Campfire Story

Last night we lit the tiki torches, and made a campfire in our back yard.  Even in an urban setting, sitting within the ring of firelight transports you to a world apart, somewhere between tame city life and wilderness.

We were cooking the vegetarian version of “Piggies in a Blanket,” soy sausages wrapped up in biscuit dough and toasted over the fire (it’s better than it sounds).  We heard a rustling in the woods, just outside the firelight.  Even in your own backyard, strange and unexpected noises coming from the darkness nearby is creepy.

We saw something right out of a spooky forest scene from a Disney cartoon, with two golden eyes shining in the darkness.

The bright flash of a camera revealed a visitor, looking at us with the eeriest most otherworldly eyes.

Raccoons are common here, especially when the cherries, plums, and apples are ripening in the trees.

They can be very cute.  They are incredibly adaptable, living in 48 out of 50 states in the US.  (Can you guess which two are raccoonless?  Answer at end of post!).  They are at home in the city, but are still wild creatures, which people often forget. I’ve had ten or twelve come forage in my yard at once, but I don’t encourage them.  A friend fed one raccoon puppy chow, and soon 20 or more raccoons were scratching at her back door and climbing on her windowsills demanding food.  Another friend had one repeatedly using the cat door and brazenly scrounging leftovers in the kitchen while the family was in the next room watching TV.  Yet another had to take her dog to the vet for stitches after a raccoon attack–she thinks it was angry because she’d recently stopped leaving food for her pets on the deck because it was attracting raccoons.

We shooed the raccoon away with the hose.  It was persistent, and took us several tries over ten or fifteen minutes.  Those little piggies just smelled too good.   That might seem mean, but we don’t want to encourage more visits or a taste for human food in a wild creature.  

 Long after the raccoon was gone, the s’mores were eaten, and the flames had died down to glowing embers, I could see the afterimage of wildfire reflected in those golden eyes.

All words and images c2014NaomiBaltuck

Click below for more interpretations of:

The Weekly Photo Challenge: Between.

The Weekly Travel Theme: Shine.

A Photo a Week Challenge: Wildlife.

One Word Photo Challenge: Gold.

P.S.  No raccoons in Hawaii–I bet you all got that one.  And no raccoons in Alaska, which I’d never have guessed.

To Shorten the Road

There is an old Irish folk tale about a father and a son who set out on a long journey.

“Shorten the road, my son,” said the father.  His son walked faster, to cut short their time on the road.  But the father rolled his eyes and went home.  The next day, they set out again.

“Shorten the road, my son,” said the father.  The same thing happened, and his father turned back.  On the third day, the lad’s mother whispered, “Tell your Da a story he has never heard, and you’ll no be back again soon.”   She was right.

My family and I have just returned from a journey of our own, but we already knew how to shorten the road.  In fact the North Central Library System hired The Baltuck/Garrard Family Storytellers to come tell stories on the dry side of the mountains.

Along the way we discovered more than one way to shorten the road…

It’s amazing, the fun you can have with one little bag of Space Adventure Goldfish Crackers.

That’s  probably not what the Irish storytellers had in mind, but there were also plenty of stories told to shorten the road, and the miles flew by.  On our storytelling tour we visited ten libraries in ten towns.   Each town and each library was different.  I loved the bleachers at the Brewster Library, especially when it was filled to the ceiling with kids who had come to hear us tell “Stories that Go Bump in the Night.”

Jennifer, one of the librarians at the Chelan Library, even made us a campfire!  Over a hundred people came to enjoy it with us.

Between performances, we explored.  On the wet side of the mountains, we sometimes forget how beautiful it is on the other side of the Cascades.

The Methow Valley is not just for skiers…

There was wildlife…

…right outside our door.

Sunsets were breathtaking, from Winthrop…

…to the streets of Chelan.

Everywhere we went, we found stories to shorten the road.  Many were true stories of Washington pioneers, as featured in this mural in Omak.

At the historical museum in Chelan, we learned about the First People of the land too, and then played ‘dress up’…

After our show in Manson, we ate at Blueberry Hill, a restaurant steeped with stories and decorated with a lifetime of memories from Grandpa’s shed.  It gives me hope–and ideas–about what to do with my own overcrowded storage room.

We sat outside on the deck overlooking their own blueberry fields…

The blueberries were as big as grapes…

…and the food was great…

…but the stories were what made this place really special.


In Twisp, every grocery run is memorable if you shop at Hank’s.  Hank and his son share their passion for big game hunting by lining the walls and topping their shelves with displays of their hunting trophies. It is an odd, but personal touch that piqued my curiosity about them. Perhaps next time I will learn more of that story.

After performing in Winthrop and Twisp…

..we dined at the Twisp Pub with our friend Carol. She stays with us in Seattle every May during the Northwest Folklife Festival, and at Christmas. It was a special treat to sneak in an extra visit to catch up on personal stories while sipping local cider and raspberry soda.

On our way to the Bridgeport Library the next day, we watched another story unfold as firefighters fought to control a brushfire. On our recent trip to Colorado, we steered clear of the fires, but the road to Bridgeport took us right past this one.  These folks are of sturdy pioneer stock, and they seemed to take it in stride, keeping one eye on the fire and the other on the tasks at hand.

It is nearing the harvest season, and there is much to be done. Central Washington is farm country.

Apple orchards everywhere have stacks of wooden boxes ready to receive this year’s harvest.

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On our way to Ephrata and Moses Lake, we saw acres upon acres, miles upon miles of wheat ripening in the fields, reclaimed from the desert…

…while the wind farms were busy harvesting nature’s energy.

Little towns and farms were carved out of the desert…

…and every road tells another story.

We passed through Dry Falls, a stark and dramatic landscape, reminiscent of the Badlands…

Before we knew it we were heading back over the mountains toward the ocean, the Space Needle, Mt. Rainier, and Lake Washington.


But we had filled up our story banks…

…on the roads of Washington, a land of stunning beauty, stark contrasts, good people, and rich history.  A well storied land.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: The Road Taken.