(Maple Ginger Bacon Carrots with Sesame Seeds! This was one of the great side dish from this evening! And the only one which featured a sauce!)
When I finally made the lobby, after a thrilling twilight boat ride, the front desk clerk informed me that the rest of my party had assembled in the dining room.
They saw me first.
All together they called: “Phoebe!”
I made my way over to the large round table under a rustic chandelier, made from antlers, where everyone sat.
Me (feeling corny): “Cheers everyone!”
This met with a round of laughter, clinking of plates, silverware, and glasses. With a slight sense of deja vu, I sat down to my second family-style meal in under a week. Which featured at least one entree covered in bacon sprinkles, one platter held jamón wrapped root vegetables, and we weren’t eating off paper plates.
The bacon almost made up for the shocking lack of sauce.
Wood (in-between bites): “According to the Rangers the best hiking weather is tomorrow. So I rented a boat. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have enough time to see Pumpkin Mountain. It’s a two and a half day hike if you’re focused.”
Beatrice (helping herself to a bowl of roasted vegetables): “Boat? My map didn’t show a landing anywhere on the trail.”
Laney (taking over for Wood, who’d just took an enormous bite of steak): “Not on the official maps, but the locals made their own version, augmented with all the tricks and trivia outsiders are unaware of. Sam told me there’s a natural landing just under the trailhead we can use.”
Beatrice (looking very interested): “Do they sell copies of these expanded maps?”
Laney: “I don’t know. They’re lending us one for tomorrow. You can take a picture of it if nothing else.”
Beatrice excused herself from the table for a moment.
Sarah (ever efficient): “How will we know what to look for?”
Wood: “They’ve spray-painted the landing bright orange or something. They’ll show me some pictures of what I’m looking for tomorrow, we’ll be fine.”
Talk shifted away from the trip onto more mundane matters, Laney wondered what I thought of FLYT, and Sarah asked Wood about the boys. It wasn’t until we’d practically licked the platters clean that we noticed Beatrice hadn’t returned to the table. Just about the time, we were going to mount an expedition to find her she reappeared in the dining room doorway, waving several folded sheets of paper above her head in victory.
Beatrice (her smile wide): “I got a copy of the map!”
We all started at her blankly.
Beatrice: “The augmented map! I got a copy!”
Me (speaking for the group – hesitantly): “M’kay…and this cause for celebration?”
Beatrice: “Yes! It means I can win!”
Wood: “Win at hiking?”
Beatrice (finally realizing we were confused): “No. Geocaching. My archenemy, Horus….”
Wood: “Wait, archenemy? Seriously?”
Beatrice: “Yes. An annoying player who says my caches are pedantic and pedestrian.”
Wood (trying and failing not to laugh): “He’s just needling you, Bee.”
Beatrice (haughtily): “I am not boring.”
Turns out Beatrice had bamboozled Sam into loaning her an augmented map, then fetched her unaugmented copy from her room. While we stacked the empty serving dished upon one end of the table, she snapped opened the two maps at the other. Then, using a wide array of colored pencils, she started transferring information from the former to the latter. We all watched her with varying amounts of humor.
Beatrice (concentrating on her task): “This isn’t funny, it’s serious.”
Laney: “Of course it is, but you can’t say you have an archenemy named Horus without us at least asking if you are driving on three wheels these days.”
Beatrice’s eyes didn’t waver from her task, but she did smile, Laney has that knack. When the waiter cleared the table, we ordered a round of drinks and continued watching Beatrice (from a distance she growled when we got too close, I mean she politely asked us to refrain from standing in her light). When she finished with a triumphant flourish, I warily approached her and studied her handiwork.
Me (tracing tomorrows trail with my finger): “That blue triangle is the authorized camping spot, but what are the blue circles just past it?”
Beatrice: “They’re the unofficial camping spots. Sam says the locals avoid them now, but they’re still on the map, I thought one might make an excellent place to hide a cache.”
Me: “I agree.”
Those unofficial dots would indeed make excellent hiding spots – for all kinds of things.
Seriously, my feet have not crossed the threshold of a garden shed in over twenty-ish years, and now I am sitting in my second in under a week.
My Uncle would be proud.
While I can make an exception for Beatrice’s, I’d renamed it The Map Room which transformed it into an entirely acceptable place to visit. I do not think calling the building I currently sat in a shack changes things in the slightest.
A shack is a shed built over water instead of on the ground.
How did the situation, me sitting in a shack in the middle of one of the largest national parks in the country by myself with a pile of luggage, come to pass?
Because apparently, I’m a silly goose.
Six days ago Wood made reservations for the five of us and the boys to participate in the first-ever Fall Foliage Tour. Wood deciding that Pumpkin Mountain the perfect location for said first trip. Somehow, the stars and schedules aligned allowing all of us to take a three day weekend together.
