of bitumen. 

So here we are Sunday evening and we are ready to go back in the water Monday morning. The boat has had three coats with an extra bit along the waterline. I have decided to put off the battery box tidy up until summer. Having to remove the batteries and paint under the box is best done on a warm sunny day when the paint can dry quickly. Having the gas off  for a few hours to get the gas locker touch dry was not a problem re tea, just put the kettle on the wood stove.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Give us a kiss Larmy

Did you read the piece on Jaq`s blog about kissing Llamas? Well here is Oreo welcoming Jaq as she had done to me the previous day. Oreo is the only one out of five Llamas on Larry and Lael`s ranch that greets visitors this way.
Had a real lazy day today as it`s been raining all day. Weather is getting milder so perhaps Saturday might be a chance for a final coat of bitumen. Hopefully by Monday our re-launch will be into an ice free canal.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Well Black My Bottom!

(This particular post is written by us both and will switch back and forth from Le's voice to mine!) 

   After talking about blacking the boat for the past six months, Jaq took things in hand and booked the boat in to The Ashby Canal Centre before we left for the U.S. We bought 20 litres of bitumen in October when Midland Chandlers had a 20% off sale on it and so we are stuck into the job now.
   Monday morning dawned crisp and bright. We cruised into the marina at half past nine and the crew here guided NB Valerie onto a set of wheeled axles attached to an electric motor which was previously in use in a coal mine winding the lift up and down, taking miners down and bringing them back to the surface again. The folks here at The Ashby Canal Centre are a lovely lot--friendly and helpful.
The Ashby Canal Centre, Stoke Golding
Setting the axles in place
A view of the slipway with axles set to accept NB Valerie. The engine with tow rope attached is located in the shed at the front of the slipway.
Engine with tow rope and winch
View from overhead bridge of Les backing NB Valerie off the Ashby canal and into the marina entrance.
The captain bringing her about!
NB Valerie coming into the slipway and onto the axles
Here comes the bow...
...followed by the stern!
Long shot of the process from the overhead bridge
    After a very smooth glide out of the water, we dressed in old, warm clothes. Jaq wore three layers to keep warm, while I dried the underside of the boat with rags, poured bitumen into paint trays and started pressure washing the hull to remove, dirt, flaking paint, old layers of bitumen and plant debris. It took us three hours not counting breaks to roll on the first coat of black, tarry bitumen, which protects the steel hull from rust and corrosion.

Les in wet gear, pressure washing the hull to remove corrosion and debris
The bow as Les begins pressure washing. The silver lozenge attached at far left is a sacrificial anode made from a highly active metal used to prevent the boat hull from corroding.
The pressure washed section to the right provides a good example of the contrast: before being washed, left.
An example of pressure washed hull to the left and freshly blacked metal on the right.
   We took a break Tuesday while the bitumen dried, to walk into the village of Stoke Golding (birthplace of the Tudor dynasty and one of Jaq's favorite places along the canals) and mailed parcels of canal and boating magazines to Stateside friends. We caught the bus into the neighboring town of Hinckley for some groceries and other bits.
   Wednesday Les painted the inside of the bow locker as well since it floods with water and the gas bottles sit down inside there. He is also contemplating pulling the batteries out to treat the metal in the battery compartment before putting them back in again. We also purchased the bits and bobs to change the engine oil and mount a new solar panel on the roof. Les certainly doesn't lack for jobs to keep busy! He painted a second coat of bitumen on in the afternoon once it warmed up somewhat.
   The average night time temperatures have been hovering around freezing, with a couple of degrees below freezing Tuesday and Wednesday nights. As soon as the sun comes up though it warms up by early afternoon to decent working weather. We just have to allow more time for the bitumen to dry in the cold. Jaq plies me with tea and coffee, and spoiled me with homemade Spaghetti with meat sauce last night.
   In the evenings we have been enjoying reading as we sit in front of the fire, surfing the 'Net, or enjoying the advent calendars our Stateside friends Sandy Field, and Larry and Lael Turnbow sent us from Jacquie Lawson's website.
   Les has the London advent calendar on his desktop and I have the Alpine village on mine. These e-calendars are amazing! Such tremendous detail and a lot of fun to explore. The London advent calendar features famous places including Big Ben which actually tells the correct time whenever we look! The Alpine Village is filled with wonderful activities to pass the time.
   Jaq is geared up for holiday baking, with fat loaves of Pumpkin Bread and a large double batch of Golden Ginger Cake cooling in the galley! I've even heard a rumor that a pan of Angel Bars may be forthcoming soon since we stocked up on graham cracker crumbs while in America. Al De Meola's holiday instrumental music flows from the speakers as we sit together at the table and write this post.
