Roses to Redwoods
August 22. After two and a half weeks with little Eliot, saying good-bye was not easy. Melanie thought that she might cry, but the next morning we left without the anticipated melodrama. Seated on the front lawn with his mother, we waved good-bye to him with the thought that the good times we shared with him will have to sustain us until our next visit. Then he and his parents will be settled into their new home and, naturally, he will be walking with a much expanded vocabulary that will have progressed from his current babblings of “ba” to a richer repertoire of melodic phrasings.
The next stop on our nomadic journey was Bend, Oregon, to visit Don and Joanne Christensen, friends from our days in Arcata/Eureka. Not until then did we get our first clear sighting of Mt. Hood. The rolling hills with its masses of tall thick green foliage gave way to the flatlands of desert sagebrush as we descended on the other side of the mountain toward Bend. The sudden and stark contrast of the two landscapes was a quick reminder of this country’s vast and varied topography.
Our time with Don and Joanne is always relaxing; their home in the high desert was a welcoming retreat from the whirlwind of our travels. Don and I served together as vice presidents at Humboldt State University, he in public administration and I in Academic Affairs. With each visit at Don and Joanne’s, we experience something new. This time we attended the annual art fair along the Deschutes River. Each couple made purchases; ours was a wedding gift for my niece in Baton Rouge; theirs a wooden bowl for the dining room. Its final resting place is not yet determined and the subject of much speculation. But it will surely complement the artful décor of their grand home. Perhaps their home’s most endearing charm is the cinematic sunsets of Mt. Bachelor framed by the windows in their kitchen and family room. As we sat at dinner one evening, the sky was ablaze in color; the sunset of dark, magenta rays bathed Mt. Bachelor in a magical glow.
From Bend we traveled to Ashland to visit another dear friend from our Northern California days, emeritus professor of French, James Gaasch. In the mid-nineties, Melanie and I had an experience of a lifetime when we visited him and his late wife Isabel in Rabat, Morocco, where he taught on a yearlong Fulbright. To this day we talk fondly of our travels in the desert, the wonderful food prepared by their cook, Fifi, and that special time when all four of us, traveling by train, reviewed the transcripts of James’ interviews with writers of the Maghreb. Since we hadn’t seen James since 1999, although we’ve kept in touch, our reunion was special. His current research on native masks from Mali and Burkina Faso is fascinating. Over the years he has amassed an enviable collection of museum-quality modern masks. We regret that our visit with him and his friend, Dorothy, lasted only an evening and did not allow time to take in a play at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival as anticipated.
Since leaving Portland, we have been in a whirlwind of a tour, visiting friends. From Ashland, we scurried along to spend a day and half with friends in Crescent City, California. Before arriving, we stopped for reminiscing visits at Jedediah Smith National Forest and Lady Byrd Johnson Grove, where we took a long walk among the majestic redwoods. We stayed overnight with longtime friends of Melanie, Rande Rothman and her husband, Samuel Escobar. Rande is a creative silkscreen painter and artisan, who now teaches privately in her studio at home that fronts the Pacific Ocean. She and Samuel adore their four Cavalier King Charles spaniels. The temperature in Crescent was exactly as I remembered Northern California to be, chilly and overcast. The next day’s morning fog shrouded the Pacific Ocean.
From Crescent City we traveled further south toward Eureka, but not without stopping first at Trinidad, where we lunched and McKinleyville where I used to live. Later in the afternoon, we arrived at our friend’s wooded hide-a-way in the hills overlooking Humboldt Bay. The Yankes, Katy and Mike, are two of Melanie’s longstanding closest friends. Kay is a fused-glass artist and exhibits her work in the local galleries. Our time with them was split between the cabin and their Victorian home in Eureka. Over the next couple of days we visited several friends, some from Melanie’s women’s group at the Unitarian Church, and friends from Humboldt State. I even had lunch with my former boss, Alistair McCrone, the retired president of Humboldt who served in that capacity for twenty-eight years.
August 29. Melanie’s birthday. After a banana pancake breakfast with our friends in Eureka, we started our trek eastward by first driving south on US101. The drive through the redwood forest of Southern Humboldt reminded us of the special beauty of this region. The winding alternating ascending and descending curves were both pleasant and challenging as the roads narrowed through tunnels of towering redwoods. Happily, there were few cars on the road; that lessened anxiety about the slower speed we were traveling. Our eastward trek toward Sacramento brought us along Clear Lake. The towns of Nice and Lucerne bordering the lake with its resort-like qualities were clearly meant to imitate their European sisters. Increasingly the terrain turned from the rich green of the redwoods to the rolling sandy-colored hills of the desert whose starkness is heightened by the burnt terrain of earlier fires. Wildfire smoke from recent fires swathed the mountains in a lingering haze. But once we reached the central valley near Sacramento, the rolling hills gave way to flat, dusky terrain where groves of walnut and pistachio trees lined the highway.
That flat dusky terrain continued until we reached the Sierras as we made our way across Nevada toward Reno where, on the advice of our friends from Eureka, we spent the night at the Sands Hotel for a princely price of thirty-nine dollars. And what a culture shock!! Clearly, we were fish-out-of-water. To reach the registration desk we had to navigate our way through smoke-filled rooms, slot machines and gaming tables occupying every inch of available floor space. The din of the noise was unbearable. Men and women, young and old, every ethnic group included, were staring like zombies at slot-machine screens. Others were bent over gaming tables, their faces in fixed gazes as a die was cast or cards flipped, all in anticipation of that life-altering win. Once safely ensconced in our room, we had trepidation about venturing out again. But we did, to the diner below to share a hamburger and salad!
The next morning we started our journey before dark toward Salt Lake City. As we descended into the valley below, the mountains hovering in darkness and shrouded in wildfire haze appeared to embrace us in a cocoon. The dark night slowly evaporated into light as the glow of the rising sun turned the smokey haze pink. It was a magical start to our journey. The drive across flat, empty terrain and the sun’s rays on the asphalt created mirages of shimmering pools of water. Driving under those conditions was boring and tiring in this vast sea of nothingness. But I became curiouser and curiouser as we rolled past exits that lead seemingly to nowhere to places like Mill City, Toulon, Eureka, and Oasis. Once we crossed the Nevada/Utah border, this endless terrain of sagebrush and denuded hills changed dramatically, and almost immediately, to white flats.
Tomorrow our journey home continues but not after a Labor Day weekend with friends in Cheyenne.