Road Trip VIII, Days 1-4, Tacoma to Oakland: Making The Familiar Strange

“Poetry is making the familiar strange.” That’s an unattributed quote I used to give my students, and it came to my mind as the Mate and I began the first leg of this, our eighth cross-country sojourn to North Carolina. It’s true that even though February travel argues for a quick race to the south, we have multiple routes available to us for that purpose. We don’t have to go Tacoma-Eugene-Redwood Coast-Oakland-Los Angeles. Yet we’ve taken that route six out of eight years.

That raises two questions. The first, Why? is easy: people. Specifically, dear very young people who are changing so rapidly that missing a year is like missing three, and dear older people whose health we never want to take for granted. We WILL go where they are, while we can.

…like these guys😍

The second question is tougher: how do we keep fresh our enthusiasm for this well-traveled route? And that’s where that quote comes in. In this first, familiar leg of our journey, I am giving my Noticing Muscles a workout, determined to keep the familiar strange.

So, walking in Tacoma’s beautiful Point Defiance Park, I ignored the shining trunks of the madrona trees to capture this bright red Oregon Grape.

Nothing like Christmas in February!

Then, instead of taking a classic picture of Mt. Rainier in all her fresh-snow glory, I focused on this cloud flexing its muscle.

We can do it!

In Eugene, walking with friends along the Coast Fork of the Willamette, I substituted a shot of moss-draped oaks for this intriguingly blank sign.

For when you’re feeling especially self-directed…

Not pictured: flock of wild turkeys.

Just before the California border, heading toward Cave Junction on beautiful US 199, we passed this sign (admittedly not our first glimpse, but I finally got the Mate to slow down so I could take its picture):

Apparently fully intentional—hey, let’s celebrate veggies AND dyslexia!

In the redwoods—oh, I have so many pictures of redwoods!—I forced myself away from the big trees…

OK, just ONE MORE big tree picture…!

ahem, I say, I forced myself to look down instead of up sometimes, and found…

British Soldier lichen!

And…

Tiny tree doing yoga!

Finally arriving in the Bay Area, the Mate and I went for a bike ride along the top of Tilden Park in Berkeley. And there…well, it’s not so much that my noticing muscles gave out, as that bikes aren’t the best mode of transport for photography.

So I had to settle for this fairly obvious shot:

Good ol’ Golden Gate in the distance

Not pictured: a pair of the glossiest ravens I’ve ever seen.

But no worries—most of the “view” I’m seeing in these well-travelled parts of the West are memories…and I haven’t found a way to capture those with my smartphone yet.

Why Road Trip? A Top Five List

“You drove here?”

The Mate and I have become used to that question over our decades together–especially the last six years since we’ve added an annual Washington-to-North-Carolina sojourn to our regular Bay Area jaunts.

Why drive? I’ve been musing on this topic for the past several hundred I-5 miles. Thought I’d share the results.

1. Falling back in love with America. When you love someone, you notice tiny details, like the wrinkles at the corner of your sweetie’s smile. On road trips, I like to notice transitions between my beautiful country’s beautiful sectors. “Look–first redwood! We’re officially in coastal California!” “Aha–sagebrush! We’re in the Mountain West.”

Can't do this from an airplane!

Can’t do this from an airplane!

2. Discovering special unknowns. Like the sign on Oregon’s Rt. 199 that advertises “Sweet Cron.”  Or, for that matter, the jaw-dropping Smith River that Rt. 199 is honored to shadow.

3. Strengthening that marriage glue. The Mate does 80% of the driving. I do 100% of the Spanish studying, music listening, blogging, navigating and sandwich-making. Both of us are in our happy place–2 feet apart, but in two separate worlds from which we blow kisses and share smiles when we see a sign for “Sweet Cron.”

4. Bike paths. Hiking trails. (Not many of those in an airport.)

5. Old friends along the way–really a combination of #s 1-3. They remind us who we are, why we love each other, why we love them, why we love this country. Because we can just drive up to their door…and hear them say, “You drove here?”

