Monthly Archives: September 2012

Lewis and Clark as Property Consultants

In our quest for a place to settle down in the United States we were attracted to Last Chance Gulch – or Helena as it is now known, the capital of Montana – where prospectors took one last chance at mining for gold before moving west.

The other attraction to visit Helena was to follow in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark by taking a boat trip (yes, I know, oxymoron like baggy tights, Congressional ethics or European Community) down the Missouri River. This longest river in the United States is worryingly known as Big Misery but behaved for us as we puttered downstream on the Sacagawea, an open-topped tour boat named for a Shoshone Indian guide who served as interpreter for Lewis and Clark. As we came across the L & C’s Trail again and again in this rugged and formidable part of the country, we never ceased to be amazed at the tenacity of the pair who trekked 8,000 miles through the wilderness for two years with no maps, no apps, no radio, no GPS and no spouse to blame for a wrong turn.

The Lewis and Clark trail, 21st century style

We witnessed the site of the August, 1949 Mann Gulch Fire which burned 3,000 acres in 10 minutes claiming the lives of 13 smoke jumpers – men who parachute into fight forest fires when there is no other means of access.  Two of the only three who survived the fire sprinted for 60 seconds out of the canyon to safety with the fire chasing them – a feat never equaled to this day, even by professional athletes.

One year previously, a fire had torn through our destination picnic area, but when we disembarked we witnessed all the devastation that had happened just three days before when torrential rain had flooded down the gulch. To walk up the washed out path we were forced to leap a stream (with the grace of two arthritic elephants) that hadn’t flowed in 50 years.  The forest reeked of burnt timber, refreshed by the recent downpour. The sight of fallen burnt out trees was disheartening.  We sat on a boulder to eat our lunch and take stock of both the beauty and the destructive forces of nature.

The downside of nature

Our captain and river guide had apprised us of all these facts as well as the record low temperature for the area of -70°F – that’s 102 degrees below freezing if you haven’t already worked it out.  “It was just the once in January 1954,” Jimmy reminded me.

“I know.”

“That’s 54 years ago.”

“I know.”

“It normally doesn’t dip below 0°F.”

“That’s comforting.”  That’s still 32° below freezing.

Wildfires, desperately cold winters, floods, no more gold. We won’t be living there.

FYI – My favorite oxymoron was nixed by him indoors. It involved a well-known computer company’s tech support.

Still Homeless

After tolerating grey wet weather for a year and a half in the Puget Sound, we set off ‘round the U.S. to look for somewhere to live that was at least drier. And I’m beginning to wonder where we will live that is safe, comfortable and affordable.  We have driven through earthquake zones, into and out of tsunami zones, along volcano escape routes and through chain up areas where it is illegal to drive in the winter without snow chains to negotiate six foot snow drifts.

There is tornado alley in the Midwest; a hurricane risk all along the Gulf coast and up the east coast; disgusting humidity in the Southeast and searing high temperatures in the Southwest; rain, fog and more rain chills the Northern California coast right on up into Canada. It’s a little too rural in much of the Northwest where the interstate highway slip roads need cattle grids but urban life doesn’t appeal either.

Southern California is just beautiful but is an eye-wateringly expensive place to live where even the gas is tainted (did I say that?) to give you less miles per gallon.

Let’s see. What have I missed? Great stretches of the Midwest are flat, hot and dry in the summer and flat, cold and snowy in the winter.  Diverse places throughout the country harbor vicious mosquitoes that have a particular taste for Jimmy’s flesh. Also worth a mention are the results of weather systems – fire from lightning strikes rip through millions of acres in the West. Floods are not limited to coastal areas. Oh, and there are landslides to dodge.

Yellowstone’s ethereal and bleak landscape

An innocuous looking lavender dotted line delineates the caldera on the Yellowstone Park map and we innocently drove all around it before I realized it marks out the Yellowstone Supervolcano(a phrase nattily coined by the BBC) which blew 2.1 million years ago, 1.3 million years ago and 640,000 years ago covering most of the North American continent in volcanic ash. So guess what? By my calculations it’s due again any time. Scientists will tell you there is no evidence for another such catastrophic eruption on the one hand but on the other hand recurrence of these events is not predictable.

