Sunday, February 13, 2011

One Week in America

Monday, October 18th, continued
Dahmen barn Uniontown, WA
     After a lovely breakfast of fried potatoes with onions, British bacon, eggs over easy, and homemade toast, we sat and chatted for several hours over tea and then headed out to Lewiston, Idaho.
     The Grand Canyon may be the widest canyon in the United States but Hells Canyon-- the deepest canyon in North America--is located about fifty miles south of my home. Dropping 8000 feet from Seven Devil's Peak in Idaho, the mighty Snake River slices though volcanic rock as it meanders back and forth from south eastern Washington through eastern Oregon and south western Idaho.
metal wheel fence, Dahmen barn
       We stopped to take pictures of the Dahmen Barn in Uniontown, Washington with its distinctive fence made from one thousand rusted metal farm wheels. A former dairy barn, it now housed artists in residence and their crafts. After stretching our legs we continued on across the far south eastern edge of the Palouse plateau towards the astonishing site of the Lewis-Clark valley and the gateway to Hell's Canyon where the Snake and Clearwater Rivers meet. 
Looking out over the Lewis-Clark  valley
   The Lewiston grade is a highway seven miles long traveling 2000 feet vertically from the bottom of the canyon to the Palouse at the top edge of the Columbia plateau. The view down the grade always takes folks by surprise the first time they see it.
 After stopping to shoot snaps of the panorama, we continued down into the canyon and drove along the Snake river.
     The afternoon sun was warm as the Snake river wound along to our left, separating Idaho on the far side, with Washington on the near side. Like the river, we too meandered back and forth across the two state lines. 
Buffalo Eddy, Snake River, W
    We passed through Asotin, Washington and continued fifteen miles further as the road decreased in width until it was barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass. Finally we reached Buffalo Eddy.
     At a bend in the Snake river an arm of rock juts out into the water on both sides slowing the water and creating eddies. This was a sacred place for the Nez Perce Indians who caught buffalo watering at this point, and marked the rocks with petroglyphs dating back 4,500 years.

