Best Things to do on the Big Island in Winter

20161126_161724Volcano National Park: Plan an entire day including the round-trip drive from Kona or stay in the park at Volcano House.  The active lava lake spewing red fire creates fine strands of golden fiberglass, called Pele’s Hair, after the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes. They’re formed when lava is ejected into the air and small droplets are caught by the wind, which then cools and stretches them into very thin strands.  This melted gold is breathtaking to see and touch but be careful it can cut your hand.  Touring an active volcano is a good reminder that earth is always changing by forces outside human control.  Be sure to take a tour with a ranger to have a better understanding of man’s relationship to nature.  Before man brought predators to the islands, large birds and flora were the only inhabitants.  Our ranger described how the birds became large and flightless because of the lush vegetation.  Imagine a five foot tall owl greeting you as you walked the rainforest.

Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Gardens (near Hilo): The flora in this garden is absolutely stunning.  The pathway winds through a rain forest, past water falls to the ocean.  If you are lucky, you will be caught in a rain storm providing a sense of why everything stays so green. This garden reminded me of Mother Nature gone wild with her paint brush.  The number of exotic flowers and colors was astounding.

When you go to the Gardens, make a quick stop by Rainbow Falls in Hilo. This is a state park, no fee and the falls are right by the parking area.20161125_160808

Honokohau Settlement and Kaloko-Honelieh National Historical Park: This is a national park and takes either your Golden Eagle pass for entrance or $5.00 a car.  Once a thriving Hawaii settlement (1200 A.D.) the park provides remnants of the past including a massive wall surrounding a long ago demolished palace, a place of worship, wood carvings of Gods and individuals re-enacting activities from the period.  We saw a man in a loincloth making rock tools.  We also saw live sea turtles on the beach.

A short walk away is Honokohau Boat Harbor. There is only lava to sit on but the area provided the clearest blue waters and most variety of fish for snorkeling of all the places we stopped to snorkel.

20161122_163454Akaka Falls State Park:  There is a short loop walk to see amazing falls in a tropical rainforest setting. Cost of entry is $5 per car to park in the lot at Akaka Falls State Park or $1 for walk-ins (if you park on the side of the road outside of the park boundary). The 0.4-mile loop trail to the waterfalls is paved, although there are some stairs. Plummeting 442 feet, it’s easy to see why Akaka Falls is one of Hawaii’s most famous waterfalls. A viewing area includes protective railings so that you don’t fall over the edge while capturing the waterfall’s slender but powerful plunge into a gorge created by years of erosion. My kids had fun doing pictures for snap chat of the falls going into their open mouths.

Waipi’o Valley Lookout: On the way to Akaka Falls stop at the Waipi’o Lookout. Take the time to view “The Valley of the Kings”  at the end of the Hamakua Heritage Corridor. Once an important site for Hawaiian history and culture, it’s also a place of dramatic tropical beauty. I could feel a sacred spirit surrounding me when I viewed the gorgeous valley.20161122_142250

Beaches: We spent three days visiting various beaches up and down the Big Island Coast line. As my son remarked, “The best beach is relative.” At one beach, there were shady trees, gentle water lapping on the shore and children building sand castles. At another we had to drive over lava in a four wheel drive vehicle and hike to a length of white sand with life guards because the surf was rough.  Guide books can describe the various attributes of the beaches to you but the ones you like best will depend on what you like to do sun, surf, snorkel.  The water at all of the ones we visited were glorious variations of blue and  the temperature of the water warm.  All Hawaiian beaches are open to the public.  The government of Hawaii has done a good job of providing clean rest rooms and showers where ever practical.

Kona Coffee: Kona is known for coffee and there are many places to take free coffee tours.  The purpose of the tours is to sell local coffee.  I found the opportunity to learn about how coffee is made very engaging.

Local Restaurants worth trying:

  • Merriman’s at Waimen pioneered Hawaii’s farm to table cuisine. Plan on eating luscious local dishes in an elegant environment. This is a high end restaurant but worth the price.
  • Kona Pub and Brewing: A fun outside restaurant which provides good food while allowing the beer connoisseurs in your group to try out different flavors. Examples of beers are Big Wave Golden Ale, Lemongrass Luau, and Lavaman Red Ale. Prices are comparable to brew pubs on the main land.
  • Lucy’s Taqueria, Hilo. We ate here twice because it was inexpensive, had lots of options for vegetarians (we have one in our crowd), food was served quickly and it was scrumptious.

