Friday, February 26, 2021

Photo Friday: Patagonia National Park, Chile

A year ago I was in Patagonia with my husband and brother-in-law. Part of our trip was a 10-day road trip through Argentina and Chile. I wrote about the early parts of that trip here and here. The center of the trip was Patagonia National Park of Chile, not so very far from the southern terminus of the Carretera Austral. Many of these photos are by Dave Dempsey.

Entering the park. Tom and I are rearranging the car in the background, to make room for one of the hitch-hikers hoping for a lift to the campground.

The Parque Nacional Patagonia has at its core the Chacabuco Valley, until recently one of the region's largest sheep ranches. It was purchased in 2004 by Kris and Doug Tompkins, to be re-wilded, then turned into a park under the control of the Chilean government. Doug Tompkins didn't live to see his dream fulfilled, but did get things well under way. His widow eventually negotiated the creation of five Chilean national parks through the-profit conservancy that owned the lands.

The park road is dirt, but may have been in better shape than the equally unpaved Carretera (Ruta 7).

The developed part of the park includes a beautiful stone Visitors Center, a very pricey lodge... and the very cheap walk-in campground, with shelters (handy, as those clouds produced rain). We spent two nights, so that we could do a very long hike.

Matching tents, and dinner preparations under the shelter.

As we started up the trail to the Lagunas Altas (High Lakes), we could see everywhere the impact both of the restoration of the landscape, and the careful thought Doug Tompkins put into everything from the campground and the lodge to the layout and construction of the trail. The resulting signage, for example, seemed very familiar to users of the US Parks.

Starting up the trail. It was 20 km, more or less.

The trail climbed in and out of the beech forests--very like those we'd experienced in New Zealand the year before--and despite the late-summer timing, there were some flowers as well as views.

Note the very abrupt tree-line on the hill in the background. Beech trees are apparently not good pioneers, so the forest tends to end abruptly, without adventurous trees growing above their mates.

After a nice stiff climb, we reached the high lakes, many of them in fantastic settings.


The lakes meant waterfowl. Dave was able to get several good photos of birds that are almost, but not quite, familiar.

These ashy-headed geese were among the most striking of the birds we saw that day.

It wasn't all about birds--we had several close encounters with guanacos, the wild camelids from which llamas were bred.

The guanacos were fairly habituated, or maybe they just aren't easily spooked, but a telephoto was involved here. I wouldn't want to get too close and find out what they do when annoyed.

What's not to love about a face like that? And get a load of the eyelashes!

We were footsore and happy to see our camp at the end of the day, but it was well worth the effort--to get there, and to hike all day.

Last light on an amazing landscape

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2021
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Cozy Review: Spring Upon a Crime


Spring Upon a Crime (A Seattle Wilderness Mystery) by ML Erdahl

About Spring Upon A Crime


Spring Upon a Crime (A Seattle Wilderness Mystery)  

Cozy Mystery 2nd in Series  

Publisher: Wild Rose Press (January 13, 2021)  

Paperback: 294 pages  

ISBN-10: 1509234608  

ISBN-13: 978-1509234608  

Digital ASIN: B08P87F6J1 

Wilderness guide Crystal Rainey leads a group of college students to a private campground amidst the awe-inspiring Olympic Rain Forest. The excursion is ruined when the charming hostess Roxie is discovered standing over the land owner's body, murder weapon in hand.

Enlisted to investigate the crime to absolve her friend, Crystal descends on the quiet city of Forks to find loggers, developers, and eco-protesters circling the property, intent on either exploiting or protecting the bastion of old-growth forest. The list of suspects is intimidating. Can Crystal find answers in a community determined to keep her in the dark?

My Review:
I have to say it: this book was totally worth it just for the scene where the main character and her side-kick interview a buck-naked eco-warrior on a tree platform. Still, that's not the only reason to read it. The characters are engaging and the rain forest lovingly depicted. I enjoyed scenes both in the forest and in Seattle, with an extra bonus for places I know and could recognize.

That said, I wasn't 100% happy with the book. Some aspects of the story failed to carry conviction, and I was impatient with those moments that struck me as "off" as I always am. Still, those were not plot-busting issues, and in the end the story pulled me in so that I had to read through to the end in a rush. I enjoyed the touches of humor and about the right amount of tension and excitement. The clues to the killer were there, and I suspected who it was, but certainly didn't tumble to the complexity of the motivations.

The writing is solid and well-edited.

My Recommendation:
A feel-good easy read, this can be enjoyed by outdoor enthusiasts and city-slickers alike.


