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IMG_1559 On a long, wide, sandy beach north of Todos Santos, on the west coast of  Baja, Mexico, sea turtles are hatching by the hundreds. Almost every  evening in the winter months, another bunch crawls over the sand  toward the vast Pacific, as turtles have done for more centuries than you  can imagine. These days it’s a little different. They need human help, and  they’re getting it from a unique conservation organization. Just past  sunset, here at Turtle Camp on Las Playitas, we get to watch it happen.

For 55 days the turtles have been in an incubation greenhouse, Turtle Camp, Bajacurled in  eggs in warm sand. Those that hatched today are now swarming and wiggling in blue plastic bins, some on IMG_1618their backs waving tiny flippers, others climbing over each other. Where are we? What happened to that cozy, quiet, soft place? What is this booming sound, calling me into thunder and foam and danger? It’s irresistible! Let’s go! Or so I imagine their reactions to be.

IMG_1621 Volunteers who’ve been watching over the eggs kneel by the bins and explain  to visitors that this is the only place in the world where turtle eggs are  collected from their nests and kept safe in a greenhouse until they hatch.  When they stagger out, they’re held in the bins until sunset and then released  onto the beach to find their way into the waves. These little guys and gals are  incredibly vulnerable, and darkness shields them from eager predators like  the gulls now circling above us. Even so, most will become snacks for birds  and sharks or be trapped in nets and drown.

Some evenings as many as 100 turtles are released. Tonight there are about 25, all of them Olive Ridleys. IMG_1619Leatherbacks, the largest sea turtles, hatch here too. They’re found in every ocean and are the most endangered, 90% gone. Amazing fact: when these Olive Ridleys, those who survive, reach sexual maturity ten years after wandering the world, the females with eggs will return to this exact beach to nest. Even more amazing: Leatherbacks come back sixteen years later. I’m hoping enough of them live that long.

The mothers drop the eggs, cover them up, and waddle back into the ocean, and the eggs wait, prey to the dangers of ATVs, construction, and any creature interested in dining on turtle eggs—lizards, dogs, birds, humans. The temperature has to be just right, too. So the volunteers and biologists at Todos Tortugueros give them a hand, collecting the eggs and sheltering them.

Now it’s past sunset and the gulls have wheeled away, thwarted this time. Those of us who’ve come to watch stand  behind the sharp slope that falls to the surf, where waves rise high, roll, and crash. Once the 3-inch-long turtles are on the slope, they scramble down, pulling themselves forward until they reach the water and are pulled out by the next wave. All except one, who seems confused. He, or maybe she, keeps going the wrong way, or stops as if to get his bearings. He’ll get there, the biologist says. But he doesn’t, and who could resist giving him a boost? Someone finally lifts him and puts him close enough to catch the wave. And off he goes, into a wild new world that is home.  IMG_1589

Schmidt Winery Lounging on the terrace of Schmidt Family Vineyards, in southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley, I’m sipping a light Sauvignon blanc and wondering why I haven’t been here long before now. The wine is delightful, the landscape idyllic, the winemakers friendly and hospitable. The Schmidts’ winery is only one of dozens in the valleys of southern Oregon: the Rogue, Applegate, Umpqua and Illinois, which have so many microclimates they can grow both warm and cool climate grape varieties. Pinot noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay are the main wines produced. I’m feeling lucky to be here on a sunny afternoon, under a blue sky, gazing at acres of vineyards stretching over the hills while I sample a few vintages.

Judy and Cal Schmidt, who bought an old ranch 13 years ago, Cal Schmidthave been incredibly busy, not only growing grapes and making wines, but putting in flower and herb Schmidtgardens, a picturesque pond, tree-shaded lawns, and a terrace where visitors can enjoy pizzas and antipasti along with their wine tastings. Their place is often used for weddings and concerts.

Winery-hopping is easy with Wine Hopper Tours—I can sip IMG_7681with no concern about driving and soak up the beautiful scenery, gliding by streams, vineyards, and forested hills in a plush Mercedes van. Plus I get the benefit of loads of information from Scott, the driver, about the local wineries, climate, topography, and soils. Also snacks and a nice lunch. This is touring in style.

