Photo Essays: In Calendar Form

What with all the time spent taking photos this summer,it’s time to get serious again about photography. As a twenty-something, a project of mine got me into an 18 month course at Pimlico Media Centre in London, the stories and images of the squatters in East London caught their attention and with a full scholarship, I studied SLR manual cameras, documentary photography, portraits and working in the darkroom.

Now then, after quite a while without consciously thinking about the skills and cameras I’ve had, it’s time to focus on the imagery of our trips. Three months in the van with Harold, Rosie, and Stevie kept the camera in hand. Now what to do with the results?

First, edit! Edit out the fuzzies and wobblies.
Second, edit! Find the best striking compositions. Those that catch my eyes even after all the times I’ve seen them. The challenge is to not be caught by the memories of each one but to pick pictures that capture the essence of specific places or experiences, ones that translate to viewers.

And third? Publish. After meeting Carlan Tapp this weekend, a local prolific and professional photographer, at his gallery in Madrid, NM, I’m inspired. Sharing stories with him, talking of our road trips, and our cameras and ideas, I’m inspired. I’ve focused on writing and wandering, taking photos it’s true, but it’s time to share those as much as I do the photos.
With that in mind, a photo essay book is in the work. And in the meantime, a few calendars are now available on Lulu.com. I’d like to also find a way to sell via Amazon as they’ve been so good to me as a writer. For now, I’m happy with the quality and flexibility of Lulu.com and the calendars on there.

Little Stevie’s Big Adventures, a road-tripping cat in the Northwest.

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Land Rovers of New Mexico, or rather the adventures of a 1959 Series II and a 1972 Series III.

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New Mexico Skies: a collection of the night skies around Madrid, NM.

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Hot Springs Landing, NM

Elephant Butte State Park, NM is only three and half hours from home, in theory. It took us most of the day. I took the long route once again. Poor critters in the back of the van, they simply dozed until the engine stopped and doors were opened.

“Where are we now?” Stevie jumped out and froze on the beach of the reservoir. He huddled under the van and stared around as Harold and Rosie ran flat out across sandy beaches. November in New Mexico was still warm enough for this last minute camping trip. I’d needed a break. I spend my days on the computer, fixing up the house, and walking the dogs. I needed variety. The road called, and the question was where we’d end up.

Elephant Butte Reservoir had not inspired me in the past. Was that because I’d been in summer? No shade, crowded beaches and low water? Perhaps…

This time was a short two night getaway, time to test out the new desk inside, and to unwind on a beach, not that I’d swim but Rosie did. And Harold ran hard, so much so that he limped the rest of the day. Oops.

We did nothing but walk, make campfires, eat and drink. Stevie wasn’t relaxed though and he mostly slept inside the van even though I’d camped under a tree just for him to climb.
Tuesday and Wednesday are good days to camp here, we saw only a couple of others and they were so far away. I drove nowhere, just stayed for three days and then headed home. I’d recommend it for a peace and quiet destination. Yes, you could go to town, find hot springs, diners and cafes, but we didn’t. Not this time. Maybe in January when I get restless again? I’ll let you know what we find. Or have you been there? Any recommendations?

Van Life: Exploring the Northwest with two dogs, a cat and a van

It’s true. A new book of my travel stories just came out. It’s a work in progress so forgive the mistakes, I’m working on it! This travelogue follows our adventures in the Northwest, the details about the small places we found along the way, the people we met, and the critter’s advice when I was having a hard time. Lighthearted and engaging.

Thanks!

Writer’s Life: a morning on the road

Pagosa Springs, my home away from home, thank you for being there when needed.

Mary suggested I post my home on Airbnb since the bus was already bringing in an income. Why not? she said. Okay, so I did just that. I added the homestead, and forgot about it. My smartphone beeped at me. A notification from Airbnb. I accepted without even really reading the information. The next morning, another beep confirmed the booking of my home. My home. Oh shit, I have to clean.

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Two days later, the floors were swept, bedding changed, fridge and oven scrubbed, and new towels laid out. The critters followed me nervously, unsure as to what all this meant. On opening the van and throwing in the cooler and extra blankets, Harold, the Collie/ Akita mix claimed the bed. Rosie, the Lab/ Akita mix took the front seat, passenger as she knows better than to try driving. Little Stevie, a fluffy white cat, popped up onto the top shelf, purring away in time to the engine.

