Margaret and I went to Ashland for Shakespeare as I wrote about earlier, but also to explore the local area a little bit. Sunday we went to Wildlife Safari, that I covered in my last blog post.

Wolf Creek Tavern in southern Oregon

Built in 1883 and continuously operating since then.

After Wildlife Safari, we stopped at The Historic Wolf Creek Inn for a cocktail. This stop was a delight because it’s in the middle of nowhere and I didn’t know anything about it other than having seen the highway signs for it for many years as I passed through on I-5. Henry Smith built his third hotel to be “the upscale one” along the stagecoach route. Built in 1883, Wolf Creek Inn is the oldest continuously operated hotel in the Pacific Northwest.

Famous guests include Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, and the bed they used is still in use today in the largest guest room. Mr. Gable liked to fish in the nearby Rogue River. The most famous guest was Jack London, whose room is considered so special it can’t be touched, and everything is maintained today as it was for Mr. London when he occupied it.

The Women’s Parlour

Jack London’s Room. Complete with Jack London’s chamber pot.

Our next stop was to find a covered bridge. Oregon has many, and I never tire of seeing them.

Grave Creek Bridge

Touring Wildlife Safari, then Wolf Creek Inn, then a covered bridge, was enough adventure for Sunday, and we dropped to sleep happy at our hotel in Ashland.

Monday morning we left to try to find a trail to the top of Table Rock. This is a volcanic mesa with a wide flat top that is easily seen from I-5. We found trail descriptions for Upper Table Rock and Lower Table Rock trails and made a wild guess that the one we wanted was “upper,” since we didn’t know there was another one, so the other one must be “lower.” We guessed wrong. But the trail was wonderful.

An interpretive sign at the beginning of the trail explains that these mesas were formed as the result of lava flow from a volcano 7 million years ago. Most of the flow eroded away, but the parts that remain are eye-catching plateau formations today. A website I found later claims that the volcanic flow was 9.6 million years ago. The website also explains that the Takelma Indians lived there when the area became overrun by miners and settlers in the gold rush. The Indians fortified themselves on Upper Table Rock and then launched an attack in 1853 to reclaim their lands. Apparently a reservation was assigned to them that included the Table Rocks area. (And there the website narrative ends…leading me to wonder if the Indians ever got to live there in peace, and at what point was the reservation dissolved, since there isn’t one there right now. And frustrated that anyone can say, “The Indians were given some land,” and can pretend with a straight face that it’s the end of the story. Ok, sorry. End of rant.) *

Up close look at the anthracite formations at the beginning of the trail.

Fabulous red trunks of madrone trees that are common along the Oregon coast.

The trail was super short and easy, but Margaret and I extended our time there by delighting in the beauty of the views and the lovely forest of black oaks and madrone.

At the top we headed directly for the edge of the mesa and were impressed with views of the Rogue River Valley.

Margaret looking toward Medford, Oregon.

We chatted with other hikers up there as well.

In the distance I spotted Lower Table Rock, the one I’ve seen a hundred times from the Interstate.

Canyon in the U-shaped mesa.

The top of Upper Table Rock is not as flat as I assumed it would be. As an unrepentant volcano-lover, I was excited to see these formations.

After our hike we went into the darling town of Jacksonville to wander shops and antique stores and enjoy the lovely weather. Next we went to the Rogue Creamery Cheese Shop and sampled some too-die-for blue cheeses. I confess, I purchased a couple pounds of it. Across from there is Lilliebelle Farms Handmade Chocolates, where we also sampled. I was tempted by the chili chocolates, but ended up purchasing the lavender sea salt caramels.

On Tuesday we decided to find another hike before our matinee show. This time we chose what looked like a loop, titled Toothpick Trail to Catwalk Trail Loop in our hiking app. It was a forest trail with a single view of something other than forest, very little interesting nature, and in the end, no loop. Turns out, there is a road the trail eventually intersects with, and you can return down the road, making a loop. Not what we had in mind.

The one and only viewpoint from Toothpick Trail was indeed lovely.

Intrepid hikers that we are, we found things of interest anyway, to keep our spirits up. As with the hike the day before, this trail was super short and easy, so once we realized it connected to other trails, we just kept going. There is a maze of trails on top of the ridge, and I was tickled to find their names all Alice In Wonderland themed, such as Caterpillar, Lewis, Jabberwocky and Bandersnatch.

These trails are popularized by mountain bikes. We were passed by multiple people on bikes, all of them polite and careful not to run us down. There were plastic ribbons strung between trees all over the place to keep the bikes on the best paths, lots and lots of warning signs and informational signs for the bikers. Probably helpful for them, but really ugly for us. We were intrigued by the trails built with humps and banked corners for bikes. This is trail construction we had not seen before.

Humps and banks built for mountain bikers (I cropped the photo to remove all the plastic tape strung between trees).

Trail marker for mountain bikers.

The other amusement we found on the trail was when we came across some experienced older male hikers. M and I must have looked dubious in our light, girly tourist clothing, carrying no pack whatsoever and a single water bottle between us. Makeup, jewelry… you get it. No one else knows that M and I both have over twenty years of backpacking experience. The reason we showed up looking completely unprepared for the forest is because we are *so* experienced that this truly was like going for a walk for us. None of these trails was more than a mile from a road, we were merely trying to kill time waiting for our Manahatta matinee down the hill in Ashland. We weren’t winded in the least, and did not consider the trails a challenging hike.

So. We spot some other hikers and we beeline for them, because we’re hoping to get some insider knowledge on how to make an actual loop out of all this hilltop wandering we’ve been doing. There are three men, 50-60 ish, in full Outdoor Gear, hiking poles, day packs, water bladders, specialty footgear, protctive hats – all of it. They tell us they are locals and hike up there all the time. They are immediately concerned for us, considering that our first question was “Is there a trail over on this side of the mountain that will link us back to Toothpick Trail?” which they interpret as us saying, “We don’t know where we are.” They ask us if we’re hungry, can they share their water with us, are we lost, are we ok? Oh good grief. I don’t think they ever really understood what we were doing up there. We kept saying we were fine, we weren’t worried or lost, we were only trying to make a more interesting hike. They assured us that there was no link back to Toothpick Trail and our best bet would be to return the way we came. “Can you find your way back?” they asked. We managed not to roll our eyes and waved goodbye and thanks. I hope none of them lost any sleep worrying that there would be two emaciated and terrified women trapped on the hill that night. I imagine that must happen around here, with the bazillion tourists who show up for plays like we did.

We got to the play on time and now the timeline goes back to my original post of this trip.

* Quick research on Wikipedia indicates that the Table Rock Reservation lasted a whopping three years. After which, fighting broke out again. Some Indians were marched Trail-of-Tears-like, on foot 300 miles to another reservation; others were put onto ships and moved, all of them that lived eventually ending up on reservations south of Portland.

Looking across the landscape of Wildlife Safari from the bears area.

