Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Man, what a weekend.

Things got off to a rocky start after my ill-advised ingestion of an Egg McMuffin-like object on the plane. I'm fortunate in being nonallergic to virtually anything of which I'm aware, but I do have a sensitivity to a kind of salmonella-related bacteria found in undercooked chicken or eggs that leaves others unharmed. The symptoms are pretty routine: a bad headache about two hours after eating the tainted foodstuff followed by nausea and (preferably) a quick vomiting episode to remove the poison. Well, the headache set in about an hour before landing at Sea-Tac. Given that we were flying overland, I'd chosen a window seat since gazing out over the landscape from 35,000 feet is one of my favorite activities. This can have its own drawbacks, however, like being hemmed in by a very fat couple in their 70s, snoozing away, who I didn't have the heart to ask to move. So I patiently abided, waited out the landing, taxiing and snail-like filing off the plane, rushing to the nearest men's room and attempting to disgorge the offending substance. Only achieved moderate success there but it was all I could do at the time. Stayed on the depressingly long rental car line, feeling abjectly miserable. Got the car and wended my way out of the lot. Just as I pulled up to the booth where someone lurked to check my rental papers, there was a sudden, unpleasant upwelling in my throat, one which was successfully squashed while the lady in the kiosk took her sweet time checking to make sure every i was dotted. I was desperately scanning the area beyond the booths for a propitious place to heave but, seeing none, drove up the ramp leading out of the airport. Happily, there was a stretch of scrub brush off to one side with space enough to park. I did so and bent over the grass, managing to bring up a substantial amount of yellowish matter. Great start!

I still felt pretty crappy and not a little dizzy, but since I had a 1:00 hook-up scheduled with Hatta, I dutifully drove up to the Capitol Hill section of Seattle arriving just about on time and meeting Robert on the street. The Vietnamese place at which we'd hoped to dine was either no more or undergoing renovation so we trudged to a very cool bar restaurant. I was still queasy enough that the idea of actually eating was dubious in the extreme and even having a beer seemed to be pushing things, so I settled for nursing an iced tea. About an hour into our (excellent) conversation, I began to revert to normality. Thanks for putting up with me, Robert! Great to see you.

Left about 4PM to drive to Tacoma to meet our erstwhile Jersey City neighbors, Scott & Paul who moved out there about 1 1/2 years ago. Traffic on Rte 5 was miserable as they'd predicted and the 30 or so mile drive took 2 hours. Vainly looked for Mt. Rainier on the way. Their place was a lovely, quiet 50s house into which they'd sunk substantial bucks renovating things, really nice with a great garden, views of a bridge out over the sound, the Olympic mountains in the distance.

Drove back up to Sea-Tac Saturday morning to pick up my brother Glen and then further up Rte. 5 to Burlington, at which point we turned onto Rte. 20 heading east for Mazama, about 120 miles distant. Now this was my first time in the northwest at all (closest I'd ever been was San Francisco) but for many years, I've pored over road atlases, plotting cross country drives that I'll probably never get around to taking, and Rte 20, which actually stretches from coast to coast, always struck me as an enticing road, especially from North Dakota westward. Well, at least through the Cascades, it surpassed all expectations. What an incredibly, jaw-droppingly beautiful area of the world! The mountains are aptly named as you could hardly go 100 yards without encountering a waterfall, ranging from roadside spritzes to mammoth drops of several thousand feet emerging from the snowcaps and, well, cascading down. Everything is just so huge! The vistas are ridiculous, the mountains fierce, towering and simply massive. The streams in that area--which are everywhere--carry glacial runoff, causing the water to assume a pale, milky green hue that you normally associate with tropical beaches. Amazing lakes (Diablo Lake, in particular), a virtual rain-forest of fir trees, rockfalls that obviously impinge on roadways once in a while, 20-foot high snow drifts, in mid-June, coming right down to the road when we were about a mile in altitude....just incredible.

Another astonishing thing to us (not to those used to micro-climates, I guess) was how quickly, once you head down the eastern side of the range, the climate, soil and vegetation changed from northwest rain forest to a near-desert situation. The trees were sparser and of a different species (less dense, dryer looking), the soil became sandy and the temperature rose about 20 degrees in the space of a mile. (I think the desert proper begins another 40 or so miles east)

Mazama, population 283, lies only about ten miles past the crest of the Cascades, at the western head of the Methow Valley. The nearest town, sporting a robust population of 700 or so, is Winthrop, lying another 15 miles to the east. We pulled in around 3 PM at the rough-hewn lodge where we'd be staying, the Mazama Country Inn. Just outside the parking area, there was a single bench on one side of a broad field about 1,000 feet across. On the opposite side there was a stand of pine at the base of a rocky massif extending about 2,000 feet up (the general altitude of Mazama itself is about 2,500 feet), running east/west. It was a sublime spot, one where I spent a good bit of time whenever possible over the next couple of days. (No, I don't carry a camera, sorry).