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Pagosa Springs then, you saw this coming, didn’t you? Yes, an easy drive for three hours to town, stopping only one on the way for the emptying of bladders big and small. With a sandwich in hand, I nervously watched the cat follow the dogs into the trees. Trust. You have to trust him, I muttered and then stalked them all.

October in Pagosa is cold. Much colder than I’d thought, not that I’d really thought about it, I’d just loaded us up and left the home in pretty good condition. At Williams Creek Reservoir, the parking area had few vehicles, picnics and fishing rods at hand.

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“The campgrounds closed on the 26th. Three days ago,” says the Texan couple in their thick winter jackets. “You can’t camp here.” She stared at me and the critters who roamed and peed freely.

“Okay.”

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The sunrise that next morning over the lake was incredible. Just us. I bundled up and made coffee outside. Little Stevie was in heaven with trees, grass, and water, and no others to scare the bugger, he wandered around, meowed when he lost sight of me, and ran back under the van when I called, anyone hungry?

How can I just up and go like this? I blame my parents for taking us everywhere in the old Rover and Volvos. I blame my friend Shaun  for reminding me of the restlessness inside me. Casey sat me down at the computer one day and we played online, her showing me how to make an income from writing, editing, talking about what I do and love. It’s like Netflix, people are willing to pay to be entertained and inspired. And yes, I blame Mary for putting my home on Airbnb.

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It’s been a year of making changes, of understanding how to bring in the money to pay for a lifestyle I crave. My books, yes, I have five books out and they sell slowly but surely. Four novels, two of which have won Best Fiction in the NM/ AZ Book Awards, another was a finalist. The travel essays came out this year and took me up and across the NW, selling them as I drove around.
Editing, proof-reading, helping new writers publish online, writing press releases, writing blogs like this, reviewing books, and working on another book of my own. I stay busy.

I admit though, that I get nervous at times. Nothing lined up, just winging it as they say, but I’m more alive now than I have been for the last four years at the job in town. I’m officially self-employed these days. I love it. Mostly.

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After lounging around, making breakfast next to the lake, I wait until Stevie is tired and has gone back to bed inside Van Dreamy. I close the door and whistle for the pups. Time for a hike around the lake. It’s a blustery day, cool, and the trees are turning, leaves fluttering onto the path. I skip though the woods and cross the dam. Yes, it’s October. Winter is coming. I can’t wait.

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The dogs watch me eat. Begging? Us, no, never, oh look at that squirrel! They look away.

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Stevie wanders around, watching the fish flash by in the river.

We walk in the morning frost. I warm up by a campfire and cook again. I settle down for another nap. Life is good. Fear slips in, a moment here, a thought that questions my sanity, and then a golden leaf falls onto the laptop and the spell is broken. The spell is remade. I’m happy.

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In town, I soak at the free hot springs under the bridge. Since August, someone’s built up the rocks, making a twelve foot pond, and my muscles relax into the heat. I chat to a few other van dwellers but happily leave them to it so to walk the dogs around town before hitting the grocery store. The cottonwood leaves are like the colors of pears, mangos, and apples.

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This week away from home is the first since leaving Trader Joes. The first time in four years that I can be spontaneous, hit the road, and know I’m still working in a sense. Back at camp in the mornings, I pull out the table, the laptop, write up notes for Betsy about her children’s book. I check the photographs. I research nonfiction essays, reading from other’s recommendations of past and present authors. I make notes for myself. Then it’s time for another mug of coffee, a walk down the river, another log on the fire, and a braod grin. I’m a writer. This is my life now. Camping, driving, writing. I can do it after all…

Why did it take me so long though? Fear. Laziness. A resigned focus on home and job. It wore me down. This though, the quiet nights either at home or in the van, the reading, the writing, and sending out proposals and ideas, this life wakes me up. The writer’s life is one for me.

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Pagosa Springs, once again, had been a welcome home for the week, but then it was time to head back and see what the renters had done to my place. The money paid for this trip but I worried about the consequences. Rightly so as it happens: I wish I’d known to lock up my papers, my cupboards, but naively I left them to it. Another lesson learned. I’ll tell you later, when I talk about the fears, we can mix and match stories for once…

Anacortes, WA and beyond

Dirt pile. Tall and wide. Thick forests. Cranky cat. Tired driver. Dogs restless. I pull over and let everyone out. We’re hidden behind this huge dirt pile, nose of van poking out, me squatting like Rosie. Finally a moment to stretch our legs after a long and wonderful day. But long. I’d been driving for too long.