Unable to talk Wood out of it I spent the remaining five days making copious notes trying to cope with this new wrinkle. FLYT, my house sitting cousin, the Residents, and luggage & equipment lists all sported a plethora of check marks. I’d also worked out a plan (tentative to say the least – but hey, some plan is better than no plan at all) to deal with my tag-along passenger and the risk she posed to the Residents and myself, without alerting or scarring my friends for life.
So this afternoon the Princess and I picked Beatrice up from Pulp, Sarah from Nevermore and we set out for the Hilltop Hotel (Wood, Laney and the boys left yesterday). A few hours later the Princess pulled into a slot in a damp parking lot. The ever practical Sarah was the first to voice the concern we all felt, “Ummm, where’s the hotel?”
In my hasty preparations, I never thought to take a gander at the Hilltop Hotel’s website (apparently neither did Beatrice or Sarah), relying instead on Wood’s intelligence. Clearly, he forgot to share a few details…
Leaning forward we peered thru the windshield, “Should we call Wood?” ventured Sarah pulling out her phone. Not a flickering bar, fortunately, I spied a bulletin board partially obscured by some ferns, “Let’s take a look.” On it, we found a map which helpfully highlighted the serpentine path we needed to follow, thru the old growth, to a dock. A laminated brochure next to the map told us we would find a boat waiting at the dock to ferry us across the lake to the Hilltop Hotel. Easy as pie.
This place doesn’t sound like a Scooby-Doo set up at all.
Emptying the Princess of her cargo we lugged our luggage (down a trail which grew creepier the further we walked on it) to the dock where we found a shack and a man inside it, “Evening. You three ladies part of the Utley party?”. We nodded, speech being a bit beyond our capabilities since our discovery that rolly wheels, plus a half mile stint on a dirt trail were not a match made in heaven. He went on, “My name is Sam. I’ll just load the boat and zip you ladies across the lake.”
When he’d loaded half of our bags, Sam rejoined us, “Have you ever heard the riddle about the Chicken, Fox and a Sack of Wheat?”
We looked at each other, Beatrice spoke first, “Of course, the chicken and the wheat can’t be left alone together, nor can the fox and the chicken – yet all three must make it across the river whole. Why? Oh. You’re telling us the boat cannot take all of us and our luggage in one trip.”
“You’ve got it in one.” he replied. Sam, the boatman, didn’t appreciate the sheer number of bags three women can pack for a trip and used Hilltop’s smaller boat to fetch us. (I’d dedicated one entire suitcase to books, pretty sure Beatrice did the same, and both of us brought our own hiking equipment. Seems neither of us trust rentals).
So long explanation not very short, this is how I found myself sitting in a shack with half our luggage waiting for a man about a boat. Sam didn’t like leaving me alone, whether he worried about wolves or woodsmen attacking, I’m not sure. Personally, I thought a shack induced panic attack more likely, but hey what do I know?
That’s the how it happened. The why is very simple.
It was due to my lack of participation in a trip down memory lane, which featured several 64ounce Slurpees and the mistaken notion that our route held a plethora of rest stops along the way.
Checking out a tip from one of my Senior Center fares, I found the best fish & chips in Rye – Zeke’s Fish House!
Plus it was near-ish to PULP, where I was going to pick up Beatrice later for the Fall Foliage Tour.
Two Birds, one stone.
Piling the leftovers back into the box (we made quite a dent, and to my supreme joy – I would have hom bow for breakfast!). Unfortunately, our cleanup gave Wood the opening he needed for his own investigations…
Wood (indignation coloring his tone): “Morticia! You drank my soda.”
Sarah: “I thought you were going to say, ‘you sunk my battleship!’”
Beatrice (laughing): “He’s mad she filched his whiskey and soda.”
Me (with an air of satisfaction): “Sure did, no guilt at all, though that might be the liquor talking.”
Wood: “You owe me a drink!”
Beatrice: “Actually, I believe you both owe me one. Since Phoebe finished off the liquor, you pilfered from my cabinet.”
Ignoring Wood’s sputtering, Beatrice pulled a bottle (and four glass) out of one of the cupboards in the front while I wiped down the table. She poured an inch into each glass and passed them around, then unfurled the map. Clustering on the southern edge, scouring the surface trying to find Pumpkin Mountain amongst all the other entertainingly named features. My favorite? Joker Mountain, everyone needs a hidaway I suppose.
Beatrice (pointing at a feature near the middle of the map): “There, Pumpkin Mountain right on the lake.”
Wood (tracing his finger over the map): “That’s right. Laney and I went the Hilltop Hotel just south of there this last summer – we played on the lake the entire time. We never hiked up that far…”
Laney chose this year’s vacation spot, a trip which did not feature any soccer or soccer adjacent events the entire week.
