Saturday, August 24, 2013

Journey to Oregon:Day Seven

I have breakfast with a couple from California who've retired and are traveling along the coast.  Second  couple to do this. It seems very Californian retired to me.  They've sold their house in Bakersfield, a suburb of Los Angeles, and are moving to a house outside of Ashland where in her words, “we want to explore our spirituality.”  This includes Tibetan Buddhism and it's one of the reasons they've chosen the Ash land area: there's a Tibetan Buddhist retreat center.  Prior to retirement, the woman worked for a large corporate company, and the third highest paid person on staff was the company astrologer.  No decision was made without his input; or the other sway around, every decision was made because of his input.  It was so Californian to me, and as they readily acknowledged, to them.  He was the director of parks and recreation for Bakersfield, which sounded more grounded and practical, although when he told me he wanted to live in southern Oregon near the “ancient energy of the redwoods” I knew he was as Californian in new age stereotype as she.  To each his and her own.  They were good people.  Good people exploring spirituality in a way that was individualized and meaningful to them.  I respect that. 

I take a long walk through a residential neighborhood and then join Natasha, her mom and dad, and her nephew for lunch.  Ezra is Stacy and Joshua's son.  The last time I saw him he was nine months old; now he's ten.  There's nothing like the difference between a baby and a boy to signify the passage of time.  “Hi Ezra,” I say to him, shaking his hand.  “Hi James,” he responds politely.  “You married my parents.”  I laugh.  “I did.”  I laugh because I find it funny that the first thing he says to me after saying hello is that I married his parents.  That this is the factor largest in his life of who I am.  Indeed, it's true.  Almost twelve years ago, along the MacKenzie River I officiated the marriage of Stacy and Joshua.  They asked me.  It felt right for me to do it.  We were kindred spirits, as Stacy later commented on this journey to Oregon. 

After eating, I ask Ezra if he'd like to play a game of War while Natasha and Betty make snacks and dinner for a hike we're taking later in the afternoon.  He says yes.  Something I've learned over the years is that if you play games with children they often immediately form a bond with them.  Talking is boring; it's what adults do.  Playing is awesome; it's what kids do.  Sure enough, Ezra and I become fast friends.  He's a Spoden. I'm not surprised.  They game gets rather competitive and the taunts start flying from both of us.  He's surprised to find out I'm a middle school teacher and even more surprised when I tell him with only five cards left that he's going down, down like a turd in a toilet, and I will be the reigning king of this war.  Somehow he manages to come from behind and suddenly I'm losing. He's gaining my cards one right after another until he has all of them and wins.  He does a victory dance; turns around, sticks out his butt and shakes it, saying “Oh yeah, oh yeah!”  It's exactly what his father would do.  The organic apple has not fallen far from the organic apple tree. 

Our backpacks filled with food and water are ready.  Natasha, Betty, Ezra,, and I walk to the transit station where we  take the public bus to the MacKenzie River Ranger Station about an hour away.  As I mentioned earlier, one of the cultural differences you notice in Eugene is the large number of “hippies” and one of the things about many of these “hippies” is that they don't use deodorant and perhaps don't shower often.  As a result, they can't get stinky. Stinky as in their own ripe and raunchy body odor, which you've you've never smelled it on someone who hasn't deodorized or bathed in a long time is pungent and overpowering, and that's what I smell from the woman sitting one seat from me.  I try not to breathe because every time I do, I smell her, but it's a long trip, and breathing is required.  Fortunately, about a half of the way to our destination, she pulls the cord, and gets off the bus. 

We arrive around 2:20.  The path through the forest along the MacKenzie River winds through large coniferous and lush deciduous trees.  Sunlight filters through the leaves and ripples on the  river.  We stop along a bank and each have a granola bar.  Right after coffee and organic vegetable and fruits, the Spodens love granola bars.  Maybe wine and beer are before granola bars.  Nourished and liquified, we continue walking.  There's a lot of talking as we're walking.  Sometimes all four of us in a conversation; sometimes two of us as a pair lags behind or speeds up ahead.  We're walking and talking, talking and walking for a really long time when Ezra says, “Grandma, it's 6:00.  Shouldn't we turn back soon if we want to catch the bus?”  Sure enough, the adults have forgotten to pay attention to the time and if we don't catch what is the next bus, the last bus, then we don't have a way back home.  Well, we do, but that would involve calling Stacy or Josh ans asking them to pick us up.  There's a moment of “oh shit!” among Betty, Natasha, and I.  We thank Ezra for being conscientious of time, assure him we'll make it back in time, even though we're not sure if we will, and turn immediately around and walk quickly with a purpose.  At some point, we think we'll make it in time for the bus, and we're all hungry, so we stop by a narrow and shallow creek next to a single person walking bridge and eat our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Ezra and Natasha takes off their tennis shoes and soak their feet in the chilly water.  After I finish my sandwich, I join them.  It's a quick respite with maximum enjoyment and we're off again. “We've got a bus to catch or it's hitchhiking for us!” I joke.  This worries Ezra though.  “Grandma, will we really have to hitchhike?” he asks.  “No,” Betty says, “we'll call your parents if we don't make it.”  Nothing like the fear of hitchhiking and being in a car with a bunch of stinky hippies to get a ten year old boy to become the line leader and ambulate with such a brisk pace that we're jogging through the forest rather than walking. 

We make it to the bus pick up location with fifteen minutes to spare!  Just as we're stepping out of the forest and into the parking lot area, however, Ezra gets stung by a bee.  The production he makes is spectacular.  He's a drama queen!  I love it.  Clearly, he takes after his mother.  Or is that his father? 

The hilarity of riding public transportation is the odd things you see people doing. 
From the back seat of the bus which Ezra chose, we watch a long haired, grubby clothed young man with a fishing pole at the front jamming to his music, lip synching it quietly to himself, gesturing with emotion in the air.  At some point it looks as if he's singing to Natasha, serenading her with his head banging rendition of whatever Grateful Dead or Phish song he's loving.  We joke that soon he's going to do the cowboy dance move and twirl his imaginary lasso in the air and then throw it around Natasha and pull him toward him.  And once someone has thrown their magic lasso, you can't refuse, and so Natasha would have to stumble reluctantly down the aisle of the bus to his seat.  What's this?  He's standing and walking toward us!  Perhaps no lasso necessary! He's simply going to sit next to us and talk to Natasha!  But no, he's after the girl in front of Natasha.  It appears he knows her since she he says her name, but she's not interested, and like a pesky fly, shoos him away.

