If we survive long enough, we experience moments of awareness that we’re living through history. For our parents, it was Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima. For my generation, it was the Kennedy assassination.
I was in high school history class, ironically, when we learned Kennedy had died from gunshots to the head. Miss Rudnicki was skinny, gangly, with bucked teeth and bad skin. She was a stern teacher and, I thought, heartless. As she dictated quiz questions on the previous night’s reading, a chapter I hadn’t read, an announcement came over the intercom that the President was dead. Miss Rudnicki stopped the quiz, put her head down on her desk, and wept. School was canceled for the day. I don’t recall other details except being home and watching events unfold on our small TV screen. But a thousand times I’ve relived the scene of Miss Rudnicki crying, and I never neglected another homework assignment for her class.
Twenty years ago, we lived history again when planes crashed into New York’s Twin Towers and Washington’s Pentagon. I was in high school then, too, teaching English in Vermont. As with the other events, there was a sense that we were in a dream from which we would awaken at any moment. Watching the news on the big screen in the school auditorium felt more like playing a video game than witnessing the reality of the attack.
In front of a Vermont police station, citizens of the town erected a rusted section of one of the tower’s beams as a memorial to the three thousand who died in the attack. That bent metal is testament to the reality of the 9-11 event. I’ve visited the warehouse in Dallas from where Lee Harvey Oswald fired the fatal bullet. I’ve stood on the grassy knoll and looked for the mysterious man on the railroad tracks. I may not know who actually killed Kennedy, but visiting Dallas convinced me that his death was not fabricated.
As the nation acknowledges these historical events, I realize that the past could repeat itself in some form at any moment. What’s important to remember is that history is happening all around us—no video games, no doctored images on a screen, no fantasy of some demented mind, but reality.
Prepare for the worst and hope for the best, Maya Angelou said. I’d add that the worst is bound to happen, but I’m focusing every breath on expecting the best.
A year ago, wanting to lose weight and get into better shape, I started running. My rural Vermont town is nestled at the foot of a mountain, and roads are either uphill or down. Each day I ran a little farther until I made it to electric pole #19 at the top of the first steep hill. I knew people jogged into their 80s, a decade away for me, and I planned to keep at this exercise thing to challenge my aging body.
One evening after a run I was showering and noticed a tiny red tick on my shoulder. Even without my reading glasses I could see little legs wiggling on a body that appeared headless. Ticks excrete an anesthetic at the point of entry to dull the bite and help them avoid detection so they can feed. I hadn’t felt the bite, but the skin around this tick’s legs was red and sore.
I got out of the shower and called my husband into the bathroom to pull the creature out. He used tweezers and managed to grab the body, but the head broke off and stayed under the skin.
“You should go to the ER,” he said.
That evening at the hospital the doctor dug out the tick’s head. The nurse gave me two Doxycycline pills and advised, “That should take care of any Lyme.”
When I told a Kentucky friend about the tick, she said one had crawled up her pants leg and burrowed into the back of her thigh without her knowing. It must have feasted on her for three days because by the time she flicked it off, the critter was engorged and skittered across the floor in search of a safe hideaway to digest her B-positive.
We live by the Green Mountain National Forest, but I had never seen ticks on our property. Where had I picked up my hitchhiking vampire?
Ticks can live for three years without eating while they wait for a juicy host. Imagine being so ravenous that you bury your head in your dinner. I could do that with ice cream. Or chocolate.
I’d been wanting to clear an area thick with ash saplings and wild honeysuckle and instead plant evergreens to screen our neighbor’s house. Her dog had picked up ticks there, but I had sprayed the area and hoped I’d killed all the little beasts—or at least chased them away. I girded myself with long pants tucked into my socks, long sleeves, gardening gloves, and bug spray and spent an afternoon clipping brush and settling young spruce trees into their new home. If I’d encountered a tick, I hadn’t noticed.
Our house sits at the edge of acres of thick woods. We’ve seen moose, bear, coyotes, foxes, and the ubiquitous white-tailed deer that munch my hosta and phlox. My gardens are a midnight candy shop for deer families, and most spring and summer mornings I wake to stubs of hosta plants. For Mother’s Day, my daughter-in-law gave me perennials that needed planting—Jacob’s ladder, bleeding heart, hens and chickens, and other garden plants. I covered up and spritzed myself with a deet spray. Dividing the baby plants between two gardens, I took my time to compost and mulch around them. When I came in for lunch, I was pretty proud of how the gardens were filling out with poppies, iris, and peonies.
As I was eating my sandwich, I felt a tickle on my neck. I reached and found a moving lump—a large black tick searching for soft skin to plumb with its corkscrew head. It appeared white-tailed visitors had been depositing their bloodsuckers in my gardens. I was under attack.
There are 850 species of ticks around the world, ninety of which are found in the U.S. Hard-shell ticks are found in wooded and grassy areas like where I live. Brown dog ticks found in the western U.S. transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted fever, symptoms of which are similar to Lyme, but the western bacteria is potentially fatal. Blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks, carry the Lyme bacteria as well as the babesiosis parasite and anaplasmosis, which can cause severe illness or death if not treated.
My gardens require constant attention in the spring, and a few days later when I came in from weeding, what appeared to be a deer tick crawled across my shirt. I found a third clinging to my towel when I emerged from the outdoor shower. Had it lain in wait on the post by the shower stall, or had I brushed the towel against a plant on which the vermin perched? How clever these beasts to anticipate the towel eventually would be against my naked skin, the skin it planned to violate on a tender spot of flesh pulsing with blood.
