Magnetic North

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There are two clichés that I would like to use for tinder the next time I build a campfire. One is “Bloom where you’re planted.” That’s patently ridiculous. A desert plant will not thrive in the tundra. Alpine flowers might fail if placed in a swamp.  The other is “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Anyone who grew up on a farm with livestock knows the truth; it IS greener over there where the grazing beasts haven’t had their way. These two maxims feel to me like nothing more than attempts to keep people content or at least resigned to their lot in life. But what if home is a place you go find and not the spot where you are from? What if it looks and feels entirely different from your experience? Maybe it’s on the other side of a continent and sitting surrounded by the sea or nestled in the folds of mountains.

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“I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid certain surroundings, but they have always a nostalgia for a home they know not. They are strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have known from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage. They may spend their whole lives aliens among their kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes they have ever known. Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the search for something permanent, to which they may attach themselves.” W Somerset Maugham

That quote speaks my thoughts in a manner much more eloquent than I can manage. It’s not so much the urge to escape from your circumstances home as it is to FIND home. It’s that search for a place that speaks what home should be according to the language of your own individual and unique heart. Maybe home is a journey to a place without roads.

Another cliché; “Home is where your heart is.” I think that’s right. Home can evolve, may move, it might wander about like the North Magnetic Pole as your core shifts inside you, as you discover places new to you but as familiar as the blood that runs through your body. It might be the rivers that laze through pasture and field were just hints. Shadows that serve as a hint of the great, unstoppable, glacier fed streams of home.

Be good to yourself.

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Greedy For Beauty

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How do you go about your everyday business when you live in a place of great beauty? Does it wear thin over time so that you no longer notice it? Do you, if born there, or having lived in it long enough become acclimated? Perhaps it becomes part of you and so it doesn’t literally stop you in your tracks every time you look out a window or walk out the door. I’m asking because it is a enduring mystery to me.

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Edward Abbey said, “This is the most beautiful place on earth. There are many such places.” I find it to be true of much of what I have seen of the PNW and each trip the beauty grabs my attention so I can’t imagine at all taking it for granted. Bill Nighy also spoke about beauty. He said, “As you get older you feel you need to pay more attention to what is around you and relish it. I’m greedy for beauty.” I am as well. Greedy for beauty; and I want to walk, hike, boat, bike, write, fish, sit, and sleep in it all the time.

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I know you can find it anywhere. Akron is lovely and I’m writing in that city right now. But I’m of an age where I want more. Like Nighy. I want to soak it in every day. Perhaps the danger of the region gives it an edge. Sharpens the color, draws the senses in with poignancy because it could change in a day. Wildfires, tsunami, earthquakes, stratovolcanoes pulling a St Helens…it seems timeless but you know it is all ephemeral. Whatever the reason the beauty of the PNW is an undeniable draw. Don’t believe me? Go check it out.

Be good to yourself.

After The Fire

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I had plans to go up into the Columbia Gorge in 2012 but because of circumstances they fell through. I made my first visit in June of 2016 and on one grey day that week in a borrowed car I drove north toward Mt Adams. My route took me into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The trees down low as I first entered the park were like Tolkein’s Ents in Middle Earth. Somehow mythic in stature; majestic is also accurate, cloaked in moss. I didn’t even get pictures of them. Just…awestruck.

I worked my way up past them on wild and narrow roads, driving carefully around fallen limbs and rocks, the temperature dropping as I gained elevation. My quest that day was to get a good view of the mountain. Everywhere a road seemed likely (heading uphill) I turned, trusting I would find a good vista and then be able to make my way back down. I finally got to where there had been a burn. That’s the view above. There was Mt Adams, summit thrust up through the clouds. I love those stratovolcanoes with a quiet burning devotion. Adams, Hood…I want to get to St Helens too.

But my attention was soon drawn to the burn. This was before the massive fires of 2017, with visuals of night glowing sheets of red and orange destruction. Coming across the scarred forest caught me by surprise. I got out of the car and walked about. Where the tree trunks stood as charred skeletal sticks, down below them, on the ground there was new life. Flowers reaching up among the fir cones that carried the seeds of the forest that will come back in time. Tiny baby trees. When destruction is fresh, just after a fire, or windstorm, or things that happen in everyday life, it’s easy to get caught up in what was lost.  The smell of smoke lingers in your mind. But if you look down near the roots you may find there are signs of hope for something new.  Like the flowers.

Be good to yourself.

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Lakes, rivers, the sea…

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While driving into work this morning in a borrowed diesel pickup I had the remembered feel of my hand on the tiller of a small boat tooling across a Washington lake. It was a good memory. One thing that ties all my PNW experiences together is water. Be it lake, river, or sea; the water is key.river

A lake left over by on the whims of the mighty Columbia, or a river sourced by glacial melt through lava tubes from the waist of a stratovolcano, or the coves and inlets from the Pacific. It all draws. The water. Magnet to steel, Superman to Lois Lane, chocolate to peanut butter. It is compelling to say the least.

seaBut it is the Salish Sea and the San Juans though that beat all the rest. Who can go there and not want to stay? The siren call is deafening. Somehow that place calls the loudest. We’ll see what happens.