   We hope to get at least one more layer on the boat before she goes back in the water on Monday morning.

Monday, December 10, 2012

In the Land of Big Part II: the Long Last Half

(Recovered now, I am able at last to continue the story of our U.S. travels. This is a long tale so settle in with a cuppa, some biscuits (cookies) and put your feet up! Travel along with us from here to there and back again: from Europe to America, through three states in three weeks, and back to Europe.)
   While in Portland we visited Powell's City of Books! This Portland icon takes up two city blocks,68,000 sq. feet, is four stories tall,  has eleven different color coded sections, and stocks one million new, used, and rare books on the premises! Powells is one of the biggest independent bookstores in the world, open every day of the year. Powells now has stores in five locations including Portland International airport.  The web site offers stock from five warehouses and approximately four millions books. One can also find exclusive author interviews, essays, a blog and a stable of international book reviewers. As I said to Les, "If I lived here (meaning Oregon) I would live here!"
   After enjoying nearly a week with the newlyweds Sparky and Kelli, and their room mate Mary, it was time to go. On a last night whim, my daughter and I stopped into her favorite tattoo parlor and got matching tattoos to commemorate the memory of my mother Florence Fay. Mom's nickname was ladybug--so we each had a ladybug tattooed on us; Spark has hers behind her left ear, for her grandmother's spirit still whispers to her every now and then. Mine is on my right hand, in plain sight so I think of mom each time I see it. We only wish Jesse had been with us when we did it.
   After a quick good-bye at Portland's Union Rail Station, tickets in hand Les and I checked our bags and boarded the train for Tacoma, Washington. I love traveling by train in America. At a max speed of seventy nine miles an hour the pace is fast enough to cover some ground while still allowing passengers to enjoy the sites along their journey.
   We relaxed in our comfortable seats and enjoyed the watery view. The North Cascades route crosses two large rivers--the Willamette in Portland and a few miles north it crosses the mighty Columbia as it broadens out to an estuary emptying into the Pacific ocean, marking the east-west boundary of Washington and Oregon. 
Portland, Oregon's Willamette River is criss-crossed with bridges!
Tug boat on the Willamette River, seen from the train window.
Lower Puget sound from the train
   This coastal land is timber territory with logging towns spread out along the way until one comes upon the bottom of the Puget Sound which begins North of Seattle and loops down and around to the Washington state capitol at Olympia. Puget Sound covers 1.6 millions acres and 2,500 miles of shoreline with 12,000 streams and 19 watersheds emptying into its salty depths. Fifteen different native tribes call the Sound their homeland. 
  As we traveled along Les spotted container ships bringing cargo into the Port of Tacoma, and battle ships moored up along the way as well. Wildlife abounds here and we were fortunate to spy a magnificent bald Eagle fishing as we passed. 
One of the many timber yards and saw mills along the way.
Ferry ships docked in the Sound and waiting for passengers.
Military ships at dock in Puget Sound.

Tanker arriving at the Port of Tacoma, Washington in the Puget Sound.
Looking across The Sound to the Tacoma Narrows bridge in the distance.
As the train goes underneath one gets a close up of this amazing twin suspension bridge

   Our approach to Tacoma by train took us under the beautiful Tacoma Narrows suspension bridge. On hand to pick us up was our dear friend Reverend Patti Gora-McRavin, or the Rev as we affectionately call her. Patti married us up on Kamiak Butte and her husband Steve walked me up the trail to Les and the waiting group at our wedding site. He also handed me over to the groom. Theirs is a union meant to be, a love story which underwrote mine and Les' union. Such is the power of karma!
   We stayed one night with Patti and Steve which was not nearly long enough but we did have a wonderful dinner and the opportunity to see their lovely home and yard, take a walk around their neighborhood of Spanaway, and catch up with their lives.
    Patti is a tireless defender of the environment, taking on field burning, mainly by grass seed producers in Eastern Washington and North Idaho. She has managed to wrangle both sides into court for a positive outcome which underwrites the health of those who suffer and die from the air pollution caused by field burning. Patti's own life path and personal outlook have brought her to Russia to speak on behalf of the earth and those who cannot lobby government successfully on their own behalf. Having spent much of this year and last dealing with the death of her father, her mother's ill health and need to leave the family home and go into care back in the Midwest, Patti is also in need of respite and rest. 