Nez Perce petroglyphs 2010 © L. Biggs
Nez Perce petroglyphs 2010 © L. Biggs
We walked along a sand bar enjoying the wide river as it cut its way through a thousand feet of crystalline basalt rock reaching up for the brilliant afternoon sky.  Les and I clambered over the rocks and viewed the petrogryphs as fishermen maneuvered their boat in the river to fish for Steelhead and Sturgeon. We sat watching the river as late afternoon gave way to early evening, and a companionable silence rested between us.
     As we drove back to Pullman in the gathering dark, I enjoyed listening to Dear Sir's British accent. Not a posh public school accent, his came from growing up in Paddington, London. It was lovely--full of character and texture. I listened carefully to his voice with new ears. 
     We dined at a local Mexican restaurant where Les bravely tried unfamiliar foods like salsa, guacamole, refried beans, and burritos as we sipped Mexican beer.
     Back home, we chatted on the back deck under the stars as he rolled a cigarette and smoked thoughtfully. I stood wrapped in a thick shawl alongside, listening to the wild geese settling in for the night on the nearby lagoon as the late Indian summer evening spread across the rolling wheat fields. We parted with smiles each going to our separate ends of the house. We were definitely no longer strangers, but new friends at ease with one another. 
Tuesday, October 19th, 2010
     Another glorious blue sky day dawned through the gauze curtains of my room, spilling across the periwinkle sheets. Today was my fifty second birthday. I would not mention it to Les. His visit was my secret present to myself. I rose, slipped on a robe, and padded quietly out to the sitting room and settled into the swivel rocker by the large windows overlooking thousands of acres of wheat and lentils. Sitting silently with my eyes closed I breathed deeply, savoring the feel of my lungs pulling in air, the quiet of the house, and my secret happiness. 
guest room, Cloudhouse © L. Biggs
     "Happy birthday m'darling. Where am I taking you for dinner tonight?" My eyes flew open in surprise at the sound of Dear Sir's voice. He stood in the kitchen "just so;" the counter strategically placed so that I saw his smiling face, bare chest and arms, and below the counter appeared his naked thighs and calves. Well, Happy birthday indeed! I smiled to myself. 
     "How did you know it was my birthday?"
Looking into the Kitchen from the sitting room, © L. Biggs
     "I'll never tell. I've renewed your annual subscription to Waterways World. I'm off to shower." Laying a large, white envelope down on the counter, Dear Sir walked off at which point I could see clearly he was wearing crimson boxer shorts, the grey flannel bed sheet wrapped part way round his middle. The envelope contained a lovely birthday card.
     After respective showers we hopped in the car and drove to Dissmores grocery in Pullman for lattes. I can make a fine pot of tea but coffee is not my forte and Les was in the mood for a cup of joe. After some consideration he chose a caramel machiatto which--owing to our American accents which we all think we do not have--Les had difficulty pronouncing. We purchased sandwiches, fruit, and drinks, and cruised north on highway 27 to Kamiak Butte. 
Kamiak Buttte trail, 2010 © L. Biggs
     It was a weekday morning and while most of the rest of the world was working we had the park to ourselves. Chipmunks chittered at us from the undergrowth as we hiked leisurely up the path. I noticed as we climbed that Les paced himself to my short legs and small feet. For the first time in my life I was not struggling to walk fast in order to keep up with someone else. 
     At the trail ridge we stopped and watched a red tailed hawk ride invisible thermals upward in spirals out over the wheat fields below. Crickets sang their summer song in the dry ale colored grass, and a gentle wind ruffled the long needles of the lodgepole pines, their sun warmed bark scenting the air with resin. We were alone with the view, and it felt as though we were two alone in all the world. 
     Les seemed pleased by it all. He took snaps and stood enjoying the quiet and peace of nature with me. I was struck by how comfortable and at ease we were in each other's company. It felt as though we had known each other for years. Hiking upward we found a good boulder and fallen log upon which to lunch, and talked while we ate.
     "What's that over there?" Les pointed off to the left toward a clump of dry grasses about fifty feet away. I couldn't see anything distinctive at such a distance. We walked over and he knelt down. There in the grass was a praying mantis clinging to a blade of dried plant material the same faded blonde color as its shell.
Praying Mantis, 2010 © L. Biggs
      Les gently coaxed the strange stick insect onto the arm of my black jacket to snap a picture, gently lifting it in his hands and placing it back into the grasses. I was touched and amazed by Dear Sir's attention to detail. His far sight was impressive. He noticed everything and what's more he took the time to consider the world and the things he noticed, giving it all his full attention. Les treated people the same way. 
     "Well, have you decided where we will dine m'dear?" His voice too has a resinous quality like the sun warmed air around us. I nodded and smiled and we hiked back down to the car, and headed home for a cuppa. 
      After our afternoon tea I declared dinner at Swilly's would be lovely. "Swills" as Pullmanite's called it, is a local concern, serving excellent food in an intimate atmosphere. Another afternoon slid by into dusk as we repaired to our opposite ends of the house to clean up and change for dinner.
     Les sat in front of the fire in a swivel rocker dressed in dark dress trousers, buttoned down shirt and sweater, his black leather shoes shined in the firelight. His aftershave lingered in the air. He looked up at me and his eyes widened appreciatively. "You look lovely."
     It had been decades since a man looked at me like that--admiringly. His voice was sincere and so was his smile. Our glances held for a long moment and then he took my arm and helped me on with my sweater.
