Toast to a heron

by Beth Shepherd
( July 28th, 2014 )

Jake Hose--A toast to the heronA toast to the heron:  Photo of artwork used with permission, Jake Hose

Seven years ago, Big Papa and I got married. This fact, in and of itself, is truly something to marvel at. Because—we nearly didn’t.

Our first wedding venue cancelled six months prior to the wedding. Next, a month before the wedding, the B&B where we planned to spend our wedding night also cancelled, telling us they had decided to close their business. And then, the trifecta of all trifectas—our officiate cancelled a mere three hours before we were scheduled to say “I do.” It certainly felt like the world was conspiring against us.

But sometimes the universe works in mysterious ways. As luck would have it, the bad news was delivered while I sat in Eleven Winery’s Bainbridge Island tasting room. The winemaker’s wife, Sarah, was working that day, and she was a member of IslandMoms, an online community for Bainbridge Island moms. Quickly she posted: URGENT! Officiate needed.

Fate was on our side, and we received a response to our post. The respondent was a new member to IslandMoms and had been reading through posts as she soaked her feet following a long, tiring day of political canvassing. She had performed only one wedding before ours, for a co-worker, but she was licensed as a minister with the Universal Life Church. She could marry us!

With less than thirty minutes to spare, Debbie, our new officiate magically appeared.  Forty-eight close friends and family members were able to watch us become husband and wife. Plus one additional, uninvited, guest.

Just as we began our ceremony, a young blue heron flew in and seated himself in a log chair nearby. He sat there until we kissed and then he flew away.

What an auspicious guest. In Native American lore, the heron embodies wisdom and patience.  Supremely capable at fishing and hunting, the Iroquois felt that the sight of one before a hunt was a very good omen for success.

Whether he flew in as a representative of those dear to us who weren’t able to attend our wedding, or the spirit of loved ones who were no longer with us, I will forever interpret his presence as a good omen for the success of our marriage.

Our heronPhoto by Marcia Breece

After the ceremony, we spent our first minutes together floating in a boat in the pond. We sipped champagne and toasted our good fortune—after all that we were married. Even though our rowboat was short one oar, we didn’t have a care in the world.

Happy 7th Anniversary to us!

Toast in the rowboat after the weddingPhoto by Rebecca Sullivan

Take the road less traveled, Beth

—And a heartfelt thank you to Elegant Garden Design  for the lovely heron who will grace our garden…and for the touching gift tucked in with him.

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Moon over Colorado

by Beth Shepherd
( July 25th, 2014 )

Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 AD. We came in peace for all mankind.

~Neil Armstrong

Moon over Colorado

Moon over CO in blue

Moon over CO in pink

Moon over CO

Moon over CO black

Take the road less traveled, Beth

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The air up there in Colorado

by Beth Shepherd
( July 23rd, 2014 )

In Colorado

The last time Big Papa and I stood at an elevation above 12,000 feet, we were in Tibet. I remember Big Papa doing his best attempt at jumping jacks by the entrance to Mount Qomolangma (Mt. Everest) National Park. We were at 17,000 feet. He was a bit breathless.

Flash forward six years and one child later. We’re visiting Colorado and standing at 12,110 feet, on the Tundra Communities Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park. Big Papa pushed the stroller like a champ.

Pushing a stroller in Rocky Mountain National Park

As you might guess from the name, the trail traverses across tundra. Alpine tundra begins where trees cannot survive the extremes of cold, wind, and a short growing season. In Rocky Mountain National Park this zone roughly starts at elevations above 11,500 feet. The Tundra Communities Trail begins at a trail head near the top of Trail Ridge Road. The large parking area is nearly 13 miles west of Deer Ridge Junction (Highways 34 and 36), and 4 miles east of the Alpine Visitor Center. When you get out of your car to start your walk, your lungs will experience roughly 35% less oxygen than at sea level. The trail is only one mile round-trip, but you will give your lungs a good workout, especially if you’re not acclimated to higher elevations.

Wildflowers at Tundra Communities Trai

Well-placed signs along the asphalt-paved trail are very educational, and offer stopping points to catch one’s breath. We learned why the short stature of tundra plants is an adaptation that helps them survive in this harsh environment: “at ground level, plants are protected from the harsh elements—winds may be 30 miles an hour at eye level, but only three miles an hour near your feet.”

Signs along the Tundra Communities Trail

In the tundra, summer flickers briefly. Temperatures usually stay below freezing for more than five months out of the year. There are only 40 frost-free days per year, and temperatures reach 70 degrees only on occasion. Snow can fall on any day of the year. This area along the Continental Divide receives roughly 40 inches of precipitation each year, 65% of  this is snow. During the summer brief afternoon thunderstorms, with lightning, hail and high winds, often occur. In fact, merely two days after we left, two visitors were killed by lightning strikes while hiking near Trail Ridge Road.

In Colorado on the Tundra Communities Trail

There was so much to marvel at. Majestic panoramas with a ring of mountains topping out at over 12,000 feet (Mount Chapin, Sundance Mountain, Terra Tomah Mountain, Mount Julian, and Specimen Mountain).

Enormous mushroom-shaped rock formations, called “tors” by geologists, formed when these mountains were under the sea (imagine that!). Layers of sand, silt, and clay slowly formed various types of granite that. The  mushroom appearance was due to the type of granite in the “stem” eroding more quickly than type of granite (schist) in the cap.

Mushroom rocks at 12,000 feet in Colorado

And then in contrast, miniature flowers at your feet. I got down on my hands and knees to see and photograph them: Colorado Columbine, Alpine Forget-Me-Nots, and Pearly Everlasting. Some of these flowers had tiny blooms the size of my pinkie fingernail. Endless fields of tiny sunflowers turning their faces toward the sun for warmth.

Tundra sunflowers on the Tundra Communities Trail

One of the trail signs explained that “alpine plants contain anthocyanin, a chemical ‘antrifreeze’ that converts sunlight into heat. Plant hairs provide a furry coat that reduces the loss of heat and moisture. These hairs also protect plants from the intense ultraviolet radiation that is twice what it is at sea level.”

Tundra Communities Trail wildflowers

There is also wildlife in this area, although only a few animals, such as pikas, ptarmigans and marmots, live here all year long.   Others, such as ravens, hawks, coyotes and elk, will migrate onto the tundra during the summer months. A bit farther down Trail Ridge Road, I saw a marmot in the distance, and we did encounter herds of elk farther up the road, but on this trail itself, most of the creatures I saw where tiny, like the ladybug I photographed, climbing in and around all the brightly-colored flowers.

Wildflower and ladybug at Tundra Communities Trail

It was all so breathtakingly beautiful that I felt like doing jumping jacks, and so I did. It felt great—12,000 feet, the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop. I really liked the air up there.

Me in the Rockies

Take the road less traveled, Beth


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