Wildlife Safari is in Winston, Oregon and is the only drive-through animal park in the state. It covers over 400 acres, is home to over 500 animals, and hosts over 200,000 visitors a year. Margaret and I bought tickets for a close-up cheetah “enrichment encounter” at 11am before we drove through the park.

Cheetah celebrity of the day.

She sat patiently while people stood behind her and had their photos taken by park staff.

Margaret and me with the beautiful cat.

At the cheetah encounter, everyone stood in a semi-circle and gazed at a cheetah while she had her photo taken with other tourists. The park employees explained that they have one of the top cheetah breeding research centers on Earth. Here in Oregon is the number one cheetah breeding facility outside of Africa & number two in the world. I recalled coming here as a kid on school field trips and for birthday parties. Back then, when you drove through, for fun the cheetahs would run in packs beside the cars, close enough that I would be tempted to reach out and pet them. Today, the big cats are kept behind fences.

After the encounter, we hopped into the Jeep and went through the gate where we were handed a map, then drove into the park. The rules here are to go slowly, stay in your car, and don’t touch the animals. Brochures say, “Where you are captive and they roam free.”

We were absolutely delighted by everything, and surprised how frequently other vehicles passed us because we were going too slowly. We stopped and gawked at every creature we saw, talking to them and laughing.

Some of the enclosures are so huge that fences couldn’t even be seen, and that helped us to imagine these animals really are free. I used the photo of the bear at the top first, to help you understand what it really looks like here. As you gaze across the vast landscape, there are fences and roads and buildings and other cars. I tried to cut those out of most photos.

This was my actual view. Everything from inside the car. There’s me in the rear view.

Clever photography helps one erase the reality of being inside a car the whole time.

Giraffes are barely interested in us.

Long legs can pose a challenge for getting food off the ground.

Common Cape Eland grazing on a hill.

Common Cape Eland closer to the road.

Small group of zebras. My memory tells me that when I was a child, this was a larger herd. Maybe the others are behind the hill.

We also spotted Southern White Rhino, Whitecheek Gibbon primates, Yaks, Watuski cattle, and Gemsbok, but these were too far away for decent photos. Blog photos come from my Nikon, and both of our phones. We grabbed whatever was easiest to use when we spotted an animal. Consequently, you’ll see the poor resolution in some of the phone photos.

Margaret noticed some hippos on a nearby road and insisted we use a staff access road to get to them before they went back underwater. The photos were incredible!

About as close to a hippopotamus as I want to get.

I backed up and returned to our place on the other road before blocking another tourist’s passage, nervous the whole time about authorities telling me I wasn’t allowed to do that. My friend teased me that the Fun Police were going to get me.

East African Crown Crane showing us his balancing skills. That looks like a turkey behind him.

Predators like the African Lions were behind fences.

I think Margaret may have enjoyed the Brown Bears the most.

This shot shows their impressive claws.

This photo makes me laugh. Not sure if he was eating something, or what. Look at that hump on his back!

While we were there, two Brown Bears stayed close to the road, so she was able to get many great photos.

There was a small herd of American Bison that moved back and forth across the road in search of good eating.

This one keeps an eye on Margaret’s camera while it eats.

Roosevelt Elk are always gorgeous, but plentiful where we live, so not very exotic.

The stripes on the White Bearded Gnu look like paint dripping in the rain.

This African Elephant spotted trainers nearby and stood up on its back feet and did a pose, hoping for a treat. It got the treat. We were so astonished to see the voluntary trick we forgot about our cameras.

Margaret was excited to see their giant ears.

Around one curve was a little hut where a staff member answered questions and sold little cups full of animal food. She said for the next mile, we were allowed to feed animals from the car. The animals knew this, and surrounded us.

I couldn’t identify this buck, who took the food right out of my palm. So much for not touching the animals.

A Sitka deer waits for food.

This one didn’t appear to be interested in the food pellets.

This Rhea and all her cousins were very eager to make our aquaintance.

The Emus were the biggest crack up, with their curly mop of feathers on top, and those giant red eyes. I could swear that half of them were posing for photos. Conditioned by my own chickens, I was convinced they wanted to peck me, and stayed way back.

The Black Buck is a very pretty animal.

When the cup of treats was exhausted, we were at the exit, and we parked once more and explored the grounds at the entrance. This is more zoo-like, with smaller cages, a restaurant, gift shop, feed-the-giraffe tours, and the like.

Flamingos are free to go where they will.

A couple of cheetahs are in this area, for people who can’t make it to the drive-through park.

We spotted a lemur

Black Swan

An anteater! I had no idea they were so crazy-looking.

Margaret fed some Koi and Mallards

Fat happy fish

There was a walk-in aviary filled mostly with Budgies.

We saw many, many more animals than what I’ve been able to show here. It’s a great place to take the family, or as I’ve just demonstrated, a great place for girlfriends to find hours of fun. A point I’d also like to make is that it’s very inexpensive, compared to similar tourist attractions, and it was explained to me that this is because they are not for profit. All proceeds are merely invested back into the park. It was $19.95 to drive through, and $15 for the special cheetah encounter. Everything in the gift shop was reasonably priced and high quality.

Our backstage guide, Sal, talking about the Elizabethan Theatre.

I made my debut on the Elizabethan Theatre stage!! Then they asked me to get off – for safety reasons. Ha ha ha ha!!

Margaret and I met up for a vacation a little closer to home than our two most recent trips to Chile and to Myanmar. This time, we went to southern Oregon! She drove north 5 1/2 hours from Santa Rosa and I drove south 5 1/2 hours from Rainier. We met at a hotel in Ashland.

The town of Ashland, in Southern Oregon, is famous for its Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF), founded in 1935. These days it’s a pretty big deal. Wikipedia says “Each year, the Festival offers 750 to 800 performances from February through late October or early November, to a total audience of about 400,000. The company consists of about 675 paid staff and 700 volunteers.” The website also notes that by 2015, 20 million people had attended.

Even though my mother went to high school in Ashland, and my grandmother lived here when I was a kid, and I have family that lived in the area for decades, and even while I traveled through constantly on my way to northern California to pick up and deliver Tara while their dad and I were sharing custody, and even though I have lived in Oregon for the last 11 years, this was my very first visit to Ashland for the purpose of seeing Shakespeare. It’s about damned time.

We had tickets to two matinees (they’re expensive – I couldn’t afford more), one Tuesday and one Wednesday. We arrived Saturday night and entertained ourselves with other things Sunday and Monday. We did a couple of hikes, one of them the morning before our Tuesday show. I’ll get to all that stuff later. Stay tuned.

The first play we saw was Manahatta, by Mary Kathryn Nagle at the Thomas Theatre. It was my choice that we see this one, because the playwright is Cherokee, and I continue my quest to learn about my Native history and support other Indians when I can. Two stories are told at once, overlapping. One is set in the 17th Century when Dutch colonists were recently arrived on the island called Manahatta by the occupants and while trading with the local Lenape Indians, decided they wanted control of their land. The other is set on precisely the same piece of land, 380 years later called Manhattan, as a modern Lenape woman fights her way into employent at the white male dominated Lehman Brothers bank and begins to make a name for herself on Wall Street.

