The main reason I haven’t updated is because of my research project application. This has been a way bigger hassle than I ever imagined. There was no reason for it to be such a hassle, either. It was my doing, really. The proposal itself is just a five-page document, telling what my project will be about, why it’s relevant to the field of linguistics, how I’m going to do it, how it’s a “culmination” of my previous coursework, and that sort of thing. Pretty simple. But I kept getting distracted, way more than I’ve ever gotten distracted at college. Part of it was that I had no firm deadline, and part of it was that I was surrounded by family and family drama and TVs. Our house has an enormous TV on both major floors. The lower one is always on, and the upper one is usually on, with someone watching. And I always feel like I’m shutting myself in if there are people to talk to and do things with, even if they’re just watching TV. So I let myself get distracted by the people watching TV and doing stuff. And I just didn’t get the application done. What kept me from blogging was that I always felt like I should be writing my application if I was writing anything at all, so if I wasn’t going to write my application, I just didn’t write anything.
But now I’ve finally written that damn application, and revised it once, and I’m soon going to revise it a second time, and probably then I’ll be able to turn it in and it’ll stop bothering me once and for all. I decided that I was just going to have to have a Barricade Day, where I walled myself off from everyone and just wrote. Even so, it took me all of that day, but it’s done at least. Now I can blog. And since the application isn’t really exciting, I’ll leave that behind and talk about all the stuff I’ve done that was exciting.
The really big thing that happened was the diversion-vacation that I went on with Grandma and Grandpa. This came about as a result of a deal. The deal was hatched one night after dinner at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Everyone in the room wanted me to stay off of trains. Since one of my ultimate goals was to end up in Eugene and visit Uncle Joe, Grandma and Grandpa offered to buy me an Amtrak ticket to Eugene so I could visit Joe while they visited him on a trip they were already planning. This was totally unappealing to me at first, because Amtrak sucks. There are several reasons they suck. The main one, for me, is the absolute lack of fresh air. There are no big back porches on Amtrak trains where you can stand out in the air and watch the countryside roll by. I think there once were such porches on passenger trains, but good luck finding one now. Instead, these days, you sit in your seat inside your tin can, and breathe all the processed air that comes out of the vents. The countryside only exists in windows, and to make it worse, the windows are all scratched and dingy and become opaque when you try to look at any angle closer to parallel than 20°, which means you can’t look forward and you can’t look backward, only outward. These are the reasons I dislike Amtrak. But everyone else around me that night decided to sweeten the deal for me, by getting Mom to offer to quit smoking if I’d take the Amtrak ticket. I’ve wanted Mom to quit smoking since she picked the habit back up, and they were hitting a vulnerable spot, and I still hate them for being that low, especially because Mom had already said several times before that she was going to quit, so she should have been doing it anyhow without me taking that trip. I said I’d think about it.
After a lot of mulling and looking at my friends’ schedules, I decided to take the ticket. It ended up being cheaper (I think) and easier and of course quicker for me to go by plane, so I did that, thus breaking even the tenuous connection that the journey had to trainhopping. I just had to think of it as a totally unrelated vacation, one that I was taking in order to see Oregon and to get my mom to quit smoking.
So I arrived in Eugene, by plane. Joe picked me up, and we drove to his house. He showed me around. Immediately I liked Oregon. Just across from Joe’s house is an abandoned filbert orchard. The orchard is lined with blackberry bushes, which are all over the state, so much so that they’re trying to get rid of them. They may be invasive, but they’re also tasty. I was amazed by a soil that so willingly offers food. After we saw that, Joe showed me his hot tub, which is pretty marvelous. That night we just sat back in it and let the whirlpools stir us up while we became almost lethally mellow. Looking up at the rain as it came down, relaxing every muscle. Quite a way to relax.
The next day, Grandma and Grandpa were there, and we all relaxed together. We watched a game on TV, which was a little annoying, because I could’ve watched TV in Ohio, but I was prepared to accept this, because it was Joe’s favorite team, the local one, the Oregon Ducks. They also won by a preposterous margin. I think it was 57–0. We also did the hot tub again, this time with Grandma joining us. We told stories for a long time. Like the story of how Joe ended up in Oregon. (Answer: it was only $20 more expensive to get to Oregon from Florida than it was to get to Cincinnati. He went for the better deal and never came back.) Eventually Grandma and Grandpa went back to their motel room, and the people of Joe’s house (that is, he and I and his roommates) went to sleep. Tomorrow we would be starting the vacation part of this trip.
