Monthly Archives: April 2013

More Flies and Willy-Willies

During the long, hot drive the day before (Poor Judgment), we saw something neither of us had ever seen before – whirlwinds.

Dust Devil
Dust Devil (Photo credit: dagnyg)

A whirlwind is a weather phenomenon that can manifest in a major way – a tornado, or a minor way – little vortexes of wind, known as snow devils, steam devils and dust devils or in Australia as willy-willies or whirly-whirlies. We had seen several dust devils which caused my driver to veer violently on the interstate as he was so taken with this caprice of nature.

Now, as Jimmy bent over a locker on the outside of the trailer, rearranging blocks of wood, crank handles, ladders, gloves, hoses and all manner of guy things, a fly devil (The Flies) appeared above his head – a four-foot whirling column of friends

When he walked along the length of the trailer to wind things up and down, his fly devil went with him. It was just the most comical thing – like a cartoon of a dirt boy with his very own gang of flies in formation. I pointed above his head and opened my mouth to speak but thought better of it as I didn’t want to spoil my fun. They didn’t seem to be bothering him.

When we were ready to go, we leapt into the car with a similar gusto as when exiting the trailer. A few flies followed us in so we opened the windows after five minutes on the road and helped them out.

We stopped to admire another train. Yes, we are certifiable.
We stopped to admire another train. Yes, we are certifiable.

Making our first pit stop in Idaho, we opened the doors to discover thousands of the little monsters taking refuge in all the door sills, including the rear tailgate. Some flew in and some flew out but mostly they stayed put so with all five doors open we spent the next half an hour encouraging them out of all the crevices in the car to take flight in their new state.

Looking west toward the Bitterroot Mountains o...
Looking west toward the Bitterroot Mountains over Missoula from Mount Sentinel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We continued to pick, smash and flick for the remainder of the journey. One successful method of departure for them was to assist them along the inside of the windshield, open the window two inches and then watch them be sucked out by the vacuum effect. Some of them have been relocated to the spectacular Bitterroot Range of mountains, (perhaps to pick up the Lewis and Clark Trail) which forms the border between Idaho and Montana. They might find the weather a bit harsh come winter.

When we arrived at our campsite in Missoula, Montana (this sorry tale goes on a bit, be pleased you weren’t with us) we found that, no, the flies hadn’t all been blown away to new pastures along the interstate, but had taken up residence in our trailer – on the windows, on the lights, on the ceiling, walls, curtains, blinds and occasionally on any exposed skin – and we’ve no idea how they got there as all the doors and windows had stayed firmly shut since the morning. If you’re interested, they weren’t bitey things – just small, friendly, and rather slow but hugely numerous flies.

We then started to swat in earnest . . . . for hours and hours. All God’s little creatures, I kept thinking as I squashed fly after fly, but what possible use could they have? Admittedly, all the swallows were quite plump back at the campsite from hell (Poor Judgment), but couldn’t God have just let the swallows eat seeds, skipped these particular flies and saved us the trouble?

As the evening dragged on we tired so took it in turns, one holding a damp sponge acting as the killing machine, and the other pointing and shouting annoyingly, “There’s one! Quick! There’s another one!”

The bed compartment 'upstairs.'
The bed compartment ‘upstairs.’

We attempted to have an early night, both being dog tired from our freight train excitement the night before. As is our habit, we put out all the lights except the reading light over our bed-in-a-drawer, our cozy train-compartment-type arrangement that pulls out from the back of the trailer.

The hide-a-bed from the outside.
The hide-a-bed from the outside.

THWACK! and I was jolted from reading my book as Jimmy squashed a fly on the ceiling over his pillow. I read the same sentence again and SMACK! Jimmy would slap the flies onto the ceiling and then pick them off with his fingernail leaving little fly silhouettes behind.

“It’s no good. I need the sponge,” he said nudging me out of bed whilst showing me his handful of flies.

“I’m getting in the other bed,” I said, having now read the same passage five times still without comprehension. When I put the light on over the other bed, half of the flies dutifully followed me, winging around my face to get a look at my book. “I’m putting my light out,” I blurted tetchily, and pulled the sheet over my head. “Put your light out and go to bed. They won’t bother you then.”