Somehow we get on the topic of television and Ezra says he gets to watch an hour of TV a week, play an hour of video games a week, and watch one movie on TV a week.  To which I say, bravo, Stacy and Josh.  Way to limit his screen time.  I'm not surprised.  None of them is a TV watcher.  There are better things to do with your time as a kid and as an adult, and as a teacher, my students always tell me they watch several hours of TV every day, sometimes all weekend, and play video games for sometimes five or six hours straight.  Turn it off America! Unplug the media drug!  Ween from the screen! Get your kids and yourself doing other things—playing, walking, biking, sporting, reading, building, gardening, creating, whatever, anything besides all the screens we use all the time. 

Here's the other thing that's cool about the way Stacy and Josh are raising Ezra: he attends a Waldorf School.  It's a K-8 private school based around the philosophy and pedagogy of Rudolf Steiner, a prominent educational thinker from about a hundred years ago.  His belief is that education should nurture the whole child, should foster the spiritual self, should develop community that respects and responds to the world around them, and should hold imaginative thinking as highly as critical thinking.  I've known about Waldorf education for almost twenty years and I'm glad Stacy and Joshua have enrolled their son in this private school.  I know he's receiving a personalized education unlike one he would receive in a public school.  Part of the the philosophy is that the same teacher teaches the same children for the entire elementary experience.  This means that Ezra has had the same teacher, Mr. French, since he was in the kindergarten, and Mr. French has become almost a third parent to Ezra and the other twenty or so children he has taught for the past five years. 

Speaking of the amazing parents, back in Eugene, Stacy and Josh are waiting for us.  It's great to see them and to hug them and to be in the same physical space after all this time.  We all talk for a while inside and then Stacy, Josh, and I go back to Venetta, a small town about twenty minutes from Eugene where they live with Jenny and Nathan and their son Finnegan.  Ezra stays overnight at his Grandma and Grandpa's house along with Auntie Natasha. 

Where do you begin after nine years?  The immediate seems most relevant, so I begin by telling them about my time in Portland and Eugene and they tell me about Ezra, as if oft the case with parents, after I mention he's a great kid and I enjoyed spending time with him.  “So what have you been up to for the past nine years?” encourages generalizations too sweeping.  And yet, if we were to pursue this line of questioning, I think for them it would go something like this:  raising a child, working at Organically Grown Company, traveling, and living with various combinations of family and friends at their noble experiment in living collectively in their house in the country; and for me, teaching, writing, pursuing my zen thing, enjoying my summers away from teaching, living alone most of the time, not dating anyone, wanting to, and yet, liking my single.

We arrive home around ten.  Jenny and Nathan and Finn are already in bed.  Stacy and Josh work in the morning.  We talk for a bit in the living room and then it's goodnight.  They have a capacious house and I basically have the entire upstairs to myself: bedroom, bathroom, library, large open space with a ping pong table in the middle of it.  It's quiet, incredibly and deliciously quiet.  I savor it.  I appreciate it.  I seldom get it like this.  I want more of it in my life.  I open the window in the bedroom where I'll fall asleep soon.  Silence surrounds me except for the soothing sounds of the frogs croaking rhythmically in the nearby pond.  I listen to them.  I hear myself breathing.  I pay attention to my breath, slow and soft, calm and content.  I begin counting each breath, something I do  several times a day as a meditation practice, counting to ten and starting over again, but tonight, I don't make it past seven.  It's as if the frogs have hypnotized me and I fall asleep and sleep deep. 

Journey to Oregon: Day Six

I wake at six in the morning and begin an early morning walk to the top of a butte about a mile from the Bed and Breakfast.  There's a road I can walk along that will take me to the top but I decide to take the rough path that winds up the butte itself.  By rough, I mean rough.  Stones for steps, loose gravel, no handrails.  This early in the morning it's somewhere between invigorating and insane.  Nonetheless, when I get to the top, sweating and panting, the breathtaking beauty of the entire valley below and before me justifies the exertion and excursion.  The sun lifts the blue blankets from itself and steps out of its cozy bed.  Its golden rays reach across the sky like arms stretching with a morning yawn to awake and greet the day.  In the western sky, the full moon still hovers in the lower fourth of the sky.  I sit on a bench for about thirty minutes and appreciate the beauty, appreciate this part of fthe world becoming morning, and appreciate that I am here and that I have made this possibility a reality.

Back at the Oval Door, I have breakfast with a couple from California who have retired a week ago and are taking a month long drive along the coast from Los Angeles to Seattle and then back down again through the countryside.  I've noticed people in Oregon and from California don't call it the ocean; they call it the coast.  My landlocked perspective sees the significance is the ocean.

I meet Elena for tea at the Eugene Tea House.  100 choices of loose leaf tea!  About 25 black, 10 chai, 15 green, 10 oolong, 10 roiboos, 5 mate, 25 herbal.  Each choice has a description much like you would read for wine on the back of it's bottle, describing its origin, flavor, aroma, texture,  and emotional producing quality..  Elena and I choose a Chi tea, hers a traditional Indian tea and mine because of the additional spices described as earthy and grounding.  It's about a ten minute wait for the tea to brew and it is distinctly different from other Chai teas I've tried.  Elena has a girlish happiness to her that I love.  It's one of the reasons I'm glad I know her and that she's my friend.  She has her own massage therapy business, a two year old daughter, and a partner, the father of their child.   It's been nine years since I've talked to her, the last time at Jenny and Nathan's wedding when I was the officiant who married the two of them.  I got my license online through the Universal Church of Light.  Someone in this group of friends named me the Reverend Jimmie James.   This time in Oregon, in regard to the two couples I married, Jenny and Nathan and Stacy and Josh, I've given myself the nomenclature the Minister of Love.  Elena and I catch up easily, as if only months have passed rather than years.  I find myself asking again why did I let years go by without visiting them.  What are the reasons any of us lose touch with friends?  We may drift apart because of differences but what if there are no noticeable differences?  What are the reasons then?  We get busy with our lives.  It's easier to keep in touch with people  who live in driving distance than in flying distance.  There were so many friends in my case, I didn't know how to keep in touch with all of them on a consistent basis via phone calls and instead managed to keep in touch with none of them except to some extent Natasha. 