And so we did. We drove to Bend, Oregon, crossing over the Cascades on what may be the most scenic route that I’ve ever ridden over. It was all through big, tall forest, the kind that seems eternal, full of grandfatherly trees wearing whiskers of moss. I was liking Oregon more and more. We ate at a little restaurant with antique skillets on the wall and placemats that told stories of mountain men and lying fishermen. Then, as we came down the other side of the Cascades, the forest dried out and all the trees turned into sunny conifers. After much driving downhill, we came to Bend. Now we had to find our accommodations for the next few nights, which were actually on the other side of Bend, past the place right on the golf course “where all the swells live,” as Grandma put it. We turned and found out that that was actually where we’d be living. We were renting a house, and it was right on the golf course. The luxury was absurd. The hobo part of me started itching, wishing it were staying in a disused boxcar, but I do have to admit it was pretty nice to have my own loft and a dedicated bathroom. Grandma thought it was embarrassingly luxurious too. But it was a good deal, and it was a nice place.
Grandma and I went out for a walk. We had heard tell of a trail nearby that went along a stream, and set out to find it. After some wandering around, we found it, and started following this stream full of delicious-looking water. Oregon was showing off again. We walked through the trees and watched the water rushing around below, with me climbing on rocks wherever I could, because I could. I went down into the water a couple times, too, and found that it was very, very cold. Probably it had just arrived from a snowcapped Cascade. And I stepped under a little rock overhang that, a sign explained, had been used for thousands of years as a shelter by Native Americans. At the end of the trail, we found that the stream we had been following was one that branched off from a much bigger river, possibly the Deschutes. Both of them were pretty energetic about approaching this split, and the water was roiling and great.
That was about it for that day, though. More excitement would come the next day. The next day was the day we would go see Mount Bachelor, and I would get to climb up. It turned out I didn’t get to jog up the side of the mountain as I’d been hoping, because there wasn’t a trail anywhere. The whole mountain had been given to skiers. There was a big complex of buildings there, but the only people around in the vast parking lot were some technicians working on the skilift. It seemed ridiculous to me that people around here just don’t want anything to do with mountains unless they’re hurtling down them at high speed. But there it was. I had to settle or looking up the mountain and saying to myself, “Yep, that’s a pretty nice-looking mountain.”
Happily, I was able to get a little more personal with the next place we went, which was the Big Obsidian Flow. Not only did I climb up it, but I took some of it home with me. I’ve dabbled in making stone tools, and I know that obsidian is one heck of a nice material to knap tools out of. So I picked some stones of it up. I know I probably wasn’t supposed to take those from a park, but I also knew that Native Americans had been taking obsidian from this big flow probably since it cooled down (it came from a volcano 1300 years ago). And I could see that this flow was way too enormous for me to have any possible impact on it. They call it the Big Obsidian Flow for a reason. It’s 1.1 square miles of obsidian. You could harvest stone from here for a hundred years and no one would be able to tell you’d even been there. I feel no guilt about taking a few home to make into arrowheads. Joe had a blast at the Flow. He’d heard about it in a geology course long ago, but never really seen it. He was entirely right about how cool it was to see the consequences of such a special, convenient volcano.
That was the end of sightseeing, but we ate a lot, and drank some interesting beer. There are lots of breweries in Bend, and they all make pretty tasty beer. In our too-big house, we played Scrabble, and vegetated. Then we slept up for the next big day.
This day was for the John Day Fossil Beds. Would there be no end to the cool things Oregon could show me? This was a big area full of fossils of prehistoric mammals, a lot of which died out before humans even got here. Of course, we weren’t likely to go out on a walk and just kick up some cool fossils (preferably with a label explaining what they’d come from), so we went to the fossil museum. This museum did a refreshingly excellent job at illustrating all these weird animals that I’d never heard of, gigantic rhino-like things with jaws two feet long, deer the size of rabbits, weird predators halfway between dogs and bears. This place has so much geological history behind it. As does every place—but here it’s out in the open, showing itself to everyone who’d care to come by. Millions of years ago, trees were dropping nuts and twigs just like they are today, and they clumped into big rocks and came all the way to the present day, where they’re being waylaid briefly on their journey toward the death of the solar system by getting detained in a museum a little ways away from their usual soil home. Broncotheres and chevrotains were roaming around feeling just as entitled to their land as free-range bison and deer do these days. Everything was real, not a world of artists’ renderings, and this museum did a pretty darn good job of helping me see this. I had a grand time. And the green clay cliffs nearby were delightful and green. What a place, this.