The young woman in both stories is at first filled with hope of youth and all the possibilities of life ahead of her, and both are eventually devastated through wrenching tragedy. The Dutch trick the Lenape into allowing them to settle on the island, and then the kick all the Indians off the island and build a wall to keep them out, then shoot and kill her husband and father of her unborn child. The wall is later immortalized in the name of a street in Manhattan, synonymous with a financial center. Lehman Brothers is embroiled in sub-prime mortgage lending and fails and the young woman knows she was a part of the bad practices, while simultaneously the woman’s childhood home is foreclosed upon, making her own mother homeless.

The author said one of her goals in Manahatta was to show the audience how our history is always part of our present, whether or not we realize it. The final line of the play was when the modern Lenape woman speaks introspectively about the interaction of the Lenape with colonists saying, “Ever since they arrived they have been trying to get rid of us, and we are still here.”

That line wrecked me. I am no Indian activist, but I guess with the years that I have spent learning over and over and over how to recognize subtle and sometimes unintentional but always consequential attempts to erase indigenous Americans, I too have begun to feel a resonant idignation at how hard it is to convince people that we are here. Right in front of you all: we are here! Living in 2018, using smart phones, running companies, getting graduate degrees, flying cross country to visit grandma, standing in line at Starbucks, watching Netflix, marrying and having families and shopping at Target.

Ahoy, ye mateys!

The lights came up immediately and I was bawling so hard I couldn’t speak. Margaret practically had to lead me by my arm to get me out of there. She insisted that I needed to go next to the fabulous gift shop and try on masks and hats on display for Halloween. I acquiesced, and it definitely helped. (Thank you Margaret)

That night my friend decided that we should do a backstage tour the next morning, only $20 each. We both went on line to try and book one, but we couldn’t make it work. She called the box office to buy tickets and was informed that first of all the backstage tours are only available to OSF members (minimum membership $35), and second of all the tours were sold out for Wednesday. The man on the phone said that sometimes there are tickets available just before the tour, when someone returns tickets they can’t use…but they are still only available to members. Margaret did not recognise any particular obstacle.

At 9:30 am we showed up at the box office and asked if any tour spots had opened up. None had. Margaret walked out the door and began questioning people sitting on rock walls and benches waiting for the tour to begin, “Hi! Do you have any extra tickets?” Can you believe it: after asking her third group of people, a woman nearby overheard and came over to tell us that her daughter could not come and would soon be returning two tickets and she would not accept payment for them. Viola! Margaret waited and sure enough, soon she had the other woman’s tickets. She took those into the box office and asked to get them converted to our names. Margaret was told she couldn’t use them because 1) we are not members and 2) these are special tickets for handicapped people anyway.

My ballsy friend met me outside with all the other waiting people who were now queuing up at the doors of the Thomas Theatre, where the tour would begin. “Just get in line,” she says to me, conspiratorially. As we arrived at the door, the man taking tickets burst out laughing at something someone behind him had said. Still chuckling, he took our tickets and added them to his growing stack of tickets, and joked to us about the funny thing that happened. He then turned to the people in line behind us. He never even LOOKED at our tickets!

Boom. Backstage Tour. For free. Not members.

In the Thomas Theatre, we were told about the history of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and about the amazing versatility of Ashland’s newest theatre: the Thomas Theatre, in which every single seat can be moved and the audience and stage rearranged in any configuration you like. We were handed off to a second tour guide, actor Christopher Salazar, who asked us to call him Sal. We crossed the street to the Elizabethan Theatre and went underground to the tunnel connecting it to the adjacent Bowman Theatre. We sat in the Green Room and learned about the incredible choreography of making this festival happen. Think about it: typically when there is a play, it continues on the same stage daytime and evening, for months until the run is over. However! In Ashland, festival directors want visitors to be able to see every single play in 10 days, or to be able to choose from multiple options each day, no matter how short your visit. This season there are 10 separate productions using three stages. That means a complete breakdown and set up of the stage twice a day for two theatres and once a day for the other theatre. Wow. We then walked over to the Angus Bowman Theatre, named for the founder of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Sal told us about his favourite part of OSF: the outreach productions into communities not able to participate in the festival itself.

Our final stop was backstage at the Elizabethan, an open air theatre, where Sal (currently an actor in multiple productions at the festival) described how many of the people are employed behind the scenes, stories about inspiration for costumes, economies for typical actors at OSF, and what it’s like to have to change from one character to another in less than a minute, while running from exit to entrance behind the scene, dropping pieces of costume onto the floor and pushing arms into clothing extended by waiting assistants.

The tour was fabulous! And highly recommended, even if you need to go the route of obtaining membership, followed by purchasing an available ticket.

Henry V, a good man

We lunched, then explored lovely Lithia Park that borders the theatres, before returning to the Thomas once more for our matinee show of Henry V. In the intimate Thomas Theatre, we recognised Sal right away in one of the five roles he plays in Henry V. He all but winked at us when he spotted us, only 15 feet away.

This was my first exposure to Henry V. I hadn’t even read it before. I learned long ago that it’s helpful to research prior to seeing a Shakespeare play for the first time, so I had crammed a little in the hotel room the night before. Basically the story tells the tale of King Henry V as he has just ascended the throne and no one is quite sure what kind of king he’ll be, especially considering his history as a carouser. He turns out to be a good king: strong, fair, and in multiple ways still a confused young man. His leadership is outstanding and he conquers France by sheer force of will, and finds his match in a woman.

Daniel Jose Molina is phenomenal as Henry. I understand now why the Henry V performances sold out so fast. Molina lets himself go so freely that I think for the first time I recognise, in hindsight, that every other actor I’ve seen has been holding back the tiniest bit. I was all in from the first scene. What really strikes me with this actor is his body language and facial expressions that go beyond flattering hyperbole I’ve heard before. This stuff is for real. Just watch his FACE, and somehow you know what’s in the character’s mind, and then…watch it change as the character has a new thought…and realize even before the next line is spoken, that the character has told you what he’s going to do and you’re right there in on it with him. What an extraordinary, personal way to be introduced to this typically massive play, in a small theatre with only 12 actors other than those in the ensemble. I was so close I could see the notch in his right eyebrow: not sure if it’s from a scar, or is a bit of fashion.

I found Molina’s Instagram page and I’m following him now, because he (like my actor friend, Sheldon Best) is going to blow my mind periodically with his artistry, and I want to be there to see it.

My other favourite actor in Henry V is Rachel Crowl who was an understudy that stepped in the for the original actor. Crowl acts in multiple roles but is most memorable and excellent as Pistol. I noticed her instantly, as she took the stage in the chorus as the play begins. I saw a person presenting as a woman but also reminding me of a man. Rachel plays multiple men’s roles, and as Pistol has a deep, gorgeous voice that cannot be mistaken for anything feminine. I am delighted and fascinated, and now have so many questions for some future transgender actor I meet: what is it like to portray a gender you don’t identify as, when – I assume – you put significant effort in your daily life into presenting your own gender? Are there additional layers of conflict compared to a gender normative person who plays a different gender? And also, how awesome is it that your transformation to play both male and female roles must be a more familiar task than many actors with the same challenge? Does this give you an advantage? Is everyone else jealous? haha

As soon as the lights came up, we slipped out of the theatre ahead of everyone else and got totally soaked in the rain as we hurried to the Jeep (glad I wasn’t in the Elizabethan just then). I gave her a ride back to the hotel to get her car. Then we hugged goodbye and hit I-5 going opposite directions.