Most of all take the time to enjoy your surroundings and the people you are with.  The Big Island is big, beautiful and tranquil. Don’t plan so much that all you are doing is rushing hither and yon.

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A Week of Adventure on the Big Island

The Big Island, Hawaii is a land of white, black and green sand beaches, flowing lava, gorgeous flowers and rainforests. If you want to go to fancy restaurants or walk long stretches of sandy beaches with small waves choose a different Hawaiian Island. I say this from experience.  We have been to Hawaii five times and visited three different islands.  If you are like us and like to  set  out each day to explore a new locale, the Big Island is for you.

My family of four(my husband and I, my 17 year-old-daughter and my college-age son) spent  Thanksgiving week  in Kona at a Vacation by Owner condo near the water. Exploring the island requires a rental car.  Since some of the so-called roads  are like traveling the moon in a rover, I would recommend an SUV.  We would be giggling as bounced we bounced along in our jeep and see some cars turning around because they were too low to navigate the terrain.  I likened it  to the jostling  on the airplane (our flight in was really rough and we were at the back of the bus).  My son, Scott, said, “Yeah and we’re on the ground.”

We carried snorkeling gear, beach chairs and towels and boogie board with us every day. No telling when that special black rock road will lead to great snorkeling.  Flip-flops are a failure on lava.  Bring a good pair of hiking sandals.  When headed towards the rainforest have rain gear with you.  You will need it.  Buckets of rain can pour down on you without warning and then disappear in a few minutes.  The rain is warm but you’re still wet. The scenery is so breathtaking it’s hard to know when to stop taking pictures and just sit and soak in the view.

I had clothes for a week and I spent most of my time in a two piece swim suit, long-sleeved sunbrella shirt and sun visor. I burn badly so sun screen and lots of it was a must.

The nights were mild. We never needed long pants except at the high elevations when we went to the Volcano National Park. The temperature dropped to the low sixties causing me to pull on my lightweight workout  jacket.  At the volcanoes, we wore our hiking shoes not our sandals.

 

When looking for places to eat, we would ask our trusty friend Siri for local restaurants and then make our decision based on reviews and dollar signs. We found many unlikely places to dine off the beaten track with great local food distinct from the usual tourist fare. Of course, Kona coffee is world renown for its dark color, thick texture and strong body flavor.  A daily cup helps keep the group going.20161123_115528.jpg

Our adventure was appropriate for teenagers, young adults and active seniors. Young children would have a terrible time driving so much and many of the beaches were too rough for children to just play in the sand.  For people seeking active adventure, the Big Island has so many choices the hardest thing you will do each day is decide where to go next.

Rollin’ in the Last, Lazy, Hazy Days of Summer!

Rollout those lazy, crazy days of summer…You’ll wish that summers could always be here (Nat King Cole, 1963)

2016 was my first summer of retirement.  What a glorious time, I have had! Pete and I opened summer with a grand circle tour of the Wyoming and Colorado Rocky Mountains.

Driving from Boise to Jackson Hole, the  Teton’s highlight was biking at twilight along the Snake River. Then on to Buffalo, Wyoming to visit family and enjoy Wyoming’s wonderful summer weather where cool breezes keep the air moving and the need for air conditioning down.  In Cheyenne, Wyoming where I grew up, I am still blessed with many long-term friendships.  These friendships have remained strong  over 20 years of living in different cities with annual visits home.   All but one friend  and my husband beat me to retirement. Some of my friends have had health struggles.  One friend is recovering from a stroke, another a heart condition, another just getting over a knee replacement surgery.  All have new grand children to report on. When I sit down with my Wyoming friends, it feels like yesterday when we left.  Over the years and across the miles, our shared adventures and linking life lines have kept us together.

We finished our roadtrip with our annual visit to a Colorado Rockies game, a must for us and plans to meet Wyoming friends in Arizona next year to watch spring baseball.  Our final stop before heading home was Golden, Colorado where Pete has family and the hops from Coors Brewery fills the air.  Clear Creek runs through town, like the Boise River but much smaller.  These rivers provide the focal point for both communities though their original historical roots are quite different. Golden was a mining town and Boise was the  Lewis and Clark route, the Oregon Trail and home to Fort Boise. Our drive home took us across Utah,  setting of glorious rock formations.  Traveling in Utah always leaves me thinking about Mormon families pushing their hand carts across the vast landscape, a hardy group for sure.

