the return

P1090339For some reason, I thought of Ezra Pound’s beautiful early poem “The Return” this morning when I saw that the chickadees have returned for a winter of suet and seed.

See, they return; ah, see the tentative
Movements, and the slow feet,
The trouble in the pace and the uncertain

The wavering in this instance is old glass — the window over our kitchen sink came from a house where we lived in North Vancouver before we built this house in the early 1980s. That house was in the process of being demolished and we were allowed to take windows dating from the early 20th c., some still with their wavy glass intact. Looking through them, the world shifts, you lose your perspective for a moment, and the leaves on the rose around the window turn into chickadees.

silver linings

Almost the last leg of the long drive home from California. We’d thought we’d stop at a freeway-side hotel a little south of Seattle in order to be ready to leave first thing tomorrow morning, to avoid the rush-hour traffic. Somehow, around 4, leaving the freeway because of heavy traffic on the I-5, we found ourselves lost in Tacoma. A bit of aimless driving, then John asked someone in a bar in the old part of town if he could recommend a hotel nearby. We were directed to the Silver Cloud, a serene place on Puget Sound, with a wonderful view, and it only costs a little more than a Best Western (freeway-side…). Here’s the view from our room:


After a day of driving, it’s heaven. And the young man on the desk invited us to join other guests for drinks and appetizers in the lobby at 5:30 — a Tuesday institution, apparently.

The landscapes of California, Oregon, and Washington are so various and interesting. Yesterday I was very taken by the beautiful colours near Red Bluff in northern California — vast grasslands, deep ochre cliffs, live oaks, and airy pines. The Siskiyou Forest, straddling California and Oregon, with small towns along the rivers, and the Jeffrey pines (I think they were), blue oaks and white oaks: so lovely.

All along the highway from about Centralia to Tacoma we kept seeing Mt. Ranier in the distance, shimmering in sunlight, though it was raining lightly where we were. We’d look, marvel, and then look again to see that the mountain had disappeared behind hills or forests. Then it would appear again, like a god.

mount.rainierAs nice as it’s been to be away (in California, in warm sun, in November!), I’ll be glad to get home. Back to writing, back to quilting, back to…well, my own life. My own country. As a North American, there’s much that I share with those living in the USA. But there are differences, big ones. The number of homeless people in a wealthy city like Berkeley, young people on the streets with their dogs, their tattered sleeping bags, and — I found this so odd — handwritten signs offering the story of their difficult situation. “Robbed in my sleep again,” began one, and it went on to detail the man’s hardships. Or the young woman at a junction near American Canyon, holding a sign saying, “Mother with two sons, homeless, can you help?” She looked like anyone’s daughter and yet I can’t imagine the situation that would result in my own daughter standing on a roadside with a sign. I know we have social problems in our own culture — in our own community — but the scale seems so much larger here.

So when I saw a sign in southern Washington, denouncing the current administration as “Bolshevists”, I knew I was far from home.

postcard from the napa valley

After a wonderful three nights in Berkeley, during which we ate a note-perfect dinner at Rivoli, took the Bart into San Francisco for a day (the highlight being lunch at Greens where we last ate in 1984; it still has the black bean chili on the menu and the food is still fabulous), we drove to the Napa Valley with Brendan for two nights. The days are warm enough for wearing t-shirts though it cools off after sunset. Yesterday we took a picnic to an area north of Napa city — pate and salami we bought at the Fatted Calf Charcuterie in the Oxbow Public Market and some delicious cheeses from the Cowgirl Creamery (including Mt. Tam, a triple-creme one which I could happily eat every day for the rest of my life). And we saw this egret down by the water — at least I think it’s an egret. We didn’t bring field guides with us…

P1090311And these guys, familiars from this entire trip, were feeding by the shore.

P1090310And did we go to wineries to taste some of the famed Napa Valley wines? Well, no. We’ve enjoyed wine with our meals and today we thought we’d go to several wineries during the afternoon; we even planned to picnic at one of them. But unlike the Okanagan Valley where we go as often as we can to taste and buy wines, here one has to pay a tasting fee — 10-25 dollars a person. (There are three of us.) And we discovered we’d even have to pay a fee to use a picnic table — 35 dollars. So we went to the Oxbow Market and had a glass of wine in sunlight with some delicious sourdough bread from Model Bakery, more of the pate and sausage from Fatted Calf, cheese, and finished up with chocolate from the Market.

