Traveling, Cooking, Reading, and Trains

Date: May 30, 2019

We woke up to another beautiful, sunny day; we had homemade granola with yogurt and fruit for breakfast and were soon ready for our adventure. Carla and Linda found a tour of the rain forest and old homesteads around Lake Quinault. The small bus picked us up – along with about 10 other people – in front of the lodge. The bus was crowded. Each row sat three people but our back row had all five of our party crammed together. We switched places occasionally and took turns leaning forward to allow others to get shoulder room.

Rain Forest Tour Route

Our first stop was the largest Sitka Spruce Tree at the southern shore Lake Quinault. These type of distinctions are interesting. Up until a 2008 winter storm knocked it down, the world’s tallest Sitka Spruce was just off US Highway 26 near the Oregon Coast. When I first read the sign about the Lake Quinault tree I wondered if the state of Washington – or whomever gives out these awards – put this up after the Oregon tree went down. But then I realized there are two distinct measurements. This tree isn’t as tall as the Oregon tree was, but with a circumference of just under 59 feet it is the widest – or largest. At any rate, this tree is big. It took 13 campers plus a camp counselor and a belt to stretch around it.

World’s Largest Sitka Spruce. Quinault, Washington

As the bus moved down the road, our guide told stories about Sasquatch, or Big Foot, the cousin of the Yeti, or Abominable Snowman in the Himalayas. I was disappointed we didn’t see Sasquatch, but we did see the lesser known “Mossquatch”. Please pardon the reflection in the glass; we had to stay in the bus to get pictures because we were too scared to go out! 🙂

Mossquatch – South Shore RD Quinault, Washington

As we discovered the day before, rain forest means waterfalls. In this case Merriman Falls next to the South Shore Trail.

Merriman Falls along South Shore Trail; Lake Quinault, Washington

After a few stops to see some of the sites we crossed the river and headed back southwest on the North Shore Trail where we stopped at the Kestner Homestead – one of the original homesteads from the 19th century. There was plenty to see; starting with this big old tree.

Near Kestner Homestead. N Shore Road Lake Quinault, Washington

As we walked down the trail I was taken by the beauty of this old ranch. This location provided my favorite pictures of the trip.

Kestner Homestead, Lake Quinault

Out back sits an old rusting truck.

Kestner Homestead, Lake Quinault

And the old fenced pasture is a beautiful spot on a beautiful day.

Kestner Homestead, Lake Quinault

We climbed back aboard our little bus and soon reached our next to last stop at the ranger station. The station is closed due to budget cutbacks – don’t get me started – but the short hike was nice. I saw another berry and captured another closeup.

Near North Shore Road Lake Quinault, Washington

Before long we returned to the Lodge. We had a lunch of chips and sandwiches at the Mercantile store across the street from the lodge. Carla, Linda, and Kate went for a short hike; I rested and sat out on the Adirondack chairs on that beautiful lawn looking down at the lake. For dinner we headed a couple of miles down the road to a restaurant that featured salmon and trout. Delicious.

The next morning we had a 2+ hour drive up to Port Angeles to catch the noon ferry to British Columbia. After another quick breakfast in our room four of us hit the road north. Unfortunately for us Linda had to return home so be bid her a fond adieu; she is a great traveling companion.

More on that in the next post!

Trip date: May 29, 2019

Last Fall we visited Carla’s high school friends Kate, Don, Marie, and Brian. Both couples have places on the road to Yosemite and we got to stay with Kate and Don meaning we had a short trip to the National Park every day. This year we invited them up to the Northwest so we could show them around. Luckily, Kate and Don took us up on the offer. Carla planned a trip up to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. We spent a couple of nights in the Olympic Rain Forest and then went up to Victoria, British Columbia.

Overview of our late Spring trip with Kate and Don.

I admit to being anxious about the weather; the Olympic Rain Forest receives about 12 feet of rain per year on average. But we were very lucky: the weather report was for blue skies. We left early-ish on Wednesday, May 29 and got to the Lake Quinault Lodge in time for a hike.

