We arrived in Oregon in the dry season (summer solstice to fall equinox) and are here for the change to the wet season (the rest of the year). Already, walking in the forest after a few downpours reveals a different kind of forest, full of huge trees, moss-covered branches, sprouting mushrooms, ferns, and vines. The deep greens, the lush growth, and the tall, straight trunks aimed for the sky, are a complete contrast to the arid lands we’ve chosen to live in for the past several years.
We’ve found a few sections of old growth forest. In these places, there are a few huge trees and some spectacular trunks of trees cut down long ago. These forests remind me of a book I read a long time ago, Sometimes a Great Notion, by Ken Kesey.
The forests are cool and damp, with a special smell that combines pine needles, wet sand, mud, and freshly washed air. The atmosphere is peaceful, the paths are springy underfoot. It’s a wonderful place to spend some time.
“You couldn’t take a bad picture here,” Jonathan said, looking out the car window.
He was right. Everywhere you look driving into the mountains around us are stands of lodgepole pine, narrow avalanche chutes blanketed in grass, and bare faces of stone bordered by undulating piles of scree.
The day was overcast and cool, quite a change from recent 90o days. Only a mile or two down the road, we pulled over, put on the turn signal and got out to stare overhead at a big hawk. A truck passed us, the passenger giving a “What the heck?” gesture.
Our destination was Big Therriault Lake, 28 miles to the east of our current home in Fortine. We stopped to take photos of deer, ducks, and the beautiful water of the lake.
The rain began just as we were ready to picnic, and ended not long after. We set out around the lake, a beautiful walk with the sun coming out, the lake turquoise and absolutely still. There were no other people on the trail. Nearly back to where we started, a woman glided by on a paddleboard, two people in kayaks not far away. Their bicycles leaned against the picnic table, pickup truck parked nearby. They had everything you could want for a Montana day at the lake.
A break in the high humidity gave us a perfect day to drive along the Mississippi, looking for Huck and Jim on their raft. We drove east from Rochester to Winona, MN on Rte. 14, a prettier drive than the interstate, then turned northwest along the river, getting as close as possible to the water on side roads. At Lake City, MN, we turned southwest on Rte. 63 and drove the last leg of our triangular route.
The level lands of the driftless area make good corn and soybean fields, and we passed a lot of them. Approaching the Mississippi, we found rolling hills before arriving in Winona, where a series of large sandbars clog the river but provide an excellent vantage point over the water.
Farther along, we stopped at McNally’s Landing just as a powerboat was being pulled out of the water after a morning fishing trip. Not long after, another truck towing a trailer pulled up and launched a boat. Out on the water, people were fishing, and pontoon boats were lumbering slowly along the channel to keep from swamping the passing kayaks.
We found ourselves alone on a forest path. It was just right for birds, sunny and shaded, near water, not too late in the morning. Following birds with our binoculars as they jumped from branch to branch, we wished they’d slow down just a little bit so we could get a better look. Sometimes, they cooperated.
Just before Minnesota City, we stopped to have our picnic lunch, looking out over the Mississippi and enjoying the beautiful day. A quick loop through Minnesota City revealed the secret getaway car emerging from Don’s Auto Body.
The road runs right along the river for a stretch beyond Minnesota City. On this sunny Sunday afternoon, every place where a boat could be launched was lined with trailers, and the river was full of boats. We continued along to Lake City, where we cruised the streets and discovered a beautiful old house. After our visit to Lake City, we headed for home, content with our day, and ready to try the opposite bank of the Mississippi on another day.
One of the questions we get from people when we tell them about our life on the road is–Why? When we decided to make our way west by a northern route the question came up again. This time, our lack of knowledge about Minnesota is part of the reason we decided it might be good to spend a month here in the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes. That’s true, but we have paid a bit of a price for not doing more advance research.