We’d left Anacortes earlier that day, not a great place for Stevie, but the marina was good for me. Watching all the sailboats on the water, hearing the chatter from the sails flapping, the chance to do laundry, walk the dogs on a beach, sit at an outdoor bar, yes it was worth $20 a night.

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Taking the ferry across from Couperville to Port Townsend on the July 4th weekend, we were lucky to get tickets on their busiest weekend. Not being sure how the critters would fare on the ferry, I’d stopped earlier on an empty beach for us all to wander round until they chose to get back inside. Perfect. On the ferry, because of the size of the van, I got to park up front, facing out on that grey morning. I tied Stevie down, gave everyone a treat, closed up the windows and left them too it as I explored. Love ferries.

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On the Olympic peninsula my day went downhill. The noise in the van was back, sometimes. The critters were tired of being inside. And I had no idea where we’d camp. That’s what it often boils down to. If I don’t have a plan, I’m stressed, needing a focus point. Which brings me back to that gravel pile on the side of a small road heading west from Clallam Bay across to Ozette, it was the last chance at a campground, all the others had been fully booked and the forest roads were neither obvious nor easy for a van like mine.

A volvo pulled up. Fuck. Really? I wave frantically at the car, asking it to slow down, give me time to grab the cat who is standing in the open. Stevie in hand, I walk back to the van, muttering evil thoughts to myself. Why here? Why not park somewhere else?

“Harold!” A voice calls out behind me. Stevie tucked in the van, I turn to see Dawn climb out of the Volvo, another woman with her. My brain can’t compute. Huh.

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“Dawn? Is this Annie? Dawn? How the hell?”

Dawn’s laughing, Harold is barking, Rosie is running around like a dervish, and Annie says “hello Sleam, I’ve heard about you! Dawn recognised Harold and the van. You’re not camping here are you?”

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Lake Ozette, a little used national park campground, rustic, bathrooms but nothing else, pack-it-in and pack-it-out. I follow the volvo as we drive through the campground once. It’s full. There is nowhere else. Damn. I’m tired and hungry but no longer worried. My closest friend is here, Dawn! She lives in Seattle, we’d met in Madison twenty plus years ago, and she’d even joined me just a week ago camping near Arlington. I’d not expected to see her again for a few years…

“IS that a campsite?” Annie asks as we walk around, stretching our legs. “It is! Quick, claim it, stay here, I’ll go get the car.”

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Dawn and I hang out in the small clearing, and catch up on the last week’s adventures, laughing at the chances of running into each other here, in the middle of nowhere. Annie pulls up, opens up the Volvo, and the dogs find her cooler.

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La Push, and Mora National Park campground is the next day’s goal. Independence Day, and we are lucky to find a secluded site in the trees, with a sense of privacy unexpected in a place with over 90 sites. Stevie gets to run around too, always the hope. The ravens hated him though, would dive at him, crow at him, harrass him, until he froze in the trees and I’d fetch him back to the motel van. Poor bugger. The eagles hovered over the beaches. Washington coast was not a kitty friendly place, just so you know.

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The next couple of days were perfect. Dawn, Annie, and I made great meals, campfires, sat and chatted until tired, and then since Dawn knew the area, we went to her favourite beaches and walked in the rainy afternoons. Yep, I liked it. Rialto Beach is worth visiting. Even on a busy weekend like July 4th, we had the space to run and hang out and not feel the pressure of containing my pups too much.

Dawn and Annie left me there, duty called back in the city. For me, the sea called. The dogs and I walked as often as we could, and in the mornings it was quiet enough to let Stevie wander on the sand with us.
And that my friends is all I experienced of the Olympic Peninsula. Oh, apart from all the signs for that bigotted presidential candidate that made my stomach turn and the van keep driving. Southwards…

What’s in your van?

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The table I moved last Thursday, the bed is now oriented widthways, and the computer sits next to the front seat. A fold-away table now lives under the bed by the back door. Is your van like this? Are you constantly changing it? I shouldn’t be surprised. My home is the same, a constant shuffling and reordering of belongings to suit my current needs. The van though, for some reason, I didn’t expect to change it around as much as I am.
If I didn’t have three animals in there with me, it’d be easy, that’s what I tell myself. However, there is a large plastci container of dry dog kibble, one for cat kibble, a stack of wet cat food cans, a litter box and scooper, foldable cat carrier, hard sided cat carrier, a bag of dog treats, two harnesses, three leashes, and a couple of ten foot ropes. A leash for Stevie the cat hangs by the side door. Oh, and then we have a small 18 by 18 by 24 inch set of plastic drawers full of kitchen supplies. Under the bed, more stuff of course, boots and the such.