     At the restaurant we ordered fillet Mignon in a burgundy reduction sauce with mashed Yukon Gold potatoes, haricot vert in a butter glaze, and baby salad greens with the house dressing. The evening was lovely and I enjoyed the pleasure Les took in his meal. We drank a pint of Mac 'n' Jack dark brew with our dinners, and lingered over dessert amongst the white twinkling lights in the windows. 
     At home we each changed into less formal attire and sat talking and laughing until the wee hours, discussing narrow boats and canals. It was one of the best birthdays of my life, spent in the comfortable presence of a friend from afar.
 Wednesday, October 20th, 2010
Front room, Cloudhouse © L. Biggs
     We puttered around the house eating a leisurely brunch, going through canal mags and papers Les brought for me, and discussing my plans in earnest. I showed him Google Earth with the canals mapped out in different colored stick pins for each line. We reviewed my drawings of boat plans. At one point Les turned to me, his brown-green eyes intense with feeling and said, "You've really got it bad haven't you? I mean, I expected to visit a lady with some interest in boats and canals, but you've really done a lot of research on both and you are serious about moving over there and living on a boat, yeah??
     "I am Les. It is where my heart lies and where I want to live. This--oddly enough for an American--is my dream, and I am going to make it happen."
     Things changed subtly between us with our conversation. We talked about cancer, his experiences losing someone to it and my experiences fighting it, and my discomfort with air travel. Les invited me to visit him and stay aboard NB Valerie. We dressed for dinner and drove out to Chrisi and Keith Kincaid's farm in thoughtful quiet as dusk fell around us. 
     The evening with the Kincaid's was lovely. Chrisi and Keith had planned a regional cuisine consisting of local beef steaks grilled to perfection, mashed baby potatoes with garlic and butter, asparagus, a delicious salad of baby greens, pear, pecans, and vinaigrette dressing, with fresh apple crisp for dessert. The food was paired with local wines.
     We sipped vino with Chrisi, Keith, Chrisi's mom Sandy, and Keith's mom Sue. We laughed and talked about travel, narrow boats, and a wide array of topics. Everyone but me had traveled western Europe widely.
     At one point Les said, "I've invited Jaqueline to come over and visit and stay on the boat to see if she would like it, but I don't think she will fly over." As Dear Sir looked at me, his eyes turned dark and turbulent,  a note of somber regret in his voice. I was completely taken aback at the serious turn our discussion had taken. I excused myself to use the powder room.
     While I was in the bathroom, Chrisi, Keith, Sue, and Sandy reassured Les they would work on me and convince me to travel to England for a visit with him.
     Thursday, October 21st, 2010
     I rose early, a woman on a mission. Women & Wine was tonight and I had a lot to do to get ready. After we breakfasted on poached eggs on homemade toast with bacon and tea, Les settled into my office to check his email and his blog. 
      I vacuumed, dusted, plumped pillows, chilled wine, and baked a chocolate Kahlua Bundt cake; whipped up some smoked salmon dip, and Boursin for the evening's events.
office with both computers set up; © L. Biggs
     While I had been busy cooking, cleaning, and prepping for the evening, Les set up the laptop on one desk with a video of his travels though locks and canals, while on my computer he loaded still shots mixed with video of the interior of NB Valerie.  He had thoughtfully set up a virtual tour of his boat and his travels for my guests.
     Sandy Field arrived early bringing two boxes of wine glasses and we began to set up as the three of us chatted. Soon women began arriving and my home filled with the delightful sound of women's voices talking and laughing. Each guest brought a bottle of wine and an hor d' oeuvre to share. 
      Vino poured joyously into glass goblets; Les held his own with ease and comfort, impressing me once more with his ability to feel at home wherever he was, making others feel comfortable as well. He was just himself, chatting, laughing, and having a good time with my friends. He showed them the narrow boat and canal tour set up on the computers in my office, and fielded questions from the fascinated women. Eventually we settled around the fire in the sitting room and the kitchen bar, laughing, nibbling at plates of delicious savories, sipping a variety of wines. A very good time was had by all and the evening was a smashing success. 
     Later--to a person--each woman shared her perceptions of Dear Sir with me. All were impressed by his genuineness, warmth, and great sense of humor. Sandy Field said she noticed that Les' eyes followed me all evening. She smiled at me gently, and left me with a great deal of food for thought.
Friday, October 22nd, 2010
     The lovely spell of unseasonably warm weather brought by Dear Sir began to fade. Dawn opened with partly cloudy skies thinning the sun. We rose early, met in the kitchen, and drove to Moscow, Idaho where we picked up lattes at One World Cafe and ordered freshly baked pastries from Wheatberries bake shop next door.
     I took Les on a tour of the Moscow Food Co-Op and we walked along the sidewalks peering into shop windows. Again I was struck by his warmth, the way he noticed small details others overlooked, and how content he was to stop and consider what he had seen.  We laughed at our synchronization as he slipped reading glasses on to see up close, and I took my glasses off to do the same.
     Saving the best for last, we trooped into Hodgins Drugstore to purchase American toys for Les' eight grandchildren. He was totally gobsmacked with delight at their huge collection and we spent two and a half hours playing with toys, laughing, and teasing each other as we collected an ever growing pile on the counter, carefully considering the ages and tastes of each child. In this way I got to know them all even though I'd never met them.  I was touched by his desire to find just the right things for each person.