Each of a tick’s eight legs is equipped with a sharp claw that allows it to cling to fur, hair, cloth, and skin. I tried shaking the towel, to no avail. The tick was not letting go. Normally I wouldn’t touch a tick, but this one had overstepped its bounds. It wasn’t playing fair. I grabbed and pulled in order to release it from the soft cotton loops.
The body of a tick excretes a fluid that hardens around it, like a crab shell. Scientists call it a scutum. The only way I could think to kill my towel traveler was to smashed it against a tabletop with the edge of a glass bottle. I used the bottle that held tick spray.
I have since learned not to squish ticks. If they carry Lyme, the bacteria can be released and do as much harm as a bite. It’s better to flush the tick down the toilet or burn them, as we did when I was growing up in Virginia. Each summer evening my mother checked my brother and me for ticks after we’d been rolling in grass and tromping through nearby woods. If she found one, which she invariably did, she squeezed it into a balled-up tissue and set the tissue afire with her cigarette lighter. We liked listening for the pop indicating the danger had been exterminated.
When I flipped over the creature I had just killed, I saw how the legs were attached to its pale belly in perfect symmetry, each leg positioned to move in synchronicity with the others.
What marvelous and terrible machinery!
Ticks are not insects but are small arachnids, like spiders and scorpions. They don’t jump or drop from trees onto their hosts (thank goodness). Instead, they use what’s known as questing where one will perch at the tip of a blade of grass or the stem of a bush, waiting to sense carbon dioxide, body heat, or vibrations. Extending its front legs, the tick waits for a host to brush the vegetation and quickly latches on.
A tick’s brain is not located in its heads but in the abdomen. Although, brain isn’t the right word. Ganglia is attached to the abdominal nerve cord, acting as a thought organ. The tick knows only two things—eat and breed.
One warm day I had an urge to walk down the driveway for a visit with our neighbor Nancy. She mows her lush lawn to the edge of beautiful gardens abloom with color. For decades we’ve been best friends. In the field that separates our properties, we mow a wide swath of grass as a path between us.
Since I was sticking to the mowed area, I thought it safe to wear shorts and a loose tee shirt. Nancy served tea and cookies, and we had a good chat. On the way back, I checked the young evergreens I’d planted. Noting that the long grass around them, I reminded myself to get the mower out the next day. For now, I tiptoed through the grass quickly, stopping only long enough to satisfy myself that the trees were sprouting candles, a signal of their health. My lilac bush was bursting with purple blossoms, and I wiggled into its branches to snap off enough flowers to fill a vase.
I had taken to showering after being among the plants but this time I didn’t bother before dinner, thinking I had been prudent in avoiding my nemesis. Before bed, I stripped down for my nightly cleanse and found the dreaded wiggling legs protruding from my stomach. I hadn’t realized I’d been bitten, although bite is not exactly the word. The head was embedded under the ski, and the tick was enjoying a feast of my blood.
I called for my husband to bring the special tick tweezers he’d bought after my tick incident the previous year, and he extracted the arachnid and sent it down the sink drain.
“We should have saved it,” I said, “to test it for Lyme.” But too late. I comforted myself with the statistic that only black-legged ticks carry Lyme and at most only half of those have the bacteria. What color were my dinner guest’s legs? I wasn’t sure—another reason to save the tick.
Male ticks eat very little but hang onto a host until a female arrives. While she dines, he mates with her. Female ticks must drink blood in order to produce eggs, a thousand at each laying. After several weeks, the eggs will produce nearly invisible and ravenously hungry seed ticks. In the nymph stage, a deer tick is the size of a speck of ground pepper. So tiny, they are difficult to detect and often the victim is unaware of having been bitten.
The female may lay up to five thousand eggs in its two-year lifespan.
The spot where Harry removed my girl tick at first looked like a small red hole. An hour later, a dark ring surrounded the wound. Not a red ring, I thought—no problem.
A few weeks later I felt itchy. When I inspected, I found a red rash on my chest, my breasts, and my stomach. The rash lingered for a few days, so I called my doctor. She ordered a blood test for the next day, a Friday. I had stopped running—I was just too tired. Any activity sent me for bed rest before I could drag myself up to make dinner. I was back in bed by eight o’clock. And I started having headaches and dizziness.
I wouldn’t have the blood test report until Monday and tried not to worry. Over the weekend, I assured myself the test result would be negative.
On Monday morning, the email arrived. There it was—in bright red letters, bold face, highlighted in yellow, followed by an exclamation mark: POSITIVE!
I stared at the word in disbelief. Then I closed my eyes. There had to be a mistake. Advanced Lyme can cause encephalitis, meningitis, autoimmune disorders, facial paralysis, arthritis, personality swings, heart palpitations—and the list goes on. For years, a friend has battled Lyme and babesiosis. The parasites lodge in the red blood cells causing pain, anemia, blood clots, unstable blood pressure, and organ failure.
When I looked again at the email, the word was still there—POSITIVE! My life is over, I thought. I was condemned, issued a death sentence. Or worse—a permanent disability.
The life cycle of the Lyme bacteria renders it undetectable except at certain stages of development, but my blood test was positive for antigens of Lyme bacteria. What did that mean?
My doctor was not surprised by my test results, having seen a significant rise in the number of Lyme cases this summer. In fact, the Bay Area Lyme Foundation reports 400,000 cases of Lyme in the U.S. each year, but the actual number may be much higher because so many people have Lyme without knowing it. As for my blood test, the doctor explained that the IgG result measures immunoglobins indicative of antibodies battling diseases. My antibodies had been battling Lyme bacteria for some time.
“How long is ‘some time?’” I asked.
“Up to a year,” she said.
