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.

post (blank) from the Oregon coast

Blank, because it’s been raining all day and there was no opportunity to take photographs. (Well, hardier souls might — indeed, would — have.) So imagine instead seven swans flying low across the Chehalis River, trees soft with lichen as we approached the Columbia River, the drive across the Willamette Valley south of Portland, orchards of hazelnuts and walnuts and apples, then vineyards. Imagine the geese (a recurring image this fall) in tangled skeins above the fields, turning, untangling, forming loose vees, then rearranging themselves, so many we wondered how anyone could count them. And when I asked, Do you think there are hard and fast rules about who can fly with a particular skein, John answered, This is something I don’t think we’ll ever know.

We turned south on Highway 101 by Lincoln City and drove to Coos Bay where we’re settled for the night. Everywhere rain, and mist over the headlands, and the trees wind-shaped and beautiful. We had lunch in Newport and hoped to walk a bit, explore the old part of the town, and we hoped to walk some of the wild beaches strung out along the coast. But the rain was wild. The wind too.

We picniced in our hotel room. Chianti salami, an asiago from Wisconsin with olive oil and rosemary, lovely crackers, hummus, cherry tomatoes, Covey Run chardonnary from the Columbia Valley and shiraz from Australia.

And thinking of tomorrow, we are planning to drive as far as northern California. Maybe Mendocino, which I remember so fondly from a trip in my early twenties. I found a Youtube of Kate McGarrigle singing her exquisite song, “Talk to me of Mendocino”, which brought back the sweetness and sadness of those years.

Talk to me of Mendocino
Closing my eyes I hear the sea
Must I wait, must I follow
Won’t you say come with me.

So maybe Mendicino — and if we get that far, I’ll send a postcard.

postcard from Centralia, Washington, via Michoacan

A day of driving, enroute to Berkeley, California, to visit our son Brendan who is spending the fall term at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute ( We’ve stopped for the night at Chehalis, just a little south of Centralia; both towns have old-brick historical centres and that sense of being true places, once you leave the freeway and meander the quiet streets. In Centralia, a laudromat advertised that they cleaned horse blankets. Having once had a horse, and having tried to wash his blanket in the family washing machine, I know that this is a service much appreciated by equine households everywhere.

We were very hungry when we arrived. John had done his homework and immediately said that there was a Mexican restaurant in Centralia which was highly recommended on the Internet. Las Tarasca. We found it.


It was warm and bright and the food came right away — large platters of pork carnitas, chiles rellenos, with three fresh homemade corn tortillas each. And a little dish of salsa verde. We ate every last morsel and I still had room for a portion of the flan, dark with caramelized sugar. Here is John drinking an amber Dos Equis amid the brightly painted chairs. The familia Ayala comes from Michoacán — that province’s loss is Centralia’s gain.


I don’t pray

I don’t pray. I’m not a Christian, or anything else. But I just heard an interview on the CBC, host Stephen Quinn talking (gently) to a woman from the Philippines, working in Surrey as a nanny, who told him what it was like to find out that almost all of her family was lost to Typhoon Haiyan. She is returning to the Philippines tomorrow to take care of her 13 year old daughter. Her sorrow and her bravery made me cry as I cut potatoes for our dinner. Her dignity. What is there to do but hope that somehow the people who survived will find a way back to their lives after this? We sent money the other day. The Red Cross is always quick to try to do what they can to feed people and shelter them and make sure that clean water is available. But from this great distance — across water, acros the globe, across the cultures, from such entitlement and privilege to such utter devastation: what is there to do or say? I don’t pray but I wish there were words or actions that could offer comfort.