Methow Valley, Washington and Aristocratic Whistling Horses

For the past several summers my boys and I have packed our bags, our food, our sunscreen and bug spray and headed east of the mountains to the beautiful Methow Valley.  We look forward to it all year and the memories we make are extremely precious to me.  This year I borrowed my father’s truck and a friend’s vintage 1967 Aristocrat Lo-Liner travel trailer/caravan; complete with a bright turquoise oven and refrigerator.  Although I have zero experience pulling a caravan (and for me to drive my father’s four wheel drive truck I had to move the seat to the closest possible setting so as to reach the pedals)  I was nonetheless completely ready for the adventure.  I’m getting older, and the thought of another year sleeping on the floor of a tent with two smelly teenage boys was getting to be too much.  Last year I found myself laying awake at night with thoughts of the Westin hotel’s “heavenly” beds and showers…and room service… Needless to say, I was thrilled to have been offered the caravan.  My older son however, was nervous.  He worried I’d lose control of the steering on the mountain pass leading to the caravan, along with the three of us screaming inside, plummeting to the valley below; a heap of bones and turquoise oven parts.  I assured him that I knew what I was doing (although I really didn’t) and suggested he relax and enjoy the ride as we headed out-of-town.

The five-hour drive saw us leaving the dark, thick Cedar and Douglas Fir woods of Western Washington, through the ear-popping mountain peaks of Snoqualmie Pass, and entering the Eastern side of Washington .  Once east, the skies opened; no longer blocked by the tall trees and mountains, the warm sun and blue sky welcomed us into her house like an old friend.  Hours later we landed smack dab in the heart of rolling hills, patchwork-like quilts of old farms and acres upon acres of orchards and vineyards of the Methow Valley.  Along the way, cardboard signs decorated with balloons, streamers and even deer antlers dotted the roads; handwritten words announcing a wedding, an anniversary or a garage sale on each.

I laughed to myself at the silliness (and my stubbornness) of it all; driving a borrowed old caravan/trailer with a borrowed truck through the mountains and into the open road, while singing along to Andrea Bocelli on my iPod without a clue of what I was doing.  Only weeks prior I had been in downtown Chicago, spending the day at the Chicago Art Institute Museum surrounded by Picasso, Monet and Warhol.  After the museum I enjoyed a cappuccino at a coffee house across the street before catching the subway back to my hotel.  While I could literally bathe in the fine waters of art, submersing myself in city culture, I am just as happy hiking up a well-worn trail, letting my feet get dirty with muddy waters and keeping my hair in a pony tail for days on end.  Nature, small towns and farming communities have a culture of their own that I certainly don’t mind bathing in either.  I’ll admit I have my limits when “roughing it” outside, but that said, I also have my limits of enduring the over-stimulus of the concrete jungle as well.  It appears I am quite limited…..

Around dinner time we finally arrived at Whistlin’ Pines on Alta Lake in Pateros.  The owner, Brian, greeted us with a friendly smile, handshakes and hugs.  Brian also runs Sawtooth Outfitters – a guide company that essentially takes people (mostly men) into the woods for sometimes weeks on end, on horseback, with mules, carrying guns, supplies and such…to kill things and bring back the meat…and such.  Born on the property some sixty odd years ago, Brian’s the real deal when it comes to cowboys.  Tan, broad, rough and leathery, he wears Wrangler jeans, old cowboy boots and a worn and dirty cowboy hat. I’ve only ever seen him wearing a shirt a few times.  He’s the man you want in your corner; a fierce protector.   I can’t help but feel completely girlie when around Brian, no matter how tough I think I am. I’m sure there are even a few men out there who’ve felt like a fancy pants in his presence and even rattlesnakes fear him.

In fact, last year during our visit, I found a rattlesnake by our tent and alerted Brian.  He slowly walked down the path to our site, flat head shovel in hand, located the snake within minutes and as quick as a viper himself, cut it’s head off, chopped it up and buried it.  He then grabbed the still wriggling body, took a knife from his pocket, sliced it open and skinned it right there; throwing the snake meat to his dog, Chili.  Handing the skin and rattles to my son he smiled, wished us a good night and went back to his house to eat his dinner.  We all stood and watched him walk away – in awe and shock at what we had witnessed.

After unpacking, settling in and eating dinner I poured myself a drink and walked down to the lake with my younger son.  The sun had set and the night-time was arriving.  It’s always been my favorite time of the day on the lake.  Everyone else is usually either still cooking or cleaning themselves up for the night, therefore, it’s incredibly peaceful.  We sat on the edge of the floating dock and quietly watched the turtles swim by; their little heads popping up every so often.  The bats joined us too; skimming the water for their own dinner and drinks and across the lake, the sounds of the horses running and neighing echoed off the cliffs surrounding us.  I’d like to believe that Picasso, Warhol and Monet would have loved it there as well.  When the mosquitoes got to be too much we headed back to our Aristocrat to hunker down for the night, play a game and eat cookies in bed…

Verona, Italy and She

Anne Lamott once wrote, “You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind. The rational mind doesn’t nourish you. You assume that it gives you the truth, because the rational mind is the golden calf that this culture worships, but this is not true. Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.”