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Whenever I see another living out of their camper van, I have to ask for a tour although Van Lifers are a weird bunch. Their eyes are a little too bright, the smiles too friendly. Too bloody happy if you ask me. Then I wonder at myself. Do I come across as holier than thou, now? Are my blue eyes clearer than usual? Is my hair a little wilder and clothes scruffier? Yes, the answer is yes.

Soaking in the hot springs in Pagosa Colorado yesterday, a young man, early twenties is my guess, came in, smiling and happy to be there on that sunny Saturday. We started chatting. Mark is taller than me at 6 foot, skinny and tanned in his cut-off denim shorts. He tells me of his brown van, didn’t tell my what kind, and I thought it was women who only notice color not engine size? Anyway, Mark had bought the brown van in New Jersey a couple of months ago and has been slowly wandering westward. A happy fella but he started to avoid my eyes, slow down the questions, that is until a couple in their sixties joined us. They’re in a Sprinter (white) that’s fully decked out with wood paneling and working kitchen units. Mark relaxed and chatted up a storm. Am I that strange middle-aged woman now? Yes, the answer is yes. Sadly, yes.

My van, a nameless or rather constantly renamed van, is simple inside. I think of all that I could do, given my carpentry skills, plumbing, and electric etc., but I like it as it is. I’d make a desk as bloody writers need a desk. I’ll get to it sometime this winter perhaps? Motel Vera/ Danelle the Vanelle/ Reggie the Regency Dodger, came home with me in May, only a week before taking off for Arizona and beyond. I had little time to modify. The backbench seats were folded down, a sleeping bag and a few blankets thrown on top, and all the stuff of camping life, pet life, went under the bed. I’d kept the captains chair behind the driver for one of the dogs, Rosie. Harold likes the bed in back.

It worked as it was for three months. Now though, I’ve changed it up again. The extra chair is out. The folded cat crate (three foot by three foot) is set up permanently with the door rolled up for access. The small cat carrier is inside with a litter box within, and the cooler to the side. I wanted to use the floor space and still have a place to settle Stevie for those days at the mechanic or in cities. I’ll pull out the cooler, put in his blanket and zip down the door and he’s safe and contained for a while.
On the top of this soft crate is a metal tabletop from a workstation at home. Laid across, it becomes a place to set up the Coleman stove for making coffee inside on a rainy day. The kitchen drawers are to the right and I can pull out the cooler as a bench while cooking. It works. Colorado this week has been sunny all day long until four or five then the rains come down hard. We hunker down inside and enjoy the sound on the roof. Rosie likes to cuddle next to me, so she and I are in the back, Stevie is on his shelf above my head, and Harold claims the driver’s seat. All is good. I wonder how others would set up a small van like this for one human and three owners? I wander in and out of thrift stores looking for a small cabinet or desk to modify but not seen the one I want. It’s in my head, I picture it but drawing is not a skill of mine so I wait and see.
What will I do next week? Where will we be? The deep frost yesterday morning was an intense reminder that winter is coming fast. October, camping in October is doable in the van but still it’s daunting. Back to my cabin in New Mexico until the next visitor rents my place through Airbnb, and then south perhaps? The Gila National Forest? Or Alabama? I’ve not been to Alabama yet and that’s as good a reason as any in my book.

The Mixed Bag Of Washington

 

Washington State, a place of such mixed experiences that I lost the desire to write, worried that I’d offend someone by the over all relief to arrive in Oregon. I look though at my notes and it wasn’t all claustrophobic. Only the Olympic Peninsula, the rain forest, the coastline, those choice places I’d heard so much about left me cold, left me with a bitter taste of claustrophobia.

Spokane surprisingly enough was energizing for me. A busy city environment, traffic filling the roads, construction creating detours, and people everywhere. I liked it. I liked the business and chaos. I day dreamed of moving there and even mentioned that to the cashier at Trader Joes. Meredith laughed and asked where I was from. Santa Fe, I told her. “That’s where I got married!”

