Stories Written in Stone

No, friends, I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth.  I was dropping off my daughter Bea, not quite at the ends of the earth, but at Stanford University, 858 miles from home. We left early, so Eli could check out the graduate program at the International Institute in Monterey.  We decided to make a proper road trip out of it.  Thom couldn’t get away, so Bea, Eli, and I kissed him goodbye, and hit the road.

Our first stop was Portland, where we dined with Cousin Bryan, talented photographer, and Friend Barb.

Then we parked on the lawn of Chapman School amidst a happily buzzing crowd.  We were waiting for sunset, to witness a miracle of nature.

Every September, on their fall migration to Central America, as many as 35,000 Vaux’s Swifts stop to roost in the school’s industrial-sized chimney.  It was breathtaking to watch them gather, swooping and dipping in graceful swirling patterns of feather, muscle, and tiny bird bone.

As the sun set, the first little swift disappeared into the chimney, followed by thousands of its traveling companions.  Portland was a rest area for them, as it was for us, on one heck of a road trip.  I had road signs to follow, but had to wonder how the swifts managed to find their way back again and again to the exact same roost.

Bryan suggested another stop–for dessert at funky Rimsky-Korsakoffee House.  Raspberry Fool, pumpkin sundae, frozen lemon mousse came and went, while we enjoyed live classical piano music.  Our table top rotated so slowly we didn’t even realize it until we found ourselves dipping our spoons into our neighbor’s dessert.  I won’t spoil the surprise, but if you find yourself at Rimsky-KorsaKoffee House, be sure to visit the restroom.

The next day we burned rubber–450 miles worth–heading south on I-5 through Oregon, marvelous Oregon!

Where else could you pull up to a gas station, and not only have your tank filled , but get this kind of service?

Not to mention the natural wonders….

We passed through O’Brien, Oregon….

…navigating rush hour traffic without too much difficulty.

It was a long day, but it flew by–not just because we had Good ‘n’ Plenties in the car, but because Bea read aloud to us–first Rex Benedict’s YA Western, Good Luck Arizona Man, and then Last Stand at Goodbye Gulch.  Bea brought the quirky characters to life with her many voices.

We also sang along with the Kingston Trio, Michael Martin Murphy‘s cowboys songs, and Paul Clayton’s Whaling Songs of the 19th Century.   Our favorites are the stories set to music.  Like John Denver’s On the Road, or Liam Clancy’s The Band Played Waltzing Matilda.

We cut over to the coast from Grant’s Pass, and found ourselves in California.

We marveled at the giant redwoods…

…and golden hills.

We braked frequently for wildlife…

…and, yes, for ice cold Diet Coke.

Like the Vaux’s Swifts, we found a very nice place to roost that night.  Ferndale is a Victorian village, with over a hundred Victorian buildings still in use.  We splurged and stayed at The Victorian Inn, which is old enough to have suffered damage during the 1906 earthquake.

We missed the sunset in Ferndale, but went for a night walk on the deserted streets.

Not even a restaurant was open, so we had a picnic up in our room…

…solved all the world’s problems over a hot cup of tea in the Victorian’s cozy guest lounge…

…and went to sleep in beautiful brass beds.

The next day, we took a walk to see the town by daylight.

So many beautiful old houses!

Then we discovered Ferndale’s terraced cemetery.  I urged the kids to keep time in mind, as we still had 400 miles to drive that day.

We found so many stories there, some shared with the world, others buried so deep we could only wonder at them.

We almost missed the little marker on a weathered  tombstone identifying its occupant as one of the handcart pioneers, who had spent months walking 1300 miles across the Great Plains on foot, dragging no more than 17 pounds of personal possessions, food staples, and a few tools.

The trip of a lifetime.

Some people showed a sense of humor about a very serious subject, or at least their survivors did.

I don’t believe this was irreverence; rather a private joke shared from one world to the next.  There was also a well-worn bench for them to spend time together.  So far away, and yet still so close.

Most were simple heartfelt expressions that summed up a life in a few words.

Sometimes all it took was one word.

While reading stories of flesh and blood written in stone, I came upon a headstone belonging to a young man, who died in 1880 at the age of 23.  His bones are dust by now, as are those of the parents who grieved for him, but their words still ring true.

“A light is from our household gone, a voice we loved is still.  A place is vacant at our hearth, which never can be filled.”

I’m glad the kids were off exploring and the cemetery was deserted, because I started to bawl.  My heart must’ve been feeling what my mind kept trying to forget–that my baby bird was flying from the nest, and nothing would ever be the same.  It only took a tissue and a minute or two to pull myself together.  Truly, I couldn’t have been in a better place for putting this matter into perspective.