The  friendship/family tour was our only trip this summer.  Boise (consistently ranked as one of the top outdoor cities) is a fabulous place to spend the summer and we also own a cabin in McCall, Idaho welcoming us over the long holidays including Memorial Day, the Fourth of July,  a late July family vacation and most recently Labor Day.  Labor Day trills  the siren call of summer’s end.  The air is starting to turn and Boise hosts the fabulous Boise Balloon Festival.

 Our cabin in McCall is tiny (about 1200 square feet) but it has big arms, welcoming 5 co-ed college students (guests of my son) and Pete and I two weeks ago. Labor Day we hosted Kayla’s 17th birthday extravaganza with  4 of her friends. Kayla’s birthday is September 6th. We celebrate her birthday every Labor Day in McCall. In recent years,  neighbors from Boise have bought a place too. We share or more accurately mooch  dinners and boat rides from them.  Our kids are together in college and they have a daughter from China who is a freshman in high school. The weather never cooperates with our beach and water plans. But somehow we manage to get out on the water. One Labor Day, we were wrapped in blankets on a boat. This year I actually got a brain freeze as I shot across Payette Lake on a jet ski.

So what I have I learned from my first summer of retirement?

  • Family and friends matter  more as one ages, make the time to cultivate and grow existing relationships.
  • Good health is a blessing and shouldn’t be taken for granted.  Exercise regularly, eat right and make time for preventive health visits.
  • Be thankful for every day God  has given me.  Jump out bed and enjoy the day!

Mustang Girls

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My sister, Jane, at her 50th high school reunion in Cheyenne, Wyoming with our 1965 Ford Mustang.

I grew up in Wyoming, the cowboy state. Wyoming has a population of about half a million; spread over approximately 100,000 square miles (about 6 people per square mile). Winters are long and cold. The wind blows most of the year, great in the summer for blowing away mosquitoes.  Wyoming cowboys and girls (the few there are) are a hardy, independent, eccentric group.

I was reminded of how quirky Wyomingites are with a story my sister shared from her fiftieth high school reunion last week in Cheyenne.

First, she sent me a picture of a 1965 yellow  Ford  Mustang with a black faux leather roof. Her note said, “This is our car.”  The picture did look amazingly like the car Jane and I drove in high school and college.  I texted her, “Does look just like our car.”  She texted back, “It is our car.” A guy at her reunion had bought the car from our dad for $600 in about 1977, refurbished it and kept it in pristine condition all these years.  Only in Wyoming with such a tiny population would you run into someone who knew you and owned your car for almost 40 years.

I remember the day in 1965 when, Dad brought the mustang home. He drove up in front of our house in Cheyenne.  I looked out the picture window and was thrilled.  The car was only a year old, very few miles,  yellow with a hard top, automatic gear shift in the center console,  creamy leather interior smoothed like butter over bucket seats.  Quite a “ride” for two girls from Wyoming!  The mustang went back and forth to high school though we lived about four blocks away from school.  Then it traveled to college when my sister needed a car her senior year for student teaching.  I was a freshman at the same school so I was one of the few freshmen on campus with access to “wheels”–a literal joy ride!

The Mustang stayed with me all through college after Jane, graduated. The car had two busy summers while I was in college. During that period, I was Lady-in-Waiting (1971) and then Miss Frontier (1972) for Cheyenne Frontier Days, the world’s largest out-door rodeo.  I spent those summers traveling with a Native American Dance troupe, attending civic functions around Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado, and riding my quarter horse, Debbie.  The car took me everywhere “pony  style”, the nickname for the Mustang’s compact design . Because the “Frontier Days Royalty” had all kinds of outfits for the rodeo, the tiny trunk was frequently filled to the gills with a variety of colored boots and hat boxes filled with expensive felt cowgirl hats.  The back seat carried white silk blouses and buck skins (the official outfit), along with several hand-tailored western suits for night shows and rain gear.

The Mustang and I travelled down to Arizona when I attended graduate school at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. The problem with the Mustang in Arizona was it didn’t have air conditioning.   I only went to graduate school during the school year so the heat problem was limited to late August and early June.  But driving back to Wyoming was a bear.  My sister flew down to drive with me the spring I graduated (1975).  The car broke down in transit back to Wyoming.  Now ten years  old, Dad got me a  brand-new Mercury Bobcat to go to Washington State University in Pullman where I worked on my doctorate.