We drove over to Glen Ellen on the Dry Creek Road which rose higher and higher (and became narrower and narrower) until it felt like we were on the spine of California. Views were spectacular — hill after hill of oaks and pines, some kind of hawks floating over it all, a vast blue sky arching over us. This is where we walked this morning and the landscape we drove through was very like it, the air scented with resin and dry leaves.


postcard from wildcat canyon

Yesterday our host told us about the Botanic Garden up in the Berkeley Hills, devoted to the collection, growth, display, and preservation of native Californian plants. There’s another garden up there, too — the University of California Botanical Garden, which I’m sure is extraordinary. But having realized how little I know about the plants I’m seeing daily, I wanted to figure out a few things about the native plants. So up we drove. And drove. The views were more beautiful at each turn in the winding road.

And the Botanic Garden ranges over ten acres, divided into ten sections, then three subsections, representing the distinctive natural areas of California:  seacoast bluffs, coastal mountains, interior valleys, dry foothills, alpine zones, and two kinds of desert. There are clear labels and lovely stone or bark paths taking you around the plantings.

Everything was interesting. To recognize a leaf but not a shape — and to find out that there are 60 (or more, depending on whether you are clumper or splitter, a guy in the visitor centre cheerfully admitted) species of manzanita. We have the hairy manzanita near us on the Sechelt Peninsula, and its low cousin kinnikinnick. But I loved seeing the common specific names for the various manzanitas of California: refugia, insular shaggy-barked, Little Sur, brittleleaf. I thought of Gary Snyder:

Manzanita     the tips in fruit,

Clusters of hard green berries

The longer you look

The bigger they seem,

               `little apples’

And the oaks! Such variety. Here’s a coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia):


On a little rocky area, near the stone foundation of a shed:

(for Angie)
(for Angie)

And then we continued up to Inspiration Point, where we could see down into Wildcat Canyon: P1090284 Manzanitas, golden hills, oaks and pines…

morning postcard from Berkeley

I’m at the table in the kitchen-sitting room of our pretty suite in Berkeley. There’s some blue sky — and a squirrel in the eucalyptus tree in the back garden. John found this place somehow and it’s such a gem, after a few nights in motels (though the Victorian Inn in Ferndale was pretty fine).



It’s quiet. We had breakfast in the bright kitchen and will head out shortly to explore Berkeley where I haven’t been in almost 40 years. And this evening we’ll meet Brendan for dinner. It was fun to open the door for him last night and to catch up here — a glass of wine, some baguette dipped into California estate olive oil and then dukkah –before walking up to Shattuck Avene to have Nepalese food: lamb, chicken, sweet potato and quinoa kofta (and the leftovers are in the fridge for lunch). Already I’m accumulating little treats to take home. The IGA in Madeira Park does not rise to dukkah!

postcard from the Lost Coast

A long drive from Coos Bay, in rough weather (one road sign warning laconically of “wind gusts”: an understatement…), though the coast was beautiful. Wild surf, a few birds blowing around, the trees bent by years of this.


But by the time we crossed into California, the sky began to clear a little, though passing through the redwood forests, the rain came down in buckets and you could see why some of those trees reach heights of 300 feet.  And by the time we stopped for a late lunch in Eureka, it was quite warm.

I know I talked to you of Mendocino (I can still hear Kate McGarrigle singing so sweetly: And let the sun set on the ocean/I will watch it from the shore/Let the sun rise over the redwoods/I’ll rise with it till I rise no more…) but when we saw the sign for Ferndale, just south of Eureka, promising a small Victorian village, and we were tired of driving the twisting 101, we turned. And this is what we saw when we arrived in Ferndale:


They had a room available so we’re here for the night in a town almost too lovely for words. Founded in the 1850s and 60s, it has wonderful old buildings still in use as churches, stores, a cheese factory, homes. This area is called the Lost Coast, apparently because of huge depopulation in the 1930s and because of geotechnical anomalies which made development difficult. (98% of chimneys fell down in Ferndale in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.)

And tomorrow we’ll drive to Berkeley, along a route which has been called the most scenic on the planet.