Road Trip VI, Days 1-3: Tacoma to Oakland: Pitcher Plants and Sticky-fingered Hugs

Two year-olds have their own gravitational pull. Two year-old TWINS have a pull exponentially stronger. That explains why, for the second year in a row, our road trip brings us first to Oakland. That’s where these cuties live–our pseudo-grandkids. (They’re actually some sort of cousin, but who looks at anthropological charts when they can look at these guys?)

These guys.

These guys.

But much as we’ve looked forward to being hugged with little sticky fingers, The Mate and I have not rushed headlong to Oakland. There are too many pretty places in between. After a short visit with vibrant old friends in Eugene, we zipped off the interstate and headed for the California redwoods, which exert a pull of their own. And that meant…

Oh boy! Highway 199! We love this road. From the bowl of Grants Pass (“Grass Pants,” to our family), it winds up through mixed-forest hills to the high valley of the Illinois River, near Cave Junction. Acting on a tip from a friend who grew up here, we turned off on Eight Dollar Mountain Road and went for a bike ride and then a hike-picnic in a very unusual ecosystem.

This place.

This place.

Pine trees + manzanita = Dry. Moss + pitcher plants (tall, insectivorous swamp-denizens) = Wet. This little mountain features both of them together. How weird is that?

These guys.

These guys.

Another cool feature of our outing: serpentinite. Yes, I did read the info kiosk that told me exactly what makes this glossy green stone so green and glossy–and no, I don’t remember what it said. All I know is, I picnicked sitting on something we dubbed “the emerald throne.”

This stuff.

This stuff.

And then, yes…off we drove to our happy place among the redwood giants, about whom I’ve written before. And from there along the crashing coast, back up and over the hills, moving through fog from redwoods to oaks to vineyards to the Bay. And the babies. Feeling gratitude for all creatures great and small.

Road Trip V, Days 1-2: Tacoma, WA to Arcata, CA

Redwoods, right? Or marijuana. Those are the botanicals most people associate with Arcata, a lovely town in one of California’s loveliest counties, Humboldt. But I want to give some love to a lesser-known plant: the madrona. (Or, for you Californians, madrone. But I think madrona’s prettier.)

We see a number of different ecosystems on our road trips: redwoods, cactus, live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. So let me try an experiment. I’ll say a kind of plant, and you form a mental image, OK? Here we go:

Rewoods.

Cactus.

Live oaks dripping with Spanish moss.

I don’t ned to provide a picture, right? Even if you’ve never been to California, to the desert, or to the South, you’ve seen movies, TV shows. Those images exist for you. Now: how about madronas? Yeah–thought not. Unless you’ve spent significant time in coastal Washington, Oregon or California north of the Bay.

So let me remedy that.

image

What’s so special about madronas? Where do I start?

They’re deciduous, but they’re in no hurry to lose their leaves. Green all winter, they finally agree to drop their old leaves only when the new ones come to push them out in the spring.

(All images courtesy wikimedia)

(All images courtesy wikimedia)

They have the COOLEST bark, smooth as human skin beneath the peeling outer layer, in the most beautiful shades of red, bronze, and green. I love to lay my cheek against it.

Around Thanksgiving, they bust out bunches of brilliant red berries–early Christmas decorations.

In spring, they bloom bunches of creamy white blossoms that look like little bells and smell like honey.

Best of all, they grow in the wildest, most original loops and curves.

(This photo's all mine!)

(This photo’s all mine!)

…which is why, when I published my first book, I named my press Madrona Branch Press, in honor of that amazing, self-supporting branch. That’s ME, baby. That’s the beauty of the madrona.

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What a lovely way to start our road trip! And when we’ve trekked across the country, turned around and trekked back, to the tune of 10,000 miles or so, I’ll know I’m home as soon as I spot that first madrone. (Ooh, song lyric!)

How about you, dear reader? Favorite tree? Other emblematic member of the plant kingdom? What does it for you?