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!


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.

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.

The Power of Tree-hugging (Seriously)

Road Trip IV, Days 1-5:  Lopez Island to Oakland, CA

You’re going to hear me say this a lot: I love road trips. But I’d also better confess right off the bat: these days road trips induce almost as much guilt as joy. Across the U.S.? All that fossil fuel! A carbon footprint the size of Missouri. And for what?

Well, for love of friends and family and America the Beautiful. OK, we do have good reasons. But until I fall into the rhythm of the trip, my mind roils a bit. With those thoughts…and, these days, others, like…

Where are the proofs of my poor novel? I paid extra to have them shipped “expedited” last week. They said they’d be here Friday, so I figured Saturday was safe. Well, I gambled and lost. The Mate and I left Lopez Sunday, proofless. Next day my buddy Steve collected them from our mailbox and sent them on…to my son’s house in California. I’ll get them this weekend. But what if I don’t? What if my proofs just keep chasing me across the country? How will The Flying Burgowski ever get launched?


When am I going to get time to practice my guitar? I’ve set myself some ambitious musical goals, but our evenings on this trip are pretty social. Can I practice in the car without bashing The Mate’s shoulder, or driving him nuts with scales?


Is Duke going to cream destroy beat Carolina tonight? Will we be able to hang onto our good moods if they do? (Answer: the game was postponed due to snow, so stay tuned!)

Anyway, you get the idea. Apparently I’m a pretty shallow person, and road trips don’t seem to deepen me any.

Cue my favorite Transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson: “In the woods we return to reason and faith.”

Yessss. Trees. I need trees. Big trees. I need to walk among them, gaze up at them, and yes, hug them. So The Mate and I stopped to hike at Prairie Creek State Park, north of Eureka, one of our favorite stands of redwoods. It was POURING, but hey–what’s a better umbrella than a bunch of 200+-foot trees?

Sorry, I'm not much of a photographer...

Sorry, I’m not much of a photographer…

Have you ever had the chance walk among redwoods? Oh, I hope you have, or you will. Redwoods aren’t only grand, they’re grandly impervious. They heal themselves.

But at least you know I didn't just pull these pics off the internet!

But at least you know I didn’t just pull these pics off the internet!

And in healing themselves, they heal my thoughts back to quiet wholesomeness. Like church, without the fidgeting. I walked, I gazed, I hugged.


So, if your thoughts are dwelling in the shallows and you just want to get back to reason & faith, my advice? Go find the nearest, biggest tree, and…well, you know what to do.

...and when I get to North Carolina, I'll hug an oak! (Especially if the Tarheels lose)

…and when I get to North Carolina, I’ll hug an oak! (Especially if the Tarheels lose)