Be good to yourselves.

 

 

Ahoy, Astoria!

pilotAstoria may be my favorite seaport town so far and that’s saying something. I love boats and ships more than your average American sports aficionado loves major league sports. Maybe three times as much. Seaports are always a bit of heaven. This place has the Columbia River, the Pacific just around the corner, a MASSIVE bridge between WA and OR, mountains nearby, watercraft of all sorts, houses from many eras, at least two good breweries, and sea lions! The sound of them barking as you step on the boardwalk is irresistible. You HAVE to step to the side and look for them.

So far I’ve been there three times, only a few hours each time…but I will go back. Last visit as we crossed the Astoria–Megler Bridger from WA I was riding on the passenger side and looked down to see a cruise ship docked. But don’t let that deter you from visiting. There was also a string of cargo ships stretched upriver for a few miles. Speaking of cargo ships…buoyBuoy sits right between the water and the boardwalk. You can sit by the windows and eat and watch the nautical traffic on the river. Or look down through their floor and see those barking aquatic mammals lazing on the pilings and beams beneath. I’ll post about their beer in the brewery blog but I will say the idea of stopping once a week for a pint is a major selling point for Astoria as a potential home port some day.

It feels absolutely viable as a place to live. There’s the tourist element of course. But it has the air of a vital community too; something you could be part of or hide in as you wish. This next part in italics is entirely cribbed from the Buoy website but it sums up the feel of the town so well: Here, one of the West’s most relentless rivers meets the wilderness of an entire ocean. The unstoppable meets the unyielding. And here, a community with grit and backbone make that meeting work. Seaport on a mighty river vs magnificent little isolated islands. Astoria and the San Juans are fighting for top spot in my PNW enamored heart. Astoria is making a strong case for itself.

Here’s a link to 20 good reasons to love Astoria. Mostly I put them here to bookmark for me but you may find a few that speak to you. Be good to yourself. Cheers.

Palouse Falls

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Palouse Falls. I heard the name maybe ten times before it began to stick in my head. On our North Route Road Trip™ back to the Columbia Gorge from Ohio in May we took a few side trips and made some out of the way stops. I’ll probably end up writing about most of them in time. When my partner suggested we take the back roads to see the wildflower bloom and Palouse Falls I had no idea such a place existed but I was game. I trust her instincts (she is a seasoned traveler and knows where the good stuff is) and frankly I was ready for some water, ANY water, after all the bone dry alien looking badlands territory we’d just traversed. I did not expect much.

Not even when we got close. Maybe a waterfall like the ones you get in Ohio? They’re never a Niagara drop, just creeks or little rivers; beautiful, but not too impressive. As we drove through the Scablands (they look like the bleak setting for every wagon train movie made in the 1940s and 1950s) and onto the single lane dirt road down into the park I tried to keep an open mind. Everything can be adventure. I am a fan of adventure.

I was blown away. You see the picture. The spray as the river drops into the bowl makes an oasis of Irish quality green in a parched and rock strewn moonscape made up of the leftovers from that flood that until mid 20th century no one but a few believed in. “All Washingtonians, visitors to the region and Ice Age flood fans should see Palouse Falls State Park at least once in their lifetime.” So; pretty much anyone who finds themselves in Washington needs to stop by. I am in agreement with the Washington State Parks website. You should see it. Also?

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What you should search out if you do find yourself in that area is the best chicken in Washtucna, Washington. There’s a picture of where to find it above. Sonny’s. We stopped there after the park. It is the most deep dive type of dive bar and I mean that in the best way. I loved it. We had a few Rainier beers while waiting for the antique pressure cooker to finish up our chicken and jojos made according to the original recipe that I believe they said was older than me. Or close to it anyway. Best part of that other than the tasty bird (a spiritual experience, absolutely) was connecting a little with locals. Always try and talk with the locals, friends. We found out that often the road to the falls is packed for miles (consider yourself warned) and we were lucky to get down there when there were only 4 or so cars. Serendipity.

There will be more on the PNW soon. Be good to yourself.

Salish Sea

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Salish Sea. I like the saying of it and the way it looks on a page. I love the feel of it slapping against a ferry hull, sending vibrations up the decks, churning into a foaming wake. It is inlets and islands, deep water and rock, and the whole of it sits there in the most NW of the PNW drawing you in to the upper left of the lower 48 like music playing on the other side of a hill. I don’t think it would be possible to explore it all thoroughly but you sure could try. I hope to.