Our Airbnb reservation outside Minneapolis blew up just a few days before our scheduled arrival. We had to find a place to stay, and a perfectly fine, comfortable house in Rochester filled the bill. Once we were here, we discovered that Rochester, and all of southeastern Minnesota, is in the “driftless” region, a level area that was never covered by glaciers during the last ice age. Where there were glaciers, as the ice retreated, it scraped divots in the bedrock that became lakes, and left piles of rock, drumlins, eskers, and other post-glacial hills. We are in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but in the part without the lakes….
Once we got here, we discovered that Rochester may be famous for the Mayo Clinic, but there’s a limit to what else is here. The downtown is like one giant convention center, a bit like Waikiki without the beach. Large hotels line Broadway, the main street. A few cafes and restaurants are reopening with outdoor seating. The city has made a big effort to create outdoor dining areas by lining up cement barriers where there once was on-street parking. It makes space for outdoor restaurant tables, and gives the downtown a bit of a construction project ambiance. Add in a stretch of 90o days, and downtown Rochester looks like a convention city/convection oven.
The original Mayo Clinic has brass doors to rival Florence (that seems to have been the intention, at least), and a lot of interesting architectural elements, there are historic exhibits, though the building isn’t open these days.
After my visit downtown while Jonathan was at the dentist, we’ve stuck to Rochester’s parks. They are a real highlight of the city. Quarry Hill Park has miles of bicycling trails, walking paths, a pond, forest, butterfly garden courtesy of the local Master Gardeners, and that’s with the visitor center closed and programs cancelled. We go early in the day before the park fills up, which it does, every day. Also nearby is Bear Creek park, smaller and a bit quieter, with paths along the water that are excellent for birdwatching. We saw a lazuli bunting here, a pretty blue-headed bird. What a treat!
Just a few minutes to west is a trail along the Zumbro River. On our way there, we passed a deer standing in a field of crops, peacefully browsing. We were on the path by 8 a.m., a good idea. By the time we left two hours later, there were individuals and families on bicycles, walkers with and without dogs, runners with and without dogs, and the prize group: a man with two dogs and a baby in a stroller (She was asleep). At least he wasn’t trying to run, too. All this traffic failed to dissuade the birds, who came out to show off their shapes and colors. Though we didn’t see anything exotic or brand-new to us, we enjoyed the hummingbird that sat on a branch so that we could get a good look.
Outside Rochester, state parks provide more places to walk. Forestville State Park is not far, and provided excellent bird watching. Before we even got there we saw a ring-necked pheasant by the side of the road. In the park we walked along the Root River, and passed very few people on the trail. The morning heated up and eventually we returned to the car. On our drive home, the sky got darker and darker, it looked like we were under a slowly swirling, dark gray pancake. Drops began to spatter the windshield as we approached Rochester, though it wasn’t raining very hard when we arrived home. Five minutes later, it was pouring! Rain, thunder, and lightning continued for the rest of the day and long into the night, We took our walk at the right moment. There will be time for others.
We’ve been in Lombard, IL for two and a half months, much longer than our normal stops. On June 1, when we should be flying from Athens to Vienna, we will be leaving Lombard, IL for Conneaut, OH, the last town before the PA border.
Lake Erie, for starters. We’ve never been there, and our new house overlooks the lake. There is also beach combing. Cleveland and other places threw all their trash into the lake for about a century and today pieces rounded by the water and sand wash up waiting for people like me to see them. I’m looking forward to new surroundings, and a lake for swimming.
The change of seasons has also gotten to us. Our cute house is cozy and warm in cold weather, but it doesn’t have air conditioning. Chicago has sneaky spring weather, staying cool, even chilly, into May. There’s a reason that people don’t plant their gardens until mid-May. One day, though, you open the front door and step into a cloud of hot steam. Step outside and it feels like you are breathing through a hot washcloth. Summer has arrived in Chicago! It will be hot and humid on many days between today and September. For us, it’s time to move on.
Our stay here began just before the official start of spring. We went for walks and started seeing birds, even when we had to bundle up in heavy coats, hats, scarves, and gloves. Back when the branches were bare, we got used to spotting smaller birds that we had barely seen before.
