Monday, July 29, 2013

ROLLING THROUGH IRELAND: Excerpt from Aunt Carolyn’s Memoir of a Lifetime of Travel

Cycling the wild and windy moors of south Ireland
Perhaps the original intrepid tourist was Carolyn Arnold, my husband’s aunt.  A single school teacher in Des Moines, she began traveling abroad when she was in her forties, beginning with a bicycling trip through Ireland in 1950.  She went on from there to spend a year as a Fulbright Exchange Teacher in Wales, to more trips to Europe and beyond, and eventually became a tour leader, taking all her nieces and nephews (including Art) on her travels.  When she retired from teaching, she wrote of her experiences in a memoir called Up and Down and Around the World with Carrie.  Today, as I read of her travels, I marvel at her spirit of adventure at a time when women did not have the independence they do today.  The piece below, excerpted from her book, describes her first day in Ireland on her first bicycle trip abroad.

It all started when I noticed the picture of a local girl in the Sunday paper bicycling in Europe.  “That’s for me!” I mused.  The idea of such a venture in the early years of 1950 did not stop me.  I joined the American Youth Hostels, Inc. to travel through Ireland with a group.  The ability to pedal forty miles a day was the main requirement.  This challenge required daily pedaling; at first fifteen miles, then twenty, until I met my goal.
A meeting with my cycle mates began in New York City.  There was Andy, our guide, an Irishman from Belfast, with a mop of red hair, a ready smile, and legs short and sturdy for pedaling a bike or walking a mountain.  He had a knowledge of primus stoves, flat tires, and a tendency to worry about what the Irish Youth Hostel Association would think of these “crazy Americans.”  The rest of the group included three other women--Ruth, Jan, and Dottie, plus three men--Larry, Allen, and Frank.  We departed New York on the USS Washington, a converted troop ship on its last run.  Andy told us, “There are 180 steps around the ship deck, 280 around the promenade deck, so get in shape!”

We arrived in Cobh, on the southern-most tip of Ireland, a quaint storybook town of pink, yellow, blue, and orange houses, flush with the walk that faced the harbor.  Once through customs we had to equalize our thirty pounds of essentials in the saddle bags across our back wheels.  My essentials included one dress and three pairs of pants (one to wear, one to wash, one to dry.)  Add to this, lipstick for city sightseeing, one poncho for rainy days, and one sleeping sack (a sheet sewed on three sides.)  I also carried a small pouch on my belt for my passport, AYH ID card, and spare money.  We were expected to live in a budget of $1.50 a day!  In 1950 that included a fee for the hostel and groceries to cook our own meals.

An unbalanced bike can buck like a bronco and it proved to be a hysterical scene, that first day in Cobh.  I had repacked and was ready to mount my “steed” only to find that the front wheel reared up in a most disrespectful way, throwing me to the ground.  I finally got the knack of throwing my weight forward as a counter balance to the weight of the gear placed at the rear wheel.

Leaving Cobh, we struggled up a long hill.  At the top we could look back to the sea and the harbor where we had left the USS Washington.  We were wanderers in a strange land.  The incline of the hill soon forced us to dismount and continue upward walking our bikes, or “bushin” as the Irish say.  On and on we rode, past brilliant fuschia hedges, quaint white-washed stone cottages–on towards Roches Point, our hostel for the night.

It was here that Andy gave us a choice: to ride the ten miles to Roches Point or to take a ferry across the inlet.  The ferry, of course!  We hurried on, passing a small village where shepherds drove their sheep to one side as we “roared” past.  To our amazement we found the “ferry” was nothing more than a rowboat in which we must stand up with our bikes.  Two crossings were necessary before we all reached the opposite shore.

The sight of our first hostel from a hilltop spurred us on.  Roches Point, the lighthouse seen earlier from our ship, is a mainly a Coast Guard station.  The hostel was located in an old barrack, without electricity or running water.  So, like Jack and Jill, we went over the hill to get our pail of water. Roches light turned continuously all night long and although it intermittently hit me squarely in the eyes, I slept until the roosters were crowing.  We left Roches Point the next morning, looking forward to our visit to Blarney Castle.  There is an Irish saying that whoever kisses the Blarney Stone will either go to Parliament, or sleep in a lady’s bed.  Says, Frank, “Who wants to go to Parliament?”