THWACK!

“Put your light out and go to bed.”

THWACK!

“PUT YOUR LIGHT OUT AND GO TO BED!”

He put his light out and went to bed.

Perhaps I should have shown more compassion for the hapless owner of the campsite from hell. I reckon the flies had sent him off his trolley.

Addendum: It has been suggested that the little critters had been migrating and swooped in to visit with us at the lakeside site for just the one night. How lucky was that?

We kept finding the odd dead fly for weeks. After the trauma had worn off, the sight of their little lifeless bodies would raise a fond smile of remembrance.

The Flies

As we continued the long process of leveling and unhitching, plumbing and plugging in, unpacking and tidying up, the aforementioned flies (Poor Judgment) left their shady idyll and came to see what we were doing. We swatted and flicked and didn’t think too much of it until I washed out a few smalls and hung them up. “Oh, look. They’re attracted to pink.” They were also attracted to white and black and glass and wood and chrome and human flesh. They began to set themselves up for the night on the leeward side of the trailer like a sociable Spanish family who will sit beside you on an otherwise empty beach.

Our new friends
Our new friends

It was hot and we were tired so we shut ourselves in for the evening and had an early night. By early night I mean we went to bed, not to sleep. Freight trains plied a steady trade and you could tell even in the dark if they were trundling east or west simply by listening to the whistle.

Not one engine, not two, not three, but . .  oh my. And this is just the front of the train. There were pusher engines as well!
Not one engine, not two, not three, but . . oh my. And this is just the front of the train. There were pusher engines as well!

By 3:oo am I ceased to cat nap between the guess-the-direction-of-the-trains game as the wind had picked up and the awning was flapping and banging its supports. Jimmy had another long drive ahead of him so I left him to doze as best he could while I dashed outside in my nightie to tension the strut on the awning. The flies immediately descended on my bare arms, face and back so I performed a swatting sort of break dance as I pushed the strut, twiddled the knob and hopped back indoors.

Wide awake now I watched daylight begin to seep through the blinds. I opened them and gazed out the window to witness a gorgeous sunrise of violet, orange and pale yellow, as the dazzling orb rose up over the horizon. Examining the golden morning through binoculars I could see clouds of flies swarming in front of the site owner’s house, keeping him company as well.

My first sighting of a yellow-headed blackbird
My first sighting of a yellow-headed blackbird

I watched swallows swooping and feeding their young, nesting in holes of old elm trees. Three vibrant yellow-headed blackbirds paid a visit to feed just outside my window and two pairs of goldfinches appeared. Off in the field I thought I could see rats and squirrels, but with the aid of binoculars I could tell they were prairie dogs, like fat rats, but so cute as they stretched up on tip toe to survey their patch.

You lookin' at me?
You lookin’ at me?

My quiet morning nature watch was interrupted at 5:00 am when the daylight coming through the frosted window on the other side of the trailer appeared spackled with black. Opening the blind, I could hardly see out through the seething mass of flies. Unable to contain myself I ambushed Jimmy, yanking open all the blinds, shrieking, “Look! Look!” as he sat up, blinking.

Note the delightful proximity of the freight train
Note the delightful proximity of the freight train. And the flies, some of which were playing hide and seek by this point.

As yet we were not troubled “indoors” by the flies.

An eight-hour drive towing our unwieldy trailer required an unaccustomed early start so we left for our next campsite well before the noon dismissal. We breakfasted, washed, dressed and battened down the hatches; we picked up keys, water, phones, hats, etc. and braced ourselves by the door. One, two, three, go!

Scuttling out and slamming the door quickly behind us we found one whole side of the trailer and the car black with teeny, tiny flies. The plastic cover on our heavy-duty batteries seemed to have a particular electrical attraction as it was dripping with thick lumps of flies. Neither of us has ever seen anything like it or wish to again.

But it got worse. And more comical.