Birdwatching is made for the current times. We walk slowly, scrutinizing the sides of the path or looking up into the trees, turning away from anyone who may be passing on the other side of the path. Watching for a flicker of wings among the twigs and brambles my mind wanders, testing the cold, the wind, checking the angle of the sun. I understand how people who spend their lives outdoors know the season and the time by the feel of the day.
We occasionally stop and chat with people who are fishing or who ask what birds we have seen. Most park walkers are polite and observant of social distancing. Sometimes we meet a regular birdwatcher who points us toward a better viewing spot, or a new bird. That’s how I spotted a Blackburnian warbler.
Dupage County has more parks and forest preserves than we have been able to visit, places we never set foot in when we lived here for twenty-four years, but now we appreciate them day after day. The knoll at the center of Lincoln Marsh, its grove of tall trees ringed by a vast spread of brown reed stems, reminds me of The Invisible Island, one of my favorite books growing up.
There’s a list of the sixty-three different birds we’ve been able to identify at the end of this post. We’ve seen surprising animals, as well. I didn’t realize that beavers had made such a comeback in this region. There must be quite a few living in the Dupage River system, as we’ve seen beavers swimming by several times. One day, a beaver swam by us, and as we watched, it climbed out of the water (below), waddled into the reeds and returned with a stick in it’s mouth. It set off swimming down the river until we lost sight of it.
As the days passed, we got better at spotting woodpeckers up in the trees. I don’t feel like a walk is officially over until we’ve seen at least one woodpecker. They are so funny-looking, hopping up the tree like a colorful squirrel. The brush on either side of the path became slightly greener as the trees budded. It was a bit more difficult to see birds, but improved our spotting of warblers and kinglets.
Over the weeks, we visited more places, and through other birders, discovered the hotspots in Dupage County, like Elsen’s Hill, in W. Dupage Woods, where we saw bushes full of warblers.
There was a Great Horned Owl mother and baby at Lincoln Marsh, and the tiny nest of a blue-gray gnatcatcher, barely the size of a baseball, at Fabyan Forest Preserve. Every colorful bird is a marvel. At the top of a tree we spotted a male cardinal, scarlet red in all his glory, facing a Baltimore oriole in bright orange and black.
Now our stay here is ending, just as the goslings and ducklings are hatching. We saw a multi-mother flock of goslings on the Fox River, spreading out across the water as their mothers looked on. We must have gotten a bit too close, because one of the geese gave off a short sharp sound, and in seconds the group of more than 20 goslings merged into a single ball of fluff.
The brush along the trails has gone from a handful of gray sticks to a dense mat of green. There are wild phlox in little gaps in the trees and lining some of the picnic areas. The migrating birds have moved on toward Canada and the Arctic for the summer, leaving the permanent residents to raise their chicks, and often, to make another nest and do it all over again before fall arrives. We are moving on as well. Every day, I think about my family, and miss being able to visit them, and to hug each one. Instead, I am grateful for the company that nature has provided.
Clockwise from upper left: Eastern bluebird, Red-headed woodpecker, Swainson’s thrush, robin’s nest on our drainpipe, palm warbler.
Since the first day of spring, we’ve walking Lilac Park twice a week, watching the arrival of the flowers. At first there was snow that melted rapidly, then chilly wind that demanded layers, gloves, hats, and scarves that continued into April. Finally, warmer weather has crept in. Now that it’s mid-May, we’ve been through the blooming of daffodils, a profusion of tulips, and the big event, lilacs, arrived this week. The bushes of blooms smell wonderful, not too strong, and the colors range from white through many layers of pinkish and purplish to a few dark purple blooms. This is the height of the year in the garden, and very much worth a walk. We’ve never found too many people here, making it easy to visit. My first photos taken in March are at the top, and the photos from yesterday are at the bottom.
Welcome to this post on our current home in New Brighton, New South Wales. This is also my 500th post on Llywindatravels.com (Where does the time go?) Thank you for reading and joining me on our travels. I hope you’ll keep coming back.