{I’ll post soon to tell you all the other stuff we did.}

Colchuck Lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington state. Aasgard Pass is to the left of Dragontail Peak. Colchuck Glacier is to the right.

I slept very well in my tent and woke up refreshed and eager to get along the trail. First though: freshly brewed Peets coffee. The Sulawesi-Kalosi is my favourite.

The trail to Colchuck Lake required some backtracking about 2.3 miles to the trail junction, then another 2 miles uphill. The climb is apparently 615 feet and is very steep in places. Washington Trails Association was there in 2017 and did some great work on the trail. While they did not make the climb any less steep, they made it easy to follow, and stable, putting in many many granite boulder “steps,” for example.

These two had also camped at Stuart Lake with me. “We only have passes for the Stuart Zone,” I heard multiple times from hikers. It was true for me as well. We are headed for the valley between the two hills on the right.

Me, along the Colchuck Trail.

From this vista point, I could see the valley where Lake Stuart lies. Can you see the brown burned trees? (click the image for a larger version) Those are on the slope above my tent.

The hill above my camp shows signs of wildfire. So glad it didn’t burn down to the water’s edge…but I wish I didn’t see so much fire sign when I hike.

I climbed up, up, over roots, around boulders, across streams. I stopped to gasp periodically, while I waited for my heartbeat to slow down again to something near normal. There weren’t any meadow landscapes like the Lake Stuart trail, just climbing the granite stairs to the top.

And then… wow! The jaw-dropping blue of Colchuck Lake hit me. I describe the colour as a mixture of aqua and tuquoise, and a wholly unanticipated hue in the landscape of predictable green trees and blue skies.

This was my very first glimpse of the lake. It stopped me in my tracks and I took a photo from right there.

I must have taken two dozen photos, trying to get my camera to show you the colour I saw. This comes close, but nothing is like it was to be there.

I made a beeline for the lake and found the first of many many beautiful white smooth granite boulders that line the shores. After eating ALL the snacks I brought, and drinking a lot more water, I felt restored, and ready to explore.

Colchuck Lake is larger than Lake Stuart and I easily spent two hours following the trail on the Western shore, taking tons of detours to the beach, or to the multitudinous smooth boulders that are excellent for sitting on to relax in the sun and stare in awe at the colour of that water. This lake has many more great viewing spots than Lake Stuart, and due to its size, there are more campsites. Next year I am for sure going to try to get an overnight pass for the Colchuck Zone.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with The Enchantments in Washington, its beauty and proximity to Seattle make it a very popular place for backpackers and campers. So many people enter the wilderness that the area was getting destroyed from the many trampling human feet. There are now rules in place to control the humans. An unlimited number of people are allowed to walk through on the trails, but the number of people allowed to camp overnight is limited. The passes are disseminated via a lottery.

It was cloudy while I visited the lake, but periodically a sunbeam would burst through and light something up.

Looking south from Colchuck Lake.

I explored several beautiful beaches on my way around the lake.

Exceptionally clear water.

A tiny adjacent lake that is unnamed. Perhaps during high water it is part of Colchuck Lake.

I had heard of the famous Aasgard Pass, and I wanted to find it and hopefully spot Thor, or Odin.

No, not really. Aasgard Pass is the gateway to the Core Enchantments area from the west side. I have always entered from the east side, and never made it as far as the pass. So I just wanted to get a look at it and see how I felt about trying to climb it with a full pack one day, if I should ever have that option.

At the southernmost end of the lake is a large boulder field, and the trail crosses this, as I could tell from the cairns. I climbed across half of it, still trying to get a sense of which saddle hikers climb: the one with the glacier, or the ones to the right or the left of the glacier. I couldn’t tell by looking, and the boulders were a challenging scramble for merely trying to find a trail, just to turn around and come back. In any case, I had my answer: the boulder field was hard enough with only a day pack. I did not have any trouble this day, but there were times when I had to balance on a toe and leap to the next rock. That sort of thing is much trickier with 50 pounds on your back, messing up your center of gravity.

I found out later that Aasgard Pass was this one, directly ahead of me as I climbed over the boulders. Can you spot the cairns?

This beautiful Tamarack is along the boulder scramble to Aasgard Pass. I caught it just before the needles turned yellow for the season.

Looking north at Colchuck Lake.

The tiny lake next to Colchuck Lake.

At the tiny lake, the water is more green than aqua. And a group of Tamaracks on the slope are getting ready to turn yellow.

It was afternoon and I was ready to head back down the trail to my camp. My knees fiercly grumbled about going down granite steps and over roots for a mile, or however long it is. But as I descended, the skies cleared and the weather stayed warm and lovely. I talked to so many lovely people on the trail, who eagerly told me where they came from, where they were staying (most of the people were day hikers only, with no overnight passes), and what their plans were. Curiously, people along the trail trust each other. Perhaps beause of the shared experience.

Oh! Can I tell you the funnest human-related discovery of my whole hike?! Women! Women outnumbered the men far and away. It is the first time I have ever seen this on a backpacking trip. I must have passed around 100 people in three days, and at least 60 of them were women, though I wonder if it was closer to 70. Groups of women in their 20s, pairs of women in their 70s, solo women, women and men hiking together. I love them all for making this an activity for everyone. I want my people back home to stop freaking out whenever I say I’m going into the wilderness for a few days.

The 60-something woman camping next to me on the beach said she had hiked the previous month with her husband.

“Oh, he couldn’t make this trip?” I asked.

“I told him I wanted peace and quiet and to read my book,” she replied.

Ha ha ha!! High-five lady!

This is happy, tired me, with a bit of a sunburn. Waiting for water to boil so I can have supper.

Skies remained gorgeous all evening and I sat on the beach and watched the sun go down till I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.

I boiled angel hair pasta (quicker than spaghetti), then mixed in a raw egg from the Hussies. Added pre-cooked bacon and carmelized onions and then dumped in grape tomatoes from my garden, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Viola! Spaghetti carbonara mountain-style. A metal mug of white wine went with it perfectly.

 

Lake Stuart from the little beach at my campsite. Mt. Stuart (9415′) is the peak in the background.

I purchased overnight camping passes for the Lake Stuart Zone in the Enchantments area of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington state. It’s due east of Seattle and north of Mt. Rainier. It takes me 4 1/2 hours just to get to the trailhead, but I can’t help myself: it is so beautiful there.

Interstate 90 in Washington state, heading east of Seattle first thing in the morning Tuesday.