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 Bobcat and I in Pullman, Washington

 

After the Mustang retired from driving girls, the car was parked behind our house in Cheyenne, out in the open.  Dad used it as his golfing car, carrying his golf clubs out to the Country Club every day in summer.  A young man at the time cruising the alley spotted the car and stopped to inquire if Dad wanted to sell it.  And so a good long-term family friend went to another apparently forever home.

If the Mustang could talk, it would have many tales to tell. Jane and I would drive  from Cheyenne to Hastings, Nebraska for  college and back  on I-80.  We were almost always speeding. The speed limit at that time was 75.  One time, when we were going almost a 100 miles an hour, I could feel us barreling off the road.  I remember shouting at Jane as we were heading off, “Slow down!”  She calmly replied, “Too late now!”  as we swerved into the high grasses.  Fortunately for us, much of the road between Wyoming and Nebraska is flat plains.  We just rolled to a stop, backed up and were off down the road again.  Thinking of our escapades now gives me shivers.  But in the late sixties we would drive like the wind, with reckless abandon, racing everywhere to the next big adventure.  After all we were Mustang girls, who grew up on the wild, windy, Wyoming plains.

Ride around girls,

Ride around girls,

Don’t you ever slow that Mustang down!

 

Zip lining at Tamarack: A Bucket List Experience

 

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Tamarack zip line

Zipping from tree top to tree top, I felt like an eagle soaring high but going so fast I would never be able to spot prey.  While in my fantasy I was an agile winged bird of prey, in reality I looked like a rotating chicken on a spit because I never could keep the line straight as directed and found myself twisting around.  I could only take in the splendor of Cascade Lake and the mountains when standing on the wooden perches waiting my turn.  There were  9 in our group but the tour can accommodate up to 10. The first zip, the tour guide, had to pry off my hands from what he described as the “clutch of death”.

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My helmet is askew from spinning
For safety purposes, everyone is tethered onto the tree platforms in-between zips. The highest perch was 125 feet. The platforms are  sky-high tree houses about 12 feet square with a tree rising through  middle of the platform and serving as the structure.  The tree is partially covered with padding to avoid out of control humanoids slamming into bark and surrounded by tethers to keep the tour group from accidently pitching over the side and becoming a causality of the exercise.

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Tree top platform for taking off.
The correct position is a tucked canon ball with one hand on the zip tether for guidance and the other free floating for an airbrake if necessary.  An air brake means you stick you your hand out and madly grab for air to slow yourself down in an awkward flapping maneuver. The demonstration of this  technique looks like  sky diving without a parachute.  Fortunately, I was never going fast enough to try to stop myself.  On the other hand, if you aren’t going fast enough to reach the landing you are to grab the safety cord so the tour guide can pull you in.  The second zip,   zipping in my own little zone, I didn’t hear the guide shouting at me to grab the safety line.  I came to my senses just in time to avoid an incident of hanging out in the middle of line needing to be fetched in by guides.  When this happens, you are called “fish on a line”.  That gives you some idea of how ungainly a non-moving zipper can become, hanging in mid-air waiting to be rescued. My daughter was on a different trip where a younger member (not enough weight, certainly not my problem) had this happen.  Apparently, it took considerable time to fetch the kid from mid rope back up to the platform.

Trying zip lining was on my bucket list partially because my balance problems have eliminated so many of my challenges I easily accomplished when I was younger. Since one is held up when zipping, I thought I could accomplish this adrenal pump even with my limitations.  I did drag my husband, Pete, along.  At first, he said he would take me to the site and drop me off to do it by myself.  But after shrieking at him that this wouldn’t help me at all, he came along reluctantly. In a bind, I can count on him to hold my hand  and pull me up or down areas I can’t accommodate on my own.  It turned out there was another gracious guy on the trip who kept stopping to help me.  His wife had stayed at home and the guides were top notch and helped everyone.

I would like to report that the next day given my excellent condition I jumped out of bed not feeling anything.  Unfortunately, I am 65.  The next day my body felt like I’d been flung around in a dryer.  I had bruises on my thighs from the equipment and a cut on my leg from the suspension bridge.  One cannot be an adventurer without being willing to take the pain with the adrenal pump.  Would I do it again?  Oh yes.  My bucket list also includes  is sailing over the rain forest in Costa Rico.