 Now, an interview with Author ML Erdahl! (We were down for a character interview, but I sent the wrong questions, so enjoy meeting the author!).

Thanks for coming by for an interview, ML! Let’s start at the beginning: when did you start writing? Did you always know you wanted to be a writer, or did you stumble into it later in life? 

In sixth grade I had a three page assignment to create my own Greek myth, and I turned in twelve pages worth of writing.  I think I knew then that I wanted to be a writer. Over the years, I dabbled with short stories for myself and my friends, and began at least four novels that never got past twenty pages.  However, it wasn’t until my early forties that I began to take it seriously.  I joined a writing association, read books on the craft, and began to write in earnest. The rest is history.


What are your books about and who is the audience?

My books are cozy mysteries featuring Crystal Rainey, an office worker who jumps off the corporate hamster wheel to pursue her dream job of being a wilderness guide. As luck would have it, she constantly stumbles upon dead bodies, and is invariably roped into solving the murder.

Cozy mysteries are a genre founded by Agatha Christie. They are typically murder mysteries, but the blood and gore happen off-stage. Likewise, the language is relatively clean and the sexy stuff goes on behind the scenes as well. That said, it’s a fun adventure for the reader, since they are meant to solve the crime along with the amateur sleuth who tackles murder case after murder case. If properly written, they are heart-warming, funny, and have what we in the biz call an HEA ending (Happily Ever After.)


Now we can get into the fun stuff: What is the strangest job you’ve ever held?

To pay for college, I worked summers in a salmon cannery in the remote Alaskan village of South Nak Nek, where the population of bears outnumbered humans. Trident Seafoods flew us in on tiny six-seater planes to a desolate dirt landing strip and dropped us off in the wilderness, until a van showed up to shuttle us to our bunkhouse.

In consisted of sixteen to twenty hour work days, seven days a week for months. It was terrible and exhausting work, but let me graduate college with no debt. Not surprisingly, this job started my coffee addiction that continues to this day.


That’s hard work, for sure. I knew a few people who did that back in the day, but I wasn’t brave enough! After experiences like that, if you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

I love where I live in the Pacific Northwest, but I’m going to cheat, and say I want to buy a van and be on the move constantly. Every few weeks or months, I want to pull up stakes and move on to a new adventure.


Not a bad ambition, but there are drawbacks. For me, it would be the loss of my garden. Do you garden? And do you focus on vegetables or flowers?

I have both flowers and fruit. Vegetables are too much work, and I always seem to lose them to either insects or the rabbits that sneak under my fence at night. However, I have a raised bed for strawberries, several blueberry bushes, and two dwarf cherry trees that gave me enough of a harvest to have home-grown fruit until the middle of winter.


If there’s a spider in the corner of the room, do you a) panic, b) have to drop everything until it is removed, or c) hope it’s planning to eat the more annoying bugs that get in?

When a spider is discovered in my house, my wife panics and yells for me to come “Right Now!” The dogs and cat run around in a frenzy at the noise, and I sprint as fast as I can to gently and humanely escort the spider out of the house and admonish it to please stay outside or get better at hiding.


Very good advice for the spider!

On to writing technique: Do you draft your books longhand or compose at the keyboard?

I find that my creative juices flow much better when I write longhand. When finished, I turn over my pages (with gosh-awful handwriting) to my patient and talented-typist wife, who enters the first-draft into the computer.


What’s the weirdest thing you’ve had to research for one of your books?

Oh my gosh, so much murder related material. Like all mystery writers, if someone I know turns up suspiciously dead, I’m headed to the slammer for sure.


We mystery writers all worry about the FBI showing up at our doors!

More technique: Do you use a detailed outline before you start writing, or... ?

I am what is classified as a “plantser.” I sketch out a minimalist outline (minimalist sounds so much nicer than half-assed, don’t you think?), and begin writing. Midway through, I pause and revise my outline, because my story invariably veers off in an unexpected direction. I find that if I let that happen organically, the story will write itself much better than if I force it down my pre-determined path.


Good advice about the mid-way pause and revision of the outline! I’ve become pretty big on the outline, but still end up needing changes, so agree it’s a good idea to let the story develop and adjust the outline to go on from there.


Thanks again for coming by and sharing a bit about yourself with my readers!