I’d had Lyme for a year and not known it? How was that possible?
The doctor prescribed a two-week regimen of the antibiotic Doxycycline, 100 mg twice a day. The Doxy made me nauseous unless I took it after eating, but crystallized ginger and probiotics helped. The pharmacist recommended a dose of 85 billion probiotics to replenish the good gut bacteria that the antibiotic would kill along with the bad bacteria. At night I took liquid drops of a natural stress reliever to help ease my fears and bring on sleep.
After two weeks of the antibiotic, I felt my energy returning. I’ve gotten out of shape in the last year, but I’m starting out again with long walks on those hilly roads. The good news is the increased demand for a Lyme preventive has prompted action from pharmaceutical companies. Pfizer has shown promising results in phase 2 trials for antibodies that neutralize Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme. The next phase will be introduced next year, and FDA approval may come in 2024.
With warming temperatures and a ballooning tick infestation, do we have time to wait? That’s three springs in our gardens and our woods with newly-hatched tick babies that mean to do us harm. And a vaccine will not keep ticks from biting. Maybe the focus should be on making ticks sterile so they don’t reproduce because whether I get Lyme again or not, I’m not crazy about the idea of having an eight-legged vampire sucking blood from my belly—or anywhere else on my body.
My young adult novel BESIDE THE LONG RIVER is now available for preorder. Here’s the scoop: In the early seventeenth century, Puritan teenager Sarah Lyman realizes the leaders of English settlements will destroy anything in the way of their expansion in the New World, including wolves –and Indians. When Sarah discovers the rules in Massachusetts Bay Colony are even stricter than in England, she joins her family in following Thomas Hooker to establish the city of Hartford. Sarah figures in Connecticut she might be able to dress and act as she wants without fear of punishment. But Pequot Indians edging close to the town’s borders must be eliminated, even though Sarah has made friends with a native girl and falls for her brother, the brave Ayaks. Dressed as a boy, Sarah enlists with the English infantry marching to Missituck (Mystic) in hopes of stopping the massacre of the Pequot tribe and the man she loves. Beside the Long River is based on historical people and events, including the brutal and bloody Pequot War of 1636. Available for preorder NOW and ONLY at https://www.blackrosewriting.com/historicaladventure/besidethelongriver. If readers purchase Beside the Long River prior to the publication date of January 6, 2022, they may use the promo code: PREORDER2021 to receive a 15% discount.
In early spring of 2004, when Howard Dean was running for President, my husband Harry sat on the front porch of our Vermont house with a glass of beer and talked about Howard’s younger brother Charlie. Harry had met Charlie in 1968 when they were students at St. George’s School in Newport, Rhode Island. There were only two hundred students in the boarding school—all boys—and they knew each other well.
Harry had told me about visiting a farm commune some friends had started in Australia. Three friends had dropped out of college—Harvard, Yale, and University of Denver—during protests against the Vietnam War. They traveled in Kenya and drove the coast of Australia. On York Peninsula they purchased 460 acres of land and started a farm commune they dubbed Rosebud.
Harry and Charlie finished college—Harry at Harvard and Charlie at UNC—and in 1973 they joined their friends at Rosebud Farm. After six months of tilling fields, fertilizing with chicken manure, and lots of partying, Harry headed back to the U.S. and Charlie traveled in Southeast Asia, planning the join the Peace Corps the following year.
Although U.S. troops had left Vietnam and Cambodia, Laos was still at war. While Charlie and an Australian friend were traveling on a Mekong riverboat, members of the communist Pathet Lao ordered the boat to dock. Charlie took a picture—his big mistake. For three months he and Neil were held in a rainforest prison camp. In December 1974, they were both executed.
Harry finished his story, put down his beer, and disappeared into the house. He returned with a shoebox filled with letters from Charlie, written from Bangkok and Cambodia, and a journal covered in red leather. I leafed through pages barely holding onto the binding after thirty years and found an almost daily accounting of those days in Australia.
I had met Howard when he was governor of Vermont and when I tracked him down on the campaign trail, he gave me permission to tell his brother’s story. Harry’s journal entries and Charlie’s letters reveal vulnerable young men trying to find themselves. Their privileged families gave them the means to travel the world, buy a large parcel of land, build a 54-foot sailboat, and know that they would never have to be chained to a desk or to scramble for a living. They had the freedom to explore and take risks. But with risks come mistakes born of youthful exuberance. Mistakes must be paid for, and Charlie paid the dearest price.
When I was growing up, supper always centered around meat—Sunday roast, skirt steak pounded into tender submission and suffocated in gravy, meatloaf, pork chops fried crispy in Crisco, breaded chicken also Crisco-fried. My fingers were always greasy.
When I moved away for college, I gave up meat—except for Thanksgiving turkey—and subsisted on stir-fried veggies and rice, flavorless tofu, hearty winter squash, and lots of peanut butter on whole grain bread.
Later, I married a meat-eater and went back to consuming mammals although my husband chided me when I ate the vegetables first and left half the gristle on the plate. I coaxed him toward seafood as a compromise, and he prepared luscious stuffed shrimp and blackened swordfish.
After we divorced, I went back to salads and squash. My second husband is happy with a bowl of buttered pasta although he enjoys a fat burger when we eat out. We eat out a lot.
A dilemma arose when my doctor checked my bloodwork and declared me deficient in protein. I had an aversion to methane-producing beef, considering them four-legged cholesterol-producing bovines, and ate more almond butter and leafy greens.
But the greens and nut butter weren’t enough to spike my protein level. Then a friend sent me a link to a company that farms and sells insects for consumption—mealworms, too.