I’ve been through the Enchantments several times, and always from the Snow Lakes trail which approaches the Alpine Lakes from the east. It’s a long through trek, and I have never had the stamina to go all the way through to the lakes on the west side. This year I simply began on the west side!

I think it is a nice touch that the U.S. Forest Service always makes these signs asymmetrical.

At a fork in the trail, I saw signs that left me puzzled. At first glance, “foot log” and “horse ford” sounded like landmarks I had never heard of. I had no idea what trail to take until I calmed down and took the words literally. A log for foot traffic, and a place for horses to ford.

Viola! “foot log,” otherwise known as a log bridge for those traveling on human feet.

One lovely thing about the west side approach is that the Stuart/Colchuck trailhead is higher in elevation than the Snow Lakes trailhead, so I climbed the first 1000 feet (or more) in my Jeep. That was pretty sweet. Once I began hiking, much of the trail was a rather gentle slope, and a couple of steep spots a few miles in. Nothing like the grueling switchbacks at the start of the Snow Lakes trail.

The trail beside Mountaineer Creek.

Look at these scrumptious red roots. Or branches. What are they? Gorgeous, that’s what.

Autumn is the most glorious flamboyant season, don’t you think?

I saw several of these cones on the trail. I don’t think my photography captured it, but they are a deep dark purple.

I’ve said before, my hike pace could best be described as “mosey.” I’m solid on the uphill stretches. Slow, but steady, I can just keep going up, up, up. But steady includes a lot of stops to look at all the waterfalls and pretty foliage and the squirrels and interesting pine cones.

It feels good to be on a trail again. I have not hiked much the last couple of years. My theory is now that I live in the wilderness practically, I don’t have the driving need to escape people and hit a trail as much as I used to. In any case, however wild my own property may be, it’s nothing like truly being in the mountains.

While pausing in a meadow with fireweed going to seed, a gust of wind came and filled the air with flying seed pods. Look closely, and you’ll spot the faeries.

Finally! First glimpse of the mountains. These are exactly the moments I live for on the trail. I get tired, I wonder how far I’ve come, how far there is to go, whether I should stop and rest, and then…. I get a view of mountains. This inspires me.

Another mile along the trail and blam! This, people. This is what it’s all about. My tanks are filled and I’m gushing.

I met a bold, fat chipmunk that practically climbed onto me while begging for food.

And this was a pika that might have been shy around me on another day, but this day rather had to get an urgent message to his buddy across the rock fall.

The pika was so hilarious I watched him for a full five minutes, and listened to another one shriek back at him. He would give a series of short, sharp, shrill shrieks, then occasionally would spew a jumble of high-pitched syllables strung together. I talked to him for awhile, saying, “Hey! Do you see me? Are you not afraid?” Nope. Not afraid. He had to talk and my presence was no deterrent. As I watched him, I imagined the following conversation. Very shrill and urgent:

“Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve!” Silence. “Steve! Steve!”

From 50 yards away across the boulder pile, the reply: “Tony! Tony!”

“Yo!-I-can’t-play-tetherball-Mom-says-I-have-to-do-my-chores-but-I’ll-come-over-as-soon-as-I’m-done!”

“Tony! Tony!”

“Did-you-hear-me-I-can’t-play-now-but-wait-for-me-ok? Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve!”

Listen, when your hiking pace is “mosey,” it involves a lot of imagination.

Suddenly I spotted a sign that said “No campfires beyond this point.” And I don’t know what crazy person ever starts campfires this time of year, but to me this sign means “the lake is pretty close.” And sure enough, only a little while later, the trees parted and there it was. Only 4 1/2 miles along the trail, an elevation gain of 1665 feet, and I hit Lake Stuart.

Lake Stuart

(Can’t you just hear Anne Shirley saying, “That is not the right name. I think it should be: Lake of Shining Waters.”)

At the far end of the lake, looking back.

I love how the sun lights up those pale green grasses and horsetails in the water.

Many spots were occupied, but when I found this lovely little beach, I knew it would be my home for the next couple of nights.

Um, yep, that would be my campsite. Recurrent theme for camping in the PNW: always gorgeous campsites.

I admit, I crashed early. You know with my exceptional gastronomic tastes, I always bring a pack filled with amazing food, which means: HEAV-VY! I get so wiped out when I have a full pack.

For supper I mixed up the easiest thing on the menu, taco salad. Fresh chopped lettuce, corn chips, beans, tomatoes from the garden, green chilis, hominy, sour cream and salsa all stirred together. An obnoxious chipmunk came to raid my bowl while I left it on the beach and went to get the wine. I was impressed to see that the prize it chose was a big chunk of taco-spiced lettuce and not the chips!

We spotted a biplane soaring over the Vista House.

The view is amazing anyway, but I like the addition of the biplane.

The Cherokee Nation puts an earnest effort into maintaining the integrity of Cherokee culture around the country, and into keeping the Cherokee diaspora united. I’m glad the Cherokee government makes connection a priority, because there are many Oklahoma Cherokees who believe that one loses legitimacy if they don’t live in Oklahoma. I often hear them say, “Come home!” For some it is meant as a heartfelt invitation, and for some it is a criticism of my choice to live elsewhere. I have no plans to move to Oklahoma at the moment, and appreciate being accepted as Cherokee with my limited access to Cherokee culture.

One new program Chief Baker’s administration came up with is to have sister communities. The administration makes the matches, and informs the groups. Our Mt. Hood Cherokees were matched with the Stilwell Library Friends group in Stilwell, Oklahoma. The Stilwell Public Library obviously isn’t a Cherokee organization. However, the location is within the fourteen Cherokee counties in Oklahoma, so based on demographics, most of the members of the library group are Cherokee. They are an active group and recently completed a fundraising project to build an addition onto the library. I’d like to think that our groups were matched because we are both active and enthusiastic.

The Nation then supports the pairing further, by sponsoring an annual visit both directions. I blogged about my opportunity to visit the Cherokee Nation for the first time last summer. While in Oklahoma I attended a conference and saw historic sites, and I also had the chance to meet multiple members of the Library Friends group. They looked out for me, gave me rides, and made sure I made it to a traditional country Oklahoma potluck with barbecued bologna. Yes, that is a thing.

We have also had three visits from our sister community so far. Last weekend was the third.

Still a small group, but on this day it’s larger than average.

Susie and Regina gave a great presentation about the introduction and history of loom weaving among the Cherokee, during our monthly meeting. It was a very popular talk and got the attendees excited about weaving. I’m doing a happy dance in my mind because our little group has been fragile in membership attendance for so long, but lately there have been a bunch of brand new faces at meetings. I always hope for a fabulous presentation on the days when new people show up, so they’ll see how much fun it can be, and make time to come again. I got my wish this time!

After the meeting, a group of us piled into cars and made our way into the Columbia River Gorge. The visitors were denied waterfall viewing last year because there were wildfires and the roads were closed. This year we could see the burned trees beside the highway, and along the paths to the waterfalls. The authorities were not joking: the fire was dangerously close last year.