We finish our tea and an hour later Elena picks me up at the Bed and Breakfast.  She's gone home, fed her daughter and packed a bag for swimming.  We're going to a beach in the country.  The drive is beautiful.  Rolling hills, winding roads, thick pine trees, clear blue sky, blue hued buttes on the horizon.  The beach is along the Willamette River.  It's not soft sand on the beach or in the river; rather it's rocks that hurt the soles of your feet.  Nonetheless, the water is warm and the scenery soothing.  I didn't expect to swim on this trip, although I did bring my swimsuit just in case and I love being outdoors in the summer, so this is perfect.  Elena and I play with Scarlet as we share what we've been doing with our lives for the past nine years and what we believe brings value to our lives.  Like all of my Oregon friends, we have a similar simple spirituality: love each other, encourage and support each other, nurturing your best and the best in others, promote physical, emotional, intellectual, and social health in yourself and others, become involved in a positive way in a community of like minded people with the purpose of creating change, consider the well being the earth and act accordingly with how you live, consider the well being of yourself and others and insist upon justice and equality, live as often as you can no matter what you are doing or what is happening to you with gratefulness, knowing that life is an amazing gift we are given, 

After Elena drops me off at the bed and breakfast and leaves I realize I didn't bring my camera with me and therefore didn't take a picture of the two of us at the tea shop or the three of us at the beach.  I wish I had documented  in pictures this time spent together with Elena.  I want to capture it because it has been nine year and it is a visit half way across the country.  That adds a certain significance and specialness to the visit and to the brief hours spent together.  And yet, how often in my life in Minnesota with friends and family am I not similarly aware of the brief hours spent together and because of closer distance don't always photograph my time spent with them or acknowledge that this time together is significant and special.  All moments are fleeting moments.  I may tell myself that my friends and family in Minnesota are only thirty minutes away and can see them whenever I want and because I know this and because they know this I often forget that all time spent with those people you love should be time savored. 

I relax for a while at the bed and breakfast, sitting on the swinging bench on the wrap around deck and then take a fifteen block walk to the University where I plan to go to the Art Museum.  When I get there, however, the woman behind the desk tells me it closes in twenty five minutes for a special occasion, and not wanting to rush through the gallery, I decide to not see it and instead walk back to Natasha's parents' house for dinner, stopping for a glass of iced Earl Grey Tea, organic of course, at a small coffee shop along the way.  Inside the coffee shop on the entire ceiling, I notice a mural of Michelangelo's Creation painting in the Sistine Chapel, except for one small detail: instead of God touching Adam's finger, instead he is handing him a tiny white espresso cup.  And God said, “Let there be caffeine!”

 Betty and Natasha, mother and daughter, slice and dice and saute and boil a delicious meal.  I love that they cook together, a culinary duet, asking each other questions about the meal, telling the other what they are doing, collaborating and improvising as they go along, a synchronized homemade creation of food from the kitchen they currently share.    There's love and gratefulness here. It's obvious each of them enjoys the other's company.  I bought Betty a bottle of Rose—it's the year of the Rose—as a thank you gift for all the meals she's created and we have a glass with our meal, as usual, on the second floor porch overlooking Lincoln Street.

 After dinner, Betty suggests we watch a movie she's seen and she thinks Natasha and I would like.  It's called “Bernie” from my favorite writer and director, Richard Linklater.  Somehow I had missed that he had created this movie and while typically watching a movie on vacation isn't how I want to spend my time, I enjoy the movie itself and the shared experience of watching it with Betty and Natasha and a glass of Rose and gluten free organic pretzels made it even more enjoyable.   

My Journey to Oregon: Day Five

I like staying at Bed and Breakfasts because you don't have to go anywhere right away in the morning for breakfast.  It's made right there for you.  Typically, the people who own bed and breakfasts pride themselves on making delicious breakfasts.  The two women who owned the one I stayed at met each other at Culinary School and after working at various resort restaurants as chefs decided to own this bed and breakfast together and flaunt their culinary flourish at the breakfast table.  I've always been fortunate to eat with people who are traveling for interesting reasons.  Today a couple who retired a month ago are taking their first trip, a month long drive along the coast from Los Angeles to Seattle and back down again, stopping in the major cities along the way and staying at bed and breakfasts whenever they can.  It's a trip they've wanted to take for a long time and they're finally doing it.

After breakfast I walk to Natasha's parents’ house.  Natasha has an online class in the morning and so Betty and I walk the few blocks to the downtown farmers market. It's so popular that it occurs on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays during the summer.  There are at least a dozen companies selling mostly organic vegetables and fruits.  Betty buys three bags of produce.  As we are leaving the Farmer's Market I have a neat moment of synchronicity.  A friend of mine, Elena, is also leaving the market area and sees us. I had called her last night and we said we would get together while I was in Eugene but we didn't make plans.  She asks if tomorrow around 11:00 would work for me, which it does, and so we set a date at the tea shop in downtown Eugene, similar to a coffee shop but selling only tea.  I like tea and drink it often so I was hoping to go into the this tea shop it see what a tea shop offered.