We raise our children to be strong and independent.  We do whatever we can to help our little birds learn to fly.  When they do, we rejoice.  It means we’ve done our job, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.  It was a moment that put my whole life into perspective.  Instead of fretting about getting to Monterey before dark, we walked downtown to a lovely shop in search of…


On life’s journey, I will be a handcart pioneer.  I choose to bring sunshine and laughter and song with me–as much as I can carry, and then some for sharing.  Along the way I will partake of pumpkin sundaes, good company, and live music.  I will fill my heart with stories that make me strong, make me wise, make me laugh.  I will savor the Good ‘n’Plenties of Life.  In every footstep of my journey, I will have faith in the power of love.  And I will always remember that tiny miracle of nature, the Vaux’s Swift, who on its own life journey, always manages to find its way home, even for a little while.

All words and images copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of Ailsa’s Travel Theme: Stone.


  1. Family, play, restaurants, wildlife and the weight of life captured by your photographer’s lens–it’s always a sincere joy to read and visualize your travels, Naomi!

  2. Oh, I love this post! Love the photos, the pioneer history, the Victorian buildings, the motherhood milestone! My sibs are in SF and San Jose, and my mom in Los Gatos; my cousin went to Stanford. A wonderful place to explore and grow.

    1. Hi Scilla, I thought of you when we were there, and pictured you in your calico dress. Are you originally from California? Stanford seemed like a warm and welcoming place. I know Bea will do well there, and have a great time. She is already learning lots. We have camped with the kids, but for her pre-orientation trip she is the Sierra-Nevadas on her very first backpacking trip ever. Thanks so much for stopping by. I have been on the road and so far behind in my blogging. I look forward to catching up with you.

      1. Born in MA, raised in IL, lived in CA for 15 yrs, raised my kids in IL for 20, now in WI. CA is a tarnished gem: naturally gorgeous but smudged by way too many hands. Couldn’t afford to raise my 4 kids there, so moved away from all my family, back to the Midwest. Each visit back shows more unchecked growth, which saddens me. But I suppose that’s a blight that’s everywhere in the U.S.

  3. Naomi, I have always wanted to go on one of your legendary family trips.
    And through your photos and stories—I have. Thanks for the journey.

    1. Dear Sharon,
      Maybe one of these days we can hit the road–gently. At the very least, I think it’s time to roust out Pat and breakfast at Luna Park.
      Thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

    1. Thanks so much, Kasia. Bea is a sunny kid, and I think she would shine anywhere, but I am already looking forward to hearing all her stories. Thanks for stopping by and sharing a comment.

    1. Hi Suzanne, thanks so much. It certainly seems like a great school, and that she will have a good experience. We’re home safe, I’ve finally managed to post, and now I look forward to catching up on my blogs. (I will be catching up with you over at Walking Papers soon!)

  4. Oh, Naomi. Great adventure. Your cross country jaunts make me long to travel. Good luck to Bea on her new adventure. 🙂

  5. As soon as they slither out of our bodies into the world we get our new job descriptions: “Your mission (and you WILL accept it) is to work yourself out of a job. You got about 18-25 years to get ‘er dun.” Sounds as though you’re right about on schedule.

    What a trip. Thanks for the travelogue.

    1. Hi Megan,

      I loved your comments. They are so true. But I guess a mom’s job is never really done. I think they change the job description, for sure. Thank you so much for stopping by, and making me smile.

  6. It has been my very pleasant experience to discover that the bond between my little bird and myself has grown even sweeter since she flew the coop…and each time she returns for a visit (or I visit her) it amazes me the joy we stir in one another. It truly has gotten sweeter over the years. I’m betting you and Bea will be flying high each time you’re together, too. -Nikki

    1. Hi Nikki,

      I am so happy for you and your daughter. I know Bea and I will always be good friends too, but it is still encouraging to hear your story. Thank you so much for sharing it. Warmly, Naomi

  7. The picture of Bea and Eli is beautiful. I can’t wait to hear stories of Bea’s exploits and I hope her time at Stanford is as deliriously fun and intellectually and personally rewarding as my time at college was. She’s gonna tear it up.

    1. Thank you, Katie. I love that photo too. I just heard from Bea this morning, and she had a great time backpacking, and made lots of friends. I’m glad your college experience was a good one.

  8. The swifts are amazing! How nice you had this time, making memories. Thanks for taking us along. Good N Plenty–now there’s a fond memory. Many interesting, often touching reads to be found in old cemetaries.