Jimmy calmly waiting for the end of the world

The fact that I’m afraid to get out of the car out west for fear of stepping on a rattlesnake or startling a bear would pale into insignificance when Yellowstone’s magma chamber started to rumble.We could just keep on the move. The problem is we can get a little prickly with each other in the confined space of a 30 foot trailer and the thought of this box being our only home for the foreseeable is a little daunting – by mutual agreement.

Could you co-exist with your spouse in 240 square feet of living space minus 60 square feet for the beds and 16 square feet for the bathroom (that’s probably generous, my elbows are permanently bruised). Four years so far living in 164 square feet. Could you do it? Answers on a postcard. Oh, no, not a postcard. We don’t have an address. Comments please.

Home sweet tiny home

Travel Angst

Wow! This had to be a terrible flight. I wonder which airline it was. I’ll look back through my 2008 diary pages. Found this letter in an old notebook. I must have been purging myself of some travel angst. You won’t be surprised to know I didn’t mail it or anything similar to it, but wouldn’t a positive response have been an excellent result? I’ve taken my (or somebody’s) husband’s voice to sound more authoritative. The vocabulary, tone and phrasing is on the silly side but it probably felt good at the time:

My House

My Street

My Village

My County

My Country

1 June ‘08

Dear Sirs

I write regarding my recent flight with your airline. I found your cabin crew to be most disagreeable, particularly a Miss Julia Wicket, who was impertinent towards my wife. Her abrupt and callous manner was most offensive and was upsetting to us both. I wish you to require Miss Wicket to write a letter of apology immediately addressed to Mrs. Amelie Affronted at the above address prostrating herself and begging forgiveness for her behavior.

I cannot begin to describe the detrimental effect this disastrous flight has had upon our holiday and so require you to credit us with 24,000 air miles in Club Class with your assurances that all staff have been selected for their deferential demeanor and have been properly trained in customer services.

Furthermore, I demand a limousine service to and from the airports at either end of our trips, destinations to be decided.

I expect a prompt reply to this letter otherwise I shall be contacting my solicitors to bring a lawsuit against your airline, and shall also involve the media bringing unwanted publicity at this economically difficult time.

Yours faithfully,

Arthur Affronted

(P.S. I now know which airline it was but I’m not telling you.)

Derek, the Bad Boy Laptop

My laptop decided five days ago that it didn’t want to play. Windows was just too much for it. It wouldn’t open it and insisted on a restorative System Restore. It asked politely but gave no other options, not even a choice of restore points. As it cranked slowly through the process I sat nervously hoping it knew what it was doing. The use of System Restore had always been my prerogative. Eventually that nice blue screen with my user name popped up, but it . . . let’s call the laptop Derek, it is so impersonal . . . . Derek had decided to shed himself of 12 Windows updates, numerous Norton updates that left me hideously AT RISK, an Acrobat Reader update and thankfully Google Chrome which had slipped itself into Derek when I had carelessly not unticked a box that I hadn’t seen. I laboriously reinstalled all the updates.

Poor Derek. He just hadn’t rested enough so two days later insisted on more restoring with all the same consequences, only this time his friend Mr. Norton decided he wasn’t satisfied with his lot either. Beneath a large red scary looking X Mr. Norton urged me to download a program to uninstall and reinstall himself.

Uninstall the virus protection? I didn’t like the sound of that. I read and reread the screen. Do I? Don’t I? We were miles from anywhere but giant sequoias, 2,000 miles from the geeks I trusted with Derek and it was out of office hours to telephone. Shall I hit that download button? Derek was preventing me opening Internet Explorer to research a fix. Are computers capable of sabotage? Will the lazy bad boy implode? I had absolutely no idea. Screw it. Most of my files were saved on an external hard drive hidden in my underwear drawer. I clicked download.

Giant distractions from my tech problems.

Apparently Derek and Mr. Norton knew what they were doing and restored and uninstalled and reinstalled to their heart’s content. Derek then seemed content but had one more trick to play. He stole my Word 2010 and told me I could retrieve it in Control Panel. Well I can’t. More specifically I don’t know how and he probably knows that.

Soon Derek will have a hospital stay at the shop where I bought him. He doesn’t deserve my care and concern, the naughty boy, but in addition to my missing Word program he’s limping a bit which is slowing me down as well.