Betty and I bring the produce back to her house and then set out on foot again for a show and tell walk.  There's the store devoted to only olive oil, the donuts shop with unique combinations like maple syrup and bacon, the coffee shop after coffee shop, numerous Japanese restaurants, and the street people: young adults with no shoes and long hair and raggedy clothing and usually smelling like their own body odor asking for money or sitting a circle with like minded friends talking, middle aged and older people dressed and smelling similar, perhaps homeless, perhaps unemployed, perhaps with a mental disability that prevents them from functioning in society, many of them, like the younger adults, carrying a plstic bag full of aluminum cans which they'll cash in for money and a back pack with their belongings.  Most people in Eugene call these people hippies.  They are one variety of hippies: the down and out, the drop out, the poor hippies.  It's a rough life in my opinion.  A wonder if it's a life they choose or if numerous circumstances have left them no other choice.  There's another version of hippie in Eugene: the employed and tuned in to issues of environmentalism, organic farming, justice, sustainability, and alternative forms of medication, education, transportation, to name a few.  My friends might be considered this latter variety of hippies.  Once long haired and living collectively in a large house although always working, most of them for the same company, Organically Grown Company, now they all seem middle class and career-oriented albeit still passionately concerned about the issues I mentioned above.  They have changed and yet their core values have remained the same.  If you believe that the way to achieve the best for your self is a solid value system and constant self growth then positive change is the necessary vehicle for that improvement. 

Betty and I walk back to her house for lunch.  Leroy, her husband, has brewed coffee.  As Waylon said the coffee is always flowing at his parent's house.  After lunch, I walk back to the bed and breakfast where I meet Elena's dad for tea and conversation.  Elena met Mary Jean when the two of them lived in Minneapolis and then became a part of the migration to Eugene.  Mary Jean grew up in the same small town as Natasha's family and Elena grew up in Indiana.  Her dad was a professor at a college and published several articles and books about the influence of Zen in English literature.  Two years ago when Elena and her partner had their daughter, Elena's dad and mom became another part of the migration to Eugene.  My connection with John is through our understanding of Zen and literature and this is mostly what we discussed for our two hours together; however at one point we had an interesting discussion about the choices we make for our lives.  John states he doesn't think he makes decisions for himself; rather his life has been a series of events that just happen because they must and this is not a choice, this is in his words, “life unfolding itself.”  I challenge this notion by saying that surely moving from Kokomo, Indiana where he had lived for virtually all of his adult life as a professor to Eugene, Oregon after he retired so that he could be closer to his daughter and granddaughter was a choice.  He tell me this:  Several months after his granddaughter was born, he and his wife, Maria, visited Elena, her partner, and their daughter in Eugene.  He was holding Scarlet in his arms.  She was crying loudly, very upset, and as he lowered Scarlet into a warm bath, she stopped crying, and in that moment, he knew he had to move here.  Life had unfolded itself.  Later that morning he and his wife were looking for a home and found one they liked and put an offer on it and the deal was done.  Had Maria and he talked about moving to Oregon to be closer to their daughter and her partner and their granddaughter before this?  Yes, and yet hadn't decided.  In Jack's words, “the moment decided for me, something greater than myself.” 

When Jack left, I took a walk alone to think about everything Jack and I discussed and then went to dinner at Natasha's parent's house.  After dinner Natasha, Betty, and I took a long walk along the Willamette River   The sun was setting when we turned around and walked home.  The sparkling reflection of the sun in the water created an unusual color, difficult to categorize, the combination of the pinkish orange sun mixed in with the swirling blue current of the river. 

I walked back to the B and B in the dark.  The moon was full.  I took a mindful moment, stopped, and acknowledged and appreciated the moon, and that I was seeing it in Eugene, and that I was in this particular moment, the eternal here and now.  I called it another good day, opened the window in my bedroom, and feel asleep to the sweet sound of silence sans airplanes and interstate traffic. 

My Journey to Oregon: Day Four

Waylon and I have breakfast together.  We agree it has been a great weekend together and a deepening of our friendship.  We hug goodbye and Waylon bikes to work.  I stay alone at his house during the morning.  Where he lives is incredibly quiet.  Most places are quieter than where are live.  I'm near an interstate and a busy road and I'm under the flight path of jet planes taking off so there is always a steady hum of tires on concrete and engines running and depending upon the time of day  a steady sonic boom and sometimes roar  It's been a dislike of mine since I bought my townhouse four years ago, not knowing the consistent and loud airplane noise I would receive when I bought it.  I've worked with ignoring it and accepting it and not noticing it and some days are better than others, but when I stay somewhere else, like Waylon's house, where there is none of the aforementioned sound, I savor the silence.

I'm grateful for my time with Waylon.  Asking him if I could stay with him and if we could hang out for almost three days when he barely knew me could have been awkward or draining, but it wasn't.  Sometimes you have that intuition about a person—that you're  going to get along and being together is going to be easy and easy going.  

Around one o'clock, I drove to the airport, returned the rental car, and waited a few minutes for Waylon's sister, Natasha, to pick me up.  She had an interview for a job earlier in the morning in Portland and then ate lunch with Waylon and visited with friends at Organically Grown Company.  Together, we headed to Eugene.  I spent two weeks with Natasha last summer in Salt Lake City where she lived and we talk to each other often on the phone so it was great getting an hour and half with her in the car to catch up since she moved back to Eugene after finishing her Masters in Gerontology at University of Utah.  She's temporarily living with her parents until she secures employment in her new career.  Her parents live about three blocks from the heart of downtown Eugene and the bed and breakfast where I would stay for three days was three blocks from her parents so it was ideal.  I chose to go without a car on this part of the trip because I didn't really need one since others had cars and were close.  I also wanted to slow things down and do more walking than driving while I was in Eugene. 

It was great to get almost two hours of time in the car with Natasha to just talk.  It's one of the reasons I like a car trip with a friend.. 

In Eugene, Natasha's mom, Betty, welcomed me to Oregon with a delicious meal of organic vegetable wraps and a glass of Pinot Gris.  She graciously offered to make lunch and dinner for the four days I would stay in Eugene which I greatly appreciated it. She's a fantastic cook.  They have a large porch on the second floor that overlooks the street and a bit of the city, but high enough that it's private, so every meal we ate outside on the deck, Natasha, Betty, and I for dinner and Natasha's dad for lunch. 

After my first meal Natasha drove me to the bed and breakfast.  The beautiful top floor room I stayed in at the Oval Door Bed and Breakfast was called The Bamboo Room, a synchronous reminder the best way to plan, decide, and step forward in this wonderful ten day remain sturdy, solid and strong while at the same time flexible, pliable and bendable.  This attitude and outlook will take me, and all of us, through life with confidence and ease, two traits essential for living a life of well-being. 