The Lodge itself is spectacular with two big wings overlooking a large lawn and Lake Quinault.

Lake Quinault Lodge

We spent the afternoon hiking on the shoreline trail.

Boat dock at Lake Quinault Lodge

Our home town of Portland is a very green place. But this rain forest puts it to shame. Along the way I captured some pictures of vegetation along the trail.

Flowers on Lake Quinault Shoreline Trail

Shooting pictures of flowers without a tripod is tricky at best. I thought I had focused on the berry here, but obviously zeroed in on the leaf behind the berry.

Flowers on Lake Quinault Shoreline Trail
Flowers on Lake Quinault Shoreline Trail

Twelve feet of water a year means lots of water and we passed quite a few waterfalls.

Waterfall along Lake Quinault Shoreline Trail
Waterfall along Lake Quinault Shoreline Trail
Waterfall along Lake Quinault Shoreline Trail

Every so often along the trail there is a break in the vegetation allowing a view of the lake.

Lake Quinault From Shoreline Trail

After cleaning up a bit and cocktail hour in our rooms we went to dinner at the Lodge. We sat at a table that FDR (president in the late 1930’s and first half of the 1940’s) sat it on a trip out here. The lodge was built during the Great Depression by the Works Progress Administration.

Being so far north means the sun is up early and down late. Since the weather was marvelous we sat on deck chairs on the lawn and gazed at the lake and the mountains.

Lake Quinault from the Lodge lawn

By 10:00 it was getting chilly and dark, so we headed back to our rooms. On the way I grabbed a quick picture of the lodge at night.

Lake Quinault Lodge

Date: May 28, 2019

Our friends Kate and Don came up from California for a visit. The next day we headed out for a multi-date adventure – but more on that in future posts.

The weather was just perfect so we grilled some brats and ate on the deck. Earlier in the day as I was reading the paper I thought I saw something scoot by on the deck; and later, I saw some muddy foot prints on the deck – they didn’t look like cat tracks.

As we sat around the table chatting and swapping lies I saw some movement high up in one of the trees on the south end of the deck. I looked closer – “Hey, there’s a raccoon!” After staring at it for a bit I dashed in the house to grab my Sony RX10M4 with the big zoom lens.

Foraging Raccoon

S/He saw me and was a bit suspicious of my intent.

S/he spotted the spotter

So cute but so vicious. Check out those teeth.

Nasty teeth

Not the best picture, but it looks like he was eating the cherries on the tree.

Grabbing a cherry from the buffet

He kept his eyes on us for quite a while.

Watchfull raccoon.

Before long he had other concerns than us. A crow had spotted him and sounded the alarm. At least a dozen other crows joined in all cawing to beat the band. Some circled the tree, some sat on branches on the neighboring tree and some on branches just above him. It was amazing to see the crows work together like this.

The raccoon’s early dinner was over, he reluctantly crawled down a ways.

I’m keeping an eye out for signs of a nearby nest. Back in our last house we had a family under out deck and we had to have them humanely trapped and moved.

Last weekend Carla and I went to Boise to attend the wake for my good college friend Craig – The Chief – Eldridge. It was wonderful to spend and afternoon late into the night remembering our friend. Along the way, someone asked why I haven’t posted about cooking recently. Let’s rectify that today, shall we?

A few weeks ago I bit the bullet and bought a new Mak 2 Star pellet grill. I had one back in the day – 2011 to about 2015. It was fantastic at pulled pork, ribs, and brisket; but it just did not shine at grilling because it didn’t get hot enough; I got tired of cleaning up the mess; and I stressed out about it when cooking. My Weber gas and charcoal grills were great at the grilling, but I just wasn’t happy with the barbecue.

Last year Mak Grills changed their design which allows the temperatures to get hot enough to grill on. I went back through my cooking logs and blog posts; read on-line; and talked to the manufacturer and experts down in Dallas, Oregon to see if I could remediate the other two problems I had with it. I determined that if I liberally use aluminum foil – without blocking the air flow – the clean up would be easier. Since the new model gets much hotter the grease that isn’t caught in the foil would be cooked off at higher temperatures.

