Thursday, August 28, 2008

I-5: Two Days

We said goodbye to our friends Bill and Zoe on Wednesday morning...

... stopped for a fill of gas and, true to form, got lost on our search for a Starbucks to buy a New York Times to keep us occupied on the Interstate. A kind stranger set us right, and then caught up with us before we had the chance to pass through the Starbucks portal with the gift of an NYT she had picked up at the bookstore. It was only Ellie’s insistence that persuaded her to accept the money to pay for it! A great send-off from Ashland!

We did actually find our way without further misdirection to the I-5, and started on the long drive south, with great views of Mt. Shasta to the east.

A thoroughly uneventful journey, otherwise, with a lunch stop in Sacramento, our state capital. The good folks at the café counter where we bought our wrap assured us that we were in walking distance from the capitol, in the vicinity of which we knew that our friend Lia Albuquerque, the artist, had done a major installation work. Finishing lunch outside (thanks to George) in one hundred degree heat, we set out on foot, traversing a long mall and continuing on for several blocks before another friendly informant suggested that the capitol was simply too far fir the walk to be a pleasant one.

We decided to retrace our steps to where we had parked the car, and drove instead up to the capitol...

... and most of the way around it, without finding Lita’s art work. A shame. But time was short, we were travel weary, and the thought of getting lost another time was not attractive, so we headed back to the I-5 and continued on south to Stockton, some forty minutes distant, where we had booked our last night on the road at a La Quinta hotel—more for the convenience than anything. Arriving at our destination, we stretched out our legs, each on our own queen-sized bed, and tuned in to the Democratic convention.

Glad we did. Bill Clinton, we thought, did an excellent job, a righteous balance of Bush-bashing and Obama-supporting. And Joe Biden’s speech made it clear that he was an excellent choice for the vice-presidential spot. He’s able to play the attack dog with intelligence and humor, and his history is a rich blend of the kind of dedication and determination that grows out of the experience of personal challenges and pain. Both he and John Kerry—whose excellent speech we caught a little later on the internet—were gracious in their acknowledgment of long friendship with McCain, along with their frank recognition that he is not, as a candidate, quite the maverick he liked to play as a senator. We thought that the evening went a long way in laying a solid groundwork for the Democratic agenda at a critical moment in our history.

Venturing forth somewhat later than usual in search of dinner, with George in tow, we found that the only place that offered outdoor service was the In N Out Burger across the street. I ordered burgers for the two of us, and fries to share, and watched in amazement as a frenzied production line of neatly garbed young people turned out an endless supply of burgers to the waiting customers. I confess I am unused to fast food outlets, but I could not but be impressed by the sheer efficiency of the operation, and by the vast numbers of people whom it served. For our two burgers and fries, along with a large cup of pink lemonade, I paid just over $6.00—a price that has something to say, I’m sure, about the current state of the American economy, the rising cost of food at the supermarket, as well as the oft-lamented spread of the American waistline.

We slept okay. I woke at six-thirty, ready to go. But Ellie, who had slept less well—thanks to her aching ribs—needed a little longer to get moving. We stopped at the hotel lobby for a bite of breakfast, and at Starbucks for a latte and a New York Times, and hit the I-5 again around eight-thirty.

And drove. And drove. A quick stop for gas at the Los Banos turnoff, and on down for another couple of hundred miles before another pit stop at the base of the Grapevine.

From there is was a grinding climb and descent through the heat. Heavy traffic...

... and when we looked down over the urban sprawl of Los Angeles and its suburbs, a thick layer of foul air. I hate to end with these last pictures, but in the interests of truth, here we are...

... back home! (The view is usually a little clearer than this. And it's good to be home anyway!)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Day in Bardland...

A very patchy night for me. I woke many times, and each time found it hard to get back to sleep. A head full of roiling ideas, resulting in part from conversations with Bill about community. It’s something of a hole in our lives, both in Los Angeles and in Laguna Beach—and from the fact that we live in neither place full-time. I woke finally at dawn, and took George out for his morning pee as the sun rose over the hills to the east. A lovely spectacle.

We spent some time making a change of plans for the return trip to Los Angeles—a two-day journey, which we had planned to split with a convenience overnight in Davis. On consulting the map and the driving times, however, we decided to look for something closer to half the distance, and settled on Stockton, where we booked a room for the night, and canceled the reservation we had made in Davis. Then a bowl of fruit and cereal to start the day, before heading out to check out the farmer’s market—a great community event, with stalls not only of produce but a variety of crafts reaching in all directions under bright sunlight.