I relaxed for a bit and then took about a twenty block walk through a residential neighborhood.  Along the way I passed five women practicing tai chi together in a park and a group of ten adults practicing a form of synchronized martial arts with long canes in another park.  I liked the Eastern presence of exercise and spirituality, especially outside in a public space.  The evening was perfect for it: 75 degrees, little humidity, a clear blue sky, the sun setting serenely. I walked back to the bed and breakfast feeling peaceful and fell asleep in the luxury of a soft bed.

Friday, August 16, 2013

My Journey to Oregon: Day Three

I wake up early and take a walk around the neighborhood.  On foot, you can notice trees and bushes and flowers n that you'd otherwise miss while in the car..  Unlike the suburb where I live, where grass is mowed before it gets long and bushes are manicured and flowers are planted in pots that match the color of the house, here in Waylon's neighborhood the people let their yards grow rather wild and unkempt.  A mist hangs in the air.  It's unlike mist I'm familiar with in the Midwest.  It's subtle and small, barely noticeable, and yet, over the course of the walk and by the time I get home, I'm slightly damp, a wetness I can brush off with my hands. 

Waylon's brewed coffee.  We read sections of the New York Times and then have brunch at a vegan friendly restaurant called Paradox.  The server asks me what type of protein I would like in my breakfast scramble.  It's a question you don't get asked in Minneapolis.  My choices are tofu, seitan, tempeh, and eggs.  I choose the tempeh, which when it arrives has a crisp outer crust and a compact inner core.  It's difficult to compare its texture or taste to anything else, but it quite delicious and perfectly complements the organic vegetables and diced and spiced potatoes. 

Our destination for the day is the Portland Art Museum.  I like looking at and learning about art and consider myself knowledgeable of art history in general and Impressionism in particular.  Waylon hasn't been to the museum despite living here, which is often the case with many people for many of the highlights in their city, so he was looking forward to the experience. 

The museum had a special exhibit of bikes, which given Portland's biker status, Waylon and I browsed.  It featured about a hundred bikes, from the  first  bikes to the newest bikes to bikes welded together for odd design and yet ride able purposes.  The curator of this exhibit displayed all of the bikes as if they were art pieces and because all of them were new and clean and had something interesting about them they could be viewed as art.

Inside the museum we follow the floor plans which are laid out historically, starting with Grecian vases and jumping to the Middle Ages.  I tell Waylon that I'm more of a quick browser when it comes to Middle Ages and early Renaissance art because most of it is images of Christianity through the eyes of Catholicism.  “Too much Jesus,” I say.  Waylon agrees with me.  At one point, I see Waylon looking at a portrait of a woman wearing a shawl that for some reason doesn't cover her left breast.  “I like this one,” Waylon says.  “You just like it because her breast is showing,” I joke.  To which Waylon says, “Less Jesus, more breasts.”  We laughed so hard I thought the security guard was going to ask us to leave.  We continued walking and entered the museum's Impressionism room.  The first painting you see when you walk in because of its size is Water Lilies by Monet.  We stood in front of it for several minutes and marveled and the brilliant brushstroke technique and how the painting changes depending upon how close or far you are when you look at it.  The last room we entered was twentieth century art.      I was surprised at the number of minimalist paintings they had, the large canvas of only yellow paint, the large canvas of blue with a white line down the middle.  I recently read an essay by a woman who wrote that most people say they don't understand abstract   or nonrepresentational art and that the cognitive dissonance is the point.  It challenges us.  When we look at a painting of vase with flowers we understand the idea.  We can say we like the colors or the technique is amazing because it's so realistic.  Abstract art makes us think differently.  We need to ask “What's going on here?”  We still have a reaction.  I reacted with a positive emotion to the large canvass of yellow because I like the color yellow and it reminded me of the sun.  An expressionistic painting is going to have colors and shapes and movement that causes us to react.  The art will make us think or feel.  I might not understand or appreciate the technique or what looks an incredibly simple painting—yellow on a canvass—but this artist has established himself in the art world and the art world values his contribution and ability. 

Finished at the Museum we headed to the grocery store.  Four of Waylon's friends were coming over for dinner this evening and he needed to buy a few items for the meal.  You can learn a lot about a city's food culture by it's grocery stores.  Waylon shops at Market of Choice, similar to Whole Foods.  I noticed a few generalizations: Portlanders love organic.  Virtually every food item, not only fruits and vegetables,provided an organic option.  Portlanders love power bars.  I think the bar section was as large as the cereal section.  I didn't know there were this many companies making power bars and I didn't know there were this many options for what you want—high carbs, low protein; low carbs, high protein; endurance; strength; gluten free, vegan, and of course, organic.  Portlanders love Oregon wine and beer.  I didn't realize there were as many wineries in Oregon as represented on the shelf.  Several people told me the most common and the best is the Pinot Noir followed by the Pinot Gris, but every other variety of wine was represented.  Similarly with the beer.  The other side of the aisle featured beer brewed in Oregon and it was as large as the wine section.  The previous day at Powell's I read that breweries are the fastest growing business in Oregon and Oregon has the third largest number of breweries after California and Washington. 

Back at Waylon's home, Waylon's friends arrived and we sat in the living room talking.  and then sat outside while Waylon grilled tempeh, potatoes, and plums from his bakcyard tree (delicious) and served a mixed green salad.  An article I read in a magazine several months ago stated that if you want to get to know a variety of wine, drink it exclusively for several bottles over several weeks so that you understand the general taste and the nuances of its flavor, and then switch to something else.  The contrast will be distinct, which means you'll particular notice the difference in flavor of whatever you've switched to.  I decided to do this with the Pinot Gris since it was new variety to me and one I most likely  wouldn't find in Minnesota.  Waylon's friends were interesting and enjoyable.  I expected this to be the case.  You can learn a lot about a person from his or her friends.  Likewise, from that person's roommate.  Waylon's roommate, Sarah, was a kind and happy woman who stayed at her girlfriend's house for the weekend so that I could sleep in her bed rather than on the couch, and the few times she was at home, I enjoyed talking to her, and I could tell that she and Waylon has a great relationship as roommates.  We played three board games after dinner.  I hadn't heard of any of them.  The first was like Apples to Apples except with pictures and the latter two were in the Magic card game realm.  I've never played this genre of board game before but I was trying a lot of new things already on this journey and so I played with a lot of assistance.  Waylon and his friends really got into it.  I could tell their inner kids loved playing this.  It struck me as a great way for intellectual and imaginative adults to play with each other.  Before I flew out to Portland I read an article about what makes us happy and one of the items the author mentioned was playing.  I don't play often as an adult. I have two nephews, four and six, and one godson, eight, who I play with when I see them, usually once a month, but beyond that, I don't play.  Unless you have children, I think that's true for a lot of adults.  I don't participate in recreational sports, I don't play an instrument, I'm not involved with a theater company. Writing could be considered a form of playing.  Regardless, I liked playing the board games and I'm going to make an effort to play more board games and to play more in general.  It's a great social interaction and I want to foster for more socialization in my life with friends of like minded nature.  This trip to Oregon has reminded of socialization and friendship as a key ingredient in my satisfaction. 

