26 May 2013

Memorial Day

Yesterday morning, as we looked a bit begrudgingly out the window at our 6th day without sunshine, my husband remarked, "You know, this is the first Memorial Day when I won't have been either a dependent or in the Navy. Now I'm officially retired.

I have mixed feelings about this.

I grew up in a military town, always swearing up and down that I'd never marry into the military.

Famous last words, right?

Then I met this great guy who was not only in the Navy, he had grown up Navy. It was all he had ever known. His plan was to stay in the Navy forever and ever, or for as long as they'd have him.

I was young and in love and thought - how bad could it be? Words of a fool. What did I know? I'll tell you what I knew... NOTHING. Growing up in a military town and saying good-bye to military friends every couple of years does NOT prepare a person for the reality of military life. Not even a little. It was culture shock unlike anything I'd ever experienced.

In a word, I hated it. I hated the moving, the bureaucracy, the unfair (as I saw them) distinctions between enlisted and officers. I hated that the other wives were so INTO it, wearing the ranks of their husbands like a badge of honor. It was all so weird. But I especially hated the separations. We had two six-month deployments in three years' time. It was hard. It was excruciating. I gave it the old college try. I complained some - no, I complained a LOT - but made the best of it. I slugged through the deployments, managed things at home and wished secretly that he would get out of the Navy.

And then, after 12 years in, my husband left the Navy and found a wonderful job in Maine. A civilian job in which we wouldn't have to move again and he wouldn't be going away for more than a few days at a time. That was about the time that HE experienced culture shock. Of course, he stayed in the Reserves, but it wasn't the same.

Many more years have gone by and as of last fall, he is officially retired from the Navy, the Navy Reserves, and any other hold the Navy might hope to place on him. To this news, I breathed a sigh of relief. But he mourns a part of his life that I will never completely understand.

I am thankful for my time as a military wife. I learned so much. I learned about my own selfishness and sense of entitlement. I learned about my husband's unbelievable work ethic.

But more than that I learned, first hand, about what military wives go through every day. I was only with my husband for the last six years of his active duty Naval career, but it was enough to get a taste of the difficulties, the sorrows, the pain. It was also enough to get a taste of the pride.

On this Memorial Day, I salute the men and women who protect our country and do things and live in ways that the rest of us will never have to - all so that we can have the freedoms we so often take for granted.

But more than that, I salute their spouses and family members - the unsung heroes whose jobs are just as tough.

Most of all, I thank my sweet husband who gave much of his life to the military and gives 110% to everything he does.

Blessings to you all - and thank you.

Copyright © 2013 - Paulla Estes

24 May 2013

Rain. And Birds. But Mostly Rain.

The rain is still here (after 5 days) and I’m trying not to complain. Honestly, I don’t mind. Everything is so green and vibrant outside. But it’s more than just being tired of the rain. It seems like it’s just so much harder to take this when coming right out of winter.

Compounding the agony is the fact that we’ve had many sunny days recently. Warm, sunny days where we wore shorts and got sunburned. (I should add that also compounding the agony is the fact that I spent a week in sunny Texas, so I REALLY can’t complain.) And now we’re back in our sweat shirts, jeans and wool socks. It LOOKS like summer outside, but it may as well be winter.

Ok, complaint over.

Last week my husband put a bird feeder right outside our office window. He’s become quite the bird watcher in recent years, so our back yard has multiple bird feeders and all manner of birds showing up to feast. Blue jays, doves, chickadees, and finches, of course. But we also now have several woodpeckers, cardinals, tufted timouses (titmice?) and even some very large and annoying crows.

If it ever stops raining, maybe I’ll take pictures of our little feathered friends.

Or maybe I’ll just do it anyway. I mean really, the rain may never stop.

Copyright © 2013 - Paulla Estes

23 May 2013

Springtime in Maine

The last FOUR days have been cloudy and rainy and generally miserable. But I have to say, it's much easier to take cloudy and miserable when the leaves are green and the flowers are blooming. Springtime in Maine is pretty, regardless of the weather.

I took these photos last weekend when the sun was shining and we felt that summer had arrived. We were sorely mistaken. But I'm glad I took them then, because now most of those trees have lost their blossoms.

Our garden is planted, the lawn chairs are out of the shed and the grill is ready to go. If the sun ever comes back, we'll be ready!

Copyright © 2013 - Paulla Estes

22 May 2013

West Texas, Last Day

All good things must come to an end, and this was the day we had to make the 330 mile drive back to El Paso, so we could fly out the following morning.

We awakened to a perfect mountain morning.

The colorful Chisos birds didn't disappoint.

We said good-bye to the lodge and took one (of many) last photograph with The Window in the background.

And this is looking back UP through the window, once we're out on the desert once again.

We drove back up and through Alpine.

Then Dad insisted we make one last stop at the tiny town of Sierra Blanca, the junction of the Southern Pacific and Missouri Pacific railroads.

It seemed a fitting ending to a fabulous West Texas trip.

As we drove back into the reality of the traffic, streetlights and noise of El Paso, we reflected on what we had dubbed, our "Once in a Lifetime Trip." But on my flight back to Maine the next day, after a teary hug good-bye at our respective gates, a woman sat next to me on the plane who had been hiking all week in Big Bend.