We spent a while perusing the aisles, and came away with some goat’s cheese and some unusual variegated eggplants... and a bouquet for Bill and Zoe...

After the market, we spent a while exploring the area around the old railroad station, where urban development has brought in a number of galleries and cafes. We had particularly wanted to find the Davis and Cline Gallery where our friend Richard Bruland shows his paintings, and were greeted warmly there by Chandra Holsten, the gallery director, and John Davis, the owner. We enjoyed the current exhibit of glass sculpture and subtly erotic drawings by the artist Ann Wolf, and were pleased to have news of another very old friend, Josine Ianco-Starrels, who now lives in the area and acts as adviser to the gallery. Sorry to have missed the chance to see her again.

As usual, we got thoroughly lost again as we searched for somewhere for a bite to eat at lunchtime. Several of the cafes in the area were mysteriously closed—perhaps because we were late for the lunch hour, and we ended up returning to the same spot where we ate yesterday, Pangea, and enjoyed another excellent wrap in downtown Ashland...

Our friend Bill had recommended a walk in the Lithia Park in the center of the city, but we discovered that dogs were not welcome there, even on a leash, and had to be content with a drive past the park...

... and up the hill behind it to explore some of the residential area overlooking the city from the wealthy heights. Then headed back towards the area where Bill and Zoe live, and found some very charming streets where, surprisingly to us, the deer roam happily in the driveways.

We had hoped to take both Bill and Zoe out for dinner, to thank them for their warm hospitality, but unfortunately Zoe was committed to an evening meeting, so we had to be content with Bill alone. He suggested a restaurant on the busy square, where we paused for a taste of the mineral water at the public drinking fountains and climbed the steps to Alex’s to find a table on the balcony in back, overlooking the creek that tumbles down through Zithia Park.

A good, plentiful meal with a pleasant bottle of wine, capped by the awesome spectacle of a meteor streaking through the night sky and disappearing down behind the pine-covered hills. I have seen meteors before, but never one so large, so bright, so seemingly close to the earth’s surface. A truly magical moment to bring our last evening in Ashland to a close.

After dinner, Bill walked us up through the park and across to the Shakespeare Festival theater, where an attendant spotted us peering through the closed gate during a performance of Othello and invited us in to the lobby area while the performance was in progress. He also regaled us with a lot of fascinating information about the history of the theater and about the several other theatrical venues in Ashland. Back at Bill’s house later in the evening, we linked up with the convention and watched the entirety of Hillary Clinton’s speech at the Democratic convention—greatly impressed by her passion and the unambiguous clarity of her message: support Obama, and work like mad for his election.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

From Ashland, Oregon

An uncomfortable night for Ellie, before resuming our journey south. The results of her episode on Clear Lake turned out, late at night, to be more severe than either of us had imagined. A sharp pain in her ribs suggested that she had bruised them nastily in the process of clambering back up to the dock, and we spent some time online before concluding that a stop at the local hospital would not yield significant further information.

Breakfast at McKenzie River Inn and a long talk with Bert, an immigrant from Holland who, with his wife, owns the inn and also offers guided raft and fishing tours on the river. We were sorry to have missed the opportunity to have joined one of his trips. Next time, perhaps. He gave us a fuller tour of the various cabins and rooms at the inn, including one that would be ideal for us on a future visit.

(A bridge across the McKenzie River...)

Having ruled out that visit to the hospital, then, we headed straight for the 5 South and down the interstate

under grey skies, but through lovely mountainous and forested country, with barely a pause until we reached our next destination, Ashland, where we enjoyed a great lunch at Pangea on Main Street, sharing a superb yam and curry soup and a wrap out in the sunshine. From there, a call to my very old friend, Bill Kauth, who had invited us to stay for a couple of nights, to get directions to his house.

Arriving there, we found Bill in the kitchen, engrossed in the task of bottling a batch of luscious, fresh-picked local peaches in Mason jars with different blends of liqueurs and his new bride, Zoe, off in her studio, painting in preparation for a show this coming weekend. A marvelous location, overlooking a wide expanse of golden hills surmounted by a crown of dark green trees, just three minutes from the center of town. It’s year since I last spent any time with Bill, and it was a joy to stand around and chat with him, catching up on the new—and old—directions of his life as he sliced the fruit and filled his jars.

Later afternoon, Zoe arrived home with a roasted chicken and we all worked together in the kitchen to prepare a wonderful salad...

... gently fried, sliced beets and green beans to accompany the chicken. Ellie and I contributed a bottle of Castle Rock Merlot from Mendocino, and we celebrated the reunion with joined hands around the table and a few words of gratitude from Bill. A lovely moment.