Waylon's friends left.  We cleaned the kitchen together.  He worked in the morning, and  like I do, he likes waking up in the morning to a clean kitchen with dishes washed, things put away, and the coffee ready to go. 

My Journey to Oregon: Day Two

Waylon makes coffee in the morning.  His entire family loves coffee.  They can't live without coffee.  First thing in the morning.  This family dreams, lives, and drinks coffee as their religion. Happily  caffeinated, Waylon makes breakfast: granola in almond milk brought to boil with banana slices and blackberries picked from the bushes in his backyard.  So tasty it would become my breakfast of request when he asked me the next two days what I would like for breakfast.

We head to our first destination, Powell's Bookstore, an icon in Portland. After about an hour, of browsing, buying one book, and overhearing a middle aged woman in the meditation section tell her friend that she had 50,000 things to do before Thursday and was so stressed she needed a book to balance her vibrational frequencies, Waylon and I picked up his friend Matthew and drove to Mount Hood, the sole mountain you can see from Portland on clear days. 

One of the great perks of traveling is meeting other people who you find interesting and inspiring.  Later on my trip I would stay at a bed and breakfast, which I highly recommend for travelers for the homier aspect compared to a hotel, specifically because it's in a house, and for the opportunity to talk to people at breakfast and learn why they are traveling.  What I used to think would be awkward—breakfast with strangers—always turns out to be easy, amiable, and interesting.  Matthew turned out to be one of these interesting and inspiring people you meet on a trip.  He grew up with cerebral palsy and used orthopedic crutches to walk.  As he told us, he dragged a foot which every month or so wore a hole into the toe area of his shoe.  He walked slowly and getting in and out of chairs and the car was difficult.  None of this seemed to prevent him from doing many of the things he wanted.  To my surprise, he moved from New York City to Portland, and prior to this got an MFA in Creative Writing from UCLA-Irvine and published a book of poetry.  He also traveled once to Ireland and once to Spain where he toured Barcelona and Madrid.  He wanted to go back to Spain and entertained the idea of moving to Seattle.  Waylon told him Seattle had a lot of hills which discouraged Matthew since when he took a trip to San Francisco he said he loved the city but hated the hills, understandably so given his reliance on crutches and limited leg strength.  It was a good reminder to me to put into perspective whatever mental hindrances I create for myself that prevent me from pursuing my dreams when  compared to the physical limitations that Matthew and other people like Matthew have that don't stop them from pursuing what they want to do and their dreams. 

Waylon was thoughtful and packed a surprise picnic complete with wine for the three of us which we ate outside at the Timberline Lodge at the base of Mount Hood.  The view was gorgeous:  translucent blue sky without a single cloud that beckons you to sit outside, the almost perfect triangle of the mountain seducing you with its pristine allure, snow still covering most of its surface like a white winter jacket, its brown patches of rock where the snow has melted like tanned skin, the July sun shining strong. 
We had the good fortune to have a park ranger leading a tour stop near where we ate and listen to his explanation of how the lodge was built as a part of the Works Project Administration in an effort to provide jobs for people through building it and the tourism that they hoped would come from it.  After lunch we headed inside the lodge for coffee and then headed for home.  The first twenty minutes out of or into the lodge the narrow two lane road constantly curves requires you to drive about thirty miles per hour.  The towering pine trees and occasional small waterfalls along the side of the winding road create breathtaking beauty.  

It was late afternoon when we dropped off Matthew at his apartment downtown and then drove back to Waylon's house.  We each took about thirty minutes of alone time and then had another cup of coffee together.  More coffee! Waylon asked if I would mind if he would play his guitar and played and sang for a few songs.  I readily said yes. One of my favorite things about people is when they play an instrument and use it as a creative outlet or hobby.  He played and sang two covers, a current song I don't I don't remember and a Bob Dylan song, and then played and sang one of his own.  It was more of a poem than a song in the traditional sense and I asked him he would mind some constructive creative suggestion on my part.  He said yes and I suggested that he needed a refrain, a chorus, which in its current form the song lacked, and that four lines in particular jumped out at me as catchy and substantive.  The first two lines were “It might be scary but it's only temporary.”--a reminder we can all sing in a good song.  Together we thought of three places where Waylon could interject these lyrics and then he sang the song again with the new four line chorus.  It transformed the song from a poem/performance art piece to a song with deep lyrics and a catchy chorus that if Waylon ever decided to break out of his current career as an Information Technology Manager for Organically Grown Company, the largest distributor of organic vegetables and fruits in the Northwest and start a career as a rock musician that this will be his first big hit with everyone singing his zen wisdom reminder of a chorus.  I'm grateful for this guitar time with Waylon. I like that he's creative and felt comfortable enough with me to play his guitar and to sing a song he wrote.  I liked that I felt I knew him well enough that I could offer a suggestion and he would appreciate it and that it enhanced the song.  These are the kind of interactions and friends I value in my life. 