  9. What a great post, Naomi. Your photos and memories are so wonderful. Such a lot of fun on your journey, mixed with thoughtful and sad images at times. I’m sure that Bea will love her new life at university, and you will be longing for the vacations when she can be home with you again. Thanks for taking me on your journey. I so enjoyed it. 🙂

    1. I’m already looking forward to Thanksgiving in November! She called for the first time this morning, home from her pre-O backpacking, and it was great to know she’s okay and doing great. Thanks for your very kind words, ad!

  10. Thanks for sharing this epic journey, Naomi. We just went to see the swifts tonight, for the first time, and picnicked with our neighbors beneath the swirling birds. Our oldest started kindergarten last week, so we are at the very beginning of her migration. Congrats to Bea for starting the next phase too–and hurray for sending her off in style.

    1. Isn’t it amazing? I found the gathering of people almost a s fascinating as the swifts. Elders in wheelchairs to tiny babes in arms, musicians playing, families picnicking, and the buzz of shared excitement and enthusiasm all around. It was really quite touching. And you are the wind beneath your chick’s wings. This is such a sweet time. I wish you and your whole family continued joy and wonder, Laura. I guess I don’t need to tell you that it goes very, very, very quickly. Thanks for sharing your really lovely comment.

    1. Dear Dianna,
      Thank you so much for stopping by! I can hardly believe Bea is off. But I did hear from her this morning, and she is having a great time. I think of you every single time I go out and harvest raspberries! Did you know that quinoa is a staple in our household now? And we hadn’t even heard of it before your visit. I hope you are well, dear friend. Much love, Naomi

    1. Thank you so much! Heard from her for the first time, and she’s doing great. The campus is so big that she brought her bike down there, and will be using it to get to and fro–so cycling will be a big part of her life now.

    1. Dear Lee, I promised Aunt Loena that I would take her to Toledo in the spring– to go to the zoo and try her hand at the slot machines in a wheelchair accessible smoke-free casino. She’s never been, and it’s on the top of her bucket list. Maybe we can coordinate and do another family road trip then. I wonder if she would like the art museum. Anyway I’ll give you a call. Much love, Naomi

  11. Beautiful pictures, beautiful words telling a beautiful story. They leave the nest, but they will return and each return will bring with it more sweetness and make more memories. What a great trip you are having with your kids! I have driven through Ferndale, wished we could stop, but it was raining and we were on a deadline. Sadness.

    1. Dear Carol,
      I know that you and your grown kids are best friends and that you speak from experience. It seems like you all have the same kind of goofy happy fun that we have. I loved reading about your recent visit with them. I still remember the picture of your grownup daughter posing cross-legged in the middle of the highway! Thank you for sharing your story. It is always so good to hear from you.

  12. This is a wonderful story, and I loved every minute of it… remembering a trip I took, many years ago, that was shorter than the trip you describe, but also included a visit to the Sequoias on my way to Monterey, and it seems to me… a stop in Ferndale too. Though I don’t remember the town; only the name… and how much I love ferns. Your story moved me, and brought out a lot of emotions… all of which I enjoyed, and a love for you and your family, including your cousin the photographer, who couldn’t help but laugh at the smile he was supposed to offer. Thank you so much.

    1. Dear Shimon,
      Such a dear sweet message to find in my comments today. Thank you so much! The Sequoias are another miracle of nature, and I am so glad you had the opportunity to visit. I feel so fortunate to have my family–they are my rock and my anchor. And as the family situation changes in this ever-flowing river of life, I am grateful to have my writing to focus on, my garden to escape into, my husband to come home to, my blogging, and my ever-growing circle of friends–like you.
      With love,

  13. What a great trip and you are quite the story teller! Thanks for stopping by my blog, we can visit each other now!

  14. So glad you had safe travels and thanks so much for sharing it. Your photos make me smile at the fun you have with life & family….and melancholy…at the real life “stuff”. I adore the “filling station” in Oregon! Glad you are back. You’ve been missed ♥ paula

  15. This is a wonderful post; thank you. I really liked the cemetery realizations – you write so smoothly, too. Cool that you could see the swifts – remember, they do came back!

  16. How do they know which day the swifts will return to the smokestack, and at what timeof the day so that spectators can gather to see it?

    That’s amazing! I wish I was there to see that in person.

    1. I had heard of the crowds that gather to watch the coming and going of the bats in Carlsbad Canyon, but I had never heard of this! It was truly awesome. Portland residents know to expect the Vaux’s Swifts every night for the same week or two in September. If you get there just before sunset, you can watch them gather–so many of them, in graceful swirling feathery clouds. I hope you get to see them one day too! Thanks so much for your visit. I really appreciate the time you took to share a comment.