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My husband, Peter and I, after our zip line experience with a gorgeous view of Cascade Lake in the background.

Jurni: providing a seat disguised as a bag

My family and I have travelled to the Orient, Europe, England, Ireland, Scotland, Mexico, Canada, Alaska, Hawaii and extensively in the U.S.  Our number one rule is that you have to pack so you can carry all your gear on the plane.  I have traditionally carried everything I need for up to ten days in a roller bag meeting airline carry-on regulations, a backpack and a fanny pack. I strap the fanny pack to my waist with my phone, money, and passport and only take it off at night to make sure my valuables and I are never separated. In a pinch, I can get the fanny pack into the backpack so I meet the two bag requirement of the airlines.

My two kids have been responsible for pulling their suitcases and  carrying their back packs since they were old enough to travel. Fortunately, bags and backpacks come child- sized. Kids don’t bring many clothes. The ones they bring are tiny. When the kids where younger, their clothes went in the roller bags and their backpacks were full of entertaining objects such as coloring tools, paper, Gameboys, and playing cards. All of this has become passé with the advent of  smart phones and iPods which entertain my children for hours. I see very young children playing with in airports now.

We made the decision  to wean down our wardrobes and keep our luggage with us because of lost luggage leading to problems at our destination. Now we travel with our luggage to assist in making connections if we have to change itineraries, reducing the problems of dealing with lost luggage and trying to keep the price of travel down. Taking four us to Spain or Hawaii and paying luggage fees for everyone becomes extremely costly.

Recently, I have become the drag on our traveling caravan. I have a very rare neurological disorder. I can walk just fine (for which I am very thankful). But I can’t stand for any period of time without my legs starting to shake. At the same time the lines for airport security are growing, my ability to stand is diminishing.

When my son and I travelled from Florida to Boise in March, I had trouble at the Pensacola, Florida security check. We had waited a long time. I told the screeners I had trouble standing but I couldn’t get them to listen. When I walked through the scanner, the equipment showed me carrying weapons all over my body i.e. in my arm pits, waist band, bra, anywhere that moved as my legs shook. After a humiliating body check, I complained to the supervisor who said I should have told the initial TSA worker. I had, of course, done this. In fact, I had told two workers but they were too busy to listen. Given this experience, I decided I needed to take matters into my own hands.

Flying home from Seattle a month ago, I received a text from Alaska Air that the lines at Seattle International Airport were two hours long. I asked for a wheel chair when I got to the airport. Once in the wheel chair, we zoomed right through the crowd. However, I was physically in better shape than the kind woman pushing the chair. As soon as I got into the boarding area, I was up walking around. I felt uncomfortable being pushed around when I’m perfectly capable of walking. Given the Florida and Seattle experience, I have done two things that I hope will improve my air traveling experiences.

The first is that I am now on the TSA priority boarding list. For a long time, I routinely got priority boarding but recently I have not. I am obviously not in a position to hope for the luck of the draw. I paid the $80 and scheduled the time to be fingerprinted. The next time I fly, I will enter my number TSA number and be able to skip the longer screening lines.

The second thing I have down is purchase the Jurni, a bag designed to  be a carry-on but also to sit on (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/jurni-the-ultimate-sit-on-carry-on-suitcase#/) My daughter, Kayla, found the bag online when the luggage was still only a concept on a go fund me page. If you put in the funds to help develop the proto type, you got the bag when they were ready to be shipped.

My bag arrived this week. As promised, I can pull it easily  behind me and sit in it like a horse and scoot around the house. Now, rolling around a crowded airport may be a different thing altogether. Sitting on it like a chair is tipsy. I feel like I’m riding a rocky boat or I had too much to drink, a disconcerting feeling and the wheels can go out from under you throwing you to the floor. Thus, the bull rider approach with my legs anchored around the Jurni, I am in control of its movements for short distances. In other words, I would propel me along in a line.

 

The bag is tiny. I can see why it is designed for teenagers. My 16 year old daughter wears an extra small in most clothes and a size 0 in jeans. Until Kayla grew into these sizes, I actually thought they were pretend sizes to finish off the clothes rack. I remember standing in the Abercombie store when she shouted over the dressing room divider that the zero was too big and she needed a double zero.  Really,  a double zero! I wasn’t that small in grade school. Kayla could easily put a week’s worth of clothes into the little compartment designed for clothing.

