Thursday, my friend Laura and I caught a Southwest flight out of Manchester heading for the west coast. Laura is about as experienced a traveler as one can be. I just followed her and did as I was told, and all went smoothly. Because she flies frequently, and has all her life, she has an astronomical number of points, so I traveled free. She also paid for the hotel room because, she figured, she would have had to anyway, and having company was a bonus. I felt like the family dog who was told she could go, too. I was the golden retriever with her head out the car window.
We were on our way to Seattle/Tacoma for a quick visit to Laura’s son Paul who is in his last year at the University of Puget Sound. The UPS campus is gorgeous, lovely buildings and gardens, and a magnificent number of trees. The Big Tree, as it is referred to, is a Sequoia, and yes it is big. I marveled at it, remembering books I’d read about the complex ecology supported by these giants. Solitary as it was, this Sequoia was a mere museum piece, a fraction of the whole it was meant to be a part of. Like an Indian isolated on a cramped reservation, doing traditional dances for the tourists.
No I did not visit the Space Needle. We had only two full days there and I had other priorities, like admiring the natural beauty the place had to offer. The man-made stuff not so much. Although I have to admit, the glass art that dominates (including amazing works by Dale Chihuly) blew my mind. There was so much art there. It was like Tacoma abhorred a vacuum—every blank wall had to be decorated, every available space had to be filled. I was enchanted. I do believe that in my next life, I want to be born in Tacoma. It has such a wonderful, diverse, joyful atmosphere. Not to mention green. After the awful brown, dry summer we’ve had, I breathed in the moist, clean air with delight.
One afternoon was taken up with exploring Point Defiance. We walked through the botanical gardens and admired the varieties of dahlias and roses. Yes, the roses were lovely, but I judge a rose with my nose, and these fancy modern prima donnas have no scent. Fully half of the sensual delight of a rose is cradling the blossom in one’s hand, feeling the softness of the petals, and lowering your face to it to take in the delicate, delicious scent. You might as well have a wine with a lovely color and no taste.
Neither Laura nor I are big on zoos, so we avoided that and instead walked along the shore. I had wanted to splash my face with water from the Pacific, but had to be content with the waters of the Sound. Close enough. After enjoying my baptism and collecting a few interesting pebbles for my rock garden at home, we explored some of the trails. The woods of the Pacific Northwest are so different from our own in New England. The trees have a different character. The weather is so much kinder and the plant life thrives accordingly. We wandered the maze of trails aided by a map—which confused us as much as enlightening us—and found our way out to the point. It was a sparkling, warm, clear day, so untypical of what one has been told to expect of this region. In fact, we had nary a cloud nor drop of rain our entire trip. We admired the the sun on the water and looked for harbor seals, but saw only gulls. We were disappointed until the raccoons showed up.
We saw one, and then another. Laura was quickly snapping photos, expecting them to duck away into the foliage any second. But no, the coons had other plans. A whole family emerged and performed for us, bold as brass, looking up expectantly as if to say, “Hey, human, whatcha got for eats? Don’t pay any attention to that stupid sign about feeding wildlife. Look how cute we are! Don’t we deserve a tasty treat?” Alas, we had nothing to give them, and eventually they gave up and wandered back into the forest grumbling to themselves.
So much was packed into those two days. It was like a banquet, and I took it all in until my senses were full to bursting. We visited Pike Place Market and wandered through the crowds, surrounded by flowers, fresh fish, arts and crafts, jewelry and leather work, homemade soaps and creams with rich herbal and fruity scents, spicy jerky, dried cherries, soft fabrics and bright colors. I bought a lovely skirt imported from Nepal while Laura chatted with the Tibetan woman who ran the shop. We ate roasted corn on the cob and ice cream for lunch, wandering through the historic district with sticky sweet dripping onto our fingers.
We went out for breakfast and dinner, and I did my best to sample as many unfamiliar dishes as possible. Of course I did have to have salmon, and it was every bit as savory as I had hoped. We sampled exotic desserts and tried all the local wines. I got to meet Laura’s cousin, who also lives out there, and visited with Paul, whose company and antics I enjoy enormously. By the time we boarded the plane in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday morning, I was nearly comatose from the combination of jet lag, short nights, and the wild kaleidoscope of experiences ricocheting through my head.
But I was fully awake to appreciate the glorious spectacle of Mt. Rainier rising above the fluffy clouds lit by the morning sun as we passed in out airplane. Rainier dominates the Seattle/Tacoma area. I kept looking up and seeing the snowy peak floating almost mythic in the distance. Before I had taken this trip, my hiking buddy Mary had sent me photos of Rainier, including the one at the top of this article. Most folks would think of museums and urban attractions (like the Space Needle) when going to Seattle. Mary thinks of mountains and trails and places to camp. Someday I want to go back when I have more time to explore those trails and campsites. And get closer to Rainier than just waving from a distance. I love my mountains, the ancient and venerable White Mountains of New Hampshire. Mt. Washington boasts the worst weather in the world, and Backpacker Magazine counts it in the top 10 most dangerous hikes in America. It is not to be sneered at. It is old and scarred, crafty and curmudgeonly. The mountains of the west are young, vigorous and still growing. They are high and haughty and full of themselves.
And I think I have fallen in love with that bold, youthful appeal. Thank you Laura for making it happen. (And for taking these wonderful photos!)