I shared a bit about our trip with her, and she simply said, "Why only once in a lifetime?" Then she added, "As long as you're both still healthy and still HERE, why not go again next year?"

I like the way she thinks.

Copyright © 2013 - Paulla Estes

West Texas, Day Six

After days and days of abundant sunshine, do you think you'd get tired of it? I'm here to tell you.


After the long day yesterday, we stayed the night in the tiny town of Terlingua, near the western side of the park. The next morning, we headed to Santa Elena Canyon.

Here's a brief explanation of how the canyon came to be (for your viewing pleasure). Bottom line - the Rio Grande is full of silt and acts like liquid sandpaper against the desert floor.

The view was staggering. Mexico on the left, United States on the right. Rio Grande in the middle. And although the river was only ankle-deep in many areas, there were multiple signs warning us NOT to cross it without a passport, as well as descriptions of dire consequences for anyone caught doing so - including lengthy jail time.

So we obediently stayed on our side of the river and headed up the hiking path.

Not everyone was as concerned about the rules as we were.

In fact, that group splashed and played in the river (on both sides) all afternoon. Not a park ranger was spotted anywhere.

The walls seemed to close in as we hiked deeper into the canyon.

Finally we came to the end of the line. Only rock walls on either side with no more space for a trail.

We sat and marveled at the majestic beauty. It was humbling and we didn't want to leave.

But leave we finally did, and on our way out, we met this friendly guy who was only making half the hike. He informed us he was in his 80s and had hiked the whole thing many times, but these days, he only does a partial hike. He was from Port Arthur, TX, near Houston, and he told us that Port Arthur is so flat, the locals get nose bleeds if they travel up a freeway overpass.

Next destination - The Chisos Mountains.

The Chisos are the only mountain range that are contained entirely inside a national park. And what's more, the Chisos mountains form a sort of island in the desert. The mountains are set in circular formation, with the highest one reaching an elevation of over 7800 feet. Inside the circle of mountains is an area called The Basin, which houses the Chisos Mountain Lodge and is home to animals found nowhere else in America.

As we started up the mountain road, we were forewarned about the bear population.

There were a plethora of birds outside the cottage we rented at the Chisos Mountain Lodge.

And perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the basin is what's known as "The Window." This is an opening in the circular mountain range that looks out onto the desert beyond.

At about 7:00 that evening, my dad suggested we head a little way down one of the hiking trails toward The Window, so we could watch the sunset. It was cold and windy. Very cold. And very windy.

And as we started down the trail, we saw this...

This was after we'd read all the warnings about mountain lions in the lodge and on a print-out inside our cottage.

I got the message. HE, however, did not. He insisted he wanted to brave the cold, the wind, and the mountain lions so we could have a front row seat at the sunset. Stubbornly, he sat down on a bench and put on his warm knit hat.

I informed him that we were about an hour and a half away from sunset and that it was cold and unsafe out there on that hillside with no one else around. (All the other visitors had taken refuge in the lodge.)

I began to walk away, telling him that we had to go back. Stubbornly, he continued to sit on his bench and wait for the sun to set. Note how HIGH the sun still was - you can barely make it out up among the tree branches, and it was supposed to set right down inside the window.

Begrudgingly, he followed me back up the hill into the warmth of the lodge, where we waited well over an hour for the sunset.

And it WAS worth the wait.

Copyright © 2013 - Paulla Estes

21 May 2013

West Texas, Day Five

We began another full day at the Big Bend Museum at Sul Ross University in Alpine. This is a MEXICAN black bear, not to be confused with any other black bear. He was found in the park and apparently, spoke fluent Spanish.

Driving east out of Alpine, we made a stop in Marathon, TX where just about the only thing in town is the famous Gage Hotel.

It was a lovely oasis out on that desert.

However, this was right across the main road. It didn't look very promising, but hey, I guess it's better than nothing.

From Marathon, we literally had - a marathon - to drive. The road south seemed to go on forever. And see that mountain FAR OFF in the distance as though it's right where the road ends? Our destination was WAY beyond that mountain. Yeah. Long way.

When we finally got to the entrance to Big Bend National Park, a couple of hours later, we still had a long way to go.

Yet, the blooming cacti along the road way kept us spellbound.

We headed to the far eastern side of the park to Boquillas canyon. It looked as though the canyon walls were just over the next bend.

But we just kept going and going...

And then there was the border crossing.

And the town of Boquillas, Mexico across the river, in the distance.

A scenic overlook gave us a beautiful late afternoon view of the Rio Grande...

As well as some Boquillas residents on the other side.

We watched them for a few moments.

Oh look - here they come across the river!

Dad was worried. We were, literally, in the middle of nowhere, and our car was one of three in the parking lot. Plus, the sun was sinking low in the sky.

But I talked him into heading up the hiking path.

When we got to the top of the incline, we found this...

And after we passed it by, we saw the two Mexican guys riding up the hill to collect any profits from the day.

Dad went back and bought a small, beaded ocotillo from them. :)

We finally made it to the bottom of the canyon. We weren't far from sunset, so we hurried back to our car for the 50 (yes, you read that right) mile drive to the only available motel in the area.

Copyright © 2013 - Paulla Estes