As for the stress, I figured out I was making myself crazy. My old cooking logs had columns for the set point, the temp the grill was reporting, and the temp from another probe. I think it was Lewis Carroll who said “A man with one watch knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never quite sure.” Stressing over the “actual” temperature was a fools errand. And especially now since the Mak thermocouple probe can be moved around, I’ve decided to set it and forget it.

I picked up the grill and my older son Jeff helped me put it together a couple of weeks ago.

Mak 2 Star in pieces
Mak body on the frame
Mak 2 star fully assembled.

This weekend I finally got a chance to try it out. I’m going to work through some recipes I’ve cooked on the gas and charcoal grills to determine if the Mak can hold up. Barbecued chicken thighs would be a good place to start.

I made a rub based on one Mike Vrobel at Dad Cooks Dinner created. Except I left out the salt. I also made a very quick BBQ sauce from that same recipe – except I heated it up to a low boil when mixing everything together.

Rub for the chicken

I changed the rub by not including the salt. Instead, I sprinkled some kosher salt on the trimmed thighs a few hours before cooking to dry brine them.

Dry brined chicken thighs.

Then 30 minutes before grilling them, I added the rub.

Rubbed chicken thighs.

It was time to set up the grill. The Maks have a “Flame Zone” where you can remove one or both of the covers to create a direct heat source. I uncovered the back half and laid some foil over the front half. Look closely at the back half of the grill and you’ll see a series of holes to allow better contact with direct flame.

Preparing the Mak Grill for cooking chicken thighs.

I then added an upper grate just a little higher than the foil to hold the chicken – similar to what you would do in an oven. A number of experts recommend this set up in that it allows for better air flow around the meat. Once the grill reaches 400° the chicken goes on.

Chicken started on the Mak 2 Star pellet grill

The grill chugged along nicely for 30 minutes.

Roasting chicken thighs on the Mak 2 Star

After 30 minutes the thighs were up to 175° internal temperature and coming along nicely..

Chicken thighs done (cooked through) but not ready.

At this point I removed the aluminum foil tray and transferred the thighs to the lower grate to grill them. I slathered some of Dad Cooks Dinner’s quick BBQ sauce and tossed some corn on the cob on the back.

Chicken thighs with BBQ sauce.

Because the sauce has sugar in it, it will burn if grilled directly over the heat for anything more than a few seconds. Using the indirect heat the sauce set nicely without burning. I removed the ready thighs to the warming box while the corn finished.

Chicken thighs into the warming box.

Dinner is served. A very simple dinner – chicken and corn – no salad as we would normally have. It was beautiful outside and after a few weeks of rain we didn’t want to spend any time inside preparing food.

BBQ Chicken thighs for dinner.

They were very good. Next time I’ll try bumping up the heat to 450° to get the skin a bit crisper. Often with pellet smokers the skin gets rubbery. These were not rubbery at all but could have been a bit more crunchy. Of course you can’t let it turn over to burned.

These were very good and tells me that t I may not need a gas grill any longer. I still have a few more recipes to try.

Visiting the kids and grandkids in Riverside, Illinois. After the kids went to bed there was still enough light to go trackside for half an hour. I was met by two roads that I hadn’t captured before.

Kansas City Southern leading an outbound freight through Riverside
Illinois Harbor Belt pulling a string of auto racks into Chicago

Work Song
Author: Ivan Doig
Type: Fiction
Finished: April 7, 2019
Rating: ★★★

Image from Amazon


This story is narrated by Morrie Morgan about 10 years after his time in Marias Coulee in The Whistling Season. After travelling to the Southern Hemisphere he is back in Montana.

“But an urge can spin the points of a compass as strongly as the magnetism of ore, and in spite of all that happened back then, here I was once more in the western territory at the very edge of the map of imagination.” [p 3]

He arrives in the midst of labor troubles, and, although he tries to stay neutral, he has to take a side.