On the way home we discussed driving to a Thai restaurant but after getting home and  enjoying the peace and private of Waylon's backyard, I suggested we walk to somewhere in his neighborhood.  He liked the idea so we put on our Nike walking shoes—his bright neon orange and commented upon by numerous people and mine dark gray with a neon lime green swoop-- and walked about ten blocks to a retail intersection.  There were several ethnic options and we chose Italian.  The server convinced me that a carafe of pinot gris was a better value than two glasses  because I would get three glasses worth for only two dollars more.  Two being my comfortable preference meant three was a veritable party.  Innuendo applies.  Waylon promised to keep company with me on his beer.  Cheers to friendship.  Bread dipped in balsamic vinegar and olive oil,  heartfelt conversation about his ex-wife and my ex-partner, vegan pizza, another beer for him, another glass for me, and we've got a bromance at our outdoor table for two.

The night progresses.  The carafe of wine becomes a giraffe of wine, which from here on out is what I'm going to call it, and soon it's empty.  The live music from the bar two buildings down has enticed us all evening and when we've finished our meal we walk on over and into a Sixties Experience.  Literally.  The band is playing music from the sixties, which we knew from our outdoor seat, and the four of them are dressed in sixties bell bottoms and groovy shirts and headbands—a man playing keyboards and electric guitar, a woman playing electric guitar and tambourine, a woman playing the mandolin, and a man playing the drums.  There's an element of kitsch to their band, and also a real sincerity and professionalism.  They sound good.  You can tell from they're polished sound they've practiced and played a lot together.  Here's the other part of the Sixties Experience: everyone in the bar except Waylon and I are over sixty and loving this.  So are Waylon and I, but at thirty three and forty three years old these songs are before our time; for the other patrons these are songs of their youth.  We listened to five songs and when they finished Waylon yelled, “Encore!”  The others clapped enthusiastically and were ready for bed.  A sticker on the front of the keyboard read “Feeling' Groovy” so I yelled out, “One more. We're feelin groovy!”  That's what a giraffe of wine will do to this gay guy.  The band members seemed pleased if not surprised at such exuberant appreciation and the female lead said they had something a little, something that wasn't sixties, something they wrote, something bluesy.  “Yeah!” I yelled.  “Let's hear it!”  And so they played a great blues song of their own.  I don't know this band's story but I like to think that they all have day jobs that have nothing to do with music, and all of them love being in the band because they're good friends and this is their creative outlet, and one of them has aspirations or dreams of making it big, and know what they are, a band that plays sixties music for senior adults in small bars and restaurants around Portland, and take great satisfaction when asked by co-workers on Monday what they did over the weekend, “The sixties music band I'm in played at two venues on Friday and Saturday night.”  

Walking home was perfect: dark night, almost full moon, no humidity, cool air, leaves of trees casting intricate shadows.  So much better than being in a car.  If possible when you're on vacation, do more walking than driving.  Get to know a neighborhood.  Slow down.  Feel the earth under your feet.  See the stars over your shoulders.  Rub the Lamb's Ear and notice its velvety softness.  Pull the lavender from its base, crumble it between your fingers, and smell its sweet soothing aroma.  These are all small things I did and all small things that make this journey, and every journey memorable.  Which leads me to nomenclature: why I like calling this a journey rather than a trip or a vacation.  Journey implies something greater, a spiritual journey for example, a Hero's Journey.  Journey feels more languorous, more meaningful. More intentional, more aware, more exploratory.  Vacation implies vacating, leaving, or escaping the reality of your life, usually your work life, which is certainly necessary and worthy.  Trip, which is the word I used when talking to most people connotates sightseeing and touring and visiting, also all worthy pursuits of traveling, and certainly things I do when I travel.  But journey assumes and assigns significance to travel and is the word I use when thinking about it.  How can travel transform me?  What can I learn from travel?  From the conversations I have with other people? From how I see other people living?  From what I learn other people believe?  From nature that is different from what I am used to Minnesota?

It's a late night for both of us, preferring to be in bed by ten. It's a little before midnight and e end our evening in Waylon's living room listening to The Beach Boy's song Good Vibrations.  We had talked about the Beach Boys earlier while Waylon played guitar. Brian Wilson being Waylon's favorite lyricist and the Beach Boys his favorite Band and their album Pet Sounds, or as I accidentally called it Pet Shop Boy Sounds as an album I would like to get to know.  Good Vibrations is one of our favorite songs.  We listen to it once and then listen to it again, this time commenting on what we love about the song. 

Another day comes to a close   I'm reminded of the woman at the bookstore who wanted to lower her vibrational frequencies.  This journey so far in Portland and this time with my new friend has increased mine.  I'm feeling some good vibrations.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Journey to Oregon: Day One

Day One

My flight arrived in Portland at 1:15 on Friday afternoon, July 19th, 2013.  I rented a car and drove to my friend Waylon's house.  I suggested we have a cup of coffee outside, a caffeinated cheers to the beginning of my journey, our new friendship, and our weekend together.  Waylon is one of the siblings in the family I know in Oregon.  While I met him the three previous times I had traveled to Eugene I didn't know him well enough to consider him a friend.  He was always the brother of the two siblings in his family whom I called my friends.  This past winter, however, his sister told me about the almost daily blog he keeps about his life and I began reading it.  I connected with a lot of his values and via Facebook asked him he would like to become pen pals with me, writing letters by hand and sending them to each other via the postal service, an old fashioned and antiquated way of communicating, but one I would recommend for getting to know someone and maintaining a friendship.  He said yes and over several months we created a friendship via correspondence.  In May, he was visiting family and friends in Minnesota and asked me if I would like to have dinner together, to which I agreed, and he came to my house where we met for the first time as friends.  Conversation and connection ensued.  A few weeks later I decided to visit his family and several other friends in Oregon, and asked him if I could stay with him for the weekend in Portland and if he would be interested in doing things together.  He agreed. A wonderful weekend with a new friend commenced. 

Waylon chooses not to own a car in Portland so I drove and he navigated via his Smart Phone.  Prior to arriving, I was a bit anxious about driving in a metropolitan city I didn't know, but it turned out my anxiety was unnecessary, as if often the case, another life lesson learned again, because driving was really easy and enjoyable. 

Our first destination was the Japanese Zen Garden in Portland.  A Zen approach—creating a sense of inner and outer peace, accepting and appreciating the present moment, and mindfully moving through our moments, days, and lives—is one of things that attracted Waylon and I to each other as friends.  Having the Zen Garden as our first destination was perfect because it acknowledged that foundation and immediately, especially for me after flying, created a sense of beauty, serenity, and appreciation of the present moment, a mindset I kept close to my heart for the rest of the trip. 

To our delight, there was a large rose garden right before the Zen Garden with the largest roses I've ever seen.  They were a multitude of colors and in various stages of bloom and each variety was as distinct in its fragrance as it was in its palette and maturity.  I didn't think of it at the time but I started my Oregon Journey with the cliché stop and smell the roses.  And I did.  For the entire time I was in Oregon I really slowed down and savored the moment.  I took it all in. I was grateful for these friends and this new place in which I traveled. 

I'm not always a picture taker but I remembered often to take pictures of nature and of my friends and except for not seeing one person that I easily could have and forgetting my camera when I met another, I captured a lot of this journey in photographs which makes me happy.  Photographs can be a way of noticing and capturing the moment in that moment and then having the visual memory to draw upon later to remember and take you back to that moment later. 

If one's image is silent walking through the Zen Garden then Waylon and I challenged that belief.  We talked the entire time.  While much of our conversation was spiritual and intellectual in nature, what surprised me is how often we told each other stories that made the other laugh.  You wouldn't necessarily equate laughter with a Zen Garden, but then again, the more I understand Zen the more I realize that a lighthearted and humorous reponse and expectation to life makes it easier and more enjoyable to live. 

The story that made us laugh the hardest was when we were both sitting on a bench in front of one of the rock gardens.  In a moment of zen like illumination, a memory of Waylon flashed into my mind, the one memory I have of him from the past several times when I met him.  I knew him primarily as the brother of my friends at the time, Natasha and Joshua, but wasn't friends with him.  I had an impression of Waylon, which was all around good guy, like his siblings, and I'm sure I had conversations with him, but I had no specific recollections.  Except for this one which came to me while contemplating rocks rakes into circles surrounding a large stone, the ripple of our actions:

I'm sitting in the back right side seat of a car; Waylon is in the back side left of the car; and Elena, his girlfriend at the time, is between us.  Elena's mom and dad are in the front, her dad driving and her mom in the passenger seat.  Waylon rolls down the window and Elena's mom says, “Waylon, are you warm? I can turn up the air conditioning.”  To which Waylon nonchalantly and matter of factually says, “No, I just passed some gas and was letting it out of the car.”  We both laughed really hard when I told Waylon this, Waylon especially.  It was particularly funny because I said I think most people would have denied the fart and said, “I'm a little warm.”  Waylon in his admirable honesty had nothing to hide.  Once he said this Elena's mother, Marie, replies, “Well, thank you, Waylon. That is really kind of you.  Jack doesn't roll down the window when he does that.  He just stinks up the entire car. How hard is it to roll down a window. Not hard at all as you just demonstrated.  Did you hear that Jack?  Just roll down the window. That's all you have to do. Elena, Waylon is a keeper.  A boy who rolls down a window when he passes gas in the car is a keeper.”  Waylon and I laughed even harder because Marie is like this:  a larger than life wonderful woman with an exuberant personality. 

After the Zen Garden we drove to a restaurant called the Farm where we would meet, Mary Jean, another friend of mine and Waylon's..  Mary Jean, along with Waylon's older sister Natasha, older brother Joshua, and Natasha's best friend and Joshua's girlfriend at the time, all grew up in the same small town, Melrose, and after graduating from college, moved together with a few other friends from Minnesota to Eugene in 1998.  Soon thereafter Waylon moved to Eugene, and then his other brother, and then after Stacy and Joshua got married and had a son, Waylon's mom and dad moved to Eugene. .  In addition,  several other of their friends from Melrose, two of them who are friends of mine and one of the reasons I wanted to make this journey back to Eugene, and Stacy's sister, two brothers, and mom have all moved to Eugene.  It was a twenty first century Oregon Trail, the Melrose Migration from Minnesota to Oregon. 

Waylon and I arrived early and had a drink at the bar—he a locally brewed beer and I a rose.  According to the man at the upscale wine store I sometimes frequent in Eagan where I live, “It's the year of the rose.”  When Mary Jean arrived there were hugs all around.  It's good seeing someone after nine years and feeling as though only nine weeks have passed.  I assumed it would be this way with all of my friends here in Oregon.  We would still share that connection even though we each had new additions to our personalities and new elements in our lives.  Take Mary Jean, for example.  Last time I saw her she was single. Now she was engaged and getting married in three weeks.  Last time I saw her she ate a vegetarian diet. Now she ate a paleo diet.  Last time I saw her she was living in Eugene. Now she was in Portland.  And yet, the essence of Mary Jean remained the same, and I would find this true for all of my friends. 

Why I had such a long stretch of time between visits I'm not sure.  One of the friends whom I would visit later asked me if someone had done or something that made me lose the connection with all of them and the answer is no.  In a way, there were so many of them that it was hard to keep in touch with all of them and soon I wasn't keeping in touch with anyone of them.  We get busy.  Some friendships fade after that happen.  These friendships didn't, however, despite lack of communication.  I still kept these friends as important people in my life and valued their personalities, values, and actions.  We all get busy and sometimes in this busyness we forget to connect with the people who matter to us.  Now that I've seen all of them again and broken the pattern of not seeing them, I want to start a new commitment of seeing them on a more regular basis. 

Back at the vegan and vegetarian restaurant, we enjoyed catching up.  Mary Jean told us about her paleo diet--meats, vegetables, good fats, no grains--, her cross fit work out, her acupuncture business, and her upcoming wedding in two weeks.  I drank my first pinot gris, a white wine produced by many Oregon wineries, and ate the tastiest and thickest veggie burger I've ever eaten.  I decided that since Waylon was vegan and Portland was vegan friendly that I would eat primarily vegan for the weekend. 

We said our goodbyes to Mary Jean and Waylon and I drove back to his house.  tired and around ten o'clock, normal bed time for both us, Waylon and I called it a day, a great day, for each of us, and for me, the start of a great trip.