Tuesday, June 10, 2008


There is a little town in northwest Oregon called Philomath. The word means lover of learning and is an apt description of the attitude I embraced on a recent trip to the Pacific Northwest with my friend Kathy. I already considered myself a philomath though I did not have the word in my vocabulary, but what was different about this trip was that I was not the one to steer the learning. Instead, new information came opportunistically and unexpectedly.

Unlike other trips I've made, Kathy made all the travel plans for this one which set the stage for many unexpected occurrences and encounters. From the moment we left her small housing development and she turned left when I expected her to turn right, I was confronted with the opportunity to let go and see what happens. Cindy would be the first to confirm that this is not the easiest thing for me to do, especially when it comes to being a passenger in a car. However, our mini-vacation to Yosemite had prepared me to "follow the leader" rather than be the leader. In Yosemite, Cindy led us on quest that was wonderfully rewarding, and so when I headed off with Kathy, I was better prepared to put my "control freak" in the back seat and hope for the best.

Though it is not possible to list all the unique experiences of this trip, here are the highlights of one of the most diverse trips I've ever taken:

  • The shift in perspective began with lunch at a funky Mexican restaurant called Mayas in downtown Portland where I enjoyed a superb burrito ordered without beans—something that never occurred to me before I heard our friend Larry ordered his this way. The seasoning on the burrito was the delightfully liberally conversation at the meal, initiated when Larry described Barak Obama's visit to Portland and which continued down many avenues until we were discussing the merits of socialized medicine.
  • At Courthouse Square Park, the city of Portland was preparing for the Rose Festival and had created an incredible Urban Meadow all across the square. We inadvertently ran into one of the designers of the Meadow who was putting on the finishing touches, and we got to hear his enthusiastic and passionate words on the process of this inspired creation. There were thousands of pots of wildflowers and veggies and trees all over the square, and he was simply glowing when he spoke about the butterflies and humming birds that had already visited this greenery in downtown Portland.

[Food, gardening, and liberal conversation were now established as themes for the trip]

  • Larry lives in Corvallis, so we hopped into his economical Mazda (33 miles to the gallon) and headed south down Highway 99 instead of I5 to view miles of land used for agricultural purpose: lots of grapes and the world's center for hazelnut production. Once in Corvallis, we walked the streets as Larry is want to do and oooh'd and aahhh'd the Rhodies, azaleas, chain fern, lilacs, irises, ad nauseum—unbelievable lushness for two California wannabe gardeners. The most surprising sight, however, were incredible vegetable gardens grown in the 4-5 foot parkways between the sidewalk and the street. No fences (translation: no deer or rabbits) and no irrigation (translation: rain, rain, rain). We learned about "lasagna" beds which are how these plots are created: starting with a layer of cardboard and building upward with compost, dirt, manure, etc., right on top of existing grass and weeds. What a concept.
  • The cultural part of the trip came next: including a big dose of literary delight. Larry took me to the Calyx offices where I had an eye-opening tour and visit with the editors and saw boxes of rejected submissions, knowing that my poems were in there somewhere. After that we went to Newport to visit my writing mentor, Lois Bunse, once a poet now transformed into the painter called Loie. The afternoon there was filled with an yummy backyard picnic, art galleries, a walk to the beach, a visit to the Sylvia Hotel (must see to appreciate), and a strange moment when refracted light from the glass middle of a metal sculpture flew upward into the clouds over the ocean to shine a triangular rainbow. WOW!! We had dinner near the beach in a strange little enclave that defies succinct description. The culminating cultural experience was a visit to the Oregon State University library near Larry's home where we visited the Linus Pauling special collection and saw many artifacts from his work including a chalkboard with his formulas still scrawled across the green space.
  • Amtrack took us to Olympia where we arrived just in time to participate in friend Cy's weekly discussion group on the topic of "Menu for the Future." In two short hours, my head was filled with the possibilities of how to eat better and more simply out of our garden and from our immediate locality. If I could just put 2 of these ideas into action, I would be making progress toward reducing our carbon imprint (admittedly a concept that took on greater meaning for me during this trip). We shopped at the Farmer's Market the next day and bought greens and asparagus and local mushrooms and pork chops (locally raised and slaughtered and all those other good words about meat that I can't remember) and came home to communally prepare a marvelous dinner.
  • Sightseeing on this trip was up Highway 101 with Puget Sound on one side and the Olympic Forest on the other—lots of rain and dark clouds and many stops at quaint little places, including a feed store where I talked to a self-published author who was promoting his novel about the Pacific Northwest. Great tips from this guy about book promotion. The final stop was at a roadside restaurant—one of those non-descript places with great food--for a lunch of fish and chips
  • On the last day of our trip, we rode to Seattle in friend Noah's 1964 (or was it '68) Cadillac to go to a beauty show. There were 5 of us in the car and the two in the front were stylists whose commentary about hair products and hair color and tools like flat irons totally changed my understanding and appreciation of the cosmetology profession AND the cost of my haircuts. Kathy and I did a short stint at the hair show, compliments of Noah and Gina, which further expanded my perception of the industry and its complexity.
  • Of course, one can't go to Seattle without going to Pike Street Market, but Kathy and I were tired and the Sunday crowd was too much, so we didn't last long but headed back to our fabulous digs at the Fairmont (compliments of Cy) for a nap before the dinner finale at the Red Fin—one of the best sushi dinners of my life.

We traveled all day Monday to get home, leaving the 58 degree temp in Seattle to arrive at 95 degrees in Sacramento. I was happy to shed the sweaters and coat I'd been wearing for 7 days, glad to be home from my philomathic vacation.

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