     Amongst all the toys we amassed was a squeezy rubber lamb with eyes that popped out on stalks when it was squeezed. It also bleated, "Baaah, baaah" at the slightest touch, making us both giggle.
     Toys bundled and bought we wandered down the sidewalk and sat on a bench in front of Bucer's pub while Les rolled a smoke. We sat close in comfort with one another watching people come and go.
     Out of Bucer's wandered a young thing in a very short, tight skirt which she kept yanking down with one hand, while attempting to walk in shoes with three and half inch heels.  Les' eyes thoughtfully followed her as she made an effort to walk in her tight skirt and stiletto heels. I seized the moment to make a bawdy joke and watch his reaction. 
     "I call those f*** me shoes." He opened his green-brown eyes wide in surprise at me and looked down the sidewalk as Young Thing teetered along.
     "Why do you call them that?"
     "Well it's obvious to me they are not made for walking. You wouldn't catch me in shoes like that unless I was flat on my back with my feet over my head." Dear Sir's face cracked open with a huge grin and he roared with a belly laugh that filled me with giddy delight. I loved the sound of his laughter.
     We visited the Wine Company of Moscow next where I witnessed his particular brand of laid bad back British charm at work. It was ten minutes until opening as we stood looking in the window. The owner spotted us and cracked the door asking,"Do you mind waiting another few minutes? We aren't quite ready for customers yet." Les replied in his British drawl, "Not at all mate--we're happy to wait."
  At the sound of Dear Sir's English accent the proprietor's face unfolded into a friendly smile; "no need to wait--come on in!" Yet another American fell under Dear Sir's spell, and we were welcomed inside where we tasted several locally grown and made wines.
    Afterward, on the sidewalk again, Les commented on how friendly and helpful the shopkeepers and staff had been throughout his visit. 
     "It's not that way back home I can tell you." I chuckled inwardly, thinking It's not that way here either--unless you are a beguiling Englishman with a lovely British accent. I told him so and Les stopped to consider. 
     He shrugged off my comment with "Nah, your staff are just friendlier and more willing to help." I nodded and smiled because he could not see himself the way I saw him. He cast spells of delight whenever he spoke. It wasn't just Dear Sir's accent--it was also his demeanor. Totally comfortable in his own skin, he put everyone around him at ease instantly. There were no pretensions with Les.
     Walking back toward the car, we spotted a fire engine ladder track parked on the curb down the street. I suggested we snap a picture for his grandson Kiernan and we set off to the car to deposit our bags of toys and goodies. 
     As we watched, the ladder truck started up, backed up, and disappeared off the street! We strolled down to where it had been parked and found a fire station tucked into the brick store fronts. It was wash day for the rigs. I introduced myself and Les. He explained he was visiting from England and his grandson was mad for lorries and trucks. Could we take a picture of the ladder truck?
     Once more Dear Sir's British magic worked its subtle charm and we were invited inside for a tour of the station and the trucks. The firemen chatted with us for fifteen minutes and even invited us to come back in the morning to their pancake feed! Snaps taken and thanks offered, we walked back to the car and headed for home.
     As we drove, a curious thing occurred in the back seat. With the tiniest bump of the car on the road the pop eyed lamb "baahed" insanely reducing us both to hysterical fits of laughter.  We had carried it around for hours without a peep--now it wouldn't shut up. 
     At home we shared a dinner of leftovers, and piled all the toys on the counter. I suggested we make a pile for each child and handed Les a marking pen to label the tags with each kid's name. After an hour we had them sorted, with my favorite toy--the pop eyed lamb--going to his granddaughter Kiera. 
  I tossed a load of his clothes in the wash so he could return home with everything clean. He began to gather his things and pack. I could not fathom how he would manage to fit all his new purchases into his already overburdened suitcase, but Les was confident he could make it work.  Eventually he pulled the zipper all the way round. As we walked away and switched off the guest room light a muffled "baaah" sounded from his suitcase and we were reduced to giggling fits once more. 
     "Les, if that happens when you are going back through Heathrow, British customs officials are going to pull you aside and tell you they don't allow farm animals into the country; then they will search your bag for the offending mutton."  This set off another bout of laughter.
     We settled in the swivel rockers, and Dear Sir asked, "What kind of sense of humor do you have?"
     "I have a fairly bent sense of humor Les; very little offends me and I love to laugh." He pulled his cell phone out his pocket and proceeded to read jokes his friends and family had sent to him. His delivery was impeccable and I laughed so hard I was reduced to tears.    
October 2010, Cloudhouse, Pullman, WA © L. Biggs
     Now that I knew we shared the same range of humor, I asked Les if he had seen anything of American comedian Robin Williams.  He said he thought so--but wasn't real familiar with his stand up comedy.
     We spent our final evening watching Robin Williams Live on Broadway. Settled onto the couch side by side, we experienced two hours of side splitting, bawdy, irreverent laughter. Gasping, guffawing, giggling, and nearly rolling off the couch, Les threw his head back and laughed from his belly with his whole body. The sound of his laughter warmed my heart. 
     We parted for the night relaxed and happy in each other's company--huge grins on our faces. In the back of my mind was the knowledge of how much I would miss Les when he was gone.


