Sunday, December 11, 2011

Another cycle completed

Happy Holidays to all my friends. May you be surrounded by good friends, good memories, good times, and plans for times to come.

As the days get shorter, and even here in Arizona, colder, I am encouraged to relax with a cup of Mexican hot chocolate and reminisce about the year. My memories of 2011 will include Ecuador, another great season in Yellowstone, and a special new friend in my life.

Memories include all the friends and family; the ones I saw this year and the ones I didn't see but was in touch with by email, letters, phone or messages passed along by others. In a few cases, we missed any communications but you still hold a special place in my heart and mind and we will reconnect when the time is right.

Since my last holiday letter, I celebrated the solstice and Christmas in Ajo, AZ. This year I promise myself I will get some photos of the Christmas Eve in the Plaza, a good old- fashioned family, non-commercial style event. Then I can include them in my blog for next year's letter.

In January I took off for Ecuador. My incredible hosts, Ana Maria and Ted, were fellow Yellowstone employees. Each season Ana Maria invited me, but last year when she asked what dates I would be there, I knew the invite was for real and not just polite talk. Take a look at my January and February 2010 blog postings for a review of the trip. There are photos and descriptions of Inca ruins high in the Andes, hummingbirds in the rain forest, outdoor markets in Otavalo, a hot spring, colonial cities, visits to farms, the bustling and beautiful mountain city of Quito, and the Galapagos Islands.

It was my first trip to South America and a perfect one in every way.

Spring included wildflowers in the southwest, rambling north with visits along the way, time in the Bay Area, and then off to Yellowstone. The Bay Area is always bittersweet. I have many old and dear friends there but there is never time to see them all. I try to rotate from year to year, but that isn't always enough.

This was my 4th and last season in Yellowstone. For four years I have had the enviable job of driving one of the Historic Yellow Buses. These are restored White Motor Company 1936-1938 vintage, open top (weather permitting) touring buses. For the last three of those years I led photo tours. I took people out to places which are special to photograph, getting them there for the best lighting, and giving them help with their cameras and photo techniques. I've had a great time. But I don't call myself a nomad for nothing. I was beginning to feel restless, feel that it was time for a change about mid-way through the season.

And that was just about the time I got an email from cousins Bonnie and Sharon saying they were going on an African safari next summer and they hoped I would join them. So, in July (winter there) I will be in South African communing with their wildlife instead of the grizzlies, pikas, eagles, pronghorn, marmots, bison, blue grouse, white pelicans, and elk of Yellowstone. Trip will include wildlife parks and a side trip to Victoria Falls.

Since the plane flight is horrendous, I will break up the trip with some time in Europe before and after. I hope to visit Gayle in Leeds, England on one end of the Africa trip. We started kindergarden together and had many years living in the same neighborhood. I am not sure on the rest yet, but another week at Pueblo Ingles is a thought

September is my favorite time during the work season in Yellowstone. The pace slows a bit, the travelers are more seasoned, the early mornings are crisp and the mists from the warmer waters fill the air. This year September had a special bonus. Three old friends from the Diablo Valley Camera Club, of which Lin and I were founding and long time members, came for a visit and took my tour. But they did not come alone. They brought Chris. As common parlance has it, we are now "an item." He is a delightful person, a great photographer and a wonderful companion. It's not perfect....he is still working in the Bay Area and my wanderlust won't let me settle back there at this point. So, we will be supporting the airline industry and already have several trips planned back and forth between Concord and my winter locations. He will be seeing in the New Year with me in a quiet spot in the Sonoran Desert, listening to coyotes rather than football.
While I am not returning to Yellowstone, at least this year, my boss told me I am always welcome back. So who knows? I love the place. and I had a great work experience with terrific co-workers and boss. But then I loved Bodie, Patrick's Point, the hot spring resort and the Oregon Coast too. There are still places I want to experience and working in a special spot allows me the time to explore in depth.
This year marked the loss of my mother's next younger sister, Eilleen. I am glad I went back for a visit a couple of years ago and spent time parked in her driveway in Lacota, Michigan, visiting, hearing all the childhood stories of the family including the different takes she and my mother had on incidents from their childhood. She was warm and open and I always loved seeing her. Aged 97, she is another example of the long lived genes in the family, on both sides, and the ability they have had to stay active and alert well into their nineties.

It was a difficult year for Lin's daughter, Jacque, who suffers from heart and kidney failure. I went back to the Bay Area in the Fall specifically to see her. They are trying some new meds and she was doing a bit better by the time I left. She is making sure she spends time with her family, including a camping trip to the Redwoods and adding recipes to the annotated family cookbooks which she started a few years ago.

Do take a look at the hummingbirds and llamas, the craft and livestock markets, the iguanas, blue footed boobies, the magnificent scenery of Ecuador on my blog. And grizzlies, geothermal features, flower close-ups, waterfalls, moose, baby bison, etc of Yellowstone. My blog is my way of sharing some of my travels with all of you, posting some photos, letting you know about my adventures. Looking at the blog is the best way to get a feel for my travels and experiences in 2011 and it is more photos than text...just hit the "older posts" notation at the very end of each page to scroll back through the year.

Happy holidays. I look forward to hearing news of you and your families. Whether I am reading it in the computer screen or sitting in the plaza in Ajo, AZ with the packet of mail that has arrived from Livingston, I love hearing from all of you.

Introducing Chris

A change has occured in my life. I met Chris when he came to Yellowstone with three people I have known for a long time. But the romance waited until I returned to northern California to see my late husband's daughter, Jacque, who is in poor health.

Chris and I got together to discuss photography. But we found we shared a lot more than the interest in photography. And so I extend my stay in the Bay Area and we spent time getting to know each other better. On weekend trips we had fun exploring, looking for interesting places to eat, regaling each other with stories, photographing,and I taught him about life in a motorhome. And to give you an idea of my level of trust, I actually let him drive it....for a short bit.

And during the week I accompanied him to some of his work sites and, as he is a roofing consultant, I now know about flashings and water proof membranes and water tests and all kinds of things I never even thought about before. One project is the Moffit Hospital at UCSF and besides seeing the project I was the San Francisco skyline on a day with terrific clouds and sunlight. Its not a view most people get. I got to know his family, four generations of them, and he met my cousin and some of Lin's family.

We talked at great length about how we could balance his career with my nomadic lifestyle. It will be a challenge. He is coming to spend a week with me in one of my favorite, quiet spots in the Sonoran Desert over New Years and I am flying to the Bay Area and then on to Hawaii in January where he has a conference. We are talking, dreaming and researching other adventures. It is too late to add him to my African safari next summer, but we will do something fun on our own.

One of our trips was to Bodie for photographer's day. This one was already planned, through the Diablo Valley Camera Club before I arrived in the Bay Area. We handed one of our cameras to a passing visitor and asked him to take a photo of us, using the weathered wood as a backdrop. The ground must be uneven as he is a good deal taller than I am.

Chris with grandsons Conrad and Walter.

And finally, here we are, in a golf cart, on a golf course. WHAT? No I haven't taken up golf and neither has Chris. But we were asked to photograph a tournament. We had a great time, although my favorite photo of the day was of an egret on the course