Spring in the Pacific Northwest

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Tuesday, May 1, 2007

You can call us the "O & A Team" this week! Making our way up through Oregon and Washington, almost every curve in the road has resulted in a chorus of "Ooooh's and Aaaaah's" It has been like visiting an endless spring garden show with stunning displays of rhododendrons, azaleas, flowering dogwoods, Japanese flowering cherries, Japanese maples and a host of other spring flowers, shrubs and trees. Not surprising then that three-quarters of our photos this week are flower pics of one kind or another. If that isn't enough for you, check out the American Rhododendron Society (www.rhododendron.org) and you'll find some 1,200 entries for rhododendron species and hybrids, with a database of 900 photos for quick and easy identification!

We've managed to avoid the fast-paced Interstate highways almost entirely as we've headed north up through the US. Instead we've chosen to quietly explore the byways of the rural areas and followed the Pacific coast for a lot of the time. One surprise along the way was to discover Oregon Wines. Hundreds of vineyards dot the hillsides along the Willamette River Valley, south-west of Portland, and over the past 25 years they have been steadily gaining an international reputation for quality wines from the Pinot noir grape variety which thrives in the cool climate here. Many of the wineries are small family-run affairs, and only offer single variety bottlings and limited release wines. As a result most of the wines are unavailable outside of Oregon, and in fact are very rarely seen on retail store shelves. All the more reason then to seek out the ambience and charm of a few select tasting rooms!

Although we prefer to wild camp as much as possible, so far in the US we've generally been confronted with 'No Camping', 'No Sleeping Overnight' 'No Entry' and 'No Trespassing' signs in spots with even the slightest potential. Occasionally we've managed to find ourselves an out-of-the-way location, but we've had to resort to staying in State Park campsites more often than we would have liked. As a result we've been able to compare the Parks Systems of California, Oregon and Washington. Based on our highly scientific evaluation methods(!).....Oregon wins hands down. Their campsites are well managed and have good facilities - including plug-ins, water on-site, clean toilets with hot showers - all for a reasonable price (US$12-17). They are currently experimenting with environmentally friendly practices (including water-less urinals which claim to save 140,000 gallons of fresh water per year per unit), well maintained trails and friendly staff with good information. In contrast, both California and Washington appear to have had their State Park budgets cut to the bone, and it really shows. Some of their campsites seem to be almost derelict, their facilities are either poorly maintained or non-existent, and there are often no staff or park wardens to be found. And their prices?....generally at least double the Oregon rate! We wonder how the Provincial Parks across Canada will fare?

On one recent night we didn't need to wild camp or find a State Park campsite. We met up with our friend Sherry once again, who was visiting the Trappist Abbey near Lafayette, and spent a delightful twenty four hours with her. The monastery is set in 1,400 acres of peaceful woodlands with lakes and trails galore, and is home to a contemplative community of about 40 monks. The day starts with chanting at 4:15 am (which we're ashamed to say we skipped) and the work revolves around book-binding, storing wine for local vineyards and making batches of delectable fruit cake - interspersed, of course, with many more sessions of prayers and chanting. Our host was Sherry's friend, Father Casey, who she had met when he was working in Nepal as a Jesuit priest over twenty years ago. We spent several entertaining sessions with him as we walked the trails, and discussed many aspects of religion, and the mysteries of life and death. Not surprisingly, we came to no definitive conclusions but it was refreshing to have such open and spirited discussions considering the diversity of our backgrounds, beliefs and opinions. We also very much enjoyed meeting some of the other retreatants from all walks of life visiting the Abbey, especially Tomás from Spain who was considering various options for his spiritual future.

Another highlight this week was meeting up with long-lost friends in Portland, Oregon. Randy and MaryKate Morse were Quaker missionaries when we worked in Puno, Peru, back in the late 1970s, and Randy had performed a beautiful dedication service for Mike when he was a few months old. We had lost touch over the years, but we were keen to track them down and let them know about Mike. This seemed to be the opportune time. We had expected to just look them up in the phone book, but it turned out that they had given up their land-line phone and now used only cell phones. After quite a bit of digging around on the internet (thank goodness for Google!), we finally turned up a reference to MaryKate as Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Programs at George Fox University Seminary. After that it only took a couple of e-mails and phone calls. We spent a wonderful evening with them, reminiscing about our time in Peru, and catching up on events in our lives over the past couple of decades.

As we headed north through Washington on a so-called scenic route, we were remarking that one of the drawbacks of a climate that supports such lush and profuse horticultural wonders was that it was often cloudy or raining. Just then the clouds parted, the sun came out and magically revealed three snow-capped mountains on the eastern horizon. We had already left Mount Hood (11,239') behind us, but Mount St.Helens (8,366') was on our right hand, and Mount Rainier (14,410') was up ahead. All three peaks were bathed in the golden light of the late afternoon sun. Maybe the map should have noted that it was an exceptionally scenic route when it was sunny and clear!
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Where I stayed
State Park Campsite
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