    1. Dear Pablo, thank you for your sweet words! It feels good to be back. Wow! Two weeks without posting feels like a long, long time! Thanks for your thoughts of Bea. I have heard from her, and she is settling in just fine. I know she will have a wonderful time at Stanford. Everyone has been so kind and the place has been very welcoming.

  17. What a way to make a wonderful memory. I loved what the parents of that 23 yr. old child wrote on his tombstone. It sent tears down my face too. What a big step to take your own child to College to become totally independent. Nice photos and I love how you Chronicalized your trip. Love it 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for your visit, and your thoughtful comments. I know my daughter will be okay. I didn’t know it at the time, but that road trip was the perfect time to adjust, and a beautiful way to spend the last few days together—until Thanksgiving!

  18. Naomi, I always love to read your posts. They are always thoughtful and entertaining and a real pleasure to read. Thanks for sharing and I’m so glad you enjoyed the trip with your kids. That’s such a gift for future memories. I treasure every mintue I spend with my kids and it’s so nice to hear about others that enjoy that as well.

    1. Dear Patty,
      Thank you for sharing the adventure, and thanks for stopping by. I appreciate hearing from you. It is clear that you love being a mom the way I do. How old are your kids?

  19. wow, the photo of the roosting swifts is awesome!

    i also love to wander through graveyards and think the stories you found were simply beautiful….

    here’s to a wonderful new chapter in all your lives :0)

  20. Aren’t ROAD TRIPS just the BEST. Thanks again for taking us on yours. I have traveled thousands of miles from WA to CA but in a rig I didn’t get to see too much, except scenery as it whizzed by. Thanks again for sharing the memories

    1. I LOVE road trips! I love being able to stop whenever I feel like it, and you do see so much more along the way. Thank you for sharing your thoughts–I always like to hear from you.

  21. What a fun adventure! I’ve been reading through several of your stories–getting caught up with folks while I’m on a three-week break from classes–and I’m enjoying the ‘journey!’ This looks like great fun…love the plumage 😉

  22. I really enjoyed your post and the photos..Looks like you enjoyed every bit of time.All your individual photos are great especially your cousin and the the close of you two, a perfect photo enjoyed a lot..

  23. What a fabulous way to send your daughter off to college! Next year my youngest will be off on his big adventure. I think your outlook on life is most excellent although I’d vote for hot tamales instead of good and plenties 🙂

  24. That’s a legendary family trip to send off a daughter. Great! I am sure lovely Bea will enjoy her time in Stanford. And you, I can imagine, that you’re one happy and proud Mom, Naomi. Many blessings and much love to you. 🙂

    Subhan Zein

    1. Dear Subhan,
      Thank you for your sweet words. Bea is already settling in, and I think she will do well too. We are all missing her, but I am proud of her too. Love and blessings to you, too, Subhan.

  25. What an amazing roadtrip Naomi, enjoyed every minute 🙂 Watching those swifts must have been an incredible experience.
    By the way, those words on the young boy’s grave were the very same that accompanied my brother’s obit in the newspaper, thirty years ago!

    1. Dear Madhu,
      It was awesome. It made me think I should go visit Carlsbad Caverns to see millions of bats come out at sunset. So sorry about your baby brother. So much changes in this world, but some things remain the same forever.

  26. It’ been far too long since I’ve been to Ferndale. Your pictures brought back so many memories. Beautiful pictures. Looks like you all had a lovely time of it.:D I so appreciate you sharing with us. Stanford is a fabulous university. My high school boyfriend attended there and went on to great things.

    1. HI Debra,
      Bea is having a blast at Stanford, and I’m not too worried about her. She says she is the only kid on campus who wears a bike helmet. Thanks so much for your visit, and your very kind words.

  27. What an amazing roadtrip! I loved the pics of Ferndale. The bird migration was gorgeous. The hat pics were lovely too!

  28. I always love your family’s road trip. Fun, full of exciting discoveries, meeting of family and friends , just a joy with each places and new faces! Looks like your kids also have that positive, cheerful adventure free spirit in them. Truly an inspiration. Thanks.

    1. Dear Island Traveler,
      Thank you so much. You are so kind. I think our two families have much in common–our children are our joy, and we all love to play together. It is always a pleasure to hear from you!