This is just the beginning of Aunt Carolyn’s chronicle of her first summer abroad.  The trip to Ireland had many more adventures (which I will post at a later time) and inspired a lifetime of travel.

Note:  In addition to sharing a love of travel and the similarity of our names, Carolyn T. Arnold and I both graduated from Grinnell College in Iowa (although nearly 40 years apart.) Many members of the Arnold family went to Grinnell, including my husband Art. In 1980, Aunt Carolyn was asked by one of his cousins to name her top favorite sights during her many years of travel.  After listing famous places such as the Great Wall of China and seeing the midnight sun over a fiord in Norway, she concluded with this memory of her first trip to Ireland:
"It has been fun remembering. I might add one other sight for a personal reason as there is nothing remarkable about it except that it was my first view of a foreign land: sailing into the harbor at Cobh, Ireland. The clear green water of the harbor and the pink and green buildings facing us will always remain in my memory."

Monday, July 22, 2013

BURREN NATIONAL PARK, IRELAND: Guest Post by Marianne Wallace

Ireland:  Burren Roadside Holy Well, along Galway Bay Road
My friend and fellow children's book writer/illustrator Marianne Wallace and her husband Gary, a botanist, went to Ireland recently, visiting Dublin and hiking in Burren National Park in County Clare. Here are some of her reports from their trip.  Marianne's most recent book is River Life: A Journey from Headwaters to the Sea (Butler Books, 2013). You can find out more about Marianne and all her books at her website.

Our room at Cappabhaile House,  Ballyvaughan, County Clare
April 28
Arrived in the Burren to the wonderful smell of peat fires and the taste of fresh seafood (salmon for Gary, crab for me). Intermittent rain should be gone by tomorrow so we're hoping for some good hiking weather. Our B and B never disappoints. The rooms here are always nicer than ours at home and the white duvet cover is beautifully embroidered. Each afternoon, we enjoy fresh tea and chocolate covered orange biscuits (cookies) in our room at the table next to the view. (And all for 30 euro/day LESS than the cell of a room in Dublin.)

"Early purple orchid"
April 30
Spent the day with a botanist friend here who took us hunting for early flowers. The winter was brutal and although today was sunny with little wind, the mornings and nights are still in the high 30s so spring is late in coming. We managed to find some blue gentians and the ubiquitous "early purple orchid" which is the first of many orchid species to flower each year.

Mustard relative growing in a gryke or crack
May 3
In the few hours between the morning blowing rain and the afternoon blowing rain, we got out to the Atlantic coastline and saw these flowers in the grykes (cracks) and protected areas of the Burren's limestone pavement. Now we're cozy and warm, sipping tea, enjoying the view from our room. Nice.

Mullaghmor Mountain
May 4
We postponed our hike up one of the hill/mountains in the Burren due to the strong - and very cold - wind. En route, we had stopped at Cassidy's Pub (the Cassidy family has operated a pub here since the 1830s) and took our drinks outside to eat our lunch at their picnic tables while enjoying the stunning view of a valley and the Burren hills beyond. After nearly freezing to death, we opted instead for a pot of hot tea at the nearby Perfumery's cafe.

Burren Perfumery, Moss Man in Bathtub
A circle of trees protected us enough from the wind to allow for a walk through their herb garden. The Burren Perfumery has a touch of faerie in their sensibility, I think, and everything is sweet and charming. A topiary man bathes in a rusty claw foot bathtub, a shelf along a stone wall supports a pot of flowers and I take a seat on a sunken circular stone bench.

May 5
There are miles and miles (or kilometers and kilometers) of walking trails around the Burren. Today we took a 4.5 km trail up and back one of the hill-mountains called Mullaghmor [moo-lock-more] in Burren National Park. On the trail markers, we followed the green circle. From the top, next to the cairn, we could see at least 20 miles.

Burren pavement, Fanore

We were very proud of ourselves, summiting one of the hill-mountains in Burren National Park. Then were immediately humbled when a mom (wearing a short-sleeved blouse while I had on four layers of warm clothing) and her 3-year-old son arrived on top as well. These Irish are hearty folk!

Dolmen tomb in farmer's field, Big Dipper Road
Later we finally stopped on this very narrow road (like Ireland has any country roads actually big enough for two cars to pass...Ha!) and took a photo of the rock tomb that we'd passed before in someone's field. We figured it was about 4 ft. high with an 8 foot-long rock slab on top. It's about 25 feet from the road and you can only see it from a distance so you have to guess when you're adjacent to it and stop along the road and climb a hedge to take the picture. The Burren is "littered" with tombs, ring forts and other ancient remains.