Wood had fun…eventually.
Me (following hiking trails with my finger): “Looks like I’ll have to hike in.”
Me (the whiskey slowing my ability to think of a plausible explanation or of anything at all, so I said the first thing that popped into my head): “Thought it might be a fun fall expedition.”
Wood: “That’s a great idea! Laney’s been dying to get away. I thought we’d hit L.A. and watch an L.A. Football Club match. But this is so much better! You’ll go, Bee? And you too Sarah? We’ll stay at the Hilltop Hotel and hike up Pumpkin Mountain! I’ll get so many husband kudos! Woot! We can even take the boys!”
Wood started doing a little dance around the shed (I say little because while spacious, we were still in a shed). His enthusiasm was infectious.
Beatrice (laughing): “When do you want to go?”
Wood whipped out his phone and started furiously typing on it, then borrowed Beatrice’s and started talking to someone on the other end, while firing questions at the three of us.
Me (inwardly & outwardly fretting): “Wood, I thought I’d go up by myself, camping…”
Wood: “Don’t worry Morticia, Laney and I will cover your room. It’ll be your early birthday present! You’ll have more fun with us!”
Any other time trying to get our schedules to line up was akin to herding kittens, but somehow in under thirty minutes Wood, Laney (via text), Beatrice and Sarah worked out a three-day Fall Foliage Tour.
Fantastic. How on earth was I going to find and nullify my tag-along with all of them hiking with me?
After nosing thru the dredges of the take-out boxes, hoping against hope I would find neglected pork filled hom bow amongst them, I remembered my earlier research. I waited until Sarah finished her rant on why she firmly believed no one under the age of seven should come into contact with clowns (Wood pulling faces to illustrate her tale), before asking my question.
Wood: “You should call her Bee, it would save time.”
Me: “You’ve known her for years. Beatrice works fine for me.”
Wood: “But, she buzzes like a bumble bee between books.”
He looked very proud of his string of alliterations. Sarah sat back, trying not to laugh at our exchange. I wonder if Wood nipped a sip of something from the shed’s liquor cabinet during the move.
Beatrice (sounding slightly insulted): “Is that why you call me Bee? Because I remind you of a bug?”
Wood: “In the best possible way.”
Me (trying to save Wood from himself): “Anywayssss Beatrice, I figured out Pumpkin Mountain is somewhere in the North Cascades. Does this narrow it down enough to help?”
Beatrice (turning in her chair started to peruse the books next to her): “Yes, it does. Give me a minute.”
Wood: “Oh! Sounds like a place you’d find Tim Burton filming.”
While Beatrice flipped thru books calling out numbers, Wood stood by the flat files leafing thru maps which may or may not have corresponded to Beatrice’s numbers. While they amused themselves, I focused on Sarah and went straight to the point.
Me: “So what’s Little Ben’s plan?”
Sarah (grabbed her purse and pulled out a manila envelope): “I snagged a press packet for you, but the gist? His Highness bought MacGregor farm lock, stock, and box top from the widow. He’s keeping the oldest son on to manage the farm and Mrs. MacGregor for tours.”
Me (leafing thru the glossy-paged packet): “Ok, where is he placing the pet cemetery? Not near the fields or farm animals, I hope.”
Sarah: “No. He’s earmarked the strip of land adjacent to creek’s bank on the farm side.”
Setting down the papers I leaned back in my chair, rubbing my fists in my eyes, wishing Sarah had better news.
Sarah: “I did ask him why. He said the ground was soft enough he could use the old equipment you’d retired from Nevermore. So with the tax deductions from donated harvests, without the purchase of new equipment, no longer paying your salary and reducing his personal expenses, he believes he’ll recoup the money spent buying the farm in less than eighteen months.”
Me: “Crap. No one’s tried talking to him about alternative areas?”
Sarah: “I think the MacGregor’s tried but didn’t get anywhere. Why? Is it that bad?”
Swiveling my blurry eyes towards Wood’s enthusiastic drawer pulling, I grabbed his cola and took a sip. Whiskey. I knew he filched something! Swapping his cup for mine, I continued to work on his drink and Sarah’s information.
Me (finally finding the Sunny Valley Farm map amongst the literature and pointed at the proposed area): “MacGregor Farm sits directly on Iron Creek and floods periodically right where he intends to place the pet cemetery.”
Sarah: “So bad.”
Wood (his interest diverted back in our direction): “Why?”
Me: “Caskets are surprisingly buoyant. Combine that fact with soft ground and flood waters? They’ll get worked up to the surface in no time flat then get washed downstream onto public land. Can you imagine some unsuspecting person, probably kids, finding and opening one?”