About ML Erdahl

Award-winning author ML Erdahl lives amidst the trees of the Pacific Northwest, where he pens humorous cozy mystery novels set in the wilderness he has spent his lifetime exploring. The only thing slowing him down is when his adorable rescue dogs, Skip and Daisy, demand to be pet and cuddled on his lap while he types. When he's not working away in front of a computer, you can find him gardening, hiking, or grumbling to his wife, Emily, about the perpetual Northwest winter rain that prevents him from going outside.

Author Links 
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Purchase Links
Amazon Barnes and Noble Apple Books Kobo Google Play

Book 1 in this Series

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February 22 – I'm All About Books – SPOTLIGHT

February 22 – Christa Reads and Writes – REVIEW

February 22 – Novels Alive – GUEST POST

February 23 – Cozy Up With Kathy – AUTHOR INTERVIEW
February 23 – Celticlady's Reviews – SPOTLIGHT

February 23 – My Reading Journeys – REVIEW


February 24 – Reading, Writing & Stitch-Metic – GUEST POST

February 24 – Christy's Cozy Corners – REVIEW

February 24 – Laura's Interests – REVIEW
February 24 – The Ninja Librarian – REVIEW, CHARACTER INTERVIEW

February 25 – Literary Gold – REVIEW

February 25 – Mysteries with Character – REVIEW

February 25 – Sapphyria's Book Reviews – SPOTLIGHT

February 26 – I Read What You Write - SPOTLIGHT

February 26 – Novels Alive – REVIEW

February 26 – Here's How It Happened – SPOTLIGHT

February 27 – Books a Plenty Book Reviews – REVIEW, GUEST POST

February 27 – Brooke Blogs – CHARACTER GUEST POST

February 27 – Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book – SPOTLIGHT

February 28 – A Blue Million Books – AUTHOR INTERVIEW

February 28 – Maureen's Musings – SPOTLIGHT
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Wednesday, February 17, 2021

WEP: The Kiss


What could be more appropriate for Valentine month than Gustav Klimt’s  The Kiss?

This shimmery, early 20th century painting of a couple embracing in a patch of wildflowers has riveted art afficionados  across the world for decades.

Use this amazing painting to kick off  a romantic love story of star crossed lovers. Or maybe a much married pair who’ve been together for years. Of unrequited or lost love. Or any love of the other gazillion types.

For unValentinish souls, remember that there are kisses other than romantic ones.  The kiss of life, the kiss of death, the kiss of betrayal, the angels’ kiss in spring. The mystical thousand ways of kneeling and kissing the ground.

One golden artwork, a zillion directions to go. Pick yours and run with it. We’re cheering for you. And can't wait to see what you come up with!

That's the February challenge. And this is my response. I struggled a bit, until I remembered something my boys told me about their experience at 5th Grade "Outdoor Ed" at a camp near San Francisco.

The Kiss

“Do it! Do it!” All the kids were looking at him, chanting, as they had for every other camper in the group, “Do it! Do it! Kiss the slimy lips!”

Jordan looked from his campmates to the forest floor, hoping for some way out. Some way that wouldn’t mark him as a spoilsport or a chicken. Maybe it would be gone. It might have gotten away while they were urging him to pick it up.

“C’mon, Jord,” Callie urged. She was his best friend, but right now he hated her along with all the others. “You’re the only one who hasn’t. If you just do it, we’ll be the first team to complete the Banana Slug Challenge!”

The Banana Slug Challenge. Jordan winced. It meant a lot to the other campers. The first cabin-pair team to present photographic proof that every camper had kissed a banana slug would win the right to go first in line at every meal left in the week. That sort of thing mattered, especially with those bigger kids who always seemed to push ahead and get the best desserts.

Reluctantly, Jordan turned his gaze on the large, greeny-yellow gastropod at his feet. Of course it was still there. It was a slug. It couldn’t run away and hide. It probably didn’t know enough to run anyway. The slug wouldn’t care about what was about to happen. It was just Jordan who was grossed out by the thought of picking up a slug, let alone kissing it.

Not that it would be a real kiss. They’d all been coached on how to do it without hurting the animals. A little peck on the top of the head, avoid the antennae and the funny hole on the side of the head, if you could even call it a head.

Taking a deep breath, feeling Callie’s hand on his shoulder—was she pushing him or trying to reassure him?—Jordan slowly bent and ran his hand through the loose forest-floor duff. His scoop came up with the slug still resting on the mass of fallen redwood needles. He closed his eyes, then forced himself to open them. He’d had to look to make sure he got this right, or he could end up with a mouthful of banana slug. Definitely not what he wanted.

