Monday, June 29, 2009

gliding down the california coast

After leaving the cities of the Northwest, we headed down highway 101 and eventually highway 1 along the Northern California coast. Back to the natural and rugged world of camping, we switched out of our city gear of nice jeans and collared shirts back into our hiking shoes, ugly t-shirts and greasy hair mode. There's no one to show off for out here in the wild.

We started in redwood forests. These trees are the tallest in the world, the largest being nearly 370 feet tall. Now that's an original skyscraper. We slept on a beach with golden bluffs lining the rugged coast where elk with giant antlers walked among the tents, and took hikes into canyons lined with giant ferns, moist and green and lush.

We moved onto an even more remote landscape in the lost coast. This region of California's coast is so mountainous that they could barely fit a windy, patchy road through it. There are a few small towns spotted along the road (and by small, I mean smaller than your highschool class), one of them being Petrolia, the first place the oil tycoons drilled in California.

At last we got to the famous highway one. We walked through tall golden grass fields and looked out over the rocky cliffs and a bright blue ocean, and I felt like I was in this Monet painting that I spent a lot of time observing at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. This woman stands on the top of a hill in Normany, the wind whips all around her, pulling at her dress and her hat. It is so strong I imagine she is almost resting against it. At that moment, I wonder what she is thinking. Does she recognize the beauty of her surroundings? Or is it part of the quotidian of her life? I imagine she breaks from her routine in her mind for just a moment. Just long enough to see the wonder and ecstacy of life, as the sun bounces from the water and onto her face, warming it. I want to always feel that way.

Monday, June 8, 2009

grateful in the cities of the northwest

We drove into Vancouver on an unusually hot, sticky late May day. The sky was impossibly blue and there were many shirtless men parading their white hairy chests throughout the city. We saw Stanley Park, a gigantic forest of a city park, with its endless stream of rollerbladers in their uniforms of tiny shorts and wisps of a top. I guess rollerblading didn't leave with the 90's on this side of the border.

We met Luigi, our couchsurfing host, who showed us to our private room and separate bathroom, handed us some keys and made it explicit that his home is now ours. (for those of you who need a refresher, couchsurfing is a website that hooks up people who have an extra couch, room, or floor space that they'd like to share with passing travellers. In return, when those travellers return home, they're expected to make their space available.)

Luigi is a man from Rome with a puritanical streak for authentic Italian food, which he insisted on cooking for us fresh every evening. We ate three-course meals: antipasti covered in olive oil and pepper, sliced roast beef, roasted potatoes and grilled artichokes, and he taught us how to correctly eat his perfect pasta (hint: it does not make use of the spoon in any way).

We spent most of our time in the city getting to know its neighborhoods - which were both plentiful and colorful. We visited the home of Vancouver's artists and artisans on Granville Island, gazed at the enormous variation in ethnic eateries on Commercial Drive, and saw the sky reflected in the endless blocks of glass towers downtown.

We moved back to our homeland in our visit to Seattle. There we stayed with Dan, an Information Technology guy, who was as "IT guy" as it gets. After we dropped our stuff, we hopped on a bus to downtown and met with a lively downtown Seattle. We were flabbergasted by the vast marketplace at Pike's, where we sat down for some happy-hour-priced clam chowder washed down with local microbrews. We found the original Starbucks across the street from the market, with tremendously talented singers performing in front of it, including a motown-style quartet who reminded me of home. Then, we curiously stopped into the socialist/anarchist bookstore down the street, where we found some books we just have to get off amazon.

We continued around downtown - finding an art show happening at the Seattle Art Museum, which consisted of hipsters doing dance routines. Argh, my generation's sad excuse for art. We then found another gigantic bookstore, which was having a reading by one of its former workers who has now become a best-selling author. We sat in on her reading, where she talked about picking up one day from Seattle and moving to Bangkok - where her literary career began. I guess travel can be quite useful as a career move? We strolled on the way back to Dan's house, where we found a cafe with jazz pouring out of its open windows. We slinked in for a cup of coffee, where we listened to the man in the fedora as his sounds bounced out into the purple-ing dusky sky.

We got back to Dan's where he and his 15 or so friends were having a barbecue. As can be surmised, the conversation revolved around new operating systems yet to be released, the viability of Amazon's Kindle technology, and video games.

We then moved on to Portland, where we stayed with Devidas, an Indian software engineer who also welcomed us with open arms. As we pulled up, he showed us to our private room and bathroom and met us downstairs where he cooked us fresh, delicious Indian food and we chatted into the night. In Portland, it was overcast and there wasn't much to do, so we spent the vast majority of our time in Powell's, probably the best English-language bookstore I've ever been in. Filling up an entire city block, its vast array of titles and sections is staggering. We spent the day reading and researching our futures and plans, looking into books on gardening and apprenticeships, grad school and immigration.

I was looking to the cities of the Northwest for a future home - as global warming makes it a more viable place to live - but overall, these cities were not any more special or magical to me than any other North American cities. They have little quirks all their own, but none of them really blew me away like the places in Europe did with the beauty and grandeur. What I took from these places is more from the people in them - the incredible generosity of strangers, the willingness to share and to converse, really astounded me and made me incredibly grateful.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

variability in olympic national park

Olympic National Park is a rare and varied place. There is a rugged coastline, a lush coastal forest, gigantic mountains that aren't part of any other range, and an exceedingly rare temperate rainforest.

On day one, we ambled around a clear alpine lake as the misty fog clung to the peaks of the mountains that jut up around it as a crown. We wandered into the main lodge, complete with mounted game, a giant checkerboard set, and forties jazz humming from the cedar floorboards to the pine trunk rafters.

The following day we shot over to the other side of the park to explore the protected Washington coastline. On our nine-mile hike over a rugged and buggy beach, we found our paradise: the wild and wonderful little ecosystem of tide pools. We discovered anemones that we disguised as pebbles and seaweed, bright purple and orange starfish clinging to the crevices of the rock, and gardens of mussels, barnacles and carnivorous snails. Oh, and overhead, bald eagles with newly caught fish soared to their babies in their nests. What a vast and differing world we have to explore!

Then we wandered into the depths of the Hoh Rainforest. One of the rare temperate rainforests in the world, it is a jack-and-the-beanstalk world. There are normal-looking fir trees elongated to hundreds of feet tall like a torture victim just freed from the stretcher, and maple trees with leaves the size of my head, and all of it is dripping in moss - adding an eerie and mystical feel to the forest. Ah, the power of water to make things grow.

Lastly, we headed up to Hurricane Ridge, an alpine lookout where you can gaze into the heart of this isolated range known as the Olympics. Up there we found deer munching on snow in the mid-80's June sun, and we had a little snowball fight in our t-shirts and sandals.

From sea to lake, rainforest to mountain meadow, snowballs to glaciers and tide pools to herds of young elk to bald eagles, this park exudes the wild wonder of life.