Wood (taking a sip of his drink and looking quizzically at it): “So bad.”
Beatrice (holding a map in her hands): “You don’t work there anymore. Nevermore isn’t strictly your problem anymore.”
Wood and Sarah swapped glances while studiously avoiding mine.
Me (sighing): “Nevermore is my responsibility, I promised to look after it.”
Beatrice (her gaze inscrutable): “Okay, how can I help?”
Me (finishing Wood’s fortified soda): “Not sure yet. Did you find Pumpkin Mountain?”
Beatrice (looking down): “Help me clear off the table, I’ll show you.”
(Teriyaki Salmon, Miso and California Rolls were the first items we unpacked! So Good!)
Recalling my initial reaction to Sunny Valley Farm, I decided to wait until I got home before calling Sarah. Crashing the Princess due to distracted driving (i.e., Little Ben drives me to distraction) wouldn’t fit within my budgetary constraints at the moment. So I opted to sit on the garden wall in the Lavender Lady’s back garden and watch the squirrels and birds fight over acorns while I dialed her number.
Waiting for Sarah answer, I took stock of all the good things surrounding me – my toes felt warm and cozy in my wool socks, my crochet scarf kept the brisk air off my neck, and a handful of cookies kept my tummy full on this fine fall day. Sarah picked up on the fourth ring.
Sarah (chirping): “Hey mom! I can’t talk right now. I’m at work. Mind if I stop by for dinner tonight?”
Me: “Little Ben’s right there?”
Sarah (still chirpy): “Yup! So dinner?”
Me: “Seven sound good?”
Sarah (still channeling her inner cheerleader): “Great! See you then! Love you!”
Little Ben must have been standing right next to her.
Which isn’t as creepy as it sounds, Sarah Armstrong is Nevermore’s Chief Funeral Director (she prefers the title mortician, but Big Ben won’t let her change it). Who often works within close proximity of Little Ben. I texted Beatrice and added an extra entree to the Chinese takeout order for this evening. Then thought about it and added three more and a side of hom bow to my request.
Fortunately, my earlier tasks ate up enough of the day that seven pm rolled around rather quickly. Three hours flew by while I disassembled Laundry Island, made my bed and participated in a lengthy discussion Harold S. Ellington (Beatrice’s skeleton) about my current inquiry while dusting the front room (nope not stalling at all).
At a quarter of seven, Beatrice rolled thru the front door juggling two large boxes filled with takeout containers plus her bag and briefcase. Relieving her of the boxes, I breathed in the wonderfully spicey smells of General Tso’s Chicken and Mongolian Beef. Setting the boxes down on the entryway table I perused the selections, egg rolls, yakisoba, all kinds of veggies covered in multiple sauces (I love sauce) and a variety of rice dishes. At this point, my stomach realized the pancakes and cookies left the building hours ago and threatened to attack the takeout boxes directly, Alien-style.
Beatrice (a bit out of breath): “So, why did I buy enough food to feed a small army?”
Me (wishing I could filch an egg roll): “I might have invited one?”
Beatrice: “That’s a good reason. Why?”
Me: “To help move my table and stuff into the garden shed.”
Beatrice (smiled and arched her eyebrow): “Nothing to do with not wanting to go by yourself?”
And with timing only Dourwood can muster, he knocked, saving my bacon from Beatrice’s follow-up funny.
Wood: “Bee! Morticia! How are the new housemates doing? Hmm…do I smell Chinese?”
Me: “Sure do. Sushi too! And you’ll get some right after you help me move some stuff into storage.”
Wood: “Morticia, I would love to, but I’m not dressed for it. My suit….”
Me (crossing my arms over my chest, trying to look stern):”…Is perfectly fine. And after you help me move my boxes, we’ll eat the takeout in the shed. Where you can pay Beatrice the ten bucks, you owe her.”
Wood (laughing, looking between Beatrice and I): “Ahh, you told her about the bet? Thick as thieves already! I knew you guys would be great together! Let me grab my sneakers out of the car and roll up my sleeves. That food smells terrific by the way, had an emergency ear infection come in, so I missed lunch.”
He gave me a quick squeeze then darted back outside again.
Beatrice (shaking her head and laughing): “Can I change? Or should my penance extend to trying to bend and lift while wearing a pencil skirt?”
Me (smiling): “No, go change. You bought food, that was our deal.”
Sarah walked in with Wood who’d retrieved his sneakers. Things moved quickly with three people (Sarah only carried the food down, wasn’t fair to rope her into Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum’s atonement), everyone laughed when I recounted (with Wood providing sound effects) why I disliked garden sheds. My 50’s style Formica and aluminum kitchen table fit perfectly into the middle of the shed – providing a flat and stable surface for both eating and map reading.
Fortunately for Wood and I, tonight the former came before the latter.