Hoping he wouldn’t puke, Jordan lowered his face to the unsuspecting creature in his hand.

Back at the camp, Jordan washed his mouth again and again, shuddering. He’d been fine until, not far from camp, they had come on a pile of horse poop with a banana slug nosing about for tasty bits. At least he hadn’t been the only one to puke.

The horror of that day would never leave him.

His lips rubbed almost raw, he left the bathroom when he heard the dinner bell, and began to run. He was a hero! They’d be first in line for dinner!


The life of a banana slug happens in slow-motion. Movement, dining, defense against predators—all depend on slime and patience, not speed or ferocity. And don’t even ask about mating, which can take all day. It might take half the day for a slug to decide if it will be male or female (answer: both).

The slug therefore hadn’t started or panicked when surrounded by large, noisy animals. It had simply continued to ooze along in search of the pile of delectable horse droppings it sensed lay somewhere nearby. Experience had shown that two-leggers left slugs alone.

The slug was dimly aware that the pile of duff it over which it slid was rising. The magnitude of the disaster became clear only when a vast face loomed in the slug’s view.

Then the slug would have fled at high speed, had such been possible. It made every effort to gather itself and writhe out of the way of the immense pinky-red arcs that curved closer and closer. Surely this couldn’t be happening. To be touched by such a disgusting creature, all dry and raspy and covered with neither fur nor the more sensible slime! The slug shrunk into itself, turned away, would have cried out if it had anything with which to produce a noise.

There was no escape.

The giant fleshy bits descended on the slug’s head, touched its skin. The slug was certain the touch would burn, leave a mark for all to see.

Then it was falling, along with the pile of duff it had rested on in security such a short time before.

The dreadful contact ended, the slug endured a new horror, the discovery of gravity.

Long after the loud, thumping herd of two-leggers was gone the slug lay there. When at last it dared to move, its body stretched out of the mess of dirt and redwood needles that had fallen with it, much of the forest detritus still clinging to head and back.

The horror of that day would never be forgotten, but life must continue. Slowly, cautiously, the slug began to move, gaining purpose and direction.

There was still that pile of horse droppings to be explored.



Banana slugs range in color from almost an olive drab to bright yellow, and some have black spots while others don't. I'm pretty sure the spots/no spots variations are regional--SF Bay Area slugs never seemed to have them--but the other shadings seem to have more to do with local conditions and what blends in well. The photos below all convey pretty accurate color. These are all my photos, all taken within 50 miles of San Francsico, accompanied by some fun slug facts.

The yellow end of the spectrum. Note the hole in the side, which is for breathing, but also gives access to the genetalia.

A poor photo but at the other end of the color spectrum, almost olive drab. The pneumostome (the breathing hole) is pretty wide open.

Banana slugs in flagrante delicto. Squirmy fact: banana slug phalluses can get stuck, in which case the will gnaw through them in order to separate. Some sources say it grows back, others that it does not.

Banana slugs at the diner (they will eat anyway; presumably they appreciate the partially-digested vegetation in horse poop). Note the mucus plugs at the back ends. Slugs generate a special mucus from the tail (as opposed to the slime they generate all over to prevent drying out and to make it easier to slide over rough surfaces) that can actually be used like a line to allow a safe descent from on high. I never caught them at it.

Hope you've enjoyed this little info drop on banana slugs!

Visit the WEP to see what others have made of this prompt!


 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2021
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

Don't forget--my third volume of short fiction is out! Pick up your copy of Wizard Libraries and Dragon Archives for just 99¢! Smashwords  Amazon

And pre-orders are open for Death By Donut!  

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Monday, February 15, 2021

Middle Grade Monday: Smile, by Raina Telgemeier



Title: Smile
Author: Raina Telgemeier
Publication Info: Scholastic, 2010. 224 pages, graphic novel
Source: Library digital resources
Publisher’s Blurb:
Raina just wants to be a normal sixth grader. But one night after Girl Scouts she trips and falls, severely injuring her two front teeth, and what follows is a long and frustrating journey with on-again, off-again braces, surgery, embarrassing headgear, and even a retainer with fake teeth attached. And on top of all that, there’s still more to deal with: a major earthquake, boy confusion, and friends who turn out to be not so friendly. This coming-of-age true story is sure to resonate with anyone who has ever been in middle school, and especially those who have ever had a bit of their own dental drama.