IMG_7668The first official winery in southern Oregon opened in 1873, when settler Peter Britt opened Valley View Winery. The wine industry limped along (and closed completely during Prohibition) until 1968, when an experimental vineyard revealed the not-so-big surprise that this really was a great place for growing wine grapes. My tour includes a stop at Valley View, so of course I lift a glass and toast Mr. Britt with a sip of nicely dry Merlot.IMG_7679 Troon is another historic winery in Applegate Valley and offers weekend entertainment and a bistro menu of local foods, as well as tastings of their signature Zinfandels and blends. At Serra winery, a lavender-lined driveway leads up a hillside to a terrace overlooking broad valley and mountain views. This is a peaceful spot for IMG_7644enjoying Serra’s pleasant patio wine, “Serendipity,” a blend of Gewurztraminer and Pinot blanc. And I’m quite ready for lunch, which Scott serves with a flourish.

Is it the wine I’ve been imbibing or the water’s sparkle that sends me splashing into the cool, clear stream? It feels great on bare feet. This is at Red Lily winery, a pretty spot on a hill above a IMG_7656tributary of the Applegate River. It has an expanse of lawn and a sandy beach with picnic tables set up for visitors. In the snazzy tasting room, I can’t pass up a sample of their earthy Tempranillo.

That’s enough wine for one day, but there’s no IMG_7631doubt I’ll be back, maybe for “Fall Uncorked,” when most Applegate Valley wineries hold a big November celebration of the grape harvest. Or—a romantic notion—take Wine Hopper’s summertime Twilight Wine Float on the Rogue River.

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IMG_7475  She doesn’t look   all that scary, does she, with that calm, resigned face? But she’s a grizzly bear, and I’m standing only three feet away.  It doesn’t seem right to be this close to a big, furry creature with sharp claws and teeth. Unnatural. Primal instinct screams run.  I linger, though, safe on my side of the fence, and tell her I’m sorry she can’t live in the wild where she belongs. Like many of the other animals and birds at Wildlife Images in southern Oregon, she’s not equipped to survive on her own.  This is a place for injured or orphaned creatures to be cared for by experts until they can be released or, if that’s not possible, kept in surroundings that mimic their natural homes.

Wildlife Images, which opened in the 1970s and became a non-profit in 1981, has a mission: Educate, Involve, and Inspire.  The director, staff and more than 80 well-trained volunteers run education programs as well as care for injured or disabled animals and birds–about 1000 a year. Some were orphaned or caught in traps. The mountain lion was a “pet” whose tendons were cut so he couldn’t extend his claws, which means he’s not able to capture food or defend himself. If they’re too disabled to be released after rehabilitation, they stay on as permanent residents. That’s why visitors like me get to see them up close. Wildlife Images is open to visitors 362 days a year for guided tours (you can’t wander around on your own).

Everybody has a name. Niles and Daphne are sandhill cranes, Miss Jefferson is a 9-pound bald eagle, Cocoro is a Eurasian eagle owl, Jack and Jill are falcons. Carson is a beautiful gray fox and IMG_7459Defiance a proud American bald eagle. There are wolves, bobcats and several bears. At each stop along the path, I learn something new.  Who’s the fastest creature in the world? The peregrine falcon—it can dive at 242 miles per hour. How strong is the golden eagle? Its talons have 750 pounds of pressure and can kill a wolf. What’s the only canine that climbs trees? The gray fox. What does it cost to keep a bald eagle? $200 a month: 4,000 pounds of dog food, fresh rats, vaccinations, permits and more. 

IMG_7485 The 24-acre rehab center/sanctuary by the Rogue River, 12 miles west of Grants Pass, was founded by David Siddon in the 1970s and opened as a nonprofit in 1981.  It’s now run by the founder’s son Dave, who says he’s committed to continuing his dad’s dream of rescuing wildlife and educating people IMG_7452about it.  Wildlife Images is supported by admission fees, grants, fundraisers and donations. It has an interpretive center, a pavilion for public events, a Birds of Prey building, and a gift shop.

