This week out on the Oregon Coast has been nice on the eyes, but a bit chilly on the body. It’s late May, and we have hardly cracked 70 degrees on our warmest days. This is not meant to be interpreted as a complaint, because I’m fine wearing long sleeves and I realize this is probably leading up to near perfect temperatures in the dead of summer (at least to my Southern sensibilities). I think of the sweat and the humidity of Tennessee, and I do occasionally miss it out of this sense of familiarity, but then I think about how nice it is to not be sweating every moment I’m outdoors.
I am in my first full week flying solo at the Taylor house, with Allyson back in Kentucky for the month to work for the Honors Academy she’s done the past few years. I’m trying to press in as much summer prep with this solo time as possible, so my actual summer requires less work. So, days consist of 7-10 hours at camp, then a few hours of work at the house with a Cubs game in the background. It was Cubs/Cardinals this week, so the work at home was not its most productive.
On Sunday I had the afternoon free and felt it imperative to get outside. I was pretty tired, but felt I needed the medicine that being in the forest offers. I opted to climb Neahkhanie Mountain, but to take the north side of the trail to the top, which I had not done. Digby and I set out from the side of Highway 101 in the Devil’s Cauldron parking area, a few hundred feet above the Pacific. The trail quickly switchbacked up the mountain face until I had an unobscured view of the ocean. I could see a marine layer that was covering the top of the mountain I was ascending.
This section of trail is longer and goes through several more changes than the more popular south entrance. It is not as well maintained, and there are several sections leaving you climbing over or under fallen trees. Later you must push through a gauntlet of salal bushes like you’re in the automatic carwash. But, you get a much better sense of the largeness of the mountain. You can’t see the whole thing at once. You won’t see the top until it is upon you. You won’t see the bottom when you’re above it. You must trust the journey you’re on and realize you are making headway. You are rising or descending. There are signals. The trees change, the air changes. But, it’s rare you get to eye the whole thing and get a full sense of what you’re traversing. You must understand parts at a time and try to put it together.
Towards the top, we found ourselves walking into the clouds covering the top of the mountain. The trees rose up hundreds of feet above us, some disappearing into the mist. It felt mysterious. I was certainly aware of walking to another place, but the clouds pronounced that. It made it clear we were crossing into something different. The metaphors and storybook images ensued. Every person we encountered came out of the mist like they had just appeared.
A big dog came around the corner when I wasn’t expecting it, and I thought it was a bear at first. His owner followed: A man with combat boots, baggy khaki jacket, a rabbit’s foot that looked homemade strung around his belt. He had make-up on that reminded me of the joker, and it had been smeared by the mist and small drizzles at the top. I grabbed Digby up, not sure if this dog was friendly, but not wanting to wait and see if he bit him in half (which he totally could have done). I had that split second concern his owner might end up stringing my foot around his belt too, but he smiled and in a very non-threatening voice cooed over how Digby was just a “little guy.” His dog sniffed me and quickly went from seeming like a grizzly bear to a teddy bear. They passed, and I wondered what the hell their story could be for the rest of the trip.
At the top of the mountain, I stopped to hydrate and read a bit. Digby scaled the rocks and surveyed the area with his nose. I runner topped the mountain and was startled, not expecting me there. I had also just appeared in the mist and frightened someone. As we descended the mist turned to drizzle then to something more like rain. What was left on the branches and bushes that I would brush against for the rest of the trip soaked my pants and put a calf-high layer of black dirt them. Digby took on his wet rat look. By the time we got back to the car, we were soaked and cold, but it felt like we had done something, like we had traveled somewhere. We were returning from a journey.
On Thursday, I traveled east for dinner with a camp leader and to pick Hope up at the airport for her second summer at camp. I started in McMinnville, meeting with a dean for one of our upcoming camps. McMinnville’s downtown is pretty awesome. Lots of great restaurants, boutique shops, and restored turn of the century buildings. The farmers market was open on one of the streets. Brian and I had dinner at a Costa Rican restaurant Pura Vida Cocina and feasted on two dollar tacos. We talked about preparing for camp and drifted into life in general. Brian really wanted to show me more of his town, so we moved on to a new pub that had just opened. While there, I got a call from Hope that her flight was delayed two hours, so rather than picking her up at 8:30pm, it’d be closer to 10:30pm.
Brian, who probably was supposed to be getting home to his wife, stayed and talked longer. I love establishing these connections with new people. I love offering and receiving hospitality and stories. I wonder how many of these meetings and conversations we’ll have over the years. How the graciousness we share now with encourage those experiences. Brian found himself needing to go, but he wanted to show me a few more McMinnville secrets. He took me to this alley way, telling me he realized this seemed really creepy, but there was a restaurant hidden back there that has some of the best burgers he’d ever eaten.
He walked me showed me the spot, and my curiosity would not allow me to just pass the place up for some other time. I left Brian, going into the backalley door. It felt like I had walked into something secret. There were a few people dining over drinks. The waitress asked where I wanted to be seated, what I was interested in. I told her I had heard the legend of their burgers. She said she’d order one right away. I hear people say they didn’t know they were doing burgers. She said it wasn’t on the menu, but they would cook one if you asked. I had been shown a secret spot. I had been trusted with one of its secrets. This is travel at its best. This is exploration.
I spent the rest of the evening walking downtown McMinnville, going to a public part, checking out the backroads, the converted buildings that took one purpose that had left the town years ago, finding some new use to fill people’s needs. It grew dark and the lights came on. I called Allyson and told her about the day so far. I talked to another camp dean and tied up loose ends. I explored and acquainted myself with this place while having totally separate conversations with people far from there. My eyes were seeing something they would not see, mostly would not know about. Yet I was there talking to them. They were there talking to me.
I finally got Hope and got out of PDX about 11pm. It made for a long drive back to the coast, but fortunately good conversation is better than caffeine for keeping one awake on trips like this. I got into bed about 2am, but needed to get up the next morning to continue some work that should get done before the summer staff arrive. This weariness, I hope, is temporary. I hope it is setting a solid enough foundation in place that it will allow for more restful moments later, because there will be more hands to help, I will have done my best to help the be totally ready. That tired feeling left unchecked will drag someone down. For now, though, it is a traveler’s weariness. A weariness that comes with many revelations, many stories to pass along.