   Steve continues to teach and advise students for the Automotive Department at South Puget Sound Community College. As an academic who is in it for his students, his world view is shaped by having grown up in the Jim Crow South. Raised by an extended family that included amazing grandparents, Steve is a Viet Nam Veteran who fought for his country even though this country refused to acknowledge his worth and dignity as a human being or his rightful place in its society. Steve is a man of rare honor. His world view is also shaped by time spent traveling and living abroad in Northern Europe, therefore he lacks the myopic viewpoint so many Americans seem to have about the U.S.
   Together Patti and Steve have interesting, insightful, far reaching stories about human nature and the larger world to share. Les and I settled in with gusto for an evening filled with tales of human nature, politics, American history, and philosophy. 
   After a delicious breakfast and a leisurely morning gathered around the couch chatting, reading the newspaper and enjoying some much needed rest, we were off again that afternoon.
The "Rev", Patti Gora McRavin.
Les and Steve McRavin looking over something of interest as we rested and relaxed.
   Steve drove us back to the Tacoma rail station and we said goodbye as we boarded the train north again, stopping in Seattle to pick up passengers--many of whom had attended the Seattle Seahawks football game earlier in the day. They wove drunkenly up and down the aisle of the moving train as we headed north in the gathering dark for Edmonds, Washington where our friend Adelina Gonzales and her son Javier picked us up.
   They took us to one of their favorite local diners. As we sat eating our delicious dinners I was struck by thoughts of Javi, sitting across from us now as a man, but I remembered him when he was a sweet, dreamy eyed little boy of eight. I felt old and tired as we headed for Adelina's house in Lake Forest Park near the northern tip of Lake Washington where we slept deeply on her guest room bed, woke to a liesurely morning with fresh brewed coffee and washed a load of laundry. 
   One of my dearest and oldest sister friends, Adelina and I found each other at University and have been tight ever since. The connection we have goes beyond words.
   This visit underscored a change in my friend. Usually there is always an effervescent snap in Adelina's dark eyes signalling a lively curiosity and interest in the world at large and the moment in particular. I was aware of aching grief in her soul; the crackling humor was gone from her countenance. In its place was a dear, dear face, sober eyes backed with sadness.
   The untimely death of her oldest daughter earlier in the year has taken its toll. Adelina has been forced by circumstances to travel to a land where none ever willingly goes. The loss of a child throws the world out of balance and breaks the natural progression of our lives. Across an ocean in another country when it happened, I could not go to her--all I could do was send flowers and talk on the phone. 
   As a union organizer, Adelina is currently bargaining for Harborview Medical Center staff. Harborview is the premier trauma center in the Pacific Northwest and this is a major contract, the negotiation of which has swallowed my friend's life and kept her extremely busy.
   How I wish for her, someone like Dear Sir who would be a true partner in her life--ssomeone equal to all the divine, amazing, and wonderful assets Adelina carries within; someone whose arms could hold her and all of her sorrows so she would not have to bear them alone.
   The next afternoon we went to lunch and then Adelina was kind enough to drive us all the way in to SEATAC International Airport where we caught an Alaska Air express flight to Spokane, Washington on the east side of the state, flying across the snow capped peaks of the north Cascade mountains and beyond to the arid high desert country of Eastern Washington. 
   While waiting for our flight in Seattle, Les struck up a conversation with a couple who shared our table in the food lounge. They were traveling home to Juneau, Alaska. As Alaskans born and raised, we had a lovely chinwag about our mutual experiences.
   As we rose to vacate our table during the busy evening dinner hour, an airport worker took the chance to grab our seat, meal in hand, and smiled at us. As we chatted with this gentleman he told is he was born and raised in Chile and had lived in London for many years before coming State-side to work for a local airline. It is indeed, a small world!
The tiny trouble twins as we were known on campus at Eastern Washington University, where we met twenty two years ago. Me and Adelina Gonzales at lunch.
A view of traffic on Interstate 5 (I-5) which travels from The Canadian border to Mexico through the Pacific north and western state of America. Adelina commutes in this nearly every day!
A new idea since I was last in the States: a cell phone lot where folks can park and wait for a phone call informing them their loved ones have arrived, collected their baggage, and are waiting at the curb for pick up. Brilliant!!
Inside SEATAC--Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where we sat talking with strangers and waiting for our flight to Spokane, Washington.
The ford Focus we rented for two weeks. Les managed to get it for an amazing $404.00/£260.00 and no excess charge!
   With snow on the ground and a cold wind blowing, Les and I found our rental car--a Ford Escort. My driver's license expired on my birthday a month previously and I was driving with an extension from the WA State Dept. of Licensing. We agreed that I would drive in the heavy Spokane traffic and Les would drive once we were out of town and headed for rural Pullman.
   We arrived at our friend Kialynn's house, unloaded our luggage for a four day stay and settled down for a lively evening chat.