I’ve read that insects are a staple food in some countries—ants, cockroaches, even roasted grasshoppers and crickets. But I get queasy about the thought of eating bugs of any kind.
The Huffington Post reported that a composer recorded the sound of evening crickets. When he slowed down the recording on playback, what he discovered is that slow crickets sound like a resonant human chorus of voices as if singing in a cathedral. As a girl, I caught crickets and let them crawl over my hands. How in the world could anyone eat such sweet creatures?
The Ontario company, Entomo, touts insects as the next superfood. “Cricket powder is a complete protein, boasting all 9 essential amino acids, is high in B12, fibre, iron, Omega 3 and 6, and many other micronutrients,” the website says. “It is almost 70% protein, has more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach, and almost 20 times more B12 than beef.”
A price of $15 for a four-ounce bag seemed steep, but I was sold on the bugs being organically farmed and humanely harvested. After they are roasted and ground into powder, they wouldn’t look at all like insects, I reasoned.
When my bag of bugs arrived in the mail, I read the enclosed card with photos of foods from soups and cookies to a bowl brimming with full-size roasted crickets. “Thank yourself for making the choice to include the healthy goodness of insects to your diet. Nutritious, Delicious and Sustainable,” the card read, with advice to “enjoy them in so many ways.”
Through the plastic pouch I could see that the cricket powder was the color of, well, crickets. I opened the pouch, took a whiff, and inhaled the distinct aroma of fertilizer. I wasn’t sure “enjoy” was the correct choice of words.
Nevertheless, I had the crickets and figured I had better use them.
Figuring I could disguise the fertilizer flavor with fruit, I opted for a smoothie of berries, banana, apple cider, maple syrup, yogurt, and a few chia seeds. Rather than a tablespoon of cricket powder, I started with a teaspoon and a half. I was conducting a test, after all.
When I emptied the contents of the blender into my mug, I worried that the dark little spots floating at the top of the smoothie were pieces of cricket but convinced myself that they were chia seeds or specks of blueberry. Then I held my breath and took a gulp. The sweetness from the maple syrup hit me first, but the aftertaste was definitely earthy—not like the fertilized fields that assault me in the spring and fall here in Vermont but definitely crickety. I managed to finish the concoction and after a couple more mornings of cricket smoothies, I’m getting used to the taste.
With the powder package came a recipe for “chocolate chirp cookies,” which looks like a regular cookie recipe except for the addition of a quarter cup of cricket powder. My husband loves cookies, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give the recipe a try.
Thankfully, the batter and even the scent from the oven had no trace of crickets. When the cookies had cooled, I offered a plate of them to my husband. He bit into one and frowned. Then he took another bite.
“How are they?” I asked.
He hesitated. “Good,” he said finally.
I tried a couple cookies myself and found them tasty as long as I didn’t think about insects while I ate them.
Over a few days my husband ate all the remaining cookies. I still haven’t told him about the secret ingredient and so far he hasn’t let out a single chirp.
If you’re wondering why I haven’t posted to the Bug Tripping blog in a while, it’s because the Bug flew back to its VW hive. In 2015 the EPA gave Volkswagen notice that the company had violated the Clean Air Act when it was discovered it had programmed the TDI diesel engines to activate their emissions controls only during testing. Once the diesels were sold, the engines emitted up to 40 times more noxious fumes than in the tests.
H and I had felt pretty smug when on a cross-country trip we were getting 50 miles to the gallon. Little did we know we were leaving a trail of toxicity across the U.S.
Fortunately, VW made good with its customers. They bought back the Bug and gave us $1000 in gift cards. With the windfall, we purchased a 2016 Nissan Leaf, an electric car we were sure wouldn’t pollute the environment.
The trick was finding charging stations. Since a charge got us just a hundred miles—less if we were using headlights and heat or a/c—we had to use a charging app to find plug-ins and be sure we could get to one before running out of power.
All was well and good until one winter night when H was driving home from playing hockey. We live in a rural area with the closest charging station thirty miles away. It was midnight and -7 degrees. H figured he could make it home where he could plug in the Leaf. What he didn’t figure into his estimate was using the brights along the country road and blasting heat to keep his toes from freezing.
Within ten miles of home, the Leaf drifted to a stop. There wasn’t a car on the road, so hitchhiking was not looking hopeful, and I was out of town and not able to come to his rescue.
H was lucky to have a couple of bars on his cell phone and called AAA.
“We can be there in two hours,” he was told.
“I’ll freeze to death by then,” he said.
What to do?
Searching his wallet, he found the number for a guy he knew who had a truck and a flatbed trailer. The fellow had helped H move a homemade outhouse a couple months earlier, but that’s another story. Anyway, H knew he was a nice guy and gave him a call.
“I’ll be there in 20 minutes,” he said, his voice full of sleep. In dire straits, H had gotten him out of bed.
The fellow was true to his word, got the Leaf onto the trailer, and deposited it within reach of the home charger. AAA would pay him for his trouble.
The Bug may be gone, but I’m not done with bugs yet. Stay tuned for a different kind of bug tripping in the next post.
There’s no word for bug in Spanish. Insect is insecto, and beetle is escarabajo. We were planning to drive the VW Bug to Mexico, but we certainly didn’t want to call it Insecto while we were there. People might think it was infested with six-legged vermin. Escarabajo is too long a word. Escara means “It’s expensive,” and bajo translates to “low.” “Car” is coche, which reminds me of a cockroach. Maybe we could say Caro, which means “dear” and gives the connotation for how we feel about the little blue chariot.