Atop Mullaghmor (moo-lock-more). Rock cairn behind Gary. Lake in distance above my head.
New Quay, County Clare
May 8
This sign was at a Irish waterside pub where there was no barricade between the car park (parking lot) and a 10 foot drop off into the bay.
Imagine how important it is to be reminded of this after you've had a couple pints of Guinness and you put your parked car into "drive" before "reverse."
Marianne's report on their time in Dublin was posted on July 19, 2013.

Monday, July 15, 2013

DUBLIN, IRELAND: Guest Post by Marianne Wallace

Dublin, Ireland.  Farrington's Pub in Temple Bar area
My friend and fellow children's book writer/illustrator Marianne Wallace and her husband Gary, a botanist, went to Ireland recently, visiting Dublin and hiking in Burren National Park in County Clare. Here are some of her reports from their trip. Marianne's most recent book is River Life: A Journey from Headwaters to the Sea (Butler Books, 2013).  You can find out more about Marianne and all her books at her website.

April 25
We arrived in Dublin this morning and had our first pints ( Murphys was a half pint) with a leek and potato soup lunch today at Tonner's Pub a few blocks from Trinity College in Dublin City Centre. Our B&B room is the size of a postage stamp with a shared bathroom for six rooms on the floor. But the salon areas are nice (that's where I'm sitting now) and it's only a 15 minute walk to Trinity College. It's now twilight at 9 PM - days are longer this far north. Was raining at the airport but dry the rest of the day and sunny in the afternoon. Mid 40s to mid 50s so not too bad.

April 26
Woke up to amazing blue skies. Thought the air would be appropriately warm but it stayed mostly in the high 40s, low 50s, windy with scattered clouds. A great day for walking, though.
Science Gallery Cafe
As Gary worked in the Trinity College herbarium, I enjoyed a morning cup of tea and a book at the Science Gallery Cafe, my favorite little spot in Dublin. I'm not a plastic chair/white Formica table kind of person but this place has a wall of windows for people-watching and is used by Trinity students and instructors so I feel smarter just sitting there. And although I usually just get the tea, the pastries and sandwiches are terrific (as is most food in Ireland).

Then I walked about six miles window shopping, going to a pub lunch with Gary, getting theater tickets (for tomorrow), searching out three fabric stores, hunting for an art supply store (in an alley next to a auto repair shop - took me awhile to find that one) and looking for a tiny bottle of perfume to cover the sweaty smell of all that walking in case I ever get warm enough in this weather to actually sweat.
Flower seller, Grafton Street
Walking to dinner (another mile at least), Gary and I passed this roadside flower seller (actually, they are in the middle of the road but the only vehicles that show up are for deliveries before the shops open). I remember them from last year. Always lots of beautiful flower bunches. Lastly, we stopped to see the Sphere in Sphere outside the Trinity College library.

(April 29 - May 8 at the Burren. See post for next week.)
Dublin. Ha'penny Bridge over the River Liffey
May 9
Our last full day in Ireland began with a bus ride into Dublin City Centre from our hotel near the airport with the world's friendliest bus drivers. These Dublin Bus guys can drive the bus through crazy traffic, hand out bus passes and answer your questions all at the same time. They are always courteous and even joke with you on occasion. I love 'em.

In the City Centre, you often see these lined-up blue bikes. You apparently buy a membership that allows you to unlock and pick up a bike from one assembly location then ride it to another bike assembly spot and leave it there.
And finally, our last pub stop and last pint (and a half pint for me). We watched the afternoon rain pour down from the warmth of the pub with mixed feelings. It's been a great trip but we're ready to leave this year's cold, rainy, windy Irish spring for the warmth and sun of home. SoCal, see you tomorrow.

Monday, July 8, 2013

TULE ELK RESERVE: Preserving California's Wildlife

I don’t know how many times I’ve driven Interstate 5 through California’s Central Valley and passed the signs to the Tule Elk Reserve (near Taft and Bakersfield) and said to myself, I should stop and see how the elk are doing.  Twenty-five years ago I wrote a book about the tule elk and how they had been saved from extinction by rancher Henry Miller.  Under his protection, the few elk on his property began to reproduce and the herd slowly grew.  Most, if not all, of the tule elk alive today are the descendants of those animals. Tule elk can now be seen in several places in California, including a herd in Cache Creek and in the Owens Valley.