   Kialynn and I had planned a Wednesday Women's' dinner for our visit and we were looking forward to spending Wednesday morning together, shopping at Costco and cooking in her beautifully remodeled kitchen.
   We also planned an impromptu dinner for Thursday evening with Kialynn and her partner Harry Merrick. We last saw Harry just before we left for England fourteen months ago. Les enjoyed chatting with him and hearing all his wonderful tales, many of which were published in several volumes Harry wrote and Kialynn edited. Harry's health was not great these days and he was confined to home more now. An evening out with us would be a treat for all concerned.
Kialynn making us fruit smoothies for breakfast
   Tuesday morning arrived bright and cold. Kialynn made us fruit smoothies for breakfast before heading off to teach math classes at Spokane Falls Community College.
   Me and Dear sir drove out to  visit my favorite oldest daughter Jesseca, her husband Ben and their three sons, Michael, Matthew, and Connor who had recently moved from the small hamlet of Fairfield to a new apartment in Spokane Valley.
   We spent the day playing with the boys, chatting with Jesse, (Ben had to work), and enjoying a delicious meal with our family.
Eight year old Matthew or Mash for short, playing a video game while his baby brother Connor watches.
My little Mikey Boy--Michael was my first grandchild. Now at thirteen he stands taller than his Mim.
The mighty god Thor with his hammer--taking a well deserved juice break.
    As the afternoon wore on I began to feel restless. For some reason Kialynn weighed heavily on my mind, and I finally told Les we needed to go as my strange anxiety mounted. With a plan to visit again Friday morning before driving to Pullman, we left in the early darkness.
   Opening the door to Kialynn's, she called out to me, and I found her in her bedroom. Harry had died in his sleep earlier that afternoon and she had only just returned from his house. That explained my strange anxiety for her which had sprung unexpectedly earlier in the day and grown with the darkening hours!
   We sat on the couch for several hours while Kialynn talked about Harry, reminiscing in between silences when she slipped away somewhere else in her head. A visit from her grandson and his wife who came to keep Kialynn company was our cue to slip away to bed while they reminsced. No strangers to the death of loved ones, Les and I were grateful the timing of our trip allowed us to be there with her in those initial days after Harry died.
   Though we offered to cancel dinner on Tuesday, Kialynn wanted to go ahead with it, so we shopped, and I cooked while Les and Kialynn kept me company in the kitchen. The phone rang endlessly with friends offering condolences and asking about funeral arrangements.
   Finally evening arrived and brought Rhea Giffin and Gina Brooks from North Idaho, Rosemarie Duffy and Marian Moos, and Lisa Conger. The Wednesday Women were in full congregation, with strong, warm hugs of sympathy for Kialynn and excitement to see me and Les.
   We worked our way through Hunter's Chicken, tossed green salad with poppy seed dressing, rolls, and green beans with bacon and onions. We laughed, talked and shared through a dessert of Chocolate Kahlua cake and glasses Almond Rocha liquor and coffee. Too soon it was time for my dear sisters to go.
   Thursday came to us bright and fair with warmer weather melting the gathered snow. Kialynn made us delicious blackberry smoothies, teaching me how to do it so I could make them on the boat for me and Dear Sir who was quickly becoming addicted to the fruity breakfast drinks.
   With toast and tea in our bellies as well, we drove into Spokane to take a walk around The Falls and enjoy Riverfront Park before joining our good friends Sara Edlin and Bill Marlowe for lunch. I had two very old hard cover books of George Bernard Shaw's plays brought from England for them. I found the two books in a charity shop and knew as theater people they would enjoy having them.
   Lunch at my favorite Spokane restaurant Europa Pizzeria went all too fast. Bill was directing Hamlet at the Spartan Theater and he offered us free tickets for that evening. Upon checking with Kialynn who wanted to attend, we did indeed see Hamlet--Les' first foray into Shakespeare. 
   Before returning to Kialynn's I drove to Spokane Public Radio and took Les up to the public radio station where I had worked amongst some very talented and eccentric characters for five years. It was amazing to me how little had changed since I left in 2000. My desk in the lobby was still where I had last moved it--only the tall corn plant next to it was gone.
   Les enjoyed meeting all and sundry along with a tour of the facilities. It was a blast from my past and a chance to share with Les a chapter in my life before we met. 
After a tearful goodbye the next morning, we left Spokane, stopped for a short visit with Jesse, Ben and the boys and then headed south for Pullman, stopping in Spangle at the Harvester for lunch. This was the diner where Les first met Jesse and her family on the last morning of his first visit in 2010. It has been a regional landmark for over thirty years, serving delicious, fresh country meals, American style and is full of great memories for me.