We left so that we’d be on time to see the Painted Hills at sunset. These are a long way from anywhere, but worth the trip. In my journal, instead of writing about them, I just drew a picture, because it was the only way I could think to convey their incomparable softness and shining beauty. So I’ll put a picture here.
Heck, make it three.
Now that you understand that, we can move on to the next day. That was the day we checked out of our house away from home and moved on to Crater Lake. I knew there was a Crater Lake, and that it was supposed to be pretty, but I had no idea just the magnitude of this lake. Crater Lake is a seriously big lake, the deepest one in North America, and big enough that you’d probably want two days to hike all around it. The rim is jagged and the sort of place that doesn’t want a road put on it, but they managed to put one there anyhow, and get it to stay, too. We stopped at a cafe that I’m pretty sure has to close in winter, which pleases me. I’m always interested in the things that humans still can’t do, the places where we still haven’t subdued nature and possibly never will. There are more of them than you might expect. This was a particularly good one. And another one, fairly good, was the peak that Grandma, Joe, and I climbed, because the only way up this was on foot. You could land a helicopter at the top, but for most of the way up the trail, if you wanted to be there, you had to walk there. So we did. Grandma didn’t think she could get all the way to the top—it was a thousand-foot elevation gain—but Joe and I told her to keep going, or she was a sissy. She helped herself out by getting angry at the mountain. On the top, looking out over the lake so far below, Joe told her that not many 70-year-old women would be in the kind of shape to do that climb. And he knows his 70-year-old women: he works in a hospital. This peak, Garfield Peak, was one of the pieces left of the mountain that blew up some seven thousand years ago to create Crater Lake, nearly as tall as the tallest remnant. From the top, you could see every mountain in the world. Joe pointed them all out to us. “That must be Diamond Peak. And there’s Everest over there…”
Lacking the wherewithal to get to Everest, we stayed at Diamond Lake that night, which was near Diamond Peak. Joe and I talked for a long time at the bar there, about food mainly, because he doesn’t eat much of it, and no one ever really understands why. He has a philosophy about food, turns out to be the reason why. He only wants to eat as much as he needs to in order to stay at a healthy weight and have healthy vital signs, all the things his doctor can measure. So he just eats that, and doesn’t eat any needless extra stuff. And he likes it best that way. He just wishes everyone would quit insisting that he can’t possibly be eating enough, because he actually knows a whole lot about dietetics, probably more than all the people who tell him that, and he does everything deliberately. I like that idea. I think it’s a good idea to cut down on eating, especially in this society, and I think I’ll probably do some of that myself. I bet it leaves you better off in several ways.
We left the next day, to go back to Eugene. But before Eugene, we had to stop fr another in Oregon’s constant barrage of beautiful things. This one was a double. All of us walked down a trail through mossy, dense, Cretaceous-sized old-growth forest. Joe pointed out trees along the way that were too big for two people to hug, and casually said, “That’s probably a 400-year-old Douglas fir.” There were firs, cedars, and hemlocks, all growing to this size and stationed in their places since before Lewis and Clark ever learned about this place. At the end of this trail, we stood on a platform high above the creek that runs by the trail and stared at the waterfall there. It jumped right down a sheer cliff that was covered in moss and looked seriously lethal and scenic. I loved the whole thing.
And that double wasn’t all. [This is the part you may have been waiting for. It seem to be the only part that anyone asks me about.] Done with the waterfall, Joe and I continued to the hot springs that were right near here, leaving Grandma and Grandpa behind because according to Joe’s information there would be lots of naked people. It was a nice climb, and then there were the naked people. The main tub was underneath a little roof, only three by five feet, and there were two or three naked guys in it already. Nonetheless, Joe and I stripped down and got in the hot, sulfurous water, and just relaxed. The guys in there were total hippies. One was asking questions about how to get started with hitchhiking. The other had long hair and a beard and piercings. It was a weird atmosphere, but I was pretty comfortable with it—I thought it was some especially unique fun. We got ready to leave, but Joe decided he couldn’t go away after just ten minutes in the spring. So we got back in. This time a woman had joined us. Let’s not pretend I didn’t pay attention: she was hot. And seemed to be a really interesting person, too. Those are both great things.