I am not Kayla. While I am not enormous, I have grown heavier with age. The possessions I notice that now take up the most room are my bras which have grown geometrically since giving birth and breast feeding. The movement up to a D was bad enough but now on the downward slippery slope of aging, my circumstance is 2 inches bigger and I need wire armor to keep my cascading physique in place. The same is true of my swimming suit which used to be teenie weenie but now takes up the space of a small sea monster in order to pull me in all the right places and hold up those previously mentioned descending  upper body parts. Deciding what to take and purchasing travel clothes that meet all your needs while fitting  everything in small compartments takes significant planning.  My first thought when I looked in  the Jurni was I was going to need to  work on loosing more weight and buying a new  smaller traveling wardrobe (double zero, here I come!)

The good news is that the Jurni knows it’s packing compartment is tiny and for an extra cost has included zip bags to scrunch all my jumbo items into the size of my daughter’s size small. I tested the feasibility of utilizing the Jurni for a real trip rather than riding around my living room by laying out the wardrode I took to Mexico in January and seeing if I could fit it in the case. Much to my amazement, I got 3 pairs of long pants, 3 long sleeved shirts, 4 short sleeved shirts, 2 pairs of shorts, the iron maiden bra and sea monster swimming suit plus rash guard jacket, my traveling pjs (light weight), my wash out panties (3 pairs) seven pairs of white cotton socks ( I always wear socks with my hiking shoes) and  a pair of flip-flops. I actually called them thongs (my daughter was horrified). Appparently, thongs were shoe wear in the seventies but are strickly underwear in the twenty first century.

The little plastic buttons on the Jurni that serve as openers seemed a little stressed by my wardrobe. I am now on the look-out for a band to go around the Jurni once packed. The company sells a check-in strap and lock. But the strap goes from top to bottom and prevents you from utilizing the pull up handle. I would also be sitting on the buckle which  seems weird to me. I want something that goes around the middle, doesn’t interfere with the handle but guarantees that the iron woman underwear is not strewn all over the run way as I board a miniscule Alaska Airline plane where all carryons are actually always loaded under the plane.

I can’t provide a full evaluation of the campabilities of the Jurni until it actually goes with me on a journey. That may be a few months off. After jaunting all over the world and the U.S. the past few months, we are spending our summer in the Mountain West. Afterall, why go any place else when you are already there.

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Frank Church Wilderness Area, Idaho

 

 

Tulip Mania

20160402_124542Spring is the season of tulips. Throughout history, the colorful tulip has been considered rare, partially because it has such a limited blooming season. Tulips burst forth in spring and each bloom lasts 1 to 3 weeks. The tulip season itself is limited to a couple of months. Even today tulip lovers have to be in the right location at the right time in order to view the vast fields of blooming tulips cultivated by tulip growers to sell their products. I have been fortunate enough to be in Amsterdam at the end of the tulip season two years ago and had the opportunity to view the world renowned Keukenof Gardens.  Just last week, I was in Skagit Valley, Washington for the first weekend of the Annual Tulip Festival, which runs April 1 to 30 this year.  If seeing grand displays of tulip fields are on your bucket list, you must be willing to flex your schedule since tulip bloom dates follow Mother Nature’s schedule not a tour guide book.

Tulips originated in Asia and Turkey over 1000 years ago. In Turkey, the flowers came to be called tulips because the flower looked like a turban. Tulip bulbs were transplanted to Holland in the 16th century. Because of their beauty and short bloom period, during the Golden Age, the Dutch engaged in financial speculation on tulip bulbs. Between 1636 and 1637, bulbs were so highly valued that prices rose daily reaching astronomical numbers. By the peak of tulipmania in February of 1637, a single tulip bulb was worth about ten times a craftsman’s annual income or more than a house at that time. Bulbs were sold by weight, usually while they were still in the ground. The crashing price of tulip bulbs in Holland caused by the default of a tulip merchant on a large contract is considered the first financial bubble. As prices dropped, leading to the ruin of many speculators the government tried to support bulb prices to no avail.  The brutal popping of the tulip bulb bubble ended the Dutch Golden Age and hurled the country into a mild economic depression that lasted for several years.  (This story of tulip speculation should sound familiar to anyone who has seen or read The Big Short about America’s housing market collapse in 2007-2008. Apparently, we have learned little about financial speculation over the past 300 years).