  1. It's easy to see that this is becomming serious!

    Les is only half right about our miserable shop keepers.. You see when you come to visit this country of ours the shop keepers will behave much better to you because you are an American..

    It happens!

    So those crimson boxer shorts were not f*** me boxers then?

    Sheesh I hope I have got your sense of humour about right Jaqueline or I won't get this comment published!!

    Hey, very much enjoying your writing.. keep it up. :)

  2. LOL--For sure Sue you figured out my sense of humor. Great minds run in the same directions. Those were not F*** Me boxers THEN. Etc. Etc. etc.
    Jaq and Les XX

  3. The two of you make a beautiful couple Jaq! I am so so happy for you both! (And don't kid yourself girl - what he does for you - you are doing for him too!) Thrilled to see pictures of your house too! I remember your talk on finding the perfect color paint - and you were right! I was surprised it is so contemporary! Not an afghan or Tiffany lamp in sight!
    Many more smiles to you and Les!

  4. You have found your soul mate!!!!! YES YES YES!!!! Cheers from California...can you hear me? Love Debra

  5. I am so enjoying your blog posts. So much shows through the beautifully described detail, and because I feel as if I am watching your face as the prose speaks to me, I can see just what warm fires burn in you. This is delicious, Jaqueline. Please keep posting.


  6. so when is the wedding going to take place and in what county??
    Kim Finley

  7. Thanks everyone for your support and encouragement of Les and me, and our story. I enjoy writing it and I am so happy all of you enjoy reading it and following along on our adventure.
    Big hugs!

  8. Kim,
    Keep reading along; announcements will be made at the appropriate point in the story.