I’m interested in all of it, but the grizzly bear has me enthralled. Her name is Yak and she came from Alaska. As we watch each other I think of  bear power in story and symbol, from Ursa Major, the Big Dipper, to cave bears and shamans. After a few silent minutes she hauls herself up and shambles off, and I can see that Yak, even now, carries the memory of that power. 

 

IMG_7721 I generally don’t care to eat mold, but Rogue River Blue has changed my attitude. The delicate veins of blue molds running through this blue cheese add a tang to the firm, buttery, incredibly flavorful cheese, a perfect contrast, and I’m happy to taste it any time I get the chance. Today it’s in the maker’s facility, Rogue Creamery, in Central Point. IMG_7722This small southern Oregon town, just west of the I-5 freeway–four miles from Medford, 218 miles south of Portland–has attracted artisans who craft top-quality, handmade products. Cheese is one of them, and I’m watching the experts at work through large windows at Rogue Creamery. Turning rich, local milk into award-winning, internationally acclaimed cheese takes care and time, up to five years, manager Craig Nelson says. Here’s how the website describes part of the process: “After draining in their hoops, wheels are dry salted, pierced, and dipped in wax before the bulk of their aging to prevent mold growth on rind. At the end of their maturation, wax is removed and the wheels are wrapped in foil.” The blue cheese is aged for at least 90 days.

Rogue Creamery has been in business for 80 years and crafts several other cheeses, the best being cheddar and their signature blue. I’m also trying something different: classic hand-milled cheddar combined with Rogue Ales’ Chocolate Stout. The beer is melded with the curd, then hand-dipped and pressed into blocks for aging. Along with the cheddar, I get hints of chocolate and coffee from the stout, a nice blend. Another produced here is TouVelle, which the makers call a workhorse in the kitchen because it’s semi-hard, mild yet flavorful, and melts evenly. In the gift shop I, along with a lot of other visitors, browse among the locally produced jams, sauces, pastas and breads and pick up a nifty chiller bag that will keep cheese purchases cool.

Ledger David Winery  Next door is Ledger David Winery. In what was once a 1950s garage and is now a small, elegant, light-filled tasting room, I can taste fine wines paired with, what else, Rogue Creamery cheeses. Owners David Traul and Lena Varner produce several varietals, including Chenin Blanc, malvasia Bianca, Chardonnay, Sangiovese, and Tempranillo. My favorite is their unique, award-winning red blend labeled Orion’s Nebula. It’s more than 50% Cabernet Franc and has an intriguing mixture of flavors: cherry, vanilla, cinnamon, and more. Ledger David wines come from grapes grown in their 15-acre vineyard in nearby Talent.

The next shop in the developing Artisans Corridor is Lillie Belle Farms, and that means Chocolate with a capital C.  Jeff Shepherd began selling IMG_7749truffles at local farmer’s markets ten years ago, naming them after his wife, Belle, and daughter, Lillie. Everything was (and is) handmade with high-quality ingredients, some from his own organic farm. The business grew, word spread, and today Lillie Belle Farms has a staff of twelve and sells more than 20,000 pounds of chocolate products a year, worldwide. In 2009, Jeff was chosen by Dessert Professional magazine as one of the top ten chocolatiers in the U.S.

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One of the best things about the place is its festive atmosphere. It’s fun to walk in the door, sniff mouth-watering aromas, and survey the bon-bons, ganaches, caramels, truffles and chocolate bars. Glass cases hold spicy cayenne caramels, blue cheese truffles, chocolate-covered bacon, and chocolate fortune cookies. Anejo candies contain tequila, lime and salt. It’s mighty hard to choose from these offbeat delights. One bar’s name is also a playful warning: “Do Not Eat This Chocolate,” and one taste tells you why. The chilies in this one are some of the world’s hottest peppers. It’s hot! “I warned you,” Jeff says with a grin.