    1. Hi Jamie, are you in Arcata or Eureka? That is beautiful country! We had a really nice visit, with trips down to Big Sur and Monterey. It’s been a long time since I have been south of San Francisco, and that was a treat. On the way back north, it felt a little strange. After leaving Bea behind, Eli and I kept looking around for her, and trying to remember what the heck we were doing in California! Now that Bea is going to school down there, I expect we will be going down more often.

      Thanks so much for stopping by.

      1. Hi Jamie, that’s very cool. We have cousins in Berkeley. I used to have a friend in Palo Alto–her dad was a prof there, but no more. Is Edie’s Ice Cream Parlor still there?

      2. I don’t know it and I don’t see it in the directory. I must admit that I haven’t had ice cream in years, so I’m probably not aware of these places.

        I also did live in Humbolt County in Redway, which is not far from Ferndale and Eureka. Beautiful countryside there. I like the Bay area better and the South Bay is lovely, as you know, with all the gardens, theatres and bookstores and so forth. If you haven’t been to Stanford Theatre, don’t miss it when you visit your daughter next time. Good luck to her in school.

        Of course, you just went through a lot of great country on this tip. Nice! 😉 Happy day, Naomi.

    1. Dear Grace,
      Thank you for your lovely comment. I hope you can visit California soon. In the meantime, I love the way you are sharing the Czech Republic with your family, and us too!

  29. Many years ago, husband and I made that trip – the part from Grants Pass down – but in reverse, heading up the coast. We drove through Ferndale and I was entranced. That was before my life became absorbed by looking for photo ops, so I have no pictures. Thank you for being the photographer and story teller you are, bringing back good memories for me and adding to my pleasure with your beautiful prose.

    1. Dear Carol,
      That sounds like a great trip. I loved Ferndale. Did you ever see “The Majestic”? That was filmed in Ferndale.
      Eli and I stopped at Crater Lake on the way home from California, and I see from your recent posts that you were able to go back there with The Artistic One, camera in hand, and recapture some of that beauty with your camera. Through your post, you also took me back on a lovely trip down memory lane.
      Thank you for such a generous response to this post.

  30. Breathtaking as ever Naomi. I’m struggling to find a favourite bit – I guess the bit in the cemetery which put everything into perspective. Your kids are like twins – possibly they are?

    1. Hi Roy,
      Thank you for your really sweet response. My kids are four years apart, but I think what you must be sensing is their very deep friendship–they are best friends, and are collaborating on several writing/graphic novel projects.

  31. A wonderful report with wonderful pictures and lots of love, and life lessons in between. And it really makes me wish I could make just that road trip.

    1. Dear Red Hen,
      Thank you for your really lovely comment. I hope you can make that trip soon. Road trips really feel so different from other modes of travel, and I just LOVE them!

  32. I love how you share your journeys with your kids. So much learned along the way with amusing and sometimes sad experiences along the way.

    I know what you mean about your experience in the graveyard. Lovely pictures and a wonderful pictorial tour once again. 😉

    1. Hi Tess,
      I do know some parents who leave their kids at home when they travel. I have so much fun with the kids, and as long as they want to travel with their dad and me, we will be delighted to have them–they are fun and funny, they keep things lively, and they are not shy about hamming it up for the camera.
      Thanks so much for your really sweet thoughts about this post.

    1. Dear Meredith,
      Thank you so much for your visit, and for your really sweet response. I am so far behind after recent travels, a very busy performance schedule, and some unexpected familial obligations, but I am hoping to catch up on my blogging. I hope you are well, and look forward to catching up with my blog reading tomorrow, including The Wanderlust Gene.
      Warm wishes,

    1. Dear Arlene,
      They are SO much fun! My sister is pretty game, and my husband is surprisingly so sometimes, but I do miss playing around with the kids and the camera.
      Thanks for the visit, and for taking the time to share your response.

  33. I can never get over the immense scale of your country compared to mine. Apparently you could fit 40 United Kingdoms, landmass-wise, into the United States of America!

    I love watching and listening to birds coming together from every direction, and then forming into their migration configurations (or whatever you call it). It’s the most awesome sight and sound. Swifts are so cute. A couple of months ago, when I was working at the allotment, they were swooping about the sky all afternoon, with their lovely silvery, trilling sound.

    1. Dear Sarah,
      The US is very large, with many distinct eco-systems. I love watching birds too. I love to go down to the beach near our house and watch flocks of sandpipers swooping about in their flocks in perfect synchronicity.

  34. so wonderful – and I need to come back again – 🙂
    but my fav take way – the hat shots and this
    “I choose to bring sunshine and laughter and song with me–as much as I can carry, and then some for sharing. ”

    awesome post!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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