   Les drove the rest of the way to Pullman as I fell asleep from exhaustion next to him. We pulled into the driveway of Curtis Castle as our friends Cheri (Bear or Little Bear as she is nicknamed) and Jerry Curtis call their home, and quickly my dear friend Bear had me wrapped in a true Bear hug!! Dinner was REAL Mexican food (and no, I am not convinced it is available in England; Spanish, yes, Mexican, no) at Nuevo Vallarta, satisfying one of my two main food cravings.
   Sunday afternoon we drove out to Chrisi and Keith Kincaid's farm and enjoyed a marvelous wood fired pizza party with fifteen of friends! Bless Chrisi's heart for hosting this gathering the week before cooking a massive thanksgiving for her family, and her amazing mother Sandy Field for helping make it all happen.
From front left around the table to the right: Stelios Footopolous, Cheri Curtis (Bear), Jim and Karen Barron, Keith and Chrisi Kincaid--wine glasses in hand, Charmaine Wellington, Bonnie Burkett, Me, Jerry Curtis behind me, Sandy Field standing next to Jerry (she is Chrisi's amazing mom), Margy Fotopolous, Lenore and Doug Chambers.
The Kincaid wood fired pizza oven, hand built and delivering amazing pizzas to our table!
   I had a great time sharing my experiences of the differences in Britain and America from my personal perspective, accompanied by much laughter, curiosity, and discussion spiced with amazing food and good wine. Each person around the table had contributed something wonderful to my life when I lived in Pullman and worked on campus at WSU and I felt supremely grateful everyone still made an effort to stay in touch with us. Later that evening we marveled at the ink black sky sparkled with thousands of stars as we drove the country lanes I knew so well.
   Serious shopping ensued with a list of American items I wanted to being back--from Crocs for me and Les to food items like Graham Cracker crumbs and Lipton Onion Soup Mix--and an American broom. We added our burden of items to the new clothes and down jackets I bought for me and Les from LL Bean.
   We renewed my driver's license, met friends for coffee, and cooked Bangers and Mash for dinner so Cheri and Jerry could sample British cuisine. In the evenings we played Phase Ten, laughing and enjoying one another's company.
Cheri Curtis gives Les a massage with their new professional massage machine (comes complete with kickstand and detachable handle bars!)
    While Les can sleep anywhere I am not so fortunate. Most nights I awoke about 3 a.m, and wandered out to the couch for a snooze, awakening several hours later to find Jerry asleep in his reclining lounge chair. Double hip surgery almost a year ago meant Jerry could only find real comfort sleeping in his chair. We woke several times for pre-dawn heart-to-hearts, nattering about anything and everything, solving all the world's problems. Jerry is the brother I never had, married to the sister of my heart. The days we spent in Pullman were seasoned with laughter and sadness as we revisited so many fond places, sharing a brief visit with so many near and dear to us both.
   Our lovely friends Joe and Sally Horton live just down the lane from the Curtis'. We were all invited to dinner--and it was marvelous! Sally, Scottish by birth, American by choice, made shepherds pie for us. We stuffed ourselves and then had to make room for Joe's famous carrot cake which is the best in the known universe, accompanied by wee drams of Drambuie. Much revelry and a great time was had by all. 
   We visited WSU's campus but it was Thanksgiving break and the campus was nearly deserted. We stopped by the Motor Pool to say hello to Shirley Collier who follows our blogs and who cheerfully provided me with a lovely, safe, and clean vehicle to drive whenever I had to travel for work. She is one of those folks who make the University community such a great place of which to be a part.
   We dropped into Van Doren Hall to see the advising suite where I spent ten years working with distance degree seeking students and online learners, touching bases with many of my former colleagues, seeing long overdue changes to the building, and sharing quick chats about life abroad on a narrow boat.
   Les and I stopped by Ferdinand's Creamery on campus for the world's best ice cream. As we licked the creamy goodness piled in our cones my mind traveled back to years of daily lunches with Bear and Bobbi, laughing until everyone around us took notice and wondered what three WSU employees at lunch could find so hilarious and entertaining. If only they knew!!!
    I thought with pride of my service to the WSU community over the years on a variety of committees across campus.
   I remembered standing under the wind sculpture on the roof of the library--my favorite place on campus--with its views of Kamiak Butte, the distant Blue Mountains of Oregon, Moscow, Idaho and nearby small towns like Palouse; watching Independence Day fireworks there, knowing the park was rammed with fifty thousand people and I had the grassy library roof to myself, with fireworks lighting up the night sky.