There were times, even entire years, that I have ignored her – my intuition. Once in a while, however, I would listen and She would reward me with warmth and ease, while other times I considered her my foe, deeming her incompetent.  She would scream at me and I would scream back in argument.  She would jolt my stomach, a warning to be weary, and I would swallow an antacid. If She created a storm of apprehension, I would put on a raincoat and galoshes and fare the weather of emotions like some great sea-captain. Some months back my cup was emptied. I lay broken on the shower floor and She softly reminded me, via a whisper, that She had told me so.

I conceded that day and we’ve become close, She and I.  While I’ve agreed to heed her warnings as well as embrace the signs of encouragement and wonder, She has agreed to leave my stomach be and cease all storms.  My willingness to finally acknowledge, as well as listen and feel her, has reaped many beautiful new friendships, opportunities and artistic endeavors.

As I make my travel list for my six-week working vacation in Verona, Italy this September, I find myself leaning on her simple art of knowing more and more.  There are many other places I’d like to visit, however She moves me once again towards Italy.  While transferring the money to my Italian landlord to secure my apartment today I was struck at just how easy it was to commit to.  Although there have been many times that my rational mind sets out like a gun for hire to thwart my plans, I find he always misses the mark and she prevails as the more intelligent of the two.  As money to pay for my trip appears and co-workers step up and offer to cover my work while away, I am reminded of just how universal She really is.

Since my decision to embark on an extended working vacation in Verona, and through my listening to her, I have since made friends with an amazingly gifted artist living in Seattle who happens to have grown up in Verona, Italy.  She will in fact be staying on Lake Como in just a few short weeks.  Yet another new friend has introduced me via email to a wonderful couple my own age living in Verona who have already opened their dinner table for me with open arms.  Even my parents, who haven’t been to Italy in years, are looking forward to a bringing my teenage sons for a week-long visit and letting me show them, my family, the country as well.  I’ve offered my second bedroom to a few friends; and I do believe they both are making their own travel plans as I write this.  I assume if they all listen to their own “She” then it’ll be just as easy for them as it’s been for me and their own gun for hires dressed as “rationality” will be thwarted as well….

The view from my flat

Tacoma, Washington and Smelly Geoducks Sprinkling the Lawn

The graffiti read, “I HATE THE WORLD.”  It was in all capital letters, spray painted in florescent orange paint, under an overpass.

I was a passenger in the car and on my way to celebrate a milestone in my life.   Friends and family would be cheering me on, clapping, crying and capitalizing on every photo opportunity of me they could while an African drummer played a traditional drum beat on the side of the stage.  They would watch me and the other Geoducks take the stage, smile, receive our validation that yes indeed, we were now bona fide.  My mother would tear up, my father would hold her hand and smile proudly and my sons would wonder when the speeches would be over.  Graduate school acceptances would be announced, mine included, and there would be more praise – more tears of joy, and yet…..

Every once in a while during the ceremony, I caught myself being transported back to the freeway – a passenger in a car, driving under the overpass, seeing the florescent orange words, “I HATE THE WORLD,” while I listened to Johnny Cash sing The Man Comes Around.  It wasn’t as if it depressed me terribly or ruined my special day.  The words simply had me wondering a bit as most things do.  Ceremony or no ceremony my curious mind never really stops.  It was there, in the fifth row while the Senator sang her own tune, that I decided I knew what the “taggers” problem was – He didn’t have a sense of smell, which in turn fed his unhappiness.

I’ve always said that if I could have a journal of only smells from my life I would never need the written word.  Smells tell me everything and are my strongest sense.  They take me back to places, people and feelings, and with them bring along an entire story.  I understand why Napoleon kept violets in a locket after Josephine’s death.  It was the smell that reminded him of her; not photos or words, but the simple smell of a flower could transport him to her instantly.  The scent of her precious violets remained with him until his death – a reminder of the tumultuous love they once had.

There was a period in my own life, in the not too distant past, that for a number of years I didn’t smell much either.  Although I harbored no hatred of the world my own personal tumultuous life had taken over my being, my essence, and in turn my sense of smell.  There were glimpses of scents every so often, but they remained somewhat elusive – just beyond my grasp…like the man who hates the world I suppose.  I would occasionally smell the earthiness of my son’s head when I hugged him tight, my dog’s fur after being out in the rain, or the sweet breath of a lover, but for a few years they were left to mere chance.

As I sat in the fifth row contemplating my sense of smell, or lack there of, the hatred of the world and the origin of geoducks; something absolutely serendipitous happened – Someone began mowing their lawn close by.  I knew this because I smelled the cut grass, the occasional dirt being blown from the blades and the gasoline in the tank vaporizing in the air.  As I smiled to myself, inhaled deeply, and took it all in, my name was being called to make my way to the stage to receive my paper from the higher minds and enjoy the world, it’s pleasures and most importantly… it’s smells