Artisans Corridor is a great southern Oregon stop off the freeway now, and with changes and additions underway, it’s only going to get even better.

IMG_7708  I’ve reviewed hundreds of bed-and-breakfast inns for guidebooks, and by now it takes me maybe two minutes to tell if I’ve found a good one. As I walk in the door of The White House Bed and Breakfast, in Medford, Oregon, I know immediately it rates high on the list. kathy rulonKathy Rulon greets weary travelers with a smile, shows us to our spacious upstairs room, explains how things work, and points out a box of cards with breakfast menu choices (nice idea!). Then she leaves us alone in our haven of quiet, saying “I’ll be in the kitchen or garden if you need me.” Kathy is a former flight attendant, and she knows how to take care of people without any annoying hovering. Her relaxed, friendly style makes guests feel immediately at home, and this, plus nice accommodations with thoughtful touches, are to me the ingredients of a perfect bed-and-breakfast inn.  Reasonable rates help, too.

The White House B&B is a two-story, columned home on a residential hillside lane in East Medford. It’s white, of course, and has a veranda complete with inviting rocker. Our room is lounge area Whiite house suite actually a suite stretching across the   house front to back, with windows  overlooking the tree-shaded street and large garden.  The queen-sized bed is comfortable and the light-filled bathroom spotless. And there’s plenty of space to put our stuff, which inevitably gets scattered around. Down the hall is another bedroom that sleeps two, but it’s used only if a group is traveling together, so we have the entire floor to ourselves.

Asked for a dinner recommendation, our hostess is happy to oblige. We choose Porters, a century-old train station restored as a patio, porterspopular restaurant.  It has both  historic charm and an excellent menu of American classic dishes, emphasizing local foods: wild mushrooms, herbs, cheeses, Northwest seafood and wines, Oregon poultry and lamb. We dine at an outdoor patio table, with train tracks on the other side of the vine-covered fence, and couldn’t be more content.

In the morning, Kathie has breakfast on the table at the time requested. We have the granola/fruit/yogurt parfait and a IMG_7620spinach-mushroom omelet, only part of a small feast that includes whole cooked pears, fresh coffee cake and preserves, juice, coffee and teas. It’s all delicious. (Kathy’s secret to a perfect  non-rubbery omelet: cook it more slowly than you think you should.) Her most requested dish is the Dutch Baby, a baked pancake cooked at high heat in a heavy cast iron pan so it crawls up the sides. Kathy fills it with blueberries and gives it a sprinkle of powdered sugar. IMG_7705

Search as I might, I can’t find a thing to complain about, so I’ll end with the recipe that made Kathy a finalist in a Best Breakfast contest by BedandBreakfast.com. It’s easy to prepare if you roast the sweet potatoes and yams the night before, which I did.  Also, I skipped the eggs and it was uniquely tasty anyway, a good, hearty brunch dish.

Sweet Potato Hash on Beet Greens with Bacon Brittle (serves 4)

2 sweet potatoes

2 yams

1 onion

4 scallions

1 bunch beet greens

4 strips bacon

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 tablespoons brown sugar

8 eggs

Roast sweet potatoes and yams.  Cool, peel, and cube.

Sliver onion and sauté with potatoes and yam in olive oil.

Cut stems from beet greens; sauté greens lightly in olive oil.

Fry bacon, drain off most of fat, and add syrup and brown sugar. Cook on low heat for 5 minutes. (Pinch of cayenne pepper here is optional.) Spread onto baking sheet to cool; then break into pieces.

Poach eggs.

Lay a bed of  the beet greens on each plate. Place a spoonful of potato/yam/scallion mixture on top. Sprinkle with bacon/sugar brittle and top with 2 poached eggs. Garnish with a scallion.

 

 

IMG_7564  The glassblower faces an open, white-hot furnace, 2400 degrees Fahrenheit, the same temperature as the molten lava pouring out of Kilauea volcano at this moment. The heat is intense, from this and the room’s slightly cooler (900 degrees) ovens, as you’d expect in any glass forge. This one is the Glass Forge Gallery and Studio in Grants Pass, Oregon. It’s a warm summer day here in southern Oregon, but a breeze wafts through the large, warehouse-like studio, open to visitors who can watch the entire process. Inside the furnace, a ceramic crucible holds liquid glass–pure silica, I’m told, mined in Texas and mixed with 10% soda ash and lime.