Trader Joes, the first I’d visited since leaving work on May 15th at TJs in Santa Fe, was a familiar comfortable place to restock. Dog food that the pets like and treats for Stevie cat and me. Known staples for my kitchen. Yep, I was glad to be there, talking to Nate the Mate who sent his hello to my own manager in NM. It’s a small world at Trader Joes.

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Coffeepot Lake, WA, caught my attention and we headed there for a few nights of BLM free camping next to water. It really was in the middle of nowhere, long open range farmland, few homes, and little traffic. I drove down the slippery gravel and dirt road and turned to corner to see a nice sized reservoir with eight huge cottonwood trees and camping spots between and under each tree. Perfect. The campground is about an hour and a half from Spokane, down Hwy 2, and then south on WA-28 near Harrington. Pulling up into the shaded site, it was time to release the Hounds, and cat. It was safe enough for all to run free. Finally I wore shorts and a tee shirt.

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There was a path leading away from the boat ramp, and with Stevie tucked up in the van, the dogs and I explored the lake in the afternoon sunshine and solitude. A few boats of fishermen dawdled in the warmth. Our walking under his tree irritates a hawk but I keep my head down and follow the pups over a ridge and down the other side. An empty beach tempts me. I strip off and swim near the mallards.

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Washington, yes, the east side I liked more than the western coast which was unexpected. Disappointing really. I’d been playing with the idea of moving to Washington, a place highly recommended by friends and co-workers who know me fairly well. They talked of the mountains, the ocean, the forests, and the places to visit. They didn’t warn me of the political signs, the overwhelming presence of the racist misogynistic presidential candidate. They didn’t warn me of the huge number of churches of all denomination that outnumbered any other type of community meeting places like libraries, cafes, or pubs. Nope. The culture I found on those back roads as I crossed the state was not one I could relax within. I kept my mouth shut, head down, and hid at the North West Overland Rally near Leavenworth.

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It’s been hard to stop still on this trip so far. I’ve racked up so many miles, taking local county roads through small villages and avoiding the cities and interstates, always looking for rivers and lakes but even when I found them, I didn’t relax for more than a couple of nights at a time. Curious. Restless. Call it what you will, but I keep on going…

The NWOR will need a blog of its own; I’ll get back to that. With this travel report from Washington I’d hoped to beat down my reluctance to write about the state and to get through my writer’s block. It’s working.

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Open rangeland, farmland, high desert, huge lakes, and ocean beaches, these are the places that relax me. My eyes widen and yet also half close as the sense of distance, emptiness, and space reminds me of how lucky I am to exist, and how life carries on whether I do or don’t. My insignificance is reassuring.

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I didn’t write much as I crossed from Leavenworth towards Bellingham and Arlington. M notes are incomplete, rough, images and reminders but little worth for anyone else.

Cascades NP

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Methow River valley.

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BLM dirt tracks over mountains with little shade but empty of others. Perfect after the business of a week at the rally.

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Twisp, an amazingly good selection of food at the local supermarket. Great cheddar, organic veggies, and the freshest of peaches and nectarines.

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Winthrop – a cute tourist town on the river that was busy for a Monday morning. I didn’t stop except to grab a coffee.

Gorge Lake campground in the Cascades National Park was free and therefore busy. I found one of the last sites that lunchtime and glad to be able to park in the shade, I set up for one night. Critters out, then cat back inside, as this was bear country, active bear country. I shared my campsite with three others who’d arrived late and tired. I moved the van forward and they put up tents and offered me a beer and conversation.

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Washington was the state where I had van troubles, ongoing noises that worried the hell out of me but no one else neither heard them nor believed how bad it sounded. Typically I’d be alone taking a left hand corner, slowing down, a tight turn and then crunching, clacking, grinding sounds from the front wheel would stop me cold. The wheel’s falling off! Time to stop and smell the rivers.

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Washington was a place of five mechanics, all with different ideas as to what was going on. Each time, something would be fixed, replaced, and then within half an hour or even half a block, I’d hear the wheel complaining loudly. Finally, after a day in Seaview WA at a higly recommended mechanic shop, they’d fixed one thing, sent me off, and yep, by the time I reached the beach five blocks away, that noise returned. I drove back, pulled up, grabbed the mechanic, and took him with us. Clunk. Scrape. Crunch.

“That’s the wheel bearing!” he’s as excited as a kid with a new toy. “I can do that easily. Let’s see what’s going on down there.” He fixed it in half an hour and for less than $150. The noise hasn’t returned.

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Five mechanics. Five bills paid by credit card. Total spent. $786.