“There is something in me that attracts situations, I know there is. Here I was, faced by three people with whom I had spent only forkfuls of time, asked to make one of those choices in life that can dwarf any other. I had to pick a side, right now, or else hit the chandelier switch again and bolt into the night.” [p 12]

So, Morrie once again is in the middle of things and has to navigate carefully through the minefield. A couple of the mine company’s thugs suspect him of bad intentions; he has to navigate his relationship with Grace, who is renting a room to him; and he has to tiptoe around his employer – the city librarian.

“The library ran on one principle: Samuel S. Sandison was next to God. Whether above or below, opinions varied.” ‘[p 83]

And through it all Morrie has to wonder if his past his catching up to him – which it does.

The novel is a fun enough read but seeing Morrie through the eyes of others – as in The Whistling Season – is more interesting than hearing him tell his own story. Like the other Ivan Doig novels I’ve read, the hero wins big in the end. But getting there is half the fun.

There are a couple of times in the novel where actions are nudged along without clear cause from with the story itself. For example, Morrie finds that Sanderson has a troubling past. He discovers this past from others but just as he does, Sanderson takes him aside and shares his side of the story. But Sanderson doesn’t know that Morrie knows and it isn’t clear why he opened up to Morrie.

There are interesting side characters such as his fellow renters Griff and Hooper. I especially liked the young “Russian Famine” a skinny, energetic errand boy. He doesn’t like his real name and to my delight we see how the term “nick name” came to be.

“‘Famine ain’t too bad. It’d be one of those nicked names, huh?’” [p 143]

At the end Morrie is off again; Sanderson muses on his experience with Morrie.

“‘One good thing about you, Morgan,’ he looked down hjis beard at me. ‘You don’t stick around long enough for a person to get sick of you.’” [p 287]

A fun novel, but I like The Whistling Season and The Bartender’s Tale better.

The Whistling Season
Author: Ivan Doig
Type: Fiction
Finished: March 28, 2019
Rating: ★★★

Image from Amazon

As the novel opens, Paul, who is now the Montana state superintendent of schools, returns to the one room school house he loved and reflects on his seventh grade year that propelled his course in life. Paul is the oldest of three brothers living on a Montana homestead near Marias Coulee in the first decade of the 20th century. His mother had died a few years earlier and one night his father’s attention is caught by an ad in the newspaper by a woman who is offering housekeeping services: “Can’t cook but doesn’t bite”. Thus they send for Rose. After wiring an advance to get to Montana from Minnesota, she unexpectedly shows up with her brother Morrie.

Their meeting at the depot was intriguing :

“In fact, I had noticed Father give a double look as if there must be more of her somewhere.” [p 31]

And of Morrie:

“He was lightly built, and an extraordinary amount of him was mustache.” [p 33]

After a somewhat uneven start Morrie winds up being Paul’s Latin tutor. Rose is a tireless worker and soon has the house in order even if she does refuse to cook. It is enjoyable to follow the family’s life for the year.  The novel centers on the homestead and that “nearby” one room schoolhouse with occasional trips out to the Big Ditch irrigation project. There are memorable characters here including the school bully Eddie Turley and his imposing father Brose. But mostly we are intrigued by Morrie and Rose’s background. Paul finds out more and more about them and finally pieces much of it together. This is Ivan Doig’s strength: slowly uncovering a mystery with some steps creating more questions than answers.

I’ve enjoyed my recent sting of reading novels about the western homesteads and small towns in the first half of the 20th century.  I enjoyed Doig’s The Bartender’s Tale but thought it leaned toward juvenile fiction in that the children were so clever and happy endings were handed out to everyone. In this novel we can guess much of what will happen. But not everything. The ending is more mixed, but much brighter –  and less realistic – than, say, The Tie That Binds by Kent Haruf which covers another homestead around the same time. But realism isn’t Doig’s purpose; I suppose I shouldn’t judge the book by comparing it to Haruf’s novels.

Regardless, Ivan Doig’s does bring that era to life. His prose is touching and keeps me coming back to his novels. I adore the adult Paul standing at the schoolhouse and looking around the prairie.

