Monday, September 14, 2009

Journey to the Center of the Mirth (Part Three)

This is the final installment of our Pacific Northwest travelogue.

Sunday, August 30th
Kith and Kin are slow to wake and gather, and farmers need food before noon. We early risers banded together on the day after my brother's wedding and set out in my uncle's car on a bakery quest. Clarification--this was my uncle's rented car, complete with GPS. He recalled a previous visit, during which my brother had taken him to an enormous French bakery. He did an internet search for a French bakery in Portland, Oregon, entered the address into his GPS unit, and we headed off.

Half an hour and a few "recalculations" later, we arrived at the indicated coordinates: a tiny Vietnamese-French bakery tucked into the backside of a dilapidated building in a low-income neighborhood. This was not the sweetshop of memory, but hunger was edging toward voraciousness, so we went in. There was a small array of French pastries, most of which involved coconut, pineapple, and other tropical twists. There were also fried sesame balls and steamed pork buns and coffee--not your typical barista creations, but tiny splashes of tarry black stuff that made The Piper's eyes slam open so hard she appeared to bruise her eyebrows. After two sips, she looked entirely awake and slightly terrified.

One cousin, one aunt, one uncle, one farmer and one Piper quite overwhelmed the tiny shop and its single cafe table, so we ate quickly and took a bag of sesame balls with us in the car. None of our relatives were yet answering their cell phones, so we headed back downtown and raided a couple of Portland's fantastic bookstores--including the massive ediface of Powell's--before heading back to my brother's house for the 1:00 potluck "brunch."

After a beautiful sunlit backyard repast, during which the involved families lolled around adoring each other, we repacked the cars and headed north. This time, Z-man headed back with Dad and the other car was declared the province of "just us girls." We intended to make a detour: the Swan Island Dahlia Show. My florist mother, my sister the designer, my Piper and I tucked ourselves into the car and headed west.

The city streets turned to country roads. We traveled alongside rivers, through hillside tunnels, and down byways lined with fir, hemlock, and other evergreens. Two turns off the main road, the scenery suddenly changed to massive fields full of flowers as far as the eye could see. It was like the technicolour revelation of the Land of Oz: so brightly coloured as to seem unreal. The other oddness was in the crowd's composition. We were there for a flower show. Nothing else was going on. Why were there so many MEN?!?

Well, as it turns out, I guess dahlias are a guy kind of flower: big, brash, bold, their colours and styles bursting forth like so many fireworks. I have never elsewhere beheld so many men taking the lead at such an event, dragging their wives and girlfriends from one display to the other, enthusing about this one's size, that one's astounding hue, their cries of delight echoed by the preening peacocks on the roof of the adjoining barn. (Dahlias and peacocks: another previously unconsidered natural pairing!) The Piper and I edged our way through the crowd, marveling at the floral freaks on display: dahlias of pale green and velvety black, dahlias splotched and striped, dahlias bigger than our heads. We made our way to the exit and ambled around the edges of the farm's public concourse, just as interested in their safety and crowd-control measures as we were in their blooming displays. Flower farms need not fear the same vectors of infection as livestock farms--there were no boot-washing stations, for example--but it was a useful opportunity for study nonetheless.

My mother and sister emerged several minutes later, their grins huge, their digital cameras full, their eyes surfeited by colour. We laughed and enjoyed our time together, then reluctantly returned my sister to the city and headed north to the island once again.

Monday, August 31th
The pressure was on: this was our final day to visit kith and kin and there were two very important trips on our schedule, each involving a different ferry route to the mainland. My little brother had fortified us the night before with his ferry pass and some "free ride" bus coupons and my mother obliged us with a morning ride to the ferry dock. The rest was up to us...but I had forgotten to account for the fog.

Growing up, I loved the fog. I loved the way it encircled the island, a soft blanket that cushioned us against the noise and fuss and hurry of the rest of the world. Fog obscures sight and swallows sound. A ferryboat ride on a foggy morning, complete with good companions, great books, and/or pleasant projects, can be a sweet sabbath of unhurried time. There is nothing one can do but sit back, relax, and wait.

On this particular morning, though, we strained at our weather-tethers. Ten minutes' walk from the waterfront, in a mainland city, waited a dear friend I'd not seen in ages. I'd met her in a Gaelic choir, where her rich, full voice, welcoming spirit and wry wit were the delight of all who knew her. The understanding between us was deepened by our respective multicultural upbringings. I missed her heartily, and the ferryboat's delay was stealing precious minutes from our one chance at meeting.

Finally, half an hour later than intended, we arrived out our meeting spot. She was walking slowly away with a dejected air and we were racing down the street with much anxiety. When our eyes met and spirits leaped in recognition, the sadness and stress dissipated like fog under a hot summer sun. I introduced The Singer to The Piper. We repaired to a restaurant and packed as much affection and as many stories into that visit as time and space would allow--and then some! But she had an appointment to make, and we had buses and ferries to catch on our way to yet another visit... reluctantly, we held on to each other as long as we could, then bid each other a proper Gaelic farewell. The painful sweetness of the chance to converse in Gaelic was almost as hard to bear as the thought of leaving her and the Gaidhealtachd again. Such grief at departure is, of course, the basis for a great many Gaelic songs. As one Cape Breton bard explained it, "they're always singin' about the girl who's never there."