After dinner, Bill invited me to join a meeting of one of his men’s groups—there are, I gather, some 500 men in the immediate area who have been through the intense weekend training program that Bill pioneered with two others back in the 1980s, and which was of particular importance to me more than fifteen years ago as I struggled with difficult life changes, inspiring the book that has brought me more satisfaction, as a writer, than anything else I have done. For whatever reason, it turned out to me a small group—four men, only—but none the less rich for that. We sat out, first, on the patio behind a newly-built home set in those glorious hills; and later in the spacious living room, and talked for a good three hours about issues of importance in our lives. I do much enjoy the company of men—not to the exclusion of mixed company, of course, but there is a special energy when men get together, and it is one that I always find stimulating and refreshing.

We took a scenic route home, to get me oriented in the city of Ashland. It seems like a genuinely human—and humane—community, and one that is eminently livable. I returned home to hear an enthusiastic report on the events in Denver--viewed online, since Bill and Zoe eschew the vagaries of television in general and its wayward news broadcasts in particular--and a fine review of the appearances of Michelle Obama and Ted Kennedy. Sorry to have missed them… but happy to have made the choice I did.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

... and Ellie Fell In

I seem to have missed a day... so excited by the VP announcement that I forgot to blog. Seriously, I think it's a good one. The choice, I mean.

Anyway, Saturday. We awoke in our comfortably utilitarian digs in Kelso, at the southern end of Washington State, and tackled a utilitarian breakfast in the hotel lobby--a bowl of fruit and Raisin Bran and a toasted English muffin--next door to a charming family woth five (count'em!) kids, all seemingly under the age of ten. All with dreadful colds, but mostly cheery for all that. After breakfast, we packed up the car and, on Ellie's insistence (I wanted to get on the road as soon as possible) retraced our steps to the dike ...

... for a brisk walk before the anticipated day in the car, driving south on 5. In the park, we stumbled on a gathering of the Jack Russel clan, hundreds of them, all yapping wildly, and a number of them vying to be the fastest on the obstacle course.

It was quite a sight. Initially excited, George eventually became quite blase, surrounded by these rowdy canine cousins. Here he is...

... good George!

Once on the road, we made good time through Portland and on to Salem, where we tooled around the town a bit before parking outside an antiques mall--much to Ellie's delight--where we spent the next half hour perusing all the available junk in the known universe. Ellie found a small white ceramic dog, to add to her collection of small white ceramic things. We crossed the road to Starbucks, where we were thrilled to find a current copy of the New York Times to add to my collection of highly disposable newspapers. Bought a sandwich at the sandwich shop a few doors down from Starbucks, and sat on a bench outside to wolf it down.

Back in the car, we made it to the interstate with remarkable ease and headed on south for another hour to Eugene, where we took a side strip through the town and out the the very lovely campus of the University of Oregon...

... and managed, as is more our custom, to get hopelessly lost this time as we cast about for the 126 East to take us out along the MacKenzie River to our B & B. We did get ourselves straightened out eventually, and discovered the start of the lovely valley that awaited us.

Our B & B turned out to be located right beside the river; from our little room, we look out over its fast-moving waters, and hear the constant sound of its flow.

After a walk for us--and a run for George--around the property, we took off down the road for dinner at the Linn Rock Grill, where George suffered the indignity of having to wait in the car whilst we sat out on the deck behind the restaurant...

... and indulged in hamburgers with French fries and, for Ellie...

... a glass of beer.

W survived the night on a double bed--we are accustomed to the luxury of at least a queen, and felt a bit cramped in this small space--and spent a while on the laptop, catching up with the news (no television here, okay by me, but I do need my news fix in some manner or form!) Breakfast at nine in the small communal dining room. We chatted with a nice young couple from Portland, out for a weekend in the country, and ate blueberry pancakes with sausage and maple syrup. Oh, and peach crumble. An odd mix. Following the recommendation of our breakfast companions, we drove quite a ways further east on 126 and stopped, first, for a short hike to the Sahalie Falls, a magnificent water spectacular set deep in the forest. A thunderous sound, as tons of water tumble over the rocky shelf every second and drop down maybe sixty feet into the devil's punchbowl pool below.

We gazed from above, then walked some more and gazed from below. And of course took too many pictures. The digital camera is one of the greatest inventions of the digital age, in my opinion: remember the days when you had to worry about how much film you had used up? And take the film to the local Savon for development, then wait for a couple of days before you got your pictures back--and most of them were terrible? What a blessing, to be able to keep snapping away forever, and discard the flubs.