I have been blessed to see both the Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse, Netherlands (about an hour by bus from Amsterdam) and the Tulip Festival in Skagit (about an hour by car from Seattle).There are some major differences and similarities between the two.

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Keukenhof Gardens provide a tranquil, viewing space for large numbers of visitors

The Keukenhof Gardens, sometimes called the Garden of Europe, is considered one of the most beautiful spring gardens in the world. The gardens served as the 15th century hunting grounds for the Castle Keukenhof, which still resides on the site. The gardens were established as public benefit in 1949 to help showcase the Dutch flower industry. The Netherlands is the largest exporter of flowers in the world. Keukenhof is filled with more than seven million tulips displayed in organized formal gardens surrounded by grass and accented by running streams, lakes, fountains, and walking paths. The gardens cover an expanse of about 80 acres.  The layout of the gardens is that such that while hordes of tourists are at the entry way once inside there are vast areas where there is only you, flowers, and an occasional swan.  The garden begs you to come and stay a while. If you choose to go, I would recommend you go by bus from Amsterdam so you don’t have to hassle with a car. Once off the bus, you are to free to spend the day on your own.

 

The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, on the other hand, is a driving tour. Most people drive themselves.  There are signs everywhere marketing the tulip route, along with sheriff officers to help move the large numbers of cars along in an orderly fashion.  Skagit is a rural area in Washington. The roads are clearly not built for the traffic created by the festival. There are two display gardens, Tulip Town and RoozenGaarde.  We chose to visit Tulip Town because it was the easiest to reach by car. Parking was free but not easy to find. Fortunately for us, we were coming down from Canada on Saturday morning so access was fairly easy from the highway.  When we drove into Seattle on Saturday afternoon, we saw long lines of traffic exiting the highway at the tulip route.  I’m not sure how such volume could be handled in the parking areas we saw.  If you go, plan to go during the week if possible.  If not, go early in the morning on the weekends. The tulips in Skagit are displayed in vast rows of gorgeous colors surrounded by muddy walking paths.  There are tractor rides to take you around.  But I believe flowers are best admired on your own two feet.  While not at all formal or peaceful like Keukenhof, the rows and rows of various colors on a clear day are truly spectacular.  There were tons of children running everywhere, a clear sign that seeing tulips is a family outing.  Workers were vainly attempting to keep visitors out of the flowers.  But invariably you would look up and see people marching down the small muddy lanes between varieties, or groups of friends kneeling in the flowers with selfie sticks to get a picture of themselves surrounded by flowers.  Most amusing flower trespasser to me was a mom, who had popped her small baby girl, dressed in all pink into the pink tulips so only a little  smiling face was showing out.  Of particular interest to me was the diversity of the population viewing the Skagit flowers, many identifiable by their traditional clothing. I heard one of the paid “shoers” or tulip guards  say they had tried signs to keep people out of the flowers but so many languages were spoken at the festival they couldn’t put up enough signs. Apparently, flowers speak to all nationalities.

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Tulip Town, Skagit Washington showcases rows of tulips in wild abandon.

 

I have also learned that tulips speak in the animal world. When we first moved into our house in Boise, I had a beautiful professional garden put in with tulips, I had carefully selected by hand for colors and to provide a full season of blooming (2 months).  We had the garden put in the fall and moved into the house at Christmas.  The first spring, I heard a lot of noise on the front porch and I looked out our small side window to see a large eye staring backing in.  I was taken back for minute and then realized the eye belonged to a deer on our porch.  We have quite a few deer that run freely across the foothills where I live.  I came out the next morning to find that the deer had eaten every single tulip bloom and left the nasty daffodils behind.  I have since learned that deer consider tulips the bon bons of the flower world and are delighted to munch through your tulip garden when flowers are in full bloom.  This happened every year until the tulip bulbs gave out.  Bulbs only rebloom about three years and get weaker flowers each time.  Our yard is now full of daffodils, the national flower of Whales.  My family ancestry is Welsh so maybe there is some justice in our inability to support the Netherlands, though I still love tulips.

The beauty of tulips, their short blooming period, and bulb life remind me how transient all life is. In Ecclesiastes 3, it is written;

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…

For me, spring is tulip time.

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