Finally, on a recent drive between Oakland and Los Angeles, I decided to make the Tule Elk Reserve my rest stop.  It is only three miles from the interstate, but when you get there you feel as if you are in the middle of what California used to be, before the land was developed for agriculture.  The Tule Elk Reserve, near the small town of Tupman,  is a 953 acre fenced area where the elk can live safely and are supplied with plenty of food and water.  Several ponds have been built on the land to give the elk drinking water and places to wallow or bathe.  Cattails, or tule reeds, grow around the edges of the ponds and provide hiding places for young elk.

Male tule elk
While the grassland of the reserve is dry and open, the visitor area is a green oasis with picnic tables, bathrooms, and a viewing platform where you can look into the reserve.  With luck you can spot some elk.  On the afternoon that I visited, I could see a few animals resting in the distance.  I didn’t have my binoculars, so I used the telephoto lens on my camera to get a closer look.  Even though the elk were so far away that the image looked more like an Impressionist painting, I could still see the majestic antlers of the male elk.

Viewing platform
The Tule Elk Reserve is operated by the California State Parks. According to the website, you can take a ranger guided auto tour of the reserve on the second and fourth Sundays of every month.  This is what I did when I was researching my book and is the best way to see the elk up close in their natural environment.  My book Tule Elk (Carolrhoda Books, 1989) is illustrated with photographs by Richard Hewett.  It is out of print but is available online as an e-book.

Directions:  The reserve is 20 miles west of Bakersfield off of the Stockdale Highway west of I-5, in the vicinity of Buttonwillow.
The park has a picnic area that offers an excellent  opportunity to observe birds of San Joaquin Valley.  Interpretive exhibits may be viewed to the south and east of the comfort station.
Video:  Follow this link for a short video tour of the Tule Elk Reserve.

Monday, July 1, 2013

JOAQUIN MILLER PARK in the Oakland, CA Hills: Nature and History

The Cascade in Joaquin Miller Park is the Amphitheater's waterfall feature. Built in 1941 and dedicated to California writers, it still flows with water. It was designed by Howard Gilkey,
On a recent Saturday afternoon, I went with my family to Joaquin Miller Park in the Oakland hills for a hike, and to see the legacy of Joaquin Miller, the 19th century poet who spent the last years of his life in what is now the park named after him.  It was a beautiful warm day, perfect for walking the trails up the hills and through the redwoods.

We climbed up the long stairs from the lower meadow and playground, stopping at the fountain to watch the tadpoles.  Then we continued past the waterfalls to the amphitheater, where we set out on a trail through the woods
Numerous places in the Oakland area are named after Joaquin Miller so I was curious to find out who he was.  It turns out that Joaquin Miller was the pen name Cincinnatus Heine (or Hiner) Miller (September 8, 1837 – February 17, 1913), nicknamed the "Poet of the Sierras".  Before settling in Oakland, Miller had numerous adventures, working for a time in the mining camps during the California Gold Rush and later traveling to Alaska.

Pyramid to Moses, Joaquin Miller's symbol of belief in the Ten Commandments.
The Hights (his spelling), the Oakland home Miller built at the end of his life, is currently known as the Joaquin Miller House and is part of Joaquin Miller Park. He planted the surrounding trees and built nearby his own funeral pyre and monuments dedicated to Moses, General John C. Frémont, and the poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. (The Japanese poet Yone Noguchi began his literary career while living in the cabin adjoining Millers' during the latter half of the 1890s.) The Hights was purchased by the city of Oakland in 1919.  It is now a designated California historical site.

Resident goat herd
The park features include miles of hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails, an off-leash dog area, an amphitheater, and picnicking. As we circled back on our hike we passed the herd of goats that are used as natural landscape managers.  Surrounded by a moveable fence, they eat the undergrowth and keep it under control. We ended our walk at the top of the hill where Miller had built his Monument to Moses.  From the picnic area just below the monument there was a spectacular view of San Francisco Bay.  Joaquin Miller certainly knew how to pick a good spot for his final years.
The park's 500 acres (2.0 km2) are heavily wooded with coast redwoods, coast live oaks, and pines. Its location in the Oakland Hills provides panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay area.
For directions and more information about the park, go to the Joaquin Miller Park website.