  I recalled driving to the Moscow Farmer's Market every Saturday from March to October, stopping by Wheatberries Bakery for a freshly baked cheese pocket, ordering a latte from One World Cafe and sitting on the bench under the Linden trees waiting for the 8 a.m. bell to ring, signalling the market was open for business; sharing the joys of market days with my grandsons as we made a beeline from the market to Hodgsons drugs for old fashioned toys, the Idaho Gem shop to see raw rocks and the incredible gems hewn from them and polished to sparkling beauty, alongside cases of fossils including huge fossilized shark's teeth, and the gem case guarded by a live rattle snake!
   I lingered over the memory of shopping with Les for his grandchildren on his first trip to visit, and our weekly rounds as we settled in as newlyweds to await my visa.
   I have treasured memories of Les' visits to the brown bears at the WSU research center, the endless miles of dirt back roads we drove on scorchingly hot, sunny days looking for--whatever came across our path: deer, coyotes, red tailed hawks, owls. Sitting on the benches at Sunnyside Park as the summer sun set, watching in amazement as hundreds of bats fluttered through the air over the pond, swooping gracefully all around us in the dusk as one by one lights winked on in houses across the folded Palouse hills, and Kamiak Butte slipped out of view in the dark. My one regret is that the weather didn't break long enough for us to climb Kamiak again. I so wanted to visit our wedding place and look out one more time across the endless vista of the Palouse.
   Before we knew it Thanksgiving arrived (Thursday, November 22nd) and it was time to sort and pack our luggage for the final leg of our trip.
   The drive out to the Turnbow family ranch near De Smet, Idaho took us past the turn off to Pullman Albion Road and Cloudhouse. I couldn't visit it again. I had no desire to see my lovely home after a year in the hands of others; better to remember it as I left it, filled with memories of my children coming home for visits, friends coming out for meals and a movie, the last home I shared with my darling cat Sianna before she died; watching the geese take off and land on the nearby lagoon, ruffling my hair as they flew over my back deck; laying on the grass under a late summer's evening sky with my grandsons, watching meteor showers; fighting ovarian cancer with two years of alternative therapy while my friends and community rallied around me to support my fight; finding narrow boats and the canals, which led me to Dear Sir; his visit to Cloudhouse as my friend and the best week of my life to that point; falling in love with Les, talking for hours in the gathering dark while sitting in front of the fire in my favorite chair; Les' return in February 2011 and his proposal; our first Valentines Day together; our love story winding out across two continents, anchored on one side by my life in Cloudhouse.
   Soon enough we arrived at the ranch, very warmly welcomed by Lael and Larry who happens to be Cheri's younger brother. This is her family's ranch and we are blessed to be folded into the Turnbow family as they gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving.
   Soon enough friends and family arrived: Cheri and Larry's mom Dory, who grew up on the ranch, and their dad Chuck Turnbow, both in their eighties, driving in from Lewiston fifty miles away. We love Dory's ranch stories and Chuck's mischievous expressions, sly jokes, and funny tales.
   Carol Thompson arrived with a shy smile. She is the neighboring rancher who reminds us of Barbara Stanwyck in Big Valley. She owns 2200 hundred acres and ranches several hundred head of Angus cattle. Renowned for her good name and even better stock amongst cattlemen and ranchers across the Western U.S., Carol is quiet, humble, hard working, and down to earth. She loves her cows and the outdoors. It was lovely indeed to see her face across the Thanksgiving table.
   Other friends old and new joined us and soon we were tucking into a feast of roasted Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, fresh baked rolls, sweet potato balls, green bean casserole, leaded and unleaded stuffing (leaded includes turkey giblets and oysters, unleaded is without), pickles, black olives, and fruit salad. Dessert included Apple, Pumpkin, or Blackberry-Cherry pies made with loving care by Lael.
   I was so grateful to be seated amongst friends who are like family to me, as we gathered together. I felt touched and thankful for good health, a loving husband, children who are happily mated and making productive lives; healthy, happy grandchildren, acceptance by Les' family as one of their own, and for dear friends far and wide--in America and in Britain. I was humbled with happiness at having found my place in this world--in the greater scheme of things. As Thanksgiving Day 2012 closed, Cheri Curtis and I hugged each other tightly and cried on each others shoulders.
   We are sisters for sure--separate sides of the same coin, joined at the heart. She taught my heart how to trust people--a change that needed to occur to me in preparation for meeting Les. Bear needed me to make this trip, as much as my daughters and my other friends did. Everyone wanted to know for sure that I made the right choice and I was happy married to Les, living on a boat in another country.
