2021, It’s a Wrap—July through December

June’s rainy weather turned into hot, muggy days as July came. Kay continued sports activities, committee assignments, and spending a lot of time at the Diamante pool. We both worked the Spa City Classic pickleball tournament at the Hot Springs Convention Center. And then, while playing pickleball in Hot Springs Village, I re-pulled the left hamstring; two back-to-back hamstring pulls essentially shutdown golf and pickleball for me for the rest of the summer, though I continued to make photographs, Kay amped up her golf playing and time at the pool. Life was settling down and returning to near normal, and then the Delta variation of COVID arrived, essentially setting us back to ground zero. Ridge and Aker came to visit in mid-July, and we had a great weekend planned. However, on Saturday after breakfast, I began to feel feverish and achy with a slight headache and sore throat, all symptoms of COVID19, DELTA VARIANT. And, even though we have both been vaccinated, there were several hundred people at the pickleball tournament, and we guessed that the majority had not been vaccinated. Kay rushed the kids to meet their mom and their weekend with us was cut short. Though the symptoms persisted for a few days, I tested NEGATIVE. Back to “normal”, we made a quick trip to Memphis to visit with Jenny and her family, the first time we had seen them in almost a year. COVID again impacted our lives as the month long trip to the United Kingdom scheduled for late September was rescheduled.

The humid 100° days in late July transitioned into August, and prohibited virtually all outdoor activities. Having reviewed our “life” list, we decided to cart trip to the Northeastern US, cycling Rail Trail Hall of Fame trails along the way, including theTunnel Hill State Trail, Illinois, Monon Trail, Indiana, Cardinal Greenway, Indiana, the Allegheny River Trail, Pennsylvania, Pine Creek Rail Trail, Pennsylvania, and the Island Line Rail Trail, Vermont.  Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine were our target destinations for this road trip. Vermont highlights included Queche Gorge, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP, and the quaint village of Woodstock.

One of Vermont’s covered bridges

In New Hampshire we really enjoyed Franconia Notch State Park, and spent a couple of days hiking several trails to see waterfalls, pools, terrific views.

Flume Gorge, Franconia Notch SP, NH

Maine has always offered an attractive “come visit” message. Baxter State Park, home of Mount Katahdin (northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail), presented a good chance of seeing and photographing a moose, but we were thwarted. After Baxter State Park, we drove to the upper corner of Maine and traveled its eastern coast to Acadia National Park. Maine proved to be hot, with temperatures in the 90s, and very crowded. 

Kay “glassing” for moose

After leaving Maine, we drove south crossing through New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut before driving through the heart of New York City, New York, at 5:00 PM, rush hour! And then, it was on to the New Jersey Turnpike, passing near Philadelphia, and driving through Delaware, my 50th state. Our target destination was Richmond, Virginia, where we spent a couple of days with Nan and George, Kay’s sister and brother-in-law. And then it was back through Tennessee, visiting family near Nashville and Memphis, arriving home on August 23. The rest of the month involved golf, and photography, as both hummingbirds and butterflies were found in fairly large numbers. 

5:00 PM, New York City, NY

Early September was much like late August. However, we flew to Seattle on September 9 to visit friends Ralph and Debbie. They drove us on a tour of Olympic National Park—both the mountains and the rain forest—the west coast of Washington, historic southwest Washington and northwest Oregon, and the Columbia River Gorge. While all the sights were breathtaking and the wineries awesome, the highlight of the trip was visiting with Ralph and Debbie—we really like them!

Olympic NP

Ralph and Debbie drove us to the airport in Seattle where we caught the Norwegian Encore, cruising we to Alaska via the Inland Passage. Since we had done this previously, we concentrated on relaxing and enjoying the Broadway style shows, especially Kinky Boots and Choir of Men. As an aside, on the Norwegian ship we felt perfectly safe from COVID with a requirement for vaccinations and pre-testing for all passengers and crew. 

Cruising past glaciers in Alaska

After being home for a few days, in mid-October we drove to East Tennessee. Traveling via Memphis, we again visited Jenny and her family, and spent a few day in Pigeon Forge celebrating Ridge’s 10th birthday. It was a fun experience, particularly the wild rides at Dollywood, short hikes in the Smokey Mountains, and quality time spent with Karyn’s family. In late October, Kay and I received our COVID booster vaccination.

November was all about family, medical appointments (because we spend the winter away from home), and photography. We watched Ridge play soccer—he’s good—as well as Aker, playing her first year. Jenny and her kids spent a few days with us prior to Thanksgiving, and it was the first long visit with her and the three kids in almost two years; The last time they visited, Linc was only a few months old and Sutton had not been born. Dan Olson and I left the day afternoon after Thanksgiving for a photography trip via motorhome to southeast Arizona, making stops along the way to photograph unusual places like Monahans Sandhills State Park and the canyons found within the Chiricahua Mountains in eastern Arizona. We were not disappointed; thousands of photographs were made, including one of the Elegant Trogon, a bird I had been “chasing” for 3 years.

Elegant Trogon—the 3-year chase is over

Kay began December by decorating the house for Christmas, and according to friends, outdid herself. She decorated extensively with trees—three large and eight small—various ornaments, figurines, lights, and other holiday memorabilia. She hosted a couple of parties, including The Book Club, and had several overnight visits with girlfriends. Meanwhile, Dan and I continued photographing birds and canyon vistas in the Chiricahua Mountains, Sandhill Cranes at Whitewater Draw, and numerous birds at Ash Canyon, Hereford, and Patagonia in southeastern Arizona. Several new to us birds (aka LIFERS) were observed and photographed. We arrived at Palm Creek on December 8, where a return to pickleball was much anticipated and enjoyed. Several trips were made to nearby birding hotspots—Riparian Preserve at Gilbert, Boyce Thompson Arboretum at Superior, and Madera Canyon—and thousands more photographs were made. We flew back home for Christmas, spending time with kids and grandkids. Kay and I flew back to Arizona on December 29 to spend another sun-filled winter season at Palm Creek Resort in Casa Grande, Arizona.

Sandhill Cranes, Whitewater Draw, AZ

Though we made the best of a difficult situation, life DID NOT nor HAS NOT returned to normal. COVID repercussions has altered our way of life, and made us extremely cautious. We miss the social interaction experienced before the pandemic. Our foreign travel has essentially been quelled, with the attendant loss of $$$. We’re not optimistic that we’ll ever be able to travel outside the continent again. If only selfish people would have gotten the damn shot and followed recommended medical protocols!