It’s been just over five years since we retired and set out to see the world, and we’ve met our goal many times over. The places we’ve been, the people we’ve met, and our adventures! It’s been amazing over and over again. Just this morning we went birdwatching with Bird Buddies, a group based in the area around Byron Bay, NSW. Everyone was welcoming and friendly, and helped us see the birds that may be common to them, but were new to us. We had a wonderful morning ending with a tea break where the list of all birds seen was compiled, and general conversation shared. It doesn’t get better than that.
New Brighton is our last stop before returning to the US, and we know we’ll miss Australia. Our home here is situated between Gold Coast (the sixth largest city in Australia–who knew?) and Byron Bay, two hours drive south of Brisbane. Our street is bounded by an estuary on one side, and the beach on the other, with birds twittering all around us, yet we are five minutes from a shopping center. This house is small and comfortable, with objects from our hosts’ extensive travels all around us (India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Mexico, Morocco, and many other destinations). We have lunch on our picnic table overlooking the water when we’re home. Australian magpies and pied butcherbirds stop by to beg. We’ve had to shoo them out of the house. Our neighbor says they come in and stand in front of her fridge waiting for snacks!
There’s wildlife in the neighborhood, too. Flying foxes hang from the trees across the estuary during the day. They unfurl and flap into the night about a half hour after sunset. Apparently, pythons cross the walkway to the beach regularly, though we haven’t seen any. Near the Byron Lighthouse, and at Hastings Point, we’ve see whales breaching and blowing puffs of mist into the air. There are signs along the roads for koala crossings, though none have crossed in front of us–yet.
There are excellent farmer’s markets during the week. We go to the New Brighton farmer’s market down the street from our house on Tuesdays. The last apples of the season appeared this week, right on the solstice. It’s the shortest day of the year here in Australia, but the coldest it gets all winter in this region is about 60°F. during the day, sunny and beautiful. Except when it rains.
On Friday, we went to check out the farmer’s market in Mullumbimby, a few miles from here. It is a larger than our local market and was full of delicious things. There was a stall selling exotic fruit. We tasted Brazilian cherries, a tiny, tart fruit the color of a tomato, and we bought hybrid limes, a cross between a finger lime and a regular type.
The bread in this region has been excellent. We bought a loaf of seedy, whole wheat sourdough that will make delicious toast. The patisserie stall yielded croissants and eclairs for a mid-morning snack.
We’ve been to weekend markets, too, with vendors selling crafts of all kinds, snacks, and all kinds of food. There is always live music and lots of children running around while parents try to shop while chatting with their friends.
We’ve bought macadamia nuts, finger lime jam, meat, cheese, baguettes, dukka (nutty, seedy dipping mix), stuffed animals, pillow covers, and colored prints of tropical birds.
We’ve been on walks through the rainforest, along the beach, and through the woods. We’ve taken some of the walks in a book here at the house, “Byron Trails: 50 walking adventures in Byron Bay and beyond” (by Mairead Cleary). Well never run out of things to do, and won’t even come close to taking all of the possible walks. Each time we set out I think briefly about the impending end of our stay in Australia. Then I get caught up in the day, the sunshine, the woods, and the ocean.
One week is barely long enough to get an introduction to a place like Adelaide. We did our best, visiting Hahndorf, walking around historic Port Adelaide, tasting wine in the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, and visiting beaches, despite a bit of rain. The drought in South Australia is so bad that we can’t begrudge farmers what they need.
Our Airbnb in Sellicks Beach was a good outpost for exploration. We watched sunset from the second floor deck and listened to the flock of cockatoos twittering in the nearby pines.
We knew there was a lot of wine produced near Adelaide, but we had no idea how many wine regions are crammed into this relatively small area. We were very close to McLaren Vale, where we tasted wine at a couple of different places. We did the same in the Adelaide Hills, and of course, the Barossa Valley, perhaps the best-known of all. Some marvelous wine came to light. The more places we visited, the more suggestions we received about other wineries. So much wine, so little time!