The sun was rising higher and, as we rode a bus out of the city to another ferry dock, the fog gradually lifted and cleared away, leaving us under a bright blue sky on a glorious late-summer day. The water sparkled. Our spirits skipped and danced, riding the currents of the Sound and the gusting sea-scented air.

Later that afternoon, Z-man and Mom joined us for yet another ferry-ride. This time, we aimed ourselves westward. We were off to the Olympic Peninsula to see the home and workplace of The Piper's Son, and we came bearing pies for dessert.

The Piper's Son works for The Arts & Crafts Press, a letterpress printshop that specializes in original and historic cards, prints and books related to the Arts & Crafts Movement. His employers, Bruce and Yoshiko, have immersed themselves in that movement, both its history and its revival. Yoshiko's artwork and Bruce's authorship both contribute to the revival, and their work is much sought after.

It was natural that The Piper's Son should find his way to their workshop. His father and The Piper built Arts & Crafts furniture together for many years before their artistic pursuits went in different directions. The Piper's Son divided his childhood playtime between woodland streambeds, a huge collection of Legos and an exquisite set of mahogany building blocks. Everything he handled informed his sense of structure, form, and design. Everyone around him worked with their hands, making stuff. So it was that, after graduating from college and working as our house-carpenter for several months, he took a cross-country trip and secured his current position.

We arrived at the end of his shift, so he showed us around the printshop. There were beautiful old printing machines with massive rollers and cast-iron flywheels. There were racks and shelves of recently-printed cards, warm vintage colours impressed on elegant, creamy cardstock. He talked us through the process from start to finish, then led us to the stockroom full of finished prints, cards, and other beautiful necessities. We could hardly tear our eyes away from the splendid array, but voices called from above us: dinner was ready, and it was a perfect evening to repair to the deck.

Mom, Z-Man, The Piper, The Piper's Son, Bruce, Yoshiko and I basked in the light of the lowering sun while their two small children wove in and out. We feasted and talked, it seems, of everything under the sun. I felt sorry for the young Japanese au pair-- our conversation became so rapid and animated that, although she was welcomed into our midst, I believe we quickly exhausted her capacity for comprehension. The children, meanwhile, seemed to absorb and use both languages with apparent ease. My Taiwanese brother, Z-Man, seized the opportunity to surround himself with other Asians. As soon as our talk veered towards art and politics, he excused himself from the table to play with the children. We all settled into our respective elements, utterly content, blissfully happy.

We talked until the moon rose high in the sky. The soft gradients of the sunset and the sharply deckled lines of the evergreens looked for all the world like one of Yoshiko's prints. Then it was time for more hugs, more promises to visit, more reluctant goodbyes...and a side trip to the present abode of The Piper's Son, spartan yet suitable, befittingly bedecked with one of Yoshiko's prints in a handmade frame and two well-assembled lego spaceships. He seemed to have made a good start for himself. We smiled to ourselves in the moonlight as we drove the dark roads and took the ferry back to the island.

Tuesday, September 1st
Bags repacked and begrudgingly ready to go, we stepped outside for one last walk around the gardens and blackberry thickets of my parents' island home. We smelled the roses, laughed at the comical trio of slug-patrolling ducks, and popped handfuls of juicy blackberries and huckleberries into our mouths. But we had to make haste-- there was another ferry to catch and another bus to ride before we'd reach the airport, and I was back in island-commmuter-mode, planning all my activities with lead-time and public transport schedules in mind.

On the way to the dock, we stopped for a quick hug and the briefest of visits with on of our Wild Girls, KyedPiper. I handed her a promised memento-- a snippet from the forelock of Broilleach, our recently-dispatched bull. Being a vegan, she was at once queasy and grateful for the tangible connection. We reminded her that the farm and the cows would gladly welcome her back again, then headed off to catch the boat.

On the ferry dock, we unexpectedly ran into another one of my childhood friends. Islands are like that! We walked on to the boat together. He gallantly carried our suitcase up the stairs on the ferry, then regaled us with tales of Casa Vista, the B&B he built on the island. It was a fitting connection, a reminder that we were headed home to continue the work of constructing our own dreams and building our own vocations.

One bus, two airplanes, one lost piece of luggage and a long car-ride later, we arrived back at our own wee home. We were greeted less-than-enthusiastically by our Border Collie, who clearly had adored the farmsitter. The farmsitter (a bit bleary-eyed from the rude awakening of our late-night arrival) said those words every returning farmer loves to hear: "you didn't leave me enough to do, so I weeded your garden."

Hmmm. With a farmsitter like this, we may just take vacations a little more often!

(All photos mine except for the final image of an historic boat on Puget Sound, which I borrowed from Osman Person.)

1 comment:

Mama Pea said...

I think I just used the very last of my allotment of energy for today reading this last installment of your recent trip.

You sure do know how to pack a few day's vacation right up to the gills!

Thanks for sharing with us all.