We planned to drive the Bug to Boulder in February to visit the new grandson, Harrison Ezra Skye Reynolds, then stop at my brother’s place in Tucson on our way for our annual wintering in Sayulita, on the Pacific coast of Mexico. H got the Bug’s oil changed and checked with our insurance company for a rider to cover any hazards we might encounter on Mexican roads, three hundred dollars’ worth for the three weeks of our stay at Villa los Palmas, a condo community on the beach.
While I investigated the best route south from Tucson, I found an article about buying diesel fuel in Mexico. Not a good idea unless your diesel is older than 2000 models. The Bug is a 2014. Apparently diesel gas in Mexico is substandard and could cause new engines to seize up. H agreed that maybe we should reconsider driving the Bug. I offered my new Subaru Crosstrek. The only problem was that I’m leasing it and am restricted to a thousand miles a month. If we drove all the way to Sayulita, we’d be piling on 8,000 miles in five weeks.
How about if we were to fly from Tucson? Muy expensivo. The least expensive flight was from Houston. We have friends in Galveston and figured we could leave the Subaru with them for safekeeping while in Mexico.
So we loaded up with winter clothes for the drive through New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, Indiana, and Kansas as well as tropical outfits for Sayulita. Colorado was experiencing global warming, and we needed only sweaters in Boulder. The mountains around the city were glistening white with snow, but downtown people flip-flopped with bare toes.
Baby Ezra with proud Mondy.
Ezra, as they’re calling him, is a darling little guy who prefers to be in arms rather than in his rocking seat, so we passed him around for the three days we were visiting. He didn’t mind, and we were delighted, especially H, his grandfather. H asked to be called Mondy, which was his name for his own grandad, and we tried getting used to it. I thought Grumpy would be a better name, but H protested.
We could barely pull ourselves away, but we had a flight to catch. Santa Fe was our next stop, too touristy for my tastes. I preferred El Paso, where Mexicans cross over to work in the hotels and restaurants then return south of the border for the night. They weren’t thrilled about the prospect of a wall being built, as one can imagine. We took a room in the classiest hotel in the city for just $80 a night and sat at the hotel bar under the second largest Tiffany glass dome in the world. Hermosa!
The drive across Texas was flat and endless without much to report except for being stopped by the border patrol. I guess they were checking for illegals, and they waved us on without checking our I.D. Must be don’t look Mexican.
Leah and Mariano live in one of the oldest houses in Galveston. In fact, it served as the Galveston Historical Society headquarters until they purchased it from the University of Texas at Galveston, where Mariano teaches and heads the department of microbiology at the medical school. They didn’t tell me the house was haunted until I awoke before sunrise thinking the cat was breathing cold air on my face. I batted at it, but there was no cat. In fact, the room was warm except for that breath of cold air, as if some tiny air conditioner were blowing on me. But Leah had turned off the a/c before she went to bed.
Curious ghost? Harmless, apparently, and I suffered no ill effects.
During our stay, Leah took us to the marshland where she photographs exotic birds that come to feed—all sorts of wading birds, osprey, and waterfowl. We stopped at the Bryan Museum which houses artifacts of Texas history, including a huge reproduction of the scene where Sam Houston defeated the Mexican army led by Santa Ana to claim Texas’s independence. Santa Ana was captured, paraded as a prisoner, and then sent back to Mexico, where he was hailed a hero.
Finally it was time to catch our flight. I find people on flights to Mexico are more joyful than on domestic flights. Maybe it’s because drinks are free, but I prefer to believe it’s because we’re on our way to Paradise.
But I haven’t forgotten that this blog is about Bug tripping. Bugs are big in Sayulita, and I’m not talking about the hard-backed, six-legged kind (although there are plenty of those). I mean VW Beetles. Vans, too. They are hacked apart and redesigned, their tops opened up, painted happy colors, and loved as much as H loves his diesel Bug. They’re economical, easy to navigate along narrow streets, and exhibit a coolness that’s universal—almost as cool as H.
Here in Sayulita, Mexico, VW Beetles and golf carts are the vehicles of choice. Most of the Bugs are old, a taillight out, covered with stickers (“I hate tacos said no Juan ever,” for example). One or two have had the roof cut off to make an odd-looking convertible.
We prefer to walk rather than rent a golf cart. But on one morning of our visit, Harry is feeling restless.
“I’m going to rent a scooter,” he says. “We can go exploring.”
“It’s supposed to rain,” I tell him. It hardly ever rains in March in Sayulita, but the weather website calls for a cold front to move in.
“I don’t see any rainclouds,” he says, peering up over his coffee. The living room of
our condo is open, and we can see the sky through the coconut palms overhead.
My husband is always coming up with adventuresome plans, like this trip to Mexico—a month away from winter in Vermont. For three weeks we have drunk the sun, or as they say here on the Pacific coast, tomar el sol. We are tan and fit from hiking along sandy beaches and up cobblestone hills that rise steeply behind the pueblo. I’ve taken yoga classes and now at my side is a drink made at a stand on the beach with five limes, syrup and filtered water. I am rich with vitamins C and D, and with only a week of Mexico left, why not explore?
There’s a single motor scooter for rent in town, a local tells us. “Go to the liquor store just over the bridge. You can rent the scooter there.” There are two bridges in Sayulita, and both cross a filthy stream that is as much sewage as water. The stick bridge is crudely constructed of plank and tree limbs and takes a balancing act to cross. It leads to an unlit area, and crossers at night use light from cell phones to keep their footing. The man advising us about the scooter probably means the concrete bridge that leads to el centro, the downtown area.