Onward and upward, then--quite literally (did anyone else notice how many times Joe Biden used the word "literally" in his speech yesterday? It worried me a bit...)--further up the mountain to one of the what must be three million Clear Lakes in the country. This one earned its name. Amazing clarity, amazing colors. You'll see more of them below. This was a first glimpse...

We first took a long walk through the woods that border the lake on all sides, along a beautiful hiking trail...

... that may have led all the way around the lake. We did n't get that far. We had already decided to spend some of our lake time actually on the lake, in one of the rentable row boats, and returned after an hour or so to the small shop and dining room to put down our money and pick up our life jackets. Then out across the smooth surface of the lake, myself plying the oars...

... whilst Ellie and George...

sat in the back and laughed at me. I was soon to get my turn, believe me. In the meantime, we broke out our lunch satchel in the middle of the lake, and drifted gently as we munched on left-over sandwiches. An idyllic spot. Here's the color of the water ...

... I promised to show you.

Anyway, there were Ellie and George enjoying the luxury of a free ride, whilst I labored.

But pride, we know, goeth before a fall. And sure enough, in a moment of delicious klutzery as we returned to land, Ellie got caught in the split between the boat and the dock, and slipped right in to the freezing water. I should have had the presence of mind, of course, to have brought out the camera to record her agonized efforts to haul herself back on the dock, but alas, ever the proper Englishman, I was too preoccupied with saving her life to get the pictures. I had to satisfy myself with the "after" picture, as she lay there panting, dripping lake water from every pore...

... and again, when we got back to the parking lot, toweling off beside the Prius. She'll be mad at me for posting these pictures of her Sunday afternoon adventure, but I thought you'd enjoy them as much as I did.

Have a great week. Back to The Buddha Diaries before you know it! We have another four days to get back to Los Angeles, and thence to Laguna Beach to check on progress at the cottage.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Leaving Orcas

An early start. The two fawns stopped by without their mother, and I worried that she might have had an encounter with one of those speeding cars, out on the street. I hope not. They twins had disappeared by the time I took George out, at dawn with George, for his morning pee, and the sky was by now a gorgeous blend of pink and blue.

The omnipresent clouds from the past few days have dissipated into wisps. Back in the bungalow, I put in a good few minutes meditation before making tea and waking Ellie to get ready for our departure for the ferry. We had been told to arrive in line at least an hour before the 9:20 departure, and planned to leave an hour and a half.

We were well ahead with the packing chores, and managed to get out of the house and on the road before seven-thirty, driving through the village of East Sound and back through the lovely landscape of the island for the last time with a lot of sadness to be leaving after what seems like so short a visit. I was writing yesterday about the magical quality of islands; this morning, before starting this entry, the thought came to me in my brief meditation session that the experience of being in meditation has something of that quality. It’s the pleasurable sensation of being totally alone, and sufficient unto oneself; an invitation to serenity and insulation from the cares of the world.

I wrote those words yesterday on the blog as we sat on the terrace outside the dockside hotel with George. We had parked the car, well to the front in the first lane of the ferry line, and had stopped by for a generous breakfast at a table overlooking the sound with its archipelago of islands.

By nine, the ferry had arrived...

... and we returned to the car to join the long parade of vehicles driving down the ramp. The capacity of these ferries is astounding...

... as is the traffic that moves between the mainland and the islands every day.

An uneventful crossing. As before, we had to stay down on the vehicle deck because of George: we could have left him alone in the car, of course, but chose not to, and used the time to catch up with our reading. Once off the boat, we joined another long line of traffic to get to Anacortes, where we made a Starbucks stop to pick up an old friend we have missed for the past week: the New York Times. Then twenty miles inland to get to Interstate 5, and a turn south for the long, long drive through Seattle (a slow drive) to our next convenience stop in Kelso, Washington, for the night.

Having heard from my cousin, Sam, that his daughter now lives in Olympia...

... we had debated the possibility of stopping for a visit. We have not seen Clara for many years, and it would have been a pleasure to visit with her. But the distance traveled, along with some uncertainty about the distance still to go, persuaded me that we should keep going. We decided at least to call the number Sam had emailed me and took a detour from the freeway in order to make the call. I kicked myself later for my reluctance. We had a lovely conversation with Clara, in the process of which we got completely lost in the streets of the state capital. In the time it took to find our way back to the 5, we could just have well made the visit. The lesson: never pass up on the chance to connect with family. I drove on south regretting the lost opportunity, and feeling very stupid for my petty concern with making up time which we lost anyway.