Picked up my aunt and uncle, Irene (Babe) and Mel, at a nearby inn, and drove them into Winthrop, up another mountain to the Sun Valley Lodge, a rather fancy and impressive joint with commanding views of the Valley, where there was a dinner attended by about 50 people. Irene and Mel's kids, by the way, my cousins Jana and Tracy, are two of my favorite people in the world and it's always a great joy to see them. It was the bar mitzvah of Jana's middle son, David, that brought Glen and I out there to begin with, incidentally, Jana and her husband Ron having moved out to this part of the world from Seattle about seven years ago. I guess I shouldn't have expected anything less, but their circle of friends was fascinating, including east coast transplants like themselves as well as folk who'd been born and raised right there in Winthrop. Some great, great people. Just to mention one--Martin Koenig, an ethno-musicologist originally from Manhattan, who was responsible for several albums in the Nonesuch Explorer series including some of the Bulgarian ones. Who'da thunk? He is apparently in possession of a vast store of "ethnic" 78s from the 20s and 30s, much like the material that appeared on the Secret Museum of Mankind series. He hopes to get some of it out through the Smithsonian Folkways label, which has expressed interest. Can't wait!

The bar mitzvah was held at Jana and Ron's house the next day. I can't imagine this occurs too often out there, getting the feeling that many of the locals, when informed of the event, figure a new saloon is opening. Even in Mazama, their place is at some remove, located at the end of one arm off the valley proper, about 7 miles outside of "town". An amazing place, nestled between three mountains (one of which, two years back, sported a massive crown of fire, the flames licking at the top of the ridge about two miles distant. The evening's entertainment--before they had to evacuate for a couple of days--was to watch pine trees explode), with a stream and pond at the base of their "yard". I might move in next month. *drool*. Ron and the son-of-the-day David are avid golfers and they've built two par threes on their land, including one with the green on the other side of the pond, about a 130 yard shot from the furthest of three tees. They use a rowboat and net to retrieve the majority of balls which fail to reach their destination. I took one shot and succeeded in not embarrassing myself, hitting it high and straight though overshooting the green a bit.

The service was held outside in front of about 100 people. It was long. Afterwards, though, more great conversation into the evening, great food, excellent mojitos. A totally lovely couple of days out there.

Had to leave the next morning, Monday, but not before consuming my second breakfast of mouthwatering, deep-fried, cinnamon encrusted French toast, accompanied by possibly the best bacon I've ever tasted. The drive back was just as beautiful as coming in; of course, we were seeing all manner of things we'd missed on the way out including one ridiculously imposing, awesomely rugged stand up near Washington Pass. Holy moley. Gotta retrace my route on Google Earth later and identify some of these things. Back down to Sea-Tac and arrived in Newark, where the terrain is somewhat less mountainous and the rivers a bit less clear, this morning about 1AM.

Normally, no matter how much I enjoy a given vacation, I develop a substantial itch to get back in a few days. Not this time. Not at all.

Awaiting me on arrival and listening to this morning:

Mike Hansen - At Every Point (Etude)
Agusti Martinez - Are Spirits What I Hear? (Etude)
(Various) - Traditional Korean Music, Sanjo and Vocal Music (King)
Chuk'pa - Korean Kayagum Music: Sanjo (King)


Robert K__ said...

Glad you had a good time Brian, barring that initial discombobulation. Hwy 20 is truly an amazing route trhough some of must see places in the state. Of course there are many more (San Juan Islands, the Olympic Peninsula, the Columbia River, Methow Valley, Mt. Ranier and so on) you can see why I can't bring myself to leave!

Anyway it was good to see you, I did feel a bit bad though - I knew the drive to Tacoma would be a nightmare. I used to commute from Seattle to Olympia (another 30 miles down the 5 from Tacoma) and it used to take me three hours or more to do that 60 mile drive. Just ridiculous.

Richard Pinnell said...

"Happily, there was a stretch of scrub brush off to one side with space enough to park. I did so and bent over the grass, managing to bring up a substantial amount of yellowish matter."

Now this is the kind of dutifully detailed blogging we need... a little short on painting references though Brian, which particular shade of yellow? Was there a Rothko influence, or just Pollock? :)

Disappointed we didn't get pictures either!

Good to have you back ;)

Brian Olewnick said...

I live to serve, Richard.

One other "event" I forgot to mention: On Sunday morning, I went over to the nearby Methow River, hiked through the brush for about 1/4 mile, startling a mule deer in the process, found a nice rocky outcropping that extended into the river and was catching a good bit of sun. There were several large logs strewn about making for perfect pews so I camped there for a couple of hours, alternately reading and absorbing the place, the rushing water (there was a small rapids close at hand), the birds (hummingbirds too!), the lack of any human sound save for the occasional distant engine crossing a bridge upstream, which blended in just fine.

One of those places/situations that could've lasted a looooong time before I'd get bored.

I know you're a photographer and a good one but I've never liked the idea of toting around a camera. For me, it interferes too much with the experience of looking. But I'm glad other people don't feel this way!

Anonymous said...

beautiful descriptions of the northwest and spot on. I grew up about 2 hours south of where you were (where the Columbia meets the Pacific) and this post made me very homesick indeed.


Brian Olewnick said...

Nate, I'm homesick and I was only there two days.

Brian Olewnick said...

btw, that imposing edifice I gawked at on the return trip is Liberty Bell Mountain. Google for photos, none of which convey the sheer immensity of the thing.

Anonymous said...

i understand. It can be hard to land in Newark after a couple of days of fresh air! Great blog, by the way. Love to read your thoughts and reviews for Bags as well.