We find the liquor store, a hole in the wall just big enough for Harry and me to squeeze in and face the Mexican lady behind a glass counter displaying packages of cigarettes. She doesn’t speak much English, and my Spanish is limited. Harry is hopeless. With sign language and what I remember of my five pre-trip Spanish lessons, we manage to rent the scooter for $45 U.S. The Mexican lady insists on holding Harry’s driver’s license hostage until we return the bike.
We go to the curb to have a look at the newish white model. The plastic cover over the exhaust pipe is broken and when I point it out, the Mexican lady pushes it back into place and says, “Es nada.”
“Do you know how to drive this thing?” I ask Harry.
“Sure,” he says. “I used to have one.” As if his operation of a motor scooter forty years ago is supposed to set my mind at ease. I amaze myself with the trust I have in this man.
The señora has called the scooter’s owner, who may also own the liquor store, and he appears. He sounds American but has the leathery complexion of someone who has been south of the border for a while. He shows Harry how to start the machine.
Harry inspects the bike. “How do you shift gears?” he asks.
“Automatic,” the man says. Then he asks, “You want helmets?” I want helmets, but Harry says no. I don’t argue, thinking we won’t go far.
“Then have it back by eleven tonight,” the fellow says (as if I’ll be up at eleven). “Someone will be here.”
Harry pops the kickstand and we climb on—without helmets, without driver’s license, and without a map—and we’re off.
My first thought—no, my second because my first thought is being thrown from the scooter and dragged over the cobblestones—my second thought is that if we are stopped by policio, we might get out of going to prison by handing over mordito—a bribe. I wonder how much it would take—500 pesos, about $20 U.S.? A thousand? I believe it’s always better to err on the side of caution and I try to remember if I have a couple of five-hundred-peso notes in my bag.
The scooter’s seat is long enough to hold us both and pretty comfy with toe rests for the passenger—me. Harry revs the motor, which purrs, and heads for the highway, a two-lane macadam road that winds north through forestland. The next town is San Pancho, which a couple weeks ago had a jazz festival we attended—by taxi.
We’re going 60 km, which is about 40 mph, and cars and trucks are cruising around us in spite of the double yellow line. A few vehicles honk when they pass—are we going too slow? Should we be wearing helmets? H veers close to a steep ditch on the right and I lean to the left, hoping he sees the danger with his one good eye. He refuses to wear glasses.
The seven miles to San Pancho seem like an eternity, and I’m relieved when we reach the outskirts. The town is smaller than Sayulita, and there’s not much to see here. We stop at a refurbished warehouse that houses a small café, a library, and workshops where people make things to sell from recycled materials—glasses from wine bottles, a bookcase made with wine bottles and reclaimed wood, shell and stone jewelry, hand silkscreened tee shirts. At the used clothing place, I find a San Pancho Music Festival shirt from last year. While I’m holding it up to see if it fits, a little girl hugs me around the waist and asks, “Su nombre?”
“Ellie,” I tell her and ask her name, which sounds like “Allison.”
“Allison?” I ask.
“No,” she says, “Allison.”
I buy the shirt and Harry and I get back on the bike. He turns up cobblestone side streets, and I grip his waist to keep from bouncing off. We do several loops around town, and he stops at Casa Gourmet, a French bakery where we have croissants and coffee. The proprietor isn’t very friendly and jabbers with her coworker in French. I’ve met a couple other French people in Sayulita, a fellow who also operates a pastry shop and a guy from French Polynesia who manages an art gallery. I’m surprised at how easy it is to go from gracias to merci and adios to adieu.
After coffee we set off on the scooter again, this time motoring toward Punta Mita, a peninsula farther south. We pass bare dirt yards with houses that are little more than vine-covered shacks, a school, and a large white building with HAPPINESS FACTORY painted on the front. I’m dying to know what’s inside, but Harry doesn’t slow down.
The foliage beside road is thick and green until we pass a billboard-size sign advertising a resort ahead. Then the road widens to four lanes divided by a median, and Harry speeds up to 80 km—about 55 mph. I didn’t know scooters went that fast. I point toward the north sky where there are angry looking storm clouds.
“Weather’s moving in,” I say into Harry’s left ear, but he keeps going. “Lluvia.” I’m proud of myself for remembering the word for rain, but Harry is oblivious.
The wind picks up when we reach the end of the road. Either we go left toward Puerto Vallarta or right to Punta Mita, both larger towns with more traffic. I vote for turning around.
Harry finally notices that the skies have turned dark and (thankfully) U-turns.
Within a few minutes I feel the first raindrops. Up ahead I can see blue skies. Harry must see them, too, and speeds up to try to beat the storm. But the weather’s too fast for us, and blue quickly turns to gray.
Then the rain comes, pelting us like buckshot. I huddle against Harry’s dry back for warmth, but he’s getting soaked. His sunglasses are speckled with rain, and he dips his head to look over them with his good eye.
It’s so ridiculous—caught in the rain, no helmets, freezing, the pavement getting slippery—that I start to laugh. I can’t help myself and wonder if there’s an expression, “Drink the rain.” As it comes down harder, I laugh until my stomach hurts. If we are close to death, I decide, then death is a hell of a good time.
Harry’s not laughing. He slows down and stops at a driveway where men are working at setting stones for a building foundation. We get off and he pulls up the seat where he has stashed a fleece jacket in the compartment underneath.
One of the construction guys yells, “Mucho frio!”
“Si,” I answser. “Y mucho humido.” He doesn’t respond, and I later learn that the word for “wet” is mojado.
“Mucho frio,” he says again and they all laugh—half a dozen of them.
I pull on the light sweater I have in my bag—not nearly warm enough—and we get our frio, humido and mojado selves back on the scooter. I’ve lost the humor and my enthusiasm for this adventure and heave a sigh of relief when we get to the tall gate of our condo compound.