Arriving in Kelso only an hour or so later, we found our hotel with ease and were soon installed in a comfortable room. Unpacking the minimum, we set out for a walk recommended by the front desk clerk, starting in the nearby Tom O’Shanter Park and following a long, curving watercourse—a river? A canal?—along the raised dike beside it. Below us to the left, picnic sites with dogs and children playing in the warmth of the late afternoon, a huge RV site; and to the right, the slow-moving water with a myriad reflections of the gently sloping lawns and trees of the homes on the far side. Ahead of us, the forested hill-sides and above, a clear blue sky. A lovely walk. (We forgot the camera, sorry, no pictures of this delightful site!)

We made a last stop at the Safeway next to the hotel, where Ellie bought our utilitarian dinner: a couple of microwavable soups and pre-packaged salads—along with the inevitable bottle of white wine, a New Zealand sauvignon blanc from the Marlborough vineyards, which turned out to be a realy good wine at a more than reasonable price. We consumed all this in our hotel room, and I took George out for his final pee walk before turning in.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Orcas Island: The Last Day

Our last day on the island… We hung around the bungalow for a good part of the morning, much as we did yesterday. Gave George a much-needed bath.

I wrote the next episode of Travels with George and got it posted, with pictures; then spent a while with Barack Obama. More on his book at a later date. In the meanwhile, Ellie busier herself once again with her chalk pastels, fully absorbed for a good two hours in the creation of another masterpiece. No, joking aside, she has a really good eye for composition and a great sense of color—the result of many years looking at art made by others. A neophyte, herself, in the making of it, she brings all that experience with her, so that even her earliest efforts are remarkably good.

Time, now, to get ourselves ready to leave. We had some laundry to do, so we headed for the laundromat at the nearby gas station complex, and ventured into the new territory of card-operated machines—with plenty of help from our more experienced neighbors. Whilst we were waiting outside with our books, clean George attracted the attention of a man who had arrived to deliver cases of wine to the wine shop next door to the laundromat—an encounter that result in the gift of a nice bottle of wine. Thanks, George! I slipped into the store while the clothes were drying, and added a couple of other bottles to our collection.

Back at the bungalow, we began the process of reorganizing and packing all our gear—no small task, but one which we got finished with time to spare for a last drive in to East Sound for a few essentials, a taco for lunch, and a stroll around the town. Stopped to admired one of the many vegetable gardens...

and an apple tree....

Otherwise, not a great deal of excitement to report…

We had booked an early table at the Ship Bay Inn—supposedly the best restaurant on the island. And what a view!

We enjoyed an excellent, leisurely dinner, sharing a gravlox salad appetizer, a pork chop with a somewhat scant portion of vegetables, and a truly delicious nectarine tart with vanilla bean ice cream. The food, though, was trumped by the sight of a brood of young bald eagles practicing their flight skills right outside the restaurant window. (Sorry, no pictures of the eaglets: our table was poorly placed for playing the photographer during dinner. But here's their playground...)

The women at the adjacent table, closer to the window, pointed out the parent, perched atop a nearby pine tree and patiently supervising the efforts of her young. The performance continued for the entire dinner hour, almost as though staged for the exclusive entertainment of the restaurant patrons—all of whom seemed as fascinated by the experience as we were. It’s always gratifying, to me, to see how humans respond to creatures of the wild. We are so urbanized, these days, that such sights come to seem extraordinary, magical.

There is something magical, I have always believed, about islands. At one time, during my academic career, that I thought about a book-length study of islands in the history of literature, and their metaphorical associations. It never got written, of course. Those were days of “publish or perish,” and I perished anyway—despite the books of poetry I had published. I still think it’s a wonderful idea—for someone else, someone with fresher literary credentials than my own. My peculiar attachment is rooted, surely, in my own island origins: being surrounded by water brings with it a certain feeling of safety and protection—during my own lifetime, despite his worst efforts and his air assaults, Hitler never managed to breach England’s island defenses during World War II—as well as a certain insularity. And many of my childhood literary delights—Enid Blyton’s “Island of Adventure,” Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”—must have contributed to my sense of the special quality of a small piece of land with water on all sides.

Orcas Island, anyway, has a good measure of this magic, and I shall be sad to have to return to the “real world” of the mainland. In some sense, it will seem to me like waking from a dream, and resuming the mantle of the responsible adult who has to drive on the freeway, pay the mortgage and, yes, soon, vote…

After-dinner contentment...

... and home to bed.