We stopped first at a large parking lot sponsored by the Portland Women’s Forum. It was a great gathering point because it offers magnificent views of the Gorge toward the East, and of the Vista House perched on a cliff along what used to be the main highway here on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge.

While we stood there, a red biplane came buzzing through! It was a delight to watch it circle the Vista House and then fly away. See the two photos at the top of this post.

Cherokees in the Gorge

The magical postcard view from the Portland Women’s Forum parking area.

The Vista House. It was originally built as a rest stop for people traveling along the Historic Columbia River Highway. Now it’s a tourist location with history, a small museum, gift shop, site interpreters, and unbeatable 360-degree views of the Columbia River and the state of Washington across the river.

A site interpreter explains some of the marble carvings inside.

Tourists enjoying the view from the wrap-around balcony.

Even the bathrooms are photo-worthy. When was the last time you took a photo of a bathroom because it was so pretty?

Much of the Historic Highway road remains closed due to wildfire damage, and we would have to skip some waterfalls. However, what highway remains open does pass three of them: LaTourell Falls, Shepperd’s Dell Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and the Queen of them all – Multnomah Falls.

At LaTourell Falls, we were delighted to see a bride and groom having their wedding photos taken. The scene was really dramatic, in that sheltered waterfall cove carved out of thousands of basalt columns and electric green moss. I was not able to resist taking wedding photos myself, though I do not know the couple.

Regina captures a shot at LaTourell Falls

This couple was staging some dramatic wedding photos.

I mean. Really dramatic.

The path at Shepperd’s Dell Falls is still closed because of fire damage. Luckily there is a bridge that crosses the canyon and allows a view of the falls for the intrepid and determined.

I tried to capture a creative shot of Shepperd’s Dell Falls between posts on the bridge.

Next we hiked down a steep hill to get a good look at Bridal Veil Falls. Yes, we asked ourselves whether the bride and groom should have been here instead. But I think they made a good choice because the canyon was a little more cramped at Bridal Veil and there were more tourists lounging around having lunch with a waterfall view.

Susie at Bridal Veil Falls

Crepuscular rays light up the canyon

Tourists pose for photographs that really can’t fail with the backdrop available.

For the grand finale, we went to Multnomah Falls. After we parked, David told us that this waterfall was not the most popular tourist destination in Oregon. Instead, it’s the outlet malls in Woodburn. The people that choose outlet malls over this are insane. Truly. Off their rockers. I mean, look at this:

The glorious Multnomah Falls

Susie and Regina in front of Multnomah Falls

Regina and Susie on the bridge over the falls.

The next day our Oklahoma visitors went to the coast, but I did not join them. I did see a facebook photo of them in jackets with hoods on the chilly beach. I know they were both looking forward to being chilly for a weekend, to escape the Oklahoma heat, so I am happy it turned out that way.

The sun attempts to penetrate our world over the Hawthorne Bridge in downtown Portland over the Wilamette River.

I maintain a childlike appreciation for the natural forces and landscapes in my world that does not seem to fade as I grow older. The Columbia River holds my awe as a local landscape and a force itself. August reminded me constantly of the forested landscapes, and how they are changing under the force of wildfires.

I have been able to capture some remarkable photos of rivers and smoke from those wildfires, as the two converge.

Mondays I work at a tall building right on the shores of the Wilamette River. The rest of the week I work at home. Monday mornings before work I try to get in a short run before work, and thus have been able to see the effects of smoke from area fires on our city.

Jogging past the marina is always picturesque.

One morning I caught this blurry photo of teams practicing their paddling.

Each week I find the sun at a different place in the sky. Here the red orb peeks through struts on my favourite Portland bridge: Hawthorne.

Smoke was so thick for a few days that I could actually smell it outside. I am pretty sure that most of it is coming south to us from British Columbia, but the smoke is likely worsened by fires in Washington and southern Oregon as well. Every summer the West burns.

A view of the afternoon sun from my house.

All day long the light cast over my world has been orange. From morning, through midday, and into evening, the light is surreal: dimmed, tinted, and seemingly still. Maybe Mother Nature is holding her breath, watching and waiting, like me. I am grateful daily that my own community is not burning, while I see facebook reports of my friends evacuating from their homes in other places. Smoke in the air reminds me that the threat is close to me as well.

Returning across the Lewis & Clark bridge from Longview, Washington, I was startled to notice that from one shore I could not see across the Columbia River to the other shore. Instead of going home, I drove down to the waterfront to take a closer look.

From the Rainier marina, looking toward the Lewis & Clark bridge, the last bridge to cross the river before you get to the coast, and the bridge at Astoria.

The bridge is almost obscured from my viewpoint, a half a mile away.

I moved down river to a spot closer to the bridge, but it remains faded in the murky skies.

While at the Rainier marina, I stopped to read some information signs that talk a little about the Columbia and about my tiny town of Rainier. I’ll reproduce some of it here, because I am so proud of my beautiful river, even when it flows beneath worrisome skies.

The Columbia River is the second longest river on the continent. It will fall more than 2600 feet in elevation as it flows 1270 miles from the Canadian Rockies to the Pacific Ocean. The elevation drop and the large water flow give the Columbia enormous potential to generate electricity. Currently the dams of the Columbia River Basin generate one third of all the hydro-electricity produced in the United States.

The location of Rainier on the Columbia is a primary reason why it was established. Two days were needed to travel from Portland to Astoria before roads were built. Since Rainier is located in the middle, travelers spent one night in Rainier before they completed the second day of their journey.

In 1792 American Captain Robert Gray successfully crossed the Columbia River bar and sailed upstream approximately 13 miles. He named the river after his ship: “Columbia Rediviva.”

In 1805 Lewis and Clark traveled down the Snake River where they entered the Columbia. They finished their journey to the Pacific Ocean traveling down the Columbia.

In 1852 Charles Fox donated 24 acres for a town site that would become Rainier.

For the past two days it has been raining. For folks around here, the rain is a relief.

Update: August 30, 2108. We had clear skies tonight and I stopped by the marina to take another photo so you can compare.

Jerry and Terry Holder are annual favourites because they are so much fun on stage, they’re lovely people, and we love their music.

I went to my third backyard music and barbecue yesterday at Roy and Lucy McAlister’s home. Remember how enchanted I was the first time? It’s like that every time. Roy McAlister is a luthier, and consequently knows a lot of musicians. He and Lucy host a gathering every summer at their home, where they invite neighbors, celebrities, local stars, old friends and brand new friends to take the stage and perform for all of us lucky people who are invited. The music is always exceptional. The people who show up – every single soul – are always exceptional.

Damp but optimistic audience.

We’ve had an unusually hot and dry summer here along the coast of the Pacific Northwest. Day after day of temperatures in the 90s have finally dried out the earth to dust and much of the greenery has yellowed. So in between two solid weeks of clear blue skies and 90-degree temps, there was one day – a single day – of rain in the forecast. Any other day we would be cheering for the much-needed rain, but instead we remarked about the bad timing. And then… we appreciated the rain a little bit anyway, because we live here and have made peace with rain.