It pours cold rain all afternoon, and before dark H says, “I’m going to take the bike back.”
“You have until eleven,” I remind him.
“I don’t care,” he says.
That night we dash across the street to the pizza place. It has a roof but the sides are open. I take the table closest to the wood-fired oven, wishing we could get even closer. For the first time in three weeks, I’m missing my cozy Vermont couch by our blazing wood stove. But if the weather gods are right, within two days the skies will clear—they always do. And then we’ll once again tomar el sol.
True to reputation, the skies over Seattle drizzled rain. We parked the Bug in the lot of a creaky old hotel named Georgetown Inn. The young desk clerk greeted us warmly and offered us use of a washing machine next to the workout room, which we desperately needed. Mostly we were interested in a comfortable bed—which is about all we got—and something to eat.
The clerk directed us to a bar called Smarty Pants where we could get sandwiches and the local brew. It was a short—albeit rainy—walk from the hotel. Georgetown is the oldest neighborhood in Seattle. Situated near the industrial sections of the city, it’s also a bit gritty. Comprised mostly of bars, breweries, and pizza parlors, there wasn’t much tourist traffic, which was fine with us.
Smarty Pants is one of the favorite nightspots for young Seattleites. It’s a biker bar tucked in among empty, crumbling brick warehouses, but because of the nasty weather, most of the patrons had come on foot, like us, dragging in dripping umbrellas.
The décor is funky with old motorcycles perched on high shelves around the dimly lit room. We hit the bar on racing night, and a large screen TV entertained us with exhilarating videos of motorcycle races where riders leaned into curves until their kneepads scraped the track. Evel Knievel would’ve loved it.
From the lengthy menu I settled on Pacific tuna salad on a freshly made bun, Harry gobbled a roast beef sub, and we both washed down the food with Washington beer that took the edge off our long day’s drive.
The beer and two-wheel races revved us up, and we found our way back to the inn by hopping over puddles and huddling together in a nippy wind.
The next day, our clothes laundered, we woke to more rain. We had arranged to meet the buyer of Harry’s Prairie lamp at a warehouse where his brother-in-law Brad operates his own lamp building business. I hadn’t seen Brad in years. He is dark like his Pilipino mother and tall with a youthful thinness. Even with his horn-rimmed glasses—maybe safety glasses—he was still handsome.
Brad and his staff fashion gigantic lamps for commercial enterprises. It was Saturday and no one was working, so he showed us a chandelier one of the craftsmen was building for a Starbucks coffee shop. It looked like a haystack of thorns, each thorn holding a small light bulb. Lit up, Brad said, each thorn would refract the light at different angles.
“Kind of like a disco ball?” I asked. He hesitated. I was afraid I had offended him.
“A very artsy disco ball,” he said.
The warehouse, big as an airplane hangar, was built in the early 20th century before electricity was widely used. Huge windows at one end let in natural light. With a ceiling three stories above, the work area must have cost a fortune to heat. I wrapped my arms around myself for warmth.
Brad had built an office upstairs heated with a pellet stove, which he got going to make us more comfortable. Harry unpacked the Prairie lamp and assembled it on the conference table. Once he had plugged it in and turned it on, I realized that I’d forgotten how magnificent a work the lamp is. Perched in the middle of the room, I walked around it and admired the workmanship from all angles.
Brad seemed impressed. “How much are you selling it for?” he asked Harry.
“Four hundred,” Harry replied.
Brad rubbed his chin and shook his head. “Might as well be giving it away.”
“It’s more about the trip than the money,” I added. Anyway, it was too late to make a price adjustment—Harry and the buyer had agreed on the price.
From upstairs we weren’t able to hear a knock on the heavy door, so I went down to keep an eye out for our lamp buyer, a doctor who worked at a cancer treatment center in Seattle. A slim, balding man wearing a ski jacket came to the door.
“Dr. Woloshin?” I asked and held out my hand. He smiled and clasped it with a firm grip.
“Please call me Paul,” he said.
I took him up to the office where the lamp glowed with a tender light. Brad had turned off the overhead fluorescents, and the cloudy Seattle day was just the right dimness to show off the lamp’s beauty.
“It’s stunning,” Paul said.
The four of us stood around Harry’s creation and chatted. Paul had been to many of the places we’d just driven through—the Presidio in San Francisco and Mount Shasta, where he had recently hiked. When we ran out of conversation, Paul gave Harry four hundred-dollar bills. There was nothing left to do but pack up the lamp for its new owner.
When we took the box out to the van, thankfully the rain had let up. Paul was driving a rental van because his car had been damaged in an accident—a stroke of luck for us because Harry could slip the box into the back without taking the lamp apart.
“Do you have other lamps?” Paul asked.
“Yes, I do,” Harry said.
“But if you want one, you’ll have to come to Vermont to pick it up,” I quickly put in.
Paul smiled, perhaps considering a road trip of his own.
Harry gave him a business card before we said a bitter-sweet goodbye. We had done what we set out to do, but there was an empty space in the back of the Bug. The Prairie lamp had been a quiet and agreeable traveling companion. We had lugged it in and out of apartments, left it alone while we went sightseeing and ate meals, and hauled it over high mountain passes. We had crowded it with clothes, camping gear, and the case of wine we’d purchased in Oregon, and never once did the lamp register a complaint or make a demand on us.
In some ways it was a relief not to worry about the stained glass shade and the sanded hardwood getting damaged. On the other hand, I felt as if we’d sent our child off to college. We just hoped that Dr. Woloshin knew enough to take good care of him.