   Larry and Lael put us up in a sweet cabin across the driveway from their house. It had a bedroom with a great bed, a composting loo, and a small fridge. Upstairs Lael's loft is where she nurtures her creativity making art and dreams come alive.
The cabin at the ranch.
Filled with art and a gorgeous shuffleboard table Larry made, the cabin is a comfy place.
Our cabin bower
View of Larry and Lael's ranch from our bedroom window
Another view looking across the ranch towards the field where Elk come to feed

©Copyright 1996-2007 Andy Sewell
   We took walks on the ranch, sat and drank cups of coffee and tea, and spent hours in conversation with Larry and Lael, getting to know them better. They are kindred spirits like me and Les, Patti and Steve.
   Larry is a very fine wood-crafter with his own custom cabinet making business on the ranch, and Lael is an artist with a degree in art history, so it is no surprise they have many friends in the local art community. We were fortunate enough to meet two of them: Water colorist Andy Sewell, and wildlife painter Dave Gressard.
  While touring Andy's amazing studio I realized I knew his art from Sunset magazine. He started out as a graphic artist and branched out over the years.
   My heart nearly stopped beating when I saw a photograph of the Palouse and the same view in watercolor! It was my all time favorite picture captured by Andy's master eye behind a camera and painted from the photograph.
Andy Sewell's studio. © 2012, A. Sewell.
© Dave Gressard, artist
 Dave Gressard is a birder and painting birds is his passion. He is one of the few very fine painters selected to paint a U.S, fish and Wildlife Duck stamp. 
   These stamps are attached to migratory waterfowl hunting licenses and the sale of the prints raises money to purchase and conserve migratory waterfowl wildlife habitat. 
© Dave Gressard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
   To be selected for this honor is rare and speaks to Dave's ability to capture birds with paint in a manner so life-like it is stunning.
   We enjoyed a driving tour of the local area, including a trip around the perimeter of Carol's farm and a visit to the tiny hilltop cemetery in Freeze, Idaho where Larry and Cheri's grandparents and other family members are laid to rest.
   Saturday we drove North to Coeur d' Alene, Idaho for a visit to Rhea and Jim Giffin's home. Rhea is an artist  and poet who works in paint and papier mache, often incorporating her poems into the very fabric of her work. Her pieces are much sought after and quite amazing. Filled with art and color, the Giffin house embraces one's senses with a huge artistic hug. Her studio is filled with pieces in the process of becoming as well as ones available for gallery display and sale. 
The front foyer at Rhea and Jim's.
Stairs to the second story master bedroom and bath
Starry stair tops!
Rhea in her dining room, surrounded by Art--her own and that of other artists.
Rhea and Jim's dining area filled with color and light
One of my favorite papier mache pieces titled, "Sacrificial Lamb and Fear Caller's Redemption."
There is even art in the yard! This is a human sized chess board with life size pieces (stored away for winter).
This piece represents her cat Luna who has was given a very short time to live. Rhea was incensed that her Vet seemed to have given up on the cat. She managed to keep it alive for another year with lots of TLC.  The dress is made out of one year's worth of cat food cans!
Close up of the artwork inside each can, made from the can lids!
Art is present in every nook and cranny of this home. I could spend hours wandering in a happy delirium from room to room and not see every piece!
This is a piece under construction in Rhea's studio.
This piece represents Rhea and Jim--and how their individual differences make up a whole synthesis of beauty.
Rhea and Jim in his USPS garb. He stopped by on his delivery rounds to say hello.
From a child on his route: Dear Mailman, I hope you drive safe."
One of Rhea's famed Storybowls.
   After coffee and goodies accompanied by a chinwag we were surprised by an impromptu visit by Jim who took a break from his rounds as a U.S. Postal Carrier to say hello.  Jim also loves boats, and his is a sailboat. He is a much loved and appreciated mail carrier on his routes. He has been the recipient of several interesting gifts in appreciation for his service.
   As we toured their home, I loved watching Les become enraptured by the colors, the paintings and art pieces, finding wonderment in Rhea's vision. Their home is as much a work of her art as are her individual pieces.
   After a sad and tearful goodbye on Rhea and Jim's front porch Les and I hit the road again driving further north to Sandpoint, Idaho, on the banks of Lake Pen Oreille (ponderay), seventy eight miles from the Canadian border where we met with my old friends Jane Fritz and Victoria Oliver.
   Jane and I met years ago when I worked at Spokane Public Radio. We bonded over a love of nature and The Goddess. I've enjoyed several lovely forays on the Clark Fork river delta in her wooden canoe, as we paddled out into Lake Pend Oreille to a special beach where we skinny dipped in the icy cold water, and lay drying on the rocks in the sun.