The long hollow pole dips it into the hot pool in the furnace. Turning the pole constantly, the glassmaker pulls it out, spins it in a bowl of multi-colored glass bits, and carries it to a curved stand. He attaches a mouth tube to the pole, and now it’s my turn.IMG_7592 IMG_7566“Blow hard, as if you were blowing up a balloon,” he says. I blow, but nothing much happens. “Harder.” I puff my cheeks and blow, and the glass, which will drip and ooze if it’s not continually turned, begins to fill with air and round into a ball. “Now softer.” I blow more gently, and the ball grows bigger. The expert knows exactly when to nip the ball closed, make a swirl at the top, and set it to cool. I, with considerable help, have just made a beautiful, colorful ornament.  In sixteen hours it will be completely cool and ready to handle. The folks at the Glass Forge will mail it to me.

Hundreds of hand-blown glass items, from simple balls like mine to elaborate lamps, IMG_7571chandeliers, curved vases and art pieces, are created in the forge by a co-op of glass artists.  Most have been here awhile, and everyone bears a few burn scars despite the protective shields. The shop, a showcase of their artworks, is open every day but Sunday. If you want the fun of blowing your own glass art–and I can testify that it is fun–come on a weekday (except for 3 weeks in August, when the place is closed for cleaning). At this writing it costs $15 to make an ornament and $20 for a more complicated piece. IMG_7837

Oscar Wilde tomb Pere Lachaise    Père Lachaise cemetery, in the 20th arrondisement in Paris, is like a peaceful, tree-shaded, 110-acre park, only with lots of bones entombed and underground—not at all gloomy, in my opinion. Tourists love it. A map, available at the entrance, shows where some of the famous names are, but frankly, I find it confusing and prefer to just wander the walkways and possibly happen upon one I recognize. Oscar Wilde, maybe, whose tomb is fenced so you can’t leave lipstick kisses as people used to do. Sarah Bernhardt, Gertrude Stein, Edith Piaf, Chopin, Jim Morrison and thousands more are buried here. Some memorials are haunting: a wall dedicated to the Communards killed in 1871, sculptures in honor of WWII Resistance fighters and Holocaust victims.

The hillside cemetery’s name comes from a priest, Père Francois de la Chaise, 17th century confessor to King Louis cemetery1XIV. In 1804, Napoleon declared the site where the priest once lived a graveyard. Parisians didn’t like it. They weren’t going to bury loved ones so far from the city and in unblessed ground. The answer was to bring in celebrities, starting with the remains of the beloved writer and comedic actor Molière and the author La Fontaine. A few years and several bodies later, the place was in demand. Today Père Lachaise holds more than a million of the dead, and there’s a long waiting list.

IMG_0780   Montparnasse Cemetery, on the other side of the city in the 14th arrondisement, is much smaller. Its flat, 47 acres are divided into the petit and the grand, with some 1200 trees making it another quiet park. Montparnasse holds the remains of many artists and intellectuals, plus memorials to Paris police and firefighters who died in the line of duty. Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Alfred Dreyfus, Susan Sontag, and Paul Belmondo are among the more famous names on the graves. I’m intrigued by all of it – the sad little verses, the ceramic flowers, the names known only to long-gone family members. One monument is a huge bed with sculptures of Monsieur and Madame Pigeon reclining on it, and an angel standing guard above. Pigeon helped found La Samaritaine department store and invented a type of gas lamp that wouldn’t explode. This was hugely important in the 19th century and made him wealthy. He designed the tomb to hold his family of 18 people.

After all this reflecting on mortality, I’m in need of an apéritif at a lively (emphasis on live) sidewalk café, so I’m heading for La Rotonde, on Boulevard Montparnasse. Hemingway and Picasso liked it and I do too.

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