Sunday, September 10, 2017

A Clash of Cultures

I suspect we all feel a touch of disquietude from time-to-time.  Something doesn't feel quite right.  Even before any specific issue is identified, an unease is felt.  For us, as we travel, it happens sometimes when we pull into a littered campground or stop for lunch at a park with dirty restrooms.  Other times it is just driving through a town with an unpleasant smell or vacant rundown buildings.  Perhaps it is being thrust unwittingly into a city's homelessness issues.  The question that we must always ask ourself is this:  is it snobbery or legitimate concern or something else?  

Naturally, hunches like this need to be treated with great care because they can be caused by racial or class biases that we have carefully tucked away out of sight, but that can raise their ugly heads if we’re not alert.  Other times we must pay attention because our senses are warning us of a real danger.  Often we will never know if we were right in our retreat, other times we’re delighted we overcame a nervous hunch.  

Last night we camped along the beautiful Carbon River, just outside the NW entrance of Rainier National Park, in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, and the dead-end of Highway 165.  It is both beautiful and a tragedy of human bad behavior.  Each camp is littered with beer and pop cans, bottles and lids, flip tabs and cigarette butts.  Pieces of flotsam hiding in the fire pits and on the ground are everywhere, castoff by campers who do not understand the "Pack It In; Pack It Out" rule of mountaineering.  Yessi and I begin to pick up trash as Brad and Ed set up the vehicles for the night’s camp.  Tomorrow we will explore further up the road for the Green Trails  Maps hiking route Brad and Yessi will map in two weeks.

Thistle always provides a safe, clean, dry home

It is just beginning to rain.  The dog is nuts with happiness and keeps trying to get one or the other of us to throw sticks into the river.

He‘s also interested in a little corner of shrubs near our camp.  When we investigate we’re sickened.    PWFs (puffy white flowers) are everywhere — the tell-tale signs of an area being used as a restroom.

A disgusting collection of PWFs

Lots of people are camping and recreating along this road.  We would prefer a less crowded situation, but with rain settling in along with night, this is where we must stay.  With some disgust and much disappointment in my fellow human beings I am filled with sadness and a bit of trepidation    When I turn away from the mess, without taking a step, here is my view in the opposite direction — an open pit toilet and a river side-by-side.

The river and flood plain

Earlier in the day we investigated a forest service road for a camp site, but gave up.  The entire area was being used for ATV’s and target practice.  I’m not, in a broad sense, opposed to either, done with sensitivity, but sensitivity was no where in sight, although piles of litter were.   Each of the shooting range areas was totally trashed with the accumulation of years and years of empty shells, cans, car parts, old targets, bits of plastic and PWFs.  Each of the parking areas for the ATVs was the same.  Without much comment, we drove on, and then out of this sullied area.   

This morning we continue across the river and up into subalpine forest.  It is beautiful.  More shooting ranges, equally trashed, but we pass by quickly as the semi-automatics blast away, putting miles between them and us as fast as we can on this washboard road.  Toward the top we find the trailhead for Summit Lake and the beginning of a 30 mile loop Brad and Yessi will hike and record in two weeks.  We also found a beautiful campsite, and with a little litter removal we left it pristine.  Our conclusion for this site being in better condition is the location of a National Forest Toilet and garbage cans nearby.   The price we pay for not paying the price for maintaining our public lands is huge.  

Coplay Lake

Benton loving stick chasing in Coplay Lake

Brad and Benton exploring the lake's edge

Fran, Benton, Ed & Brad
Somehow Yessi was always our photographer

Sometimes, finding ourselves ill at ease with those around us is the push needed to regroup, reeducate, and readjust our thinking.  Clearly, all of us working harder to bridge economic and cultural chasms is worth striving for.  


"Snobbery management is as difficult and necessary as anger management."

~  Michael Foley
 Embracing the Ordinary:  Lessons from the Champions of Everyday Life

Sunday, September 3, 2017


The strength of travel is in observing new things, with these new things leading to increased knowledge and the expansion of one's world view.  This expansion can be of how other people live, talk and eat or it can be observations about politics, flora and fauna, or geography.  We find it all fascinating and we thrive in newly discovered ideas as well as terrain.

On our recent trip to British Columbia I was particularly observant to how it felt crossing the border into another country, especially after the recent broadening of border security.  We've crossed the border into Canada many, many times over the years, rarely finding it completely stress free.  These days that stressful feeling is ramped up.  Our nation's days of discontent increase and our border crossings feel more threatening.  They are tense.  

Ed was born in Saskatchewan, so he often gets questioned by border patrol in more detail than I, especially by U.S. Customs.  Two years ago, Canadian Customs  pulled us over so they could run a background check on me.  Other times we just breeze through both U.S. and Canadian Customs.   Sometimes we must dispose of food or answer a barrage of seemingly strange questions.  We always try to be prepared with passports and Benton's vaccination documents ready; we carry no liquor; limit food on board; and have receipts for new purchases.  But still, we wonder, "what this time?"  We feel a touch of angst as we wait in the long line approaching the booth.

Coming home, back into the U.S. on this most recent trip, a passenger, about three cars in front of us, was pulled out, cuffed and led off, to who knows where.  It's difficult to completely relax in any situation where the officials have such a high degree of control, and the citizens must comply both physically and in attitude, or risk their escalation of power.

Generally speaking, though, the back and forth between the U.S. and Canada is not too difficult or stress generating, and if you pass through customs at the Peace Arch, it is an inviting and beautifully welcoming park in both directions.  Flags from both countries wave together in camaraderie and peace.

Our southern border with Mexico is quite a different experience, and has been for as far back as I can remember when my family and I visited relatives in the Imperial Valley, close to the Mexican border.  Although we have not crossed into Mexico for a few years, we have passed through check points often in our close-to-the-border travels.  And we are familiar with the past stress of entering and exiting Mexico.  Both Canada and Mexico are our neighbors, but equal treatment is no where in sight and it makes me sad.  This inequality is due to many reasons, but I suspect largely three -- economics, skin color and language.  The differences are staggering.

Along the U.S.-Mexican border, friendship arches and dual-country flags flying to show the camaraderie between our two countries are non-existent.  There are miles of fences and walls, expanses of cement, barbed wire, trash and filth everywhere.   And U.S. southern Border Patrol is tough.

Walking between countries is prison-like…

And then there are the ecological disaster walls impeding wildlife…

Humans are impeded too, by land and by sea…

Ed and I are left wanting to reach out.  To apologize.  We want to show we're friendly.   We want to  honor our neighbors to the south, as well as to the north.  Our encounters with the Spanish people have always been wonderful, both here in the U.S. and in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking nations, like when we spent a month in Ecuador.  Friendly people with easy smiles, who dance and sing and welcome us with delight.  People who love their families above all.  Religious people.   And the food couldn't be better!!  Just try, I dare you, to find a fish taco in the U.S. that tastes as good as a fish taco in Baja.

In Trump's call for wall designs, this one was submitted.   How healing and respectful and loving would this be?  It's still a wall, like at the Peace Arch going into Canada, but it's also a park and a place to join hands and be neighbors…   

Besides, if one is desperate to join loving family or in need of money, there is always a way…


"Borders are scratched across the hearts of men, by strangers with a calm, judicial pen, and when the
borders bleed we watch with dread the lines of ink along the map turn red."

~ Marya Mannes