We had some surprising wildlife encounters along the way. After looking for kangaroos and seeing a very few, we passed a field of them.
Even closer to home we passed a field of at least 1,000 Little Corella cockatoos. The birds were playing, fighting over sticks, all flocking together, waiting for the sunset (?).
We spent an afternoon in Hahndorf, a small town with many well-preserved stone houses. The area was started as a German Lutheran outpost and today is a lively tourist destination, full of shops and cafes. It makes a nice visit.
Historic Port Adelaide has a self-guided walking tour map that takes you past local stores and many large murals. I stopped to chat with a woman putting the finishing touches on hers. The community hosts muralists every two years and has just added another dozen in 2019. This area, so close to the downtown of Adelaide, makes me think of Fremantle. Port Adelaide may be the next hip community in South Australia. It looks up and coming, with lots of new housing and businesses opening.
On Saturday morning, we stopped at the Willunga Farmer’s Market, one of our favorites in all of Australia. The market had really lovely local produce. It’s not all food stalls and perfumed soap. When I commented to a woman about how much we enjoyed and appreciated the range of products, she told us the secret. Vendors are carefully vetted and get a stall based on a point system that rates whether all their products are local, whether their ingredients are local, foods made and cooked locally, with an effort to have everything that is sold there come from a maximum of 100 km away. The more local a product, the more likely the vendor is to get a space.
Willunga contrasted sharply with the other farmers market we visited. The Torrens Island market is a farmers market in an older sense of the word to my way of thinking. It’s a place where produce is sold at the end of the week (Saturday) and it consists of what is left over from wholesalers. We didn’t buy much, but the prices were about half what you’d pay at the grocery store, and much less than most farmers markets, as most have gotten very upscale in their pricing. Torrens Island is the opposite of boutique. It’s held on a scrap of raw land in an industrial zone that makes you happy to see other cars parked in the lot. Booths are stacks of crates, truck beds, and an occasional canopy. You can buy a coffee, but there are none of the food stalls that crowd out the merchandise at other markets. It’s a bare bones operation in a bare setting. Jonathan asked the people parked beside us what they planned to do with the crate of tiny potates they were loading into the trunk of their car. The man said, “We’ll eat some, give some away, and toss the rest. I couldn’t pass them up, they were only two dollars!”
Like all our other stops in Australia, there were gorgeous beaches. Sellicks Beach was our local, but we had a great visit to Port Elliot and to the beaches beyond on the barrier island at the mouth of the Murray River. We even saw a stubby lizard on the dunes.
With all our stops and strolls, I still feel there was a lot more to see and do in this area.
Taking advantage of lovely weather, we’ve been to Seven Mile Beach (where the weather changed), Nine Mile Beach (above, near Swansea), and today Lagoon Beach at the end of the Tasman Peninsula. The peninsula is a big hook, and at the end is the Lime Bay State Reserve. The road ends at a campground bordering the reserve. From there, a trail crosses to the west side of the peninsula at Lagoon Beach. It was an easy walk on a broad, sandy path to a beautiful beach. When the sun shone full on the sand, it looked like the Caribbean.
We picnicked among the dunes with a bit more blowing sand than is ideal, then strolled the shore looking at the seashells, the driftwood, the wombat poop. Wait! What! Yes, we recently read this article and as a result were able to identify wombat scat with 100% accuracy.
We didn’t see a live wombat, as they are mostly “crepuscular and nocturnal” (out at sunset and night). I think they would be afraid of us, but they are biggish (40-70 lb) and I wouldn’t want to get between a wombat and its destination.
We had a lovely walk and beach visit, and an encounter with a wombat’s neighborhood.
We found strange, brown cubes on the edge of the beach, and based on our recent scientific reading, realized that there are wombats living nearby! We didn’t see any, but we saw the undeniable evidence. (click below)
There are beautiful flowering trees this week in Lagrange. They bloom and fade so rapidly that I didn’t get a photo of many of the white pear trees that are widely used in landscaping. I love the pink flowering redbuds. This tree looks like it is dancing in the street.