It intermittently poured, then broke up and splashed sun on us – teasing us and getting our hopes up – then started pouring again, for hours. We fretted about the electronic equipment under plastic sheets, hoping nothing would get ruined, hoping there would be a way to have an outside concert eventually. And yes, around 6pm the clouds began to break apart in earnest. By 7pm it had cleared up for good and people moved permanently out of the house. We sat on wet lawn chairs and got ready to be delighted.

A series of fabulous musicians took the stage!

This photo is from 2017, since I didn’t take any good perspective photos this year. Behind the stage you can see the glowing windows of Roy’s shop.

Steve Hawkins was gracious enough to start off the night with some beautiful songs. One song was interrupted by low-flying aircraft, and he calmly took it in stride and incorporated the demonstration into the show. Now there’s a performer for you.

Rick Ruskin is another familiar friend and performer. His ease with his guitar made the audience forget it was a show and just get caught up in the music.

Roy McAlister, left, introduces Andre Ranieri and Diana Brown. It was their first time on stage and Andre impressed us with his lead guitar while Diana wowed us with her vocals.

Andre has been a beloved friend for years.  We met through a mutual friend and musician, Marcus Eaton. In fact, it’s because of Andre that I received my first invite to McAlapalooza in 2015. Andre plays with Diana, and so she made the journey from the TriCities to be here tonight. I loved her of course.

Peter Jacobsen used his guitar to accompany his outstanding voice.

Christine Gill and John Resch knocked our socks off with their great songs! John played a guitar he built himself.

Christine and John get a second photo because this one was too good to leave out. They are such a loving, open, humble, and generous couple. I begged them to come and play again next time.

Pianist and singer, Grace, a McAlister family friend. This young woman’s talent will take her places. (and look how much fun she’s having)

Our hostess Lucy took the stage to introduce Save the Bees, a new act and immediate favourite once they began belting out brilliant harmonies.

This is where the guitar magic happens.

Andre plays his new guitar.

As I watched Save the Bees, Andre gestured to me from the other side of the lawn to follow him and John Resch up the hill to Roy’s shop. When I arrived he announced, “This is my new guitar.” We admired the nearly-finished instrument (missing accessories like a pick guard and strap button) that Roy has been making for him. It’s a sister to Marcus Eaton’s guitar, that stirred up so much excitement in 2015. Andre humbly handed it to John, who tuned it and played a few pieces, and then Andre finally got to hold his new baby.

Diana showed up a little later and played it too, Jerry and Terry Holder stopped in to watch the delight settling over Andre. Terry showed us her mostly-built ukulele that Roy is making. Then Andre played while Diana sang, and I was a quiet, wide-eyed witness to musicians simply reveling in the joy of making music.

Jerry backs up Terry who wrote a new song while teaching herself to play the ukulele.

I had been stuffing myself with food all evening. That’s one of the fun things about McAlapalooza: guests trickle in from 3 to 8, and everybody brings something: salads, blueberry tarts, roast potatoes, noodles, fresh vegetables, cake, and artichoke dip. The grill was fired up and then chicken and sausage appeared. Every time I walked into the house, a new dish had found a place on the table and I had to sample it. It was late, and dark, and I was tired and full of delicious food and wine. I missed the final act, James Anaya, and climbed into the Jeep and set the GPS for home.

bat+open door = oops

So. Much. Stuff. Happened. Last night.

Except sleep. Sleep did not happen much.

The evening was fine until I got a text from someone who pissed me off. And I could not stop thinking about it. I was mad, mad, mad. I went to bed and stared fiercely at the shadowy ceiling while I tried not to worry about the 6:30 am alarm that would be coming soon.

My cat Racecar likes to sleep on my neck. It’s hard to breathe, but she’s soft and warm and she’s my comfort blanket. Except last night it was 87 degrees and neither one of us could get comfortable. I had opened the deck-side sliding glass door a little, and the window, but there was no cross breeze. Racecar walked across my throat, stepping on a boob now and then, back and forth, back and forth, but could not pick a satisfactory place to curl up on my neck. Too hot. She finally found a place at the foot of the bed and it suited us both fine.

Even with my comfort blanket down at the foot of the bed, the damp sheets, and no cross breeze, I finally fell asleep, who knows when. But I do know it was 11:47 when I heard a “mrrroowr! meeeooowww!” from a strange cat that woke me out of a dead sleep. It had managed to squeeze through the opening in the sliding glass door and got all the way to the kitchen to eat my cat’s food, and then couldn’t find it’s way out. I started yelling and it found the door and skeedaddled. Racecar, worthless cat, was still curled up at the foot of the bed, clearly not defending me from foes.

Then I was awake again.

Ugh. It was so hot. Against my better judgement, I went to the other side of the room and opened the door to the back yard. And opened the glass door wider, trying to bring the outside air in. I figured the strange cat probably wouldn’t come back. I tossed and turned for at least another hour. I was hot and mad, trying to sleep. You know how you silently yell at yourself, “go to sleep NOW!” and it doesn’t work?

Then I started wondering what that fluttering sound was. Such a soft, pretty sound. Probably a moth. Fluttering around and around the room. Racecar got up and started following it around the room. “Good girl,” I thought in my fogginess. “Eat the moth so I can sleep.” Flutter flutter. Moth wings have a sort of fur on them, which must be making that lovely sound. Then there was a quiet “eeeek” on one of its passes over my head. Funny, it reminded me of a bat. Racecar started jumping as the moth swooped close.

Actually the flutter was pretty loud. That must be a damned big moth. I picked up my phone and turned on the flashlight app and shined it up to the ceiling so that I could see into the blackness…and saw a BAT swooping around my bedroom! Shadows cast by my phone covered half the room. Wing shadows, probably teeth shadows, but I didn’t hang around to look. Obviously it came in through one of the wide open doors and now couldn’t find it’s way out.

A bat! A Bat! In my bedroom!  I slunk off the bed, crouched, arms over my head, and duck-walked to the door to the living room. Once out, I closed the door behind me. The bat could find it’s way out of my bedroom eventually, but I needed to sleep in a bat-free zone.

I checked to make sure kitty had come out of the bedroom with me, then padded down the hall in bare feet to Tara’s room (unoccupied while T is at college), and climbed into bed, pretty much awake.

I took deep, slow breaths, calming myself, thinking some more about the 6:30 am alarm. Still mad about that text message, planning all the clever mean things I would text back in the morning. Tara’s room was a little cooler, and the bed is comfortable. My eyes began to close and I began to drift off.

thump I hear from the living room. Thump thump…bump. CRASH! What the?? I sat up and listened. Whack-bump! thud.

Jeeze Louise.

I got up and walked into the living room in the dark and found Racecar leaping from the furniture into the air, trying to get the BAT that had followed us out of the bedroom! I ducked.

I wouldn’t even walk through the living room. I went out the front door of the house, outside in my bare feet, around the house to the deck, opened the living room sliding door so the bat could get out, then through the sliding door into my bedroom again, and dropped to the still-damp sheets. Is this for real?