   Jane is an author and public radio independent program producer. She has lived near Lake Pend Oreille for nigh on thirty years, becoming a stalwart thread in the interwoven life of the communities that shelter along the lake shore. Jane recently finished writing the definitive book about the lake--Legendary Lake Pend Oreille. There is something in it for everyone. It gripped me and I couldn't put it down until I finished reading it from cover to cover. 
   After lunch we enjoyed a walk over the Cedar Street bridge, crowded inside with holiday shoppers, then followed the trail down to the lake shore. A walk through town with stops at the local candy shop found us eventually in a tea room with hot mugs. this particular establishment had a lovely little nook in the wall with a stool and some books to pass the time. It was labeled "witch hole"!
Inside the Cedar Creek Bridge--a covered bridge which hosts a raft of stores, Sandpoint, Idaho. I love the log architecture.
Vendors are readying their stalls for the holidays.
Looking through a side door to the creek outside.
The log bridge exterior.
Northern Idaho's stunning natural beauty, in the heart of the town of Sandpoint, Idaho.

My darling Les bundled up in his new down jacket, on the shore of Lake Pend Oreille.

A panoramic view of part of Lake Pend Oreille, Sandpoint, Idaho.
     Once again another round of sad goodbyes ensued as we left North Idaho.
Pygmy owl at Larry and Lael's ranch, De Smet,Idaho.
©2012 Les Biggs
 Our few remaining days passed quickly with Larry and Lael as we walked across the ranch to the swimming hole they have re-excavated and are allowing nature to refill.
   We enjoyed kisses from their lamas, watching the tribe of barn cats Lael cares for, and Les was treated to the sight of a pygmy owl up close in a tree.
   We took Les to visit rancher Carol Thompson's magnificent spread. Amidst 2,200 acres sits her dream--a 6,700 foot log cabin with a three bay garage, vaulted ceilings, six bedrooms, five baths, a huge rock fireplace, state of the art kitchen, and back veterinary room for working on calves and injured livestock. Eleven semi loads of logs were stacked and chinked to make her home stand against the frigid winds of a North Idaho winter.  That night coyotes sang us to sleep as glowing silvered stars glittered in black velvet skies.
The bowed windows of Carol Thompson's Deep Creek Angus Ranch house, built from logs.
The back deck
The vaulted log ceiling inside the great room
The rock fireplace in the great room
Rancher Carol Thompson's saddle hangs over the balustrades on the second floor of her log ranch house.
   The morning we packed to leave, Larry knocked early on the cabin door, binoculars in hand. A herd of wild elk were coming down from the mountains to feed. As Les watched, a line of darkness flowed down through the fir trees, pouring out across a neighboring field.
Larry and Lael Turnbow--two kindred spirits!
   Larry and Lael stood solemnly as we said still more goodbyes. As we pulled out of their driveway tears formed in my eyes.
   I hadn't wanted to make this trip. I really don't like traveling--especially by plane. Les made me come back and visit for the express purpose of reassuring my loved ones that I am indeed happy as his wife and happy in our life aboard a boat in Britain. 
   For Dear Sir this was simply a happy trip to see friends and loved ones. For me it was a journey filled with angst. When we left the States in September 2011, it was in the throes of newly wedded rapture, overjoyed at receiving my spouse visa, anxious to begin our life together on NB Valerie. 
   This trip was different for me. I know I will not be back to visit for a long, long time. Travel costs too much and takes too much of a toll on me physically and emotionally. This was a journey of long goodbyes: farewell to my children and grandchildren whom I walked away from willing myself to shed no tears because I knew if I started crying I wouldn't stop; so long to friends in their eighties and nineties whom I shall in all likelihood not see again in this life; goodbye to people who filled each day of my life, before I moved to England, with friendship, laughter and loving care; colleagues and coworkers who made working for Washington State University a joy for ten years; and last but not least, farewell to a land I grew to love as much as any person. This trip left me drained and aching in my soul.
   I have become aware of the change wrought in me as a result of this journey. America is a land as familiar to me as my face in the mirror but no longer feels like home. Britain is home but it is a foreign country.
   For me England is a world divided by contemporary life in the mundane world: houses, cars, mortgages and jobs. Millions of people on this small island filled with rushing stress and madness, versus the slow, quiet pace of life aboard a narrow boat, cruising when and as we choose through the beauty of the canals and rivers, meeting up with other like-minded folk. I could not and would not want to exist in the the first scenario.
   My heart is grateful and overflowing that I have a choice and I have found my place in the world. I am deeper in love than ever with the man who reached out across an ocean, trusted his heart, married me, and brought me home where I belong.

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs