Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Packing for Alaska

I am packing my bag this morning with a heavy heart.  Outside my window thick, sepia smoke from the Eagle Creek Fire is smothering the Columbia River Gorge.  A promise of rain in the days ahead will help control the fire's spread and clear the air, but 10,000 acres of forest have already been destroyed, and it will take decades for the area to recover.
Mimi is trying her hardest to cheer me up.  I am packing a big suitcase this time because I will need hiking clothes, urban street clothes and (yes!) dress-up clothes for those "gala" nights on the ship.  We will be spending a week in Denali National Park and then taking a slow boat down the inside passage to Vancouver.  Although I am packing a denim jacket, I suspect my black woolen pea coat will get the most use.  Summers are short in Alaska.  Fall has already arrived with cool, crisp temperatures and misty rain.
"And when you return, it will be Fall here, too," she reminds me.  The sky will be blue once again.  Rain will restore the earth.

Monday, August 28, 2017

A Kabuki Costume Exhibit

Exploring Portland

Whereas the Japanese Gardens in Portland, Oregon, are a study in serenity and monochromatic color, the Kabuki Costumes on exhibit there are anything but!  I heard more oohs and aahs inside this tiny space than I did the entire botanic garden.  The exhibit of Kabuki costumes are only on display through September 3rd so if you're in the area, go this week!  The robes are crazy beautiful!

Kabuki is classical Japanese dance-drama.  Popular long before the advent of electricity, the actors relied on bright colors and dazzling embroidery so they could be seen on the stage from far away.  Kabuki costumes became an art form.  It is, however, so the opposite of that quiet elegance that defines Japan, that Kabuki always seems like a disconnect.  And that's exactly why I love it!


Monday, August 21, 2017

Chasing the Eclipse

The August moon
Bathes the morning sun with twilight.
Time is in orbit.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Portland's Japanese Garden

My tour guide called this garden "stylized nature."  I liked that.  I got it.  He went on to say that creating such a garden is much more difficult than a flower or cottage garden where unpredictability or disorder adds to its charm.  In this zen-like Japanese garden everything is controlled.  Not a leaf is out of place.  Trimming, pruning and raking are constant activities.  It takes stamina to create a minimalist garden.

And yet . . . Japanese gardens are the most peaceful places on earth.  That is why I am drawn to them whenever I travel.  I took the informative one-hour tour and then backtracked to photograph the plants, ponds and cement pagodas.  The perfection left me in awe.  The layers of green and the placement of every stone took hours of contemplation and hard work.

When I lived in Santa Barbara, I tried to create a minimalist rock garden in my front yard.  It looked wonderful for about one week and then it turned into a holy mess.  The wind blew in all kinds of leaves, sticks and pine needles.  Neighborhood cats discovered the sand (which I artistically raked into patterns) and used it as a litter box.

I gave up.  Planted cactus and succulents.  And left it alone.  It worked for my drought-stricken yard, but perfection it was not.
Portland's Japanese Garden is located in the West Hills of Washington Park, just above the internationally renowned rose garden.  It covers 12 acres so allow several hours to do it justice.  There are eight separate gardens, including an authentic Japanese Tea House.  The views of the city and Mt. Hood (if you're lucky) are spectacular.
Perfection has always eluded me.  At the ripe old age of 62, I have finally realized it just ain't gonna happen.  My life is messy.  And okay . . . I admit it . . .I'm lazy.  The truth is, I'd much rather stroll through a Japanese garden, sit on a bench and dream.

  Rakes, shovels and pruning shears are tools of the past and I don't miss them one bit.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Walk around Trillium Lake

Exploring the Pacific Northwest

When we walked down to the lake's edge from the parking lot and saw this picture perfect postcard view of Mt. Hood, we both gasped and then cracked up with unrestrained laughter.

"Are we ever going to stop gasping?" my travel buddy finally blurted.

"I hope not," I said.

I hope not.  But . . .

I realize I am still in mourning over my mother's death, but I can't seem to stop thinking about my parents of late. That flame inside them which defined their existence, flickered, faded and finally blew out long before their bodies did. In the last years of their lives, they were mere shells of their true selves.

I remember so distinctly when I first realized this sad phenomenon was happening.  My dad was visiting from Arizona and I took him on a drive from Santa Barbara to Ventura.  Here, the freeway hugs the Pacific Ocean and the views are spectacular.  When I noticed a school of dolphins playing close to shore, I asked my dad if he wanted to stop and watch them.

"No.  I've seen dolphins before," he said and then just looked glassy-eyed ahead, not saying another word for the rest of the drive.

I remember thinking:  Where did my dad go?

They were in their mid-80's when this started to happen.  Not even antidepressants helped.  We all watched helplessly as they withdrew into their comfortable recliners and remained there staring at the four walls for the rest of their days.

So as I walked around this beautiful lake just a few miles southwest of that gasp-inducing mountain, my thoughts kept returning to them.  What could they have done differently?  What could I have done?  How can I not let this happen to me?

They say that after a loved-one dies, hallucinations are common.  It is why so many people believe in ghosts.  But I swear I heard my mother's voice.

"We stopped taking walks," she said.  "That's what happened."

I looked ahead.  My travel buddy had just rounded a corner and I quickened my pace to catch up with him.

No way.  Is it really as simple as that?

"It really is, my darling. You and Richard can stop worrying now."  Then she laughed.  "I foresee the two of you marching into old age with mahogany canes and silver flasks.  Now . . . go enjoy your walk."

And so I did.  I enjoyed every second of it.  Every blade of grass in the bog.  Every broken plank of the boardwalk path.  (Beware!)  Every wildflower.  Every spruce, willow and alder.  I enjoyed the blue blue sky and the snow on the mountain.  I enjoyed watching the children play in the water.  The fishermen hooking their lines with bait.  I enjoyed popping Lindt truffles into my mouth and then I enjoyed that ice cold beer once we made it back to our car.

And gasped at the view one more time.

Thanks, Mom!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Bear Grass with a Purpose

Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest

While hiking in the fire ravaged Mt. Adams area, I noticed these tall spires of white fluff.  They were everywhere.  Turns out this statuesque plant is not only lovely to look at, but it plays a vital role in the life of the Pacific Northwest.  Bear Grass (Xerophyllum tenax) is native to the area and a workhorse of a plant.

Native Americans used the leaves to weave garments and make baskets.  They ate the roasted rhizomes and boiled the roots for medicine.  Elk and deer graze on the flowers and grizzly bears cover their winter dens with the leaves.  (Thus, the name Bear Grass?)

Not only that, but as I witnessed during my hike, this plant is one of the first to pop up in areas consumed by wild fire.  It helps restore the soil, enabling other plants to grow again.  

Pretty important stuff, I'd say.

It flowers between June and September and its stout stalks can reach heights of six feet.  (Note to self:  Go to Glacier National Park next June to see fields and fields of these flowers.)  They are the most beautiful when they first bloom; their tiny flowers are fuller and whiter.

Bear Grass.  One of the most important wildflowers I have come across.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

A Happy Face in the Forest

Roadside Double Takes

Found while hiking on South Summit Trail
Mt. Adams, Washington