Well. So far I’ve only had a Tuesday there hopping the San Juans though with the best possible partner. We went on a sunny and clear November day. On one hand it was the day the world went wildly wrong, and on the other hand…it was a gift of good company and encountering a most magical place. I have to get back; walk and bike the islands, hop ferries, kayak, take a private boat into secret coves and remote hidden spots.

What I’ve seen of the Pacific is magnificent. But there is something about the dance between island and wave,  water and rock, that in this place touches the magical. Glacier carved, sea filled, a constant delight to the senses. I am enamored.

A taste. But a taste was enough. Some time I’ll figure out my favorite PNW spot. But I have this feeling it is like trying to figure out which child you favor over all the rest. You might be comfortable with one (The Gorge) and have good memories of another (Pacific City, Astoria) and get along better with one than the rest though you love them all. I think that last one may just be the Salish Sea.

We’ll see. There’s lots more exploring to do. Cheers.

 

Bad at Math

math‘You look at all the angles. Weigh factors and probabilities, consider what you’re willing to lose, what you might gain, is it worth the risk? All that, carefully calculated…you take your chance and make a bold move and…then something that shouldn’t have happened at all hits like the Tunguska explosion over Siberia in 1908. They still don’t know what caused that.

I don’t think it’s always a failure to consider the risks properly, or a curse, or a sign of some sort. As the geologists say, Schist Happens. It’s good to have a tribe or friend-family to look out for you when it does. It’s also good to document because you may be able to look back and see what opportunities opened up as a result.

Opportunity in the next few weeks includes what will most likely be a trip back to the PNW. This time it’s by car going west; by plane, bus or train the return. Maybe there will be time on a boat while I am there. There will most likely (certainly) be some beer. There will also be a new collaborative blog started of other adventures that hopefully will garner some actual readers. More than this does anyway. We’ll see.

Long term good stuff will have to wait for reflection. Tribe, the beautiful Upper Left Edge of Turtle Island, and good company is what there is for now. Looking for the gold amidst the schist. It’s in there.

Be good to yourself.

Drops Of Jupiter

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This morning (and by morning I mean midway between midnight and dawn) I was reminded by a social media app that March 9, 2012 was the day when I first reached the Pacific. When I got there I took and posted this picture on FB with the caption *Made It* and nothing more. It’s a selfie that you might pass over easily while scrolling through my profile pics but there is SO much meaning and emotion tied up in it when you know the story.

For instance; the trip to get from my home in Ohio to Pacific City in Oregon consisted of catching a car to Pittsburgh, then two flights, a Max ride, a jump on a trolley, then two buses to the coast. I went on foot from there for about a mile to the beach. Doesn’t sound like much but it’s really just the final push up to the summit of Chomolungma of my personal decades long journey (described in earlier posts) to the Left Edge of Turtle Island. You don’t talk about all the work Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay put in to getting to the mountain. The important part is the last climb.

I remember the water was brutally cold. That didn’t matter. I took off my boots and walked in it. Let the salt spray coat my beard. You don’t try to get someplace for that long just to take a look. Immersion, son. You get wet. I let myself become part of the place and it part of me. Hooked, as it were. Inseparable. I have been back a number of times since then even to that very spot. Thing is I keep swinging away, too. It’s circumstances. I have to remind myself I am trapped in the gravity well of the Pacific Northwest and it will always pull me in again.

I feel like the Juno probe that’s swinging in her 50 odd day orbit around Jupiter right now. Close in, then way out, picking up little drops of Jupiter on each pass near, then out, then swinging in again. It’s frustrating but there’s nothing to do but make the most of each approach, remembering that the end goal will be reached some day. In the case of the spacecraft it’s a dive into the planet’s atmosphere. I’m hoping for a softer landing. Maybe in the San Juans.

By the way that Drops of Jupiter song has the most ridiculous lyrics but I used the title anyway because it fit.

Be good to yourself…and everyone else too.

Repetitions

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This picture is a poster for an exhibition of van Gogh’s work I went to twice when it was in Cleveland. Van Gogh’s repetitions. The Repetitions are copies he made of his works. Not exact copies. They’re reimagining the originals. Sometimes he reworked a painting again and again using the same subject with different techniques and colors. The two joined together that you see here are from the Postman series. There are maybe five. It’s fascinating work. I’ve been trying to write about it since 2014 and I’ve never quite been able to get my thoughts penned down.

We talk about reinventing ourselves sometimes. It’s perhaps the urge to change taken to the extreme. Maybe…resolutions gone wild. That’s one way to put it. But I like the idea of repetitions. Reimagining yourself but with different colors and techniques. Not unrecognizable. But more detail here, maybe. Some wilder strokes there. Change the background. Yes.

That’s what 2017 is going to be for me.

Take care of yourselves. Be kind. The world needs that.