My Review:
I didn't get my braces until I was in my late 30s and my second son was a baby, so I didn't exactly relate to some of the issues Raina faced (though I do remember some non-trivial pain, and I didn't have any traumatic injuries to my teeth!). But as always, the underlying issue of the middle-school struggle to find your place and your friends resonates. In fact, that is the real meat of this book. 
Yes, it's good for kids to read it and see that braces (or whatever makes them different) aren't the end of the world. But for me the best moment in the book is when, as a high school freshman, she finally lets the rather toxic batch of friends (or "friends") she's been with since grade school know what she thinks of the torment they dish out and excuse as "fun." I could only wish she'd done it sooner, but who among us has managed that?

Smile is the first of three graphic novels Telgemeier wrote about her own growing-up years. I have read all three (the others are Sisters and Guts), though I don't appear to have reviewed the others. I can recommend the whole series as good books for anyone struggling with being a "tween"--or who remembers the pain of that age!

My Recommendation:
As noted, I recommend this book and this series, maybe especially for girls, since the issues Raina deals with are many of them (no surprise) particular to girls. But I'll bet the worry over appearance, bullying, and struggles to find a place to fit in are not gender-specific, and it wouldn't hurt the boys to read this, too.

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of Smile from my library, and received nothing from the author or the publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."  


SF Review: Record of a Spaceborn Few (audio book)

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Title: Record of a Spaceborn Few
Author: Becky Chambers. Read by Rachel Dulude
Publication Info: Harper Audio, 2018 11 hours 41 minutes. First published by Hodder and Stoughton, 2018. 359 pages.
Source: Library digital resources
Publisher’s Blurb:
Brimming with Chambers' signature blend of heart-warming character relationships and dazzling adventure, Record of a Spaceborn few is the third standalone installment of the Wayfarers series, set in the sprawling universe of the Galactic Commons, and following a new motley crew on a journey to another corner corner of the cosmos—one often mentioned, but not yet explored.

Return to the sprawling universe of the Galactic Commons, as humans, artificial intelligence, aliens, and some beings yet undiscovered explore what it means to be a community in this exciting third adventure in the acclaimed and multi-award-nominated science fiction Wayfarers series, brimming with heartwarming characters and dazzling space adventure.

Hundreds of years ago, the last humans on Earth boarded the Exodus Fleet in search of a new home among the stars. After centuries spent wandering empty space, their descendants were eventually accepted by the well-established species that govern the Milky Way.

But that was long ago. Today, the Exodus Fleet is a living relic, the birthplace of many, yet a place few outsiders have ever visited. While the Exodans take great pride in their original community and traditions, their culture has been influenced by others beyond their bulkheads. As many Exodans leave for alien cities or terrestrial colonies, those who remain are left to ponder their own lives and futures: What is the purpose of a ship that has reached its destination? Why remain in space when there are habitable worlds available to live? What is the price of sustaining their carefully balanced way of life—and is it worth saving at all?

A young apprentice, a lifelong spacer with young children, a planet-raised traveler, an alien academic, a caretaker for the dead, and an Archivist whose mission is to ensure no one's story is forgotten, wrestle with these profound universal questions. The answers may seem small on the galactic scale, but to these individuals, it could mean everything.

My Review:
Just to get the basics out of the way, the book is fully engaging, and the narration by Rachel Dulude is fantastic, with distinct voices consistently delivered. 

This book felt a little different from the first two in the series, lacking a single strong narrative as we track several largely unrelated characters through a time period without any major crisis. Instead, we are part of these peoples' lives as they face personal crises large or small, make life-changing or -sustaining decisions, and interact with their environment.

That makes it sound like it's not much of a story, and in some ways it's not the edge-of-your-seat tale that at least parts of A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is, for example. I commented in my review of that book that a lot of the story swings on relationships, and this book is even more of an exploration of what it is to be human and part of a community. That exploration, however, is well worth reading, and the science fiction setting makes it fun and adds dimensions that a purely realistic setting wouldn't (consider, for instance, how the aliens who were out there first see us).

The nature of the book, following the lives of so many characters, made it a little challenging at times to keep track of the audio book. It helped that a) Chambers titled each chapter with the name of the character it follows (so once I got them all straight in my head I was good), and b) I finally noticed I could bookmark spots in the audio book, as well as access the TOC, so I could go back to confirm who people where if I was confused.

My Recommendation:
I continue to heartily recommend the whole Wayfarers series, and am eagerly awaiting the next book, which is coming out soon. Maybe I'll get that one as text, not audio, just to see how the writing style feels without the narrator's interpretation.

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of Record of a Spaceborn Few from my library, and received nothing from the author or the publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."