Fully, fully awake. I checked my phone. 2:12 am. I went to the bathroom and swallowed a sleeping pill. I had to work in the morning. Sleep was critical. It worked after another 45 minutes, and I finally fell asleep after composing a perfect text response in my mind.

There was a time warp and in four minutes, the alarm went off. “Like hell,” I mumbled. Turned off the alarm and went promptly back to sleep, only to be awakened immediately by cluck, cluck, cluck…brrrrr cluck? Clearly chicken sounds, and clearly too close. “Arrrggghhh!” I said to no one, looked at my phone, which said 6:33. I heard it again, cluck cluck?

I got up and opened the door to the living room, and crept in while crouched, eyes at the ceiling. No bat. But there, in the living room, was one of the Hussies. Of course this would be the morning Tawny got loose, and of course she came up on the deck and found all the doors open, and came on in. Because, she’s a chicken. Chickens are dumb, and annoying. I love them, but it’s an honest relationship.

“Come on, chick! chick!” I called, and dumb, happy Tawny followed me out the door, across the porch, down the steps, across the grass, and to the chicken pen. I’m Momma Chicken to her.

Back in the house, I checked for poop (none! yay!), and resigned myself to starting up the work day.

As I settled in at the computer in my home office, I heard CCCRRRREEEERRRR….CCRAAAACCKK! BOOM!

Pretty little elderberry tree by the creek.

Exactly 24 hours later. Can you see the massive tree that has fallen across the creek?

I ran outside, and saw that a huge Alder in my back yard had just fallen. No wind. No storm. It just…gave up and fell. An enormous tree that now lies in the creek. Just last night I had stood there, captivated by glowing evening light on the elderberry bush beside it. That must have been an omen, the light on the bush. Earth was saying to me, “Pay attention and enjoy this moment of peace. Because… well… you know.”

It was pitch black through my nighttime adventures, and I couldn’t get a photo, not that I was even thinking of it. I told a few people today, I’m gonna write a blog post about it, and Allie Brosh will do the illustration. Sadly, I don’t know Allie personally. So I had to do the illustration myself a-la-Hyperbole and A Half.  This is me, crouching behind my bed, arm up as protection against the bat:

In lieu of Allie Brosh.

Here’s another photo of the downed tree. You still can’t get sense of how big the tree is by looking at the photo, but it’s a little better.

All those sideways branches=one tree

 

Entrance to Willamette Valley Vineyards

Lavender and vines along the entranceway to the hilltop facility.

My dragon spawn turned 21 recently. It’s so hard to wrap my head around the concept of this full-fledged adult being the same teeny wrinkly purple thing I brought home 21 years ago. I have realized that 21 years is not that many years. It’s nearly half my life, but dang, it went like a blink!

A small Tara with wooden sword at a Renaissance Faire

Tara and me at one of our first Faerieworlds festivals.

Our tradition, you may recall, is to go to The Enchanted Forest in Salem. I’ve had loads of fun with Tara and their awesome friends, visiting the theme park year after year and living out our childhoods with abandon on one brilliant July day. Right next door to Enchanted Forest is a winery that we had only spotted from the Interstate. This year, since Tara is of legal drinking age, their birthday idea was to visit the winery.

I called Willamette Valley Vineyards and explained it was a birthday visit and asked what a person might do there for fun, other than tasting wines. They suggested a tour, and I made a reservation.

Willamette Valley Vineyards is a first-class destination, which made this a serendipitous choice. Until we arrived, we had no idea what an enormous, visitor-centric place it is. Sadly, I neglected to get some photos of the main tasting room, but it’s huge and oh so beautiful. There are three bars with about 8 people tending, who can all help you with tasting a flight of wines, or purchasing, or eating lunch, or touring, or even booking a night’s stay because yes, this place also has guest lodging. I imagine it would be a wonderful stay.

The main buildings are at the top of a hill, and thus visitors are afforded incredible views in every direction. Just in case you want something even better than the view available in the dining and tasting rooms, there is a tower one can climb, which puts you another 50 feet up.

Tara celebrating their birthday in the tower.

View from the tower.

 

Molly and me, at our main gathering place during the tour.

The tour is also a tasting. We tasted 5 different wines, some award-winning, during the tour. Our guide, Suzanne Zupancic, put us at ease and made us feel like she was our friend right away. Suzanne led us through the different stages of wine production at Willamette Valley, to include the history of the vineyard’s existence, and the bottling station and of course the barrel storage. She told the story of the founder, Jim Bernau, who grew up knowing wines because his father was an attorney for the first vineyard in Oregon after prohibition. She explained how the winery is solar powered, doesn’t irrigate, and instead of typical pest control, partners with a raptor rescue organization to use owls to control the rodent population!

She explained some general concepts to help us in choosing a wine, such as when a wine is sweeter, there is generally less alcohol. Knowing this, a quick glance at the label can help you choose what you’ll like. She talked about Oregon’s famous pinot noirs, a thin-skinned grape that has caught the wine world’s attention. She taught us about cooperage, the craft of building wine barrels, and how to understand the labels on the outside of the barrels. She also explained why so many barrels are stained red. It’s because the wine slowly evaporates and the only way to maintain its integrity is to top off the wine frequently, and not allow any oxygen inside the barrels. Topping off tends to end up with a little bit of wine spill, that drips down the side and stains the barrel. She explained that Cabernet sauvignon and Merlot benefit from aging, but others do not.

Barrels of white wines.

A door leading from the red wine barrels section.

Me with as much wine nearby as I could ever wish for.

It’s not a flattering photo, because everyone is squinting in the bright sun.

Suzanne also told us about Bill Fuller, a legendary winemaker in Oregon. He left California’s Napa valley in 1973 to take advantage of the ideal geography in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. His Tualatin Vineyard 1980 Pinot Noir and 1981 Chardonnay took home “Best of Show” in both red and white categories at the 1984 London International Wine Fair, a feat unduplicated by any winemaker in the competition’s history. Bill Fuller’s winery merged with Willamette Valley Vineyards, and Mr. Fuller began working with Willamette Valley Vineyards in 2013.

She also explained about the remarkable geologic processes that made the Willamette Valley so rich for agriculture and particularly for grapes. The history includes a historic sea, volcanic processes, and the Missoula Floods. Tara, a geology major at Oregon State University, was interested in this portion of the tour.

Brynnen, Tara, me, Molly

After the hour and a half long tour, and five wines, we were all ready for some food! We ate from their gourmet menu and sat out on one of the many outdoor patios to eat it. We were joined by bees. Interestingly, the staff handed us fabric softener sheets to place on the table to keep the wasps away. It was a little effective. At lunch, I gave Tara a gift I had made of childhood photos through the years. Tara read the book outloud to all of us.

Tara opens up the memory book I made as a birthday gift.

Tara reading their birthday book to us.

Finally, we were ready to go and purchased some of our favourite wines from the day. I said goodbye to the kids who were all headed back to Corvallis.

One of my many guises

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