More people came, so we cleared out to make room. We got back in the car with Grandma and Grandpa, and we all drove to Eugene by way of a restaurant. We all relaxed at Joe’s, and then had a late dinner at Ta Ra Rin, a Thai restaurant.
Grandma and Grandpa left early the next morning, but I had a couple days before my flight left, so I had to go see Eugene. And as luck would have it, the full day I had to spend was Saturday, the day of Eugene’s Saturday Market. Joe’s roommate Dave took me to town and turned me loose, so I just spent the day seeing what happens when a whole city full of hippies concentrate all their creative energy together in four blocks. The answer is: crafts, music, and food, all of them great. Though there were many things I could have chosen to spend money on—glassblowing, puzzle rings, miniature pasties, chanterelle mushrooms, leatherwork, photographs—what I decided to buy was a CD. There were a man and a woman wandering around, with the man playing a bizarre contraption made of a washtub, a rope, and a broomstick, plus also he was playing a kazoo and a harmonica. The woman was playing a banjo, but she also played the musical saw. I had to get this. Later I found out that the bizarre contraption wasn’t as original as I’d thought—another duo had the same instrument, theirs with green rope (and later I found out that it was called a washtub bass, and had been around for many decades)—but I still admired this duo.
Dave came back and found me, with his girlfriend, and he took it upon himself to show me a few more of the sights. There was the library, which was nice enough but pointless because I wasn’t going to be using it, and then there was the Kiva. The Kiva is absolutely the best grocery store I have ever seen. It’s chock full of medicinal herbs and obscure teas and tinctures and organic stuff. And they have a bookstore section, and I found The Forager’s Harvest! I never thought I’d be able to get that book without using the internet. It’s an edible wild plant guide, and I already have its sequel, Nature’s Garden. Put together, they’re basically the best edible wild plant guides that have ever existed in book form. Only a wise teacher is better.
On my last day in Oregon, Dave and his girlfriend Mell took me out to go mushroom picking. I’ve driven through plenty of Oregon woods by now, but this was only my second time really being in them, and my first time really being in them. Dave is an accomplished woodsman. We drove up a long steep gravel road and pulled off at a random blocked road, and he plunged into the thick woods. First time I’ve seen anyone go into woods that thick who wasn’t me or Micah, but he did it like it was nothing. Within a few minutes, he shouted, “Yeaaah!” He had just discovered a big vein of chanterelles. They grow in patches. “Patches the Clown, is what we call ’em,” he said. (He also said things like: “I want to find a place to jump off this road that isn’t too gnar-gnar.”) Mell brought a bag over and we started climbing around the thick, cliffy, moss-coated forest floor to pick all the big mushrooms we could find. I found a few myself, but mostly Dave found them, pointing out a patch and then leaving it for us two while he pioneered another patch. He hadn’t dreamt we’d have luck this good at such a random turnout this early in the season, but we did. After we exhausted it, we drove up the road some more to the next turnout. It was even richer! The mushrooms were huge and beautiful. I trod through, barefoot, picking the bounty. (“Bounty!” he would shout.) Mell would show him other mushrooms from time to time with her mushroom book (All That the Rain Promises, and More…—with a picture on the cover of the author wearing a tuxedo and holdig a big mushroom and a flugelhorn, with an impish smile on his face), or he would show her one. They were adorable.
Dave decided we’d collected plenty—we had several bags full—so we left the woods and headed back to Joe’s. I would be going to the airport instead. But before either of these, we stopped by two wineries that just happened to be on the way. The first was called Sweet Cheeks Winery, and we did a free tasting of six wines. Mell decided to join their club, having always been a fan. Her favorite was the Pinot Noir, but I thought they were all delicious. My favorite might have been the Riesling. I don’t remember if that was actually my favorite, or if that was its name either. I forget the name of the next winery, but they gave us seven more wines. So by this time I was feeling rather tipsy from all these wonderful wines. In this state they dropped me off at the airport, and I halfdrunkenly bought a $10 club sandwich, though I think it might have been the only food in the airport, besides the mushrooms they gave me to take home.
I rode, and read, and slept, and arrived in Cincinnati.
This got a lot longer than I was planning. It’s really (really really) late now, so I’m going to cut this post off, but I’ll write another one soon about other stuff that isn’t my trip to Oregon, and probably another one that’s full of photos of this trip. For now, don’t give up on my blog just because I have an empty month. It’s still here, still going strong after six years.