Poor Judgment

“There is an awful lot of not very much here,” said Jimmy as we drove and drove and drove through the high desert of eastern

Columbia River from the Rowena overlook.
Columbia River from the Rowena overlook. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Washington – a dry, barren, biscuit-colored landscape. It dulled our senses after the lush, picturesque bank of the Columbia River. We had kept to the north bank of the river except for one brief interlude when the navigator zoned out and sent the driver over a bridge giving us lovely east and west views up and down the river, or so I insisted, and taking us into Oregon briefly.

With only had two tasks to engage my mind over the hours on the interstate I missed the exit, and failed to find a suitable campsite for the night. It was like choosing a line in the supermarket; I narrowed it down to two possibilities in the camping directory then chose the wrong one, but how do you know?

Our first clue that I’d made a bad choice should have been when we drove over an unmanned railroad crossing 50 yards before the entrance to the site. The alarms bells did not go off in our brains as they would in our ears later.

union pacific freight train
union pacific freight train (Photo credit: jefzila)

We’d unhitched the trailer from the car and plugged in to electricity before the first WHOOWHOO! WHOOWHOO! DING!DING!DING!DING!DING! Four locomotives and 110 freight cars rumbled past. Jimmy and I just stared at each other in open-mouthed stupefaction. That was strike three against the campsite. We’d already had a run in with the owner of the site for daring to drive on to his campsite and had tried unsuccessfully to outrun the flies.

It had appeared to be a pastoral, tranquil campsite with individual sites lined up along a lake, half of them under the trees and half in the open. As soon as we stopped under the trees, flies descended on us so Jimmy wisely chose to move further along to an open aspect.

He pulled forward into a field ready for a reversing maneuver as I skipped from site 19 to site 20 to site 18 and back to 19, evaluating the merits of each – level ground, good view of the lake, pretty tree outside my bedroom window.

“Make up your mind!” he yelled. His demeanor deteriorates after eight hours of driving.

Just then the owner bowled up to me in a golf cart. “Can I help you?” he began, almost pleasantly. I would have thought it was obvious why we were there.

“We’re just trying to choose a site.”

“Well you should have come to see me first,” he spat. “I’ve got a lot of people coming in.” It was five o’clock on a Thursday and I looked up and down the line of 38 empty campsites.

“The office was closed.”

“You can’t expect me to sit in there all day.”

Oh no? “As the office was closed we took a late registration envelope to pay our fee,” and I waved it at him to confirm that we hadn’t tried to sneak in behind his back.

“You have to register first. Didn’t you see the sign?”

“I saw the sign. How can we register when you’re not in the office?”

The office!

“I was on the phone in the house. You should have waited.”

How am I supposed to know that? “We phoned you for a reservation but you didn’t return our call.”

He ignored that and continued his rant. “You can’t just park anywhere.”

“Where can we park?”

“How long are you staying?”

“One night.”

“Well get set up here and then come and register, but you’ll have to leave by 12:00 tomorrow.”

Oh trust me, I thought, we’ll be long gone before then and why couldn’t you have asked that question first?

And that was just strike one.

Thomas Jefferson, Exposed!

As we stumble on the Lewis and Clark Trail again and again I thought it behoved me to look into the back story. It reads like a political thriller.

Lewis & Clarcktrail
Lewis & Clarcktrail (Photo credit: Gerard Stolk (marche vers Pâques ))

In 1803 Thomas Jefferson paid Napoleon Bonaparte $15 million for 2.14 million square kilometres smack in the middle of the now United States, The Louisiana Purchase. Worked out roughly on paper, because the number is so large that my calculator keeps showing an error message, that’s over half a billion acres. It works out at acres per dollar, not dollars per acre – less than three cents an acre! What was old Bony thinking of letting that land go for pennies? Or did he just pocket the cash? Would anyone back in France prior to phones and the internet have known?

Stranger still, France helped themselves to the land in the 1600’s, didn’t want it, gave it to Spain, Spain didn’t want it, gave it back to France, France got rid of it again but for big bucks (or so they thought, not realising its potential), then Spain declared they’d been cheated. The U.S. only wanted to buy New Orleans and shipping rights on the Mississippi but ended up buying the best part of what are now 15 states!