“Perhaps that pattern drew my eye to what I had viewed every day of my school life but never until then truly registered; the trails in the grass that radiated as many directions as there were homesteads with children, all converging to that schoolyard spot where I stood unnaturally alone. Forever and a day could go by, and that feeling will never leave me. Of knowing, in that instant, the central power of that countryt school in all our lives.” [p 120]

I recommend this novel as an entertaining read. I suggest starting with this before The Bartender’s Tale. Morrie’s adventures are detailed in a couple of Ivan Doig’s later novels including Work Song, which I will report on next.

Where You Once Belonged
Author: Kent Haruf
Type: Fiction
Finished: March 7, 2019
Rating: ★★★★

(Image from Amazon)

Although I read them out of order, I have now read all six of Kent Haruf’s novels about the fictional town of Holt, Colorado east of the Rockies. As the story opens, the town discovers that Jack Burdette has returned. Haruf’s beautiful prose perfectly captures him almost a decade after he left town.

“But Burdette looked bad now. In the eight years since Bird or any one of us had seen him he’d changed for the worse. He was fat now, obese; he was sloppy and excessive; his head had grown bald and the flesh hung on him like suet. ‘It was like’, Bird would say later, ‘like for eight years he’d be feeding on cream pie and pork steak and lately he hadn’t fed at all.’” [p 12]

The story is narrated by Pat Arbuckle who now owns the local newspaper. Arbuckle jumps back in time when they were kids and brings us up to date and why his return to small town Holt is such a surprise.  He was never a good student.

“Thus for eight years he was passed from one grade to the next, from one old local spinster or balding man to the next one, passing, being promoted each spring not so much by his own efforts with books and maps and pencils as by the absolute refusal of our teachers to have anything more to do with him.” [p 24]

Burdette grew up taking advantage of whomever he could without a second thought.

“For we had all begun to expect the unusual of him by that time, while, he, for his part, had already learned – if acting on bent and sheer heedless volition can be said to be a form of learning – not to disappoint the expectations of anyone. Least of all his own.” [p 40]

Because he was a star athlete he got away with it and received preferential treatment as he reached adulthood. That “sheer heedless volition” propels the action and explains why he left town.

This, Haruf’s second novel is more plot driven than his final novel Our Souls at Night. Through the action we learn as much about the narrator’s life as we do as the subject of the story. And we get another viewpoint into small town life out in the west.

Haruf creates rich, beautiful characters. Professional reviews of his novels exalt Haruf more than I can; the only thing I need to add is “read his novels!”  I suggest starting with Plainsong, then Eventide. Those two novels are among the best I’ve ever read. The older bachelor brothers in those two novels are so beautifully rendered they have stayed  in my mind for years. The Ties That Bind and this novel are also excellent.

Our Souls at Night
Author: Kent Haruf
Type: Fiction
Finished: March 3, 2019
Rating: ★★★★

One evening, the widow Addie goes over to her neighbor’s house to ask the widower Louis to consider something. After some hemming and hawing she gets to the point:

“I wonder if you would consider coming to my house sometimes to sleep with me.” [p 4]

But she isn’t talking about sex; she’s talking about not being alone.

“..I’m talking about getting through the night. And lyiing warm in bed, companionably. Lying down in bed together and you staying the night. The nights are the worst. Don’t you think?”

“Yes, I think so.”

And so, Louis does just that and they spend their nights talking and learning about one another. But this is small town Holt, Colorado – the fictional town Kent Haruf wrote about in six novels – and word gets around. The novel is a study of their growing relationship and the tides of public opinion. It’s a twist having an older couple being the subject of talk about an unmarried relationship. Talking with his daughter, Louis says “I never acted like a teenager. I never dared anything.” [p 52]

This is a beautiful novel – Haruf’s last – which he wrote after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Perhaps that realization lends to the quiet tone of the book. It is interesting to read his novels and get six different perspectives of small town life in rural, small town eastern Colorado. Haruf playfully recalls his other stories in small asides of this novel.

Kent Haruf was a fantastic author and this is a worthy read.