“I want to visit a winery while we’re in Oregon,” I told Harry. “Oregon pinot noir is supposed to be the best.”
We had stopped at a Red Roof Inn in central Oregon the night before, both of us too tired to search for more inspiring lodging. After a hotel breakfast of toaster waffles and artificially flavored maple syrup, I got behind the Bug’s wheel.
“See any wineries?” I asked.
The Willamette Valley in northern Oregon boasts some of the richest soil in the country for growing wine grapes. Over millions of years, erosion, floods, and volcanoes spewing basaltic lava have created fertile terroir. In other words, wine grapes eat it up.
“I’ll keep an eye out.” Harry likes wine but drinks only white—with ice. Not exactly an oenophile.
We were only twenty miles from Portland, and I worried that we’d get into Washington without finding wine. Northern Oregon tends to be cool, whereas Washington wineries are higher and dryer. Both produce good wine, but I prefer Oregon’s pinot noir to Washington’s cabernet.
“There.” Harry pointed to a sign for Aurora Colony Vineyards. It was not quite noon, but I figured we could buy a bottle of wine to enjoy later.
I’ve never been more mistaken.
The Aurora Colony office and tasting room sits beside acres of flourishing grapevines in straight, obedient-soldier lines. Ponds, gardens, lawns, and walking paths surround the building. The grounds are a popular wedding venue, perfect for receptions that feature Aurora’s wine.
The cavernous tasting room has a baby grand piano at one end and a bar at the other. Wine glasses hang upside down from a rack above the bar. We stood a minute before a cherubic fellow with a wide grin came out and greeted us.
“My name’s Jerry.” He stuck out his hand and shook each of ours. “There’s no charge for tasting.” He set two wine glasses in front of us.
I wanted to taste only the pinot noir, scoop up a bottle and be on our way. But Jerry said we should start with their sparkling wine and poured a shot-glass amount into each of our goblets. I looked around for a spit bowl, which I’ve seen at other wineries in order to avoid getting tipsy while tasting. There was no bowl on the bar—so I swallowed.
The sparkling wine was good, yes, but champagne makes me giddy and, besides, it was $35 a bottle. No thank you.
Next was a sparkling rose, which was too sweet for my taste. Then Jerry moved us on to the whites, pinot gris first. I don’t often drink white wine—the flavor too sharp on my tongue—but Harry hummed his appreciation. The Wedding Blend, a rather saccharine white, held some promise, even though neither of our thirty-something sons is close to popping the question to his significant other. I drank in hope, toasting their potential nuptials.
There followed a sauvignon blanc and a chardonnay. I kept asking for reds, but our sommelier instructed us to be patient. We had to go in the order that would most advantage the tongue, Jerry advised.
My tongue by that point was getting rather thick.
The pinot rose was too pallid for me, too fruity. It might do well on a hot summer afternoon, but March’s chill was still on the vines.
Finally—ta-da!—a pinot noir. The Burgundy clones, Jerry told us, were planted eight years earlier. Even bleary-eyed, I enjoyed the peppery cherry flavor and the earthy tones. Pinot noir is a delicate red but no bargain at $28 a bottle. Nevertheless, I figured I could spring for a one or even two as a souvenir of our visit to Oregon.
Harry licked his lips at the pinot noir, but when Jerry uncorked a bottle of cabernet sauvignon—or was it merlot—he declined. Both full-bodied reds were grown in Washington State, and I had a taste of each. I’m not a fan of the syrah that followed and put my hand over my glass. At least I think I did.
In between tastes, I nibbled crackers to soak up the alcohol, which didn’t help much. At some point the vineyard owner appeared and asked us where we were headed. Harry opened his tablet and showed the fellow pictures of the beautiful lamp we were delivering to Seattle.
The vintner raised his eyebrows. “The lamp would look good on the piano for events at the vineyard.”
I looked at the tasting room piano and agreed that the lamp would be stunning there with its lighted base and stained glass roof.
“I’ll trade you a case of wine for it,” the vintner said. “Worth four hundred dollars.”
Harry valued the lamp at twice that. He shook his head. “Nope. We’re taking it to Seattle.”
I was glad he still had his wits about him. Mine had deserted me at the pinot rose.
After we finished with a taste of syrupy Madison, which sells for $35 a bottle—quite nice but I had no interest in a dessert wine—I told Jerry that I’d like to purchase two bottles of the pinot noir.
“Why not a case?” he asked. “We’ll give you a good deal if you buy a case.”
“Can’t fit a case into the Bug,” I said. “It’s jam packed with the lamp and camping gear.”
“I’ll bet you can squeeze a case in,” he responded. “Let me have a look.”
“No, no,” I insisted. “Just two bottles.” But Harry was following him out to the parking lot, case of wine in Jerry’s arms. He opened the Bug’s trunk and through the window I saw Jerry shift some things about. Then the trunk closed and the two men came back empty-handed.
Harry grinned. “We got it in,” he said.
I slipped my credit card across the counter, not sure what I had just purchased. I believe there were a few bottles of pinot noir and several of the white wedding wine. Twelve bottles with tax totaled over $300, even with the bulk discount.
Once we were back in the Bug, Harry wisely behind the wheel this time, I realized the brilliance of the sales pitch. Get the customers a bit snockered and then charm them into buying lots of wine. It’s a good thing we didn’t have room for two cases.
I must say, though, the wines were awfully good. Once we were back at home, the half dozen bottles of pinot noir were the first to disappear. Harry drank most of the whites, and we split the last bottle of wedding wine on our anniversary. All in all, from what I am able to remember, the vineyard was well worth the stop.