English: I created this image to be used as a ...
English: I created this image to be used as a locator map for Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lewis & Clark were commissioned by Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States and author of The Declaration of Independence, to explore the Louisiana Purchase and on across to the Pacific. They set off on foot to map TJ’s bargain buy, study plant and animal life and set up good relations with the native Indian population.

TJ had an ulterior motive when using taxpayers’ money to pay Lewis & Clark to risk their lives on a mapping expedition. They brought back horticultural specimens for his private garden. TJ was educated in architecture, literature, horticulture, philosophy, history and science. He created his home, Monticello, a popular tourist attraction, in a complex design incorporating Greek and Roman styles. His collection of the Classics formed the beginning of the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. TJ was treating his term of presidency as a sideline.

And one more thing you probably didn’t know – Jefferson tied for first place with his opponent Aaron Burr but won the presidential prize in 1800 after 36 ballots in the House of Representatives. The deadlock went on for weeks while deals were made, bargains were struck and candidates lobbied for votes. The media campaign, in the written press then, bandied terms of cowardice, atheism, radicalism and being unprincipled.

English: Cropped version of Thomas Jefferson, ...

The parallels between TJ and a more recent president – risking lives and using taxpayers’ money for personal gain – are rather disappointing. TJ set himself apart, however, by being known as a great intellectual unlike that other one known by just the one initial.

But that’s just my opinion.

The Sub Sub Plan while Still Homeless

Can you see John Wayne waving at you?
Can you see John Wayne waving at you?
Route 66
Route 66 (Photo credit: eGuide Travel)

Please help us find somewhere to live. See opinion poll.

Due to Jimmy’s American wanderlust we have a Plan, a sub plan and a sub sub plan. The Plan is to find somewhere to live. It gets lost sometimes. The sub plan is to see as many national parks as possible as we ramble around. The sub sub plan is to take in every city and town and place in America that has crossed his consciousness while growing up in 50’s and 60’s England.

Song titles and lyrics, film titles and settings have led us on detours of hundreds of miles from the see-the-national-parks route by veering off to Tombstone, Cheyenne, Chattanooga, Route 66, El Paso, Houston, Deadwood, Monument Valley, St. Louis (but only if you pronounce it Sint Lewie) Laramie, Key Largo, Dodge City, Tacoma, Garryowen, Big Rock Candy Mountain, Tallahassee, San Francisco, San Antonio (abbrev. San Antone), San Jose, Seattle, New York New York, Chicago and on and on in a maddening zig-zag across the United States. Our route from west to east and then west again looks like Zorro has attacked the map with his sword.

The Plan has also been partly determined by talking to people everywhere we go. The simple statement, “We’re looking for the perfect place to live,” always elicits an enthusiastic response. We’ve added thousands more miles to our groaning car’s odometer. Back tracking and unplanned side trips have taken us to these perfect places:

  • Fresno, California
  • Murray, Kentucky
  • Asheville, North Carolina
  • Fernandina Beach, Florida
  • Chattanooga, Tennessee
  • Fort Bragg, California
  • Murfreesboro, Tennessee
  • Sarasota, Florida (A realtor told us everyone in Sarasota was happy because the sun shone all the time and all the old people were on drugs. . This cheered us immensely after our drenching
    in Washington
    .)
  • Bend, Oregon

    The Gulf coast. Lovely.
    The Gulf coast. Lovely.
  • Allardt, Tennessee
  • Beaufort, South Carolina
  • Natchez, Mississippi
  • Ukiah, California
  • La Conner,Washington State
  • Destin, Florida
  • France
Eiffel tower
Eiffel tower (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

Each place has been visited and is under consideration and this haphazard list will undoubtedly be expanded, explored and rated one to ten but we’ve come to suspect that local pride in one’s own state, town, community or vacation destination may be a source of prejudice against the rest of the country. As endearing as this is, we are learning to sift through people’s comments and opinions in the same way you would read with suspicion a real estate agent’s glowing description of an aging or surprisingly underpriced house.

Our needs and tolerances seem to be so very different from just about everyone we’ve spoken to. Are we expecting year round perfection where it just doesn’t exist, just like the perfect man (or woman, before himself cries foul!) doesn’t exist?

Where is your perfect place? Please help. We’ll go and have a look and give you all the credit.